Mike and robot friends Crow and Tom Servo are forced by evil mad scientist Doctor Forrester to sit and watch the 1955 stink bomb This Island Earth. They make the best of it, assaulting the film with every fiber of their beings in this, their grab at the big-screen brass ring. I make the most of it as well, delivering calm, cool analysis all along the way, such as comparing this film to Citizen Kane and explaining why I’m not commentating on Mystery Science Theater 2000 or Mystery Science Theater 1000. I also provide a limitless stream of cold, hard facts, including, but not limited to:
How the film is based on real experiments conducted in the American South in the 1940s
How gross budget overruns were caused by building and launching into space an actual satellite for the filming
Crow T Robot’s origin as an assassin android during World War 1
What makes Mike rush to the theater when he gets movie sign
Why all controls in an airplane’s co-pilot seat are labeled backwards
The history of interoceter broadcasting, such as the original Howdy Doody, before he died and was replaced by a puppet
How the term “booby hatch” was derived from the Italian swannery “Bubaria Haccieria”
How Flipper was only one of several “fish story” TV shows, including fish private eyes and fish lawyers
Famous people who have suffered from pantophiliamania (the compulsion to horde underpants)
Why many Bostonians consider depictions of the circulatory system to be pornographic
Why scientist Niels Bohr was trapped by glue for his wedding ceremony
Which homicidal movie stuntman was the subject of the bio-pic Halloween
Wait for my countdown to start the film with the Universal title logo. (37 MB)
Sergio Leone re-envisions Kurasowa’s Yojimbo… and gets the pantoloni sued off him. But nevertheless, he gives the world Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name (as long as you don’t count “Joe”, “Manco”, or “Blondie” as names). Join me as I directly compare the two films from scene to scene all the way along. But you only need A Fistful of Dollars to enjoy it.
Unlike most of my commentaries, I don’t really talk about the actors (other than Eastwood). Instead, I compare the two film-makers’ vision and message and address the noir source material. I compare the character of “Joe” with Yojimbo‘s “Sanjuro.” I compare the pacing and the scope of the cinematography. And I compare the plots and plot devices scene-by-scene. I even compare the characters, altho I always focus on Fistful, and I avoid the Japanese names as much as possible.
Start the film after studio title at the same time you start the commentary. If you choose to watch with Yojimbo also, start it at the Janus title card. (54 MB)
Saruman dons the cape and fangs for his first turn as the granddaddy of all vampires, Count Dracula, in Hammer’s second big horror venture. Grand Moff Tarkin dons pimp gear to take him on as Doctor Van Helsing. Alfred the butler comes along for the ride as Arthur Holmwood. Somehow I remember to mention that Michael Gough played Alfred the butler in the Batman movies but forget to mention that Christopher Lee was in The Lord of the Rings and Peter Cushing was in Star Wars. Pretty girlsMiddle-aged women fall victim to the charms of the vampire in the darkcuriously well-lit night in diaphanousBaptist-approved nightgowns. I try to keep the characters straight and explain how their names were changed from novel to movie. And I discuss anachronisms like blood transfusion and teddy bears. That’s right! You never thought you’d get a lesson in the history of teddy bears in a vampire movie, did you?!
Start the film at the Warner Brothers logo when I give the cue. (41 MB)
The puppy is alive! Alive! Peter Cushing takes up the role of the madman Victor Frankenstein, desperately trying to pursue his life’s work of discovering the secret of life while constantly being nagged by his mentor, his fiancee, and his housemaid. Christopher Lee takes up the role of the mute, murderous monster with the greatest brain in Europe. I compare this first big Hammer horror classic extensively with Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and with the original novel. I speculate on the doctor’s youth, or lack thereof, and his disinclination to redecorate for 15 years. And I wax poetic about beaver hats, cravats, and nightgowns with built-in underwire bras.
