12/22/06

510 The Painted Hills

(1951, Western/Children, b&w), with:

Body Care and Grooming
(1947, Educational, b&w)

Never change a tire with your face.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Short: You’ll never find a mate if you don’t groom yourself twelve hours a day.
Film: Beloved canine icon Lassie wreaks bloody revenge on her former owner’s killer.

Short Summary:

I thought guys liked dirty girls.In Body Care and Grooming, a young college man takes a break from studying to ogle the coeds. He happens to glance upon a young lady with tousled hair, an untucked blouse, and drooping socks. Needless to say, she does not arouse his interest. But wait. The handy narrator steps in to reverse time and give the girl a makeover. Soon her blouse is tucked, her socks are straight, and her hair is neat and brushed. The young man leaps up to pursue her. The rest of the short includes various anatomical diagrams, as well as scenes decrying such common grooming mistakes as wearing colorful clothing and rubbing axle grease on your face. Interspersed, we see our happy young couple in their separate rooms, scrubbing, oiling, and grooming themselves all the livelong day.

Film Summary:

The Painted Hills stars Lassie (yes, that Lassie) as Shep the prospecting dog in what the narrator calls, “The story of the love of a dog for a man.” The movie opens with Prospector Jonathan calling to Shep across the mountains. Shep answers her master’s plaintive cries and finds him with his lower half buried under perhaps half-an-inch of sand. She digs him out and they return to town.

There they find that Jonathan’s partner has died, leaving young Tommy fatherless, and the taciturn Mr. Taylor in charge of his share of the partnership. Jonathan gathers supplies and returns to the mountain, leaving Shep in Tommy’s care to cheer him up. The bereaved Shep senses something is wrong, however, and refuses to eat until Tommy and Taylor take him out to Jonathan’s log cabin some time later, where they find him dying of a fever. They nurse him back to health and he shows them where he has been recovering thousands of dollars worth of gold dust in the mountain.

Taylor has soon rigged up a sluice to maximize their gold-panning efforts, and they work all through the summer. While the gold dust piles up under the floorboards [insert obligatory Paint Your Wagon joke here] Taylor starts to get that fevered glint in his eye. His mania becomes obvious to Jonathan when he tries to kill a wandering preacher named Pilot Pete (a.k.a. Pile On Pete) who he accuses of spying on their claim. Jonathan sends Tommy and Shep home before trouble starts.

Shep returns to find that Taylor has lured Jonathan up to a cliff face with the promise of a new gold vein, and then pushed him off to his death. Shep mourns Jonathan’s demise by haunting Taylor’s cabin and mauling him whenever he turns his back. After a great deal of attempts on Shep’s life, Taylor finally succeeds in poisoning the gullible dog. Shep crawls off into the wilderness, where she’s found by a tribe of Native Americans. The medicine man fixes her up and sends her back to Tommy.

Once she’s feeling better, Shep leads Tommy to Jonathan’s shallow grave. Taylor finds them there and tries to kill Tommy, but Shep mauls him again. Tommy falls off his horse trying to escape, and Taylor almost kills him, but has a better idea. He takes Tommy into the cabin and nurses him back to health, telling him that Jonathan fell by accident, and he was just too scared to tell anyone. Tommy goes along with it for the moment, but when Pile On Pete and some neighboring prospectors stop by to return the runaway horse, Tommy tries to convince them that Taylor’s a murderer. Taylor wins them over with his side of the story and they leave, pulling the angry Shep along with them on a leash.

Winter comes on about halfway home, and Shep breaks her tether to wreak her final revenge. She drives him crazy with her barking until he chases her with his gun, and then leads him up the snowy mountain. He finally backs her against a cliff, but the extreme cold has frozen the hammer of his pistol. Shep runs around behind him and herds him over the edge.

Shep lies down in the snow to freeze, but hears Tommy calling from far off. She runs to him and they have a joyous reunion in the snow. No doubt Tommy now rests easy, knowing that his killer dog will whack any greedy claim-jumper that threatens his life.

Introduction:

Frank's gluttony is good for the environment.Crow wears a chin extension and impersonates Jay Leno in a comedic monologue that focuses mainly on the political/sexual double meaning of the word “congress.”

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester has found an abundant new energy source—Frank’s heart. He surgically grafts a generator to Frank’s chest and feeds him fatty foods to clog his arteries, thereby increasing the activity of his heart. Up in the Satellite of Love, Joel has invented the Back-Talk, a recorder that plays your voice reminders backwards to music so that you can process them subliminally. Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank has a heart attack and dies.

Host Segment Two:

Gypsy moderates a formal debate between Tom and Crow about the messy woman in the short. Arguing that she was more attractive when disheveled, Crow says she is a sexy rebel who hangs out at the local jazz club. Arguing for clean and pressed, Tom says that she is striving to change the system from within. As the judge, Joel sides with Crow, but Tom demands that they resolve the matter with a spitting contest.

Host Segment Three:

Joel and the ‘Bots have been doing term papers on people who look like Prospector Jonathan. Gypsy finishes a report about the violent death of Leon Trotsky, and then Crow demands to go next with his report about Rutherford B. Hayes. Having done no research at all, Crow postulates (among other things) that former U.S. President Hayes was born of his own son, admitted to the bar (but did not drink lustily from it), a cannibal, and one of the original founders of ZZ-Top. Joel holds him back a year.

Host Segment Four:

Tom goes mad with gold fever and crushes Crow into an ingot. Quoth he, “Together, I can rule the world!” Joel tries to convince him that Crow is made of Kevlar, not gold, but the mania is infectious. The crushed Crow goes mad also, rejecting Tom and claiming himself for himself. Quoth he, “I’m mine!”

Host Segment Five:

After some outraged discussion, Tom and Crow boil down the message of the film. Quoth Crow, “Take the law into your own hands, even if you drink out of a bowl on the floor.” Joel rebuts them, saying that Lassie is a dog and cannot be held to the same moral code as humans. If such were the case, he argues, all animals would be arrested for nudity. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester tries to jumpstart Frank, and finally determines that he’ll have to install a new heart.

Stinger:

The unkempt girl leans out of the shower and hangs up her robe with an impish smile.

Thoughts:

The grim canine visage of death.In Body Care and Grooming, a great number of things seem to fall under the narrator’s definition of “grooming.” When all is said and done, he demands not only cleanliness, but also absolute conformity with regards to dress and behavior. Now, I’m not against a shower every day, but it is possible to take a good thing too far. Body Care and Grooming seems to say that cleanliness isn’t the most important thing; it’s the only thing. The laundry list of things we have to wash each day is enormous. Considering that the main aim of cleanliness seems to be attracting a member of the opposite sex, spending every waking minute of your time applying and removing oils from your face seems counter-productive.

I imagine the early days of shooting for a movie called The Bloody Hills. The cast is all assembled—the kindly Prospector Jonathan, the wide-eyed youngster Tommy, the cowardly villain Taylor, and a rough and ready mountain man with a checkered past named Shep, who was taken in by the old prospector, no questions asked, but must return to his life of violence and crime to avenge the death of the man who taught him to trust and love again. Then Charles Bronson’s schedule becomes too hectic to commit to this low-budget Old West revenge picture, so he drops out at the last minute. The producers make frantic phone calls, but Lee Marvin, James Coburn, and Clint Eastwood are all too busy and/or too expensive. Who can they get? Someone gets a brilliant idea. An aging Lassie, now waning in popularity, is desperate to remake her image and return to stardom. The script is hastily rewritten and thus the film becomes The Painted Hills, starring Lassie as Shep, the avenging canine angel of death, visited upon the evildoers of the mountain.

All right, I’m kidding. But seriously—Lassie in a revenge picture? What were they thinking? Why couldn’t Shep have sniffed out the hidden treasure for Pile On Pete and his pals, thus exposing Taylor as a liar? It would have saved us from the gratuitous vigilante killing at the end. And I don’t buy Joel’s “not held to the standards of human morality” excuse in the last host segment. In real life it’s probably true that animals operate on instinct instead of morality, but the whole point of a Lassie movie is that she has transcended her dogness (canininity?) to become as wise and intelligent as the humans she protects. Doesn't that saddle her with a little moral responsibility?

Except for the introduction and the invention exchange, all the host segments relate more or less to the film. My favorite is Crow’s nonsensical summary of the life of Rutherford B. Hayes, though Tom’s megalomaniacal rant about the riches and power golden Crow will bring him is a close second. Crow’s congress/sex monologue was kind of lame, but then again, that was pretty obviously the point. The Lassie Responsibility segment and the Disheveled or Clean debate both made very good points about the film and the short.

During the film segments, Crow sums up the short by saying, “we’ve taken your libido and starched and pressed it.” When the narrator puts his charges to bed after a long day of vigorous self-cleaning and says, “The end of a perfect day,” Joel responds, “An entire day spent grooming.” During the film, when the wandering preacher advises them to “lay up treasures in heaven,” Joel adds, “In an interest-bearing CD.” Poisoned and laying next to a stream, Tom notes that Lassie “will make an excellent rug.” Later, when Shep saves Tommy by leaping on Taylor from above, Joel shouts, “Arf-Keeba!” It’s a bizarre short and an equally bizarre film, especially since both are ostensibly for kids (albeit of different ages) but include themes that are somewhat inappropriate to their subject matter. This episode is worth a look, but it’s nothing special.