krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
In my self-imposed project of watching the "Coleman Francis episodes" of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it all comes down to this. Getting back to the second most previously released official DVD collection, I faced the scintillating inertness of "The Beast of Yucca Flats." ("Ah, Abbot and Costello Meet the Beast of Yucca Flats." "Wish it was the Breast of Yucca Flats.") Completing a circle, Tor Johnson features in this movie ("Tor Johnson as the Beast; that's just smart casting."), if anyone can be said to "feature" in it, and indeed if the very short feature can be called a "movie." Still, with it being so short there are two genuine shorts at the beginning...

"Money Talks!" ("And talks, and talks—I can't get a word in edgewise.") Intended for high school students ("For high school students from seven to seventy!"), it features the young, underbuilt William ("Oh! He's had his chest excavated."), who wants to go to a dance costing two dollars but only has a fifty-cent piece left. ("In those days, that'd buy you a car.") After spinning the coin on his desk, William sees Benjamin Franklin in a variety of silhouettes ("Could you have your slave press my suit?"), who reminds him that he does make a fair bit of money each week; it's just that he needs to start making a budget and thinking about putting some money away when he gets it instead of spending it as the whim strikes. Encouraged by this, he wheedles a dollar and a half out of his father ("This is my weekly feigning of interest in you, son.") and thanks "Mr. Franklin." ("For making us laugh about love, again.") The earnestness of the short perhaps doesn't make it as memorable as some, but it's a good enough lead-in.

Then, it's on to "Progress Island USA," in colour with a funky 1970s soundtrack, informing us of all the amazing conveniences, cultural attractions, and industrial development on Puerto Rico, "an American democracy." ("Would be really great.") The rapid-fire pace of the short leads to short, snappy "riffs" often as a direct response to the narration, which does make it a little hard to quote things in isolation, but it's all lively and entertaining.

At last, the movie itself begins, with a young woman towelling herself off in her hotel room ("Ah, shabbily furnished room action like you've never seen it before.") and then being strangled and possibly assaulted in that order. Then, Tor Johnson lands in the desert in a light plane, playing noted scientist Joseph Javorski, who has just escaped from behind the Iron Curtain with information on the Soviet moon shot. "Flag on the moon," the narrator informs us. "How did it get there?" However, two KGB agents (one played by producer and Coleman Francis regular Tony Cardoza) also show up, and a sort of car chase ensues. ("It is more suspenseful when you don't know what's going on.") Eventually, both cars run off the road and come to a stop ("Coleman Francis, the cinematic poet of parking.") Javorksi lumbers off into the desert ("You know, Tor is much like the Thompson's gazelle. You know, running, leaping to elude his predators...") as the KGB agents gun down the American agents trying to protect him. Then, an A-bomb goes off, seeming to incinerate everyone... ("Should we have warned the nearby town? Nah.")

A man and a woman stop on the edge of the road, and are strangled by Javorski, now covered with some sort of makeup. ("Tor went bobbing for rubber cement again.") This is reported to the youthful highway patrolman Joe Dobson ("Sheriff Tintin!"), who fetches his balding, snaggletoothed partner Jim Archer from home. They manage to find the woman still alive, but she expires as they're carrying her away. In the meantime, a typical family is driving through the desert ("We're going to the Earwax Museum."), only to have the two boys Randy and Art (played by Coleman Francis's sons) wander away. The father goes looking just as Jim Archer, ex-Army paratrooper, takes off in a light plane, and Jim shoots at the father from the air. ("No, don't shoot the Dad of Yucca Flats!" "Well, he's probably guilty of something.") The boys encounter Javorksi and flee, and then Joe and Jim, after a brief wrestling match, gun him down and leave him in the desert. ("This has been one bleak, weird day.") There's still one surprise left to go, though... ("The Velveteen Rabbit!") This doesn't begin to mention the cameo appearances by "the coffee guy" from "The Skydivers" and "Cherokee Jack" from "Red Zone Cuba," the other unphotogenic people ("That's a hard face. That's a face that challenges you."), or how there's no on-screen dialogue at all, just reaction shots, distant angles, and people framed by car windows with their heads off-camera. ("Coleman Francis solves the problem of sound sync!")

The "host segments" lead off with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank rallying in support of "Proposition Deep 13," which means "that we will send you The Beast of Yucca Flats" to crush "the counter-culture" on the Satellite of Love, and the bots and Mike counter-rallying until they're informed it's another motion picture by Coleman Francis. It's quite entertaining, although I'm sure it could be carefully parsed by those concerned about political viewpoints. Things sort of build up from there, with a "space trailer party" drifting by the Satellite, Crow asking whether it's 11:30 yet, and a standout presentation by Crow for F.A.P.S., the "Film Anti-Preservation Society." Things then close with a victory rally by the bots and Mike and Dr. Forrester's best efforts to keep up morale culminating in the promise, "Frank, I'm going to start slapping you now, and I may never stop." "Let the healing process begin," Frank replies.

Rounding out the official release, there's a small documentary about the making of "The Beast of Yucca Flats" and its inclusion in the Mystery Science Theater canon. (I did notice that the clips of the "raw" movie are sharper than those from the episode itself.) Frank Conniff gets interviewed this time, and admits it was more a matter of them needing twenty-four movies for that season than it really standing out. Still, despite some blander moments later on, the sparseness of the movie does seem to give plenty of chances for entertaining riffing, and the end result is complimented in the documentary. After all of it, I did enjoy the "Coleman Francis episodes" once again.

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