TV’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 brought many (justifiably) obscure filmmakers to the attention of the B-Movie community. Few of them, however, saw their stock rise as much as Coleman Francis. Francis wrote, helmed and sometimes acted in three pictures, The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961), The Skydivers (1963) and 1966’s Red Zone Cuba (a.k.a. Night Train to Mundo Fine). All three of these films were featured on the show, and all are considered by fans to have been memorable episodes.
Happily, the MST3K versions of The Skydivers and Red Zone Cuba are now available on DVD, although sadly only The Skydivers disc features the unaltered version of the film as a bonus. (Meanwhile, a shockingly pristine print of The Beast of Yucca Flats is available on DVD as part of Image’s Wade Williams collection.)
In any case, the knowledgeable cinephile can only quail when our current subject opens with the credit ‘Cardoza-Francis Present’. (Actually, I think that should probably be ‘presents.’ Doesn’t the hyphen make ‘Cardoza-Francis’ a single entity?) This accompanies a stodgy black and white shot of a guy running towards a small airplane. Ah, yes. If any one element* cements Mr. Francis’ status as an auteur, one whose oeuvre is tied together and defined by common thematic properties, it’s that of ‘light aircraft.’
[*Obviously here I meant one physical element, not such shared production factors as incredibly puny budgets, bad direction, static camera placements, inane scripts, etc.]
We cut to a parachute drifting to earth. Over this image the acting credits appear. I have to admit, when I dropped by this film’s IMDB entry, I thought the listing of actor Kevin Casey in the role of “Beth” was probably a misprint. Not so, however, for this is confirmed in the film’s onscreen credits. Ed Wood would have been very proud.
The parachute footage leads into a montage of shots. These play over what sounds the theme music for the world’s cheapest Biblical epic, one largely scored on a set of drums. Many of these clips involve a variety of ‘kids’ cutting a rug at some shindig. This, presumably, is footage taken from later in the movie, when the gang will be swinging to the grooves laid down by the advertised ‘JIMMY BRYANT and his NIGHT JUMPERS,’ who, along with some other acts, appears by ‘Special arrangement with “BIG J” LABEL.’
Of course, the name Jimmy Bryant automatically raises our hopes that we will be treated to what are arguably his two most famous songs, “TOBACCO WORM” and “HA-SO’-STRATOSPHERE BOOGIE.” Fortuitously, this proves to be the case. “Special Thanks to: CLIFFIE STONE and CENTRAL SONGS, INC.” indeed!
The film proper begins with an establishing shot of a piece of signage, a favorite motif of the low-budget filmmaker. This billboard advertises the “Sport Parachuting” to be found at the local airfield, a fact which promises that The Skydivers will prove Coleman Francis’ most light aircraft-intensive picture ever. Yee-haw, single-engine buffs!
Exaggeratedly bucolic music, such as might accompany a farmer greeting yet another wholesome day in some vintage agricultural short, plays over shots of Piper Cubs or whatever the hell they are. Then a car arrives at the airstrip. The automobile pulls in front of a small frame house, and a woman, Suzy Belmont, emerges. Her arrival is witnessed by another woman, Beth, who we first see clearly in one of Francis’ patented ‘Statically Posed Close-up Shots.’ With this our first mystery is solved. The film doesn’t feature a male character inexplicably named Beth as played by an actor named Kevin, but rather a female character named Beth as played by an actress inexplicably named Kevin.
The two women see each other and converge, whereupon their conversation is accompanied by some truly horrible jazz (maybe) music. Suzy asks if Frankie is around. “Frankie-Is-Not-Here,” Beth responds, in a manner so stiff and monotone that it raises the question of whether Kevin Casey took acting lessons from Robbie the Robot. Suzy is shocked to be told that Frankie’s been fired for being intoxicated on the job. For her part, Beth is suspicious of Suzy’s real motives. “I don’t think you came out here in the hot sun looking for Frankie,” she hazards.
