601. Girls Town (1959)

I finally saw this episode 2 years ago, it instantly became one of my top favorites. Mamie Van Doren actually does a great job acting and carrying the film. The riffs are fantastic, and hit home for me because I grew up going to Catholic school. The whole episode is just a shining star for me, but I have almost never seen it discussed anywhere over the years. I didn’t notice it until it came up on a playlist on youtube. I’m not sure why it’s not discussed as much.
MST3K - Favorite Moments - Girls Town

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This is also a favorite of mine. The last time my family (dad, stepmom, stepsister) came out to visit I made them watch a different MST3K each night (hey it was for Thanksgiving). One Joel, one Mike, and one Jonah episode. I don’t think they cared that much for Earth vs the Spider or Reptilicus, but they howled at Girls Town.

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All-timer riff:

Guy in hat: “LET’S GET OUTTA HERE, JOE!”

Crow, not even trying to hold back laughter: “That’s either Jerry Van Dyke or a trained chimp!”

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Fatty Arbuckle Jr., Larry Fine Jr and Sammy Davis Jr Jr!

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Anywho, I love the hell out of this one because it falls into my favorite target genre on MST3K: the musical crime caper.

I mean, let’s not get this twisted: I’m not a Paul Anka fan by any stretch of the imagination, but the music here is a great deal of fun. I’m especially fond of the appearance of The Platters (whose “Twilight Time” is a personal favorite of mine, but that’s for another thread altogether). It’s really something when Servo says something glowing and positive about their musical number: “Hey, this is kinda good! … It’s The Platters. I love 'em!”

Very curious that they’ve got Mel Torme in the movie but DON’T have him perform any musical numbers. Huh. Doubly curious that Mel Torme is THE BIG BAD of the film. But his presence here leads to a lot of great jokes about his musical format of choice (“Just follow his trail of scat!”).

If there’s anything I’m disappointed about (and I can’t hold this against Team MST3K), it’s that Dick Contino only has what amounts to a glorified cameo in the movie. Still, it leads to some fun jabs at him like “Dick Contino’s World of Posture” and “Who’s going to make Daddy-O?” after the car race gone horribly awry. AND THAT STUPID CAR RACE, what’s going on there?

Due to the presence of the hard-as-hell nuns (Servo, prior to the nuns beating the hell out of Mel Torme: “NOW YOU’RE GONNA SEE SOME -REAL- ASS-KICKING!”), you see a lot of humor bend towards the subject of nuns and Catholicism in general, and the gang mines some great comedy out of this subject matter:

Nun: “He’s Saint Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes.”
Servo: “He’s with the Mariners.”

That’s not even getting into the Paul Anka/Serafina subplot, or the fact that they try to sell Paul Anka as a cool musical idol. I mean… [shakes head as if to say “NO”] Again, terrific comedic potential.

And of course, you have the Untamed Youth star herself, Mamie Van Doren, as your leading actress, resulting in the typical riffs you’d expect out of the SOL gang: “You’ll have to check those at the desk.” Plus, the :musical_note: Gigantor! :musical_note: running gag is a HOOT.

Fantastic episode. I figure that it’d be revered more if Shout had the streaming rights and put that in its 24/7 rotation. It’s just as worthy an episode as Daddy-O, which would pair nicely with Girls Town.

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What’s interesting about these host segments is that this is the episode that introduces the Umbilicus, the connecting line between Deep 13 and the SOL by way of GPC’s coils. The episode establishes this as a fairly big deal, although its two most prominent implementations on the show involve the Matter Transference Device debacle that leads to the “Mirror, Mirror” scenario in Last of the Wild Horses and the final disconnect in Laserblast.

Servo has two great host segments on display here with his obnoxious scatting in one and his utter and absolute abuse of the honor system in another.

And really, given this show’s roots, it’s only inevitable for this one to end with a pie in Doctor Forrester’s face, thanks to the Umbilicus!

Oh, and this stinger? Absolutely inspired… although the movie had plenty of moments to choose from!

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I too am always weirded out that Torme never gets to sing here.

Overall, this movie has some very likable performances in it. Which is more than I can say for a lot of the films we watch. The characters may not have much depth, but the actors give it their all. Yes, even Paul Anka.

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When he moves, he slices like a *(&^&! hammer!

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Yeah, it seems particularly glaring by virtue of how he was an established jazz musician well before he did the film in '59.

