Tuesday, January 28, 2014


TCM is honoring Walter Slezak tomorrow, January 29, even though his birthday is in May. The last of the movies they're showing is Dr. Coppelius, at 6:15 PM.

The story is based on the ballet Coppélia with music by Léo Delibes and ultimately based on a couple of stories by ETA Hoffmann. The basic story goes that Dr. Coppelius (played by Slezak) lives just outside a small town where he's a bit of a recluse, keeping the townsfolk off of his property by setting off explosions. It's not that he dislikes them so much as it is that he's got a laboratory of sorts going on where he makes life-sized mechanical dolls. The townsfolk have seen these dolls from afar, not realizing they're dolls, and are understandably curious about what's going on at the Coppelius house, which is why they try to get in.

Meanwhile, Franz (Caj Snelling) loves Swannhilda (Claudia Corday) and plans to marry her, but Swannhilda sees that Franz has also shown an interest in one of those beautiful dolls that Coppelius has made. Of course, neither of them realizes it's not human. But this causes a spat between Franz and Swannhilda, and Swannhilda goes with several of her friends to break into Coppelius' house to learn the truth. Meanwhile, Franz also breaks in, at which point Swannhilda impersonates Coppélia. Dr. Coppelius catches them, which means danger for everybody!

If you like ballet, you may well like this movie. Snelling and Corday were two of a bunch of ballet dancers brought together by husband and wife director and choreographer team of Ted and Jo-Anna Kneeland to make this movie, which was done through dance. If you're not such a big fan of ballet, you probably won't like the film. I suppose that's a bit of a shame, since everybody was clearly giving their best and competent at what they were doing, but ballet is an acquired taste. Further complicating matters is that there are two different versions of the movie out there. The movie was released in the late 1960s as a straight-up ballet, but bankruptcy and other legal problems left the movie in limbo and made it a box office bomb. The Kneelands eventually reobtained the rights, and rerelased it in the mid-1970s with voiceover and a couple of animated dream sequences. This for me made the movie even more tedious -- dammit, we can see what's going on! The last time TCM showed the movie, it was the 1970s version with the animation. I don't know which version will be running tomorrow, although I'd guess the 1970s version again.

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