Friday, May 15, 2015

Oddball Film Report: MOTHER HOLLY (1961)

Note: This review originally written for as a Video Cheese piece, and has been published here first by the very kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

Here's the video cover, because I couldn't find a single pic from this flick...

MOTHER HOLLY (1961 - color)
   "Frau Holly rules over a mystical, magical land of enchantment and wonder. She's also far creepier than she should be."

   When reflecting on The Golden Goose, I noted that I come to the table with certain expectations, one being that I expect fantasy flicks for kids to be shot on interior sets. I'm not sure why this is, unless the toy-like, artificial quality of these stories best translates to film through the use of toy-like, artificial sets. Or maybe fairy-tales lend themselves to film better than any other genre, so you expect it to look rather more artificial than any other genre. 

    When I watched Old Yeller, I was struck by the way Disney films always look. Old Yeller was shot on location, yet everything looks so, well, just so perfect, that I found it hard to fully grasp that all this was shot outdoors! I guess that's what I expect from kiddie fantasy pix, a version of reality so perfect that it can only be done with man-made sets. Someone in Germany didn't think the same way, though, because I can't recall a single frame of Mother Holly to be shot on an interior set. This was the big thing I took away from the film.

   You may recall I noted how The Golden Goose gave me the impression that maybe German kiddie flicks aren't as wacko as the Mexican stuff. I was wrong about that, for Mother Holly is every bit as twisted as Puss N Boots (well, maybe not THAT twisted, but close enough). Moreover, the film is, in a vague way, the same story as Santa Claus

   Holly is a kindly old soul who helps children develop better relationships with adults, and there is an invisible demonic imp who's personal mission it is to make children do naughty things. Some very minor changes, and our subject could have been released as a spin-off story starring Mrs. Claus. The narrator for our subject even echoes Santa's interpreter, although this guy gets a little too emotionally involved in what's happening.

   On another tiny note, while the transfer for The Golden Goose was about the best one could hope for, Mother Holly is a bit more along the lines of what we expect for such an obscure film. While not bad, the print has some wear and the color is slightly faded. Still, SWV isn't known for letting customers down. (I do wonder if they are aware that the collection of trailers at the end of the tape, the same as we saw on The Golden Goose, play silently this time. )

   Anyway, on to our feature presentation...

   There's this town in Europe somewhere (I'm guessing Germany, myself), and no one has been born there for about 20 years. This is because there's this big fountain on the town square which Mother Holly has blessed and promised that any couple wishing to have children need only to drink from the water. Our heavy, Black Peter, has tossed trash into the fountain to make the water undrinkable. They don't explain how not drinking the water means that no child is born. You'd think there'd still be a birthrate seeing that there are still married couples roaming around, and they'd do the things that married couples do. 

   (The film is sort of the polar opposite of another German film, the sex comedy Run, Virgin, Run, in which a small town is famous for its birthrate supposedly due to winds that sweep down from the north. The married menfolk go out for a few hours to soak up the virility winds, while the women take turns bedding the town's blacksmith, who is the father of nearly every kid in town. That film was where I learned that, prior to the mid 70s at least, German women didn't shave their armpits. Seeing masculine armpits on a female body tends to really screw with one's mind. I quickly traded away the film.)

  This fountain includes life-sized statues of Holly and Peter, and said statues are the only means by which these figures can enter our world. These 'statues' are also obviously actors painted gray and trying not to move, and not being very convincing. Holly is said to rule over 'her underground kingdom' which already gives her an unwanted Blofeld-ish vibe. 

   For his part, Peter can only run around and cause havoc when Holly isn't watching him. He's apparently powerless whenever Holly gives him a command. As if he were a ghost (or super imposed image), Peter emerges from his statue and sets out to do horrible (yet General audience-friendly) things.

  Time to meet our heroine, Rose Marie, er, I mean Rosemarie. Rosemarie is basically playing Cinderella. She's happy and hard-working and fairly attractive and doing the wash when we meet her. 

   Peter tries to upset her by throwing a muddy frog onto her nice clean wash. "Oh no," the narrator mourns, "he can't do that! Can't somebody stop him?" 

   I guess now is a good time to point out the film looks like a silent movie. It appears to have been shot silent and then dubbed over (and then dubbed over again for American consumption). There's endless music cues and sparse sound effects, to say nothing of the wildly overdone acting. Rose, for example, doesn't just smile. She seems to trying to make sure you can see her smiling from across town. 

