krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
The twelfth volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs is now upon us, and I've started watching the episodes in it. One thing that interested me even before I got to the episodes, though, was the packaging design, which takes an "art gallery" theme. After a great number of packaging designs that started as "dark" and then became "dark and seedy" or "dark and meteor-devastated," it's a refreshing change for me.

As for the first episode in the set...

"The Rebel Set," along with "The Killer Shrews," was one of the first episodes I managed to see beyond what seemed, at the time, to be a somewhat limited selection on official videotapes. I also happened to have seen the short featured in this episode, "Johnny at the Fair," some time before that... and now, just as the short is officially available on a compilation disc in a previous DVD set, the episode itself is officially available, and life marches on.

The episode begins with Joel at last managing to find a very scary bedtime story for Crow and Tom Servo, "Life's Little Instruction Book." On one level, I'm sure it's all very innocuous, but on another I worry about some potential "We can see through and pass judgement on everything else in the world" attitude I sometimes became convinced certain MSTings would take... probably, I'm more than over-reacting. In any case, after a pretty ridiculous contraption in the Invention Exchange, it's off to "Johnny at the Fair." Filmed in the late 1940s, the short features a young boy and his parents "crossing the border" to see the Canadian National Exhibition, which I've been to myself if years and years later. Uninterested in going to the art gallery, Johnny wanders away from his distracted parents into the "two hundred fifty thousand people" on the "three hundred fifty acres" of the CNE grounds, where he encounters some celebrities it's easy enough to think of as "B-list for the time" and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, who I wouldn't classify as quite that. While it was hard for me to spot "one-liner" "riffs" that can be detached from the action, the whole experience adds up to an entertaining package for me. I've heard that a short movie has been made in recent years looking back on the original form of the short, but haven't managed to see it.

The movie itself does manage to feature what would seem to be genuine beatniks in it, which is more significant than that might seem given that Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured a few episodes before in the same season a movie called "The Beatniks," the characters of which really didn't seem to be anything like that. The movie's trailer, included on the DVD, does its best to make beatniks seem like a foreign menace to society. However, the coffeehouse in the start of "The Rebel Set" seems to be more background than anything as Mr. Tucker (or, as he's sometimes called in the movie, "Mr. T,") assembles a team of a robust actor ("Oh great, another oily, unlikeable character.") looking for work even as he lives in a very pleasant apartment probably paid for by his working wife, a rebellious son of a famous movie actress, and a not very good writer, of whom he observes, "None of you are beat; you're merely beaten," to help him rob an armoured car during a four-hour layover in Chicago. From there, it's off to the neat and fascinating world of cross-country train travel, with everyone in suits and ties and the actor's wife along for the ride in total innocence, and then to the somewhat complicated heist. ("So... how's this supposed to get them a million bucks?") With the money stashed in a dress box, Mr. T shaves off his beard and dresses as a priest, and begins bumping off his assistants even as they begin fighting with each other over the money. ("This is just like Treasure of Sierra Madre, only it's not good.") Struck by guilt over the deaths, the actor tries to confess when he realises Mr. T is getting away with the money. Evading the trigger-happy police ("Please, ma'am, I'm just trying to mow down your husband in cold blood!"), he chases and battles Mr. T for what seems like a very long time, offering many chances for "riffs" involving fighting priests. ("The heist has ended, go in peace." "I am in a state of grace! Leave me alone!") Finally, Mr. T ends up electrocuted and the actor shambles off into custody ("Well, he helped pad out the film, so he might get off.") and the dead son's actress mother shows up to provide an ironic moment as our heroes muse "So... all of this happened because Johnny got lost at the fair?" After the movie, trying to figure out just who the familiar actor playing the conductor was, Tom Servo's head explodes. In some ways, the movie didn't seem as ridiculous to me as others in the Mystery Science Theater canon, but the end result was entertaining.

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