The Snow Creature

From time to time I enjoy listening to various podcasts about the Disney theme parks. I love going to Walt Disney World, but I don’t get to go very often. Seven years passed between my last two visits…so when I’m there, I just soak it all in. So it does bug me a bit when so many of these podcasts, produced by supposed Disney fans, spend so much time complaining about things. One of the frequent complaints I’ve heard has to do with the Yeti that pops out during the Expedition Everest ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “It doesn’t move right anymore,” they’ll say…to which I respond, “get a life, will ya!” But, for all those who want to complain about Yeti’s, allow me to suggest a far worse alternative…1954’s “The Snow Creature.”

The film focuses on botanist Frank Parrish (Paul Langton), who is leading an expedition to study plant life high in the Himalayas. He is joined by a photographer, Peter Wells (Leslie Denison), and a group of Sherpas. Ok, we’ve got our first problem right here. I’m no scientist, but I do live where there are mountains and know that once you get high enough, the plant life gets a bit scarce. So I’m thinkin’ there’s not gonna be a whole lot of vegetation to study or take pictures of. Just sayin’.

Anyway, after climbing a bit, the group makes camp. That night, back in the village, the wife of Subra (Teru Shimada), one of the guides, is attacked by a strange creature. When word reaches Subra, he knows instantly it is a Yeti. Parrish isn’t convinced and refuses to allow Subra and the others to go off in search of the creature. But, that night, Subra steals Parrish and Wells’ ammunition. Now they have no choice but to follow Subra and the others on the hunt.

When giant footprints are spotted near the camp, Parrish begins to think there may be something to all this Yeti talk. They narrowly escape an avalanche caused by the creature and eventually take shelter in a cave. There they encounter the creature, and his family, first hand. In his anger, the creature ends up causing a cave-in, killing the other creatures and knocking himself unconscious. So, of course, our botanist/photographer combo rig up a stretcher to bring the creature back.

Parrish manages to get himself a refrigerator type contraption to bring the creature stateside. Upon arrival in the US, they run into some immigration issues. See, the creature is an abominable snow “man” but has no passport. I’m not making this up. Soon that doesn’t matter as the creature escapes and starts living it up in Los Angeles. It doesn’t take long for the creature too start attacking women in dark alleys. Now it’s up to Parrish and Lt. Dunbar (Bill Phipps) to find the creature before he attacks again.

“The Snow Creature” borrows heavily from one of the greatest films of all time, “King Kong.” Both have expeditions that stumble upon a creature, both creatures are fascinated by women, and both creatures are brought to the US, only to escape. But this is a far cry from the “8th wonder of the world.” The scenes in the himalayas are a bit silly with considerable gaps in the logic of the whole thing. I mean, how does a botanist have the resources with him to drug and bind a huge creature to a crudely made stretcher for a multi-day journey down the mountain?

Most of the creature’s rampage through LA is pretty blah as well. The Yeti spends most of his time lurking in shadows, occasionally stepping forward a tad so we can see his silhouette, then stepping back again. There are no crowds of people running and screaming as the beast lumbers down the street. Meanwhile, the pursuit of the creature is yawn inducing, to say the least. Parrish and Dunbar spend almost the whole time sticking thumbtacks into a map rather than, oh…I don’t know, going out and actually looking for the beast! Only the final sequence, with the beast being chased through the sewers, manages a small shred of excitement.

Some B-movie fans will probably have a lot of fun with this overall cheap production. There are even some sequences where footage used just moments earlier appears to have been reused. If you don’t enjoy bad movies, this abominable snowman flick will be just plain abominable.

Forgotten Disney: Education for Death

We conclude our Forgotten Disney series today with a very un-Disney Disney film. One of the many propaganda pieces the studio made during World War II, 1943’s “Education for Death.” Our guest reviewer is Dan Heaton.

Dan has been writing about film, TV, and music for nearly 15 years.  He started doing really basic reviews for a student magazine in college. Since then, he’s contributed to a variety of print and web publications, including DigitallyObsessed.com and ErasingClouds.com. You can check out his current work at his blog, Public Transportation Snob (ptsnob.com). Dan says, “The blog helps me to explore my film blind spots, interact with other movie fans, and work on my writing. I’m tackling marathons each month on a specific theme. Examples from the past year include That Crazy Nicolas Cage, When Am I? (time travel), We’re All Dead! (post-apocalyptic), and Cult Movies.”  He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and toddler daughter.

Education for Death

One of the lesser-known periods of Walt Disney’s career is his extensive work producing films for the government and armed forces during World War II. The company was reeling financially despite the huge success of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. Disney used his most recognizable animated characters like Donald Duck to promote the war effort at home. Some of these short films were designed more for comedy, while others went further and took a more serious route to attack Hitler’s regime. Some of these pictures remain stunning today, especially when you consider the source. Disney’s movies and theme parks are successful because they masterfully deliver a specific message and feeling. His propaganda films were no different and remind us of his tremendous artistic and intellectual talents.

One of the prime examples is “Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi,” a 1943 release that depicts the ways Hitler’s regime indoctrinated kids from an early age. Based on a book of the same name by Gregory Ziemer, this 10-minute short provides a series of remarkable shots that strike at our hearts. Legendary animator Ward Kimball drives home the message with striking juxtapositions of characters in each frame. The shot of small boys giving the Hitler salute is effective and clearly delineates the point of this film. Director Clyde Geronimi is trying to show how the enemy is doing more than corrupting its adult citizens. They’re basically taking over their lives at birth and never letting go. The main character is a boy named Hans, and his parents must prove they’re pure Aryans right after he arrives. He never has a chance to do anything but serve Hitler and prepare for war. The shadow of the Nazi looms over them and takes up most of the screen as he grabs control of Hans’ life.

Art Smith narrates the story, which includes German dialogue and no subtitles. This is another purposeful move to avoid humanizing the Nazis by giving them clear communication. Having a narrator ensures there’s no doubt about the point of each shot. When Hans grows sick, the footage of his mom with her son reminds us there are humans living under Hitler. While they’re shot warmly, the Nazi soldier is presented like a monster ready to devour Hans. Smith calls him a “superman”, and his giant shadow fits with that over-the-top image of the villain. His teacher looks more like a regular guy, but he’s also a huge man who gets more imposing when Hans counteracts his message. He also ridicules the boy in front of the class — a clever way to show how peer pressure drives the German populace.

There are attempts at comedy with the much-different version of Sleeping Beauty that’s reportedly told to Nazi children. This is the only misstep of the movie and could easily have been removed. The joke of the very fat German woman and a goofball Hitler doesn’t work, and it takes Smith’s narration to explain the point. It’s a fairly short sequence and stands out because it feels tacked onto a generally convincing production. It seems designed solely to retain audiences who need generic comedy to stay focused. Once we exit this interlude, the remainder stays grim and on point.

The most convincing sequence is the final act, which shows Hans accepting and becoming a full member of the Nazi army. The hellish scene of book burning is enhanced when the Bible morphs into Mein Kempf. We also see the crucifix being replaced with a sword as the violent carnage ensues. While Hans quickly grows up and becomes completely shackled, it’s setting us up for the final shocker. The image of a row of gravestones as far as the eye can see is a definitive mission statement for the movie. Disney and the U.S. Government paint Hitler as a madman leading his people to ultimate destruction. It’s a classic piece of propaganda that creates a hyper reality from the worst elements of the Nazi regime. It might seem out of character for casual Disney fans, but they don’t really know the company’s namesake that well. He was a politically motivated guy who had more on his mind than creating fantasy. “Education for Death” is a surprising example from his past that is forgotten or unseen by most viewers. It’s a classic example of war-time propaganda and the rampant possibilities of the animated medium.

