Pretty good movie with laughably ludicrous plot.

Ventriloquist Echo (Lon Chaney) teams up with midget Willie (Hans from Freaks) and strongman Hercules (Victor McLaglen, oscar-winning John Ford fave) to form the unholy three, an ill-conceived crime group. In tow are cute pickpocket Mae Busch (Foolish Wives, and some 35 movies between 1931 and ’35) and patsy Hector (Matt Moore).

Hans is maybe better appreciated as an actor in a silent film, since his voice is hard to understand in Freaks… he out-acts everyone but Chaney in this movie. Chaney is fun to watch as Granny O’Grady and Hans as Little Willie. Hercules never has much to do. The giant chimpanzee and out-of-focus cockatoo are cool, too, and the visual speech bubbles when Echo makes the birds talk (funny to have a ventriloquist in a silent film). The dialogue contains “echoes” (repeated lines), appreciated by the English students watching along with me. A few good shots of the shadows of shadowy conspirators conspiring.

The movie’s not scary, more wacky/funny than anything else. Their criminal plot is idiotic and doesn’t work. Hercules kills someone during a heist and gets them all in trouble, everyone’s plotting behind everyone else’s back, Chaney and Hector are in love with Mae, and eventually Herc and Willie kill each other via chimpanzee. Hector is about to be framed for the murder when “Grandma” Chaney comes and saves him. Chaney is then set free by awesome-looking judge Edward Connelly (The Saphead, The Merry Widow) for being such a good guy and goes back to the circus, ho hum. Movie’s got good atmosphere… def. a quality lightweight film with that freakish crime-drama Tod Browning touch.

Not to be confused with the non-Browning sound remake from 1930, the last film Lon Chaney made before his death from cancer.

Liked it better than Unholy Three because of the super fast pace and more exciting atmosphere, the wonderfully (if not accurately) rendered African setting.

Ron on IMDB helpfully summarizes: “Magician Phroso’s wife Anna leaves him for another man, named Crane, who fights with Phroso and leaves him paralyzed. Later Anna returns and he finds her dead, leaving behind a daughter. For 18 years Phroso, known as “Dead Legs” by his cronies, plots his revenge, becoming a pseudo-king in East Africa, nearby where Crane has set up an ivory business. When the daughter is grown, having lived in a brothel in Zanzibar thanks to “Dead Legs”, Phroso put his plan into action, resulting in revenge and retribution all around.”

Lon Chaney is great as Dead Legs, but the great Lionel Barrymore looked pretty generic to me, failed to stand out as the arch-rival. Young wife Anna quit acting the following year (right before sound films) and lived until 1986. Drunken Doc, who falls in love with the daughter, was Warner Baxter, who won the best-actor oscar that same year in the second annual academy awards, for In Old Arizona, the first full-talkie.

Not to be confused with the 50’s British Ealing Studios West of Zanzibar about a good-hearted man (Story of O actor Anthony Steel with wife Sheila Sim of A Canterbury Tale) fighting ivory pirates.

Seems from the quotes below like this was a pioneer work for African film in the early 80’s, but today on video it’s not too interesting to me. Pedestrian filmmaking, awful music and a voiceover that doesn’t seem too sure of itself.

To be fair, the music and voiceover are hardly ever around, and what’s left is a simple story of a mute boy who gets adopted by a weaver, befriends a little girl, and finally sees something traumatic (suicide body of older guy who got publically shamed by his young wife) that causes him to start speaking about traumas past (mother who was chased out of town for being a witch because she wouldn’t remarry).

People converse in a casual, disinterested way – guess that’s a cultural thing, since the usual tendency with inexperienced filmmakers/actors is to over-emphasize everything.

Kino says it is “a clever fable demonstrating how traditional values can heal and unify a modern African state.”

American University Library says it “demonstrates how cooperation and caring can overcome bigotry and intolerance.”

Library of African Cinema notes that it was the first prominent feature film produced in Burkina Faso, and a pioneering attempt to “Africanize” film language. Dialog was kept at a minimum, to maximize understanding among different language groups.

Harvard Film Archive: “One of the first films to adapt the measured rhythms of traditional African storytelling, Wend Kuuni recasts a precolonial tale of village life during the Mossi empire into a lyrical cinematic form.”

Cineaste: “Kabore’s work, however, does not merely project a lost paradise, it also has contemporary overtones in its depiction of bold actions by women in defiance of the patriarchal order.”

Buud Yam in 1997 was a sequel, a Wend Kuuni coming-of-age story, which doesn’t seem to be on video.

Was beaten out by a Maurice Pialat film for the Palme d’or at Cannes, but it still won the jury prize (not the GRAND jury prize – I don’t know exactly how things work at Cannes).

Terrific-looking, bizarre film from Mali (large, landlocked, northwest Africa).

Niankoro (N.) has some sort of magical powers. He and his mom have been hiding out, but dad is hot on their trail, so they go off to find help. While she prays in the swamp, pouring milk over herself, N goes looking for an uncle. His father Soma has a magical post (and two non-magical post-carriers, AND a twin brother with his own post) which may lead him to N. N stops in a village, tries to help out, defeats some bandits and offers to help the king impregnate his youngest wife. But then N impregnantes her himself and gets to keep her. N finally gets a wooden wing from the good uncle, combines it with the gem he got from mom, and confronts his dad with apocalyptic results. Overall, it’s sort of a goofy Western. Or a Malian Star Wars?

The web tells me “Yeelen is the adaptation to film of one of the great oral epics of the Bambara people, set in the thirteenth century, during the period of the Mali Empire.” Katy sent me a long PDF file explaining the mythology but I haven’t read it yet.

Movie opens with a rooster being burned to death… Soma also burns an albino man but not on-screen.

Michael Dembrow helpfully interprets:

Though set in a time far from history, Yeelen clearly reflects Mali’s contemporary situation in 1987, when Mali was firmly in the grips of the military dictatorship of Moussa Traoré. Cissé has acknowledged the difficulty that he would have had in mounting a direct critique of the regime: ‘As my own experiences have shown, what you narrate may also put you into trouble. Sometimes in order to survive a hostile environment one is forced, not necessarily to disarm, but to construct a narrative that is not too political nor devoid of pungent criticism of the system’.

It is difficult not to connect Niankoro with the young men and women who were willing to risk their lives for positive change in the last days of the Traoré regime. Looking within the tradition, taking guidance from those elders whose connection with the positive aspects of the tradition remains intact, they are attempting a synthesis of tradition and the modern. These are people who know how to listen to the song of the Sankofa bird–those who heed the values of the past in order to proceed to a moral, community-building vision of the future. From the vantage point of 1987, the film predicts the violent upheavals of 1991 that would produce many sacrifices, but ultimately new hope for the generations to come.

More consistently on-topic than any previous Moore video/film project, and even more of an illustrated essay than Fahrenheit 9/11 was.

Kinda made me cry a little. Katy liked it, too.

“Real diamonds! They must be worth their weight in gold!”

Tony “Joe(sephine)” Curtis and Jack “Jerry/Daphne” Lemmon are musicians on the run from Spats Colombo after witnessing a hit on one Toothpick Charlie, so they dress as women to hide out on tour with an all-girls band in need. Hilarity ensues.

Considering this is One Of The Most Excellent Films In The History Of Film, I found it disturbingly non-excellent.

I mean, great dialogue, and funny jokes, and Marilyn Monroe and all… but really, one of the best movies ever made? It’s on the AFI list, but not on Rosenbaum’s list so I guess not everyone agrees.

I’m sure the sexual jokes and situations were ahead of their time and paved the way for the 20-some cross-dressing comedies that play the Landmark every year.

Really a fine movie… don’t know why I’m so grumpy about it. Gonna leave it alone now.

“You’re a bit thin for someone who likes food.”
“I don’t like food; I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow it.”

Another top-notch excellent film from Brad Bird and Pixar.

Some gripping action sequences, like when our hero first ventures into the restaurant and hops from cart to cart to floor to table. Perfect image, not as consciously stylized as The Incredibles of course. Great story + characters, satisfactory ending. What more could a rat desire?

I liked the miniature, fat imaginary chef that would appear to Remy and lead him places… but of course the power was within Remy all along, making the chef a sort of Yoda to Remy’s Luke.

“100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film.”

I was gonna go on about similarities between Gordon/Mamet’s Edmond and Freaks, but I guess that doesn’t make much sense.