Granted, he was the bad guy and not connected to the music scene in the movie, so there might not have been an organic way to get him to perform a number, but still, he’s MEL TORME. You’d think that they would have contrived the means to get him to sing along with the radio or over some band’s music or something.

Mmhmm.

It might not be the most polished gem in the MST3K canon, but you can’t fault the performers here, since they went to some trouble to make this an entertaining ride instead of a sleepwalking bore.

Like… Paul Anka tries. Who the hell saw THAT one comin’?

And even if you don’t necessarily think the scene succeeds, exactly, Mamie Van Doren still puts in the work on that whole “emotional reaction to Ave Maria” moment.

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Evil Rival Musician

EDIT: You know, it might’ve been Mel’s idea. He wanted to show he had the chops to act without relying on his voice. I mean…possibly.

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THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO MONEY

Entirely possible. He tried his hand at films that represented something of a departure from musical cinema with stuff like The Big Operator and Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers, so it would make sense for him to distance himself further from musical material even in a film like Girls Town.

Still, Mel, buddy, compadre, stick to your strengths, man.

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He’ll get those hippies, one day.

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I can’t imagine this film, with its favorable depiction of the nuns, being played straight nowadays. At best, Girls Town would be depicted as something akin to the titular institution from the Night Gallery segment “The Academy”.

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Incidentally, Paul Anka’s song Lonely Boy was a huge hit.

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As a Gen-Xer, I think I must have heard the Osmond Brothers’ cover version first.

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I rewatched this episode tonight. This one has one of the darkest opening scenes of any movie they ever riffed which did not have the words “Coleman” or “Francis” in the credits (hey movie – at least introduce us to somebody, anybody, before you go throwing a sexual assault and an involuntary homicide at us) and it takes a little while for the riffs to really start clicking, for me. By the middle of the film, though, they are landing a lot of top notch riffs. Even the East German judges gave them a 9.5.

Among my favorites:

In the scene at the drive-in, as Mel Torme chomps off a big chunk of a hamburger sandwich, “Mel insisted on doing all his own stunts.” and “The Velvet Hog”.

Paul Anka (addressing Mother Victoria): It’s all right, Mother.
Crow (in a Bob Dylan voice): I’m only bleeding.

And in one scene, just when I was thinking to myself that Ms. Van Doren looked an awful lot like Eva Gabor from this angle, they come on with, “Oh hello, dahling!”.

A few things I’m surprised they didn’t riff about:

What exactly do they do at Girls Town, anyway? I mean, there don’t seem to be any classes going on. The girls seem to have pretty much free run of the place and have even set up their own justice system. We never see the girls having to do the laundry or peel potatoes in the scullery. So what exactly is the game plan the nuns have for reforming the girls there? Hope for random teen pop stars to drop by and spontaneously sing hymns to make each and every girl, on a one by one basis, finally see the error of her ways? Good luck with that, sisters.

Mamie sure can pack a . . . suitcase. While all the other girls seem to have just the one nun approved dress, Mamie planned ahead and brought along everything from her favorite “going to a fancy nightclub with a slimy middle aged man” dress (which every teen girl should own) to that fashion must-have of 1959, a trench coat.

I’m surprised they didn’t make some comment about this being an actual Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie. For a crew used to a steady diet of Roger Corman, Coleman Francis, Sandy Frank and Ed Wood movies, seeing that MGM logo at the start of this film should have given them hope that this one might not suck so bad – and then we would slowly feel their pain and disappointment as they realize good studios can make bad movies too.

And maybe it would be something too obscure for most viewers, but they could have made more out of the fact that Mamie Van Doren and Ray Anthony were husband and wife when they made this movie. (Kind of a Brangelina of their day, although in their case I guess it would have been Van Dorthony.)


Apparently she filed for divorce in 1958, so I doubt if they made many personal appearances together to promote the film.

Incidentally, Ray Anthony is still alive and celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this year.

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I would give special mention to Gigi Perreau. She played Serafina, the girl obsessed with Paul Anka’s teen singer character. I thought she gave a warm and nuanced performance which made a real person out of her character instead of just playing her as a standard Hollywood version crazy person.

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My favorite riff from this episode… when Mel is surprised by something and Tom says, “badabadebadabadobadeba-wha?”

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I think we’re just supposed to accept that they are going to classes and doing chores offscreen. Anyone familiar with this genre of movie can be trusted to fill that in for themselves.

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Naw, we all know it’s all St. Trinian’s up in there!

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