Danger Flight (1939)

Tailspin Tommy is pretty much a forgotten hero of the comics today. But back in the 1930s, he was big, and in fact it was the first adventure strip with an aviation theme. It was popular enough to result in a number of screen adaptations, one of which is Danger Flight.

John Trent as Tailspin Tommy in Danger Flight (1939)

In all, two serials and four feature films were made about Tailspin Tommy. Danger Flight is said to be the best of the features, and it was also the last. The only other one available at the Internet Archive is Sky Patrol (1939).

There is a nice article about the history of Tailspin Tommy, mainly focusing on the newspaper strip but also covering the adaptations to some extent.

Danger Flight features a lot of cheaply made flight scenes and a lot of talking over the radio. Still, the plot is interesting enough to keep attention up, and even the child actors are not too annoying.

The film was made for juveniles and it shows. The positive side of that is there is a feel-good undercurrent throughout the film, reminiscent of the juvenile stories I read as a kid. Danger Flight does not qualify as great art, by any stretch of the term, but it certainly is entertaining as long as you are not looking for any deeper messages.

As an interesting piece of trivia, Tailspin Tommy actor John Trent was apparently himself a pilot and went on to become a successful test pilot after his acting career.

This film is best enjoyed by model plane enthusiasts, since model planes play an important role in the plot.

Milburn Stone (Skeeter), Marjorie Reynolds (Beey Lou), Tommy Baker (Whitey) and John Trent (Tailspin Tommy) in Danger Flight (1939)

Danger Flight
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Year: 1939
Running time: 60 min
Director: Howard Bretherton
Stars: John Trent
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (704×528)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.1 G)

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Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

When Santa and the Three Bears was first offered as a Christmas special to various American TV networks, they declined, saying that it did not include an antagonist. This goes to show just how stuck people often are in the preconceived Hollywood notions of how a story is supposed to be told.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

So there is no evil nemesis in Santa and the Three Bears. Just an old and kindly park ranger and a bear mother with her two cubs. The cubs learn about Christmas and want the ranger to tell them more about it. So they decide to wait up for Santa Claus, instead of going into hibernation. Sounds boring? It is not. Not unless you are absolutely allergic to a bit of sentimentality which, admittedly, this film has its share of.

The film is also filled with music. Original music, yet it fits perfectly with the Christmas theme. If you love Christmas music, then you are going to love the music for this film.

Santa and the Three Bears is certainly not the most polished piece of animation. It looks mostly like some low-budget Hanna Barbera cartoon. But that is easy to forget and forgive when the beauty of the story starts to kick in.

This film is best enjoyed while getting into the mood for the Christmas season, especially if you fancy the American variety of Christmas.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

Santa and the Three Bears
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Year: 1970
Running time: 46 min
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon
Stars: Robert Hal Smith
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

In a recent poll about the worst ever Christmas movie, the Swedish film site Filmtipset nominated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as one of the candidates. It is not the first time the film has been mentioned as one of the worst Christmas movies ever, or indeed one of the worst movies ever, period. Among many other accolades, the film currently holds 87th place on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.

And, well, yeah, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a bad film and a true turkey. But is it really that bad? Read on and find out!

John Call, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Bill McCutcheon and Leila Martin in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The story is, it must be admitted, pretty inane. Martian kids are far too serious and just watch a lot of Earth television. After consulting a wise man, some Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus from Earth, and they happen to bring a couple of Earth kids along as well. Santa agrees to help build a workshop for making Martian Christmas presents, but some of the Martians think that this is a bad idea, and want to close down Santa’s business.

So, if the story is that bad, and the special effects and sets are on par, then how come lots of people enjoy the film? The truth of the matter is that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is an enjoyable film to watch not mainly because of its faults. After all, many films have been made that are infinitely worse than this one, and in most cases watching them is just painful. But Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, in spite of its many faults, also rests on a solid foundation of good. The pacing is adequate, and the actors do the best job possible with the material they have to work with (even though John Call as Santa Claus is a terrible case of bad casting). It is this foundation which makes it possible to enjoy the spectacularly bad qualities of the film rather than choke on them.

This film is best enjoyed with good company. Some nice chatting and commenting will not spoil this one. Quite to the contrary.

John Call in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
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Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Windows Media (917 M)

The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

So you thought that Judy Garland’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) was the first Oz adaptation on film? Not even close! And it was not the first good one, either (even though it could arguably be said to be the best).

In fact, Oz film was incorporated into what has later been described as “a multimedia presentation” as early as 1908, and the first Oz film proper, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was released two years later. But the really interesting titles started to appear a hundred years ago, as three Oz films were released in 1914. The best of them is The Patchwork Girl of Oz.

On trial before Ozma of Oz and the Wizard of Oz in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

L. Frank Baum (the writer of the original Oz books) was very interested in the film medium, and he took an active interest in these productions, acting as writer and co-producer through his own short-lived production company. For fans of the original books, this makes the trio of films highly interesting. As an added bonus, they are actually very good for films that old.

Ojo and his uncle live in poverty, so they decide to go to the Emerald City. Along the way, they witness a magician creating a girl from patches, and Ojo decides to insert some brains into the girl when no-one is watching. Then there seems to be footage missing (the film was almost double the length originally, according to Wikipedia), as Ojo’s uncle and some others become petrified for no apparent reason. Ojo and his friends must search the magical lands of Oz for a cure to the petrification. Their search will eventually lead to the Emerald City itself.

Baum’s Oz films were probably among the first to be made specifically as family entertainment. That means that the plots are fairly simple, there is a lot of slapstick comedy, and there are many actors dressed up as donkeys, apes and other animals.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz is in many ways typical of films from the period before The Birth of a Nation (1915). Almost exclusively shot with a single stationary camera and simple (though well-made) special effects, such as double exposure or stop-motion. But where this particular film sticks out is in its effective use of acrobatics, especially by the title’s patchwork girl.

The other two 1914 Oz films produced by Baum, by the way, are The Magic Cloak of Oz and His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. These are also good, but tend to be a bit slow and incoherent.

This film is best enjoyed with a good musical score. Since none such is available at the Internet Archive, I suggest that you put on some upbeat instrumental music in the background. Unlike silent dramas or romantic comedy, this one is not terribly dependent on a score that adapts to the various moods in the film.

The Patchwork Girl meets the Scarecrow in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)

The Patchwork Girl of Oz
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Year: 1914
Running time: 44 min
Director: J. Farrell MacDonald
Stars: Violet MacMillan, Pierre Couderc
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (785×576)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: DivX (521 M)