1/3/07

619 Red Zone Cuba

(1966, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:

Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance
(1949, Educational, b&w)

I’m Cherokee Jack!

Rating: Zero Stars

In a nutshell:

Short: Find your center of gravity during a speech by wiggling your knees.
Film: Includes an incomprehensible version of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Short Summary:

Can you point your fingers and do the twist?Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance is one of five companion films to Speech: Using Your Voice, featured in Episode 313. While Using Your Voice instructed us how to “speak pleasingly,” Platform Posture and Appearance tells us now to stand pleasingly, or at least, not quite so distractingly. We see a number of bad examples, including: a man who wobbles as if drunk, a man who sways back and forth like a rocking horse, a woman stiff enough to be suffering from lockjaw, and a man who leans so far forward we’re afraid he’ll to fall into the audience. Fortunately, you can correct all these problems if you put your hands on your knees and do the twist.

Film Summary:

In Red Zone Cuba, a young reporter interviews railroad employee John Carradine about a trio of criminals who escaped one night on his train. Carradine replies, “He ran all the way to hell,” and sings a querulous, macabre folk song over the opening credits.

We flash back to the trio of criminals in question. Escaped convict Griffin (played by the film’s auteur Coleman Francis) flees bloodhounds through a drab field. He hides while a cop hassles a pair of ne’er-do-wells changing a tire. He hitches a ride in the back of their truck and later robs them at gunpoint for coffee and beans. They introduce themselves as Landis and Cook (played by Tony Cardoza and Harold Sanders) and obligingly hide him from another curious lawman.

Somehow (a word I’ll use frequently in this summary) they wind up flying to a paramilitary camp with a squeaky little man named Cherokee “I’m Cherokee Jack!” Jack. They sign on with a Cuban liberation force, but try to desert when they find out they won’t get paid until after they invade. Apparently this didn’t work out, since somehow they’re suddenly climbing ropes in Cuba, where they’re quickly and easily captured. They get thrown in a tin shed while all their officers are executed one by one. A wounded officer named Chastain gets thrown in with them. He overhears their escape plans and offers to split the proceeds of his Tungsten mine if they’ll take him with them. They snap a guard’s neck and escape on a light plane, leaving Chastain behind.

Somehow they appear, sans plane, out on the bayou, where they meet a depressed old man and his blind pianist daughter. They throw the old man down a well for no apparent reason, and though nothing is shown, it’s implied that Griffin will rape and murder the blind pianist daughter before he leaves. They steal the old man’s convertible and drive across a desert to a railroad, where they hop what we must assume is John Carradine’s train. (See how it all fits together? See? See?!) Somehow, they wind up on foot in the middle of another desert. Griffin beats up Landis for his ring and then somehow arrives at a junkyard where he uses the ring to purchase another car.

Somehow they know where to find Chastain’s wife, and for reasons known only to her, she decides to trust them and honor her husband’s promise to split the proceeds of the mine with them. Somehow the cops find out where they are and give chase. Though Landis and Cook surrender peacefully, Griffin shoots Mrs. Chastain and runs across the mountainside. An angry lawman in a helicopter guns him down. The land-bound cops arrive and poke him to make sure he’s dead. They search his pockets and shake their heads while one of them says, “Griffin…ran all the way to hell with a penny and a broken cigarette.”

On a lighter note, both Chastain and his wife survive.

Introduction:

Your odds of winning diminish with every number Tom produces.Tom pushes the day’s lotto numbers out of his head. When it goes on too long, Mike asks how many numbers they need. Quoth Crow, “You need a lotto lotto numbers.”

Host Segment One:

Mike finishes reading what must be his hundredth number. Down in Deep 13, TV’s Frank is in deep to the mob for fifty large. Joey “Skinny Legs” Tagliano comes to call. Frank sends Dr. Forrester out to meet him. Joey beats him savagely while Frank stands aside and says, “I feel partly responsible.” Up in the Satellite of Love, Mike and the ‘Bots try on smoking jackets and elitist speech patterns to become high stakes bingo gamblers.

Host Segment Two:

Frank gives the bandage-swathed Dr. Forrester a rousing, inspirational speech, and then forces him to stand and do the Knee Test from the short film.

