Monday, June 22, 2009

Journey Into DVD: Rifftrax 'Swing Parade"

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have been doing these Rifftrax--downloadable MP3 files that can be synced up to a DVD to serve as a wise-ass commentary track--for a few years. Now Legend Films has released a slew of these on actual DVDs. No downloading required--just pop in the disc and play. So easy even, well, _I_ can do it.

I hadn't heard any of the Rifftrax, but I enjoyed the same guys' work on the (apparently defunct) "Film Crew" DVDs, another variation of the MST3k formula. It wasn't quite as good as the original, but why bitch about it? It was still funny work, and the guys have a right to keep at it. I think the format has plenty of life in it, and even if "Rifftrax," at least judging from this one disc I've seen, doesn't reach the heights of MST3K, either, it's still entertaining.

For my first foray into "Rifftrax," I chose "Swing Parade of 1946," a Monogram picture starring Gale Storm and featuring three gents named Moe, Larry, and Curly in the supporting cast. If you're thinking that this movie doesn't need a wise-ass commentary track kind of treatment, you're absolutely right. I think a movie with that cast, plus a slew of musical performances-- directed by Phil Karlson, no less--deserves its own legit DVD release. But I'm not complaining about this because Legend smartly allows you to watch the movie without the Rifftrax treatment. So everybody's happy here, right?

I wondered how the gang would handle the Stooges, and fear not, fans, they mock the characters for being who they are, but they're never disrespectful, and they mostly laugh at the others around them, for example, the nightclub that employs them. So, really, Stooge fans, don't be upset that the boys are getting a send-up here.

The movie itself is not a groaner like you would think deserves this kind of treatment, though the plot is a bit weak. Storm is an aspiring performer who, desperate for work, unwittingly becomes a de facto process server for a rich father trying to shut down his son's (Phil Regan) club. When she goes to the soon-to-be-opening nightspot, she winds up auditioning, and after some hijinks, the son signs her up for his show, and she forgets all about the delivery she had brought. Love, laughs, and a word for music that starts with "L" (I can't think of one) ensue.

The movie doesn't add up to a whole lot, but there are all sorts of little elements that make it worthwhile regardless of the Rifftrax treatment. Though this was apparently filmed as Curly's health was starting to deteriorate, and it's by no means their film, the Stooges get to do some business here and there, including one of their plumbing bits with pipes going all over the place. Burly character actor Edward Brophy entertains as the Stooges' boss, the guy that actually runs Regan's club. John Eldredge, who I recognized as Corliss Archer's dad but has been in a ton of other stuff, is here as a small "s" stooge for Regan's father. And there are a host of musical performances from Louis Jordan and others--not all memorable, but amusing enough if that's your thing.

So with all this, the bar is pretty low for the Rifftrax guys in creating a worthwhile package. All they have to do is get in and make enough quality jokes to not irritate you, and you still have a decent DVD just on the basis of the original movie, especially if you're a Three Stooges fan. Fortunately, though, the gang goes well beyond that threshold, scoring with enough remarks to make their version an entertaining one as well. I look forward to seeing more of these Rifftrax DVDs, but I doubt other movies will be as compelling without the commentary.

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