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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Madmen of Mandoras

If Roger Corman's "X" was 1963's sci-fi high point, Madmen of Mandoras (MMoM) is its low point. This ultra-low budget film is a low grade B movie with only the slightest claim to being sci-fi. There were some doctors in white coats, and some surplus electrical equipment among the props, but no real attempt is made to use science to explain anything. The premise is bizarre, yet not without precedent. The plot has an almost Indiana Jones potential. All this is stymied by a lack of budget, a bland, confused script and flat directing. Nestor Piava, who plays Mandoras' sweaty police chief, was the boat captain in Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Professor Coleman tells a small group of Generals and secret agents how he, and only he, has the antidote for the toxic "G Gas." The professor and his younger daughter are kidnapped. A tall shadowy hispanic man tells a CID agent and wife Kathy that they've been taken to Mandoras. Drive-by hoodlums shoot him dead. Phil and Kathy fly to the tiny South American country in search of them. Camino, the son of the slain hispanic above, tells the back story of how his father witnessed an operation in the bunker in Berlin in which Hitler's head is cut from his body and saved so he can be immortal. In a stereotypic cantina, a gunfight breaks out. Young blonde "nazis" killed a creepy assasin/police agent, but Phil is arrested for it. In the palace basement "jail", Phil, Kathy, Suzanne and the professor are reunited. The professor's former assistant, Dvorak, now in a minimal nazi uniform, pontificates about world conquest. He shows them Hitler's head in a big glass bucket. Back in their cell, the police chief and el presidente come in and announce that they oppose the nazis. They escape with the help of friendly guards and scheme how to foil the nazi plot. The deadly gas is to be released at midnight, but this fails. Dvorak drives Hitler's head (in a big black Mercedes) to meet two German Generals who are flying in. World conquest will follow. Our plucky band of resistance fighters get to the canyon in time to throw hand grenades. These kill the half dozen soldiers, the generals, blow up the plane and engulf the black Mercedes in flames. Hitler's head melts like wax in the flames, leaving only a skull. In the happy post-Hitler world, Suzanne marries Camino, Phil and Kathy exchange flirty innuendos. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It might be more appropriate to say fascinating. The script is a confusing mash-up of stock tropes, stereotypes and non-sequiturs. The writer clearly had some grand tale to tell, but contracted severe laryngitis. It's more puzzle than story, yet its bizarreness has a fascination to it.

Cold War Angle
The world-domination theme is clearly present, but blaming the nazis diminishes any Cold War theme.

Not Dead Enough -- In the late 14th century, reformer John Wycliffe upset the Catholic church so much that they wanted him dead. Wycliffe died of natural causes as an old man, but that wasn't enough. The Catholic leadership hated him so much, that some 30 years after Wycliffe died, they dug up his bones and burned them. Wycliffe wasn't dead enough to satisfy them. Hitler, the penultimate villain, did not die enough in 1945 to satisfy many people. MMoM, reminiscent of Wycliffe's bones, burns Hitler's head in a rather long scene. Hitler seems to be a character cannot be dead enough.

Evil Twin -- Easily lost between the many cracks is how we end up with Hitler's head in a jar in the first place. You see, back in the 40s, Hitler feared for his life and wanted immortality. He had genius scientists create clones of himself (we see two) to act as body doubles. Nevermind that they're taller and fatter than him. (Clones eat too well). One is dispatched to the bunker to commit suicide and be found by the Allies. The other just wanders off, apparently. The clones look like Hitler (sort of) but do not have his keen mind. In a quest for immortality, the doctors cut off Hitler's head and preserve it because only a head-sized package can be flown out of Berlin. Later, and elsewhere, other doctors will figure out how to get real-Hitler's keen mind into a new clone. It almost makes sense.

10 Years Later, More is Less -- In 1972, Crown International wanted to re-release MMoM as a TV movie, but it was too short (74 minutes). A typical TV movie, running two hours, needed a run-time of around 90 minutes. New footage was shot on even less of a budget than the original, using UCLA film students. The new footage was grafted onto the beginning and recycled some old footage from Thunder Road. The new footage padded the story with more cloak-and-dagger and tried to set up a spy plot in Mandoras better. The re-release was titled: "They Saved Hitler's Brain," which was a much grabbier title than the original. The resulting film, however, only added to the confusion. The 70s clothing and hairstyles are flagrantly different than the original's 1963 attire.

Brains on the Brain -- MMoM is yet another in the sub-genre of movies that featured brains. Donovan's Brain ('53), The Brain From Planet Arous ('57), Colossus of New York ('58), Evil Brain From Outer Space, etc. It also belongs to a smaller sub-genre of disembodied (but still living) heads. The Man Without A Body ('57) which turned out to be Nostradamus. Then there was poor Jan in The Brain That Wouldn't Die ('62). Hitler in MMoM was just the latest talking head.

Don't Need No Body -- The writers did not seem concerned with biology. What kept Hitler's head alive in his jar? At least Jan's head in The Brain That Wouldn't Die was hooked up to tubes and pumps to supply what her missing body would have. In MMoM, heads can just keep on living without bodies. It talks and goes for car rides, sitting all snug in a glass jar.

Plot Holes Aplenty -- The script is so full of disconnects, non-sequiturs and holes that it feels like every third page was somehow lost, but they kept shooting anyway. Where did all this G-Gas come from? Couldn't the source be stopped? This one professor is the only source of an antidote? An antidote to poison gas? The only man with the antidote (in his mind) that can save the world, is kidnapped and only his son-in-law rides to the rescue? The matchbook signal was important enough for Camino's dad to use his last breath to explain it, yet it never gets used for anything important. If the gas kills off almost everyone in the world, why does Hitler still want it? What does the Chiquita dancer have to do with anything? Vasquez is an assassin or a policeman or part of the nazi ring? He dies before doing anything beyond looking shifty. And finally, even though not all, why did burning Hitler's head stop the other cells that El Presidente spoke of from executing their part of Plan G?

Stuffed With Stereotypes -- The unimaginative writer filled his cast with almost-cliche stereotypes: A big sweaty south american police chief, in a white suit, a shifty pointed-beared killer, lazy minions, screaming women, a tall, dark, handsome (I guess) latin love interest, and of course, cardboard nazis. They swagger, wear tall black boots and have a vocabulary limited to: Mach Schnell, Dumbkopf, Schweinhund, Raus and Verboten.

Bottom line? MMoM or They Saved Hitler's Brain are too bizarre and poorly done to qualify as purposeful entertainment. Sober sci-fi fans will likely be annoyed at the lack of science. Cinema fans could be annoyed at the swiss cheese of plot holes. MST3K fans could not find a better "bad" movie to enjoy. Those who think Hitler didn't die enough in 1945 may enjoy the fiery ending, though.

1 comment:

DixHuit said...

Actually, the guy who gets shot in the car is Camino's brother, and their common father is none other than... El Presidente!

Even more astonishing, Tom Sharon (the guy with "interest in the mines") is revealed to be the father of David (Suzanne's ex-boyfriend who turns out to be a Nazi)!!