1/2/07

613 The Sinister Urge

(1961, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:

Keeping Clean and Neat
(1956, Educational, b&w)

Dirk! No. That can’t be Dirk. Uh, uh.

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Short: Big kids only pick the cleanest and neatest of youngsters.
Film: Addled cops hunt a ridiculously dressed pornographer and her murderous stooge.

Short Summary:

Soft, pliable, post-bathing toenails.In Keeping Clean and Neat, teenagers enter an elementary school and stalk classrooms full of nine-year-olds, looking for the best groomed pair they can find. The kids straighten up and preen, hoping the big kids will pick them. Don and Mildred are among the hopefuls, and the narrator takes us back through their morning and evening routines, setting parameters (wash all the lather from your hair and then brush it at least one hundred strokes), correcting mistakes (pick up all your clothes and put them away neatly—shift into fast forward if it helps), and offering advice (cut your toenails after bathing, when they’re soft). Had they done all this before the teenagers came hunting for human trophies, they might have gotten picked. They’re not, of course.

Film Summary:

In The Sinister Urge, a young woman runs down a country road in her underthings. She stumbles into a phone booth and frantically dials the operator. She never finishes dialing…

…though how this is possible is never addressed, since it usually only takes one number to dial the operator…

…and her brutalized corpse is discovered later at the scene. Cops arrive to cover her up and shake their heads sadly while they declaim their lines like middle school kids trying to read iambic pentameter. Most of their dialogue has to do with “smut,” which is apparently responsible for all the world’s ills. They start an investigation into the smut peddlers, setting in motion a chain of events that would be impossible to summarize coherently, simply because nothing about this film is coherent.

The dramatis personae of our little cautionary tale include: Local smut kingpin (queenpin?) Gloria Henderson, who dresses in glittery Saran wrap and snarls like a prom queen who thinks she can perform Tennessee Williams; Smutty film director Johnny Ryde, who gets young would-be starlets so deeply in debt that they’ll agree to act in anything; and the psychotic smut-distribution-ring enforcer Dirk, who mixes his obsessions with dirty pictures and knives with murderous results. There are other characters, of course, including a goofy faux-accented photographer, several violent young women in bathing suits, and two to five befuddled, interchangeable cops, but they don’t figure in much.

The plot (such as it is) unfolds thusly: The faux-accented photographer takes pictures of girls in bathing suits, provoking a police raid. There’s a fistfight at a diner. Hot young women maul an ice cream vendor with his own cones. The befuddled cops browbeat an irrelevant shop owner into a fit of depression. Johnny lures a wholesome young lady down the path of cinematic sin. Dirk gets hold of some dirty pictures of this young lady (actually, she’s quite modestly draped in gauze) and knifes her in the park. The cops send out a transvestite to patrol the area. Gloria and Johnny decide that Dirk is out of control, rescue him from the transvestite cop, and smuggle him out of state in a sabotaged car.

Dirk survives the crash and comes back to threaten Johnny. Johnny tries to get on his good side by double-crossing Gloria. Gloria smells the double-cross and shoots Dirk, who killed Johnny and took his place while her back was turned. Gloria then calls the police to tell them Dirk shot Johnny. She gets rather flustered when the cops arrive and point out that both Dirk and Johnny are dead on her patio, and that “under a couch cushion” is probably not a good method of murder weapon disposal.

Introduction:

They're so darling, and lovely!Mike and the ‘Bots throw a shower for Gypsy. Everyone gives her pinking shears. They’re so darling…and lovely!

Host Segment One:

While investigating Frank’s disappearance, Dr. Forrester discovers ticket stubs to violent films in his pants pockets and bundles of TNT in his closet. He wonders if something might be wrong. Up in the Satellite of Love, Gypsy receives a shower gift from Frank. It’s pinking shears, but the card announces his intention to blow up Deep 13.

Host Segment Two:

A bomb goes off while they’re still in the theater, shaking the satellite and filling it with smoke. TV’s Frank calls up from a nearby payphone to gloat and hint of darker things to come. Down in Deep 13, Frank has tied Dr. Forrester to several bundles of dynamite. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “I’m going to kill you, Frank.” “No, Dr. Forrester,” Frank replies, “it is you who are going to kill me.”

Host Segment Three:

Mike and the ‘Bots adopt the dress and dialogue style of a police procedural film in an attempt to stop Frank. Crow checks with Huggy Bear and Rooster, but they don’t know anything useful. Tom tries to help, but his troubled past (which somehow involves a busload of cub scouts) weighs him down.

Host Segment Four:

Gypsy pulls up a map of the city to determine Frank’s location, but Mike points out they already know where he is. Tom has found Frank’s fingerprints on the bomb threat, but Mike points out that Frank signed it. Then Mike has an idea. He calls up Dr. Forrester and tells him to go out for potato cakes. Dr. Forrester complies.

Host Segment Five:

Frank gloats while he prepares to blow up Deep 13. Dr. Forrester lures him away from the plunger with the potato cakes and takes him prisoner. Mike and the ‘Bots read letters, while Dr. Forrester deep-fries Frank.

Stinger:

Dirk! No. That can’t be Dirk. Uh, uh.

Thoughts:

Not very convincing as a woman.Back in Episode 510, Body Care and Grooming used sex appeal as motivation for personal hygiene. This doesn’t work with younger kids, so instead Keeping Clean and Neat relies on an unexplained desire to impress bigger kids. Why the high schoolers want a pair of well-groomed children is never clearly defined. I think the narrator mentioned something about a dance, but what will the kids’ role will be? Child labor? Chaperones? An offering to the sun gods? Who knows?

The Sinister Urge is, first and foremost, a message film, spewed from the bowels of Ed “brutally inept” Wood, Jr. Let’s look at that message again, shall we?

“Pornography is bad.”

Well, granted. Despite the prevailing winds of Internet opinion, pornography is, in fact, bad. At best it impairs one’s ability to maintain a healthy and realistic physical relationship. At worst it lends itself to becoming an obsessive disorder like gambling, World of Warcraft, or anything else people destroy their lives with by doing it to the exclusion of everything else. On a broader level, it inspires a subset of already disturbed people to sexually abuse others, fuels a worldwide business that kidnaps minors and women into sexual slavery, and denigrates the female gender as a whole.

Isn’t that bad enough, Mr. Wood? Did you have to weaken your own message by declaring it worse than drugs, murder, and organized crime? Did you expect to be taken seriously when you made your villain an over-the-top, porn-obsessed killer that holds dirty pictures in one hand and a knife in the other? Did you have to distract us with violent young women roughing up irrelevant ice cream vendors? Does the odd transvestite cop symbolize healthy sexuality?

It is worth noting that a not insignificant number of the softcore pornos produced in the sixties and seventies were written by a pseudonymed Ed Wood, Jr.

Faced with another film that defies parody, the Best Brains crew gives us another overarching host segments theme. Their take on the police procedural genre goes well, mostly thanks Mike and the ‘Bots earnest attempts to overcomplicate the “plot” and Frank’s excellent send up of the talking villain cliché. Paul Chaplin has a funny cameo as both Huggy Bear and Rooster.

The film segments are well mocked. During the narrator’s exhaustive list of body parts that must be scrubbed, Crow exhorts us to, “Clean yourself in alphabetical order.” After watching a nine-year-old boy shower for five consecutive minutes, Crow moans, “Why couldn’t they have had Mamie Van Doren in this?” While the soon-to-be-killed underwear lady runs through the opening credits, Crow notes that she’s, “trying to give someone the slip.” When a fight breaks out at a run-down diner, Tom sings, “Won’t you take me to shanty town?” When Gloria arrives home in yet another ridiculous outfit, Mike says, “She’s dressed as the Blue Earth Sugar Beet Queen.” Though crippled by Wood’s lack of skill, the film is helped along by his overabundance of the bizarre. The short’s decent too. This episode’s worth a look.