Meanwhile, a guy in an epically ugly patterned short-sleeved shirt worn over a long-sleeve pullover and sporting oily Sha-Na-Na hair arrives in a jeep. It’s our old buddy Anthony Cardoza, producer and co-star of the Coleman Francis trilogy, here portraying Beth’s husband, Harry. I think we’re to assume that Suzy was actually looking for this fellow. At a glare from Beth, Suzy departs, with the camera, er, closely following her departure. Let’s just say that actress Marcia Knight most definitely has back.
Harry heads over to his wife for another little pow-wow. You can laugh at calling Francis an auteur, but he definitely has a signature style. Some of his hallmarks include his actors beginning movement while framed in medium shot, but only after a few seconds of standing stock still, while apparently waiting for an off-camera cue. Usually these pre-signal moments would be edited out of the final print, but Francis was apparently a waste-not/want-not sort of filmmaker. As well, conversations in his movies are usually portrayed via an alternating series of tight head shots.
Their brief chat concluded, Harry heads over to the office (although pausing to stare meaningfully after the departing Suzy) while Beth takes up one of the planes up for a maintenance run. To indicate her starting the engine, they foley in a sound effect that I believe was achieved by forcing a head of lettuce down a kitchen garbage disposal. An off-camera grip or two then begin to shake the plane from side-to-side, whereupon we cut to a stock shot of a plane taxiing down a dirt runway. As you may have gathered from this description, the illusion is seamless.
However, instead of achieving liftoff, the plane staggers around and makes the sort of sputtering sounds which usually portend the appearance of an irate Donald Duck. Harry begins to run to the craft, all while wearing a big smile on his face. Given that this is a Coleman Francis movie, we can’t tell if this is indeed meant to indicate Harry’s reaction to his wife’s distress, or is instead the result of bad acting by Cardoza, or perhaps bad editing or direction. I’ll say one thing for Francis’ movies; they keep you guessing.
Cut back to Beth in the still gyrating plane. Harry eventually makes his way into the shot and, as dramatic ‘danger averted’ music booms on the soundtrack, pops open the passenger door. This, fortuitously, seems to have been the signal for the offscreen grips to halt their jiggling. That wasâ€¦too close. Harry pulls Beth to, er, safety, and although she’s fine she remains a bit shaken, and I mean that literally. Since the plane never came close to leaving the ground, and since she was maneuvering it around an obviously empty field, I’m not sure exactly how much peril she was actually in, but there you go. Harry asks her what happened, and she mentions that Frankie had been working on the engines. Bum bum bum.
Although the film has already provided us with a fecund array of characters, we now meet another. Many great directors are known for ‘mirroring’ scenes in their films, by which I mean having a scene that duplicates in some fashion an earlier sequence. This technique can achieve a variety of artistic intentions. Here we mirror the earlier sequence of Suzy arriving at the airfield in her car and meeting up with Beth by having a fellow named Pete arrive at the airfield in his car and meeting up with Beth. Bravo, Coleman Francis! Bravo!
Pete, we learn, wishes to avail himself of the advertised Sport Parachuting. However, he wishes to make a solo jump, a plan nixed by Beth. “You’re not ready,” she informs him. Pete remains insistent, however. Francis here ably communicates Beth’s psychological turmoil at this confrontation by suddenly cutting in a close-up shot of a nodding Harry, whose presence in this scene has not been established and thus comes across as a bit jarring. This disconcerting insert is then immediately followed by a close-up shot of Beth that we recognize as having already been used earlier in the proceedings. The juxtaposition of these temporally non-linear elements fosters a sense of profound disorientation and of narrative vertigo in the viewer, similar to that achieved by the Italian neorealist auteur Michelangelo Antonioni in such works as L’ Eclisse (1962).
Bowing to the overwhelming dictates of what seems to be the Cosmos itself, Beth agrees to take Pete up. Director Francis, meanwhile, continues to undermine the viewer’s sense of linear space and time by suddenly cutting in a shot of a man inside a hanger, an image that bears little apparent ‘logical’ connection to that which has preceded it. This enigmatic progression further serves to dismantle the viewer’s sense of reality, as if one were suddenly finding oneself in a world in which the formalist Euclidian underpinnings of the thermodynamic universe itself were being displaced one by one, resulting in an absurdist, (de[form)alist] chaos of physical and chronological anarchy.
In any case, Pete dons his parachute and helmet and heads over to the waiting plane. Soon a subtle merging of stock footage with the amazing technique of keeping the camera tightly upon him and foleying in a ‘blowing wind’ effect on the soundtrack fosters the illusion that the craft he’s occupying has actually left the ground. After continuing this pantomime for a while, he then jumps to down to the ground. Er, I mean, out of the soaring plane and into the boundless void. His descent is then portrayed via some electrifying parachutist footage intercut with tightly shot close-ups of Pete’s face. It’s raw cinema excitement at its most electrifying. In the end, Pete comes gracefully to earth (wink, wink), and is picked up by a rather dilapidated junker.Here we cut to a speedboat tooling around a lake. Inside this craft are Harry and *gasp* Suzy. Lest we fail to pick up on this fact, the word ‘Suzy’ has been affixed to the side of the boat with letters fashioned from strips of electrical tape. As the two gambol, we cut to a Comic Relief Drunk who intoxication is played in, er, an opulently robust fashion. This personage is showcased for about four seconds and then we never see him again. Meanwhile, Harry and Suzy begin making out, an act accompanied by winsome “Biff and Judy at the Town Carnival”-type music.
Further wacky music plays as we cut to a guy driving around in his car. However, at least this is an appropriately wacky character. We can tell, because he’s got a small shaggy dog with him and is wearing a pith helmet. What could be zanier than that? I guess this is the town mailman, because he pauses to drop a letter in Harry’s mailbox.
Arriving home from his illicit rendezvous, Harry sits down to dinner. Sadly, he fails to perceive that Beth has attempted to set a romantic mood by lighting a candle and playing what is undoubtedly, in this universe at least, some cool jazz. Before dining, Harry pauses to open the aforementioned letter. Ah, now I see why Francis included the scene with the mailman. Otherwise, we’d be going, “Hey, wait now! Where did Harry get a letter?!” You’re a sly one, Mr. Francis.
If you think this
Cut to a brief shot of some guy riding a motorcycle down a darkened highway. Man, this movie hangs together well. Then it’s back to Harry as he reads aloud his missive, which proves to be from an old Korean War buddy, Joe Moss. “You haven’t heard from him in a long time,” Beth kindly establishes. Coincidentally, Joe mentions he’s looking for mechanic work. And hey, Frankie was just fired! That certainly worked out well.
Beth raises this same point, and then the mood turns somber as she poignantly starts going into a whole “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” riff. Harry sits like a manikin during this, allowing Beth to interpret his silence. She seemingly accepts that their marriage is in a bad spot, whereupon he turns and awkwardly leaves the set. Er, room. Outside, meanwhile, Motorcycle Man—who apparently is the recently canned Frankie—has arrived and begun skulking around the airfield. An ominous music cue informs us that this is bad or something along those lines.
Frankie begins futzing with the tail section of a plane when Harry spots him and rushes over, leading to a frenetic if not entirely convincing brawl of the sort once seen on TV shows like The Lone Ranger. You know, lots of rolling on the ground, obviously pulled punches, overly loud sound effects as blows ‘connect’ and flailing arms swung from the shoulder as if they weren’t part of the body but instead just sewn onto the owner’s torso. To be fair, though, they make up for the lack of fight choreography by blasting the music track real loud.
This imbroglio goes on for a ludicrously long time until finally Harry begins choking his opponent, leading to the following conversation:
Frankie: “OK, Harry! Harry, I’ll tell Beth!”
Harry: “Tell Beth? About what?”
Frankie: “Suzy’s my girl! You leave her alone!”
Well, you can’t argue with that, and Harry doesn’t even try. Moreover, Frankie now avers that Suzy has promised to marry him. Shocked by this unverified assertion by an unstable and dangerously jealous boozehound, Harry allows Frankie to leave, although he warns him that he’s in for a further pummeling if he should return. Even so, he gives Frankie what he wants and agrees to stop seeing Suzy.
Cut toâ€¦yes!! Several more minutes of stock footage skydiving! Seldom has any movie so deliciously lived up to its title.
We wait patiently for the insert close-up shots which will establish who these two skydivers are. Here the Francis magic is at full flower. As I stared at the eventual tight shots of the guys, trying to figure which characters they were supposed to be (Paul? Harry? Beth?), an exercise not entirely aided by the head-obscuring helmets they wear, it took me a good long time to realize that we had never seen these people before. Way to introduce new characters in the most confusing fashion possible! You’ve done it again, Coleman.
The pair—wait, oops, there’s three of them, I guess, which at least explains why that one guy’s coveralls didn’t remotely match those of the two previously seen parachutists—eventually come to earth. Soon the threesome is repacking their ‘chutes inside a bunker of some sort, which features swaths of parachute silk arrayed upon the walls. Beth addresses one of these men as Bernie, and asks if the skydiving is “worth it.” This seems an odd question from somebody who runs a jump school, but in any case, Bernie answers in the positive. “It feels good, making like a, uh, bird, floating around up there,” he philosophizes. “You know, Beth, if I couldn’t jump once in a while, I think I’d crack up.” Beth nods, but wonders if there isn’t another reason they do what they do. “Or maybe we’re scared,” she muses. “Maybe we jump to prove we’re not scared.” Wow! Man, these characters are so finely etched I keep expecting one of them to step out of my TV set and into my living room.Here we cut to one of Francis’ surreal insert close-ups, wherein Harry is supposedly speaking to them despite the fact he’s clearly outside while Beth and Bernie are inside the bunker. This technique keeps the viewer on his toes, as pretty much anyone who’s ever been captured on film, from your Aunt Edna to Indiana Jones, is liable to show up this way.
By now the average viewer might well be chomping on the bit. Here we are watching a picture called The Skydivers, and there hasn’t been any skydiving for well over a minute. Luckily, Francis finally gives the audience what they crave, and Bernie and the boys head outside to do some more jumping.
This is witnessed they a small array of onlookers, two of whom I took to be members of the aforementioned Jimmy Bryant band*. I deduced this from a couple of things. First, one is shown standing around with a guitar slung across his shoulder. (?) Second, these guys prove to be even worse actors than the rest of the thespians features here, which is saying something. Guitar Guy, for instance, sounds like he’s translating lines being fed to him via offscreen semaphore.
[*Actually, this proved to not be the case, making the guy’s guitar all the more mysterious.] Eventually, these two bystanders come together, and Guitar Guy begins interrogating the other fellow as to why he’s taking pictures of the dive team. “Newspaper?” No. “Magazines?” No. Finally he just flat out asks what the photos are for. “I just sit at home and look at them,” Camera Guy responds. If I’m right, I think that was supposed to be a wacky punch line of some sort, although I am completely bewildered exactly why that should be.With this tension-diffusing hilarity at an end, we return to the exhilarating world of skydiving. (For what it’s worth, one of the reasons some of the actors are so bad is that they actually are skydivers, and that mid-air footage of them performing their stunts was actually shot for this film.) Man, you certainly can’t have too much of that in your 73 minute film. Oh, wait. As it turns out, you can. Way, way too much of it. Yet eventually they land andâ€¦go back into the tent to repack their parachutes. Man, I hope this isn’t one of those Twilight Zone things where I watch them do this same routine fifty more times before realizing that I died and went to some ironic, bad movie hell.
Cut to one of those old cars with a rear pick-up bed, which is currently arriving outside the airfield. We then shift to an position inside the vehicle as the driver makes his way slooowly along the roadway to the hangers, all while upbeat jazz plays in the background. As fascinating as this is, however, all good things must come to an end. And so the driver eventually pulls over and enters the parachute hanger. Beth is there, and initially confused when the stranger is able to identify her. She quickly deduces, however, that he’s Harry’s old friend, Joe Moss, whereupon she offers him some coffee. “Coffee,” he replies. “I like coffee.” Good for you, Joe. As they slooowly amble over to the office, Joe pauses to look around. “I like this place,” he avers. “We like it,” Beth replies. Hmm, this probably explains why the film’s shooting title was ‘The Likers.’ Soon, however, Joe gets around to the matter at hand. “Weren’t you saying something about some coffee?” he queries. That Joe. He likes coffee.
