1/3/07

618 High School Big Shot

(1959, Teen Drama, b&w), with:

Out of This World
(1954, Educational-Industrial, color)

Never let the devil dress you.

Rating: 1/2*

In a nutshell:

Short: The minor deities of bread distribution battle for a deliveryman’s soul.
Film: A heartless young woman manipulates the school nerd into an unsuccessful heist.

Short Summary:

I will dishevel all the bread displays in the world!Out of This World features a pair of entities from the grocery retail pantheon, named Red and Whitey. They’re the devil and angel responsible for the oversight of bread deliverymen. Though each sits in front of a bank of filing cabinets purportedly containing the records of good and bad deliverymen, Whitey’s job amounts to plucking her lyre, while Red does nothing but sharpen his pitchfork. Out of boredom, they make a bet that a recently reformed deliveryman can’t be tempted back into his lazy ways, so Red dresses Whitey as a magazine writer and sends her to ridicule the selected deliveryman’s methods. The deliveryman listens to her taunts for a while and then interrupts her to preach the gospel of grocer goodwill, plus volume, and special displays, much to Red’s dismay.

Film Summary:

High School Big Shot opens with a close-up of Marv, our thick-lipped teen protagonist. He grills an unseen speaker for a meeting with a safecracker, declaring that he needs help to steal one million dollars in cash. This leads us into the opening credits.

Next we visit Marv in his high school English class, where the teacher gives a lecture on Hamlet. School bully Vince is too busy canoodling with his girlfriend Betty to care about Hamlet’s speech to the Gravedigger, but Marv knows the answer. The teacher shames Vince while praising Marv, all but assuring our hero’s subsequent beating. Betty aborts the rough-up by telling her boyfriend to get lost. She insinuates herself into Marv’s affections (not difficult to do, considering his romantic desperation) and they arrange to go on a date that evening.

Now we meet Marv’s dad, a drunken deadbeat widower who can’t hold a job. He’s met someone special at a bar and needs some money to take her out. Since Marv’s the breadwinner of the family, his dad begs him for cash. They split his last six dollars. During his date with Betty, the truth comes out. She needs to pass English to escape the wrath of her father, and without an amazing term paper, she won’t pass English. Poor, desperate Marv offers to write it for her. After their date she flees back into the arms of the brutish and stupid Vince.

Marv writes Betty’s term paper and overestimates her gratitude by asking her to marry him. She refuses, citing a need to shame her father with furs and jewels. At work that afternoon, Marv happens to overhear the warehouse supervisor discuss precisely detailed plans to house a million dollars in his office safe in preparation for a massive heroin purchase. Later, his teacher’s discovery of the ghost written term paper ruins his chances for a scholarship (and, by extension, for college), while his father gets dumped by his girlfriend and loses another job. Marv determines to steal the money.

Now we get back to the opening scene of the film, where Marv has somehow discovered the identity of a foppish safecracker’s liquor-store-owning brother-in-law. He arranges to split the money with them if they can take care of the locks. Before he leaves, he tries to impress Betty by telling her about the heist. Betty wants the money oh so badly, but she’s rather be with Vince than Marv, so she has Vince and his thuggish jock buddies lie in wait for the safecracking trio just outside the dockside warehouse. Vince takes the cash at gunpoint, and then shoots the brother-in-law dead. His jock buddies flee while Betty arrives for some reason (to wed the victor, I guess). Horrified at what he has just done, Vince kills Betty as well. Marv takes a slug trying to stop him, and collapses to the ground. The gangsters discover the empty safe and come to investigate the gunshots, shooting Vince when he tries to flee with the cash. He spills the money over the side of the docks while he dies. The cops arrive and shoot the gangsters. The wounded Marv chokes out an apology while the foppish safecracker asks, “Why?”

Oh, and while all this goes down at the warehouse, Marv’s drunken failure father hangs himself in his apartment.

Introduction:

Have you accepted bread in your life?Mike has a headache. Crow comes in to play his cymbals. Tom arrives for bagpipe practice. Gypsy has just finished watching Seinfeld; Kramer’s antics make her shrill with laughter. Mike screams for them to stop, offending everyone. Quoth Crow, “Could you have some consideration?”

Host Segment One:

Mike is trying to relieve the pressure in his head with a power drill when the Mads call. Dr. Forrester has found a pair of chemistry sets and sends one of them up to the Satellite, via the Umbilicus. Frank uses his on some dinosaur DNA trapped in amber to create a little rubber dinosaur. It goes crazy and mauls Dr. Forrester. Up in the Satellite of Love, Crow mixes some random chemicals and feeds them to Tom, making him really big and stupid. Quoth he, “Servo kill?”

