As mentioned in my March 15, 2021 podcast, I’ve started a new “Movie of the Week” feature. I’ll be recommending a favorite movie with the hopes that it will be a film that you’ll enjoy, too. I’d love to chat online about each week’s film on my Instagram and Twitter feeds if you’re so inclined.
This week’s movie is Passover and Easter themed. It’s Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments (Paramount, 1956). Watching this film during Easter weekend on the ABC television network was a staple in my home growing up. It’s been years since I’ve seen the film, so I’m excited to watch it again during Holy Week this week.
Arnie, as his friends call him (and of which I’m grateful to be one), has worn many hats in the film industry—producer, writer, and director, to name a few—but over the last few years, he has been devoting his time and energy in the pursuit of finding, restoring, and sharing the short films of George Pal (1908-1980).
Being the lucky and talented guy that he is, Arnie was able to meet George Pal before his passing and has remained close to Pal’s family. After a labor of love in creating the compilation film and homage to all things stop-motion animation The Puppetoon Movie in 1987, Arnie has been hard at work locating more of Pal’s shorts from libraries, film repositories, and personal collections from all around the world. His newly compiled set of Pal’s work entitled The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 is now available for purchase on Blu-ray/DVD on Arnie’s website at https://puppetoon.net.
“Creative and Prolific Genius”
“There were very few people like Pal,” Arnie told me during a recent phone call. “Everyone who encountered him in the flesh can’t say enough nice things about him. Pal was not only admired but loved by everyone.” Perhaps it was his self-effacing personality, his sense of humor, or his humble approach to his work. But one thing we know for sure about Pal as Arnie told me—he was a “creative and prolific genius.” And genius he was—not only with the shorts and feature films he was involved with, but also by his influence on today’s CGI and stop-motion animators and filmmakers.
Pal was born in Hungary and graduated from the Budapest Academy of the Arts in 1928. He worked in Hungary, Germany, France, former Czechoslovakia, and Holland creating both 2D and stop-motion animated shorts and commercials. Pal emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he eventually became a citizen. Paramount Pictures, impressed with Pal and his animation studios and work in Europe, offered him a deal to make his now world famous Puppetoons shorts for the studio which lasted for nearly a decade. Pal made well over 100 Puppetoon short films in the United States and Europe during the 1930s and 40s and he won an honorary Academy Award®️ in 1944 for his innovative work on the Puppetoons.
What Sets Puppetoons Apart
The Puppetoon shorts are known for Pal’s distinctive artistic aesthetic as well as for the “replacement” parts approach which was used for the filming of the puppets. Rather than using a single, posable puppet and moving it for each frame, Pal and his team used a collection of thousands of wood puppets and parts (particularly heads, arms, and legs) to pose the puppets in each frame. Once you have seen a Puppetoon short, you’ll definitely notice the incomparable fluidity achieved in stop-motion using Pal’s unique style and approach in his filmmaking.
Arnie has added the title of “detective” to his long list of professional roles as he continues to unearth amazing finds—many of which are included in The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2. All of the shorts in the Vol. 2 set have a story (make sure to read the comprehensive liner notes included in the Blu-ray+DVD written by Arnie himself). Arnie recounted one particularly amazing chain of events to me of how the short Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves came to be included on the Vol. 2 set. The short was last seen by film audiences in 1935. Arnie was able to locate a print of it at the British Film Institute. England has particularly strict copyright laws which required Arnie to get approval from an heir or the trustee of the short’s well known music composer Alexander Slatinay (who passed away many years ago) in order to include it in the set. After months of research and with the help of a German music publisher, they found the composer’s only living daughter Maria Cooper, who was then 90 years old and living in a nursing home in Brightlingsea, a small fishing village in Northern England. The town council graciously helped find where Maria was located as her home phone was not working. Afterwards, her son, who is science professor at the University of Sussex, was contacted and together made it possible to secure the rights to the short. “It was a major miracle,” Arnie told me, “that was meant to be.”
As for the other shorts included in Vol. 2, there are some doozies, including a short with the only licensed use of the “Superman” character outside of Warner Bros. and DC Comics along with a short that has a cameo appearance from Bugs Bunny, again another character closely guarded by its owner, Warner Bros.
