Thursday, December 1, 2016

THE SECOND BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1965)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*


Lindsay Shonteff, perhaps best known for MILLION EYES OF SUMURU, both wrote and directed this film, which originally sported the Fleming-derived title LICENSED TO KILL. Early in the film the bosses of the titular agent, "Charles Vine," make a few arch references to that other spy involved in the "Fort Knox business," but they can't get him, so they assign Vine to guard a prominent foreign scientist while the latter is in England.

With a set-up like that, SECOND sounds like it ought to be a silly spoof of the Bond films. Yet it's really not a comedy, but an irony, devoting itself to the proposition that "things are not as they seen." The script plays the spy-jinks fairly straight, but they're always a little "off." For instance, when Vine-- no relation to "James Vine" of TARGET FOR KILLING the next year-- is given his weapons for the assignment, they include a pistol so tiny that he can balance it on one finger. With a standard comedy, this would be treated in a silly manner and would eventually lead to some slapstick routine. Vine is rather taken aback by the miniature gun, but he keeps it on his person, and sure enough, it comes in handy in getting him out of a nasty scrape with bad guys.

SECOND isn't exactly a scathing satire of the superspy-subgenre, but some of the incidents are clearly meant to diverge from the usual course of things. In one scene, Vine gets into a conversation with the scientist he's guarding. It isn't funny or particularly dramatic. The scientist, having learned that Vine was once a prominent teacher of mathematics, wonders why Vine went into the far more dangerous profession of government agent. Vine makes no bones about the matter: government work pays well, and he Vine has expensive tastes. A later scene has Vine encounter what appears to be a sexy Asian woman, which seems to betoken the usual Bondian sex-scene. Instead Vine gets into a brutal fight with the "woman," who turns out to be an Asian guy in drag. At the climax, Vine gets into a running battle, through conveniently empty London streets, with an assassin from the other side, but the gunfight is handled dispassionately, as if it could go against Vine any moment. Vine does win the bout, but there's no adventurous sense of triumph going with it.

In contradistinction to the Matt Helm films of the period, the scientist here is a working on a science-fiction idea-- harnessing anti-gravity-- but the marvelous invention is never shown, much less used to make people float around. The miniature gun is nearly the only thing that makes this film metaphenomenal-- though the American release added an opening scene that qualifies as an uncanny "bizarre crime:" an assassin dressed like a nanny, killing a British agent with a sten-gun taken from a pram.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

STAR TREK: "METAMORPHOSIS," "JOURNEY TO BABEL" (1967)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological, psychological*


Though romance appeared in other episodes, Gene Coon's "Metamorphosis" is the show's first true love story. To be sure, it seems to have been conceived to fit into Gene Roddenberry's somewhat masculinist view of the world. The opening scenes feature the show's first depiction of a woman in a position of Federation authority: diplomat Nancy Hedford. Though McCoy explains to Kirk that Hedford's shrewishness may stem from her having contracted a rare disease, the character's depiction, both in the opening scenes and in later exposition, fits the trope of the "loveless career woman."

That said, these sociopolitical aspects are happily kept to a minimum, in contrast to later episodes like "Turnabout Intruder." Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Hedford are en route to the Enterprise when their craft is forced down onto a small planetoid. The waylaid foursome encounter a single male human on the otherwise empty planet. They eventually learn that he is the legendary scientist Zephraim Cochrane, developer of the warp drive, supposedly dead for the past hundred-odd years. Cochrane crashed on the planetoid but was restored to youth and made immortal by a mysterious energy-being, the Companion. This entity also brought Kirk and company to the planet to keep Cochrane company. Kirk has a ticking clock: he needs to get Hedford back to civilization not only to treat her illness, but because she's important to diplomatic peace talks. In the course of trying to escape the Companion's reach, Kirk and Krew learn that the energy-creature is fundamentally female, and in love with Cochrane. Because the Companion will not release Cochrane and his prospective new social group, Hedford's disease catches up with her.

Kirk, in trying to convince the alien that she can't really love Cochrane in her immaterial form, unwittingly allows career woman Hedford to undergo a "metamorphosis." Before Hedford dies the alien fuses with her, giving her body new life but essentially taking over her personality. This removes the Companion as a threat, at which point the main conflict becomes the question of whether Cochrane can come to terms with his emotions.

The episode's high point appears when Cochrane-- who has frequently "merged" with the energy-being in order to communicate-- finds out that she's female by nature. Somehow, this makes him conceive of their unions as sexual in nature, and he reacts as if he were the victim of an unwitting seduction-- or many seductions, over the course of numerous years. The denouement, in which Cochrane and the reborn Companion, pledge to live out their now mortal lives together on the planetoid, strongly resembles the conclusion of "The Menagerie." Apparently Eden is OK when it's made available only to those at the end of their lives, or otherwise outside the bounds of normal society.





"Journey to Babel," scripted by D.C. Fontana, is an excellent "white-knuckle" thriller, as the Enterprise must transport a dozen or so diplomats to their next peace conference. In addition to strife between the less than diplomatic politicians, Kirk must also contend with an assassin in their midst, and an unidentified ship that dogs the Enterprise's tracks. On top of that, two members of the diplomatic party are the Vulcan Sarek and his human wife Amanda, who are the parents of Spock. Father and son have not spoken in eighteen years because Spock chose to lend his scientific talents to Starfleet rather than the Vulcan Science Academy. Though Sarek never admits the ultimate cause of their disaffiliation, it's clear that he resents Spock choosing to ally himself to his mother's culture, rather than that of Vulcan.

This is dominantly a Spock episode, concerned with depicting Spock's strained relationship to his parents, as well as putting forth little gems like McCoy finding out that little Spock once owned a live "teddy beat," Yet Kirk gets his fair share of strong moments, riding herd on the diplomats and suffering a serious wound at the hands of the assassin. Fontana throws even complication after complication-- Sarek suddenly develops a serious illness and needs a blood transfusion from Spock, just when the science officer cannot surrender command-- yet none of the complications seem excessive. The makeup and clothing-design for the alien actors ably sustains the illusion of numerous conferring aliens, even though all we actually see are Vulcans, Tellarites and Andorians.

One interesting psychological angle is whether or not Spock's initial refusal to give the blood transfusion may be rooted in emotional resentment rather than the logic of duty, despite Spock's eloquent defense of Starfleet priorities. Certainly his mother's appeal to Spock's sentimental side is an appeal to make him choose the "law of the father" over "the law of Starfleet." Curiously it's Kirk who puts the Freudian angle into its most concrete terms, claiming that he must, despite his wound, get Spock to surrender command to keep Spock from committing "patricide."

STAR TREK:"CATSPAW," "I, MUDD" (1967)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological, metaphysical*


If "Who Mourns for Adonais" was partly influenced by "Squire of Gothos," then "Catspaw," Robert Bloch's second TREK-script, is baldly derivative of both of the. Instead of one alien who assumes the image of a bygone figure from Earth's past, here we have two: a pudgy male named Korob (cherub?) and a witchy female named Sylvia.

For the first time, there's no advance explanation of why the Enterprise chose to beam a crew down to the surface of the aliens' planet, one Pyris VI, not even the standard "anomalous readings." One member of the landing-party, a redshirt named Jackson, asks to beam up and when he gets there, he proves to be a dead man through which the aliens speak, warning the space-sailors to keep away. Of course, if the aliens really wanted the crew to stay away, they would have returned the whole landing-party: by keeping Scott and Sulu captive, they invite Kirk and his usual wingmen to descend in search of them. The aliens' motivation is choppy at best: in one scene Korob claims that he warned the Enterprise away, though none of the crewmen mention their having been warned. Still later, both aliens-- who have assumed the appearances of warlock and witch respectively (while Sylvia can also transform into a black cat)-- claim that they wanted the spacemen to come, in order to test their resolve. They admit that they are not natives of Pyris VII, having used a "transmuter" to get there, but the closest we get to an explanation of their purpose is that Sylvia tells Kirk that her people lack "sensation" in their domain, and that they've come to experience the full gamut of sensations in Kirk's part of the universe.

