I have to admit, this serial plays fair in its cliffhangers, whereas a lot of others do not - the Commando Cody/ Rocketman serials, in particular, were bad about that, as I recall. I distinctly recall one Rocketman episode which ended with a hero - or rather, a dummy wearing the hero's costume - was crushed by a pneumatic press. Next week, forget the dummy, the hero rolled out of the way in the nick of time. (SCTV's parody of serials, Six Gun Justice, had a lot of fun with this sort of thing) Flash Gordon, at least, doesn't cheat like that. Okay, he grabs a ledge on his way down, or falls into water, or survives being electrocuted for no particularly good reason, but events are not significantly changed after the fact. I give it points for that.
Am I the only one who's disturbed by the fact that the rocketship pilots can't see where they're going? Ming's sadism must extend even into his most faithful servants, as witness the fact that he gives his Captains names like Torch and Thong. And why is it, every time someone falls off a cliff or into a pit, we hear a chimpanzee screech? Twice, if it's two people falling?
Adventure-wise, it's a pretty cliched but fairly entertaining concoction, especially if you limit yourself to, say, one episode a day. These are the TV re-issues of the episodes, with an on-screen title of Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe, which also replaces the original Universal copyright info with a "King Features Presents" logo. The whites are very washed out, and speckling is evident, but under control. Again, nice work is done on the audio.
Alpha has put out a number of serials (including the aforementioned Commando Cody Radar Men from the Moon and my next purchase, the Gene Autry vs Atlantis potboiler The Phantom Empire), all of them split over two separately -marketed discs. This is initially annoying, but since the discs are so blamed cheap, it's hard to knock Alpha for taking this route, and possibly making a little money for themselves.
But enough about Alpha, for the moment. Let's talk about an old-timer - Goodtimes Video. Goodtimes has been around for-freaking-ever, it seems (since 1984, in fact); their VHS offerings were staples of bargain bins for years. The tapes were a dodgy investment, quality-wise - frequently, to keep costs down, the tapes were T-30s recorded at Insanely Slow Speed, resulting in a blurry, soft picture. What we in the trade refer to as "stepped-on". DVDs, however, are already cheap to mass produce and Goodtimes has entered the market in a impressive manner.
Now, I dearly love my cartoons. When I was a child, I swore that, unlike most grown-ups of my acquaintance, I would never abandon them. So far, that's one of the very few of those promises that I've kept. (The one about Making Them All Pay was, in retrospect, a bit beyond my reach) So I've a fair number of animation collections like this.
The bad news is, there's a reason most of these cartoons are forgotten. The long-gone Van Beuren Studio is heavily represented, and they were never even in the running for my list of favorite cartoon makers. Though technically they're decent, the jokes and storylines are hackneyed and mediocre. Even the best of the VB cartoons here, It's A Greek Life - in which a centaur cobbler makes use of Mercury's winged shoes - is made dreary by the Life With Luigi immigrant humor. I mean, the creatures are foreign, right? So they gotta talk in fractured, comical English like foreigners, right? Right?
But if you also wondered what a Toonerville Trolley cartoon looked like, this is the place to find out. And when you see a Paramount cartoon announcing "Featuring Dog Face", with all the aplomb of a Donald Duck or Barney Bear, or any other alliteratively aliased animal.... frankly, I still haven't found the Official Yahoo! Fan Page for Dog Face. It's kind of a surreal moment for me - I expect to see another, familiar head in that introductory frame - Popeye, perhaps, or Chilly Willy*. Instead, I see a stranger's face there, and I realize that this is the only picture Dog Face ever made. I am filled with a great sadness at this. You poor bastard, I think. Where are you now?" Likely saying "Welcome to Wal-Mart" on a regular basis, I imagine.
I'd take exception to calling Tex Avery's Doggone Tired forgotten, since it seems to show up on Cartoon Network at least once a week, but there are a few hard-to-find little gems here. Two by the Fleischer brothers, Dancing on the Moon and All's Fair at the Fair, and another cartoon based on a long-gone comic strip, Happy Days, directed by Ub Iwerks. The absolute find here, though, is the Harman-Ising short To Spring, much beloved by fans of Peewee's Playhouse as the cartoon where the wizened gnome keeps screaming "Time for Spring, I say!" Trivia: There are two directors credited on To Spring: Hugh Harman... and William Hanna.
The image is a little soft, betraying a video rather than a film transfer, but the toons are all in terrific shape. And having a good copy of To Spring alone was worth the six bucks I shelled out for this disc.
Invasion of the Bee Girls/The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant
Speaking of rarities: this is one of a series of CatCom Double Feature discs, and the only place I have ever found these were at the Half-Price Books chain stores. Each disc is tricked out as a drive-in double feature (even reminding you to "drive carefully" at the end of the show), with cartoons and, in lieu of trailers, toy commercials from the 60s.
Written by a just-starting-out Nicholas Meyer (yes, Wrath of Khan Meyer. Seven Per Cent Solution Meyer), Bee Girls is a B-Fest perennial that tells the tale of a feminist doctor who is transforming women into um, Bee Girls, who proceed to love men to death. Literally. Featuring Anitra (The Price Is Right, Big Bird Cage) Ford, Victoria (When Dinosaur Ruled The Earth) Vetri, Wiiliam (nearly two hundred B-movies) Smith, and lotsa nekkid boobies. It got pegged as a "guilty pleasure" by either Siskel or Ebert, I don't remember which...
Also hailing from the early 70s is The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, which I saw as a young Freex at the Rialto, on a double bill with... I don't remember. But if I found Transplant the more memorable film, whatever that second feature was must have been utter crap. A very young Bruce Dern is Dr. Girard, a brilliant but (here's the plot twist) not twisted, but ultmately stupid surgeon who stitches the head of a homicidal maniac onto the body of a comatose Lenny type (played by John Bloom - if you ever wonderd what the Monster in Dracula vs. Frankenstein looked like without the lumpy makeup, here's your chance). Budget-conscious mayhem ensues.
Casey Kasem does double duty as Girard's sane friend and a newscaster on K-PLOT radio. Pat Priest, aka the second Marilyn Munster, is on hand to be menaced by the maniac (in both mono and stereo head versions) and her husband, when she threatens to go to the authorities. In fact, Ms. Priest spends a third of the picture bound and gagged in her negligee - and yet, in spite of this, somehow the movie just isn't very good. If you sit through the end credits (and the amazing song "It's Incredible"...) you'll discover that there are no less than three Medical Advisors listed.
The film elements in both cases show a lot of wear and tear ( a suspicious amount in the case of the boobage scenes in Bee Girls), and there's a lot of edge detection going on in Transplant. There is the usual drawback of a cheapass DVD - mastering from video rather than film results in a soft image. Still, two movies for five bucks is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you have a taste for slightly boring yet sleazy fun.
The cartoons in question are Betty Boop in "Poor Cinderella" and Superman in "The Underground World". Neither is exactly the Fleischer studio's finest hours, but they're still entertaining. There actually is a sort of preview after Transplant - a song from Stagedoor Canteen! The commercials are an odder bunch, featuring Barbie, the old Shrunken Heads Kit, and... this is pretty stunning ... The Johnny Reb Cannon. This is a toy civil war cannon that looks to be about two feet long, is mounted on wagon wheels and fires cannonballs. It also has a Confederate flag mounted on it. Boys are encouraged to dress in blue and gray uniforms and build log forts so those lucky enough to be playing the South (and therefore the only ones with cannons) can lay siege to them with their hurtling plastic spheres. Little girls won't miss out on the fun, either - they can dress up as nurses, and tend the wounded!
Yeah, I still miss the 60s.
- April 10, 2003