The Blue Bird (1940). 88 minutes. Directed by Walter Lang. Starring Shirley Temple (as Mytyl), Johnny Russell (as Tyltyl), Eddie Collins (as Tylo), Gale Sondergaard (as Tylette), Helen Ericson (as Light), Spring Byington (as Mummy Tyl), Russell Hicks (as Daddy Tyl), Cecilia Loftus (as Granny Tyl), Al Shean (as Grandpa Tyl), Sybil Jason (as Angela), Nigel Bruce (as Mr. Luxury), Laura Hope Crews (as Mrs. Luxury), Thurston Hall (as Father Time), Jessie Ralph (as Fairy Berylune). Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck.
The Blue Bird is one of the worst movies from early cinema that I have yet reviewed, and I have written about both Reefer Madness (1936) and Maniac (1934). It is certainly one of the most expensive bad movies that I have reviewed, featuring one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Shirley Temple. The Blue Bird caused problems for Temple and for her studio, 20th Century Fox, as it failed to prove a profitable … Read the rest
One Million B.C. (1940). 80 minutes. Directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach, Jr. Starring Victor Mature (as Tumak), Carole Landis (as Loana), Lon Chaney, Jr. (as Akhoba), Conrad Nagel (as narrator), John Hubbard (as Ohtao), Nigel De Brulier (as Peytow), Mamo Clark (as Nupondi), and Inez Palange (as Tohana).
If you have never seen One Million B.C., chances are that if you like old B movies, you have seen it in some other capacity. Portions of it were used as stock footage for years afterwards in such films as the awful Robot Monster (1953) and Teenage Cave Man (1958). Additionally, its Academy Award-nominated visuals inspired the special effects of other monster movies that may also be known to you, such as The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and The Killer Shrews (1959). One Million B.C. is marginally better than those movies—less exploitative, more thoughtful, and more ambitious. But it remains a great example of why movies about prehistoric people … Read the rest
The Wizard of Oz (1939). 101 minutes. Directed by Victor Fleming, King Vidor, and George Cukor. Starring Judy Garland (as Dorothy Gale), Frank Morgan (as Professor Marvel/the Wizard), Ray Bolger (as Hunk/Scarecrow), Jack Haley (as Hickory/Tin Man), Bert Lahr (as Zeke/Cowardly Lion), Billie Burke (as Glinda the Good Witch of the North), Margaret Hamilton (as Miss Almira Gulch/the Wicked Witch of the West), Clara Blandick (as Aunt Em), and Charley Grapewin (as Uncle Henry). Songs by Edgar “Yip” Harburg and Harold Arlen. Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum.
The Wizard of Oz has to be one of the most phenomenal movies ever made: one of the most quotable, one of the most thematically resonant, and one of the most visually memorable (virtually any scene from any part of the movie can be excerpted in still form and people will instantly recognize it). It was not a major success upon its initial release and only achieved its present status … Read the rest
Portrait of Jennie (1948). 86 minutes. Directed by William Dieterle. Starring Jennifer Jones (as Jennie Appleton), Joseph Cotten (as Eben Adams), Ethel Barrymore (as Miss Spinney), Lillian Gish (as Mother Mary of Mercy), Cecil Kellaway (as Mr. Matthews), David Wayne (as Gus O’Toole), and Albert Sharpe (as Moore). Produced by David O. Selznick.
Portrait of Jennie is one of several films that paired actors Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones together in a romantic scenario, but what is particularly noteworthy about this venture is the extent to which it blends sentimentality with supernatural fantasy. The plot concerns a painter who draws inspiration from someone whom we gradually suspect is a ghost. Given this premise, you may discern already that the potential for it to veer into melodramatic terrain is great, and with producer David O. Selznick at the helm, the events depicted do, in fact, grow to be over the top; the emotional storyline erupts in a cataclysmic fever towards the … Read the rest
The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903). 17 minutes. Directed by Georges Méliès. Starring Georges Méliès and Bleuette Bernon.
Together with A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), The Kingdom of the Fairies is one of Georges Méliès’s most impressive silent short films. The story is of the variety that Méliès loved, involving an epic journey, fierce magical creatures, and a grand final spectacle with a parade. The plot, which is fairly simple, is enhanced by the beautiful and inventive visuals that Méliès incorporates throughout the film, and the movie as a whole functions as a kind of catalogue of the various special effects that Méliès was fond of using. Its elaborate sets and complex techniques are fascinating, and overall the film is one of Méliès’s best.