She says this, by the way, while trying to seduce Kirk to help her in some vague way, but Kirk only plays his Don Juan act for a few minutes before turning down her presumably-Faustian overtures. Bloch may have intended Sylvia to be a sort of Magna Mater type-- and she does come closer to this than any previous female character on the show, though the actress isn't quite up to portraying such a figure. Late in the story it's revealed that she has more authority than Korob, even though he seems to be in control at the outset. Korob, for no particular reason, changes sides toward the conclusion and helps the crew save themselves and their zombified friends from Sylvia's wrath. However, he dies with her and the crewmen go on their way.

Whereas the "Adonais" script does a fair job at depicting the Glory of Greece in the form of Apollo, Bloch doesn't even come close to representing "things that go bump in the night" in the forms of Korob and Sylvia. Supposedly this was conceived as a "Halloween episode"-- even the custom of "trick or treat" is referenced-- but the dominant theme is that of rejecting the superstitious beliefs of man's forbears in favor of the Federation's technology. And of course, the fact that the aliens themselves only use a "science-that-looks-like-magic" does nothing to enhance them. The most interesting facet of the erratic script is when Spock theorizes that the aliens may have taken on these forms by drawing upon the "racial unconscious" of humankind, which sounds like a tacit endorsement of Jung's collective unconscious-- at least, within the sphere of this episode.



"I, Mudd"-- whose title may be a spoof on Robert Graves' 1934 novel I, CLAUDIUS-- is much more successful than either "Catspaw" or the comic villain's previous appearance in "Mudd's Women." Mudd himself is something of a "catspaw" himself. He crashes upon an uncharted planet while fleeing the forces of law and order, and finds that this world was an outpost created by an extinct race and now inhabited only by a coterie of androids. The androids serve Mudd as their emperor but won't let him leave their world, because his presence gives them something to do. Desperate to give the robots someone else to serve, Mudd talks them into sending one of their number, Norman, to infiltrate a Federation starship and bring it to Mudd's world, so that the crew can take Mudd's place as the imprisoned "masters." By dumb luck Mudd gets the Enterprise and his old nemesis Kirk.

Since this episode is a perennial favorite, I won't rehash the many comic routines to which the spacemen resort to get clear of the androids. I'll note that this is not only one of the second season's episodes to emphasize the perils of man's technology dominating him, it also is something of a "plague" story, as Kirk and Crew must prevent the robots from spreading to other parts of the galaxy. Perhaps one of the funniest concetions is that Mudd tells Kirk that he fled to the stars to escape his harpy of a wife-- appropriately named "Stella" (star)-- which is certainly a neat inversion of the old trope about men conquering new terrains to please their women. I also won't rehash how Stella fits into Mudd's punishment after Kirk has defeated the androids, but it remains one of the show's most effective comic endings.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


Though THE MONSTER SQUAD was not overly successful in its initial release, the film-- directed by Fred Dekker and co-scripted by Dekker and Shane Black-- has become a cult item over the years. It's not a particular deep film, but it offers the first major "rally" of traditional American monsters since the venerable ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

Like the 1948 film, this one also offers the psychological thrill of the heroes getting to be "the Boys Who Cried Wolfman;" of knowing that there really are monsters and that the community at large is too dim to pick up on it. To be sure, Lou Costello's Wilbur is merely a full-grown man who acts childishly at times, while the four members of the Monster Squad are literal 12-year-old boys. I don't watch to prate too much about the typical Freudian "latency fantasies" to which kids in that age-range *may* be prone. Nevertheless, the script strongly hints at a correlation between the ages of the four main protagonists-- Sean, Patrick, Eugene, and Horace (stuck with the name "Fat Kid" for most of the picture)-- and their unrelenting passion for movie monsters. The latency interpretation is somewhat supported by the fact that Rudy, a sixteen-year-old loosely tied to the club, initially scorns the group's monster-love, just as most adults view the boys' club as a passing phase. Sean's five-year-old sister Phoebe aspires to be a member of the group, but the fact that the boys exclude her argues that the club really is for guys of a certain age. That said, if the boys have any Freudian fantasies, they're barely acknowledged by the script, except through the indirect medium of Patrick's teenaged sister, whose dubious status as a virgin becomes a humorous plot-point late in the film.

