1942

Destruction Inc. (1942, Izzy Sparber)

Destruction Inc. is nearly a success. It’s frustratingly not, particularly because the only thing holding it back is the animation itself. Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar lack detail on the action, lack detail on the background, and don’t composite the two well. But Sparber’s direction is fantastic. There are some great action sequences in Destruction, they just don’t look good.

The cartoon has Lois (Joan Alexander) going undercover at the munitions plant and discovering a saboteur ring. Bad acting from Julian Noa on the villain doesn’t help things. All of the henchmen are poorly acted as well. And then there’s the pervy news boy, Louis (Jack Mercer), who gets a desperately unfunny bit after ogling Lois.

But still. The sequence where Lois is on the run from the goons, even if she doesn’t have a face in long shots, is great.

Superman shows up after the goons catch her and put her in a torpedo. Saboteurs in munitions plants have all the access.

And even though the Superman saving Lois and fighting goons sequence is, again, beautifully directed, the animation is just the pits. The cel and background compositing just gets worse during as the cartoon goes along, even if overall it’s far from bad… it’s just not good.

Jay Morton’s plotting and pacing are great. His attempts at humor are not. They drag. Sparber doesn’t direct them well either. So Sparber’s got the action down, he’s got some of the expository down, not the humor. And no one’s got the animation detail.

It’s too bad. Destruction Inc. should’ve worked. It nearly gives Alexander a good part too. The animation really sinks it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Dave Tendlar; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (Louis), and Julian Noa (Chief Thug); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Eleventh Hour (1942, Dan Gordon)

While Eleventh Hour posits Superman as some kind of American war hero–he’s in Yokohama doing all sorts of damage, usually to ships–the cartoon actually portrays him as a big doofus who’s more lucky than anything else.

Clark (Bud Collyer) and Lois (Joan Alexander) are under house arrest. In a hotel. In Yokohama. Almost a year after Pearl Harbor. With no explanation. There’s sabotage going on, which is confusing the Japanese soldiers (personified with some exceptionally racist caricatures), and Lois thinks it might be Superman. Of course, the viewer knows it’s Superman because Hour’s already shown him sneaking back into Clark’s hotel room (and replacing the window bars).

Lois and Clark have been talking through their adjoining wall, with Clark apparently always getting back just in time to answer her questions about the latest act of sabotage. But then one night, knowing she’s looking out her window for Superman, Superman flies past. And she knocks on the wall to tell Clark only a guard gets her. So they post signs about how she’ll be executed following Superman’s next act of sabotage. She’s a hostage.

They post the signs everywhere.

Only Superman doesn’t pay any attention to them. Not when he goes out the next night, not when he’s Clark Kent during the day (presumably). Next night, Superman blows up a ship or something and gets trapped under some steel beams because he’s actually really bad at understanding… gravity? So when the Japanese are about to execute Lois, he’s just lifting himself out and reading the sign for the first time.

Even for wartime propaganda, Eleventh Hour is pretty dumb. Willard Bowsky and William Henning’s animation isn’t particularly good either. Ditto Gordon’s direction. Though Gordon does understand iconic shots, he just can’t pace them or make them work in the context of the cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dan Gordon; screenplay by Carl Meyer and Bill Turner, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Willard Bowsky and William Henning; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jack Mercer (Japanese soldiers); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Showdown (1942, Izzy Sparber)

The showdown in Showdown is… not much of a showdown. A hapless–if nimble-fingered–thief dresses up like Superman and commits a bunch of crimes. He doesn’t do it on his own, he does it because his boss commands it. His boss looks a little like Edward G. Robinson. No, there’s no showdown between Superman and Edward G. Robinson.

Unfortunately for the fake Superman, when he goes to hit the opera, Clark (Bud Collyer) and Lois (Joan Alexander) are covering the story. Lois tears the S off fake Superman’s chest–guess on his planet it means s.o.l.–and goes to call the cops while Clark changes into his long-johns and goes after the thief. There’s a little showdown on the roof of the opera house, where Superman basically knocks the guy off the roof before saving him.

Superman flies the impostor to his boss, Lois and the cops follow from below. Somehow they’re able to keep following even though Superman has already landed. Edward G. Robinson has Superman outsmarted though, thanks to a trap door and a pit. So there’s a delay in Superman catching the bad guys.

There are a couple good shots in the cartoon and some great background design, but it’s pretty tepid stuff. The Superman action is boring and poorly lighted. The frequent logic jumps are… well, hard to get worked up about because who cares. Sparber’s direction is better than the animation.

Superman terrorizing the petty thief off the roof is something though.

Not even the Edward G. Robinson boss is amusing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Izzy Sparber; screenplay by Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Graham Place; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jack Mercer (Office Boy/Fake Superman), and Julian Noa (The Boss); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Japoteurs (1942, Seymour Kneitel)

Outside the racism, there’s not much to distinguish Japoteurs. There’s a lot of potential for the finale, when Superman (Bud Collyer) has to stop a crashing airplane–the world’s biggest bomber, which Japanese saboteurs have stolen and intend to take to Tokyo–but it’s not an impressive sequence. It’s somewhat thorough, but not impressive.

The plane itself is kind of impressive. It’s big enough to house fighter jets and is taller than buildings. But the cartoon doesn’t do anything with it–save one of the shots of it on the ground at the end and that shot is too little too late. It’s also competent, just not exciting.

Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark are on board getting a press tour at the beginning of the cartoon; when they’re supposed to leave, Lois stays. Good for everyone she did because after the saboteurs take over, she’s the one who calls it in, which eventually leads to Superman getting involved.

The animation is okay in spots. Not so much with the Superman versus saboteur fisticuffs, but director Kneitel does have a couple decent shots and the animation works in them. Overall, it’s rather mediocre. The villains are all racist caricatures; well, both. There are three saboteurs but two look identical. That bit isn’t the cartoon’s racism coming through, it’s the animators’ laziness. All the guys on the ground look the same, pretty much like Clark Kent (without the glasses). Or if they look a little different, they look the same as the guy who’s two Clark Kent clones away.

Given the cultural ick value of the cartoon, it’s almost unfortunate it’s so darn blah. If it were godawful, it’d be something. If it were technically outstanding, it’d be something. Instead, it’s low middling. Bill Turner and Carl Meyer’s story has got its time constraints, sure, but they still manage to disappoint.

The whole thing disappoints or fails to impress.

Plus ick.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Seymour Kneitel; screenplay by Bill Turner and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Nick Tafuri and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Saboteur), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jack Mercer (Press Tour Guide); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Terror on the Midway (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Terror on the Midway has some mediocre animation, some bad animation, and some excellent design and direction. It’s also got a gratuitous Superman butt shot, which angles to show his curves in the red tights. It’s a weird shot. Especially since it keeps angling.

The cartoon starts with Clark (Bud Collyer) mocking Lois (Joan Alexander) for being stuck covering the circus. He then ditches her to go back to the paper, which isn’t revealed for a while because Midway’s busy with this adorable circus monkey releasing Gigantic the Gorilla, who causes the resulting Terror.

Now, there are circus attendants who try to tame the gorilla; they fail. They also all look exactly the same, basically like Clark without his glasses. When the cops show up, they too look exactly the same. As the circus attendants. The only variety in the character design is in these three little kids who are in danger. Lois saves one of them, which sets the gorilla on her trail.

After the gorilla has wrecked enough havoc to cause all the circus-goers to flee and loose some of the animals. And maybe kill three of the elephants. Midway could care less about animal cruelty. Some of the later sequences kind of revel in it.

Clark comes back to the circus right after he gets to the paper and somehow hears all the people running away. He still takes a cab because he’s not too worried. When he gets there, he tries to help an attendant hold down a loose elephant but can’t. Because, apparently, he doesn’t have any super-strength when he’s in his civvies.

Eventually he changes into the long-johns, beats up some terrified animals, and saves Lois. It takes him a while to save Lois, however, because he can’t quite best the gorilla. The gorilla’s apparently more powerful than two locomotives.

The animation gets shoddier as the cartoon goes on–though still with some great direction–with a particularly unsatisfactory finale. For a while it seems like the inventiveness (Lois the hero) and the design (the circus is visually stunning) might carry Midway, but no.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Jay Morton and Dan Gordon, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and James Davis; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jack Mercer (Barker); narrated by Jackson Beck.


