Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mighty Jack (Tsurubaya Productions/Sandy Frank Productions, 1968/1987)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I played Charles his newly downloaded disc of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 incarnation of the 1968 Japanese movie Mighty Jack. It turned out to be a spy movie, a thoroughly inept James Bond knock-off (the villain even has a furry white lap-cat he’s always stroking!) in which the President (of what country we’re not quite sure) organizes a strike force called “Mighty Jack” to defeat the designs of a sinister organization called “Q,” which of course is interested in world domination. Charles noted that this film was made by the same crew that did the Ultra-Man TV shows and also featured a lot of the same actors — though, alas, the male members of the cast were dressed in business suits instead of the hot orange jumpsuits they wore as the “Science Patrol” in Ultra-Man (and which were tight enough to show off their baskets — who said Asian men weren’t well hung?).

In some ways the production values of Mighty Jack were a bit better than those of Ultra-Man — the craft the Mighty Jack crew members (scenarists Shinichi Sekizawa and Eizaburo Shiba seem never quite to have decided whether “Mighty Jack” referred to the team or the contraption they traveled in) use to move around the world to combat Q’s agents, which can both fly and operate underwater as a submarine, is a more convincing prop than the dime-store gadgets they flew in Ultra-Man, and the colors are spectacular and quite pretty (a refreshing change from all the dirty-brown movies we get these days) — and there aren’t any tacky-looking monsters, though quite frankly this movie is so relentlessly confusing that tacky-looking monsters would actually have helped!

About all we know for sure is that “Q” has kidnapped a scientist named Atari (were they after the software for Pong?) in a nicely inventive way — they threw a fishing net around his car and lifted it up with a helicopter, then flew back to their base with the car dangling in the net 2,000 feet off the ground — and the members of Mighty Jack are trying to get him back and at the same time trying to figure out who in their operation is leaking their secrets to “Q” — and suspicion fastens first on the German-accented (at least in this dubbed version — there’s no love lost between the former World War II allies in this story!) son of one of the administrators, then the administrator himself — and by the time this thing grinds to a halt we neither know nor care who’s the “Q” agent in their midst, nor do we have anything more than the vaguest idea of what’s been happening on screen for the last hour and a half. Supposedly Mighty Jack was actually a TV series in Japan and this film was assembled from three or four of its half-hour episodes, spliced together into a semblance (not much of a semblance, at that) of story continuity — which explains why entire plot threads just disappear in mid-air and also why the action scenes are even more repetitious than usual, as well as singularly ineptly staged by director Kazuho Mitsuta, who frankly wasn’t going to have kept Akira Kurosawa awake nights worrying about the competition.

Mighty Jack was prepared for American release by the infamous Sandy Frank, which meant terrible dubbing of English-language lines so dementedly silly it was sometimes hard to tell which bits of dialogue were from the actual soundtrack and which were the MST3K crew’s mockeries of it — which, predictably, focused largely on the movie’s utter incomprehensibility. There were a few cute gags — in one sequence of a man strumming a 12-string guitar in a nightclub (don’t ask) one of the MST3K crew joked, “Ah, Django Reinhardt! No, too many fingers.” (They were wrong; it was Django’s left hand, not his right, that was injured; and he kept all his fingers, though two were paralyzed and useless for fretting, though he could still form bar chords with them.)