Movies Till Dawn: Stooges, Space Garbage, Wrestling with Satan – and Captain Scarlet!

12 a.m. “Wrestling with Satan”Documentary

81GxLu5gIIL._SL1500_(2009, Wild Eye Releasing) This modest documentary attempts to examine the inner workings of the Christian Wrestling Federation (CWF) which uses farm-league wrestling bouts to preach evangelical beliefs. Those watching for the purely voyeuristic/freakshow elements – like beefy grapplers frothing at the mouth over the coming apocalypse – will be well rewarded, but the picture suggests greater depth when it focuses on the machinations of CWF founder Rob Vaughn, who makes Vince McMahon seem the picture of honesty and restraint. Less of the latter and more of the former (as well as why Vaughn and the league parted ways in recent years) might’ve made for a more substantive picture; as it stands, it’s an interesting sketch of a strident and unusual subculture. The disc includes several CWF matches taken from home video sources.

2:30 a.m. “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: Spectrum Strikes Back” – Science Fiction/ Children’s TV

515xIy6mcqL(1967, Shout! Factory/Timeless Media) ’60s Supermarionation adventure pitting Earth special agents, led by the square-jawed, indestructible Captain Scarlet of Spectrum Intelligence, against the Mysterons, evil space computers with the power to create exact doubles of people and objects to carry out their world domination plans. In “Spectrum Strikes Back,” Scarlet and his Spectrum cohorts meet with the World President and scientists at a hidden base below an African game reserve to review new weapons in the fight against the Mysterons. But Captain Black – a former Spectrum agent now under the aliens’ mind control – has infiltrated the mission and sent a duplicate of Spectrum officer Indigo (who, for some reason, is handling waitstaff duties at the conference) to steal the weapons and kill Scarlet and his allies. If that sounds convoluted for a ‘60s kids show with marionettes, it is, but “Captain Scarlet” was always the complicated black sheep of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation stable. Darker in tone and plotting than its predecessors – the death toll in “Spectrum” alone is high for kid or grown-up TV – the series also featured puppets that were considered more “lifelike” than the Thunderbirds or “Stingray,” with correctly proportioned bodies and more realistic movement. The gambit didn’t work: the new puppets were more difficult to properly manipulate, and as a result, often looked static (or dead), and the stories, which frequently hinged on Scarlet’s ability to escape any life-threatening danger, were considered pale retreads of other Supermarionation adventures. Viewed with 20/20 hindsight, “Captain Scarlet” is still an ambitious misfire, but the level of special effects – including the puppets – is impressive, and the show’s sleek, futuristic design, which imbues everything from sets to the characters’ striking fashion, is delicious eye candy (Barry Gray’s brassy score qualifies as pure ear candy). Shout/Timeless’ 4-disc set includes the entire series run as well as commentaries by Anderson and interviews with members of the writing and production staff.

3:30 a.m.  “Salvage 1: Golden Orbit” – Action/Adventure

61GUfArxj0L._SL1000_ (1979, Sony Choice Collection) Enterprising junkman Harry Broderick (Andy Griffith), having built and piloted a homemade rocket to the Moon to reclaim abandoned Apollo Program tech, now sets his sights on a downed telecommunications satellite plated with gold. The CIA, in the form of Richard Jaeckel, plans to block Harry’s space salvage dream, but there’s a bigger and more immediate problem at hand: Harry’s partner, astronaut Skip (Joel Higgins, “Silver Spoons”), is in deep trouble when his space station assignment goes dangerously awry. Though presented as a sort of TV-movie, “Golden Orbit” is actually a two-part episode from the short-lived “Salvage 1” series, which aired briefly on ABC in 1979. Griffith’s folksy presence as the affable, enterprising junkman does much to preserve audience interest in the project, which might be tested by the rudimentary special effects and well-worn plotting. Sony Choice also offers “Hard Water,” another two-part episode, with Harry and Co. engaged in a particularly prescient adventure: towing an iceberg to Southern California in order to solve a water shortage (!).

5 a.m. “Hello Pop!” (from “Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume 3: Howard, Fine, Howard”) – Comedy

61fqvZ8+7HL._SL1000_(1933, Warner Archives Collection) Theatrical producer Ted Healy (played by Ted Healy) frets up a storm on the opening night of his big musical show, and for good reason: his three “children,” played by Healy’s then-vaudeville partners, The Three Stooges (here, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard), are loose in the theater. This two-color Technicolor short from MGM was considered lost after the surviving print was destroyed in the 1967 vault fire; however, a print was discovered in 2013 in an Australian private collection and restored by WAC. As a piece of Stooges history, “Hello Pop!” is priceless, but as a comedy short, it’s for Howard-Fine-Howard completists only. The Stooges are stuck in sidekick gear, serving largely as moving targets for the irate Healy, whose hothead persona comes across as more boorish than smart-alecky. The Howards and Fine do get one amusing-alarming moment away from Healy when the musical’s female lead sends them into a manic fit with an innocent kiss, but the team truly hit their stride after they left Healy the following year to begin their legendary shorts for Columbia. Also of note are the short’s two lavish musical numbers, both culled from earlier films: the “Moon Ballet” number from the unreleased “March of Time” (1930) and Irving Berlin’s “I’m Sailing on a Sunbeam” from “It’s a Great Life” (1929). “Hello Pop!” is one of six MGM shorts featuring Healy and/or various iterations of the Stooges on Volume 3 of the “Classic Shorts” series; also included is “Roast-Beef and Movies” (1934), which features Curly with comedian George Givot and Bobby Callahan, and the Stooges’ screen debut in “Nertsery Rhymes” (1933).

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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