Saturday, January 1, 2011

Unseen Turkey Day, Hours 13-14: The Painted Hills (#510, 1993)

MST3KWhat's that, girl? This movie has fallen down a well and can't get out? Go get help, girl, go get help!

Sometimes you can decisively say "well, that's the movie that put the nail in the coffin of that franchise." We did it with Star Trek: Nemesis, because hey, there certainly weren't any Star Trek films after that one. Ghostbusters 2 killed off that franchise for all time, and Batman and Robin, whoo boy, such a stinker that no reputable studio will risk their cellloid on a Caped Crusader movie ever again, am I right, huh? Me, I'm still holding out for Charlie's Angels: Even More Full Throttle Than Was Previously Shown to Exist. But every now and then a film's such a stinker that it not only kills off a previously successful franchise, but it's so bad that the studio doesn't bother renewing its copyright and the movie goes into public domain. Such is the fate of the final screen outing for that pusillanimous pup known as Lassie (well, if you don't count Lassie's Great Adventure, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, The Magic of Lassie, Lassie II: Lass Harder, Lassie vs. Cujo and my personal favorite, Reservoir Dogs.


The Painted Hills (1951) is intended as a gentle Technicolor western adventure for the capable canine, accompanied by such a bunch of friendly, clean, bright-teethed cast that it would take Sergio Leone to remind us all what poor dental hygiene they probably actually did have in the old west. Especially when you're an unsuccessful gold prospector whose only friend is a dog, a widow, and her young son. It's like a mild west version of The Courtship of Eddie's Father, except Mister Eddie's Father gets brutally murdered by a crazed business associate halfway through the film. (Which, come to think of it, would make for a great follow-up: a blood-splattered Japanese exploitation action flick titled The Deadly Sword of Mrs. Livingston.)

Miyoshi Umeki

The dog, is, of course, Lassie, although Lassie's "playing" a dog called Shep in this picture. Do you think Lassie went berserk when she first saw the script? "Look, you crumb bum, I'm a star. Star, star, star!" It's a little like booking Robin Williams into a film and asking him to play it subtle. Or, shaved. No wonder this was the last movie for Lassie in that period. She could later often be seen spending hours at the bar in the Brown Derby, lapping up martini after martini, sometimes drunkenly taking swings at Dean Martin or Don Ameche. Not a pleasant drunk.

The MST3K crew always has fun with the non-science fiction films, and this is no exception. There's some good running jokes about "Snausages!" and a grizzled hermit hobo character (also clean and pleasant smelling) named Pilot Pete that Joel and the bots "mishear" as "Pile-On Pete." In a rare nod to authenticity, the Indians are played by Native American actors, the script giving them a good deal of respect and a minimum of caricature, but none of this can disguise the fact that it's just not a very good movie. Especially for a kids' adventure, it's slow, ponderous, and eerily dark at moments. Say, you like and sympaththize with this character? Let's kill him off at the halfway point of the movie! The villain is menacing without being remarkable, and that he meets his grisly end at the hands paws of Lassie says a lot about his effectiveness in gold strike claim-jumping. It's as if the producers watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and said "Good movie, but what it really needs is a kid and a dog!"

MST3KThere's also one of MST3K's famous short subject films, Body Care and Grooming, celebrating cleanliness among students and teaching the future leaders of tomorrow how to use soap and a comb. It's perhaps telling that one of the "before" and "after" examples of a girl with messy hair and disheveled socks actually is cuter before she cleans up. Of such lessons are the future Courtney Loves of America born.


Oh, and Crow is Jay Leno.


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