First Spaceship on Venus (1959)

There are some movies that I really wish I could see in original, uneditied versions, but at the same time I realize that I do not have the energy to actually find (not to mention pay for) such a version. So in the case of First Spaceship on Venus (originally Der schweigende Stern) I can only be thankful that the Internet Archive provides any version at all.

Just like many other old sci-fi movies from behind the Iron Curtain (e.g. Battle Beyond the Sun) this film was recut, poorly dubbed and then released into the U.S. market.

First Spaceship on Venus aka Der schweigende Stern (1959)

First Spaceship on Venus is in many ways similar to Rocketship X-M. The first half is a typical exploration movie (see Flight to Mars review for further details), and at some point during that half, I started wondering exactly why I had been recommended to see this film. The trip to Venus is slow-moving, not terribly dramatic, and packed full of bad science. However, when about half the movie has played out, it quickly changes with the arrival on Venus. It is still slow, but in a pondering way typical of the best communist sci-fi of this time. It also starts to become exciting, almost tense, and there is some really wonderful, almost breath-taking, scenography showing the Venusian landscape. It is still full of bad science, but when other things compensate I find that to be rather cute. Like Ikarie XB 1 it was based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem, one of my favourite sci-fi authors.

Due to the dubbing, it is more or less impossible to say anything about the actors’ performances. Perhaps they are great, perhaps mediocre. It is all drowned in American voices.

Unlike many similar movies, this one appears to have no additional material shot in the U.S. The American version has been cut, though. This is actually visible in some places, where the action cuts a little bit too fast. The U.S. editor probably wanted to increase the tempo a bit, but failed to understand that this kind of sci-fi, unlike films driven by monsters and action, actually depend upon the slow tempo. This gives the viewer time to think and reflect, and it also gives the actors room to flesh out their characters.

This film is best enjoyed in the original (or so I have been told), but if you do not have access to it, then this American piece of butchery is better than nothing.

East German kosmonauts in Der schweigende Stern aka First Spaceship on Venus (1959)

First Spaceship on Venus
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Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 19 min
Director: Kurt Maetzig
Stars: Yōko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (800×608)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (2.0 G)

The Corporation (2003)

Pollution. Underpaid workers. Control of the media. Contempt of governments and courts. Patenting of genetic information. Those are only a few of the problems caused by today’s global corporations, corporations that claim to have the same rights (but not always the same responsibilities) as living persons.

This is what The Corporation is about, a Canadian documentary trying to convey the message that corporations have become far too powerful to actually do good for society. It is an extremely well produced documentary. It is clear that it was made by professionals, and also that it must have had a high budget for that kind of film. Many celebrities critical of corporations appear, including Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, each with his/her own angle on the subject matter.

"Harm to human beings: Toxic waste" from The Corporation (2003)

Though this is a relevant film with an important message, it is most interesting to me personally for two reasons. One is that it puts the corporation into a historical perspective. In fact, I would have liked to see an entire film devoted to that subject alone, as it is only briefly sketched here. The other reason is that it focuses on the corporations as entities and tries to tell us why those entities become a menace to society, even though the people in them may be good and well-meaning.

The story is told from a very American perspective, and even though it was produced in Canada, focus is very much on the US. We Europeans like to think that we do not have the same kinds of problems with commercialization that the US does, but it is important to remember (as the film reminds us several times) that these are global corporations. Therefore, whatever problems these corporations cause in the US, or in their Asian sweatshops, those become problems in Europe, too. Or in Africa. Or wherever you happen to be.

If there is a problem with The Corporation, it is mainly that the film tries to cover too much ground. There are so many threads going in all kinds of directions that it is impossible to pull it all together into closure. Instead the film ends in what is perhaps a little bit cliché, as we are fed the message that yes, we can do it! If we work together, we can do it! And maybe that is just not true? Only time will tell.

This film is best enjoyed when seen together with the documentaries Orwell Rolls in His Grave and Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room from around the same time. These three films tackle different aspects of what is basically the same cluster of problems. When seen together they help to provide a larger picture, and even though they cannot subscribe to the absolute truth, they show that many people see the same kinds of things from different perspectives.

"Bow your heads. The corporation will now lead us in prayer." Anti-corporate demonstration in The Corporation (2003)

The Corporation
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Year: 2003
Running time: 2 h 26 min
Directors: Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×368)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: DivX (700 M + 699 M – 2 parts)

As You Like It (1936)

Earlier this year, it was exactly 450 years since the birth of William Shakespeare, considered by many as the greatest playwright ever. And even though such anniversaries are technically speaking just non-events based on arbitrary calendaric and mathematical concepts, it is nevertheless a good thing to be given a reason to reflect and celebrate.

According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare is the most filmed author in the history of motion pictures. Quite an accomplishment. Considering that, there are comparatively few Shakespeare films at the Internet Archive, and fewer yet that I find to be interesting.