   Anyway, much to Peter's dismay, Rose isn't upset with the frog and tosses the animal back to the bushes (where it hits Peter in the face).

  Rose has a vapid mother and sister. Sis is named Elise, and she's considered (mostly by her mother) to be the main dish in town. Mother's mission in life is to get Elise married off to a wealthy gentleman, per tradition ignoring the similar needs of her other child. Elise and Mother take off to do the town and hunt for a husband in the marketplace. Elise sticks Rose with the laundry, and Rose smiles. Even when Rose breaks free to go into town, she carries a spinning wheel with her so she can continue her (and her sister's) chores. 

   The other players in our story. 

   Hans, the handsome young milk salesman who pines for Rose but can't support her enough to ask for her hand. 

   Hans' Mother, who has to send Hans away after he pays for damages caused by Peter at the market (for Hans gave away all their money to be kind and Mother can't support him now, or something). 

   Hans' Pop, who doesn't do much but give advice. 

   Finally, there's Baron Von Pants, the secretly broke aristocrat who Elise is trying to snare. Got all that?

   Hans, after giving away his (and I guess his family's) money, goes to Nuremburg to become a fountain builder. This occupation is more or less presented as the equivalent of being a bridge builder, rail designer, or an aircraft manufacturer. Who knew?

   Peter wanders about playing various tricks on the locals, like sliding a bucket of fish under a guy who is about to sit down. I kept wondering why people couldn't see the objects he was manipulating, like a floating fish or apple or whatever. When Peter gets covered in flower when one of his pranks backfires, why don't people see the Peter-shaped flour hovering about like a ghost and head for the hills?

   Two orphans wander into town and Pitch, er, I mean Peter, convinces them to make trouble. Peter is better at his job than Pitch ever was, for these two poor children suddenly go berserk and start knocking over and tearing down stands. They quite nearly destroy the whole market place! 

   Hans and Pop hide the kids in an apple barrel. Peter shoves Pop off the barrel and rolls it away to let the kids do mischief elsewhere, but Frau Holly has appeared and Peter is about to get his! (Actually, Holly tells Peter to let the kids out of the barrel and then lets him dash off. Mostly, she stands around and laughs at things.) 

   Holly demonstrates her superpowers of footage reversal and sets the market place back in order before she takes the kids into the fountain and away to her underground lair.... No doubt she'll force them to build a rocket for her and she'll launch it from the base of the fountain unless 007 can stop her.

   Holly puts Rose to sleep before she passes by with the children. Rose seems to see Holly during this, so is only Peter invisible? You got me. 

   Rose has to get involved more proactively in our story, so when she wakes, she drops her spindle into the fountain. Reaching in to retrieve it, she falls in and is whisked away to Holly-land. Said kingdom is outdoors, and features wide fields and running rivers, so I guess this is supposed to be Holly's timeshare in Pelucidar. Not quite the underground kingdom I imagined. 

   Anyway, Rose wanders around until she finds a huge gateway in the woods. Once she enters, an invisible set of bars prevent any escape (and I guess no one ever thought about walking around the gateway, since its clear on either side)! Rose, as you might expect, smiles and wanders around some more.

   Rose walks by an outdoor oven and hears the bread inside asking to be let out! (I thought this was just the song on the soundtrack, so it looks like she just wanders across an oven, opens it, and removes some loaves.) Then she hears the apples on a tree ask for, something, I didn't really catch it, and Rose shakes the tree to make the fruit drop. 

   Then Rose is sticking out the upper window of a house and beating feather pillows! Holly drops by and gives Rose the lowdown. Rose will be staying there a year and working for Holly, alongside dozens of small children who have ended up here. (Did they all fall down Holly's fountain? You'd think the town elders would board the fountain up if people keep vanishing into it. On a side note, I seem to recall a Twilight Zone just like this, but involving a swimming pool!)

   The two orphans, meanwhile, are supposed to answer for their sins. In what plays like a satire of our legal system, the two kids are placed on trial. The tribunal is made up of young children, and the orphans' defense attorney is a little girl. Her argument is that the kids are not at fault for their actions, but are victims of society. The judges buy this and let the kids go with little more than a slap on the wrist. If this scene didn't ring so true, it would be hilarious.

   Back in the 'real' world, Rose's family hasn't been mourning very strongly over her supposed death. Von Pants is still hanging around, so I guess Elise still has her claim staked and he hasn't let the women onto the fact that he's poor (in fact, I don't think he ever does). Hans returns from his period of study in the city, and is now one of the most famous fountain builders in Germany. Really.

   Holly gives Rose a few months off for good behavior and sends her home (the loaves of bread salute her as she leaves!) and wearing a golden dress. This impresses everybody. Hans still doesn't think he can support Rose, but he lets her know he loves her. (So much for the economic stability of being the best fountain builder in Germany. If he's the best, you'd think it'd pay off a little.)

   Elise and Mother see the gold dress and plot for Elise to get one too. Elise is given a spindle and pushed into the water. Displeased, Holly has Mother step onto the statuary and take a position there. No one will make much of this, although Hans later notes that the statue almost looks like Rose's mother. You'd think Rosie here would say something, given all she's seen over the past few months.

   In the other dimension, Elise runs into the now-visible Peter, and the two strike up an alliance. I'm not sure what Peter wants with a gold dress, but I'm sure I don't want to know. Holly welcomes both characters into her world, Elise asking for a three-month contract.

   Obviously, Elise isn't into hard work or else she wouldn't have pawned off her chores on Rose back in the real world. The bread requests to be let out. Elise yawns. The Apples want to be shaken, she doesn't care. Holly assigns Elise to pillow shaking duties, but pillows are for napping. (I'm not sure what's so special about the feathers in those pillows, but Holly earlier used a shower of them to magically make a boy's clothing fit better.) 

   Meanwhile, the fountain is being worked on all of a sudden, and the foreman audibly regrets that that famous Nuremburg fountain maker isn't with them. But look! Hans shows up to observe the work! Whats more, he pitches in without being asked to help! (So I should draw a Superman issue, then charge DC for my work? Seems an awkward way to get a job to me, but maybe Hans is so popular because he works for free all the time. I think I've figured out why he can't afford to marry Rose.) I guess the foreman pays Hans later, because he and Rose are headed for the church by the end of the movie (oops, I hope I didn't spoil that for you).

   Elise and Peter are even more lazy than one would think possible, since neither has enough gumption to reach up and pull down an apple. Instead, we watch the two try to eat an apple without using their hands! 

   The kids labor hard under Holly's rule, and try to remind Elise that she's their cook. Elise would rather sleep. Finally ready to execute some vague master plan against Holly, Peter plays piper and leads the kids into the woods. Holly allows this, even removing the invisible bars to the gate. Here we learn there is a dry bridge between these two worlds, although we never see it. Judging from Peter's forced march with the kids, Holly's place is just down the road a piece from town.

   Holly's specter remains in action as the kids spill into town. I've already lost track of what Peter's plan was. His plan falls right in line with Holly's plan, though, so she's pleased. The kids break off into groups and are instantly adopted by various families. 

   Hans and Rosemarie decide to get married, and I notice she's never changed out of that gold dress. Her family probably gave all her clothes to Elise, but Rose has supposedly been living alone for three months. Hard to figure a woman wearing the same dress every day...

   The kids taken care of, Holly wakes up Elise and quizzes her to see if she's learned a thing. She hasn't. She's lead out the gate expecting a gold dress of her own, but is instead rained upon with some black sticky substance. (Oil! There's oil in the fountain! Now that I think about this, I'll bet this junk is supposed to be the trash Peter threw in the fountain twenty or so years earlier.) 

   Mother is thawed out in time to see the pitiful sight of her favored daughter's return. Elise is properly disgraced in front of the townsfolk, Peter is banished to live in his statue for eternity by Holly (what exactly is her position in things, anyway? How much power does she wield? Why didn't she do this twenty years ago?), the kids have families, and Hans and Rose are getting married. And I'm sure they all lived happily ever after once Holly entered her own statue.

   There was plenty of material here to report, but my system prevents too much depth. For reasons too complicated to get into, I can't review a picture as I watch it. I have to watch a movie, sleep on it, then report the impression it has left the next day. Sometimes a flick will stick with me scene by scene, sometimes no. (I also have just so much time to devote to these reviews, so that's a factor too.) I don't feel I've done Mother Holly justice, its much stranger if you wish to hunt down a copy. I just wanted that out there.