Harry drives up and the two war buddies are reunited. “This young lady offered me a cup of coffee,” Joe explains. “Sounds good,” Harry agrees. “Let’s have a cup.” Of coffee, he means. Apparently Harry likes coffee, too. Perhaps this is how he and Joe got to be friends, both of them liking coffee and all. “Remember that night that native girl asked you to marry her?” Joe suddenly interjects. What about her? Did she like coffee?
Illicit passions are
Beth gets a thrill from
Next we see a car arriving at the airfield, a sight accompanied by some rather strenuous comedy music. Uh, yeah, cars driving around are hilarious. Then a guy gets out and removes a packed parachute. This, too, is apparently eminently wacky.
Once he comes closer to the camera, he turns out to be Pete. Perhaps Pete is so intrinsically zany in his own person that he warrants comedy music whenever he appears. In any case, he calls Harry and Beth together, noting that he wants to try a free fall from 5,000 feet, wanting to wait to open his ‘chute until the rather dangerous 1,000 foot mark. His suggestion is met with disbelief, as such antics could get the airfield in trouble with the FAA.
Joe, looking on, proves as fascinated with the motives of these daredevil skydivers as any of us are. (Uh, right?) “What do you get out of altitude jumping?” he asks. “I don’t know,” Peter responds. “I feel real free up there in that high blue sky. Nobody to tell you what to do, you just have to please yourself up there.” (Man, I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means.) Here I was hoping Beth would jump in with her “Maybe we jump because we’re scared, or to prove that we’re not scared” theory and kick off a further round of this fascinating discussion, but sadly it wasn’t to be. Furthermore, they unhappily also miss the opportunity to plumb Pete’s opinions on coffee.
Harry gets Pete to promise to pull his cord at 2,200 feet, and they head over to a plane. Joe and Beth, meanwhile, remain behind to look on. Again, Francis ably suggests the plane in flight by staying very close on the actors, turning on a fan to blow their clothes and foleying in engine and wind noises. Eventually, they reach the proper *cough, cough* altitude, and Harry signals Pete to jump.
He does so, and free falls for about three seconds before Joe warns, “He’s about 2,000 [feet].” Apparently he fell those first three thousand feet quick quickly. He and Beth wait for him to open his parachute, but it’s apparent that Pete’s decided to go with his original plan. “Why doesn’t he pull?” Joe gasps, and Beth replies, “Panic!” For whatever reason, Pete never does engage his ‘chute, and soon hits the ground. Well, anyway, at some point he’s on the ground, and the camera cuts to a shot of him lying prone.
Beth and Joe run over, in an arm-pumping manner so reminiscent of the running man sequence in The Beast of Yucca Flats that I can only assume that Francis actually directed his actors on how they should move their body while in movement. They reach Pete’s body, which looks in surprisingly good shape, considering, although Beth does find a patch of stage blood on him.
We cut to Harry and Beth conferring with an FAA inspector, who informs them that the field will have to remain shut down until the investigation is over. This puts the two in a bad spot, as the place is heavily mortgaged and they aren’t exactly cash rich. Meanwhile, Beth nearly broaches with Harry the subject of their troubled marriage, but backs off at the last minute.
Later that day, Harry is seen parking outside a bar called The Sky Diver. (Man, that is one weird little burg.) He enters and gets a beer. He and his fellow afternoon lushes sit and drink and listen to songs on the jukebox until Suzy arrives. Needless to say, we don’t just see her enter the bar, but instead watch as she parks her car outside. You can never have too much footage of people in their cars.