Forgotten Disney: Charlie the Lonesome Cougar

Today our Forgotten Disney post gives us a lovable Disney animal, but not the animated sort. It’s 1967’s “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar.” Today’s guest reviewer is the Retro Hound, Robert Lindsey.

Robert Lindsey runs the blog RetroHound.com. By day he’s an academic librarian in the great state of Kansas. He is happily married for 20 years and has 4 boys, was in the US Army, has flipped burgers, sold auto parts, been a campus minister, and washed headstones at a national cemetery. He started watching old movies as a kid and has never lost his passion for them. He would love to watch them and review them and read reviews about them for a living. That, and buy and sell old stuff like records, books, automobilia, and anything that strikes his fancy.  He says, “I have way too many hobbies, way too many interests, and, according to my wife, way too many collections….and a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville (389, 4-speed, tri-power).”

Charlie the Lonesome Cougar

“Charlie the Lonesome Cougar” is one of those pleasant Disney shows narrated by Rex Allen in his soothing, slightly amused voice. Shot in an almost documentary looking film stock (the director Winston Hibler directed several of Disney’s nature documentaries), Charlie is appropriate for kids and adults of all ages, but it’s not fast paced, so it’s best to show it to them before they’ve been ruined by the Disney Channel. However, anyone who likes to watch animals frolic around (and that is everyone, right?) should enjoy it.

The story is about a young cougar cub that’s orphaned, then found by a logger named Jess Bradley. Jess names the cub Good Time Charlie and raises him like a pet. Charlie becomes familiar with the lumber yard and the folks around accept him, except for a Jack Russell Terrier named Chainsaw. Charlie is still young and is rather tame, so even though he could with one whap of the paw tell Chainsaw to leave him alone, he doesn’t do it, instead he runs. This turns into trouble when the lumber company is getting ready for a “river drive” which is when they put 60 million feet of lumber(!) into the river to float downstream. Charlie runs from Chainsaw onto a boat just as it’s taking off and gets into trouble. This trouble reverberates down the river culminating in the destruction of the kitchen raft at a log jam.

After that happens, Jess’ boss tells him to keep Charlie home. Charlie doesn’t like staying in a glorified screened-in porch and when he hears a female cougar in the vicinity, being the teenager he is now, he busts out and takes off after her. Then Charlie is on his own for a while and there is lots of footage of animals interacting. How do they get the animals to do these things? Do they just film stuff and then write the script to match; or just keep filming until it’s close to what they want?

At one point, the young Charlie gets to playing with a bear cub and after a while they take a nap in a log. This log happens to be the favorite log of a big ol’ bachelor bear who loves it for finding grubs and such. As an example of Rex Allen’s melodious narrative style, he says the bachelor bear “didn’t like the Beat generation making a pad out of his pantry.”

Charlie is gone for quite a while growing up and getting wild again. Eventually he accidentally finds his way back to the lumber yard, but he barely remembers the place. He gets trapped in the kitchen pantry overnight then in the morning Chainsaw starts chasing him so the cougar goes wild. Eventually he gets trapped in an elevator and the men are ready to shoot him, but Jess recognizes him and stops them. He talks Charlie back to a calm state and takes him out to a wildlife refuge deep in the Cascade Mountains.

“Charlie the Lonesome Cougar” is a leisurely paced movie that’s perhaps a bit corny, and the actors all have very short resumes (some only this one film), but as my four boys (ages 10-16) watched it again last night we all were laughing and completely enjoying it. One thing that differentiates these older forgotten films is how they avoid the mushy forced sentimentalism of movies like Free Willy. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Highly recommended.

Forgotten Disney: Candleshoe

Today’s entry in the Forgotten Disney series takes us to a time when the reigning Disney teen star wasn’t the likes of Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus…but Jodie Foster. The film is 1977’s “Candleshoe.” Our guest reviewer is Richard Winters.

Richard calls himself a forty-something movie maven. He particularly enjoys lost and obscure films.  He is also an avid slacker and one of his favorite films of all-time is “Stranger Than Paradise,” which is the creed for all aimless, self-respecting slackers everywhere.  “I take my slacking seriously and hope one day to turn it into a full-time profession.”  Until that time, he works in the field of insurance and he says it is as boring as you think it is. In his spare time he writes for his movie blog called Scopophilia: Movies of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s  Every week he reviews three movies, one from each decade.  He’s also working on a screenplay. “It may not sell, but at least I can say I gave it a shot.”

 Candleshoe

My Rating: 8 out of 10

            Jodie Foster stars as Casey a teen living on the tough streets of New York and reselling stolen items for a living. Her abilities come to the attention of small-time crook Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) who gets her to pretend that she is the long lost granddaughter of a rich matriarch by the name of Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes).  Bundage has become aware through a former servant that worked there that there is a trove of treasure hidden somewhere on the premises and it is up to Casey to follow the clues and find it.

I saw this movie when it was released in 1977 and the only thing I could remember from it was the little boy who would slide across the polished floors of the mansion. It’s a surprisingly elaborate plot for a children’s movie, but one that is engrossing and interesting. The characters are believable and diverse and it is fun seeing them evolve and learn to get along. Parents should find this as enjoyable as the kids. I was impressed with the way the filmmakers never talk down to their young audience and trust that they will be sophisticated enough to pick up on the little nuances and subtitles, which the film does have.  I found myself longing for this type of family entertainment again. It seems like the family films of today either have kids spewing out a lot of crude nasty things, or they are so sugary sweet and benign that they make you want to throw up, but this film nicely straddles the middle and it really works.

Jodie is great in the lead and the movie wouldn’t have worked as well with another actress in the role. The part nicely takes advantage of Foster’s confident, smart, streetwise persona and almost had me believing that the part was written specifically for her. Later I read how the original director for the film, David Swift, dropped out of the project because he felt Foster was ‘all wrong’ for the role even though I felt she was perfect and other viewers should feel the same.

Helen Hayes is okay in her role, however the character isn’t all that interesting, nor has that much to do. It seems like once she won the Academy Award for “Airport” in 1970, which helped revive her career, these were the typical ‘sweet old lady’ roles she was perpetually offered afterwards. However, when it comes to the caricature of an old lady Hayes is absolutely perfect almost to the point that it is hard to imagine her ever being young.

David Niven, who plays the butler named Priory, is engaging, but was starting to look frail and elderly. He gets a chance to play several different roles including that of the gardener and chauffeur. The Irish accent that he uses for the gardener part sounded very authentic and I was impressed. His best moment comes at the end when he takes on the McKern character in an imaginative and drawn out duel segment and watching his scared and nervous facial expressions during this is amusing.

I liked the other children who play the orphans that Lady St. Edmond adopts. They are cute in a nice genuine way without it being forced especially the young blonde haired boy named Bobby who speaks in a thick cockney accent. Veronica Quilligan plays Cluny one of the older children who is initially an adversary to Casey. She showed the most disciplined and realistic facial reactions to the action around her while the other kids had lost or vapid looks on their faces. Although she appeared to be about 13 or 14, the same age of the character that she played, I was shocked to find that she was actually 21 when the movie was made.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a car chase scene as every Disney movie from the 70’s seemed to have one. The action for what it is worth is sparse, but enjoyable without ever getting too cartoonish. The ending where the kids take on the band of adult crooks is good and the scene where their car is stopped on the tracks and the train comes just inches from Priory, who is shielding the vehicle, before stopping is a near classic.

I think adults who were kids during this era can watch this film again and still find it entertaining. The kids of today should find enjoyable as well although the ideal age would be between 8 and 14 as I think it is too slow-paced for anyone younger.  The film also has a good life lesson in regards to teamwork and how working together and taking advantage of each other’s special talents and abilities can help achieve a common goal.