(1952, Drama-Political, b&w), with:
A Date With Your Family
(1950, Educational, b&w)
Emotions are for ethnic people.
In a nutshell:
Short: A video style manual of family mealtime regulations.
Film: Bar patrons are hypnotized into thinking that World War III has begun.
In A Date With Your Family, a narrator shows us the proper way to hold a family dinner. He details this highly regimented nightly event down to such minutia as: dress code (business casual at least), who serves (Dad), who eats first (Mom), and how much emotion can be displayed (none).
In Invasion USA, five strangers gather in a New York bar to drink and complain about the government. One of them is a TV news announcer; he wanders from person to person, asking what they think about the universal draft, which seems to mean that the government would draft every man, woman, and child in the country and put them to work in various war-related industries to fight the communist menace. One of them (the doughy industrialist) rather reasonably opines that it sounds like communism. An accented stranger suggests that everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants to make sacrifices for safety. He twirls his drink hypnotically…
Suddenly, an army of heavily accented interlopers invades the United States through Washington State. They drop A-bombs on airfields and while liberally peppering the northwestern states with paratroopers in American uniforms. Ironically, the doughy industrialist had refused to refit his tractor factory to make tanks for the military just a few days before. He flies home to rectify his mistake, but it’s too late. The communists gun him down and take over the factory for themselves.
The others fare just as poorly. The rancher has flown out with the industrialist and then hires a cab to drive him from San Francisco to his family in Arizona. Unfortunately, hostile bombers destroy the Hoover Damn just in time to drown them all in the middle of their reunion. The congressman returns to the Capitol to raise more money for the military just as enemy paratroopers rain down in Washington, D.C. and wipe out the government buildings. The news announcer and the industrialist’s girlfriend get together and survive the bombardment of New York only to be captured by large, drunken commies. They shoot the announcer over some refused whiskey and then try to rape the girlfriend. She kicks them away and leaps out the window to her death.
…and the accented man’s drink stops twirling. Some brief patter amongst the patrons reveals they have all experienced the same apocalyptic vision. The accented man returns to repeat his moral from the beginning of the film, and they all go home (the industrialist’s girlfriend goes home with the announcer), determined to contribute more to the fight against communism.
Tom and Crow observe Mike as he attempts to build a new robot. They comment about how touching it seems, evoking “the innocence of youth.” When activated, the robot goes crazy and attacks. Mike puts it down by stabbing it repeatedly with a screwdriver.
Host Segment One:
Dr. Forrester sets up an experiment to see which a robot would prefer: a Dr. Forrester doll or a wire mother with a bottle attached? (As his control group, Frank is required to dress up as a giant pincushion.) He sends both items up via the Umbilicus. Crow weighs the pros and cons and then throws himself on the wire mesh mother, suckling at the bottle. Mike convinces him that it’s not his mother. Quoth Crow, “Are you my mother?”
Host Segment Two:
Mike and the ‘Bots dress their finest and sit around the dinner table, conversing pleasantly about non-specific topics. Crow and Tom talk about an undefined sporting event, wherein one of the teams won while the other, sadly, lost. Quoth Gypsy, “Such are the vicissitudes of sport.” They eventually get bored with the inane patter and dig heartily into their meal.
Host Segment Three:
Tom and Mike goad Crow into delivering a lengthy lecture, discussing the pros and cons of the two original Lois Lanes (both of whom appear briefly in the film). They burst out laughing when Tom gets Crow to try and answer the question, “Which one played Juan Epstein?”
Host Segment Four:
An alcoholic atom bomb calls them up in the Hexfield Viewscreen from a bar to bemoan his lack employability now that the Cold War is over. Mike asks, “Should you really be smoking?” and then suggests that he might find work with a maniacal despot somewhere.
Host Segment Five:
Based on the film, Tom has convinced himself that reality as he knows it is a dream, and if someone hits him hard enough, he will wake up to actual reality. At his suggestion, Mike knocks him across the room with a clown hammer. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester is delivering his usual parting threats when a fatigue-clad Frank stops him a gunpoint and demands to know who won the World Series. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “I did.” This distracts Frank long enough for Dr. Forrester to club him into insensibility with the butt of his own rifle.
An unconvincing paperboy walks in and out of frame while the news announcer and the industrialist’s girlfriend gaze deeply into one another’s eyes.
Who knew dinnertime had so many rules? I’m all in favor of sitting down to eat together as a family, but A Date With Your Family is more than a little extreme. At my house, we’re lucky if everyone somehow gets seated for more or less contiguous periods of time without having to draw advanced diagrams on my napkin to figure out who is supposed to seat whom. The narrator gives us a long list of topics that cannot be broached over a meal, but offers no suggestions for what can be discussed beyond the vague “pleasant, unemotional conversation,” guideline. Given the age of my kids, dinnertime conversation for my family consists largely of strident demands for water and tense negotiations to determine how many more spoonfuls must be consumed before the meal is considered finished.
Invasion U.S.A. is a 1985 Chuck Norris movie. I’ve seen bits of it on late night cable. It’s an utterly wretched film, comprised mainly of various scenes where Mr. Norris kicks, stabs, and shoots his way through the ranks of would-be Russian invaders. Standard action flicks that take themselves far too seriously can be great fodder for Mike and the ‘Bots, so I was very disappointed when I looked up the film right before the screening to find that I was going to watch a different, older piece of Cold War tripe with little to no action and a heavy-handed moral. All the Russian soldiers wear American uniforms, ostensibly to blend in with the natives, but since sixty to seventy percent of the film is stock footage lifted from World War II, I’m guessing it’s because they didn’t have enough Russians on film. At least the Chuck Norris flick shot its own footage.
As I mentioned in the summary, the film postulates that everyone wants to be safe, but no one wants to make sacrifices for safety. This is a good point and might actually have been relevant if they hadn’t taken it to such ridiculous extremes. The writers made a good (albeit probably unintentional) counterpoint when the doughy industrialist equated the idea of a universal draft with American communism. Why would we need to borrow a page from Marx’s idealistic but utterly impractical book to defend ourselves? Capitalism, though admittedly flawed, still functions far better than any other large-scale economic system currently in use. As long as the U.S. military is willing to pay top dollar for munitions, we’ll remain the best-armed nation in the world.
Mike’s attempt at robot-building is really funny. When it comes to life to interrupt Tom and Crow’s discussion of innocence with a murderous rampage while Mike stabs it over and over again…well…I guess it doesn’t sound that funny when I put it like that, but it’s really well timed, and I laughed very hard. Crow’s willingness to suckle from his wire mom is kind of creepy but funny, and Frank dressed as a giant pincushion tomato is inexplicable but amusing. The two Lois Lanes lecture, the A. Bomb sketch, and Tom’s clown hammer adventure are all decent, but my favorite is when Mike and the ‘Bots sit down to dinner and make carefully sanitized conversation. “I read a book the other day. The author made his point with sentences and paragraphs…”
The SOL crew has a great deal of fun with the short with Mike suggesting that the narrator “go to the flow chart” during his seating arrangement lecture. When the narrator goes on about all the things not to discuss during dinner, Crow says, “Emotions are for ethnic people.” When he suggests “pleasant, unemotional conversation,” Tom says, “I can’t stress ‘unemotional’ enough.” The film doesn’t fare so well. Many of the comments have to do with the plethora of stock footage, mainly because that’s what we’re seeing most of the time. Crow notes that, “World War III is a lot like World War II,” while Mike observes that, “This was all cut from Free Willy.” When a pilot requests landing instructions, Tom tells him, “Just keep coming down until you’re not in the sky anymore.” The short is available from Rhino Home Video in Mystery Science Theater Shorts, Volume One, and the film is a test of stamina and patience. You might want to watch it once for the funny host segments, but the movie’s not worth the bother.
(1952, Drama-Political, b&w), with: