I never know how Shout! Factory determines which MST3K episodes to group in boxed sets. All I know is that the latest, Volume XXXIII (due July 28), is top-heavy with films from the stuffy, repressed, often repugnant ’50s, those being Daddy-O, Teen-Age Crime Wave and Earth vs. the Spider.
The sole ’60s rep is the faux-groovy spy romp Agent for H.A.R.M. It’s also cheap, but hey, at least it’s in color and has bikinis.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate ’50s flicks, which can make for merry movie mocking. But one can only take so many blurry, black-and-white shots of 30-year-old actors pretending to be teen hep cats by smoking cigarettes. Of course, that’s why we have Mike, Joel and the ‘bots at our side.
And in this case, loads of bonus features. In fact, I count around an hour and a half of extras — the length of an MST episode.
So let’s get on with it:
The Daddy-O disc has a 9-minute Beatnick Blues: Investigating Daddy-O. The usual film historians recount its creation, along with good old Roger Corman. They peg the film as more of a crime drama than a typical AIP youth exploiter with hotrods, alleged hipsters and crappy music pretending to be rock. Then MST Hour Wraps round out our look-back.
The Earth vs. The Spider disc has an 11-minute This Movie Has Legs, again from the reliable Ballyhoo folks, and again with such film historians as Tom Weaver, who could spend hours sharing their encyclopedic knowledge of company town minutiae.
In fact, sometimes it seems that’s what they do. Look, I covered show biz for newspapers for decades, and I’m as attuned to insider nuts-and-bolts studio stuff as anyone, often boring my wife with references to hard times at Metro or how long a film was in turn-around.
But for me, much of these featurettes’ focus on who knew whom and where and made what is often a slow slog through the history heap. Not all details are interesting — they’re just details. Then again, maybe I have it coming. My wife would say so.
Back to This Movie Has Legs (love that title!) it examines filmmaker Bert I. Gordon and Spider’s big-bug shoot on Universal’s backlot and in Carlsbad Caverns, N.M., a place I visited as a kid interloping from Texas. One hangup: the Save the Stalactites and Stalagmites Society. For preservation reasons, the filmmakers weren’t allowed to light the caverns, so they shot long-exposure stills and superimposed the actors on the settings. Genius.
We also learn that two teens were played by actors 28 and 35 years old — and you thought Glee took age liberties. MST Hour Wraps then wrap it up, along with a trailer.
The Teen-Age Crime Wave disc sports Film It Again, Sam: The Katzman Chronicles, a detailed 22-minute look at the producer’s critically panned but financially in-the-black career. It included some gems (It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers) and some turkeys — literally. The Giant Claw is shown to be the worst-looking movie monster ever: a turkey from space.
But back to our teen criminals: There’s a 14-minute interview for Tommy Cook: From Jungle Boy to Teenage Jungle. The aging actor (he’s now 85) recounts an early career in radio and serials (yawnsville), then gets to Teen-Age Crime Wave, which had some striking scenes shot at the observatory at Griffith Park, a young-punk magnet that year, also for Rebel Without a Cause. I do love seeing and hearing the original actors dish.
Speaking of which, the Agent for H.A.R.M. disc has prolific and superb TV actor Peter Mark Richman, now 88, interviewed for In H.A.R.M.’s Way.
I love the guy if only for being in my beloved The Outer Limits, but here he was a poor man’s James Bond for a TV pilot which wound up going theatrical. Even I Spy shot internationally for TV, but this was made entirely in So Cal, and it shows.
Even so, it was in color and had bikinis!
I’m so easily pleased.
Re-watching this as an MST episode also is a kick, since it’s from my favorite season, Season 8, which brought Professor Bobo and Brain Guy (Observer) into the fold for wild serialized adventures in space and time, which for me somehow exceeded strings of unrelated host segments of letter-reading or standup routines with mock inventions.
Hey, those can be fun too, but I LOVE the new characters and ongoing storylines of Season 8. In fact, this episode’s bizarre, black-and-white “The Trial of Mike Nelson” was so good that it — not the movie — drives the disc’s trippy animated menu.
Overall, good clean MST3K fun.
Is it possible to get tired of this affectionately subversive show? I don’t think so. Thanks, Shout — and as Pearl would say when basking in glorifications: Keep ’em coming.
— Bruce Westbrook