Der Krapp

by Brad Linaweaver

Golden Turkey Awards ~ Installment 14

If you don’t already own a well-thumbed copy (there is no other kind), rush out and buy the Golden Turkey Awards by Harry and Michael Medved (A Perigee Book, $6.95) as I heartily recommend this survey of cinematic clunkers. Anyone who likes Der Krapp will love this book.

One of the brothers, Harry, served his apprenticeship with an earlier book, the Fifty Worse Films of All Time. Although involved with the first effort, Michael has waited until now to 'fess up. Seems he had pretensions for being a serious writer (uh oh) and didn’t want his name associated with anything embarrassing. After the phenomenal success of 50 Worst, he is more than happy to be along for the ride this time.

The Golden Turkey Awards is even funnier than its admirable predecessor. The chapter headings alone make it an irresistible reading experience: The Most Embarrassing Movie Debut of All Time, The Most Ridiculous Monster in Screen History, The Worst Performance by a Popular Singer, The Worst Title..., The Most Brainless Movie…, The Most Badly Bumbled Bee Movie..., The Worst Casting..., The Worst Performance by a politician, The Worst Two-Headed Transplant Movie Ever Made, The worst Rodent Movie..., The Worst Performance By a Novelist, The Worst Musical Extravaganza in Hollywood History, The Worst Performance By an Actor as Jesus Christ, The Worst Credit Line..., The Most Erotic Concept in Pornography, The Worst Vegetable Movie..., The Worst Film You Never Saw, and Life Achievement Awards: Worst Director, Worst Actress, Worst Actor, Our Readers Choose the Worst Films. Dishonorable Mention, First Runners Up, The Grant Prize, and the Worst Film Compendium from A (The Adventurers) to Z (Zontar, the Thing From Venus, 1966).

How about that? The chapters are their own best salesmen! How can you stand not to know all the winners?

As a reference work, the book is indispensable. Where else can you learn than Phil Tucker (Robot Monster, 1953) found a post-production job on Dino De Laurentiis’ lamentable remake of King Kong (1976)? (That exercise in hype, by the way, took the “Greatest Rip-Off” kudos.) I knew that this 1976 bomb was an insult to the 1933 classic. (Ray Harryhausen said that if he had seen Dino’s version when he was a kid, he would have taken up a career in plumbing instead of going into special effects.) But with this juicy tidbit offered the Medveds, I can now imagine how Dino Kong would have appeared wandering around with a diving helmet on his head!

Another plus is that the authors write well. Take, for instance, this comment on yet another of Bert I. Gordon’s excursions into giantism: “You have le Royal Mess de Bertrand Gordon.”

They also know a gem of a quote when they see one, like this producer’s comment on Scuttlebutt the Duck, star of the masterpiece Everything’s Ducky (1961): “We want him to be nice and fresh for his many close-ups. He has his own little trailer and a set of tailored wool sweaters...” And then there is this remark from Hollis Alpert in Saturday Review on the hideous musical At Long Last Love (1975) that sums up what it means to deserve a Golden Turkey Award: “It goes beyond failure.”

The Medveds wax enthusiastic when explaining how Norman Mailer had his ear bitten by a zealous performer in one of his own art (i.e., home) movies. They love to write about the floundering career of Sonny Tufts and they sparkle on the subject of Jerry Lewis. Their sense of fun prompts them to include a make-believe film to see if readers can find it. (I know, but I ain’t tellin’.)

In Atarantes #36, I devote Der Krapp to the cinematic vision of Ed Wood. I am pleased to report that the genius who gave us Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monsters (1955), and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is the winner of the Worst Director of All Time. And his immortal Plan Nine won Worst Movie despite stiff competition... from his other films. The commentary here is probably the funniest part. (The book also reports the macabre information that no one knows what happened to Ed Wood’s body after he died in 1978!) Despite this glowing paean to Medvedian critical acumen, I have some serious quibbles with them. They have misplaced the discriminating faculty somewhere along the line. The objectively bad has proven insufficient to satisfy their sardonic wit, and they have created.

Some lapses of judgment occur in the Worst Film list. Amidst the deserving bombs -- from the Horror of Party Beach (1964) to Superdad (1973) -- some surprisingly adequate films find themselves in bad company. Although these flicks are winners in a reader’s poll (stupid democracy strikes again), the commentary by the authors leaves no doubt as to their sentiments. Surely the imp of the perverse possessed Harry and Michael to condemn pictures as competent as Grease (1978), Barbarella (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1968), the End (1978), Flesh Gordon (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975), the Green Berets (1968) (they as much as admit they dumped on this one because of its politics!), Head (1968), Lady In a Cage (1964), Nickelodeon (1976), One Million Years B.C. (1966), the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Soylent Green (1973), Zardoz (1974), and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (about which unusual item horror expert Stephen king writes that it is one of ‘the field’s most striking successes”). Are these films really supposed to be worse than Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964) (which didn’t make it)?

Even more surprising is that the Medveds would describe Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), the Little Shop of Horrors (1960), and Beware! The Blob (1972) in terms which fail to appreciate them as comedies! (Tomatoes is brought up several times in the book, but only once do they mention that it is a spoof. The other two titles are consistently treated a as straight films.) How could the authors fail to understand parodies of bad films done in the same spirit as their book?

Despite these problems, the Golden Turkey Awards is still good for an evening of laughs. Nothing better captures the spirit of the very worst than what William “One shot” Beaudine said on the way to shoot one of his forgettable Monogram pictures: “You mean someone out there is waiting to see this?”

Originally published in Atrantes issue #48. ©1980 by Brad Linaweaver