Another Fine Mess (film #11 on Laurel & Hardy DVD (Hallmark Entertainment, 2003)). [Category: Hollywood]

Laurel and Hardy get into a complicated scrape after ducking into the cellar of a rich man’s house to avoid police and getting locked in. They eventually end up posing as the owner of the house (Ollie), and the butler/maid (Stan, alternating), showing the house to prospective renters. Things get even more complicated when the real owner of the house shows up. This is a very funny short, with a plot that just keeps getting more and more absurd. Stan in drag is a real hoot, and you get to see where Monty Python got the pantomime horse riding a tandem bike gag from. This truly is a fine mess.

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

Annabelle Serpentine Dance #4 (film #8 on the Viva la Dance disc of Unseen Cinema DVD Boxed Set (Image Entertainment, 2005)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

Why they called this “#4” when there is another “Annabelle Serpentine Dance #4” on the disc I have no idea. This one is beautifully hand-colored, with constantly shifting bright colors on the skirts. Annabelle should watch out for the skirts dropping over her head, though. An 1897 Edison film.

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

Bells of Coronado (film #13 on SabuCat Movie Trailers). [Category: Commercial]

Not a sequel to Bells of Capistrano, this western is in color and features Roy Rogers. It also features an up-to-the-minute atomic plot about bad guys who steal some radioactive “atomic ore.” This is mildly silly, but mostly it’s pretty ordinary.

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

Curiosity Killed a Cat (track #2 on Americans in War (NFV, 1990)). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

G.I.s Goofus and Gallant wander around battlefield Europe, Goofus constantly poking his nose into everything he finds, and Gallant constantly shouting at him to stop fiddling with everything, for Chrissakes! Designed to teach soldiers that unexploded shells, dead bodies, and the like are dangerous and should be left alone. Know-it-all Gallant is at least as annoying as dim-witted Goofus, though.

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

Banim Bonim (film #2 in the Pre-State section of Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This silent film from the 20s gives a detailed portrait of the early Zionist pioneers to came to Palestine to take the first steps to build a Jewish homeland there. The film shows a group of pioneers arriving in Palestine, touring the country, and then getting on with the hard work of pioneering, mostly involving agricultural work and building construction. This has a great deal of historical value, as it’s very detailed, but it tends to drag after awhile, as it goes on and on and on. Still, this is a valuable film, so it’s good that it was preserved.

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

The Door on 69th Street (film #13 in the General section of the State of Israel section of Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This early-60s film documents the role of the American Jewish National Fund in the development of Israel, particularly in terms of land reclamation. This has historical value, as it goes into a great deal of detail on all the various bureaucratic things that had to be done to get Israel started and keep it going. But it’s pretty boring to watch, as it’s very self-congratulatory and insists upon mentioning every last famous person who helped them over the years. For persons researching the history of the modern state of Israel, this film has some value; others will probably find it a snoozer.

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

The Alien (film #1 on Monster Kid Home Movies DVD (PPS Group, 2005)). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

The Monster Kid Home Movies DVD contains amateur sci-fi and horror films made by kids during the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. This 50s film features a teenaged mad scientist who invents a device that he uses to bring a space alien with a plastic forehead to Earth. The alien is a benign presence who is able to perform various kinds of magical tricks, and the scientist takes him for a walk around the neighborhood, where he performs various amazing feats. Then the scientist sends the alien back to where he came from, but the alien ends up erasing all the scientist’s notes, so no one will ever believe him, poor schmoe. This is a really charming film that is really well done for an amateur film. The story is told very well, making good use of the silent genre. I especially like the opening and closing credits and the title cards––they are beautifully designed. Shows what a little passion and ingenuity can do when the budget is almost non-existent.

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

Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America (film #7 in the Featured Clip Archive section of WPA Film Library). [Category: News]

Silent footage of Craig Breedlove breaking the land speed record in 1965 in his specially-outfitted rocket car, The Spirit of America. This has historical interest for racing fans, but no surprises.

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

Atom Fallout: New Tests Begin as Safety Debate Rages (film #73 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

50s newsreel reporting the latest round of nuclear tests in Nevada. We get to see a spectacular nuclear explosion and, despite the narrated concerns about fallout, lots of folks watching the blast wearing those eye-protecting glasses. Also included is a story about one of the last Navy sailing ships. This is pretty standard, but it has lots of historical interest.

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

Dow Midland (film #458 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]

This 50s industrial film, made by Dow Chemical, is missing its soundtrack. Even without sound, it’s pretty obvious that its message is Dow chemicals are everywhere. Lots of great visual imagery is here, including factory footage, containers of various kinds of dangerous chemicals, guys in lab coats doing experiments surrounded by bubbling beakers, and a guy in the plastics department mixing chemicals in 50s kitchen mixers, resulting in mixtures that resemble cake batter. Without the soundtrack, the viewer can feel free to add his or her own commentary, inferring stuff that is lots worse than what was probably said (though who knows?), or perhaps better, but what fun is that?

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: **** (mainly for the possibilities). Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

The First Circus (film #7 on Origins of American Animation). [Category: Hollywood]

This is actually two short vignettes of early-20s silhouette animation. In the first one, two chimps discover a bottle of liquor. Just as it threatens to turn into a bizarre combination of The Gods Must Be Crazy and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the alpha male shows up and steals it from them. Typical. The second vignette features a caveman’s version of a circus, the highlight being a high-wire act involving a brontosaurus and a snake. These vignettes are mildly charming and fun to watch. This film is notable for being the first downloaded silent film I’ve run across that includes a musical soundtrack. As usual for the films on the American Memory sites, this film is very well-preserved and beautifully digitized, looking just as good on my tv screen as on a computer screen.

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

Alice’s Wonderland (film #1 on Disc #1 of Disney Rarities DVD (Disney, 2005)). [Category: Hollywood]

This first of the “Alice” shorts features Alice visiting a cartoon studio. There she views wonders such as an animated mouse tormenting a real cat, and a boxing match between a cat and a dog (though what’s in the box marked “DANGER”?). This is by far the best part of the cartoon. Then, later that night, she goes to sleep and dreams a cartoon train takes her to Cartoonland, where she is given a warm welcome by all the cartoon animals. Everything goes well until the lions get loose. This is a lot of fun, very “tooney”, and a good introduction to the “Alice” series.

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

Annabelle Serpentine Dance #4 (film #6 on the Viva la Dance disc of Unseen Cinema DVD Boxed Set (Image Entertainment, 2005)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

More hand-colored twirling skirts. The red portion is striking. An 1897 Edison film.

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

Bells of Capistrano (film #12 on SabuCat Movie Trailers). [Category: Commercial]

Fairly standard trailer for the musical Gene Autry western The Bells of Capistrano. Apart from the nicknames given to the sidekicks and the assertion that this is “The Greatest Show on Earth” (wonder what Barnum & Bailey’s lawyers thought of that one?), this is ordinary.

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

Cindy Goes to a Party (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #319 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Educational]

Tomboy Cindy is bummed out because she wasn’t invited to her friend Mary’s birthday party, presumably because of her tomboyish ways. Fortunately, her fairy godmother comes and saves the day, mostly by waving her magic wand to make rules of party etiquette appear in the air in front of her. Cindy and her friend Dennis (who is also afflicted with the same psychosis, even seeing the fairy godmother in a print of Whistler’s Mother) have fun at the party by being good little conformists and following all the fairy godmother’s rules. However, when Cindy begins to anticipate what the fairy godmother will say (which is not too difficult as her rules are incredibly obvious and elementary––“Don’t break things” is an example), the godmother slides into a fit of depressed uselessness, saying, “You don’t need me anymore!”, which is a cue for Cindy and Dennis to emotionally rescue her by insisting that they do too need her, and generally shoring up her fragile ego. So they are also learning the habits of codependence at an early age as well. As you might guess from the description, this film is incredibly campy and has a great deal of entertainment value. I always say you can’t go wrong with supernatural visitors, especially neurotic ones.

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

Ashdod (film #10 in the Cities section of the State of Israel section of Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This early-60s Israeli film documents the building of Ashdod, a city that was built in the desert to house refugees. Mostly, it’s about the refugees themselves, and what it’s like to come to a newly-built city and try to build a new life for yourself there. It ends up giving you a real sense of what it’s like to be a refugee, with both the hardships and the hopes. There is something touching about the style in which the film is made that stimulates empathy in the viewer. Most of the films on the Spielberg archive have a lot of historical interest; this one is one of the more interesting to actually watch.

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

The Adventures of Superman – Stamp Day for Superman (film #2 on Disc #2 of Classic Kids’ Shows DVD (Genius Entertainment, 2004)). [Category: Public Service]

This episode of “The Adventures of Superman” was actually a film for kids where Superman encourages all of them to buy U.S. Savings Stamps at school. Of course, he has to rescue that ditzy Lois Lane from a jewel thief who wants to kill her, too. This is all the dorky fun of a “Superman” episode, plus lots of pitching for savings stamps shoehorned in to things. My favorite shoehorn moment is where one of the jewel thieves confesses to Superman that he got involved with crime because he never learned how to save his money (like with savings bonds, maybe?). And Perry White has a great cranky moment. This probably went over well with its intended audience, assuming that they had any money to spend.

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

Air Head Videos 4 (film #305 on Open Source Movies). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

These Stupid Lego Tricks are starting to grow on me. This one features a minifig getting slimed by Silly Putty, an exploding Lego computer, footage from a Lego security camera, and some bizarre experiments with electricity. The animator created a fun logo for the end of the film. OK, enough test footage, now how about actually making a film with a plot?

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

Cosmos Pioneer: Soviets Orbit Man in Space (film #136 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: News]

This doesn’t even have any stock footage or plastic globes, just President Kennedy telling us that while he doesn’t see the Soviet lead in space to be a threat to national security, he does see a threat in the Soviet arms buildup. Nothing much here that we don’t know already.

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

At the Summit (film #71 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

50s newsreel about world leaders arriving in Geneva for a round of peace talks. Also reported are a plane crash in Chicago, a Russian-American agricultural exchange, and the Miss Universe pageant. The beauty contest footage is fairly objectifying, as usual, but otherwise this is just a standard 50s newsreel with no surprises.

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

Decoyed (film #26 on The Origins of Cinema, Volume 6: Rare Films (Video Yesteryear, 1997)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

I couldn't really make out the plot of this one. It has something to do with a woman, who may or may not have been kidnapped, being forced to beg on the street for the benefit of a very abusive character who has her under his sway, and how she gets another guy to come to her aid. Nothing seems to be resolved, though. Confusing and rather upsetting.

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

Dollar Store (film #450 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Industrial]

Silent film footage from the 60s of a woman in a retail store examining the merchandise. This looks like it’s from a dime store of the period, but everything looks so dreary, you can hardly tell it apart from a thrift store. It ends with a number of different close-ups of fishing tackle. It’s hard to know what the purpose of this was––everything looks so dreary and cheap, it’s hard to buy it was for advertising purposes. It certainly doesn’t make me want to buy anything.

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

Alice’s Wild West Show (film #2 on Disc #1 of Disney Rarities DVD (Disney, 2005)). [Category: Hollywood]

Alice holds a Wild West Show for the neighborhood kids, and the initial scenes of all the handmade props and signs are great. Her cast runs out on her when a rough gang arrives to break up the show, leaving Alice all alone to entertain the crowd with tall tales about the Wild West, which we get to see through the magic of animation. This doesn’t prevent the tough gang from breaking up the show, though Alice gets the last laugh, as well as a couple of teeth knocked out. I like these Alice shorts better when they spent some live-action time setting up a situation, rather than making them just cartoons with Alice making a few appearances. They usually have wonderful little moments in them, such as the lemonade stand in this one that would make the health department have a heart attack. I want the signs in this one for the Film Ephemera Museum of Quirky Devices.

