11/9/08

RVOD038 Know For Sure

(1941, Educational/Short, b&w)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Friendly neighborhood spirochetes!

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:


Syphilis is nothing to be ashamed of, so long as no one else ever finds out.

Summary:

Starring Kevin Murphy as a spirochete.Broad Italian stereotype Tony Madroni proudly paints “and son” under his name on the front window of his delicatessen, while a taciturn doctor attends Tony’s wife in the back room. When the doctor finally emerges, Tony sees his grim face and unhappy cigarette and drops his squeezebox. The doctor informs him that Tony’s syphilis has infected and killed the newborn. “I keel-a my bambino!” Tony cries, and tries to stab himself with a vegetable knife. The doctor prevents him, explaining that Tony and his wife can be cured, paving the way for future bambinos. Tony is overjoyed.

Sadly, the rest of the short forgoes broad melodrama in favor of a boring, sterile doctor’s office. Tony drops by for a few more moments of faux Italian intensity, finally giving way to a blue-collar man afraid he picked something up from a dance hall girl. Later, a bright young Ivy League lad lies back on the table while an elderly doctor looks at his nether bits through a microscope.

Now we see magnified shots of syphilis spirochetes, after which the doctor estimates that each new case of syphilis produces three more. Then there’s an admonition that “prostitutes and pick-ups are not safe and cannot be made safe”, and finally a long parade of healthy young men nodding to the black housekeeper as they march jauntily into a brothel.

Thoughts:

Is that a switchblade vegetable peeler?  Where can I get one?The hilarious opening scenes work the best, largely thanks to Tony’s wild accent and short-lived mood swings. His reaction to the news of possible future bambinos is particularly bizarre. Who cares that his exhausted wife lies in the other room next to their stillborn child? What’s one baby more or less? They’ll just get cured, do what comes naturally, and hey presto! A healthy new infant in just one to two more years.

The rest of it’s not as entertaining, but remains just as odd in that it does not purport to care about the viewer’s appetites. What you do with your “little friend” is your own affair, it seems to say. Just come and get treated occasionally. (The fact that this short—and the clinic it depicts—caters almost exclusively to men ought to go without saying.) Considering that one of their talking points involves each new case infecting at least three other people, perhaps they felt prevention methods such as “fidelity”, “abstinence” and “protection” would be lost on their target audience. You know, the kind of men who gather into groups of thirty to forty people and descend on cathouses en masse.

The commentary works well enough, especially at the beginning. When we see the hilariously non-specific title, Bill clarifies, “You suspect Leprechauns are poisoning you. Now you can know for sure!” As the opening lines drench us in some New Englander’s idea of an Italian dialect, Mike says, “Stereotype playhouse proudly presents: ‘Ahtsamatta-you!” When the doctor gives Tony the bad news, Kevin reflects, “You sleep with one monkey and you pay for it your whole life.” The humor levels drop sharply once the melodrama ends, returning for one brief moment of hilarity when a badly edited pair of shots make it look for all the world like the doctor is trying to find someone’s weiner with a microscope. It’s worth showing up for the deliciously hammy prologue, but then you’ve got to stick around while the second half drags.