Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Ghost Busters (1975): "The Maltese Monkey" (September 6, 1975)
The first episode of the series is "The Maltese Monkey," A bizarre riff on the classic film noir, The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The evil duo the Fatman (Johnny Brown) and The Rabbit (Billy Barty) use a crystal ball to conjure the ghost of notorious gangster, Big Al (Larry Storch). Only Big Al knows the secret location of the "thing," the valuable statue, The Maltese Monkey.
Spenser, Kong, and Tracy are ordered to apprehend the Fatman and the Rabbit, but are shocked to learn that Big Al and Spenser are dead ringers for one another, right down to a taste in fashion.
At first, Kong plans to use Spenser's resemblance to Al to trick the evil duo, but Big Al pulls a fast one and gets Tracy and Kong to steal the Maltese Monkey with him.
Although its humor is incredibly juvenile, "The Maltese Monkey" is cartoonish on purpose, I would assess. In fact, it pulls -- in its freshman episode, no less -- a cartoon gage that kids could watch on Scooby Doo every week.
The joke involves a corridor with doors on both sides of the chamber, and people emerging and disappearing, alternately, on each side, in several doors; in defiance of physics. It's an old, stupid joke, but it captures, almost perfectly, apparent ambition to be a live-action cartoon.
This is a show clearly designed for kids, and yet there are some fascinating things to consider here.
First, "The Maltese Monkey" features relatively well-shot split screens for various compositions, pitting Larry Storch against...Larry Storch. I wasn't expecting that degree of visual sophistication from such a cheap production.
To the negative, however, the castle as depicted in the film appears to be a drawing or painting, and at one point during the aforementioned corridor chase, one can see the flimsy walls actually shake.
But, again focusing on the positive, Larry Storch goes for broke in both roles. He plays Spenser, and Big Al. But then he plays Big Al pretending to be Spenser, and Spenser pretending to be big Al. As Big Al, he performs a flawless imitation of Marlon Brando from The Godfather (1972). And as Spenser imitating Big Al, he pulls an equally perfect Jimmy Cagney.
I confess to not being a very big fan of this Saturday morning series, and for finding the humor, for the most part, cringe inducing. Still, I'm going to blog the whole series here with an open mind, and see how it shakes out.
One quality I do appreciate about this series is the "monsters for kids" aspect. Children are fascinated by horror films and big screen monsters, and those obsessions are definitely here. It's just that they are couched in the most ridiculous scripts and situations impossible, presumably to make sure the terror isn't merely tolerable, but toothless.
Next week: "Dr. Whatsisname."