Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wild World of Batwoman (1966) – MST3K Review


Summary:
This episode starts with a short about cheating called ironically Cheating. We follow young Johnny as he discovers he has no head for numbers and can’t grasp factoring. He enlists the help of his brainy friend Mary to smuggle answers to him during a test. Soon cheating becomes a habit with Johnny and yet he rises to the role of student council representative. But his cheating is soon revealed and he tumbles, losing his position in the student council, his friends and maybe his sanity. Poor dope.

As for “the movie”… the evil super-villain Ratfink has his eye on the atomic hearing aid currently residing at Ayjax (pronounced Ajax) Industries. With this device he and the stupidly brilliant Professor Neon (George Mitchell) can obtain government secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. Unfortunately Jim Flanagan (Steve Brodie) and his boss J.B (Richard Banks) are aware of the plot and bring in Batwoman (Katherine Victor) and her girls to protect it.

Sure its seems like most of the girls are around to wear skimpy clothing and dance around, but they are really protecting… um… something. And sure it seems like Professor Neon and his mugging assistant Heathcliff (Lloyd Nelson) are “comic relief” but they are really super brilliant scientists. And just because Ratfink is dressed like a Mexican wrestler… oh never mind. You want girls, you want groovy humor, you want silliness and skimpy clothes then see if your brain can stand The Wild World of Batwoman.

Movie Review:
Um, yeah, this movie.

No, I’m not going to talk about it yet. Instead I’ll tell you about the short. It’s from Centron those masters of educational shorts from the ‘50s and ‘60s. These tended to be overly earnest black and white affairs that attempted to guide people through various issues such as personal hygiene, buying food and dating.

Here they tackle the black art of cheating. Filmed in places like a noir horror film, the aim is to scare potential cheaters with dire consequences. When we see the despair that Johnny descends into it’s a bleak picture, with dark shadows and his home becoming a void of emptiness. I also love the way the floating head of his teacher haunts his dreams.

It’s the combination of earnest chastising from the voice over and the goofy acting that makes this one fun. These days shorts like these seem too silly to be effective and I wonder if they had the same effect back in the day on the intended audience. Centron made a ton of these types of films, so someone somewhere must have thought they were effective.

Well I guess I have to write about this movie eventually.

1966 saw the arrival of the Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward. It mixed comic book antics with campy style and silly laughs. It was a blast of fun that appealed to folks and lasted for three seasons.

Look, its obvious this movie was made to cash in on the popularity of Batman but with a hot babe and her gals fighting crimes and delivering laughs. There’s just one teensy weensy problem. It stinks to high heaven. I don’t even know where to begin.

Ok let’s start with director Jerry Warren. He’s got an atrocious track record. I haven’t seen Frankenstein Island but I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about it. I have seen The Incredible Petrified World and that experience nearly killed me.

I can take a lot of things from a bad movie. There’s usually plenty of entertainment to mine even from a poorly made dramatic film. But one of the most painful types of movies to endure is the unfunny comedy. Batwoman is one of those.

None of the pieces here work at all. Batwoman and her babes can’t act, they can’t fight, they can’t do much more than look slightly attractive in their skimpy outfits. So when your main hero can’t live up to the basic elements of being a hero, you’ve got a problem. I suppose the cheesecake element here works. The girls spend a lot of time dancing around and lounging around.

But the villains really sink the whole thing. Ratfink looks like a moron in his cloak, fedora and Mexican wrestler mask. He has a secret identity, which is why I didn’t give him a cast credit – but it’s so lame that you won’t care when it’s revealed. His two thugs are supposed to be funny in a palooka kind of way, but they grate more than anything else.

And speaking of annoying there is Professor Neon and Heathcliff. These two are supposed to be the cornerstones of comedy in this film and fail over and over again. Neon’s accent changes constantly, he is supposed to be kooky mad scientist type. But he spends most of the movie whining, giving people happy pills (that makes them dance uncontrollably) and getting Heathcliff to drink experimental drugs. Heathcliff is a hunchbacked, mugging freak who flails about and paws at the girls. He makes Torgo from Manos the Hands of Fate look civilized. His antics are supposed to amuse, but the mugging is so painful you want to kill him. He gives Droppo from Santa Clause Conquers the Martians a real run for the money.

The movie is badly paced, slowing down horribly in places. It has scenes that have nothing to do with anything. There are two opening sequences that feature characters we never see again! The entire séance scene is painfully unfunny with an offensive Chinese character babbling on and on. The ending is supposed to be a mad cap romp involving all the characters chasing each other around a table as wacky music plays. You will only feel pain.

This is a bad, bad movie. One of the worst the team at Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever tackled. Are they up to the challenge?

Episode Review:  
Mike Nelson only had two episodes under his belt as the lead riffer when he tackled The Wild World of Batwoman. On the surface the movie offers a lot of stuff to mine for jokes, but the overall badness of the movie has a powerful smothering affect.

Luckily the Cheating short starts things off, and it’s probably the best bit of the entire episode. Mike and the bots jump right into the exceedingly noir ton of the short and make it one of the darkest riffs they did during the Comedy Central years. It’s great stuff. Some of the best moments occur during the actual cheating scenes in the classroom. Mike and the bots add all kind of interior monologues for Johnny as he plots and plans his cheating maneuvers. I love the moment where he’s lying in bed later and considering his crime. The head of his teacher appears floating above him and Tom Servo says, “Oh hi Mrs. Gramby,” in a calm tone and then screams in pure terror. Once the cheating is discovered, the short shows how word spreads of Johnny’s crime. Over the shot of a ringing phone Crow quips “Mother Teresa called. She hates you.”  I love the riffing on shorts and this is certainly one of the better ones.

There are some great moments here and some funny riffs, but the movie is exceedingly bad and slow moving. Mike and the bots do a good job, but never get a really handle on the film. Part of that is the movie’s poor direction and horrible editing. As Crow says, “It’s like they put a bunch of movies in a blender and hit mix.”

Most of my favorite comments are the ones that just attack the amazing stupidity of the film. When Mike says, “This is like a Warhol movie, except now its getting weird”, you’re inclined to agree with him. During a scene with a bunch of people dancing because Professor Neon gave them happy pills we get this exchange. A character on screen asks, “Have you lost your mind?” Mike answers, “No, just my self respect.” Oh and those dancing moments come with some really painful music, but as Tom notes, “Sure the music’s terrible but it drowns out the dialogue.”

This type of movie requires just a bit more aggressive riffing style, something the boys perfect in season six with some real monsters like Starfighters and The Beast of Yucca Flats. Here, they put in a good effort, but its not quite enough. Most like you’ll feel like Tom Servo as the last few minutes of the movie play out and start screaming “ENNNNND!  ENNNNNND!!!!!” My wife does, and pretty much refuses to watch this one.

The episode begins with Mike attempting to play blackjack with the bots. Crow is obsessed with doubling down. For the invention exchange Mike creates a giant razor for shaving back hair. The mads create an atomic hairdryer (inspired by the atomic hearing aid). At the first break Mike asks the bots to write an essay based on the Cheating short. Crow wasn’t paying attention. At the next break everyone presents their essays and Crow cheated! For the next break Mike and bots meet about Crows cheating. Tom wants Crow burned at the stake. When the movie ends Crow meets his accusers and deliver’s a speech. He won’t own up to a thing!

All in all, this episode is a tough one. When I’m in the mood for something this dumb, I find it to be an average episode. But if you aren’t prepared, it can be painful. Still the Cheating short is classic stuff, and worth seeking out.

I give it two atomic hearing aids out of five.

This episode is available on a single DVD from Rhino (and may be out of print at this time).

2 comments:

  1. The old saying in Hollywood is "Nobody tries to make a bad movie." I'm not so sure.

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  2. LOL Warren is certainly suspect. I can't imagine how "Amazing Petrified World" seemed like a good idea at all. At least with Batwoman, I can see how someone somewhere thought it might make some money. But its so inept that it makes Ed Wood look skilled.

    Well done Mr. Warren, few can achieve such fame! :)

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