The Bank (film #2 on His Prehistoric Past/The Bank (Video Yesteryear, 1987). Also, film #27 in the Silent section of Movieflix (www.movieflix.com)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

The Little Tramp is a janitor in a bank, but ends up causing more messes than he cleans up. He is disappointed when pretty bank clerk Edna spurns him, but all turns out well after he bravely thwarts a group of bank robbers (...or does it?). This is Chaplin at his best, getting more comic mileage out of simply carrying a mop than most others can get from a whole roomful of props. The opening gag is priceless, but I won't give it away. Video Yesteryear's genuine movie organ soundtrack is great. A 1915 Essanay film.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: ****.

Drive-In Movie Double Feature #37 (Sinister Cinema). [Category: Commercial]

This collection of drive-in ephemera has better film quality than most and features quite a few public service messages exhorting us to drive safely, go to church, vote, etc.


Highlights:


  • "Satisfaction" seems to be a euphemism for caffeine in the promo advertising coffee.
  • Another appearance of the "Bernz-O-Matic", this time in color! And this drive-in sells Drizzle Guards, too!
  • Another jazzy Dr. Pepper snack bar promo. Cool!
  • You could win a "Lady's Wrist Watch, Neckless and Earring Set (sic)"!

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Alvin Purple (film #1 in the Trailers section of Movieflix (www.movieflix.com)). [Category: Commercial]

Tasteless trailer for an early 70s sex comedy about a lust-crazed man and his exploits in and out of bedrooms. Pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of thing.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: **.

The Emperor Jones (film #10 in the Black Culture section of Movieflix (www.movieflix.com)) [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This film is not totally an all-black cast film, but whites play only a few minor parts in it. This is a major studio production starring Paul Robeson as an arrogant, conniving Pullman Porter who ends up on a chain gang for killing a man, escapes, and winds up on a Caribbean island where he manipulates the natives into making him emperor. It was based on a stage play by Eugene O’Neill and so the production is rather stagey at times. But Robeson is fun to watch, both as an actor and as a singer. His final tour-de-force, when he runs through the jungle after the natives have turned against him and slowly goes insane, is a great piece of acting, though it does go on a bit too long. Like most “race films” of this period, there is a confusing mix of genuine African-American culture and offensive stereotypes. Still, this is a unique film that is worth watching.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Cities: How They Grow (film #320 on Prelinger Archive) [Category: Public Service].

This Encyclopedia Brittanica film gives a dry overview of the growth of cities in America, city planning, and urban problems. Since it’s EB, it’s all pretty standard and conventional. It ends optimistically, expressing the hope that proper planning can prevent urban problems in the future. Lots of scene of 50s urban life are shown, giving this some historical value, but mostly it’s dull viewing.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: *. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Banana Splits Opening (film #21 in the Clip of the Week section of Retromedia). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

Boy, this really brings back those Saturday morning memories! For those whom it doesn’t, all I can say is you had to be there. The “Danger Island” opening they throw on to this is not nearly as much fun.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

ABC Evening News – Nixon Resigns (film #5 in the Clip of the Week section of Retromedia). [Category: News]

This is not Nixon’s resignation speech, as you might guess. It’s a clip from the regular ABC news broadcast on the day Ford was sworn in as president. Still, it’s pretty interesting, as it shows Ford being sworn in, Nixon saying goodbye to his staff in a long, rambling speech that the newscasters hint was not overly coherent, and an editorial by Howard K. Smith in which he asserts that although the system works, it doesn’t work very well (granted, we didn’t get rid of Nixon as quickly and efficiently as the European examples he cites, but it didn’t involve violence, either, and that’s better than some countries we know). Overall, this is a great bit of news ephemera, bringing back some of the forgotten details of the Watergate affair.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

The Baking Industry (film #186 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]

This vocational guidance film focuses on commercial baking. Mostly it shows how bread is made in factories, and this is pretty interesting. There’s also some footage of work in small retail bakeries and some of the narrator’s comments here are kind of questionable. Like when listing the various electrical appliances used in bakeries, he adds, “and in some cases, ovens,” implying that some bakeries must still use open fires. And despite the fact that the film even mentions that women have been the major bakers for thousands of years, he asserts that women are only good for “light work,” such as putting the frosting on cakes or being eye candy at the front counter. These mildly campy moments, as well as the excellent factory tour footage, and footage of all the goodies, make this one of the better of the vocational guidance films, which are usually pretty dull.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Nejla Ates: The Turkish Delight (film #5 on Exploitation Mini-Classics, Vol. 1 (Sinister Cinema)). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

Belly dancing. That's it. Short, with cheesy production values.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ***. Overall Rating: **.

Armour’s Electric Trolley (film #14 on Edison Film Archive) [Category: Early Film and TV].

An electric trolley, designed to carry cargo, rolls out of a factory. It’s an interesting piece of old-fashioned technology, giving this film historical interest, but not much else. An 1897 Edison film.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: **. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ***.

Drums O’Voodoo (Sinister Cinema). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This lively all-black cast film from the 30s has a strange premise. A preacher is being harassed by an evil gambler who comes to town. The gambler threatens to reveal an awful secret about the preacher to his congregation unless the preacher lets him have his pretty niece. What’s strange is that a local voodoo granny is enlisted to help out this situation, and she and the preacher are portrayed as comrades, not adversaries. The acting leaves no scenery unchewed and is full of stereotypes, and it ends very abruptly without total resolution. Still, this movie is a great deal of fun, especially counting the inclusion of authentic-sounding gospel music to the very campy revival meeting scene.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

The Children Must Learn (film #313 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 40s film presents the educational problems of the children of the Appalachian mountain people, and advocates for these children being taught better farming methods within a curriculum that is more relevant to their world than the standard one. The film contains realistic scenes of children at home in their mountain cabins waking up, getting dressed for school, eating a breakfast of cornpone, sausage, and greasy gravy, and walking long distances to a one-room schoolhouse that looks like an artifact of the 19th century. The soundtrack music consists of authentic mountain people folksongs. The film ends up unresolved, as we don’t find out if the new educational program was very helpful or effective. But the film does give us a fascinating snapshot of rural Appalachian life as it was lived in the 40s, as well as projecting a stark, strange mood.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Gillum: The Way That I Am (Brentwood Music, 1992). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

So how does this rock video of a white Christian rapper qualify as ephemera? Because I got it through American Science & Surplus' random tape deal, that's how. And how does it rate as ephemera? About as well as you'd expect a rock video from a white Christian rapper to rate, that's how.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: *. Historical Interest: **. Overall Rating: **.

Battle of Britain (film #5 in the WWII section of Movieflix (www.movieflix.com). Also, tape #4 of the series WWII Special Edition (Madacy Entertainment, 1997)). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

The WWII Special Edition boxed set is actually the complete "Why We Fight" series directed by Frank Capra, something they don't make clear on the package (see the review of Prelude to War for information on the "Why We Fight" series). This fourth film in the series documents the struggle of Great Britain during the hellacious year of 1940, when Hitler tried to break her spirit through relentless bombing. It's actually quite an exciting, inspiring story. Britain was definitely the underdog, but she won out in the end due to a combination of brilliant fighting by the R.A.F. and a spirit that couldn't be broken. It looks like the archival film footage used here was taken not only from newsreel footage, but also from British propaganda films––there are a lot of amusing scenes of British stiff-upper-lipped pluck ("Is she dead?" "'Fraid so."). One of the more entertaining films in this series.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

The Ann Sothern Show (film #2 in the Primetime TV section of Retromedia). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

Fairly campy opening of the early 60s sitcom “The Ann Sothern Show.” Ms. Sothern wears a polka-dot dress to die for and the sponsor, Post cereals, adds some dorky dancers to the mix. A piece of 60s tv fluff.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: ****. Overall Rating: ****.

Henry Ford’s Mirror of America (film #659 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: News]

Henry Ford set up a film studio at Ford and that studio made a lot of newsreels and documentaries, documenting American life in the early 20th century. This early 60s film commemorates the donation of those films to the National Archives and contains footage from the films in a collage of American life from 1914 to the mid 20s. We see rural life, factory footage, footage of presidents and other celebrities, lots of footage of World War I, and footage that shows how American life was changed by the automobile. Sound effects are effectively added to this footage, making it seem like sound footage at some points. Narration is added that is not overbearing or distracting, but does give you some idea of what you’re looking at. It all adds up to an interesting portrait of early 20th century American life, somewhat conventional, but with lots of historical value.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

Design for Dreaming (film #35 on Ephemeral Films CD-ROM (Voyager). Also, film #3 on Lifestyles U.S.A., Vol. 1 (Something Weird, 2000). Also, MST3K Episode #524: 12 to the Moon. Also, film #3 on Our Secret Century, Vol. 1: The Rainbow Is Yours CD-ROM (Voyager). Also, film #422 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]

Man, was that a weird dream, or what? No, you're not dreaming, you're watching an industrial film! A woman dreams a man in a tux and a silver mask comes into her bedroom and whisks her away to the GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. She sings, dances, flies, gets all the cars she wants, makes a frosted cake with lit birthday candles merely by pushing a button in the Kitchen of Tomorrow ("I call no way!" says Crow), cavorts in various fashions, and cruises the Highway of the Future with her silver-masked beau. This film was designed to generate excitement for the Motorama and act as a replacement for it for those who couldn't make it to New York. It all comes off like one of those silly, improvisational "musicals" they do on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", only with lavish production values ("OK, you're to make up a musical about "the latest fashions", "cars", "birthday cakes", "dreams", and "the future"––go!"). An interesting piece of trivia: Apparently the film has no actual scenes of the Motorama––it was filmed in its entirety on a soundstage in Florida! Msties take note: The Our Secret Century CD-ROM has an interview with Tad Tadlock, the original Nuveena!

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *****. Weirdness: *****. Historical Interest: *****. Msting: ***. Overall Rating: ****.

Argentina

Argentina. Standard geography film about the South American country of Argentina. There’s some historical interest here as you get to see ...