krpalmer: (mst3k)
krpalmer ([personal profile] krpalmer) wrote2007-07-29 09:20 am
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MST3K 414: Tormented

Better than halfway through the latest set of Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs by now, I've rewatched the episode "Tormented." The movie is another one by Bert I. Gordon, auteur of such Mystery Science Theater classics such as "The Amazing Colossal Man" and "Earth vs. the Spider". I suppose that to me, his work, like other movies from the 1950s shown on the series, amounts to "unshakeably mediocre." Compared to certain movies from the 1960s or 1980s in the series canon, they seem much more the product of people who were actually trying, but that still doesn't make them especially high-quality, or even all that interesting. I was therefore wondering once more just how I would react to the episode.

I've heard here and there (including in this episode itself) that "Tormented" is supposed to be an attempt at "film noir." Not having seen very much of that genre, I can't tell if it's indeed an unsuccessful attempt, but to me it seems like an uneasy blend of a psychological thriller and a ghost story. Jazz pianist Tom Stewart, who lives on an island with an abandoned lighthouse, is about to marry his fiancee Meg when his old flame Vi shows up. There's a confrontation on top of the lighthouse in which I guess Vi is unable to let go of Tom and is going to cause trouble (the movie was made in 1960, so I suppose this would have been more serious back then), and then Vi breaks through the railing and dangles helplessly for a few moments. Tom hesitates about saving her, and Vi falls to her death in the surf. A whole series of torment follows, which I eventually decided was Vi's genuine ghost continuing to show up and not just Tom's guilt getting the better of him; the only problem is that Vi's ghost comes across as a possessive jerk and Tom just isn't that appealing, so it's hard for me to decide who deserves what. Eventually, the "hep" boat driver who took Vi on her last trip to the island figures out what must have happened and tries to blackmail Tom; Vi's ghost nags him into killing him. Unfortunately, this is witnessed by Meg's little sister Sandy, who had possessed a great respect for Tom up to that point. After Vi's ghost messes up the wedding by wilting all the flowers, Tom and Sandy have a last confrontation at the lighthouse in which it seems Tom is getting sort of threatening before Vi's ghost shows up one last time and Tom also falls from the top. As Joel is saying by this point, "This is one dark mamma-jamma of a movie, guys."

That's not to say that the "riffing" and host segments are all that dark, though. The "beat" boat driver attracts a lot of fun comments, for one thing. One thing that did catch my attention right at the end was an odd sing-song number Joel and the bots launch into to cheer up; one of the "good things" they sing about is going to a "Star Wars triple feature" at the drive-in. Unfortunately, this does lead to a thought or two about "those were the days..." (Earlier, during the movie itself, Joel responds to one of Vi's ghostly appearances with "Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my last hope!") Frank also gets in on the song, envisioning Dr. Forrester getting into a horrible accident and him becoming best friends with Crow and Tom Servo (he doesn't deal with what'll happen to Joel); Dr. Forrester drops a live hand grenade in front of Frank and strolls off.

One interesting extra on the DVD is, for the first time ever, an official release of the "Mystery Science Theater Hour" segments for this episode. This was an effort to break episodes in half with framing segments featuring Mike Nelson made up as "the host," a figure originally supposed to be Jack Perkins. It was both an attempt to placate their cable channel's schedulers and to get the show in syndication, but the effort didn't seem to last for very long. In any case, Mike as "the host" makes for an amiable addition.