Opening Credits (Beginning Remarks):
This apparently is the final box set of MST3k DVDs from Rhino (not counting the re-release of Volume 10) before they hand over the reigns to "Shout! Factory". And for their last offering, they've given us a very solid set, splitting its four episodes evenly between Joel-hosted episodes and Mike-hosted episodes.
THE REBEL SET
This film is about Edward Platt (Maxwell Smart's Chief) as the head of a gang of thieves. With his superior intelligence, he has concocted a brilliant heist and has assembled a bunch of bad guys to enact his bidding. His bidding involves a fairly convoluted plan with multiple train journeys, fake police disguises, armored car hold-ups, etc.
For me, one of the funniest running gags was the in-theater argument over whether one of the characters is portrayed by Merritt Stone (by the way, Tom Servo is right: the conductor is played by Gene Roth of ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES fame, not Merritt Stone). The discussion spills out into the final moments where the episode ends with a stupefied TV's Frank franticly flipping back and forth through multiple stacks of film guides trying to figure out which B-movie actor is which. Ah, how difficult it was in those days before the Internet Movie Database.
SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON
SASD is one of those kinds of films that was made for MST3k. It's an Italian spy film that's not totally unlike a cheaply made James Bond rip-off. It's the story of a secret government agent who's pulled out of retirement for one final mission. Not only has one of his former colleagues been murdered by an international crime ring, but there's a plot to poison untold millions with tainted chewing gum. By the time the final reel has finished the evil schemes have expanded to include a smuggling operation which features Ming vases and mind-altering drugs. I've seen this film multiple times, and I'm still not sure what all the different plot-threads have to do with each other.
As I indicated, this is the style of film that MST3k handles very well. The story is ludicrous, the dubbing poor and the dialog silly. The jokes from Joel and the bots make a funny situation even better.
This has to be one of the most boring films the MST3k gang ever did. I'd be willing to wager that a good third of the movie is simply made up of US Air Force stock footage (almost entirely long passages of planes refueling in mid-flight). And what isn't actual stock footage is as tedious as stock footage: dull-speaking talking heads intoning boring dialog at each other.
Usually extremely drab and dreary films like this are my least favorite MST3k episodes. However, this time the jokes were energetic enough that I never actually got fed up with the movie. What also helped was the mental leaps I had to go through to figure out how the producers possibly thought that an audience would be interested in extremely minor plot-points. For example, the most exciting thing that happens in the film is a storm that blows several fighter planes off course. That's it for excitement. And it all happens off-camera anyway.
I hadn't seen this episode before, so I finally learned that the piece of music that the bots would hum in later episodes during extremely boring sections was actually some of the incidental music from this film. (Well, I think that's a fun thing to know, even if no one else does.)
PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR
PARTS is an interesting film. One gets the impression that underneath the bad acting from the leads and the low production values there was a decent movie to be made. (Apparently I'm not alone in that thought; the producers of PARTS sued and settled with the makers of THE ISLAND, which starred Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.) There are also some good and accomplished actors in secondary roles: Dick Sargent, Peter Graves and Keenan Wynn. But despite the film's strengths, the overall production is just too silly for words.
I hadn't seen PARTS since the initial broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel and I had completely forgotten how funny this episode is. I got a little tired with all the Peter Graves and Biography jokes, but everything else was absolutely spot on. (The MST3k people had done a lot of Peter Graves movies over the years and I think they finally ran out of jokes.)
Stinger (closing thoughts):
Rhino's DVD collections of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 episodes is going out on a high note. This is a great cross-section of genres and styles which I'll be happy rewatching.