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
March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934; also known as Babes in Toyland). 77 minutes. Directed by Gus Meins and Charles Rogers. Starring Stan Laurel (as Stannie Dum), Oliver Hardy (as Ollie Dee), Charlotte Henry (as Bo Peep), Henry Brandon (as Silas Barnaby), Felix Knight (as Tom-Tom, the Piper’s Son), Florence Roberts (as Widow Peep), Virginia Karns (as Mother Goose), and Kewpie Morgan (as Old King Cole). Music by Victor Herbert, Frank Churchill, and Ann Ronnell. Produced by Hal Roach.
This 1934 comedy, based on the Mother Goose stories and starring Laurel and Hardy, is known alternately as March of the Wooden Soldiers, Wooden Soldiers, Babes in Toyland, Laurel and Hardy in Toyland, and Revenge Is Sweet. I have a general feeling when I watch a movie that the more titles it has, the worse it is going to be (I think, for example, of 1962’s deliciously awful The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, which … Read the rest
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). 83 minutes. Directed by David Hand (supervising director). Starring Adriana Caselotti (as Snow White), Lucille La Verne (as Evil Queen Grimhilde), Harry Stockwell (as the Prince), Roy Atwell (as Doc), Pinto Colvig (as Grumpy and Sleepy), Otis Harlan (as Happy), Scotty Mattraw (as Bashful), Billy Gilbert (as Sneezy), Moroni Olsen (as the Magic Mirror), and Stuart Buchanan (as Humbert the Huntsman). Songs by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey. Produced by Walt Disney.
The story of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is probably familiar to most: the young and beautiful princess Snow White lives in a castle and is governed by her evil stepmother the Queen, who forces her to wear ragged peasants’ clothes and perform menial tasks. Snow White encounters a prince one day while cleaning and is smitten. Meanwhile, the Queen asks her magic mirror who the most beautiful woman in the land is. When the mirror tells her … Read the rest
I Married a Witch (1942). 77 minutes. Directed by René Clair. Starring Fredric March (as Wallace Wooley), Veronica Lake (as Jennifer), Cecil Kellaway (as Daniel), Susan Hayward (as Estelle Masterson), and Robert Warwick (as J. B. Masterson).
As a supernatural comedy that also has a political subplot, I Married a Witch is both a good Halloween movie and a good election-year movie. Possibly it is familiar to you as one of the inspirations for the television series Bewitched. The movie tells the story of the witches Daniel and Jennifer, a father and daughter pair who were found guilty of sorcery and burned in seventeenth-century New England at the instigation of Puritan Jonathan Wooley. Just before her execution, Jennifer curses the Wooley men, condemning them all to unsatisfying love lives until the end of time. Daniel and Jennifer’s ashes are buried under an old tree, where their spirits remain until 1942, at which point, thanks to some stray lightning, their … Read the rest