There is a lot of stuff about Shakespeare and his texts, such as a TV programme with the title Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. A fascinating subject, though fraught with speculating charlatans. There are also several films of amateur companies performing Shakespeare, as well as abridged LEGO animations(!) of Macbeth and Hamlet. (I have seen none of these, so watch at your own risk.)

"All the world's a stage." Henry Ainley and Leon Quartermaine in As You Like It (1936)

But when it comes to feature films, we have to look harder. There are some early silent adaptations, mostly incomprehensible if you do not know the stories well, but historically interesting.

There are a handful of others, but the only one I find really interesting is the first sound version of As You Like It. Not only is this a nice version with neat, theatre-style scenography and good actors, it was also the first Shakespeare adaptation to feature Laurence Olivier, here in the role as the love-sick Orlando.

Unlike Olivier’s other three Shakespeare films, As You Like It was not directed by him. This is a shame, since his three films as director are among the greatest Shakespeare adaptations of all time. But at least you get to see this legendary actor perform, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

This film is best enjoyed for the wonderful, Shakespearean language, delivered by very good actors. The story about Orlando and his beloved Rosalind – who dresses as a young man in order to escape when she is driven away by her uncle, the Duke – is frankly a bit silly. Yet, it is a popular Shakespeare text, and this is a very good adaptation of it.

Laurence Olivier, Sophie Stuart and Elisabeth Bergner acting out the mock marriage of Orlando and Rosalind in As You Like It (1936)

As You Like It
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 36 min
Director: Paul Czinner
Stars: Laurence Olivier
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

German expressionism, which on film had its peak in the 1920s with directors such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, has had a tremendous impact upon Hollywood film. One of its footprints can be seen in the Film Noir movement of the 1940s and 1950s.

The Noir filmmakers, just like their expressionist forerunners, explore the dark and hidden sides of the human mind. The Noir movement, which was not to any great extent identified and named during its heyday, can sometimes be difficult to define and pinpoint, but to me, this focus on the inner demons and fears is perhaps its most important defining element.

Take the excellent Noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers for example. Like in so many other Noirs, we see a cynical anti-hero, the gambler Sam Masterson (played excellently by Van Heflin). By chance he runs into his childhood sweetheart Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, also excellent), who seems to have everything a woman can dream of, but hides a dark secret together with her husband (a young Kirk Douglas, absolutely brilliant).

Barbara Stanwyck, Van Helfin and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

As if the tension in this meeting was not enough, Sam also takes an interest in the paroled woman Toni (Lizabeth Scott, good, though not as stellar as the others). Thus, the plot of this film revolves around two love triangles, with Martha and Sam still attracted to one another, though separated still by the terrible events of the past.

Add to the mix the patent dramatic photography found in the best Noirs, an excellent script with good dialogue, and competent editing. Stir, and you get what is perhaps one of the top ten or fifteen Noirs of all time.

By all means, there are a few occasions when the film touches on the overly sentimental, the action sequences are a bit stiff, and there is some rather superfluous Gideonite propaganda, but those are minor quibbles, which do not significantly decrease the overall impact of this classical and powerful movie.

This film is best enjoyed as soon as possible. This is one Internet Archive experience you will not want to miss!

Kirk Douglas, Van Helfin and  Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
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Year: 1946
Running time: 1 h 56 min
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)

In Which We Serve (1942)

On this date, it is exactly 75 years since World War II broke out, a conflict which in many ways, for better or worse, has shaped the society we live in.

World War II is also the period in history which (in my estimate) has left by far the largest imprint upon the film material available at the Internet Archive. There are thousands of items, including newsreels, instruction films, propaganda, and of course fictional films.

British In Which We Serve is one of those fictional films. Like One of Our Aircraft is Missing from the same year and country, it is also very much a piece of wartime propaganda. Propaganda which is easy to forget and forgive when it is this beautifully packaged.

Survivors by a life raft in In Which We Serve (1942)

The film starts with the line “This is the story of a ship.” But that is not true. It is not the story of a ship, it is the story of the people on board the ship. Their joys, sorrows and fears, and how they overcome their problems through comradeship, discipline and courage. (Yes, it is propaganda, as I said.)

As a matter of fact, the ship is sunk early on in the film, and the majority of the film is told as flashbacks to the lives of the survivors. While this is a simple narrative structure in theory, it is handled so elegantly and with such good effect that it is a joy to behold.

The Internet Archive copy, unfortunately, has low resolution, but it looks good on a small screen. In my opinion, it is still worth watching. This is such a beautiful movie.

This film is best enjoyed by fans of Noël Coward. Coward wrote the story, produced, co-directed and played the leading role. It is very much his film from beginning to end.

Noël Coward as captain of the destroyer HMS Torrin in In Which We Serve (1942)

In Which We Serve
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 49 min
Directors: David Lean, Noël Coward
Stars: Bernard Miles, John Mills, Noël Coward
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (480×352)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (697 M)