Der Fuehrer’s Head

School teachers will tell you that they often remember the bad students and forget the good ones. So be the case of Academy-honored drivel such as 1998’s Best Picture Shakespeare in Love. Did anyone see this? I’ve seen a lot of bad films, but the worst are not those films suggested by critics aimed at selling books —the Medved’s 1980 Golden Turkey Awards comes to mind and so does Roger Ebert. No, in my humble opinion the worst films are those films that are so boring or offensive (usually the former) that the viewer is writhing in such agony that they can’t finish the film. Ask my friend Dave about Nights in Rodanthe (2008) or ask my buddy Mace regarding the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror (yes there was a remake).

In the theater, I’ve walked out on three movies: 1997’s Spawn (I think the Rankin-Bass character Snow Miser has more talent than John Leguizamo), 2002’s Road to Perdition (Tom Hanks sucks) and 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (more drivel —I have since boycotted all Michael Moore films). Some films are bad, but tolerable. I can recall that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) gave me a headache. To be precise, Kate Capshaw’s screaming gave me a headache.  Both Lucas and Spielberg should be flogged for the last Indy film, which was a disaster.  Even kids were bored.  Don’t get me started on George Lucas, who hasn’t made a good film since The Empire Strikes Back. American Graffiti (which was a rip-off of 1971’s Two Lane Black Top ala Gary Kurtz) is really Lucas’ best film.  It was all downhill after that George.

“Bad” Films like Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster and the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space and Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster, or Preminger’s Skidoo (1968), which featured Jackie Gleason on an acid trip (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFO-D3TInGg), are flawed films for different reasons, but they are all watchable. Then you have films that defy description. These are films so mesmerizing in their awfulness they transcend reality —they are surreal. Manos: The Hands of Fate is such a film (a sequel is in the works folks!). Then there’s The Incredible Petrified World (1957) which has no redeemable attributes. None. Zippo. Even John Carradine is bad. El Grande Stencho.

This all brings us to The Madmen of Mandoras (1963), which was later re-cut and expanded as They Saved Hitler’s Brain (TV 1968). It’s a bad film no doubt, but has such an off-beat story and visual style that it rises above the pantheon of filmdom’s worst.  It’s quasi-bad.

On Memorial Day 2011, I watched a super-clean cut of Mandoras, available on the Drive-In Cult Classics 8 Movie DVD Collection, Vol. 2  (BCI/Crown Int. Pictures).  It’s amazing that such a beautiful print of such an awful film exists.  Did someone restore it or was the master negative never used?  I must admit, this film may become one of my guilty pleasures right up there with Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965).  Except for about 50 minutes of boring plot devices and talk that goes nowhere, the film’s a lot of fun.

The film is redeemed by lens-work by veteran cinematographer Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter).  I like the crisp B/W compositions, with weird diagonal lines and shadows.  It’s all very expressionist.  Look at the backlit Swastika (above) and the Mr. H’s henchmen in shadow (below). Are they caught in a web?  This shot is reminiscent of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, where the count emerges from slumber deck-side and is framed by the ship’s webbing.

Mandoras feels a lot like a Universal-International film.  The makers even heisted a few bars from The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  It doesn’t look cheap and the production values are decent.  I like the shots at Bronson Canyon and I’d wager that  a premium black-and-white film stock was used for this film.  I like the sets.  Ed Wood’s films look cheap, with cardboard sets, shower curtains, and other makeshift props. This film looks planned out.  I even like Der Fuehrer’s Head.  I find it superior to many disembodied heads of filmdom.  Actor Bill Freed is fun as Mr. H, but he doesn’t look much like Adolf.

MACH SCHNELL ! MACH SCHNELL !

So, what the hell is this film about?  Adolf’s head in a jar!  Actually, I’m going to cheat and refer the reader to this guy’s plot summary (which I like): http://www.fandango.com/themadmenofmandoras_v471489/plotsummary. You have to love a film with scenes like this—

Here’s the guy from The Black Scorpion, who burns up Hitler’s head real good.  He’s not a bad actor.

MACH SCHNELL ! MACH SCHNELL !

And an awesome skull burning!  All in all, I rank Mandoras as a Bad Film I Love.  IMDb gave it 2.5 out of 10 stars. How can you go wrong with the disembodied head of Mr. H backseat-driving in an old Mercedes Benz? I liked it better than Road to Perdition.  Tom Hanks could never pull it off as Hitler.

http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Turkey-Awards-Achievements-Hollywood/dp/0425051870
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050811/COMMENTARY/50808002

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