(1955, SciFi, b&w), with:
X Marks the Spot
(1944, Educational/Religious, b&w)
We’ve brought civilization to planet Nova.
In a nutshell:
Short: God judges a newly deceased careless driver based on his traffic violations.
Film: Perky scientists set off an atomic bomb while exploring a new planet.
In X Marks the Spot, an officious man dictates a letter to his secretary in an Elmer Fudd voice. After a minute or so he turns to us, the audience, to make veiled claims that poor driving is unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst. Then he turns it over to a narrator, who gives a running commentary of Joe, the world’s worst driver.
Joe drives with his back doors open, hogs the middle of the road, tailgates, cuts people off, exceeds the speed limit, and tries to run down pedestrians. Finally, at the end of a long narrated montage of these scenes, he gets into an inevitable accident and dies. A guardian angel (actually an overgrown Newsie in a graduation cap and gown) takes his spirit from the scene and escorts him to the high traffic court of God. This is not the God we know, but the traffic god of New Jersey. He holds court in a converted ice-skating rink with an imposing clock placed prominently above the bench. Throughout the rest of the short, it loudly ticks away New Jersey traffic fatalities, with speakers to broadcast every moment of impact.
God and the angel view bad driving footage and talk at length about Joe’s awful driving habits, snapping at Joe to shut up whenever he tries to defend himself. In the end it turns out that the angel used to be a bad driver himself, and was condemned to watch Joe as his penance. Satisfied that the angel has suffered enough, God commutes the rest of his sentence and sends him on his merry way. Joe on the other hand, must stay behind to await his verdict. God turns to the jury (again, it’s us, the audience) and delivers a long rambling speech about how despicable Joe is, and how despicable we all are if we don’t practice good driver safety.
Another narrator leads off the film, King Dinosaur, delivering enthusiastic faux science babble over a montage of badly superimposed stock footage. The gist of it all is that we’ve discovered a new planet, and are sending the perkiest scientists we can find to check it out. The scientist crew consists of two males, a blond medical doctor and a dark-haired naturalist, and two females, a blond chemist and a brunette geologist. Predictably, they pair up according to hair color.
They discover that the planet Nova is just like earth, with all the same plants and animals, as seen in another barrage of stock footage. So they strip off their snap-on space suits and go exploring, business casual style. The libidinous and stupid blond couple runs off to neck in the woods, only to get mauled by an extraterrestrial alligator. Later, when the doctor wakes from his day-and-a-half coma, he kills a giant potato bug.
The more practical but capricious brunette couple adopts a kinkajou and calls it Joe. The geologist insists on going out to a forbidding island to explore, so they head out in their rubber raft. On the island they find a whole lot of lizard footage, badly superimposed to make them seem huge. Cornered by a giant iguana in a cave, the naturalist sets off a flare to call his blond friends to the rescue.
The blond couple paddles over, lugging a handy atomic bomb that they happened to bring with them. Another superimposed lizard shows up and wrestles the iguana while the brunettes escape from the cave. The doctor sets the bomb timer for a few minutes and they all paddle to safety, leaving the kinkajou behind. As they watch the mushroom cloud rise from the opposite shore, the naturalist proudly declares, “We’ve brought civilization to planet Nova.”
The kinkajou just hangs its head in shame, leaving us to assume that it must have paddled to safety in the other boat.
Joel reads beat poetry while the ‘Bots wear goatees.
Host Segment One:
TV’s Frank accidentally drops Dr. Forrester down an elevator shaft. Frank and Mole Man Jerry scoop him out with a giant spatula. Joel shows off his incredibly stinky sweat socks.
Host Segment Two:
Crow ponders the verdict of Joe, the bad driver from the short, and his own qualifications to issue such a verdict. He ends up giving a long monologue about bizarre things we can do to “make a difference.” Quoth he, “Put a drop of vanilla behind each ear and smell like a cookie all day.”
Host Segment Three:
Joel gets himself a floppy monkey puppet and forces the ‘Bots to sing the “Joey the Lemur” song.
Host Segment Four:
Joel, Crow, and Tom take turns being the “Emotional Scientist.”
Host Segment Five:
Joel defends Robert Lippert (the man who produced this and many other MST3K films) and demonstrates the pitch-bending theremin. Dr. Forrester pushes the button with Frank’s head.
The doctor stumbles around for a moment, then collapses while his chemist girlfriend screams.
Several of these MST3K movies advocate some bizarre religious viewpoints. Most driver safety films rely on graphic road accident footage. X Marks the Spot, however, tries to appeal your sense of patriotism before moving on to vague Christian guilt, purporting that God is only interested in how well you drive. So go ahead, embezzle all you want. Fornicate to your heart’s content. You can even get away with a murder or two, with one caveat. Don’t do it in or with your car.
The last line of the film still blows me away. I’m not an animal rights activist, or even much of a conservationist, but even I can recognize the astounding arrogance of assuming that irradiating a planet is a good method of giant lizard pest control. Not to mention the implication that the atomic bomb is the harbinger of civilization.
This movie’s a badly superimposed stock footage extravaganza. When they get to an alien planet, they immediately come across a moose, bears, a sloth, snakes, a giant potato bug, alligators, a giant armadillo, elephants, water buffalo, mammoths, a kinkajou, sea turtles, and vultures. Talk about convergent evolution. That’s not even mentioning the iguana that the naturalist tries to convince us is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And speaking of the naturalist, that guy has some issues. During the course of the film he violently pushes down his female co-stars not once, but three times. From the way the ladies stagger back to their feet, you can tell they’re not pratfalling.
Crow’s introspective monologue about making a difference has got to be one the funniest host segments in the second season, and certainly rates very high among the host segments of the entire show. I’d watch this episode for this host segment alone. That said, rest of the host segments range from mildly amusing (the squished Dr. Forrester), to bland (the theremin), to unfunny and incomprehensible (Joey the Lemur and the Emotional Scientist). Both the lemur and scientist sketches had a lot of energy, but were jumbled and unfocused. Oh, and that was one butt-ugly monkey puppet.
Tom puts it best, saying, “I think that the film on the lake is better than the film we’re watching.” But, if I had to come up with a nickname for this movie, I would call it Saved by the Lemur. The only thing that really saves it for me is the kinkajou. Sure, Joel and the ‘Bots call it a lemur the whole time, but for the purposes of the film the difference is mostly just academic. I wouldn’t have recognized it as a kinkajou either if they hadn’t admitted they were wrong in the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. It’s not the mere presence of the cute furry animal that comforts me, but Joel’s lemur voice that he uses to dispense commentary on the film from the animal’s point of view. Also helping is Tom’s really fast rendition of the song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” during the running scenes. I might watch it again for the lemur/kinkajou-related zaniness.
(1955, SciFi, b&w), with: