Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXII (Shout! Factory, NR)

MST3K xxxii_75Who needs art when you can have Cold War paranoia and wish fulfillment in gorgeous black and white?

 

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I like to think that if Leo Tolstoy were around today, he would have noted that the uniqueness of bad films rivals that of unhappy families, with each being bad in their own way. Nowhere is that truism better born out than in the 32nd set of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which features an unusual lineup including two fairly respectable films (relatively speaking, anyway), a failed TV pilot, and a preposterous cold-war adventure directed by the man that gave the world The Terror of Tiny Town (the world’s only Western featuring a cast of little people).

Hercules holds a significant, if not particularly distinguished, place in movie history as the film that started the sword-and-sandals craze in the United States. It was directed in Italy by Pietro Fancisci and features the American bodybuilder Steve Reeves in the title role, along with a supporting cast including Sylva Koscina, Ivo Garrani, and Fabrizio Mioni, and a crew of anonymous but seriously hunky young men whose costumes barely preserve the common decency. It’s a cut above most MST3K movies due to factors like location shooting, but is undone by bad dubbing and a silly script that mashes up everything from the Amazons (guess what—they’re really starved for male “attention”) to the Golden Fleece. But cheesecake and beefcake abound, and that’s what really matters.

Space Travelers, a.k.a. Marooned, is a bona fide Oscar winner (for Special Effects), but don’t let that put you off. Neither should you be fooled by the impressive array of talent involved, including director John Sturges (The Great Escape, Bad Day at Black Rock, and The Magnificent Seven) and a cast including Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Lee Grant, Richard Crenna, and James Franciscus (not Tony Franciosa). This may be the most boring film of all time, a pure and self-important snoozefest about three astronauts stuck in a malfunctioning spacecraft while their oxygen supply dwindles. I know that sounds like it should be exciting, but believe me—it’s not. On the plus side, the glacial pace offers the bots plenty of chances to get their snark on because it’s not like the plot is moving fast enough that you might miss anything important.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the private lives of the people who operate airports? Me neither, but the creators of San Francisco International, a TV movie meant to double as the pilot for a new series based at the titular airport, seem to think somebody was. They ensured audience interest by shooting the entire film in washed-out earth tones and filling the story with preposterous action like a chief of security (Pernell Roberts) who creates a phony crisis with a plane full of government officials (he thinks it will result in increased funding for one of his pet projects), and a kid (Teddy Eccles) who steals and flies a private plane and suffers basically no consequences as a result. Hey, the kid was feeling bad about his parents (Van Johnson and Nancy Malone) splitting up, which not only justifies Grand Theft Airplane but also supplies a magic ability to fly a small plane without the benefit of any instruction whatsoever.

Finally, the most typical MST3K movie, Radar Secret Service, features a script worthy of Ed Wood, although it’s credited to Beryl Sachs (he or she has only five imdb.com credits, including two for the East Side Kids franchise). In this film, radar can find buried firearms, locate schools of fish, and provide film-quality visuals while tracking the bad guys in a car with what looks like an enormous silver acorn on the roof (the better to escape notice). It’s no wonder that this marvelous tool thus proves invaluable in foiling the theft of atomic material—a classic Cold War plot if ever there was one. Two beautiful (well, by B-movie standards, anyway) blondes are also involved, and there’s a helicopter chase that goes on more or less forever. Still, I had more fun watching this than any other of the other films in this set, perhaps because it’s such basic, meat-and-potatoes MST3K material. Who needs art when you can have Cold War paranoia and wish fulfillment in gorgeous black and white?

The best extra included with this set is the short documentary, “Barnum of Baltimore: The Early Films of Joseph E. Levine” which offers an overview of the producer who began his career importing films such as Hercules and Godzilla and went on to produce films like Carnal Knowledge and The Graduate. The short doc “Marooned: A Forgotton Odyssey” is also pretty good, supplying the backstory for the film included in the set as Space Travelers. “Sampo Speaks! A Brief History of Satellite News” is of more esoteric interest (it’s about a zine/website centered on MST3K) while a short about MST3K in the UK will try the patience of all but the most ardent fans. Other extras include four mini-posters and theatrical trailers for the films. | Sarah Boslaugh

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