Thursday, June 26, 2014

Video Cheese/Oddball Film Report: THE GOLDEN GOOSE (1964)

NOTE: This piece was originally written for's Video Cheese. It has been published here instead by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

THE GOLDEN GOOSE (1964 - color)
   "A young man finds a Golden Goose and saves the kingdom, and gets the sexy Princess as a lovely parting gift."

   This was my first German kiddie film. If it serves as any indication, the European stuff isn't as psycho as the Mexican brands. That's not to say they can't have their weird moments, certainly, but at no time during this feature did I find myself questioning reality!

   (Since seeing this film, I have seen the German version of PUSS N BOOTS from 1967. It made for a fascinating comparison to the same decade's Mexican take. Had one never seen the Mexican version, I suppose the German one would be kinda weird, but only mildly so. It has nothing on the scarring terror of the Mexican film! If anything, the German take was fairly fun after my little trip south of the border....)

   Really, this plays more like a longer, live-action version of one of Jay Ward's Fractured Fairytales. Only instead of Edward Everett Horton, our narrator sounds more like Joan Alexander. Although obviously filmed on sets (as I just seem to expect from a kiddie flick for some reason), the production looks fairly lavish. The sets tend to be sparsely decorated (especially the higher up we go the royal ladder) but there are a larger number of sets than one might expect to find in such a production. Its no Snow White and the Three Stooges, but I'd say it looks more expensive than Abbott and Costello's Jack and the Beanstalk.

   Anyway, the first part of our story concerns three brothers. Klaus is the hard-working optimistic one, Karl is the stupid and arrogant one, and (rats, I already forgot his name, I'll just call him Peter) the always-expecting-hard-luck case. 

   Karl goes to chop some wood, but doesn't know how (or so I thought at first, we'll learn later the indestructible trees are part of the story). An old woman gathering sticks wanders up to Karl and asks for a bite of his pancake and drink of his wine. Karl seems unphazed by the fact that this old woman knows both his name and the contents of his pouch, but as the narrator notes "Karl is so very stupid!"

   Karl sends the woman on her way without anything to eat or drink and she exits via a dissolve. This alerts us to the fact that she's supernatural in some way, looking for the kind soul who is worthy of the titular object. 

   Characters like these confuse me. How long have they been doing this routine before the hero shows up? Do they get weekends off? Once they reward somebody with the precious gift they had guarded up to that point, what happens? Has it all been a magical form of community service? Do they move onto another kingdom and see who they can give away a new treasure to? At least Shazam's job was pretty straight forward, he only had to wait for one guy to show up and he knew who that would be long before they got there (and on the televised version, Mentor travelled the country with Billy Batson acting as a, well, mentor). What purpose do these magical gift-givers serve after they've bestowed their wares upon the tale's hero?

   Anyway, Karl is not IT, and neither is Peter. When Peter runs across the old woman, he at least notices her disappear before him. Not that this changes him in any way. This leaves shoe-maker Klaus as our hero. 

   Per tradition, the brothers live in poverty but limp along on Klaus' responsible nature (like Eddie Haskell and Wally Cleaver. No. More like Brian and Joe Hackett). In a sad sequence, they start to break apart and burn their last chair (sad because I can sort of relate, having had to burn a chair to stay warm during one of our recent freakishly cold winters. I also had to burn the joists from the attic stairs. I must not be pure in heart enough, because I never got a Golden Goose for my troubles).

   The King's soldiers are wandering through town spreading word of a new proclamation. The Princess has been moody lately and hasn't laughed in the longest time, and the King is canvassing for a young man to make her laugh. Should he achieve this effect, the lad will receive the Princess for a bride and inherit half the kingdom! That's a pretty sweet deal, given that the Princess looks a bit like Janet Leigh. (I'd be game, just let me grab my copy of Buck Privates Come Home and I'll be off to make the Princess laugh!) Klaus thinks the whole thing a tad silly, but his brothers decide to take the challenge, knowing there's a big cash reward involved.

   As the brothers head off to the castle, they send Klaus out to gather wood. I think we all know where this is going. Klaus has been given only a piece of stale bread and some water before he heads out to the same tree the others failed to make a dent in. Klaus too fails to make a mark on the tree, but his intellect makes him pause and consider this event. The narrator even chimes in, letting us know how how Klaus believes this to be a test. (Doesn't his knowing he's being tested make it sort of like cheating?) 

   The old woman wanders over, makes her request, and Klaus is happy to share what he has with her. And would you look at that, Klaus' stores have been magically replaced with a pancake (or whatever uncooked tortilla the Germans are calling a pancake) and wine! (Are they trying to imply the woman's being is angelic in some fashion? Turning water into wine seems a bit on the nose (though it seems Klaus has actually read his Bible and is acting in the manner Christ instructed us, so maybe there's supposed to be something to this).

   Klaus also spends his time examining and making a temporary repair to the old woman's basket for hauling sticks. She thanks him, and lets him know that he will now have success in chopping down the tree. Exit Mysterious Supernatural Old Woman. 

   Klaus takes a few swings at the base of the tree, but before he can make much of a cavity the whole tree topples over, roots and all. Sitting in the middle of the hole where the tree was based, Klaus finds the Golden Goose. (In general, this print -a Something Weird Video VHS- has great color. According to the note on the back, it comes from a 16mm print. It's an impressive one! Sharp and without faded color, very minimal wear, this is what you want from a video distributor who specializes in oddball older movies. Later on, we can see the bird has been painted gold. In this first scene though, it looks like just a normal white bird. Now this could be because the print has a light spot, and/or because my loaner television set is a tad too bright (being one of those models where you can't adjust anything without a remote, which is missing). If that be the case, I don't want to take an unfair shot at the film, but I was amused by characters awed by the golden color of what seemed to be a perfectly normal white goose.)

  Klaus is impressed with his Golden Goose, and who wouldn't be? The characters here keep talking about the bird as if it were an inanimate object made of solid gold rather than a living creature that's colored gold, something I was never really able to follow. 
   Anyway, along comes village girl Lisa, who is understandably impressed with the goose. She strokes the bird, then finds her hand glued to the goose's wing. Somehow Klaus is still able to set the bird down at will, but everyone else becomes glued to each other after contact with the bird. Next up is Lisa's sister Gretel, who is able to pull away after touching the bird, but the sisters soon find their skirts welded together. For some reason, Klaus continues to sing merrily as more and more people become captives of The Golden Goose. It gets sorta creepy pretty fast.

   You have to feel for Lisa, who will spend the rest of the flick with her right hand stuck to the goose. Gretel, on the other hand, should be able to get free by removing her dress. (Actually, I'm sure she would find the dress stuck to her skin, but this very idea is overlooked completely). Klaus, as noted, can escape at will, making him look a tad sadistic as he sings and laughs as another victim falls into place. The girls are the daughters of the local tavern keeper, and have to get home soon, goose or no goose. Klaus decides the magic sticky goose will make the Princess laugh and hopes to herd the girls over to the castle after they check in at the tavern.

  At the tavern, there is trouble. Prince Troublemaker(!) and his band of roughnecks are in town and they're terrorizing the old man. They're even loudly making plans to siege the castle and make off with the Princess. Klaus and the girls overhear this before they enter the tavern. Klaus' plan is to make a production of the Golden Goose, showing his 'wealth' and calling for unlimited drinks for his new friends, the Troublemakers. The tavern owner catches on pretty quickly for one of these things, despite his constant eyeing of the bird. 

   Long story short, Troublemaker and his stooges get staggering drunk and are lead into the wine cellar to sleep it off. The miscreants locked inside, we turn our attention to the kids being stuck together by "a very mean goose." In a scene I don't think we'd see in an American kiddie flick, Klaus, Lisa, and Gretel are allowed to sleep in the same room without much production over the issue. Yeah, they're stuck together, but shouldn't the Father of the girls issue a token "what are we going to do, you can't all sleep in the same place" kind of line?

   After he's sure the girls are asleep, the Father comes into the room and tries to pluck a feather from the Goose (he'd earlier speculated what economic fortune such a feather would fetch). As you'd expect, he gets stuck too. He pulls free at first, but finds his hand glued in Gretel's. 

   We'll, we're wasting time, let's get on over to the castle. Karl and Peter are on their way too. When we meet the Princess, we can see why she isn't laughing. She's being entertained by a troupe in black tights and wearing animal masks (I'd make a Mummenschanz joke, but I'm not that clever). Despite their act being little more than wandering around in their costumes, the King finds this frightfully funny. I just find it sort of frightening. 