Start the film at the Warner Brothers logo when I give the cue. (41 MB)
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been featured in nearly forty movies over the years. Curiously, few film makers have bothered to explain why their beefy hero has a thick Austrian accent or even changed the name of the character to one that sounds like it might be worn on the name tag of a guy with a thick Austrian accent. Let’s examine the major roles. Continue reading Handsome strangers→
She’s alive! Alive! The inferior-yet-still-classic sequel to Frankenstein is given the full Tysto treatment. I compare this film to the 1931 original and to Young Frankenstein. I complain bitterly about Una “Jar-Jar Binks” O’Connor. I welcome Valerie Hobston’s cleavage as the replacement Elizabeth and welcome back Dwight Frye as the assistant-who-is-definitely-not-the-dead-hunchback-Fritz. I complain a bit about the presence of Doctor Pretorius and compare him to Doctor Waldman of the first film. And I finally get around to mentioning Jack Pierce, the legendary make-up effects artist.
Start the film at the Universal logo when I give the cue. (37 MB)
It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s the horror super-classic that introduced the world to Frankenstein’s monster as we know it today. I compare it (sort of) to the novel and (sort of) to Young Frankenstein, as well as to Dracula, which I’ve also done a commentary for.
I give a lot of background and talk about the economy of story-telling that lasts until the film slows to a crawl with talky drawing room scenes. I sympathize with Fritz and then blame him for the whole tragedy. I sympathize with the monster and explain that I want my misunderstood monsters to act with criminal negligence. I point out plot holes, such as how a brain in a jar could be better than the brain of a fresh corpse with a broken neck and how Maria’s father knew she was murdered. I mistakenly say that Mary Shelley doesn’t mention grave-robbing, but she does, briefly. I pan James Whale and praise Karloff as one of the greatest of all cinema heavies and one of the nicest men you’d ever hope to meet.
My 5-year-old niece and I lend a helping hand to the Beatles in their second film, the full-color presentation of Help! Ringo becomes the target of an Indian (dots, not feathers) cult of Kali (or Kah-ili, as they say), probably still smarting from the drubbing they took from Indiana Jones thirty years before. I identify some of the cars (and tanks), and explain some of the background surrounding filming, such as how the Beatles were so stoned they didn’t know what the movie was about, how much a curling stone weighs, and how dumb it is to shoot outdoors in England in March. Keely explains some of the plot, sings along a little, and identifies which Beatles are cute. A good time was had by all.
Listened to this again and noticed two small errors: I say Ringo and John are both about 25 and then mistakenly say that Ringo is “a few years older” instead of “a few months older.” Also, I say the “Webley automatic” line is incorrect, but the name of the gun actually is “Webley Automatic Revolver,” where Automatic refers to the fact that it cocks itself (in a crude, revolver version of the action perfected later in the Browning HP and Colt M1911). You learn something new every day.
Start the film with the opening in the Indian temple at the same time as you start the commentary. (43 MB)
The Coen Brothers succeed in creating an almost magical pastiche of 1930s crime and ancient Greek epic and even make it funny, with George Clooney as the fast-talking leader of a gang of escaped convicts crossing Depression-era Mississippi to get home and ending up in a number of tight spots. I manage to avoid singing along by jabbering incessantly. I compare the story to the Homeric epic on which it is (very loosely) based as well as to Preston Sturgess’s Sullivan’s Travels, where it gets its name. And I explain various 1930s customs, manners, cars, and secret organizations whose name I need not mention.
This is the region 1 DVD release. Start the film with the studio logo at the same time you start the commentary. (49 MB)
Just in time for Halloween! A campy lawyer becomes a bug-eating lunatic in thrall to the king of all vampires: Count Dracula, as personified by Bela Lugosi. I compare the film to the Bram Stoker novel, to the stage play, and to other Dracula movies. I point out how the film set the standard for vampires from the incredible opening featuring the brides of Dracula (and the possums of Dracula) to the thrilling discussion-on-a-divan scenes to the pulse-racing discussion-on-a-staircase scenes to the chilling look-over-there-while-I-stab-Dracula ending. I mix up Joan Standing (the English nurse) and Moon Carroll (the American maid). Maybe there are no fangs and no blood (or score); maybe the actors all stand motionless to deliver their lines, maybe everything interesting happens off-screen, but this is the granddaddy of ’em all and well worth a look.