Monday, May 21, 2018

Galaxina (Marimark Productions, Crown International Pictures, 1980)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The second film on the program, Galaxina, was so wretched it made Starcrash look like a neglected masterpiece by comparison! This time the principal culprit was writer, producer and director William Sachs, who made this movie for something called Marimark Productions (were his parents named Mary and Mark, and did he conjure up this name as a mashup the way Harvey and Bob Weinstein named Miramax after their parents, Miriam and Max?) in association with Crown International Pictures — once again confirming my general theory of bad cinema that especially awful movies come from studios with the word “International” in their names. The main interest in Galaxina comes from the actress — if, to quote Dwight Macdonald about Haya Harareet in Ben-Hur, I may use the term for courtesy — who plays the title role, a blonde robot who’s part of the crew of the space police patrol ship Infinity (which itself looks like a discarded dog bone). Her name was Dorothy R. Stratten, and she is considerably more famous for her tragic end than for anything she accomplished in her too-brief career. Born on February 28, 1960 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Stratten blossomed as a beauty in her teens and attracted the attention of a promoter named Paul Snider, who determined to make her first a Playboy centerfold and then a movie star. He got her into Playboy, which named her Playmate of the Year for 1979, and got her some parts in films like Americathon (1979) — a sadly underrated farce about a telethon held to rescue the U.S. from being totally broke — and Skatetown, U.S.A. as well as an episode of the TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Snider also married her but things didn’t go well between them: he came onto the set of Galaxina and harassed her.

Meanwhile, she had been cast by director Peter Bogdanovich in a semi-major film called They All Laughed, and she and Bogdanovich began an affair, which sent Snider into a jealous hissy-fit; he lured her to his apartment, tied her up, sexually assaulted her and killed her, then committed suicide. This tragedy became the subject of a quite good and tremendously underrated film by Bob Fosse, Star 80 (after the personalized license plate Snider had bought Stratten to predict she’d become a star in 1980, the year he actually killed her), and as with the few films made by Sharon Tate before she was butchered by Charles Manson’s “Family,” the macabre end of Stratten’s career has produced a cult around the few films she did live to make. The best thing that can be said for Galaxina was that Sachs deliberately intended it as a spoof of both Star Wars and Star Trek — though, to quote Dwight Macdonald again, this is one of those films that “in form and intent must be classified as comedies” even though, aside from a few modestly amusing lines here and there, the film contains nothing funny — at least nothing intentionally funny. From the moment we hear Avery Schreiber as starship commander Cornelius Butt (a name that in itself sums up William Sachs’s non-sense of humor!) intoning a “captain’s log” in the most sententious manner of William Shatner in the original Star Trek, we know what we’re in for: a film that’s way less funny than its creator clearly thought it was. The rest of the crew of the starship Infinity (in one of the film’s few genuine bits of wit, the crew members wear the infinity symbol as a patch on their uniforms) consists of Sergeant Thor (Stephen Macht, top-billed) and slacker Buzz (James David Hinton), and I must say these two guys did considerably more for me, uh, aesthetically than Marjoe Gortner and David Hasselhoff had in Starcrash. Two other crew members include Maurice (Lionel Mark Smith), who seems to have been designed as a cross between Mr. Spock and the Bat Boy from the Weekly World News; and Sam Wo (Tad Horino), who looks like Ho Chi Minh, constantly smokes what we presume to be an opium pipe, and delivers stupid-sounding aphorisms that just annoy the other people present.

As for Galaxina herself, she’s dressed in a white jumpsuit that does a good job of showing off the curves of Dorothy Stratten’s body and sits in a white swivel chair in which she revolves herself — that’s all she does for the first half of the film until she finally develops (or at least exhibits) the capacity to speak in mid-movie. Thereupon she and Sgt. Thor fall in love, if you can call it that — she throws herself at him but he’s disappointed because she doesn’t have a vagina (referred to with a lot of cutesy-poo euphemisms aimed at preserving the film’s PG rating and therefore its accessibility to the horny teenage straight guys who were obviously its target audience), though she explains that one can be added as an optional part for an extra fee, and when he bemoans that they can’t have kids she says, “Those are an option, too.” The big sequence is one in which our slacker heroes land on a planet that was originally an Australia-style exile for particularly obnoxious criminals — including the descendants of a motorcycle gang who congregate around the one bike they have left over and solemnly intone the praises of their god, “Harley David Son.” There’s also a gimmick in which the slacker heroes visit something billed as a “Human Restaurant” whose alien clientele is an obvious ripoff of the Cantina Bar scene in the original Star Wars — only they realize, almost too late, that humans aren’t the intended clientele but rather the bill of fare (a gag done far more subtly and frighteningly in the “To Serve Man” episode of the original Twilight Zone). Needless to say, since this is supposed to be at least in part a Star Wars spoof there has to be a Darth Vader analogue — he’s called “Ordric” and the only visible difference between him and the real deal is his costume is red instead of black (and like Darth Vader he’s played by two different people, Ronald Knight physically and Percy Rodrigues vocally).

The whole plot turns around the need of both the good and the bad guys to find the “Blue Star,” a stone of infinite power whose possession will make its owner the master of the universe (didn’t Wagner and Tolkien do that already with a ring?), which the good guys recover from the bad guys, only the rock-eating monster the Infinity crew had previously arrested and then released when they needed his help after the bad guys had imprisoned them takes the Blue Star and eats it. About the only good thing about Galaxina is that, bereft of enough money to commission an original score, Sachs decided to use pre-existing music, and for the first two-thirds one gets to hear some great classical music on the soundtrack. Some of it was familiar from previous (and far better!) science-fiction films, including Franz Liszt’s Les Prèludes (the principal theme from the third and last Universal Flash Gordon serial, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, though Sachs used a lot more of the piece than the makers of the Flash Gordon film did!) and the inevitable opening of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (heard in a bizarre scene in which Commander Butt approaches the rest of his crew on a moving platform). The film also includes bits of Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and two excerpts from Rossini’s last opera, William Tell: not only the concluding “Lone Ranger” theme from the opera’s overture but the aria “Selva opaca,” quite nicely sung on the soundtrack but mimed to on screen incongruously by a male puppet as part of an interstellar TV broadcast that also features clips from the 1962 film First Spaceship on Venus, another Crown International release (and it’s a tribute to the awfulness of Galaxina that compared to it, even First Spaceship on Venus looks like a masterpiece!). The best way to sum up Galaxina is to say I came to it with low expectations — and it disappointed even those!