As she parks, Harry finishes up his beer and exits. I guess he’s psychic or something. No, wait, the whole things just a coincidence. As he walks in a different direction than that in which he had parked his car, they meet. Harry, however, has decided to break things off. “You’re a broad,” he declares. Despite the fact that there are many more pertinent remarks he could have made, she takes offense and begins beating at him with her purse—at the time this was known as the Ruth Buzzi Maneuver—until he finally violently pushes her away. He leaves and she casts a “this isn’t over” glare at him.
We cut to two people cavorting on a speedboat that night. Here the footage was so poorly lit that it took me a while to ascertain that the woman was Suzy, and I didn’t identify her partner as being Frankie until well after that. Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, our Suzy. They park the boat and get out onto the beach for a nauseating little From Here to Eternity moment. Well, at least they got the ‘eternity’ part right.
Lying on a blanket beach, Suzy uses her wiles on the hapless Frankie. First, she tells him she can get him his job back at the airfield, which obviously doesn’t seem a very likely idea that this point. Even Frankie figures this out, and he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. Then she begins talking about Pete’s accident. Frankie notes that he himself once panicked and was nearly unable to deploy his ‘chute, an incident that led him to give up the pastime.
Finally, though, Suzy gets to the subject she’s really interested in. “Frankie,” she ponders, “suppose somebody put acid in somebody’s ‘chute?” Frankie ponders this brainteaser, before offering that “Acid would eat holes in somebody’s ‘chute.” Yep, nothing gets past ol’ Frankie. He also figures out where she’s going with this, and raises concerns about being caught, but she, er, distracts him.
After making out for a bit, Frankie draws back. “Suzy, what makes you so mean?” he asks. Referring to a guy named Paul, who I can only guess was once her husband (although he’s a character we’ve not only never met but one whose existence has not been touched upon before), Frankie continues, “Paul gave you everything. Nice T-Bird, a speedboat, beautiful ranch, horses and cattle. You’ve got everything a girl needs.”
Suzy, however, rejects Frankie’s materialist values. “My Paul,” she pensively responds. “He gave me everything. He gave me too much. We were always alone together. He didn’t think I needed anybody else. He followed me everywhere. Everywhere.” This is mesmerizing stuff, although unfortunately we cut away before Frankie can ask for her views on coffee or the motives of skydivers.
Joe joins Beth in the parachute hanger. Beth barely gets a sentence out before he impulsively throws the old lip lock on her. Just then Harry, that’s right, drives up outside, whereupon Joe releases the flustered Beth. Embarrassed, he heads outside to talk to Harry. Using the FAA situation as an excuse, he suggests that maybe it’s time he look for another job. Harry, however, insists that his friend hang around. Even so, we get that idea that Harry’s beginning to get suspicious.
“Wow, you’re right.
Then we cut back to Suzy and Frankie, who are—three guesses—driving around in her car. After a bit of this, they arrive at the local chemist’s shop. Leaving her beau outside, Suzy sashays her way into the store. Vamping the bland, middle-aged shop owner, she asks, “Can I have a little acid?” (That request would seem to cover a lot of ground, but anyway.)Yes, Suzy’s plan is airtight. I’m sure that following the in-depth investigation into the second fatal incident at the airfield, and upon learning that acid was applied to the victim’s parachute, the cops in this teeny community will never think to check with the one local chemist to see who’s purchased some in the last day or two. This woman is a modern day Moriarty, she is.
Meanwhile, there’s still the issue of getting Frankie on board the plan. He’s hesitant, you know, to commit murder and all—more for fear of getting caught, though, than for any moral objections—but Suzy has an ace up your sleeve. “Are you chicken?” she purrs. Needless to say, this aspersion on his manhood pretty much seals the deal.
Cut to the next day, whereupon we see a car driving around. Man, where did Coleman Francis get all his ideas? It’s Harry, and he pulls up to join Beth at the field’s fuel pumps. He bears good news; the FAA has given them permission to reopen the field. Seconds later, we finally are treated to some more skydiving footage. Man, if you could have skydivers driving around in cars in mid-air while drinking coffee, this would be the greatest movie ever.
The divers, the previously seen Bernie and Bob, prepare for another jump. Camera Guy appears to engage them in conversation and maybe, just maybe, eat up a bit more running time. Apparently there’s not much going on in this town, other than the occasional acid purchase, for lots of the local younger folk have turned up to watch the show.