Electric Earthquake (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Outside the racist–though not exceptionally racist all things considered–characterization of the villain, a Native American engineer who’s going to level Manhattan because it was stolen from his people, Electric Earthquake is pretty much great. Well, it’s outstanding. For what it does, it’s outstanding.

So there’s the opening, where only Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) thinks the Native American guy has a point–while Julian Noa’s Perry White is a piece of crap, apparently–but neither think the guy is actually going to do anything. Only Lois (Joan Alexander) thinks to trail him back to the docks, where he catches her and takes her down to his undersea laboratory.

The cartoon has already introduced the laboratory, complete with the wires going to the various parts of the ocean floor so the engineer can shock an earthquake. And he does. Manhattan falls apart. Cracks in the streets, skyscrapers crumbling, the Daily Planet having a big chunk fall away. And no nonsense regarding Superman–he’s in action right away (well, after the disaster starts).

And he saves the day. With some complications and some troubles.

There are a couple things not animated well, but otherwise it’s all phenomenal work. Good direction from Fleischer. Some of the animation doesn’t quite match, but it’s still good. The rocky parts are in the explosions. They’re lacking in detail and size.

And, story-wise, it’s not like the engineer turns out to be some great villain or even an interesting one. He doesn’t beat up Lois, which is nice, though he does leave her to drown in his getaway. He’s almost sympathetic.

The Superman action, including his various troubles with electric wiring, collapsing buildings, and just having enough breath, is great. The ending is fun too.

The fun might be the best thing about Earthquake. Even though it’s obviously full of catastrophic danger, Fleischer and his animators enjoy the heck out of Superman’s response to it.

Though Lois gets a particularly bad part. She’s present for almost everything and gets no reaction other than silent fear.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Seymour Kneitel and Izzy Sparber, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Steve Muffati and Arnold Gillespie; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Lenape scientist); narrated by Beck.


The Magnetic Telescope (1942, Dave Fleischer)

The Magnetic Telescope is about a power-mad astronomer who builds an observatory with a giant magnet on top so he can attract meteors and comets to the Earth for further study. The device, in attracting meteors, is an obvious public safety issue but the astronomer doesn’t care. He’s willing to let thousands die so he can observe a comet.

The cops try to stop him, but he locks himself in and they have to try to destroy the giant magnet’s supporting machinery. They do, but it then means the astronomer can’t control the comet he’s brought to Earth. So he does a run for it.

Lois (Joan Alexander) is the only reporter covering the story. The cops aren’t very worried about her. She ends up trapped. Luckily, when Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) takes a cab over to save her, a fragment of the comet hits the cab and he decides to save the day as Superman. Though his plan isn’t initially much brighter than hitting the comet, which both times knocks him out.

Magnetic is too visually tepid to be exciting. The animation is rushed and lacks detail, the story is weak. Weak might actually be a compliment. The comet fragments hitting the city sequence is all boring–there’s a definite lack of detail throughout, but when not even the set pieces get any attention, well… then there’s nothing to Magnetic Telescope.

The end “it’s all thanks to Superman” tag would almost be amusing if Clark weren’t such a wet blanket. It’s hard to get excited about a Superman too dense to know he can’t stop a comet–and he appears to fly towards it, not jump–not to mention when Clark takes a cab to help possibly mortally injured Lois.

Magnetic it ain’t. But who knows what better animation would’ve done for it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Dan Gordon and Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Thomas Moore and Myron Waldman; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Mad Astronomer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Julian Noa (Perry White); narrated by Jackson Beck.


The Bulleteers (1942, Dave Fleischer)

Three genius mechanical engineers come up with a flying, rocket-powered bullet car, with a penetrating nose, and try to extort millions from Metropolis. When their extortion fails, they attack. After some trouble, Superman stops them. The Bulleteers is nothing if not concise.

The cartoon starts introducing the bullet car, then its owners. They’re in a mountain hideout, of course, but it doesn’t turn out to be important. The emphasis of the cartoon, for the first half, is on the city. Lots and lots of people in Bulleteers–since they’re in a mountain the Bulleteers are able to use a very loud speaker to threaten the city, everyone comes outside to listen. So it’s a lot of beautiful design work, then nice, deliberate animation of the crowds. Until the nighttime attack, Bulleteers’s Metropolis feels vibrant and full.

The attack is a bunch of disaster sequences, as the bullet car easily knocks through police defenses and starts shooting through buildings, sending debris everywhere. Luckily, Lois Lane (Joan Alexander) has ditched Clark Kent (Bud Collyer) and he’s able to put on the longjohns to try to save the day. There’s some good tension in whether or not he’ll be able to do it.

The finale with the Bulleteers is a tad perfunctory, but the cartoon’s already done its stuff–the first part of their attack is on a power plant, which leads to some great disaster inserts. And some of the Superman action is excellent. All of the animation is excellent, regardless of content.

Bulleteers’s exquisite visuals and simple narrative add up to a nice eight minutes.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dave Fleischer; screenplay by Bill Turner and Carl Meyer , based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and Graham Place; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; produced by Max Fleischer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman/Bulleteer), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (Perry White/Bulleteer), and Jackson Beck (Bulleteer); narrated by Beck.


The Moon and Sixpence (1942, Albert Lewin)

The Moon and Sixpence has a number of serious problems, all of them the fault of director and screenwriter Lewin. As a director, while never spectacular, Lewin manages some competence and ambition. He tells Moon and Sixpence in a series of summarized flashbacks. Those flashbacks, narratively and budgetarily effective, end up being the film’s undoing.

The film opens with a text scroll informing the viewer it is about a famous painter, Charles Strickland. Charles Strickland, however, is not a real painter. He’s fictionalization of Gauguin. The source novel is first person, from the perspective of that novel’s author, W. Somerset Maugham. Herbert Marshall plays that “character,” only he’s not playing Maugham, he’s got a different name. So it was always supposed to be about a fictionalized version of real person, told by a fictionalized version of an author, but Lewin’s adaptation presents the fictional painter as a real person and the real author as a fictional one.

George Sanders plays the painter, Herbert Marshall plays the author. Even though the film starts with Marshall directly addressing the viewer about his plans to write a history of Sanders, Lewin eventually abandons Marshall entirely. It’s a problem since it’s supposed to be him telling the story… and it gets even worse when there’s an end text scroll to wrap things up. Why’d we need Marshall?

Well, Marshall’s needed because someone needs to do the acting. Sanders is good, but he’s barely in the film. He’s the subject of it, after all, and it’s structured as Marshall’s pursuit of him. There are only a handful of bad performances–but two of them, Doris Dudley and Molly Lamont, are extremely important because they’re the women in Sanders’s life. Lewin’s not a good director of actors; he tries to avoid them with the summarized flashbacks. Lots of voiceovers from Marshall, which eventually give way to voiceovers from people telling their story to Marshall.

A flashback in a flashback in a flashback.

Most of the film relies on Marshall, with occasional bursts of energy from Sanders. Maybe more than an hour of it (Moon and Sixpence runs ninety minutes). There are significant supporting cast members–Dudley and Steven Geray–but Marshall and Sanders are the salient points. Geray’s a caricature. Dudley doesn’t even get to be a caricature (similar to Lewin’s handling of Lamont). It should all be about Sanders, except since Lewin’s not adept at directing performances–not even good ones–Marshall ends up carrying the picture. He’s around the most.

Until the end. In the end, when the action moves to Tahiti, both Sanders and Marshall become detached thanks to the flashback structure. Instead of Marshall telling Sanders’s story, Marshall is telling his own story of hearing about Sanders. Maybe if Albert Bassermann and Florence Bates were better–both are mostly fine, Bates is even fun, but the parts are way too thin–their narratives would be more effective. Or maybe Lewin’s finally just ran out of rope as he lengthens the narrative distance more and more from Sanders.

Either way, just when Lewin needs to build something up for Sanders, he cuts and runs. Moon and Sixpence comes up short.

Eric Blore’s got an amusing, if pointless small part. Elena Verdugo is almost good as another woman in Sanders’s life. She’s certainly better than Dudley and Lamont; maybe she just ignored Lewin’s direction.

John F. Seitz’s photography is fine (he does well with the many projection shots neccesarily to put the cast in Paris and Tahiti). Dimitri Tiomkin’s music is a little much. Maybe if the film were more effective, the music would match, but the film’s ineffective and the music just draws attention to its failings.

The garrish Richard L. Van Enger editing doesn’t help things either.

The Moon and Sixpence seems like it should’ve given Sanders and Marshall great roles, but it doesn’t. Lewin inartfully treats Marshall like a narrative device and Sanders like a guest star. It especially disappoints with the failed conclusion, just because the film had been successfully coasting on its leads for so long, all Lewin needed to do was not botch the third act too much.

But he does botch it too much. Way too much.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Lewin; screenplay by Lewin, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Richard L. Van Enger; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; production designer, Gordon Wiles; produced by David L. Loew; released by United Artists.

Starring Herbert Marshall (Geoffrey Wolfe), Steven Geray (Dirk Stroeve), George Sanders (Charles Strickland), Doris Dudley (Blanche Stroeve), Molly Lamont (Mrs. Amy Strickland), Elena Verdugo (Ata), Florence Bates (Tiare Johnson), Albert Bassermann (Dr. Coutras), and Eric Blore (Capt. Nichols).


The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles)

Unfortunately, I feel the need to address some of the behind the scenes aspects of The Magnificent Ambersons. Not because I plan on talking about them, but because director Welles’s career is filled with a lack of control. There are always questions–what did editor Robert Wise do on his own, what did he do with Welles’s input. With Ambersons, one can get lost in the possibility. But the reality is more than strong enough on its own.

With Ambersons, Welles creates a nightmare. He creates a nightmare of a child in the humorously awful, spoiled little rich kid (a wonderful, uncredited Bobby Cooper), who becomes a nightmare of a young man (Tim Holt in a phenomenal performance). The thing about Holt’s character, who negatively impacts everyone around him in one way or another including himself, is he doesn’t change. He just has a certain set of skills, he applies them to all situations without regard to whether they’re appropriate for those situations. Welles doesn’t care if the audience is sympathetic to Holt, he cares if they’re interested. Holt–and the Magnificent Ambersons exist regardless of audience sympathy; they even have a haunted mansion to loiter around.

Because even studio meddling and Wise’s ego can’t alter the “in camera” aspects of Ambersons. There’s an amazing mansion set where Holt terrorizes his elders. There’s Stanley Cortez’s gorgeous photography. There’s the acting. And, frankly, some of the editing is so obviously under Welles’s instruction, especially in the first act. Ambersons runs under ninety minutes and covers a decade and a half. It’s mostly told in summary, with actual scenes left to haunt the characters and audience alike. It’s a weighty film; director Welles narrates it himself, applying further pressure to the audiences’ shoulders. It’s got a perfect narrative distance. Was that distance Welles’s intention or the result of meddling? Who knows.

Wonderful supporting performances from Ray Collins and Richard Bennett. Dolores Costello is great as Holt’s mother, Agnes Moorehead’s great as his aunt. Joseph Cotten’s great as Holt’s love interest’s father. Cotten is also Costello’s love interest, which what all the drama is about. Anne Baxter plays Cotten’s daughter. She has the most important role in the entire film (outside Moorehead, who has to humanize Holt). Baxter has to be believable as the object of Holt’s affection. It works, thanks to Baxter, Holt and Welles, but it’s an achievement. It isn’t about Baxter being appealing, it’s about Holt being monstrous.

The Magnificent Ambersons, in its under ninety minute runtime, offers somewhere around eighty-five minutes of perfect filmmaking. The other three or four minutes, meddled or not, have perfect acting and excellent studio filmmaking. It may have a haunted history, but it’s appropriate. The Magnificent Ambersons is all about being haunted after all.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on the novel by Booth Tarkington; director of photography, Stanley Cortez; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Tim Holt (George Minafer), Dolores Costello (Isabel Amberson Minafer), Joseph Cotten (Eugene Morgan), Anne Baxter (Lucy Morgan), Agnes Moorehead (Fanny Minafer), Ray Collins (Jack Amberson), Don Dillaway (Wilbur Minafer) and Richard Bennett (Major Amberson).


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