12/22/06

514 Teenage Strangler

(1968, Teen Drama, color), with:

Is This Love?
(1957, Educational, b&w)

And he didn’t steal no bike, neither!

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: A relationship case study of two atypical college couples.
Film: A misunderstood, drag-racing teen is falsely accused of murder.

Short Summary:

Roommate teenybopper and roommate grandma.Is This Love compares the relationships of two college couples. Betty and Joe have known each other for barely three months, and have already determined to get married at the end of the semester. Betty’s much older and slightly wiser roommate Liz, on the other hand, went out with her beau Andy for years before they got engaged, and will wait for years more before they get married. Liz tries to talk sense into Betty, and finally succeeds in convincing her to telegram her parents. Her parents arrive the next day, offering to buy her a house if she puts off the wedding until she graduates. But she loves her fiancĂ© more than real estate; she gets angry and drives off into the sunset with Joe to elope, while her parents drive away broken-hearted to mourn, while Liz and Andy walk away to go on as they have for a long, long time.

Film Summary:

Teenage Strangler opens with a different Betty wandering the night with a friend to meet her boyfriend Jimmy. They smooch in the alley behind the school, and then walk home. On the way back, Betty’s friend is strangled by a man in a leather jacket with a white emblem on the back. Betty screams and runs away.

The cops arrive the next day and interrogate the overly distraught Betty, her overly pleased mother, and her overly defensive father. (Everyone in this movie is overly something. It’s that kind of film.) She tells them what she saw, and that there’s a gang of kids at school who wear black jackets with white emblems, like the one the killer wore. One the gang members is her boyfriend.

Meanwhile, the overly perky school kids deal with their grief by dancing on the counters at the local malt shop and singing the night away. A police lieutenant comes to drag the gang (called the Fastbacks) into the station for questioning. Some hip dialogue and a lot of waiting reveal that the only Fastback who wasn’t seen drag racing the night of the murder was Jimmy.

Jimmy’s overly angry father grounds him, confining him to his room for the rest of his life, citing previous Jimmy’s criminal record. Apparently a bike was stolen, and Jimmy was blamed, though we shortly learn that he was taking the heat for his overly whiny little brother Mikey. Jimmy gets the Urkel-esque Mikey to carry a message to his now forbidden beloved. He does so and she has Jimmy sneak out to meet her that night at the malt shop.

And, wouldn’t you know it, while he’s out another girl is strangled. The cops catch him out and chase him down. Since he won’t tell them where he was (Betty will get in trouble) they arrest him and throw him in jail. The next day Mikey and Betty go down to the police station to clear his name. While Betty tearfully confesses that he was with her, Mikey shrieks out, “And he didn’t steal no bike, neither. I did!”

After Jimmy’s released, he determines to go straight and quit the Fastbacks, but not before the overly aggressive gang leader goads him into one final race. Jimmy is winning until he and his rival almost run over Mikey, who’s coming in on his bike to talk to him. There’s been another murder, and a Fastback emblem was found at the scene. Now the gang leader is suspect, since he’s the only one there whose emblem is missing. He tries to run, but ends up rolling his car. He gasps out that his emblem is in his locker and faints.

Jimmy and his friend call the cops and an ambulance while Betty runs to see if his story is true. The overly solicitous janitor opens the locker and, lo and behold, the emblem is there, just as he said it would be. The janitor takes her to his office to calm down, where she finds Jimmy’s old coat with the emblem removed, and an old black jacket with an emblem-shaped paint stain. The janitor gives a long, overwrought confession before he starts to strangle her.

Jimmy, his overly nerdy friend, and the police lieutenant arrive just in time to see this through the window. Jimmy and his friend run into the building, while the lieutenant just opens fire. When they arrive in the room, the overly evil janitor is dead.

Later, all the surviving characters show up at the malt shop for a song and dance celebration. The lieutenant brings in the injured and humbled gang leader, and everyone get a free drink.

Introduction:

Frank is having one of his 'little moments.'Mike tries to call his grandma for help, struggling to convince the operator that orbiting satellites don’t have area codes. He finally gets his grandma’s answering machine, which rambles at him and then hangs up before he can leave a message. Quoth Crow, “We’re your family now.”

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester has invented the Frank ‘n Forcer, which is a big Johnny Jump-Up with a bed of nails underneath it. Frank fusses a lot, driving Dr. Forrester crazy. Mike and the ‘Bots have invented the Waiter Baiter, which is a metronome with an arm that swings back and forth to get your waiter’s attention.

Host Segment Two:

Mike and the ‘Bots pose the question, “What is love?” Mike reads E.E. Cummings to them to Tom’s delight. Crow gets bored and starts applying the question to celebrity couples, such as John and Yoko, and Bruce and Demi. Tom bursts into tears at the mention of Burt and Loni.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow dress like gangsters and start a mock turf war. Mike attempts gangsta-speak to broker a peace between them. Quoth he, “When you dis my little brother Crow you dis me, and indeed all of mankind.”

Host Segment Four:

Tom and Crow have wired a pair of electrified glasses that will make Mike act like Mikey. Mike tries on the glasses to read them the dictionary in a whiny southern accent, blurting out, “He didn’t steal no bike, neither!” He leaves the glasses on Crow and walks away with Tom, leaving Crow trapped in the Mikey personality.

Host Segment Five:

Mike dresses up to sing the Janitor Song. “A large fistful of sawdust is my essential tool.” Down in Deep 13, Frank has tried to dance along in his Frank ‘n Forcer and thrown up all over his bib and bed of nails. Dr. Forrester covers the mess in sawdust and pushes the button.

Stinger:

“And he didn’t steal no bike, neither! I did!”

Thoughts:

And he didn't steal no bike neither!The end of short poses the question, who is right? Is it the impulsive and unrealistic Betty and Joe, or the overcautious Liz and Andy? And what about the overprotective parents and their last-minute offers of real estate? How could anyone in their right mind turn down a house in exchange for waiting another year? Though I knew my wife for roughly a year before we started dating, we only dated for two months before tying the knot, so it's
pretty clear where I come down on this question. But then, my parents didn’t offer me no house, neither.

Ah, Mikey. Where there really kids like that in the sixties? The lack of social skills I can understand (we all knew—or were—kids like that) but what about the weird striped clothing and the glasses that were five times the size of his face? Give him a stocking cap and he’d be Waldo’s effeminate little brother. You’d think that a mother who cared about him wouldn’t let him leave the house dressed in the equivalent of a full-length “Kick Me” sign. And that’s not even mentioning a whine that cracks glass, drives off bats, and calls hunting dogs. I consider myself at least marginally tolerant, and I wanted to reach through the screen and punch him. With this episode, “And he didn’t steal no bike, neither,” enters the MST3K repertoire of oft-quoted phrases. For the next few seasons you will now hear it repeated at the end of almost every character’s whiny tirade.

The host segments range quite widely in quality. At one extreme, watching Mike’s pathetic attempt at “rapping” with his younger brothers from the ‘hood was hilarious. At the other, the Janitor Song just ends up odd and unpleasant. The rest of the segments fall somewhere in the middle, though the Frank ‘n Forcer was an interesting idea.

In the film segments, the short has the most quotable lines. When we see the aged college student Liz, Crow asks, “How many times was she held back?” A glimpse of her bland fiancĂ© Andy prompts Mike’s remark, “Conformist without a cause.” The film isn’t quite as funny (at least, not until Mikey shows up) but when the singer dances on the malt shop counter, Tom says, “Maybe this is the start of the counter culture.” When the Fastbacks are left in the police station to cool their heels for a long, long time, Tom says, “Bored straight.” It’s a funny short, but it’s also available on Rhino Home Video in MST3K Shorts Volume Three. The movie is fun for the bits that contain Mikey, but aside from that, it’s firmly average.