Camera Guy next walks over to Beth and Joe, setting up a little exposition. Beth, Joe and Harry, we learn, will be joining the diving team for a nighttime group jump. (Not that kind, you weirdo.) This will follow a ‘twist’ party to be held on the grounds. Meanwhile, Harry takes the Bernie and Bob up again. That’s right, more skydiving. I know, I know. What you wouldn’t give to be watching what I’m watching right now.
Joe and Beth go to pick the guys up after they’ve landed. “How’d it look,” Bernie asks. “Great,” Beth replies. “My grade school teacher couldn’t have drawn a better figure eight.” Yeah, it takes years of intensive practice to get that down. Meanwhile, Harry lands and gets in a bit of a snit when he’s told that Joe and Beth are together. (Uh, dude? They work together.)
Sure enough, Harry heads over and chews out Joe when he finds him helping Beth out of the truck. “You’ve been paying too much attention to Beth,” he snarls, “and I don’t like it.” Bernie, being the consummate diplomat, knows how to dispel the tension. “C’mon, guys,” he interjects. “Let’s have a cup of hot coffee.” Harry admits he might have overreacted, and walks off.
Cut to Beth pouring Joe a cup of hot coffee. This makes perfect sense, as they previously established that Joe likes coffee. Meanwhile, Harry is telling two teens about the Big Jump & Twist Party. Then it’s back to Coffee Time. “You never should have kissed me, Joe,” Beth tells him. Joe responds that he has, you know, feelings for her. Beth acknowledges this, but isn’t prepared to give up on her marriage. Joe makes peace with this, and the two declare themselves to be just friends.
We cut outside, where we get the first of the film’s collection of comedic extras. This first one is a blowhard businessman type (sort of), who is here to watch the skydiving with his family. He smokes a big cigar and stands with one hand thrust in his sport jacket pocket and makes ‘humorously’ arrogant remarks. For instance, he calls Joe over, noting that he and his family have driven some distance to see “those fools jump.” Joe assures him the show will start soon and moves on.
Sure enough, Bernie and Bob emerge from the hanger. They are planning to do a piggy-back jump, where one guy grabs the other after they jump and they both ride down on one parachute. As the crowd waits with bated breath, we see other comical bystanders, including a bohemian beatnik type holding a rooster. (?) One lady, for no apparent reason, turns to him and asks, “Do you fly?” Smiling, he answers, “All the time!” Of course, he means he ‘flies’ on drugs. Ha, that’s a good one.
And so we watch the jump. Again, you certainly can’t fault the film in terms of living up to its title. After all the build-up, they don’t actually jump piggy back, which seems weird since they mentioned it about half a dozen times. Perhaps they thought they had appropriate stock footage, only to learn they didn’t once they’d already filmed the scenes on the ground. Anyway.
After some discussion of the Big Twist Party, we cut to that event. It’s nighttime at the airfield, and a bunch of kids, of the sort eminently familiar to anyone who’s seen Eegah! or The Horror of Party Beach or The Creeping Terror or Sting of Death or a zillion other such flicks, are twisting the night away to the rockin’ grooves of Jimmy Bryant and his Night Jumpers. Actually, the band’s pretty good, although one of their two instrumental numbers features a recurring refrain of stereotypically ‘oriental’ music, which is capped by the drummer saying “Ah so!” in a bad ‘Japanese’ accent. Yikes.
There’s more wackiness here, including a Brobdingnagian blond who’s practically falling out of her bathing suit (and, once we get a better look at her, proves to be suffering from an unfortunate case of Man Face); a character who’s supposed to be a Scotsman, complete with a tam, muttonchop sideburns and a kilt made from a plaid blanket (?); and other such stuff.
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This ‘comic relief’, which goes on for quite a while, is occasionally intercut with scenes like Suzy picking up Frankie for their dastardly deed, or Beth and Harry patching things up over, that’s right, a hot cup of coffee. Joe sees this latter occurring, and exits, realizing that any chance he had with Beth is no more.