   The Princess, we see, isn't in a funk or anything, she just doesn't have much reason to laugh. It's the old poor-rich-girl-who-has-never-tasted-life-outside-her-pampered-existence ploy that we've seen in every Disney movie since The Little Mermaid. Some may recall the Animaics spoof of Disney's Pocahontas which included the song "The Same Old Heroine." Lest ye mock Disney unfairly, The Golden Goose reminds us that theme goes back quite a ways.

   The Princess is bored, and spends much of her time with Wiserthan (yes, 'wiser than') the King's accountant/adviser and the Princess' tutor. He's a bit of a drip, and might have been played in a more entertaining American version by Hans Conried or Jim Backus (or Buster Keaton had AIP been producing). Wiserthan presents the Princess with a Royal Seesaw (we called them teeter-totters where I was raised), then prompts her to take a seat on one end while he takes the other and shows her how much fun it is. 

   To the film's credit (?), Princess isn't one of those sleepwalking zombie-types you might expect from the setup. She's got full control of her emotions, she just doesn't find anything funny. Laugh out loud funny, at any rate. She smiles quite a bit, and here takes evident pleasure in trapping Wiserthan above the ground by refusing to teeter (or totter, whichever, she's just sitting there).

   Klaus and his goose are forming quite a train of people on the trip to the castle. He may have planned it this way to make things funnier, since he stops before a trio of musicians (who are lounging about in the woods having lunch) and the Father (still clad in his night-shirt) lures them over to see the goose and become trapped. Happily, no one else panics at being supernaturally glued to a metallic water fowl, and all greet the situation with giggles and cheer. 

   Meanwhile, Karl and Peter try to entertain the Princess with predictable results. When Klaus and his company enter the castle, the Princess indeed starts laughing. It's amusing, I suppose, but I didn't think it a laugh riot. She acts like she's watching a Bob Hope movie!

   But wait, there's still a pretty good chunk of movie left! Princess wants to marry Klaus, and the townsfolk connected to his goose are in favor of it too. The King and Wiserthan try to go back on their published agreement, but Prince Troublemaker is headed toward the castle. The King now decrees that whomever protects the castle and the King's massive chest of gold shall be given Princess to bride. The idea is to haul the giant treasure chest into the upper room of the castle, and Karl and Peter and the guards rush outside to move the item, despite that fact it is too big for the door. 

   Since Klaus is the only one about with a brain, he sets a plan in motion involving hanging a pulley directly over the over-sized window to the King's court. Despite the obviousness of what he's doing, much is made of the crowd (even Wiserthan) not understanding what the boy is up to. The Royal Seesaw is employed to raise the chest in order to get the rope around it, just so you know that item wasn't scripted without reason. I know that had you on the edge of your seats.

   The chest in place, now we get to the big action finale as Troublemaker and his four or five henchmen storm the castle and Klaus takes up a sword and fights them off better than the King's soldiers are able to. (Who knew shoemakers had such good combat training?) 

   The kingdom safe again, the King grants Klaus permission to marry Princess. Karl and Peter even get something out of it all, since their brother is now loaded. Everybody is now freed from the grip of the gluey goose (its magic and all) and there's a little hoedown in the palace. The goose is roaming around free during this scene, so let's hope Ray Rayner isn't in attendance! (And yes, I know there won't be a gigantic number of readers who get that joke, but I find it funny.)

   As the gang has a square-dance type affair, we see Father has found a woman of his own and his daughters have spontaneously hooked up with Karl and Peter! Lisa tries to get Peter to kiss her, but he chickens out. Karl, meanwhile, laughs and smacks Gretel on the caboose as they dance! Klaus and Princess are, of course, the most handsome couple in the room. 

   Pan over to the goose, which flips a page in a book to note that we've reached ENDE. Good night, boys and girls!

   One last note, the tape includes about a dozen trailers for other wacky kiddie flicks, including Little Red Riding Hood, The Wonderful Land of Oz (which looks just terrible, by the way, although it features a mini-skirted army of young women....), and Sleeping Beauty. One film I would like very much to acquire now is The Secret of Magic Island (which looks to be a science-fiction spy movie of sorts populated by cute little animals in place of actors!). You gotta love the 60s!

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