Katy is hung up on how the freaks turned the wicked trapeze artist into a chicken lady, but it is a “horror” movie, so we’ll just say the Human Torso has transformative magical powers.

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Wallace Ford (Phroso the clown) was in tons more movies, incl. Anthony Mann’s Man From Laramie and Hitchcock’s Spellbound.
Good-girl beauty Leila Hyams was in Buster Keaton’s Spite Marriage, Browning’s 13th Chair, Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap, then she never acted after 1936.

Evil trapeze girl Olga Baclanova was in The Docks of New York and not many sound films because she moved to Broadway for a decade before retiring.
Hercules Henry Victor got huge in the 40’s playing evil nazis in every Hollywood movie that would take him before dying of a brain tumor in ’45.

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Short couple Hans and Frieda were actually siblings. He was in Browning’s Unholy Three and both of them were munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

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Those twins actually were conjoined.
The human torso was sixty-one when the film was made!

One of the greatest weird movies everywhere. Rob Zombie loves it.

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A sad ending to Anderson’s famed trilogy that began with If… (which I did not watch this week because Vdrome didn’t get it in) and O Lucky Man! (which I half-remember from watching on tape five years ago – a musical, right?).

If the first of the trilogy mixes “color and black and white as audaciously as it mixes fantasy and reality” and “remains one of cinema’s most unforgettable rebel yells”, according to Criterion, and the second was a fun, “surrealist musical [which] serves as an allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism”, according to the IMDB, then what’s left for this little apocalyptic satire? It feels flat, unfunny and bizarrely plotted, with Malcolm McDowell barely present and not much holding the whole thing together.

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The final scene (after M. McD’s beheading death) features a long dull speech railing against all of human society by a mad scientist (Graham Crowden of O Lucky Man and The Ruling Class) who unveils a computer named Genesis that will somehow solve everything. Before that, McDowell is an ineffectual investigative reporter, with stoned colleagues Mark Hamill (post-Big Red One, pre-Jedi) and Frank Grimes.

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Movie felt sucky at the time, but it had noble intentions, throwing all of British society into the title hospital, staging a joint protest against both the way the country (err, hospital) treats its less-wealthy citizens, and the way it coddles corrupt and brutal foreign dictators. It’s against both the boss who expects too much and the worker who provides too little, it makes a small mockery of the royal family (midget and tranny royal reps) but shows the Queen’s handlers to be resourceful, sneaking her past the mob incognito, it tosses hatred at the labor unions (portrays them as killing patients through negligence and unnecessary regulations) and it throws some police violence, mob rule and frankenstein medical experiments into the mix. The lead actor is actually hospital director Leonard Rossiter, who mostly keeps his composure, except when he murders a striking electrician to turn the hospital’s power back on.

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Best online source I could find on the film, an unsigned article on britmovie.co.uk site, sums up:

The question posed at the end of the film is ‘Is man intelligent enough to survive?’ The speech concluding the film is not sentimental; it’s much more the speech of an angry rationalist who is appalled and irritated by the stupidity of mankind. He proposes that the only solution is intelligence. But, of course, having made this speech, which most people would agree with, he then proposes a solution that is even crazier and more horrifying than anything the establishment represents. He produces the idea of a disembodied intelligence, this brain we see, which he tells us will be combined into a silicon chip. So, the challenge at the end is a question, If only intelligence can save us how can that intelligence be controlled? The film does say, I hope, that we must mistrust institutions, power, the instincts for power within us, and in that way I think Britannia Hospital is an anarchist film. It puts the responsibility squarely on the individual to develop first the intelligence and the moral awareness by which alone man can control his destiny.

The film’s location manager is quoted as saying “Unlike a lot of directors, [Anderson] doesn’t make films just for money but because he has something to say.” This was clearly a low-budget effort, with big stars (McDowell, Hamill) working for free, and the film had too much of a social conscience to dismiss by saying “ehh, the plot didn’t grip me and McDowell wasn’t in it enough and it was too disjointed” and give it the C- rating it may deserve on the grounds of a pretty poor final product. I’m upgrading to a B- for honorable intentions.

Lead actor (hospital director) Leonard Rossiter would die of a heart attack in 1984, with director Anderson following a decade later.

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