12/14/06

315 Teenage Caveman

(1958, Teen Drama/SciFi, b&w), with:

Aquatic Wizards
(1955, Educational/Newsreel/Sports, b&w), and:

Catching Trouble
(1950, Educational/Newsreel/Sports, b&w)

This script’s like a telephone directory.

Rating: *

In a nutshell:

First Short: Precocious youngsters learn to do dangerous water skiing stunts.
Second Short: A brutal hunter catches animals for the zoo.
Film: An elderly teenage caveman explores “beyond the river.”

Short Summaries:

...from every animal rights group in the world, these days.In Aquatic Wizards, hot women in bathing suits teach kids the basics of water skiing. The more advanced classes teach the kids how to do really stupid and dangerous things, like standing on each other’s shoulders, and ducking under each other’s towropes. The teachers demonstrate the various kinds of water skis by stroking them suggestively, and then do stunts and flirt while skiing.

In Catching Trouble, hunter Ross Allen wanders the Florida Everglades with a taciturn Seminole (a.k.a. Old Sourpuss), hunting animals for the zoo. First they catch a wildcat by chopping down the tree where it was hiding. Next they catch a couple of bear cubs by stepping on their paws and tackling them. Then they catch a bag of rattlesnakes by burning down the bushes that covered them. After a slight mishap with an escaping bear cub (Ross half-drowns it while bringing it back) they bring the animals in for shipping.

Film Summaries:

No one in Teenage Caveman has a name, not even the eponymous Teenage Caveman. Teenage Caveman lives with his tribe in a giant cave in a ravine. Their daily activities are governed by a very strict set of laws, one of which dictates that they must not go beyond the river for fear of a monster that can “kill with a touch.” The dreamy, middle-aged teenager wonders about what goes on beyond the river, and why they can’t hunt there.

A bear mauls his dad during a hunt and, encouraged by a contentious bearded gimp, Teenage Caveman gathers up some of the other teenage cavemen to go hunting beyond the river. Once there, they see giant lizards with glued-on fins and stop motion dinosaurs. Through his own stupidity, one of the hunters steps in quicksand and sinks to his death. The others go home, all except for the original teenage caveman, who catches and eats a squirrel.

A glassy-eyed parrot monster interrupts his fried rodent dinner. Teenage Caveman flees in terror, then runs headlong into a tree and knocks himself out. When he comes to, he invents the bow and arrow. Using his new weapon, he kills a deer and starts carrying it back to the tribe. In the meantime, his dad has recovered and goes to look for him. A ravening pack of wild house pets steal the deer carcass, so Teenage Caveman and his dad return to the tribe empty-handed.

The Contentious Gimp demands that the Teenage Caveman be put to death for his disregard of the law, but the dad gets his sentence commuted to “withholding our voices for a time,” which amounts to the silent treatment. They talk to each other anyway when a rider from “beyond the burning plains” arrives. The law says that no one can live beyond the burning plains, so the Gimp kills the newcomer before letting him speak.

Time passes, and the Teenage Caveman gets a woman and digs his own cozy little cave for the two of them. He decides to go back across the river to kill the parrot monster. His father goes after him, and the Gimp gathers up a mob and goes after them. The Teenage Caveman finds the monster, but rather than attacking him, it attempts to speak. His dad gets there, followed closely by the Gimp with his mob. The Gimp kills the monster, and Teenage Caveman kills the Gimp. They take off the fuzzy parrot head and Ta-da! It was just a mask for a very old man, carrying a book with black and white photographs.

With the law shown as a fraud, the cavemen move to the lush lands beyond the river while a posthumous voiceover from the very old man explains the plot. Apparently, a nuclear war turned people into cavemen and reptiles into dinosaurs. The radiation made a small group of people really long-lived instead of dead. Their irradiated bodies killed with a touch, so that they couldn’t interact with the natives and had to wear fuzzy radiation suits that made them look like parrot monsters. According to him, the radiation had just worn off when the Teenage Caveman showed up. Another voiceover warns us all about blowing ourselves up, and then, mercifully, it ends.

Introduction:

Tom is the sole survivor of the Teenage Caveman-watching apocalypse.  So is Crow.It’s raining outside, and Joel and the ‘Bots are bored. Magic Voice suggests a bunch of board games, but they’re all too long, missing pieces, or boring. They end up teaching poker to Gypsy.

Host Segment One:

Joel and the ‘Bots have written “Rainy Day Ipecacs,” a charming little book of recipes designed to make you throw up. Examples include chocolate milk mixed with pickle juice, and warm strawberry Quik followed by a punch to the stomach. The Mads have a knife fight over who gets to introduce the invention exchange. Dr. Forrester sends them the movie by bashing Frank’s head into the control panel.

Host Segment Two:

Tom narrates while Joel and his Indian guide Crow hunt a Ken doll dressed up like the hunter Ross from the Catching Trouble short. They torture him mercilessly.

Host Segment Three:

Joel has prepared a series of sketches to explain the history of technology. Meanwhile, Dr. Forrester and Frank fight with a gun, then with scissors, then with clown hammers, and finally with a cattle prod. Dr. Forrester wins and then accidentally electrocutes himself while gloating. Meanwhile, Joel concludes that technology’s greatest achievement is the flying nun.

Host Segment Four:

Joel does a political analysis of the film, portraying the Gimp as a reactionary conservative and the Teenage Caveman as a radical liberal.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow dress in furry radiation suits and bemoan their fate as the last irradiated survivors of the Teenage Caveman-watching apocalypse. Joel comes in and reads a couple of slime-coated letters. Meanwhile, the injured Mads renew their friendship over afternoon tea.

Stinger:

The Teenage Caveman runs into a tree, knocking himself unconscious.

Thoughts:

...is not the hairy superhero from The Flintstones.  Sorry.Apparently, in the fifties you could let twelve nine-year-olds water ski behind one boat, without life jackets, and no one would worry. Considering this is the least dangerous thing we see these kids do, Crow sums up Aquatic Wizards perfectly when he says, “This has got litigation written all over it.” Also enjoyable are the openly suggestive lady skiers and the cheerfully racist narrator.

Now I’m not an animal rights activist or even a vegetarian, but Catching Trouble is the most offensive short I’ve ever seen on MST3K. It’s an allegedly unstaged chronicle of hunter Ross Allen’s efforts to fill an order for the zoo. I believe that Ross is a real hunter (as an actor, he’s horrible) but the “unstaged” part is a little hard to swallow. When one of the bear cubs escapes from the canoe, Ross jumps into the river after him. At this point Joel notes, “they just happen to have a camera underwater.” Ross slashes, burns, whips, kicks, and punches his quarry out of hiding, all in the name of good clean nature-loving fun. I guess the fact that the animals survived (as far as we know) makes it humane for the fifties.

Somewhere near the end of Teenage Caveman, Joel says, “This script’s like a telephone directory.” The whole thing’s written in a stilted, declamatory style, read with all the emotion of people reciting names in alphabetical order. There are only two locations, the cave in the ravine and a grassy field that serves as “beyond the river.” The only two special effects are the dad being mauled by the bear (which consists of a man in a rather obvious bear suit), and the old man in the fuzzy parrot-shaped radiation suit. The dinosaurs are shown in footage stolen from other films. We’ve seen the glued-on fin dinosaurs in Robot Monster, and the stop motion dinosaurs in Lost Continent. The unmasking of the monster at the end is a non sequitur plot twist that makes your average episode of Scooby Doo look subtle and nuanced.

The host segments were average. Watching the Mads dance around each other like gangsters in a seventies cop show was pretty funny, and watching Joel and Crow torture toy hunter Ross was strangely satisfying. The rainy day Ipecacs were pretty gross, as I’m sure they were meant to be. My favorite moment came during the holocaust survivor sketch at the end when Crow claims he is the sole survivor, and Tom chimes in, “me too!”

In terms of quality, the three films depicted in the movie segments capture the full spectrum of MST3K fairly well. First you’ve got Aquatic Wizards, full of comments about the incredibly dangerous things these kids are doing, plus the libidinous antics of the teachers. It’s not bad, it’s not terrific, it’s just funny. Then you have Catching Trouble, full of things like, “Ross tries to towel away the evil, but nothing doing,” and “Let’s not forget who the real evil serpent is.” When the Seminole starts chopping at the wildcat’s tree, Joel shouts, “talk him down!” It’s offensive, but it’s one of the funniest shorts they’ve ever done. Then, of course, there’s the movie itself. During the opening scenes, Crow notes that since it’s a Roger Corman film, we need to get used to this location. When they go hunting with rattles and spears, Joel says, “What, are they hunting babies?” Joel and the ‘Bots make some funny quips, and the movie itself is only an hour long, but so little happens and the plot moves so slowly that you can feel each and every second pass. Since Aquatic Wizards and Catching Trouble are available in Rhino’s MST3K Shorts volumes three and two respectively, the actual episode should be avoided unless you’re a completist or a die-hard fan.