Five For The Gipper

Tags: Koschei the Deathless; Dudley Manlove; the Gipper; eat your heart out, Edmund Morris.

We talked about the Reagan years in one of my classes this week. That’s all the excuse I need, really, to recycle this post of mine from the week Reagan died (and I got my PhD): the Ronald Reagan alternate history film festival. (Oh, and speaking of deceased American icons: did you hear about Captain America?)

Ooga Booga!

The Ronald Reagan Alternate History Film Festival
[Edit: Now with pedantic annotations!] Check your local listings.

Murder Out of Space
1940. Ronald Reagan, Eddie Foy, Lya Lys. Director: Max Castle. 1½ stars.

The fourth in a series of B-movies starring Ronald Reagan as Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft. After Bancroft’s “T-Men” raid a counterfeit ring operating out of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, he is reassigned to the “Green Deltas,” a secret squad of government agents fighting fifth columnists from beyond the stars. There, Brass foils a plot by a Siberian sorceror named Koschei the Deathless to steal the Inertia Projector, a device that banishes extra-dimensional irruptions and incursions. Forgettable in the 1940s, Murder Out of Space gained notoriety in the 1980s because of parallels between the Inertia Projector and President Reagan’s controversial Sorcerous Defense Initiative, designed to protect the nation from entities out of space and time. “The Sorcerous Defense Initiative has been labelled Star Wars,” Reagan said in 1985. “But it isn’t about war. It is about peace. If you will pardon my stealing a film line: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

House of Meese
(aka The Terrortastic House of Meese, aka The Frightatious House of Meese, aka Dr. Gipper’s 3-D House of Meese)
1954. Bela Lugosi, Ronald Reagan, Tor Johnson. Director: Edward Wood, Jr. ½ star.

After their car breaks down during an unconvincing thunderstorm, a young couple (played by B-movie stalwarts Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis) seeks shelter in a seemingly abandoned white mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Shrieking and running away from the mansion’s monstrous geriatric denizens ensues. Some genuinely frightening villains do not redeem this otherwise by-the-numbers Ed Wood stinker. “The President,” played by Bela Lugosi, is barely seen. Lugosi, drug-addled and close to death during filming, munches on jelly beans and makes a couple of good speeches, but it’s hard to believe he’s entirely aware of the idiocy going on around him. The House of Meese really belongs to his diabolical minions, including a haughty, blood-sucking “First Lady” (Vampira), the sinister “Michael Deaver” (Dudley Manlove), and Tor Johnson as the lumbering “Ed Meese.” A goofy introduction by the psychic Criswell (as the First Lady’s astrological adviser) alerts us that this story is set in the far-off future year of 1984, and the plot does involve some claptrap about using flying saucers to shoot down missiles or vice versa, but otherwise it’s your basic cross between Assisted-Living Dracula and Manos, Hands of Fate.

Bedtime for Gonzo
1969. Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Ronald Reagan. D: Dennis Hopper. 2 stars.

This bizarre, hypnotic slice of late 1960s psychedelia, loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, features Peter Fonda as “the Gipper,” an amnesiac biker driving across a post-apocalyptic California with a slightly sinister chimpanzee named Gonzo (Jack Nicholson). It is a surreal desert mindscape where ketchup is a vegetable and trees cause acid rain. Reading road signs, the hexagrams of the I Ching, and patterns in Gonzo’s stool, the Gipper discovers traces of a strange alternate reality in which he himself seems to have been a movie actor who became governor of California and later president of the United States. (Footage of Fonda as “the Gipper” is spliced with stock footage of Ronald Reagan throughout. Reagan was of course the real governor of California when this film was made. Nancy Reagan used her own political clout to block the film’s release and destroy almost all copies, but it is rumored that Ronald Reagan himself enjoyed the film immensely.) The trippy special effects are dated, but the final peyote trip in which the Gipper discovers his own part in the nuclear armageddon that destroyed his world remains powerful. He falls to his knees on a rocky beach while Gonzo the chimp shrieks, “You maniac! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you to hell!”

Sandanisto Y El Demonio Azul Contra Los Contras
(aka Sandanisto and The Blue Demon Versus The Contras)
1986. Santo, Alejandro Cruz, Roxana Bellini. Director: Alfonso Corona Blake. 2 stars.

¡Los Yanquis Maldecido están viniendo! ¡Los Yanquis Maldecido están viniendo! ¡Ay-ay-ay! ¡Es una invasión de los luchan comandos de la robusteza de los Estados Unidos! ¡Conducido por los consejeros malvados de “NSC,” Juan “El Piledriver” Poindextro, y Oliver “El Norte” Norte, el Contras desea a nuestras mujeres! ¡Funcionan sin la sanción! ¡Venden los brazos a Irán! ¡Los medios de la “Boland Amendment” nada! ¡Pararán en nada! ¡La llamada sale! ¿Quién puede ahorrarnos? ¡Solamente los héroes de lucha, Sandanisto (Santo) y el Demonio Azul (Alejandro Cruz), los amos del “círculo ajustado”! ¡La aclamación como Sandanisto y el demonio azul luchan legiones de los goons de CIA y de los barones vampiros de la droga de Medellin! ¡El grito de asombro como “el Norte” sujeta a Demonio Azul a la “Desfibradora” temida! ¡La emoción como Sandanisto aborda a gringos locos con una tapa-cuerda Frankensteiner! ¡Viva el Demonio Azul! ¡Viva Sandanisto! ¡Lucha para los niños! ¡Lucha para la libertad! ¡Lucha para Nicaragua!

You Talking To Me?
1989. Jack Lemmon, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald. Director: John Hughes. 3½ stars.
This odd and underrated film marked a transition between director John Hughes’ teen comedies in the 1980s and his more family-oriented films in the 1990s. Jack Lemmon is brilliant as “Ronald Reagan,” an outgoing president who strikes up an unusual friendship with “John Hinckley” (Anthony Michael Hall), the needy and twitchy young man who once tried to assassinate Reagan in order to impress a girl. Although initially wary, the two film buffs bond over a shared love of the movies and thin grasp of reality. Hinckley introduces Reagan to Taxi Driver; Reagan shows Hinckley The Sound of Music and Ghostbusters. The president, secretly wiser and more capable than he appears, engineers a romance between Hinckley and “Jodie Foster” (Molly Ringwald), the serious-minded actress who has stolen the boy’s heart. But the real chemistry in this sweet though never saccharine buddy picture is the May-December friendship between Hall and Lemmon. The president teaches the would-be assassin he can make friends just by being himself; the young man teaches the president that it’s wrong to have the CIA sell AIDS-laced crack to ghetto children in order to fund Latin American death squads. Or something like that.

The original post and sundry flattering comments are here, in all their 2004 glory.


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  2. Ah, this is why you have readers. You actually follow through on your satirical ideas–and they work! Unlike, say, me, who has to invent a contest to get smeone to funny up my own idea. Want in?

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  5. Constructivist: I like the idea too, and I actually think there’s some scary truth to it: postmodernism and neoconservatism are not, in my uninformed opinion, as incompatible as one might think. But I don’t have the philosophical acumen to do it justice. I think you are quite right that it is a job for, if not you, then Scott Eric Kaufman.

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