(1969, Drama/Musical, color)
I had such a pretty miiiiiiind!
In a nutshell:
Our heroes demonstrate the dangers of drug dealing, draft dodging, and exotic dancing.
Michelle works with her abusive father at “Eat,” an enticingly named dining establishment out in the middle of an unidentified desert. One day a greasy, flat-faced drifter named Buzz stops by for coffee and robbery. He buys the coffee, but forgoes the robbery upon the arrival of a traffic cop and a handsome but scruffy biker boy. Instead, he tells Michelle that his sister, Joan, is a professional dancer in L.A., and if she comes with him, he give her a start in show business. Michelle is not the brightest of young women, and wants to be a dancer more than anything in this world, but even she knows better than to run off with greasy, flat-faced strangers. Her father calls from the kitchen, so she refuses Buzz to go to see what he wants. Father seems to be even more drunk and belligerent than usual—one stinging love tap later, she takes her wages out of the cash register and follows Buzz to his car.
The ensuing road trip starts off with Buzz pouring beer all over a biker thug’s Harley and then pulling his gun when they try to chase him. Shortly thereafter, he puts the moves on the frightened Michelle. There’s a bit of sloppy editing, and then they pick up the handsome but scruffy biker boy. His name is Finley “Critter” Jones; his motorcycle has thrown a horseshoe or something, and needs to be towed to L.A. The rest of the trip has diner teleportation (i.e. bad editing), a gas station robbery and a dune buggy, though not necessarily in that order. Somewhere in there, Critter puts the moves on Michelle as well. Buzz puts a stop to it with his fists.
They arrive in L.A. at a nightclub called “The Haunted House,” where a flannel-clad folk band plays on a stage shaped like a dragon’s mouth, while girls in metallic bikinis gyrate more or less at random. As promised, the lead dancer is Buzz’s sister Joan. She introduces him to her greasy Stacy Keach-impersonator boyfriend, club owner Leo McCabe. Leo gives them all jobs—Michelle as a back-up dancer, Critter as a janitor, and Buzz as a drug delivery boy.
This is where the Cautionary Tale portion of our story kicks into high gear. Michelle gets wined and dined by Leo, who fires Joan, who occasionally OD’s on undefined narcotics while lamenting her lost innocence (“I had such a pretty miiiiiiind!”). Meanwhile, Buzz deals drugs, which puts him in contact with a prison insider who knows about a huge drug shipment being stored at a prison, which leads to robbery and murder. Furthermore, wholesome, songwriting Critter is a coward who’s been called up to active duty in Vietnam, but is planning to hide instead, and thus cannot confess his love for Michelle. He sings a long, sad folk song in the rain to this effect and then overhears Leo and Buzz discussing the robbery/murder. At a critical moment, Critter finds his manhood and defends himself, beating up Leo, Buzz, and a random long-nosed henchman. He hands them over to the police, marries Michelle, and decides to report for duty after all.
Crow is wearing a bracelet that says, “WWBSMD?” Or, “What Would Buffy Sainte-Marie Do?” In any given situation, she would write a folk song. “Hey little bird,” Crow sings. “I remember you.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl gloats. “Soon,” she cries, “I will rule the world.”
Host Segment One:
Tom has donned a bracelet marked, “WWJJWD?” Or, “What Would Jerry Jeff Walker Do?” Crow has a new bracelet filled with W’s; it asks about the potential actions of Wade Wilson, Willy Wonka, Walt Whitman, and approximately half-a-dozen other individuals with similar initials. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl whispers that she has to pass an inspection in order to be a board certified mad scientist. She gloats while an inspector from the Institute of Mad Science observes. She shocks Bobo and beats Brain Guy mercilessly, much to the inspector’s delight. Mike and the ‘Bots accept her choice of movie with equanimity at first, but Pearl urges them to make it look good for the inspector, so they devolve into Daffy Duck noises and suicide attempts while Crow screams “Madness!” repeatedly.
Host Segment Two:
Mike has somehow offended a greasy, leather-clad Crow, who decides he will exact petty revenge by pouring beer all over Mike’s most beloved object. Mike identifies this object as his engraved beer stein. Mike’s second most beloved object is Crow himself, and soon Crow is drenched in beer as well. Tom Servo rounds out the cast as the voluptuous, head-scarfed Michelle.
Host Segment Three:
Crow dons a glittery gold bikini and does a provocative striptease on the desk, much to Mike’s discomfort. (Thankfully, it’s only visible to us from the knees down.) Stating the obvious, Tom says, “I think you’re having trouble accepting Crow as a sexual being.” Crow throws his bra to Mike, causing him to flee in terror.
Host Segment Four:
Mike sings a sad folk song in the rain. “Your touch / Your feet / I’m sad.” Instead of seeing visions of his beloved, however, we see visions of Crow, who is busy fighting the fire caused by the false rain seeping into the electrical system. Mike remains oblivious to Crow’s warnings until the ‘Bots finally put it out and mention something about nachos. “Nachos!” Mike cries, and rushes offscreen to meet them.
Host Segment Five:
Driven only slightly mad by the film, Mike and the ‘Bots all costume themselves as the long-nosed henchman. Down in Castle Forrester, the unimpressed inspector notes, “Your experiment caused them to dress as Armenian thugs and giggle.” Pearl begs him to give her another chance, but he refuses to accept her as a mad scientist…until he sees Brain Guy gyrating to swanky folk rock in a revealing silver dress. He tips Brain Guy heavily while granting Pearl a conditional license.
Quoth Joan, “I wish I had my pretty mind back.”
So, in the sixties, nightclub entertainment consisted of young ladies in the most unflattering underwear imaginable, jumping around in front of a mellow proto-Pearl Jam. Call me stodgy, call me old fashioned, call me Ishmael, I don’t care, but I just don’t see the attraction. Surely they’d be more alluring if they weren’t flopping around the stage like an entire school of mackerel being landed at once. I fear I must take up the familiar refrain of every actor, everywhere, upon seeing a colleague’s performance—which is, “I could have done that.” (I could, too. My mime instructor once told me I undulate well... Yes, I studied mime for a couple of months. Don’t judge me.) From the looks of things, all I’d have to do would be to snap my fingers while pantomiming a choo-choo train. So long as I punctuate my performance with intermittent spaz attacks, no one in the audience would be the wiser. With their dancing duties thus delegated, the metal bikini squad would be free to focus exclusively on finding more flattering outfits.
Well, okay. People would probably notice, seeing as how I lack a pleasantly rounded rear end, protruding mammaries, and most of the hair from the top of my head. If this movie has a moral, it’s that modern dance boils down to having a reasonably buoyant chest.
Which, again, is not quite accurate. This movie has a lot of heavy-handed morals. Apparently the filmmakers spent all day blowing the first half of the film’s budget on a series of unconnected, incomprehensible road trip adventures, and then spent all night blowing the other half on purposeless debauchery. The result, of course, was a pointless cinematic abomination with no redeeming qualities. At some point, a light bulb must have turned on above someone’s head. “I know how we can justify this turkey’s existence!” he exclaimed. “Let’s dump every after-school special cliché we can think of into the last ten minutes!” The finishing touches only took five minutes, and then everyone went out to get drunk and ogle girls in flimsy costumes.
And now, the officially sanctioned moral(s) of the story:
Don’t Do Drugs! Be a Man! Kill for Your Country Today! Oh, and For Crying Out Loud, Quit Wiggling Like That! It’s Embarrassing! And Put Some Real Clothes On for Goodness Sake. What, Did Someone Tell You that Aluminum Foil Is Sexy? Don’t Backstab Your Friends! Or Break Into Jail! Stay in School and Go To College! And If You Can’t, Be Careful Of Greasy, Teleporting, Flat-Faced Types With Guns! Watch Out For Speed Traps! And Always, Always Eat at “Eat!”
Remember, these life lessons, my friends, and you will live well.
With the introduction of the Institute of Mad Science, the host segments once again take a turn towards continuity. Fortunately, it’s an unobtrusive kind of continuity; the kind that just pops its head in occasionally to see how things are going without interrupting the shenanigans. Paul Chaplin looks superb as the sinister but fey inspector, and Pearl has a very funny argument with Brain Guy about whether or not forcing an employee to wear a latex hump constitutes sexual harassment. The Satellite crew’s tortured cries end the first host segment perfectly. As for the rest of them, my favorite is the “petty revenge” sketch, in which Mike gets to choose his own beloved objects to douse with beer, while my least favorite is the oddly flat “What Would [insert random person here] Do?” sketch. The various stripteases are also a bit uncomfortable—if I have to watch someone dance in a revealing outfit, I’d rather it were a decently-endowed young woman than, say, a robot marionette or a middle-aged male albino—but, of course, that’s the point of those segments.
Many of the best lines in the film segments refer to Girl in Gold Boots’ “expert” filmmaking techniques, as in Tom’s, “They forgot to take the microphone out of the box,” and Mike’s, “Apparently, the story is none of our business.” An odd, disembodied point of view shot from the top of ridge leads to Tom’s comment, “Comanches are watching,” and every time Buzz smiles his creepy, flat-faced, ear-flapping grin, Crow says, “I’m an icky elf.” Despite (or perhaps because of) the incomprehensible, drug-fueled bizarreness of the film, it remains upbeat and groovy, and the commentary adds to that effect. It’s worth at least one look.
(1969, Drama/Musical, color)