Host Segment Two:

Mike and the ‘Bots dress as bread deliverymen and introduce their new line of specialty breads, including a bread containing shampoo and conditioner, sharp bread, and combination bread/foot ointment.

Host Segment Three:

Tom and Crow climb into Tom’s hot rod and egg Mike twice while they drive past. Mike takes issue with their non-traditional methods, since their first effort involves hurling an omelet, and, in their second effort, the hollandaise sauce has too much lemon.

Host Segment Four:

Foppish safecracker T. Hewert Crow and his sidekick Tom try to break into Gypsy’s diary with dynamite. The diary remains intact while each successive blast causes them further injury.

Host Segment Five:

Mike starts to read a letter. Crow robs him for the letter and shoots him. He gets upset about what he’s done and blames Gypsy, shooting her as well. Tom shows up in a cop uniform. He and Crow shoot each other. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester kicks the pint-sized dinosaur into submission and stuffs it down Frank’s pants. We hear Frank’s complaints over the closing credits.

Stinger:

A gangster watches the money float away and exclaims, “A million bucks!”

Thoughts:

Everyone loves a foppish criminal.For a training film, Out of This World is actually pretty good. It’s out of date now, and the theology involved is a little weird, but the film itself is pleasant, goofy, memorable, and manages to get its point across fairly clearly. Every other training video I’ve ever been subjected to has either been yawn-inducingly dry or cringe-inducingly hip, where “hip” is defined as “a hapless employee rapping badly while he: a) demonstrates the use of a telephone; b) grovels to another employee dressed as the company mascot; and/or c) flips burgers with a golden spatula.” In practice, I prefer the yawn-inducingly dry variety simply because they’re usually shorter, but I would have made an exception for this film.

At the end of the film, the foppish safecracker turns to Marv and asks, “Why?” This leaves us to wonder, “Why what?” Why did his brother-in-law have to die? He drew his pistol on an emotionally unstable teenager with a gun. Why did they go on the heist in the first place? For the money, obviously. Why did Marv give the heist away by boasting about it to Betty? Well, he’s a romantically desperate teenager, but since there’s no way the safecracker could have known about Betty when he posed his monosyllabic query, that interpretation of it is moot.

Why the film? Sigh. Good question. It’s a modern pastiche of Shakespeare, of course. I’m guessing the filmmakers wanted it to be a teen angst Hamlet, which is a decent idea for a film, but not done this way. They manage to capture the broad outlines of a Shakespearean tragedy fairly well, with the parentally conflicted hero (complete with fatal flaw), the manipulating schemer, her sluggish stooge, and a plethora of deaths at the end.

Unfortunately for them, Shakespeare is not considered one of the greatest writers of the English language because of his compelling plots. At the most basic level, all his tragedies are pretty much alike, with the names and conflicts blatantly stolen from the works of others. Shakespeare’s a genius because of the incredible linguistic and philosophical magic he lays over his hackneyed framework. His plays work in spite of the mass deaths, not because of them. It’s something that many of his imitators don’t seem to get. In the case of High School Big Shot, the filmmakers successfully imitate many of Shakespeare’s depressing elements, but none of his joyful, humorous, or thought-provoking ones.

The host segments are a mixed bag. The chemistry set dinosaur and Tom’s hugeness work well. Frank’s unenthusiastic remonstrances to his new pet’s vicious mauling of his boss made me laugh. The tragically contrived letter reading at the end was well done. The specialty breads, the drive-by egging, and safecracker Crow weren’t bad, but they weren’t that funny either. Also, as an occasional migraine sufferer, I felt Mike’s pain at the beginning.

The film segments relating to the short are a hoot. While we’re still figuring out the religious connections to bread delivery, Mike says, “They’re operating under a whole different theology.” When Red sees his prospects for the deliveryman’s soul diminishing, Tom says, “Damn you all to my place.” As the deliveryman waves goodbye to Whitey after teaching her the bread delivery gospel, Mike exclaims, “Hope you accept bread in your life!” The dreary film segments from High School Big Shot aren’t quite so much fun. During the first shots of our tragic hero, Mike notes, “He has a haunting ugliness.” When Marv comes home to find his dad splayed out drunk on the couch, Tom says, “He might as well have Mitchell for a dad.” During one of the many uninspired dialogue sequences, Tom notes, “This movie is low on linguistic synapses.” Out of This World is available from Rhino Home Video in Shorts Volume 3, so I’d recommend you watch it there. Even with the Satellite crew’s commentary, the movie is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen.