12/15/06

411 The Magic Sword

(1964, Fantasy-Sword & Sorcery, color)

Serf’s up!

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Sir George defies an evil sorcerer and rescues a beautiful princess.

Summary:

The double-exposed floating head of doom!The lusty George (Gary Lockwood) gazes deeply into his mother’s magic pool, slavering over an image of the local princess as she bathes. He witnesses her abduction by a still-screen ghost and runs to tell his mother, Sybil (Estelle Winwood). The aged and sorcerous Sybil consults her handy magic mirror, and together they see the arrival of the evil Lodac (Basil Rathbone). In the deep, echo-y voice that evil sorcerers reserve for this kind of occasion, Lodac declares that he will feed Princess Helene to his dragon as revenge for something vague having to do with seven curses and his sister. A knight of the court, Sir Branton, swears to pass the seven curses and rescue the princess in exchange for the standard hero’s reward of the princess’ hand in marriage and half the kingdom.

George begs his mother to let him go and rescue her himself. She refuses, but his constant whining wears her down; she offers to show him a bunch of cool stuff she’s saving for his next birthday if he’ll only shut up about it. She shows him a magic horse, armor, and sword, plus a multinational cadre of frozen knights, somehow not thinking that these things might be useful for rescuing princesses. George thinks of it, and uses the magic of the sword to imprison her in the cellar. He gathers up the equipment, frees the knights, and heads off to meet the king.

Sir Branton is none too pleased have company on his quest, but the king convinces him to accept their help. They journey off into the curse-infested mist, running afoul them almost immediately. The first curse, a big furry ogre, takes out two of George’s multicultural pals with logs before George gets it fatally dizzy with his magic horse. Another knight falls into the second curse, a cherry-flavored Jacuzzi. George tries to help him out, but Branton sneaks up behind him and pushes him in as well. The knight somehow turns into a skeleton, while George’s glowing sword lifts him to safety. The apparently peripheral vision-less George suspects Branton but doesn’t accuse him.

The next morning Branton sneaks away to meet with Lodac on the sly, with one of George’s knight friends following from afar. Branton and Lodac trade some expository insults, and we learn that Branton has stolen Lodac’s magic ring, and won’t give it back unless he gets the princess. The approaching knight creeps towards their meeting place but gets distracted by a lovely young lady singing badly in French (singing in bad French?). The knight, a befuddled Frenchman himself, abandons his objective to seek sweet lovin’. George wakes up and rescues him just as the lady turns into an evil bloodsucking hag that somehow qualifies as the third curse.

Meanwhile, Sybil escapes from the cellar and tries to cast a spell to help George. She hopelessly botches it, and takes the magic away from all of his cool enchanted equipment.

Branton, George, and their surviving pals ride on into the fourth curse, which is hot, vague, and swirly. It melts two more knights and disappears. Branton casts aside all pretense of camaraderie and leads George and his one remaining pal into the fifth curse—a cave haunted by ghostly Tiki masks. The last knight sacrifices himself to somehow lead George out of the cave.

George goes on alone to Lodac’s castle. He finds Helene’s cell unlocked and, undeterred by the obvious trap, starts to lead her to safety. Branton, Lodac, and all his cone-headed minions appear out of nowhere around them. Lodac takes Helene away and gives her to Branton, who, in turn, gives up the magic ring. The false Helene turns into a hag, and Lodac mounts Branton’s head on the wall. I think that was the sixth curse.

Lodac locks George in a dungeon cell, conveniently in view of the dragon’s courtyard. He lets George meet the real Helene. They get all smoochy-face until Lodac drags her out to be the dragon’s dinner.

In the meantime, one of the cone-headed minions drops a cage full of miniature brownie-ish people and watches helplessly while they escape. They steal George’s sword and set him free. Also in the meantime, Sybil arrives at the castle, still trying to remember the words that will give George back his magic powers. Lodac gloats while George ineffectually fights a rather rigid flaming dragon puppet with two heads. The gloating reminds Sybil of the incantation and she re-enchants the sword. Fortunately, George only has to stab one head to kill it. Sybil steals Lodac’s ring while he turns on the reverb for a really terrific seventh curse. She turns into a panther and mauls him from behind. George and Helene get married, Sybil uses her newfound power to bring all the knights back to life, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Introduction:

For all your reclining and radioactive seepage needs.Joel pretends to be a caricaturist, and sketches Gypsy while asking her such things as, “Live around here much?” and “Who does your hair?” Quoth Gypsy, “Bite me.”

Host Segment One:

The ‘Bots admire their sketches. Quoth Tom, “I wouldn’t pick up my worst enemy’s dog droppings with this piece of crap.” Joel has invented the Big Gulp Beret; a trendy chapeau that dispenses foreign bottled water while keeping your hands free to write beat poetry. Dr. Forrester has invented Designer Absorbent Biohazard Pillows. Frank spills some virulent dysentery to illustrate their use.

Host Segment Two:

Joel dresses the ‘Bots up as dogs and does a commercial for Basil Rathbones, an herb-flavored dog biscuit.

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots do a pageant about life in the middle ages. Joel is the king, Gypsy is a lady-in-waiting/unicorn, and Crow is a noble knight. Tom arrives as a serf and goes on and on about the sordid realities of that time period. Crow swats him with a lance. Quoth he, “Serf’s up!”

Host Segment Four:

Crow declares he’s broken up with Kim Cattrall; now he’s in love with Estelle Winwood. He sings a song about her. “She’s cute / She’s rooty-toot-toot / I bet she smells like juicy fruit.” Tom responds with a lengthy song listing everyone in the world who’s better looking than Estelle Winwood. They force him out of the room before he can finish.

Host Segment Five:

Joel and the ‘Bots talk about the curses in the movie, and then move to a discussion of curses that you can say on TV, such as ca-ca, stinkybutt, and nimrod. They read a long letter about bridging the generation gap. Down in Deep 13, the exotic dysentery has turned Frank into a skeleton.

Stinger:

Sybil’s two-headed servant looks meaningfully at himself.

Thoughts:

Two heads are better than one, I guess.This film is the last of a trio of MST3K films I watched in their untreated forms as an impressionable youngster—the others being the enjoyable Godzilla vs. Megalon and the execrable Castle of Fu Manchu. I’ve always been a fan of low-rent sword and sorcery, and the bizarre silliness that it portrays is usually excellent fodder for MST3K treatment. This film, however, reminds me of the difference between good fantasy and bad fantasy.

Good fantasy establishes its own rules, however implausible, and abides by them. Bad fantasy does whatever it feels like without explanation, leaving the audience rather clueless. This movie falls into the second category, largely because of the curses. In order of appearance, they are: 1) the ogre; 2) the bubbly red stuff; 3) the vampire hag; 4) the hot, swirly thing; 5) the haunted cave. The sixth curse was a little iffy. I think it was the vampire hag again, masquerading as Helene, but it might have been the whole castle. Lodac said he was the seventh curse himself, so I guess the dragon didn’t count, except, perhaps, as part of curse number six.

See what I mean? If they have to have seven curses, they should make them separate and distinct, let us know what they are, and how our heroes escape them. For instance, why did the bubbly red stuff disintegrate that one guy, but leave George intact? They should have said something to the effect of, “It’s the Carmine Acid Baths of Garthnog—one false step will dissolve the flesh from your bones. Unless, of course, your name begins with the same letter as its patron demon, who’s something of an eccentric linguaphile.” Why did the hot, swirly thing disappear after melting two knights? Because it’s the Burning Vortex of Zorthig. It only has two man-sized stomachs, and once it’s eaten its fill, it retreats to the dungeon dimensions to digest for the rest of the day. Lodac’s reverberating, but meaningless, declaration about George escaping the haunted cave through Patrick’s faith should have been expanded further to say something like, “The door is guarded by the ghost of Oliver Cromwell, who must spend his afterlife fleeing the ghosts of Irish Catholics as punishment for his brutal conquest of their nation.” It would make sense in a bizarre, fantasy kind of way.

The letter in the last host segment was kind of long and sappy, but the rest of them worked decently. The Basil Rathbones sketch is a clever pun, perhaps stretched a bit too far, Crow’s obsession with Estelle Winwood is kind of creepy in a silly sort of way, and the Big Gulp Beret actually seemed like a marketable idea. My favorite one is Tom interrupting the Medieval sketch to go on and on about the evils of feudalism, and Crow having at him with a lance.

The movie segments have some funny moments, but seem to lack the quotability of other fantasy episodes. The best lines usually compare someone on screen to a celebrity or cultural icon, like when Joel shouts, “Teddy Ruxpin, no!” at the ogre. The lengthy credits at the beginning inspire Crow to say, “This isn’t a movie, it’s an employment program,” and when Sybil shows George her new ring across the room, Tom says, “My own mom just flipped me off.” It’s more fun to watch than many of the other medium-rated episodes I’ve reviewed, but non-quotable film segments and average host segments mean that I won’t be going out of my way to watch it again.