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Ruk Watches Old Movies: Now with Cartoon Shorts!

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1931

 

Highest Grossing Film: Frankenstein- $12,000,000

 

Best Picture: Cimarron

 

What happened this year?

 

Bunch of little things. The Empire State Building was completed, the Star-Spangled Banner was officially adopted as the US National Anthem, the movie versions of Dracula and Frankenstein were released, starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff respectively (Sorry, already seen them so I won't be covering them on this list (They are both great though.)), the Geneva Convention became a thing, Jehova's Witnesses also became a thing and Al Capone was sentenced to 11 years in jail for tax evasion.

 

One minor story I did notice , however, was that this was the year that Adolf Hitler's niece, Geli Raubal committed suicide in Hitler's apartment. I did a little more investigation and honestly it's a pretty fucked up story. To sum it up simply, Adolf Hitler was every bit a domineering fuckwad in his personal life as you would assume and more or less took strict control of his niece's life against her will. And while nothing was ever proven, there was evidence to suggest that Hitler's interest in her wasn't purely familial. (He did actively declare that she was 'the only woman he had ever loved'.)

 

So yeah, it turns out that people who control and abuse women kinda end up being assholes and monsters. Whodda thunk it.

 

As for famous births, we got Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, living pile of human feces Rupert Murdock, Desmond Tutu and James Dean. 

 

Neat. Onto the pre-show. 

 

Pre-Show: Egyptian Melodies

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

Eh. This was kind of a disappointment, honestly. I picked this short because it looked like the spiritual successor to 1929's Skeleton Dance (which is one of my personal favourite cartoon shorts). And in that regard, I was kinda correct, because this short is definitely trying to ape the Skeleton Dance. The problem is that it's less a spiritual successor and more a shitty sequel than anything else.

 

Honestly, it was missing almost every bit of visual ingenuity and fun that made the Skeleton Dance work. Where the Skeleton Dance deftly sets the tone for the scenes to come, Egyptian Melodies just has a dog-spider thing going down a series of long corridors. Where the Skeletons have a unique and interesting way of moving and using their bones in the dance, the mummies merely flop about.

 

And it's clear that the short more or less had no ideas for Egyptian things to use other than mummies and hieroglyphics. And sure, while you could get some interesting moments out of both of those, this short is content just to repeat the same shit over and over, in spite of it never being that interesting in the first place.

 

While I'm not going to say this is the worst thing ever, the animation is fine and it has a bit of a catchy beat to it, this is honestly a pretty big letdown after Swing you Sinners. Everything it does, the Skeleton Dance does better. Ah well, maybe the next Disney cartoon will be more interesting. C-

 

Main Feature: M

 

m-movie-poster-1931-1010349709.jpg

 

Plot:  In Germany, Hans Beckert is a serial killer of children (played by the ever-lovable Peter Lorre). He whistles Edvard Grieg's 'In The Hall of the Mountain King', while attracting said children for death of the most horrible offscreen kind. The police force naturally go on a massive manhunt for this killer, which inconveniences the local organised crime circuit. To get the police off their backs, the criminals, dressed in their best Nazi longcoats, try to catch the murderer and try him on their own grounds... 

 

Trivia: Fritz Lang asserted that he cast real criminals for the court scene in the end. According to biographer Paul Jensen, 24 cast members were arrested during filming. (I don't know why this makes me laugh so much, but it does.)

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

M is the sort of movie where I entirely get why people love it so much. There's so much great about it and so much that works and creates such a strong atmosphere with excellent performances and very little that I can think of to criticise it. Unfortunately, it's also kind of like Hell or High Water for me, where even though I can't think of much I disliked about it and there's plenty I can appreciate, it just never really clicked for me in a way that made me love it. 

 

Seriously though, I’m somewhat of two minds as to whether or not I preferred this to Metropolis. Like I said, this is certainly an overall stronger production than Metropolis in terms of storytelling and plotting and direction and so on, but there were scenes in Metropolis that really wowed me in a way that I don’t think this movie ever quite managed.

 

Honestly, I’m a little unsure as to why I didn’t love this movie more. Again, there’s really not much I can think of that’s all that wrong about it. It creates strong tension, sets up a great mood of fear and paranoia, really captures the panic and grief of mourning parents, manages to avoid the trap of glorifying the criminal elements hunting the serial killer, making more than clear to the audience that these people are all also horrible in their own ways, the acting is great (especially Peter Lorre who did his damndest to persuade us to sympathise with a child-murdering monster (even if he didn’t quite succeed in my case) and overall, I don’t have much in way of glaring flaws with it. I just didn’t quite fall in love with it that I have with others on this list.