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

Andy’s Gang – The Man Eater of Jog (film #1 on Disc #1 of Classic Kids’ Shows DVD (Genius Entertainment, 2004)). [Category: Early Film & TV]

OK, folks, I’ve been waiting to see a full episode of this show after being exposed briefly to the thoroughly evil Froggy the Gremlin on the TVParty website. This does not disappoint. “Andy’s Gang” was a disturbing, dark corner of Kidvidland, a place to banish bad kids. The story feature, about a man-eating tiger hunt in India, is pretty much standard adventure fare, though the half-naked main character and his assistant have a relationship that is ripe for msting, and the scene of the elephant trampling the tiger is mildly disturbing. But never mind that, it’s the scenes with Andy that will make you cringe. Worst is the segment featuring a cat and a gerbil who are dressed in some sort of animatronic costumes and forced to perform as a Spanish dancer and guitarist, respectively. At least, this must have caused the animals psychological damage, if not actual pain, though they both look like they’re heavily drugged. Of course, this is all just a warmup to prepare kids for the thoroughly evil and anarchic Froggy the Gremlin. Actually, seeing Froggy get his digs in on Andy is fairly cathartic after the animal abuse business, making me think that Froggy must have been channeling the animal spirits to perform acts of revenge. The kids in the audience look about as real as the little old lady audience that would occasionally appear on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” though, so that’s reassuring. I don’t even want to think about how this affected the viewers at home, though.

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

Beast of the Yellow Night Trailer (extra on Beast of the Yellow Night DVD (RetroMedia Entertainment)). [Category: Commercial]

Lurid trailer for a cheap 70s horror flick. Lots of blood and lurid claims in a yellow typeface. This is not quite campy enough to be very much fun, though the ending advice to “see it with someone you trust” is mildly amusing.

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

As Long as I Live (film #9 in the General section of the State of Israel section of Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive). [Category: Sleaze & Outsider]

This Israeli film from the 60s gives the viewer an overview of Jewish religious practices as they are done in Israel, particularly observance of the Sabbath, Passover, and Chanukah. This makes it a good example of an outsider film that tries to educate the public about the practices of the outsider group. If you’re curious about the Jewish religion, this is the film for you. It particularly highlights practices that celebrate the freedom of Jews to practice their religion at all, reminding us of the long history of oppression they have had to deal with.

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

Doctor in the Desert (film #4 in the Health section of the State of Israel section of Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This Israeli film from the 60s documents the bringing of modern Western medicine to the Bedouin tribal people of the Negev desert. This is straightforwardly and rather starkly told, with lots of fascinating images of the Bedouin’s way of life. Western medicine is portrayed as vastly superior in all ways to any traditional health practices these people may have had. More interesting is a segment on a Bedouin medical student who has to deal with cultural clash. This is shown poignantly at the end of the film, where he gets off the bus after a day of classes dressed in Western garb and puts on his Arab headdress before walking home. This has historical and multicultural interest.

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

Aerial View of Sixth Ave. Train at 28th, 26th, 24th (film #19 on the Picturing a Metropolis disc of Unseen Cinema DVD Boxed Set (Image Entertainment, 2005)). [Category: Outtakes & Obscurities]

Brief aerial view from the 20s of a New York City elevated train. This is very well-preserved, and thus has historical interest.

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

Chet Huntley Retired (film #34 in the 1969 section of TVParty). [Category: News]

This is the final goodbye Chet Huntley said to David Brinkley and all the viewers at home when he retired from the NBC Nightly News. This is a genuinely historic and touching moment in the history of TV news. Huntley’s prediction that there will be more good news to report “if we work at it” still has relevance today.

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

At Sea (film #70 on Universal Newsreels). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

Brief newsreel story from the 50s about the nuclear submarine Skipjack. Typical submarine footage of submersions and a guy looking through that thing on submarines that you look through. Pretty standard.

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

Conquer by the Clock (In the Ephemeral section of Open Video Project. Also, film #370 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Military & Propaganda]

Strident WWII propaganda film that warns war workers of the danger of slacking off, even for a second. Occasional periods of R & R are shown to have dire consequences for the soldiers fighting the war. I guess they hadn’t heard of the concept of burnout yet. This makes the film pretty campy. A quintessential propaganda piece with some striking modernistic visuals.

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