Host Segment Three:

His mind broken by the film, Mike dons a blond wig and feather boa to become Carol Channing. Crow does a gravelly Channing impression, offending him. Down in Deep 13, Frank takes a call from Jimmy Carter, who wants to know if Dr. Forrester is dead yet. Frank promises to call when he dies. Mother Teresa has sent Dr. Forrester a huge “Hope You Die” bouquet.

Host Segment Four:

Still in his wig and boa, Mike decides he is now T-Bone Burnett, and then goes to lie down. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester declares himself dead, alive, and then dead again repeatedly. Finally he decides he has too much to live for, and thus inspired, he stumbles out the door for another beating from Joey “Skinny Legs” Tagliano.

Host Segment Five:

Mike and the ‘Bots sing a cheerful song to counteract the effects of the dismal movie. “When I’m feeling down and blue and sorry for myself / I get some staples and some glue and I’m happy as an elf.” Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester throttles Frank with the “Hope You Die” bouquet.

Stinger:

The blind pianist daughter stares into space.

Thoughts:

Implied to suffer a gruesome fate.Like the “lip and tongue action” goofiness of the short’s sister film, the Knee Test is what makes watching Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance worthwhile. You perform the Knee Test as follows: Stand in a comfortable position. Bend over and place your hands on your knees. Put your knees together and twirl them in a circle. If you fall over, you need to rethink the position of your feet. Considering the position of the back during the test and the very marginal relationship of twisting foot position to standing foot position, I don’t see that it improves your posture that much, but it’s possible that performing the Knee Test before a speech (in private, I hope) might make you laugh at yourself and relax a bit before going out in front of the audience. Or it might make you feel so insecure that you freeze up entirely. Use it at your own risk.

What’s the point of Red Zone Cuba? What’s the point of any Coleman Francis film for that matter? All works of art have points, even if it’s only to entertain, bemuse, or repulse. Even the films featured on MST3K, to which the term art can only be applied with incredible looseness, attempt to make a point of some kind. Though they fail far more often than not, you can usually tell what the filmmakers wanted the point to be.

Some of the more abstract artists have pointlessness as their point, but not Mr. Francis. His cast’s frequent ponderous pronouncements make it seem like he’s trying his darndest to say something important about something or other, but he can’t seem to make the film coherent enough to get it across. I’ve never seen anything to match this film’s huge gaps in continuity. Locations, times of day, and bits of dialog skip around incomprehensibly all the way through the film. Several actors play multiple roles, most egregiously when one of the paramilitary officers shows up less than a minute after his own execution to portray a Cuban guard. The only thing that makes Hal Warren’s ‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate worse than Red Zone Cuba is the former film’s utter dearth of content.

The host segments center around Dr. Forrester’s injury at the hands of mob enforcer Joey “Skinny Legs” Tagliano. We never see Joey except in silhouette, but Frank’s misdirection and Dr. Forrester’s blithe willingness to go out and talk to someone named “Skinny Legs” works well. I liked the death vigil with Jimmy Carter and Mother Teresa. Frank’s inspirational speech goes on a little long, but the Knee Test at the end of it is quite funny. Mike is great as a deadpan Carol Channing. The lotto numbers seems a little pointless (except for the hilarious grunting noise Tom makes every time he pops out a number) and though the song at the end is amusing, I’ve heard them do much better.

The film segments from the short have their funny moments. While the narrator tries to make a point about the importance of a speaker’s appearance by comparing him to a tree, tall and straight, or a flower, colorful and beautiful, Tom says, “Now you’re a can opener: shiny, metal, taciturn.” While commenting on our would-be speaker’s grooming, Crow advises, “Make sure your part is gouged into your skull.” The film segments have comments about the (lack of) action, as in, “Hour after hour of heart-pounding small talk” (Crow); the bleak locations, as in, “I think this is taking place in Mordor,” (also Crow); as well as several comparisons of Coleman Francis to Curly Howard. Every so often someone asks some variation of, “Are they still in Cuba?” and during the more disturbing parts Mike gets up to try on his Carol Channing wig or do the Knee Test in an attempt to distract us from the film. Near the end Crow says, “I want to hurt this movie, but I can never hurt it the way it hurt me.” No commentary, however funny, could have saved Red Zone Cuba. Despite some funny moments in the short, this is the second most punishing MST3K episode in the canon.