 

Best theory I can come up with is that I watched a lot of police procedurals when I was kid and thus have become somewhat dulled to the whole investigative angle, but even that doesn’t quite hold water because this is clearly put together a hell of a lot better than any standard police procedural. The best I can say is that I definitely liked it, but just didn’t love it. Still more than merits a B+ though.

 

Feature Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  2. M- B+

 

Short Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. Swing, you Sinners- A
  2. Egyptian Melodies- C-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1932

 

Highest Grossing Film: Shanghai Express- $3,700,000

 

Best Picture: Grand Hotel

 

What happened this year?

 

Lotta big stars got their start in the film industry this year. Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Temple all made their first film appearances (although in Bergman's case, it was little more than an appearance as an extra.) Plus, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, aka the first ever science-fiction radio show started airing for the first time.

 

Unfortunately, outside of the film world, things weren't doing to well. Japan invaded Shanghai, the Lindberg Baby was kidnapped and General Kurt von Schleicher made a deal with one Adolf Hitler to use the popularity of the Nazi party to help politically outmaneuver his rivals and get von Schleicher elected as Chancellor of Germany. This was a plan that would quickly backfire on von Schleicher as Hitler soon decided that he wanted to be Chancellor of Germany instead and wouldn't take no for an answer. Von Schleicher did get successfully named Chancellor in December of 1932, only to be replaced by Hitler the very next month, before being killed 17 months later in the Night of the Long Knives.

 

Okay, with that depressing prelude to later events out of the way, let's move onto the pre-show. This one in particular is kind of special because it was the first ever cartoon three-strip technicolour.

 

Pre-Show: Flowers and Trees

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

Now that's more like it! While I'll admit the anthropomorphic trees did make me a bit skeptical (and gave me disturbing Lava flashbacks), I honestly thought this was great and showed tons of the ingenuity and imaginative imagery and animation that put Disney on the map.

 

In particular it's the odd cartoon logic that makes me love this short so much. The moments where a flower, plant or something does something in a way that initially makes you go 'huh?' and then, when you think about it, you realise it does make sense in a weird sort of way. Take the blackbirds poking holes in the clouds to make rain, or the use of certain flowers as bells and so on. It's delightfully inventive, yet somehow still making an eccentric kind of sense.

 

I will say it's a bit of a basic story (boy tree meets girl tree, evil tree tries to steal girl tree, everyone burns, etc etc) but, honestly, did it really need to be anything else? The story is more or less just a platform for the ideas and in that regard this works perfectly. A genuine classic. A

 

Main Feature: Vampyr

 

82c964d25f73d18e00a78092af440a2b--vampir

 

Plot:  Allen Grey (which is like the most gothic horror name imaginable) is a drifter obsessed with the supernatural who finds himself embroiled in some weird phenomena involving a young woman being preyed on by a vampire. Then stuff happens, I dunno, it's a bit unclear.

 

Trivia: For much of the cast, this was there only film appearance since they were not professional actors. Henriette Gérard who played the vampire was a French widow, Jan Hieronimko who played the village doctor was a Polish journalist, Rena Mandel who played Gisèle was an artist's model. Even Julian West (real name: Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg) who played Allan Grey, was French-born member of Russian nobility who agreed to finance the film in exchange for the leading part. (He later emigrated to America where he became a powerful fashion journalist and mentor to designers like Calvin Klein.)

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

Okay, this is the first feature movie on this list that I genuinely just didn’t really care for.

 

Don't get me wrong, the movie's not awful by any means or even that bad and I've definitely seen much much worse. It’s just that this movie is just kinda… meh. The storytelling, the characters, the acting, the horrors, the lore, it’s all just… meh. I will give it credit for managing to create a strange dream-like atmosphere and a few coolish moments, like Grey in the coffin, but overall it just never really impressed me like a lot of classic horrors have managed. Even Caligari which I had my issues with (even though it's kinda gone up in my mind with time) was much more interesting than this one.

 

I think the main issue for me with this movie was that it was missing an element of real/interesting direct horror. Nosferatu had the charismatically hideous Count Orlok, Caligari had Cesare, this had… some old woman. Who never really does anything overly threatening on screen. I suppose there was that weird face at the window near then, but the face itself wasn't all that horrifying and, again, it didn't really appear until the end.

 

It also didn’t help that, in spite of being a talkie, this movie clearly wanted to be a silent film. Almost no dialogue or sound effects and the few that were sounded kinda poorly dubbed over. Which I suppose you could argue adds to the dreamlike atmosphere, but I thought just sounded laughable. 

 

To sum up, if you want a classic vampire film from this decade then just go and watch Bela Lugosi's Dracula. Because as it is, I just can’t feel like I can recommend this film. Maybe it inspired a lot of things in cinema, maybe some people can recognise and appreciate it for what worthwhile elements it had, but overall, I just felt it was… meh. C

 

Feature Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  2. M- B+
  3. Vampyr- C

 

Short Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. Flowers and Trees- A
  2. Swing, you Sinners- A
  3. Egyptian Melodies- C-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

1933

 

Highest Grossing Film: Cavalcade- $3,500,000 (although King Kong later overtook it with $5.3m in re-issues

 

Best Picture: Cavalcade

 

What happened this year?

 

Well, some guy named Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. That significant enough for ya? In addition, barely a month later, the Reichstag fire happened, giving Hitler the opportunity to pass through several sweeping laws that allowed him to take dictatorship of Germany and largely cause much of the horror that he would later be known for. The rest of was more or less punctuated by an increase in assaults, boycotts and general shittiness towards Jewish owned properties in Germany. Oh, and the first Concentration Camp was finished in Dachau.

 

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge, the first modern 'sighting' of the Lock Ness Monster happened, Prohibition was finally ended (although marijuana was banned in the same year, so...) and the Lone Ranger radio show started airing. Oh, and also Monopoly was invented.

 

As for famous births, we've got Yoko Ono, Michael Caine, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joan Collins, Joan Rivers, the late great Gene Wilder, Julie Newmar, living embodiment of why 'Death of the Author' is a thing Roman Polanski, Larry King and Mako, from the Avatar: The Last Airbender tv series

 

Got all that? Good. And now it's time for the preshow and our first look at a character who you all might recognise....

 

Pre-Show: Popeye the Sailor- Blow Me Down

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

This. Was. Glorious.

 

No joke, I loved every fucking minute of this and arguably not always for the right reasons. Every single moment of it is unrepentantly dumb and fun and silly and I loved it so so much. From Popeye's ridiculously over-the-top walk and grimace, to Bluto's magnificent entrance shooting fucking everything and somehow missing, to Olive Oyl apparently having no bones in her limps, to the fight scenes that were clearly just the same few frames repeated over and over, to the way everyone constantly bobs up and down like they're in a fighting game, to the ridiculous overdubbing that sounds like it's being adlibbed by the actors in the recording studio (and adlibbed badly at that), to the fact that Popeye apparently doesn't have any teeth, it's all just so ridiculously goofy and I adore it for that. It's the sort of movie where the flaws kind of actively make it better? Even the awkward racial stereotypes.

 

Seriously, I can't undersell how much I freaking loved this cartoon. I was cackling like a hyena almost all the way through, both at what it did right and what it did probably really wrong. The animation ranges from great to bad in a great way and it's just impossible not to have a good time. I hadn't seen many Popeye cartoons before this, but if they're all as amazingly entertaining as this one, I really want to check them out.

 

To sum up, there are definitely cartoon shorts that I've seen thus far that are technically 'better' than this one. Flowers and Trees from last entry, for example, was a short that I'd consider, from an objective point of view, better than this, both in terms of storytelling, animation and general imagination. But if we're solely talking about what entertained me most, then this takes the prize, the biscuit, the spinach and everything else you can imagine. It's dumb, but it's exactly my kind of dumb movie. A+

 

Main Feature: King Kong

 

kingkong_10.jpg

 

Plot:  Y'all should know this one. Big monster, deserted island, pretty woman, awkward racial stereotypes, Empire State Building, yadda yadda.

 

Trivia: Merian C. Cooper's first vision for the film, was of a giant ape on top of the world's tallest building, fighting airplanes. He worked backward from there, to develop the rest of the story.

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

Man, this movie was dumb. And I mean that in like a 70% positive sort of way. 

 

Honestly, this really feels like the genesis of the dumb entertaining blockbuster. It’s littered with stupid moments, effects that haven’t really aged that well and overall isn’t exactly a paragon of intelligent and thoughtful filmmaking. But then again, if my adoration of the preshow above proved, not everything needs to be. And in that regard does that resolve this movie of its sins in my eyes? ...Eh, not quite.

 

Honestly, if I wanted (and a small part of me does), I could pick this movie apart until the cows come home. From the awful romantic dialogue (that I entirely don’t blame Peter Jackson for parodying in his remake) to the hamhanded shooing in of the ‘Beauty kills the Beast’ theme (that only really makes sense at the end but appears like 10 times in dialogue), to how the film clearly suffers from not being able to show more adult-rated gore and material, (take a drink every time a giant monster ‘kills’ someone (in stop motion figure form) via picking them up in its mouth, shaking them about a bit and then putting them gently back down.) Also the main female protagonist, in spite of having some interesting set-up in the first third, spends most of the movie screaming obnoxiously and getting attacked by stuff. (I’m pretty certain I actively shouted ‘Oh come on!’ when the pterodactyl turned up.) And don’t even get me started on the racism and stereotyping (seriously, why is that such a reoccuring theme today?)

 

That said, while all of these criticisms are perfectly legitimate, there's still a pretty big part of me that enjoys the general dumb blockbusterness of it. Are there better dumb blockbusters out there? Definitely. Hell, the recent Kong: Skull Island I thought played into its dumb blockbuster-yness way better than this did and was tons more fun to boot. But this was still at least fairly enjoyable to watch. Even if, as mentioned, it was really really dumb. B-

 

 

Feature Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  2. M- B+
  3. King Kong- B-
  4. Vampyr- C

 

Short Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. Popeye the Sailor Man in Blow Me Down- A+
  2. Flowers and Trees- A
  3. Swing, you Sinners- A
  4. Egyptian Melodies- C-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by rukaio101
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Vampyr is not a big favorite of mine but the atmosphere really works for me. You're right there aren't any overtly frightening moments but it nails that sense of a strange, boggy nightmare where everything feels off and you can't get a firm grip on it. It helps a lot that it's short.

 

I don't know if you've picked your 1943 movie, but if not I hope you consider Day of Wrath which I think is Dreyer's best film. Far from the only great movie released that year, though, so you got plenty of options. 

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On 6/16/2018 at 12:45 AM, Jake Gittes said:

Vampyr is not a big favorite of mine but the atmosphere really works for me. You're right there aren't any overtly frightening moments but it nails that sense of a strange, boggy nightmare where everything feels off and you can't get a firm grip on it. It helps a lot that it's short.

 

I don't know if you've picked your 1943 movie, but if not I hope you consider Day of Wrath which I think is Dreyer's best film. Far from the only great movie released that year, though, so you got plenty of options. 

I actually haven't picked my 1943 movie yet... but, to be honest, I'm also not sure that Day of Wrath really looks like my kind of movie. I'll watch it if I don't find anything better though.

 

1934

 

Highest Grossing Film: The Merry Widow- $2,608,000 

 

Best Picture: It Happened One Night (which is great, fyi)

 

What happened this year?

 

More shitty Nazi stuff. In this specific case, the Night of Long Knives, where the Nazis purged the significant left-wing and anti-Nazi conservative political factions of their country. This was shortly followed by Hitler declaring himself Fuhrer. And the Nuremberg Rally happens as well, just to put the shitty cherry on top.

 

In less awful news, the Flash Gordon comic strip got its start, the first Three Stooges short was aired, Bonny and Clyde died in a shootout and the first quintruplets to survive infancy were born. (Alright look, I was short on interesting non-political/war/natural disaster based news this year, okay?)

 

As for famous births, we've got Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Alan Arkin, Carl Sagan, the late unlamented Charles Manson, Giorgio Armani, Sidney Pollack and Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel into space.

 

Right, with all that out of the way, onto the pre-show.

 

 

Pre-Show: Betty Boop in 'Poor Cinderella'

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

Welp, that sure was the Cinderella story. Yup. They sure did Cinderella the heck out of that story.

 

Okay, I don't really have all that much to say about this one. It's a solid, if unexceptional, retelling of Cinderella just with Betty Boop in the titular role. I think the only real major difference is that they just cut out the middleman at the end and just have Booperella turn up while everyone's putting on the shoes. So credit to that.

 

Honestly, the most interesting thing I can talk about in regards to it is the unexpectedly terrifying nightmare fuel when the animals start talking. I mean, Jesus, that pumpkin. That fucking pumpkin. I nearly spat my drink out. Also, I don't know what wrong with the Prince's face, but 'Charming' sure as hell ain't how I'd describe.

 

That said, again, I really don't have much to say about this one. It's probably the most unexceptional short I've seen thus far. Not great, not bad, just an average telling of Cinderella. B 

 

 

Main Feature: The Thin Man

 

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Plot:  After a four year absence, one time detective Nick Charles returns to New York with his new wife Nora and their dog, Asta. Nick re-connects with many of his old cronies, several of whom are eccentric characters, to say the least. He's also approached by Dorothy Wynant whose inventor father Clyde Wynant is suspected of murdering his former secretary. Her father had left on a planned trip some months before and she has had no contact with him. Nick isn't all that keen on resuming his former profession but egged-on by wife Nora, who thinks this all very exciting, he agrees to help out.

 

Trivia: William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of "diva" temperament. "When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren't acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony," he said. "Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best."

 

 

Ruk's Thoughts:

 

You know, this was actually probably one of the less anticipated movies of this decade for me when I was deciding on which films to watch? I knew barely anything about it when I selected it other than that it was a detective story and relatively well-regarded. But honestly, I wasn’t really expecting much from it.

 

So, imagine my surprise when I didn’t just enjoy it, but I ended up actively really really loving it.  

 

Now a large part of this praise does come down thanks to the two main heroes, Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy. It’s rare that I’m ever really all that interested in onscreen romances but these two don’t just have chemistry, they have it in fucking spades. Almost every interaction between the two is delightful and witty and charming and they play off each other with an almost casual ease. The obnoxious childish genius detective trope is nothing new, but seeing Nora Charles give as good as she gets and play off her husband perfectly just makes it all the more fresh and enjoyable. I can genuinely believe these two have been married and in love for all these years, even as they snark and joke at each other. 

 

To sum up why I love these two so much, one of my favourite moments with them was when Nick was in a private room, embracing an attractive younger woman to comfort her (in a clearly platonic way, mind), just as Nora walked in. Now, the set-up of the scene makes it appear like its going to be the typical romantic misunderstanding and that Nora will think Nick is cheating on her. But that isn’t what happens at all. Instead, Nick just makes a face at her and Nora makes the exact same face back at him, before getting on with her work. I don’t know why I love this tiny moment so much, but it really sums why I adore these two and their chemistry so so much.

 

The rest of the movie is also pretty damn good too. Each of the side characters are memorable and distinct (especially besuited oddball Gilbert), the mystery is interesting and the pacing and tension is both pretty solid. My only complaint is that it does feel a bit uneven towards the final act. The filmmakers obviously realised how good the chemistry was between their stars and thus dedicated a bit more screentime towards their interactions (not that I’m complaining mind,) but at the cost of taking away from the mystery and its conclusion. Hell, the main culprit (who I managed to figure out about halfway through) doesn’t even get a scene to really explain his motives or thoughts. He’s just arrested and that’s the end of it.

 

That said, this is still a really great movie. The mystery is interesting, it’s well shot, acted and written and, as mentioned, the two stars have the sort of chemistry where I can barely count on one hand the number of films that match it. So I’m giving it a nice strong A.

 

 

Feature Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. The Thin Man- A
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  3. M- B+
  4. King Kong- B-
  5. Vampyr- C

 

Short Rankings (1930s):

 

  1. Popeye the Sailor Man in Blow Me Down- A+
  2. Flowers and Trees- A
  3. Swing, you Sinners- A
  4. Betty Boop in Poor Cinderella- B
  5. Egyptian Melodies- C-

 

 

 

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On 6/15/2018 at 11:03 PM, rukaio101 said:

Main Feature: King Kong

 

One of the best animated films ever made IMO. 

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On 6/18/2018 at 2:42 AM, rukaio101 said:

I actually haven't picked my 1943 movie yet... but, to be honest, I'm also not sure that Day of Wrath really looks like my kind of movie. I'll watch it if I don't find anything better though.

Shadow of a Doubt and Life and Death of Colonel Blimp are two other great '43 films I've seen, either may be more up your speed.

 

Nick and Nora in The Thin Man are the best. 

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