Rupert, aka Xmas Wish

DATELINE: Two Orders of Ham.

durante

One of the most forgotten of low-budget Christmas movies is a strange concoction from 1950. It has been titled Rupert the Great, and when colorized in recent years in India, was re-christened, A Christmas Wish.

Whatever you call it, this is a bizarre film billed as “heart-warming,” but it is an odd duck about an odder squirrel.

Yes, Great Rupert is a Puppetoon squirrel in show biz (made from stop-action). He dances in kilts and is highly intelligent. The film comes from the mind and production of the great George Pal. Alas, Rupert is a mere second banana in a second-rate movie directed by Irving Pichel.

The star is non-stop action. It is the inimitable Jimmy Durante who pulls out all the stops.

Perhaps kids in 1950 were more easily entertained.

However, this does not prevent us from watching in utter fascination. Jimmy Durante pretends to be Danny Amendola, not the former Patriots player, but some kind of vaudeville comic. Don’t be fooled: it’s Jimmy Durante playing himself.

If you ever wondered why Durante never starred in more movies, this one reveals the amazing truth. He steals every scene, wipes out other performances, blows away any semblance of plot, and dominates every moment of the film.

Not even an animated squirrel can stand up to Jimmy. He is a happening, an event, a force of nature.

Terry Moore was supposed to star with top-billing, her major film role after Mighty Joe Young, another animated creature by George Pal’s protégé Ray Harryhausen. Miss Moore was too cute to worry about animals. Durante was another matter.

The film was re-tailored to allow Durante to do his usual patter and sing “Jingle Bells,” in one scene at the piano.

Even Rupert the Great never dared to show his rodent face when Durante was about. This is a weak Christmas film, but a work of stunning film history. Thus, we have rendered this year’s Xmas movie review moot.

 

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On a Mysterious Island with Ray Harryhausen

 

 

 DATELINE: MOVIES FROM THE PAST

 

 

Michael Callan circa 1961

ImageBack in 1961, we had a chance to see one of the classic Ray Harryhausen special effects extravaganzas entitled Mysterious Island. With Harry’s recent passing, we decided to see if the film held up to our long ago memories of a Saturday afternoon moviefest.

 

 

 

We had nearly forgotten that the movie was based on a novel by Jules Verne and had music by Bernard Herrmann. So, this suddenly became a treat to anticipate.

 

 

 

The story has its improbable and inexplicable side as it opens with escaping Union prisoners out of Richmond in 1865.

 

 

 

Conveniently, a hot air balloon is parked right outside their cell for easy travel. Gary Merrill is a Northern journalist taken prisoner, and 1961 heartthrob Michael Callan is the sensitive teenage soldier. He was big in the 1960s and faded fast as a James Dean clone, becoming a producer instead.

 

 

 

After an encounter with a giant crab, the crew meets a few stranded women conveniently washed up on shore. The film has about it for a while, the look of King Kong, even with a downed tree as access across a chasm.

 

 

 

Alas, the story deteriorates less into Robinson Crusoe and more into Gilligan’s Island with ingenious living making Harryhausen’s contributions secondary. All this occurs to the tenebrific strains of Hermann’s score.

 

 

 

After a while, the gang is attacked by a giant ostrich—and the two teenagers (Callan and Beth Rogan) at the beach, dressed in skimpy bathing suits like it was 1961 in Santa Monica, find a beehive with giant bees.

 

 

 

Clearly a force is behind their survival that is practical, not spiritual. Anyone familiar with Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo may be two steps ahead of the characters. Herbert Lom apprises himself as the mysterious captain of island in a cameo role on steroids in an exquisitely coiffed white wig.

 

 

 

Nemo flashes brilliance out of every pore, but the island paradise is where Atlantis met its end—and a volcano will soon destroy everything again. The effects are less impressive with flowing lava, but the story holds up, thanks to Jules Verne.

 

 

 

The effects hold up in the climax thanks to Ray Harryhausen.

 

What was once a fantasy sci-fi thriller has become a new generation’s think piece.

 

 

Be sure to read MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE for more movie reviews by Dr. William Russo. It’s available on Amazon.com in both ebook and softcover.