Saturday, January 1, 2011

Unseen Turkey Day, Hours 9-10: The Magic Sword (#411, 1992)

MST3KIt's a dangerous and incendiary statement to make, but I'd argue that The Magic Sword (1962) is possibly the best movie that MST3K ever riffed on (if you don't count the show's motion picture version of This Island Earth). It's a decently plotted and nicely-filmed fantasy movie (although one that's more geared for kids) and despite a lightly humorous tone it actually manages to put you at the edge of your seat, which is useful if the theater happens to have overbooked that matinee.

Like Christopher Lee in Fu Manchu, Basil Rathbone treats his cookie-cutter villain part with utter sincerity and as much ruthless menace as he did thirty-five years before in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Here he's not surrounded with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, so we'll have to make the best of Gary Lockwood, a great actor who (like most actors appearing in a MSTed movie) probably wishes this one wasn't on his resum&233;. He'd make more of an impact later in his role as Frank Poole in 2001 and there's a nation of Trekfans who all insist indignantly that he's the character that should have appeared in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, James T. Kirk's best pal, Lt. Gary Mitchell. Best pal, my fuzzy butt! He didn't even know Kirk's middle name.

Star Trek

But that's all distracting from the movie's star attraction, the good witch Sybil, iconically portrayed by Estelle Winwood of Ten Little Indians, Lady Windermere's Fan, and though she later vehemently disparaged it, The Producers. And oh yeah, she was a witch on Bewitched, so you could say it's just typecasting, but don't say that to Crow T. Robot, who sings a hauntingly beautiful love song to Estelle:

...that I can't find on YouTube, so you'll just have to imagine a robot singing a love song to Estelle Winwood.


Joel helped.

Estelle's keen on helping her coming-of-age adopted son George (Lockwood) slay a dragon, win the heart of a beautiful princess, and defeat the evil Basil Rathbone.


As befits any effective witch this side of Hogsmeade she's aided by her two-headed manservant. I'm not certain which one here is supposed to channeling comedy instead of tragedy, but one of 'em's not quite on the ball.


Not to mention her simian sidekick, Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.


Also aiding Sybil: medieval-era foundation garments that are advanced lightyears beyond their time.


Best Brains have later admitted they liked The Magic Sword, too: "The effect are fun—the two headed dragon, for instance—and it's got a sense of humor," says Paul Chapin in the official The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. Joel, Trace, and Kevin appear to have a genuinely good time riffing the film: there's none of the frequent "despair" references, and Crow shows a touching affection for Estelle Winwood. (Don't let Kim Cattrall find out, Crow!) The jokes are of general high quality and like most of the fourth season's episodes, if you don't laugh at one bit, hang around; there'll be another one coming around in a few seconds. Even the invention exchanges features one of my favorite of Joel's Gizmonics, a version of the beer helmet made for bohemians (a beret pre-fueled with "criminally-priced spring water.")


It's light and brisk enough to be a good introduction to MST3K—you could do worse than to show a non-devotee this episode to get them interested in the series. Also, it has a pack of knights representing the Christian countries of Europe, which is as good an excuse for a bunch of actors to trot out these cheesy Spanish and French and German and Irish accents. There's a whole sequel waiting to be made about these guys, and I expect Hollywood to get on that right away.


Except they all died during the film. Never mind.

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