krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
I've reached a "second episode of the season" (admitting at last to an episode-watching strategy that's no doubt pretty evident by now) that I've more or less been looking forward to. "Invasion USA" ("Invasion Oo-Sah?") is an early yet juicy piece of Cold War commercial agit-prop, and its charms are preceded by one of Mystery Science Theater 3000's possibly more famous shorts, "A Date With Your Family." ("The Woody Allen Story!" "Hey, I like my family as a friend!")

After a strange yet amusing opening with Dr. Forrester seeing whether a robot will prefer a plush yet gruesome version of himself (complete with "food pouch") or a wire "mother," with TV's Frank dressed as a pincushion, "A Date With Your Family" is about how to have a pleasant dinner with your upper-middle-class early-1950s family, through the simple expedient of forcing good cheer and not saying anything troubling. ("Emotions are for ethnic people.") I suppose it's possible that the "riffing" is so closely tied to what the narrator is saying that it's a little hard to pick out memorable quotes in isolation, but that may perhaps be seen as adding to the total effect of the package. I managed to see the short in isolation fairly early on in my endeavours to see all of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and have enjoyed it since.

"Invasion USA" itself opens in a bar ("Ah, breakfast at Harry's Bar. Cornflakes with gin!") somewhere in New York City, where a handsome broadcaster requests opinions from people on the "universal draft," which would involve soldiers, manufacturing, and labour. The attractive single woman, tractor manufacturer from San Francisco she's with until she can find someone better, cattle rancher from Arizona, and congressman also in the bar put down the idea, complaining about the ill effects of government interference, until "Mr. Ohman" starts musing on how people want to just "wish communism away" and swirls his brandy. All of a sudden, Ohman has stepped out and the threatening rumours on the bar's fairly large television are a lot closer to home, with vast numbers of planes bearing down on Alaska in vast amounts of stock footage. ("Barkeep, can I post-date this cheque.")

"The invaders" (who are frequently wearing American uniforms, the better to spare the budget) take over the Pacific coast with little trouble and stock footage of naval combat ("Thirty Hours Over Tokyo.") even as more stock footage drops plenty of atomic bombs on their homeland ("The president stated I am rubber, you are glue, everything you bomb bounces back to you."), and the returned tractor manufacturer, just as he's about to retool for making tanks the way the Army had wanted him to before, is overpowered by his fifth-columnist window washer and then shot trying to escape. ("Tractor police! John Deere division!") The rancher, who has been driven from San Francisco to Arizona by an obliging cabbie, manages to pick up his family just in time for all of them to be washed away by a flood from the atom-bombed Boulder Dam.

In the meantime, the broadcaster has been hitting pretty hard on the single woman ("You come to this war often?"), just in time for the invasion to drop bombs on New York City (using stock footage of the Blitz) and paratroopers on what we're told is Washington, D.C. ("Empire of the Sun didn't have this many planes!") The challenges of various guards reveal the ignorance of the invaders of American baseball but to no avail, and the congressman is caught in a commercial break. Finally, the broadcaster is caught reporting on the underequipped valiance of everyone else ("That was the Mercury Players presenting Invasion USA.") and dragged to his girlfriend's apartment, where he's shot trying to defend her virtue ("Hey, hey, nyet means nyet!") and the single woman throws herself out the window. Everyone comes back to themselves in the restored bar ("Okay, folks, drink up, hallucination's over.") and resolves to go and make those tanks after all, and the single woman dumps the understanding tractor manufacturer to hook up with the broadcaster.

Again, the "riffing" seems tightly linked in with what's happening in the movie. It doesn't seem to delve too deeply into whatever message the movie is trying to pack, so perhaps I shouldn't either, but I have noticed a site devoted to "Atomic Age pop culture" contemplating the ramifications of "Invasion USA" itself. I've also noticed that the movie's producer Albert Zugsmith ("Ah, the Zugsmith touch. Dry but warm.") made some of his nest egg in an unsuccessful attempt by Jerry Siegel to get the copyright back on Superman, and dark suggestions that he sold Siegel out to do so.

Date: 2008-08-10 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lazypadawan.livejournal.com
I remember "Invasion U.S.A.." Good stuff ;).

Date: 2008-08-10 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] krpalmer.livejournal.com
That it is. I'm wondering a little now about watching at some point Joel's own take on "Cold War paranoia," "Rocket Attack USA," which is more a sleazy spy thriller... some do seem to prefer it to "Invasion USA's" stock footage, and some are exactly the other way around.

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