The movie begins in a royal palace with a prince and princess, whose betrothal ceremony we witness. An evil male witch materializes in the middle of the court, menaces the … Read the rest
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). 65 minutes. Written and directed by Lotte Reiniger. Cinematography by Carl Koch. Based on The Arabian Nights.
Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the earliest surviving feature-length animated film. Based on The Arabian Nights and brought to life with silhouettes, its story is both refined and complex. Prince Achmed’s noble characters travel around the world, undertake fantastic quests, and perform heroic deeds in plotlines that interconnect and move fluidly across geography and time. Its art direction is also sublime. Although Reiniger’s use of silhouettes was not to become the norm in mainstream European and American animated films, her exquisite work hints at the possibilities inherent in animation before cel art became prominent. The movie is a shining example of the beauty, sophistication, and inventiveness typical of the late silent period.
When the story begins, a nameless African magician visits the court of the Caliph and presents him with a magic horse … Read the rest
The Curse of the Cat People (1944). 70 minutes. Directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch. Starring Simone Simon (as Irena Reed), Kent Smith (as Oliver Reed), Jane Randolph (as Alice Reed), Ann Carter (as Amy Reed), Eve March (as Miss Callahan), Julia Dean (as Mrs. Julia Farren), Elizabeth Russell (as Barbara Farren), and Sir Lancelot (as Edward). Produced by Val Lewton.
You may see this movie because you have seen Cat People (1942), a wonderful horror movie about a woman who believes that she is descended from a race of humans who can transform into felines. But The Curse of the Cat People is not a horror film like its predecessor, even though it was given a horror-movie title, and it does not really have much to do with the metamorphosing characters of Cat People either. It chiefly focuses on a lonely young girl named Amy who may or may not be able to see the deceased … Read the rest
Fantasia (1940). 126 minutes. Starring Deems Taylor (as Master of Ceremonies). Music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Story direction by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer. Produced by Walt Disney and Ben Sharpsteen.
Fantasia is almost a complete anomaly in the Disney film canon. The third feature-length animated movie to emerge from Disney’s studios, it does not tell one overarching story but rather is a collection of eight short films inspired by and set to classical music. The sequences range from an abstract depiction of sound (Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”) to a grim scientific odyssey (Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”), from light comedies (Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”) to somber material (Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Schubert’s “Ave Maria”). The movie is one of Disney’s finest achievements, and it elevates animation by pairing cartoons with some of the greatest instrumental music in history. But due to its considerable budget, the … Read the rest
A Trip to the Moon (1902). 16 minutes. Directed by Georges Méliès. Starring Georges Méliès (as Professor Barbenfouillis); Bleuette Bernon (as Phoebe); François Lallement (as officer of the marines); Henri Delanney (as captain of the rocket); Jule-Eugène Legris (as parade leader); Victor André, Delpierre, Farjaux, Kelm, and Brunnet (as astronomers); Ballet of the Théâtre du Châtelet (as stars and cannon attendants); and the acrobats of the Folies Bergère (as Selenites). Written and produced by Georges Méliès.
A Trip to the Moon is without a doubt one of the most iconic movies ever made. Fritz Kramer has argued that the film’s moon, which is styled as a human face, is so famous that it “is instantly recognizable even to people who have never seen a single silent film.” The movie is based on the Jules Verne novels From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870), as well as H. G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon … Read the rest
Dumbo (1941). 64 minutes. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen (supervising director). Starring Edward Brophy (as Timothy Q. Mouse), Verna Felton (as Elephant Matriarch), Cliff Edwards (as Jim Crow), Herman Bing (as the Ringmaster), Margaret Wright (as Casey Junior), and Sterling Holloway (as Mr. Stork). With the Hall Johnson Choir (as Crow Chorus) and the King’s Men (as Roustabout Chorus). Music by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. Produced by Walt Disney.
I first saw Dumbo when I was very young, along with a slew of other Disney movies, but it was Michael Wilmington’s article on it in The American Animated Cartoon: A Critical Anthology that really made me think of it as a work of art. Wilmington argues that Dumbo is Disney’s finest achievement, both in terms of its visual artistry and its storytelling, and when I viewed it recently, I had to admit that I was astonished by both its innovative style and its maturity. Given that its protagonist Dumbo never … Read the rest