Suzy and Frankie eventually arrive and park some distance from the airfield. Emerging from the car, they prove to both be wearing skintight black outfits. In fact, Suzy looks like she’s wearing something from the Irma Vep collection. Yes, you’ll certainly keep from drawing any attention in that getup. Perhaps a canvas sack with a huge dollar sign emblazoned on the side would make you even more inconspicuous.
The two miscreants eventually make their way to the parachute hanger. Finding Harry’s packed ‘chute, Suzy pops it open and pours the acid upon the inner contents before closing it again. They then leave, but are observed by a kid attending the party.
You might think acid dissolving a parachute would result in smoke or at least some sort of strange odor. However, this is a movie, so when the six-person team (Bernie, Bob and the other guy, along with Beth, Joe and Harry) collects their ‘chutes, nobody notices anything. As they emerge to enter the waiting plane, the crowd erupts in applause. Harry pauses to kiss Beth before they lift off, and soon the team is on its way. Meanwhile, the ‘Scottish’ guy wishes them well, or something, in a very thick but none too authentic brogue.
Partway to the car, Suzy makes Frankie stop so that she can watch the results of their handy work. I guess I should add a SPOILER ALERT here, in case you don’t want to learn how things turn out.
One might well have suspected that all the previous references to piggy back jumping were meant to set up a way to save Harry after his parachute fails. Nope. Instead, he drops like a stone. Beth lands and is soon weeping over his body, while the kid who earlier saw Suzy and Frankie reports what he saw. Everyone quickly puts things together—the doctored parachute sort of tells the tale—and with the cops on the way, everyone begins searching for the fugitives.
Luckily, Suzy and Frankie must have parked their car three states over, because as the search begins, they are seen crossing streams and walking through woods and farmers’ fields and all over the damn place. Meanwhile, the cops arrive, and the head guy—yes, it’s a cameo by Coleman Francis himself—climbs onboard a plane to begin an air search. He’s also carrying a rifle, and anyone who’s seen The Beast of Yucca Flats probably has a pretty good idea where this is going.
Suzy and Frankie eventually make it to their car, and have no sooner started the engine before Joe drives by and spots them. Really, maybe they should have parked closer to the field and just booked right after the acid thing. Instead, we start a long car chase scene, during much of which the two vehicles seem to be traveling at a top speed of maybe thirty miles an hour.
An exhausted Tammy Faye
Eventually the plane catches sight of them, and other cars join the pursuit. Sure enough, Francis begins taking potshots at Suzy’s car from the plane, although to be fair, at least he’s actually shooting at the right people. Eventually, the car is forced off the road, and the two try to run for it. Despite the fact that a huge crowd is right behind them, the cops just decide shoot down the fleeing pair, and that’s pretty much the end of that.
The film’s coda takes place at the airfield. Being a dour sort, Francis doesn’t have Beth end with Joe. Instead, she sends him away and later leaves town herself. And with the pointlessness of the film now completely established, we end.
Unlike The Beast of Yucca Flats (Tor Johnson) or Red Zone Cuba (John Carradine), Francis apparently couldn’t engage a known actor for even a cameo. Unsurprisingly, most of the cast here appeared in one of his other films or in nothing else at all.
Kevin Casey (Beth) appeared only in this. Eric Tomlin (Joe) appeared in The Beast of Yucca Flats in the pivotal role of Driver Run Off Road, and also had bit parts in The Hellcats (another MST3K entry) and the hilarious Bigfoot. Anthony Cardoza also briefly appeared in those movies, and more pertinently produced them. As an actor and producer, Cardoza had the most impressive cinematic career, having worked with Ed Wood, Jr. (acting in and producing The Night of the Ghouls), Coleman Francis and other such luminaries.
Marcia Knight (Suzy) appeared also appeared Yucca Flats as Woman at Jim’s, and in the killer snake epic Stanley (1972). Titus Moede, however, had probably the longest acting career of anyone involved in this film, having most notably appeared in a large number of Ray Dennis Steckler movies.