As a lover of classic films and animation, I found The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 to be another delightful retrospective of George Pal’s innovative and imaginative work. Arnie and his team took great care in getting digital scans for this new volume directly from the negatives. The original title cards are included for each short. The attention to detail and quality really shows, allowing film and animation buffs everywhere to see these shorts in a way never before possible. The prints are pristine and the overall effect is effulgent. Any serious animation fan will enjoy seeing and learning more about the great work of George Pal in this beautifully restored and entertaining collection.
While Pal went on to work on live action feature films and to become the father of the Hollywood special effects industry (which is another amazing story for another day), his work on the Puppetoon shorts lives on, thanks to Arnie Leibovit. Arnie is hard at work on future Puppetoon compilation sets as well as being an in-demand speaker and lecturer for many film schools and film libraries. Post-COVID-19, Arnie is hoping to screen a series of Pal’s shorts at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Billy Wilder Theater, part of the UCLA School of Theatre, Film & Television.
And, on a personal note, I’m hoping Arnie can make a return to my favorite network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) where I first heard him discuss the work of George Pal with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz a few years back (TCM has a write up about Vol. 2here).
Learn more about George Pal, Arnie Leibovit, and The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 as well as purchase your own copy at https://puppetoon.net.
The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2 Blu-ray/DVD set was made possible by the kind assistance of Paramount Pictures (the original distributor of The Puppetoons) and the astounding discovery of several long-lost George Pal films from Europe. Some of the shorts have not been seen in decades, and some never outside of Europe.
Short Films Included in The Puppetoon Movie Vol. 2
There are 18 short films in the set, including two of rarely-seen Pal-produced cel-animated shorts from the 1930s. All films are have been meticulously restored in high definition (HD) from the original 35mm Nitrate IB Technicolor prints or the original Three-Strip Technicolor successive negatives.
These shorts are all new to home video, except for The Ship of the Ether, which appears for the first time in HD.
Dipsy Gypsy (1940)
Radio Valve Revolution (1934)
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1935)
A Hatful of Dreams (1944)
Rescue Brigade (1937)
In Lamp Light Land (1935)
Jasper and the Choo-Choo (1942)
Love On The Range (1938)
The Gay Knighties (1941)
Two Gun Rusty (1944)
How An Advertising Poster Came About (1938)
Jasper Goes Hunting (1944)
Sky Pirates (1938)
Jasper’s Close Shave (1945)
The Ship of the Ether (1934)
Good Night Rusty (1943)
Wilbur the Lion (1946)
Jasper Tell (1944)
Bonus Features (Standard Definition)
This is Oil, No.1: Prospecting for Petroleum (Shell Oil Company Inc., 1946)
Trailers From Hell: Arnold Leibovit on The Puppetoon Movie
Trailers From Hell: Arnold Leibovit on The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal
The Puppetoon Movie Speedy Alka-Seltzer (Miles Laboratory)
The Puppetoon Movie Montage
Full Production and Donor Credits
6-Panel Color Booklet, Liner Notes by Arnold Leibovit
Yes, we’re really getting another Terminator movie…it’s the sixth Terminator feature film and it’s called Terminator: Dark Fate.
I think the original film The Terminator (1984) is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever, but I haven’t liked a Terminator movie since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The films have been a mess as well as showing a complete disregard for any sort of comprehensible interrelationship with the other films in the series (although my friend Yacov makes a compelling argument for the films’ lack of continuity in a cool video essay that you should definitely watch).
Now, we’re getting yet another film, although this one has the blessing of James Cameron, the director of the first two Terminator films, and marks the return of actress Linda Hamilton to the series. So, let’s hope for the best!
Terminator: Dark Fate opens in theaters on November 1.
Check out these cool posters from the talented folks at Poster Posse.
And check out this poster done exclusively for Dolby Cinema.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Paramount; 2018) is a terrifically entertaining chapter in this spy series with all of the twists, turns, drops, and masks (!) that you could hope for.
Tom Cruise is back again for the sixth installment of the series (based on the popular TV series of the same name which ran from 1966 to 1973 on the CBS television network) as IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt. Our hero has chosen to accept another dangerous mission fighting international terrorists and the big question, as with most espionage-themed films, is who are all of the players and where do their loyalties lie.
Of course, the story has lots of Tom Cruise running, climbing, jumping, flying, and other dangerous pastimes in pursuit of the bad guys. But a pleasant surprise to my eyes was that Cruise seemed to share the screen more with his fellow stars than in other films in the series. And the supporting cast are worthy of sharing film time with–Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Rebecca Ferguson, and even Michelle Monaghan are back for more action, along with Henry Cavill, Angela Basset, and Vanessa Kirby joining the cast.
For me, the real star of the film is writer and director Christopher McQuarrie. Returning again to the director’s chair for this latest installment of the Mission: Impossible series (he also directed the series’ fifth and previous film, 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), McQuarrie has such an excellent eye for stunning and compelling action scenes as well as for beautifully composed shots for drama and dialogue. I was particularly impressed with the location shots in Paris and London in this film and loved seeing these cities and landmarks beautifully filmed and wonderfully integrated into the storytelling.
Go see Mission: Impossible – Fallout and have a blast–literally and figuratively. (Also, I loved seeing this film in IMAX and would highly recommend seeing it in this super-sized format if at all possible.)
What hasn’t already been said Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950)? This exploration into the dark side of desperation, fame, and fortune in Hollywood is a masterwork in all regards. It’s currently at number 16 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” ranking, among its placement on other prestigious lists. And after having recently seen it again on the big screen thanks to both the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Big Screen Classics series, I was reminded (as if I had forgotten…not) how much I love this film.
Here’s a little photo essay about why I love Sunset Boulevard.
I love the opening scene which perfectly sets the tone for the film.
I love the witty and snarky narration of the Joe Gillis character, perfectly interpreted by William Holden.
I am simultaneously creeped out and delighted by Gloria Swanson’s brilliant performance as faded silent film star Norma Desmond.
I am haunted and fascinated by Norma Desmond’s decrepit mansion, inside and out.
And I’m just utterly disgusted by the disingenuous and terrible relationship of Joe and Norma (and isn’t that the point?).
I love the perfect composition of every shot in the film.
I love how quotable the movie is. Some of my famous favorites:
“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”
“Funny, how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.”
I am heartbroken by Erich von Stroheim’s performance as Max, Norman Desmond’s butler (and ex-husband and the last, sole member of her fan club).
I love the intersection of fact and fiction with the real people playing themselves (Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, etc.) interspersed with the fictional characters.
Nancy Olson’s performance as Betty is the perfect balance of youthful optimism and unbridled ambition.
Norma’s full descent into madness after killing Joe is both devastating and breathtaking. Hedda Hopper’s face says it all.
And one final quote: “And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after Salome we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark! All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Not wanting to make anyone feel old (myself included), but can you believe that Grease has been the word for 40 years?
After making its debut in movie theaters in the summer of 1978, Grease, directed by Randal Kleiser and based on the hit Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is still one of the world’s all-time favorite Hollywood musicals. To celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary, Paramount Pictures, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and Fathom Events are screening this raunchy and revered film across the U.S.A. this week as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series (ticket info is here.). Paramount is also releasing a new 40th anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray, Digital, and 4K Ultra HD on April 24.
Hot off of the 1977 mega hit film Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta was able to show off more dance moves and his great comedic timing as leading man and supposed tough guy Danny. And making her film debut was country singer Olivia Newton-John as the innocent and lovestruck Australian transfer student Sandy. The chemistry between the two stars is clearly one of the contributors of the film’s lasting appeal, not to mention the outstanding supporting cast of Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon, and others.
But I think it’s the music that keeps Grease alive. The film’s soundtrack was a monster hit. From the unforgettable opening fanfare of the title track (written with a disco vibe by the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and sung with perfection by Frankie Valli; check out this awesome YouTube clip below of Valli performing the song in 1978 on the TV dance show Soul Train), to Olivia Newton-John/Sandy crooning about her hopeless devotion to John Travolta/Danny, to the whole gang singing their hearts out about their forever friendship even after high school graduation, the soundtrack is non-stop nostalgia and fun.
Here’s the film’s original trailer from 1978.
As an added bonus, here’s the film’s original one-sheet poster, also from 1978.
Enjoy Grease again on the big screen and at home this month. And remember, as Eve Arden/Principal McGee says, “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”