Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Fifty Worst Films of All Time

1978, Popular Library edition, from later that year
Harry Medved with Randy Dreyfuss
The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way)
Original price unknown, purchase price $8.50
Worn paperback

My ex-husband and I loved and collected bad movies, and we got our initial inspiration from a later of Harry's books with his brother Michael, Son of Golden Turkey Awards (1986), which I will discuss in its place.  But I'm mentioning it now because we came up with the term Medveditis to cover certain annoying writing quirks that the brothers have.  This book was actually cowritten by Michael (I'm not sure if cousin Randy contributed much), but he was initially worried that it would damage his credibility as a serious writer.  He'd cowritten the acclaimed What Really Happened to the Class of '65?, with classmate David Wallechinsky, yes, of the Book of Lists family.  In fact, there's a list in that first Book of Lists that has the ten worst films of all time.

Anyway, the symptoms of Medveditis:
1.  Cutesy and/or pathetic attempts at humor
2.  Inaccuracy
3.  Accusations of sexism that are themselves sexist
4.  Confusion over whether bad films are supposed to be enjoyably or painfully bad

This book has lots of the first symptom, and most of the time when it's genuinely funny, they're quoting some other critic.  Since I haven't seen many of the films, I can't say how accurate the summaries are, but I can tell you after countless viewings of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, that far from "dozens of kids" attacking Volgar, a grand total of four kids attack Voldar.  I understand this book was written before the days of VCRs, but that seems like an avoidable mistake.

As for the sexist accusations, they criticize Elvis's Spinout with this line:  "Notice that he refers to girls as 'it' [no, Elvis refers to a situation as "it"] because in this film females are characterized exclusively by their buttocks, bosoms, and bikinis."  And what does the caption say at the top of the page?  "Elvis Presley proves irresistible to all the plump cuties in Spinout."  The girls aren't overweight, but even if they were, this is hypocritical.  Also, the Medveds say of tomboy Deborah Walley's protests that she's a girl, not a guy, "She has a Beatles haircut and assumes the role of bossy manager of the singing group, so what does she expect?"

I have seen Spinout, and it is one of the more enjoyably bad Elvis movies.  I've also seen Robot Monster and some of the other So Bad They're Good movies in the book, but I don't really see the point in viewing bad movies that are just unpleasant, or boring.  And ultimately, that's why, after much internal debate, I had to go with a C+ rather than a B- on this book.  Even the introduction admits that these are not the fifty worst films of all time.  They're just a representative sampling of different types of bad movies, and not even the worst of each category.  I can tell you right off that although I've never seen Twilight on the Rio Grande (1948), it can't even be the worst Gene Autry movie.  The Medveds would later write about The Phantom Empire, AKA Radio Ranch (1935), which has a surreal sci-fi subplot with some of the worst robot costumes I've ever seen.

Still, the Medveds did pave the way for MST3000 among other things, and although I sometimes wince at their writing, I do appreciate them getting the ball rolling.  Disagree with them though you may, at least they put the topic on the table.  OK, enough with the mixed metaphors.  Maybe Medveditis is contagious.

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