On the mysterious island of Catalina off the coast of California, a caper is about to occur (hence the title). But this is not a tightly knit edge of your seat thriller. This is a beach movie! So we shouldn’t be surprised that Don (Tommy Kirk) falls head of heals for Katrina (Ulla Stomstedt) as she sashays her way into some waves. This also explains the musical numbers and guests like Little Richard!
Fun in the sun? Sure, but there’s also a mystery on hand. You see a valuable scroll has been stolen by a shady group of urbane thieves. They plan to sell the scroll to the mysterious Greek criminal Lakopolous (Lee Deane), but they also have a couple of switcheroos to execute. Hijinks ensue as Don, his beach bum pals and Lyle Waggoner find themselves in a real caper on Catalina.
When Annette Funicello starred in Beach Party back in 1963, a whole new type of movie was born. Wild and crazy kids having a blast on the beach singing happy go lucky songs and running around in swim suits. But by ’67 the genre was already wearing thin. Maybe these movies were looking a little too peppy with the Vietnam War raging. It didn’t keep director Lee Sholem from giving the genre a shot. He also directed the infamously bad Doomsday Machine, but we’ll tackle that another day. Mostly Sholem was experienced with TV westerns including: Maverick and Death Valley Days.
That might explain why the Catalina Caper doesn’t really succeed as a teen comedy or as a mystery (even a lighthearted one). Casting Tommy Kirk may have been done because he was a former Disney teen idol, like Annette was. But Kirk is looking a little too long in tooth here to play the wide eyed gosh golly teen. He’s not horrible, but he’s hardly inspiring. His love interest as played by Stromstedt is just odd. She’s given some horrible lines that attempt to make her sound groovy, but combined with her odd performance she sounds a little touched instead. To top it off there is very little chemistry between the romantic leads.
So that leaves us with the mystery, which is just plain dull. The scroll in question looks more like a pre-wrinkled napkin. Our trio of thieves is supposed to provide laughs. You’ve got the rich and bored couple that masterminds the plot. They are so much like Thurston Howell III and his wife that I’d be surprised if the Gilligan’s Island pair didn’t inspire them. The bumbling thief is your typical clueless goofball who says “boss” a lot and is basically a coward at heart. Their cunning plan is to steal the scroll, make a fake, sell the fake to the Greek criminal and put the original back in the museum. Of course Lakopolous doesn’t want to pay for it, so he gets Lyle Waggoner and an evil mustached guy to try and steal the scroll from the couple. Oh and there’s this “funny” guy spying on the whole thing and doing pratfalls into the ocean every ten minutes or so. Sound gripping to you?
“But there is still songs in it right?” Yes, but don’t look for too much hope there. Little Richard sings about a scuba party and that’s the best little ditty in the movie. “Book of Love” has a catchy hook and Carol Connors doesn’t have a bad voice. But then you’ve got “There’s a New World” that is just dreadful and reminds me of “Do You Want to Laugh or Cry” from Girl With Gold Boots and nothing should remind me of that movie. The song over the main titles is “Never Steal Anything Wet” which also serves as an alternate title for the film. It sounds like someone trying to do Shirley Bassey and failing.
So the movie isn’t very funny, isn’t very romantic and isn’t very mysterious. Sounds like the perfect candidate for Joel and bots, right?
According to the stories, when the cast and crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 picked Catalina Caper for riffing and were really excited about it. But as they started working on it, they realized that the movie was a lot tougher to sit through than they thought. The flick didn’t take itself seriously and so a lot of their comments and jokes felt like they were attempting to mock something that was in on the joke. This ended up defusing some of their best material.
As a result they ramped up the number of jokes and tried a bunch of different tactics that they hadn’t attempted before. And since this was only the second season on Comedy Central, they were still finding their bearings. The end result is an episode that has some great moments, but feels like it’s battling the whole time.
If you are well versed in beach films, there are plenty of riffs based on those, especially comparing what we get here with the classics in the genre like Beach Blanket Bingo. The boys also have a great time with Lakopolous’ name, coming up with alternate ways to say it and ending sentences with ridicopolous words. The songs also provide them with some hilarious moments, such as noting Little Richards, um, enhanced state. And wondering just how bad “There’s a New World” will get. This episode showcases Kevin Murphy’s musical skills as Tom Servo and his ability to jump in and add his own humorous lyrics.
They go to town on the unfunny pratfall comic relief, and all the horrible build up the character is given. But most of the time when the movie tries to be funny, they are at a loss on how to handle the situation. Mocking the bad jokes is both excessive and risky (what if your riff is just as unfunny or worse). And since the movie is light hearted this ends up with a lot of scenes that seem to have very little riffing. When the scenes try to get serious again the riffing is actually moving along at a good clip for a season two episode.
Host segments aren’t too bad. The show starts with Joel guiding the bots in a brief prayer before the movie. They pray for Robocop, R2-D2 and Cherry 2000. For the invention exchange the mad scientists create tank tops using real tanks. Joel creates the tickle bazooka that fires off rounds of feathers for massive tickle action. At the first break Joel tells the bots all about the ‘60s to help put the movie in context (he ends up getting a little distracted). For the second break Tom confesses his love for Katerina, who he dubs Creepy Girl and sings a ‘60s style song about her. Then its over to the mads as Frank tries to host a Tupperware party. His patter doesn’t work on the Mole Men or Dr. F. After the movie ends, Joel does his best to explain the muddled plot with the help of a drawing – and fails.
After tacking Catalina Caper the crew would avoid comedies. I don’t really blame them. The riffing on those films only seems to really work when the film is so awful (like Hobgoblins) or bizarre (like Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders) that the riffs have different targets. To tell you the truth Catalina Caper is not really bad enough for it work as a good target.
I give it two creepy girls out of five.
This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 1.