Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE (1984)

The second our President (Michael Pate) sings a song
composed of the word 'bullshit' repeated ad infinitum....
you know this isn't just any super-hero movie.
Long before the Age of Reason
Evil waged unholy treason.
Believe me that no mother ever cried for Midnight."

1) So help me, I am so a sucker for mock newsreel footage. Yes, there's a certain arch tone to the opening sequence that provides us with Captain Invincible's backstory. But there's also--thanks primarily to Alan Arkin--a great deal of fun, and it's hard not to imagine how he'd do in an actual pulp adventure film.

2) This is, of course, another insane film by the insane filmmaker Phillipe Mora--and as such, we have to accept that certain things will be somewhat simple continuity (part of Christopher Lee's scheme is to drive ethnics into ghetto communities--one of which is called 'Sicilian Heights' on the sign outside, and is refered to as 'Sicilian Villa' by the salesman, for example...and that's in the first fifteen minutes).

3) Given that Michael Pate plays the President in both this film and The Howling III: The Marsupials, I have to wonder if Mora actually has his own little universe where all these mad musings of his mind gambol together. But then, if we accept that, we have to accept that in Mora's mind the President is inclined to go into a song and dance number where he repeats the word 'bullshit' about fifty times....

I did mention this is a musical, didn't I?

Dracula sings!  Fu Manchu dances!  Sherlock Holmes...
enjoys the hell of out himself?
4) Of the ten musical numbers, many of which seem to ape different American musical genres, three are the last known songs by Richard O'Brien and Richard Hartley. And boy, do they stand out....particularly the song for Christopher Lee's Mr. Midnight, 'Choose Your Poison,' and the defacto duet of Lee and Arkin, 'Midnight.' Especially after some really rough patches, those songs give the film a jolt of energy.

5) Kate Fitzpatrick, who plays the female lead Patty, is truly dreadful. She frequently resorts to the broadest sort of pantomime to convey what she needs to (like bugging her eyes and grasping her throat to indicate she's suffocating), and actually detracts from Arkin's rather good all-in performance.

6) This film would simply not have worked without the performances of Arkin and Lee, who dive right in and approach their characters absolutely seriously. In a movie filled with caricatures and buffonery, these two actors make sure the immortal enemies Invincible and Midnight are throughly believable...and that keeps the film from sliding headlong into total and absolute nonsense.

7) I really have no idea what's going on in the sequence where it's hinted that we're about to learn Mr. Midnight's evil plan. Why is everything in Keystone Kops speed? Why is that strange monster that serves as Midnight's sidekick romping with black-lingerie clad girls? What. The. Fuck?

...and this is not the most undignified thing Phillipe Mora
asks Alan Arkin to do....
But is a Phillipe Mora film and, as such, bugfuck insane.

8) It's not just that 'Choose Your Poison' is the kind of song that only O'Brien and Hartley could write, with its twisting lyrics that weave in an amazing number of alcohol and cocktail references into's that Christopher Lee delivers it with such overwhelming glee. He seems to actively be having the time of his life singing and dancing in this number, and his enthusiasm is transfered to the audience.

9) With Midnight's scheme of driving all ethnic peoples off Manhattan Island and sending them afloat, I have to think that Mora thought he was doing a satire on the then still fresh in people's minds Superman films...but what interests me is how I am sure this film was an inspiration--unintentional or not--to Albert Pyun's godawful Captain America film, with its boy who worships the hero growing up to be President and asking the help of said hero many years later to stop a maniacal, fascist madman....

10) As bad as this film is in spots, it's impossible to hate something so unafraid of its own corniness as to have its hero inspired by such icons as FDR and--in the climax--Kate Smith (who apparently gave Mora permission to use her famous 1933 recording of 'America The Beautiful').

Overall...a true oddity--how many super-hero musical comedies are there in the world, let alone ones starring Adam Arkin and Christopher Lee?--that makes up for its moments of bad taste and mediocrity with the trademark Phillipe Mora nuttiness and some central performances that manages to pull this film together by sheer force of will.

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