Of course, the monsters here aren't psychological fantasies, but real creatures of the dark, out to dominate the world. As in the A&C film, Count Dracula is the undisputed leader, probably because he's the most overtly Satanic figure, but in that film Dracula only aspires to use one monster as his puppet, while the original Wolf Man seeks to oppose the vampire's evil. In SQUAD the vampire-lord commands four monstrous stooges:  the Wolfman, the Gill-Man, the Mummy, and the Frankenstein Monster. However, the first three are not able to resist Dracula's power-- although the werewolf' in his normal identity makes a stab at doing so-- and only the Monster is able to win free. Dekker's Frankenstein is more like the pitiable figure of the two James Whale films than most of the creature's later incarnations, and he plays a vital role in the vampire's ultimate defeat. It's regrettable that their climactic conflict is not a major battle, for actors Duncan Regehr and Tom Noonan give their roles an aura of great formidability. By comparison, the Mummy and the Gill-Man suffer rather humiliating defeats at the hands of the preteens, though at least the Wolf Man gets the dignity of being killed with the iconic silver bullet, by none other than latter-day conversion Rudy. But all of the monsters are visually imposing, and even little Phoebe gets to play a role in their defeat.

The "McGuffin" over which the two groups struggle is a mystic amulet, which, rather confusingly, has the potential to either (1) give Dracula and his minions ultimate power over mankind, or (2) exile all of the monsters into a formless limbo. Given that I subjected the kids to Freudian dissection, I might as well subject the amulet to the Jungian magnifying glass. Dekker and Black don't explain the magical bauble, but IMO it represents the power of the imagination itself, which possesses, among other things, the power to bring fictional monsters to life. It's also a power that the kids, despite their love of creepy things, must foreswear by the film's end, as they cast all of the creatures back into the unreality that spawned them. In the film's most poignant moment, even the Frankenstein Monster, despite having aided the Squad, must return to the void (or collective unconscious), unable to fit into the real world from which he sprung.

That said, the film ends with a vindication of fantasy, rather than an injunction to "put away childish things." There are apparently no more monsters on Earth, but nonetheless the movie's last lines consist of Sean telling a flummoxed army officer that he and his friends are "the Monster Squad." Possibly Dekker just wanted to suggest the possibility of a sequel to investors. Yet Dekker's conclusion also celebrates the fantasies of kid-hood-- which certainly includes the wish-dream of being able to defeat evil, even when you haven't yet got your full growth, and even when all the older folks can't see that you're in the right.

Monday, November 28, 2016

KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985), FIREWALKER (1986)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*


I reviewed the second film in this series here, but though the second outing was released two years after KING, these 1980s versions of classic white hunter-hero Allan Quatermain were filmed back-to-back. The first film is, like its sequel, "dumb fun" at best, and only erratically borrows plot-threads from the 1885 novel. The novel begins with Quatermain being hired to venture into an unexplored part of Africa to find an Englishman's missing relative. In this film, released by the cheese-kings Golan and Globus, Quatermain is hired by a sexy young blonde (Sharon Stone), whose father, like the missing man in the novel, was seeking the fabled King Solomon's Mines.

The script for this flick has no sense of the mythic resonance of the Biblical mines, much less the culture-clash of colonial England venturing into "darkest Africa." KING's entire raison d'etre is to copy the comical scenes from 1981's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, ignoring all the other elements that made that film a success. Most of KING's slapstick-toned antics don't work particularly well, as director J. Lee Thompson-- never a strong hand with comedy, even in his early years-- overplays most of the scenes, virtually telling his audience, "Laugh here!" 

Only one action-comedy scene works moderately well. Quatermain and Stone's character Jesse are captured by a cannibal tribe and thrown into a gigantic metal cooking-pot, sort of a brobdingnagian version of the sort of cookware seen in dozens of cartoons about white hunters getting stewed-- and not in a good way. The heroes' escape isn't the least bit believable, but it's the only scene in which the absurdity works on its own terms.

One odd scene doesn't rely on goony slapstick. While foraging through the jungle Quatermain and Jesse are given succor by a curious tribe of natives who no longer live on the earth, but inhabit the latticework-branches of the trees, There's an explanatory line about how these natives abandoned the earth to escape the evil of mankind or something like that. I seem to remember reading somewhere that this fantasy-element may have been taken from another Haggard book, and that may be the reason that it's the only scene that carries a little of that author's poetical charm. There's no fantasy-explanation for how the natives can hang from the branches, more or less in Spider-Man fashion, so it may be the natives' uncanny agility shares some kinship with some similar abilities demonstrated in the kung fu film FIVE DEADLY VENOMS. That said, the presence of a giant spider edges the film into the domain of the marvelous.

Stone probably gets the worst part in the movie, as the script writes her "Karen Allen lite" character as a blithering idiot, though Chamberlain doesn't get much better treatment, nor do Herbert Lom and John Rhys-David. Two Black African characters from the novel aren't implicated in the silly hijinks: Umbopa (Ken Gampu), who joins the expedition to uncharted Africa to reclaim his lost throne, and Gagool (June Bethelezi), the evil old witch-woman who tyrannizes over Umbopa's tribe. The latter makes a very good evil old woman, but is not nearly as central to the film as she is in the novel.



FIREWALKER, also produced by Golan-and-Globus and directed by Thompson, takes the same near-comical approach to RAIDERS material, but if anything it's even lamer than KING. It concerns two Americans (Chuck Norris, Louis Gossett Jr.), stuck in Central America and looking for their next big break. Along comes a comely blonde girl, Patricia (Melody Anderson), who informs them of a fabulous Indian treasure, though the script doesn't seem clear on whether the treasure was left behind by the Aztecs, the Mayans, or the Apaches. As the trio set out on their trek, they are menaced by Coyote, a local shaman, also the evil guardian of the treasure. He's also apparently the "firewalker" of the title, though this is barely justified in the careless script.

I've seen other online reviews go into great depth charting the embarrassing inconsistencies of the film, so I won't touch on them here, except for one. After Norris and Co have consulted with a "good shaman" to get help on their quest, they take their leave, and the shaman says something like, "I don't know how Tonto does it." It's not out of line for a Native American to pass arch comments on people looking to plunder Indian artifacts. However, at least Tonto's tribal origins were consistent,while this film's script can't even keep its Native American mythology straight.

Again the humor is largely overplayed by Thompson and largely unfunny, but there's some novelty in seeing Chuck Norris, the Great Stone Face, trying to play things for laughs. He doesn't do that badly, even given the lame lines he has to read, but his relative success might be attributable to a good working chemistry with Louis Gossett, an actor noted for his ability to imbue even the worst characters with total conviction.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

CALL OF THE SAVAGE (1935)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*


CALL OF THE SAVAGE is a neglected but perfectly serviceable jungle-serial. I read one of the novels on which it's based, Otis Kline's JAN OF THE JUNGLE, but without re-reading it would guess that very little was borrowed from the book. It's also very nearly an "uncanny" story, except for one minor intrusion of marvelous super-science.

As a young boy at the jungle-sanctuary of his father Doctor Trevor, Jan (Noah Beery Jr,) loses his mother to a lion-attack, while his father is injured and loses his memory. Jan wanders off into the jungle and grows up with the animals, though no particular creature seems to have fostered him. But Trevor was working on a cure for polio, and fifteen years later a scientific expedition returns to Africa to search for Trevor's valuable notes. One scientist is a good guy, another is a bad one. The expedition also includes a young woman, Mona, and a mysterious fellow who believes that Mona is the lost princess of the City of Mu. The latter schemer plans to take her back to her home city-- which she no longer remembers-- at the earliest opportunity. However, most of the serial's chapters deal with Jan's interactions with the expedition-- and with Mona, who gets a G-rated "Jane" treatment, lots of stock animal footage, and various double-crosses, not getting to the Lost City until the tenth chapter. This runs in contrast to the prominence of lost cities in most jungle-serials, notably DARKEST AFRICA. 

SAVAGE, directed by Lew Landers of RAVEN fame, is nicely photographed and lively in terms of action. and it benefits from a cheery performance by Beery as Jan. The jungle-boy, like a road-company version of the Weissmuller Tarzan, never learns more than a few words, but the lack of tedious pidgin dialect is a bonus, forcing Berry to rely on gesture and expression. He also acquits himself well in the fight-scenes.In one chapter Jan and one ally are attacked on a large river-raft by hostile natives, resulting in a big fistfight while the raft careens toward a waterfall.

Given how little time the Mu-natives occupy, it's surprising that they're included at all. Their only super-weapon is an electrical arc that zaps intruders who enter a certain cave-mouth: other than that, their other menaces are standard uncanny-traps from other serials: a room with a descending ceiling of spikes and a room full of flame, for two.

Dorothy Short plays Mona, and looks fetching in her jungle-outfit (see above). Her performance is generally good, except that the script apparently told her to scream piercingly every time danger threatens. It's one thing for Mona to be incapable of jumping into the fights, and another for her to scream gratuitously when she's not immediately in danger. When the guys are busy fighting villains, that sort of feminine indulgence-- even if scripted by male writers-- could prove exceedingly unwise.

ROCKULA (1990)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

I hadn't watched ROCKULA in years, and my memories of it were not good, but I gave it another look anyway. The film was directed and co-written by Luca Bercovici, who had his greatest success with 1984's GHOULIES and its three sequels. None of the GHOULIES films are especially good, but they're pure poetry next to ROCKULA.

I have to assume that Bercovici's took his main inspiration from comic horror flicks like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, but ROCKULA doesn't understand anything about the vampire-story subgenre. In the setup scenes, we learn that Ralph, a vampire who looks like a twenty-something mortal, is actually over 400 years old, as is his only living relative, his mother Phoebe, with whom he still lives. Neither of them seem to suffer any of the needs or vulnerabilities of vampires, although they do display fangs on the odd occasion.

It's not Ralph's fault he still lives with his mom: he seems to be really, really unlucky at love. Centuries ago he met his one true love, Mona, but before they could be joined, Mona was killed by a pirate with a rhinestone peg-leg. Since that first evil encounter, Mona keeps getting reincarnated in a new body every 22 years. But apparently the Rhinestone Pirate does as well, since he appears at each reincarnation to kill Mona off, before Ralph can know the joy of sex.

It's modern times, and Ralph doesn't even want to stir out of the house, for fear of meeting Mona again and watching her die. Eventually, after talking to his own reflection for a while (don't ask), he ventures forth, and runs into Mona-- or rather, she runs him down with her car when he steps into the street. Again Ralph tries to avoid the cursed girl, but when he finds out that she's a club singer, he finds himself moved to form his own band, of which he is the lead singer-- Rockula!

However, though the Pirate doesn't immediately appear, Ralph has a rival in Mona's ex-boyfriend Stanley, a huckster who sells expensive funeral plots. Stanley observes his ex spending time with Ralph and consults a psychic, the suggestively named "Madame Ben Wa." The psychic tells Stanley that the only way he can defeat Ralph is to dress up as a pirate, compete with rhinestone pegleg. Stanley doesn't plan to kill Mona, though, only to deep-freeze her until she loves him again.

The comedy scenes are lame despite the efforts of the actors, but the lame jokes provide some relief from the even worse music. At times ROCKULA looks like a long music video punctuated by some narrative digressions, and I suspect that the movie was designed with the notion of pushing the music, credited to none other than Hilary Bercovici, brother of Luca.

My SPOILERS is for the film's only interesting psychological motif. It turns out that "Madame Ben Wa" is none other than Ralph's mom Phoebe, who has never wanted her little boy to marry and thus leave her. Implicitly-- though the script glosses over this point-- she's been the sole source of the "pirate curse" for centuries, suborning some schmuck like Stanley to kill off Mona at the appropriate time, so that she could continue living with her precious boy. For what it's worth, Phoebe-- whose name connotes "the moon," even as one derivation of "Mona" does-- isn't planning to seduce her son a la MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; she just wants him to keep him in her eternal orbit. Yet Bercovici doesn't really play fair with the Big Reveal, since Phoebe, despite acting weird at times, doesn't really act in a way that might throw suspicion on her.

All that said, though, I must admit if there's a little goofy symbolism in the psychic's name. Is Ralph, in a symbolic sense at least, an object she keeps inside her, for her satisfaction? But this bad pun is about the only time the film aspires to the Mel Brooks level of smutty jokes.

ADDENDA: Although the film does end up with a comic battle between Ralph and Stanley, neither character shows a high level of dynamicity, so this is a subcombative comedy, not unlike the later CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH.