1/12/07

813 Jack Frost

(1964, Fantasy-Fairy Tale, color)

Bring on my fiancée!

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Nastenka and Ivan’s relationship must overcome a variety of enchanted obstacles.

Summary:

Fun and games with Mushroom Boy.A wicked stepmother wakes her timid husband to fan his sleeping stepdaughter, while his real daughter, the waifish, big-eyed Nastenka, must sit up all night to knit her spoiled stepsister new socks. She must finish before the rooster crows, or stepmother will rip off her braid. She’s not quite finished when dawn comes, so she pleads with the roosters to delay a few minutes. The roosters regretfully refuse; they must crow when the sun rises. She goes to plead with the sun, who grants her request and sinks back below the horizon. When it returns a few minutes later, the socks are done.

Meanwhile, blond beefcake Ivan sets out from his widowed mother’s home to seek adventure, brushing off her advice to defend the weak and fight for truth, justice, etc., etc. A gang of hairy bandits waylays him and demands his satchel. Ivan gives it to them, then picks up their cudgels and hurls them into the air. When asked, he tells them they won’t fall down again until next winter.

Later, he meets dwarfish sorcerer Grandfather Mushroom (so named for his wide, floppy hat). They play hide and seek, but Ivan soon discovers his mycological nemesis has a penchant for invisibility and teleportation. He admits defeat, and Grandfather Mushroom gives him a magic bow for being such a good sport. Ivan makes an ungrateful off-hand comment about a bear before he leaves, prompting Grandfather Mushroom to deliver a parting curse.

Ivan discovers writing on a stone, which tells him to shoot a goose and throw a feather into the air. The feather will then lead him to his destiny. He does so, and the feather leads him to the lake where Nastenka works. Ivan is smitten; he boasts of all his great deeds and asks her to marry him. She brushes him off gently, so he decides to prove his worthiness by shooting a nearby bear. She spoils the shot by putting her bucket over his head. When he takes it off again, he has the head of a bear.

He stumbles his way back to Grandfather Mushroom and begs the aged dwarf’s forgiveness. Grandfather Mushroom tells him to learn to do good deeds and the curse will be broken. The uncomprehending Ivan chases small children through the woods and frightens false beggars in an effort to do good, but he just can’t get it right. Even carrying a blind old woman for miles on his back isn’t good enough. Finally he forgets about breaking the curse, only to have it broken when he decides to return the old lady’s walking stick with no thought of reward. He forgets about the stick and goes looking for Nastenka.

In the meantime, the wicked stepmother has been working to find her daughter a husband. But despite her best efforts, the stepsister is a helpless, unwieldy creature, and all the suitors come away asking for the more competent and beautiful Nastenka. By wintertime, stepmother has had enough. She sends Nastenka out into the forest to fend for herself.

Nastenka sits under a tree and starts to freeze. Grandfather Frost (looking like a Russian-themed Santa Claus) comes to comfort her, asking if she’s warm enough. She answers that she is, and he shows her his magic freezing scepter. She starts to succumb to the cold, so he summons his magic sleigh to whisk her to safety. She warms up in his home while he goes out to spread more frost.

Meanwhile, Ivan has gone to see the witch Baba Yaga (called “hunchback fairy” in this dub) in her house on bird legs. They spin the house in circles while he fights a gang of animated lumber. Finally, he stuffs her into the oven and refuses to let her out until she promises to help him find Nastenka. She agrees and turns a pig into a sled, which she sends to seek Ivan’s missing love. Ivan stumbles across the snowy countryside to follow it. As soon as he’s out of sight, Baba Yaga sends her black cat to find and kill Nastenka before he arrives.

The cat gets to Frost’s house first; it tricks Nastenka into touching the magic frost scepter. Grandfather Frost returns to find her in a frozen trance. Ivan arrives to apologize for being a vain braggart and asks her to forgive him. The magical apology returns her to life. Frost arranges a betrothal and sends them home with a horse-drawn sleigh and a casket of jewels for her dowry.

Insane with jealousy, stepmother sends her daughter into the woods to seek out Grandfather Frost. He comes to ask the stepsister if she’s warm enough. She pushes him down and snarls, “Bring on my fiancée!” He sends her home with a pig-drawn sleigh and a casket of crows.

Upset at her ruined plan for revenge, Baba Yaga convinces the hairy bandits to waylay Ivan and Nastenka as they travel to the wedding hall. The bandits tie Nastenka to a tree while Ivan punches hairy bandit faces left and right. The cudgels from the beginning of the film finally fall out of the sky to brain the hapless bandits. Ivan breaks Baba Yaga’s broomstick and sends her wandering through the snow with a washtub on her head. Ivan and Nastenka get married, and (we assume) live happily ever after.

Introduction:

Mike Nelson IS Lord of the Dance!Mike Nelson is Lord of the Dance. He sweats and poses while Gypsy tries to sneak away.

Host Segment One:

Pearl has still not returned from taking the Space Children back to their omnipotent parents (see the previous episode). Bobo and Brain Guy bicker about who’s in charge while she’s gone. They bring Mike down to mediate the matter. Brain Guy vents about Bobo’s various disgusting cleaning rituals, while Bobo implies Brain Guy could use some hygiene himself. Mike convinces Brain Guy to smell himself “as a gesture.” Brain Guy is horrified at the stench. Mike calls the breakthrough “a beautiful moment,” and almost convinces Brain Guy to take his place in the theater.

Host Segment Two:

At Mike’s expense, Crow has hired an expert on Russian culture to help them understand the film. Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff appears in the Hexfield Viewscreen to regale them with such chestnuts as, “In your country, you wait in line at bank. In my country, we wait in line for bread.” Crow hangs up on him.

Host Segment Three:

Crow has hot-glued fur to himself, claiming to be a bear. Down on the planet’s surface, Brain Guy and Bobo converse awkwardly of rotten bananas and Venusian libraries. They finally bond over the subject of Pearl’s cruelty. Up on the satellite, Crow has eaten half of Tom and buried the rest in the dirt.

Host Segment Four:

Crow has sought out a new expert on Russian culture. With Rocky IV’s pseudo-Soviet boxer as a starting point, he moves to Rocky III’s theme “Eye of the Tiger,” by Survivor. Their drummer didn’t join the band until after that song made it big, but his deceased great aunt’s friend’s estranged half-brother Earl Torgeson still makes old world sausages in New York. Mr. Torgeson appears in the Hexfield Viewscreen, but remains blissfully unaware of their presence.

Host Segment Five:

Tom dons enormous eyes and a babushka. He declares himself “dowling,” “endowable,” “pwecious,” and “cute as a widdle button.” Down on the planet’s surface, Bobo and Brain Guy struggle to identify the greatest ape movie ever made. They’ve boiled down to a contest between Any Which Way You Can and Every Which Way But Loose, and bring Mike down to mediate. Mike opines that, while the former is funnier, the latter is better made. Pearl arrives to declare the best ape movie of all time is Dunston Checks In.

Stinger:

Bring on my fiancée!

Thoughts:

Russian fairy legend Baba Yaga.I guess I could use this space to nitpick the film. The vicious anthropomorphic trees look rather cartoonish, after all. Then again, The Wizard of Oz features a rather similar gang of arboreal thugs, and is considered a classic. Many of the characters get no introduction, but then I don’t think it was made for foreign viewers. Anyone who’s read a book of Russian folklore would recognize the hunchback fairy as Baba Yaga. She’s a lot tamer in this film than the stories I used to read, but she’s still got her house on legs. When the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Tooth Fairy appear in an American film, no one bothers to give us lengthy origin stories; we already know who they are. The narrative spills all over the place, but I didn’t really mind. It always comes back to the love story when it’s done with the various folkloric tangents. It’s a fairy tale, for crying out loud. They’re not supposed to be realistic or cohesive. I know this has turned out to be more of an apologetic than a criticism, but dang it, I liked this movie, and probably would have liked it even without the commentary.

Some of the host segments work and some don’t. The ones that work have to do with Bobo and Brain Guy. Seeing them go from mutual hatred to gradual acceptance works well because they manage to hit all the notes between in a manner that is both believable and funny. The ones that don’t work have to do with Crow’s increasingly inept efforts to find an expert on Russian culture to explain the film. The only jokes have to do with the lengthy set ups, and we are left with very little comedy during the actual situation and no punch lines to speak of. Mike Nelson’s Lord of the Dance routine ranks among my top ten host segments of all time, but depends on a familiarity with the works of former Riverdance star Michael Flatley.

The film segments are marvelous. Not only is it a good film, but the cultural divide and the sometimes lengthy pauses in the dialogue make it a perfectly mockable film. As all the roosters crow at once to celebrate Nastenka’s finished sock, Crow says, “This is a test of the emergency broadcast chicken.” Nastenka pouts when the newly ursine Ivan runs away, so Mike says, “Every time I meet a man, he’s either gay or a bear.” Faced with many, many broadly acted scenes, Tom says, “Apparently there’s no Finnish word for ‘subtle.’” In fact, most of the lines they deliver are quotably funny, and those few that aren’t get a laugh anyway. It’s one of the very best episodes in the MST3K canon.