May 6, 2023

Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Ask any male boomer when he realized that he was gay, and he’ll most likely say when he saw Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964). I saw it in the spring of 1968, on the family’s brand new color tv set.

The plot is obviously a version of Robinson Crusoe: after crash landing on the frigid Red Planet, astronaut Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) builds a cave habitat so warm he can walk around shirtless or in a tight-black t-shirt, displaying an amazingly buff, hairy chest.

He has food, water, and a pet monkey, but he is intensely lonely. Then an alien mining company establishes a beachhead nearby, and he helps himself to one of their slaves. “I prayed for a companion,” Kit exclaims, “And I finally got one!” 

Somewhat Aztec in appearance, “Friday” (Victor Lundin) is so accustomed to the Martian cold that he can comfortably walk around in nothing but a kilt, displaying a massive, sculpted body, with golden skin, thick arms and shoulders, and a smooth, hard chest.

The two men are extremely physical in their interaction. Shortly after they meet, Kit takes Friday’s hand and places it on his own knee, an image that is intensely intimate and sensual. Kit is buried in a shower of space debris and nearly suffocates, and Friday rescues him. As they walk away, Kit wraps his arm around Friday’s waist.  At the end of the movie, they are rescued, and go back to Earth together, permanent partners.

Who would produce such a film, about two men who love each other and build a home together, in the dark homophobic days of 1964?

This was Paul Mantee’s first credited acting role; he went on to make dozens of two-fisted movies, sometimes with “man” in the title to emphasize the intended audience, such as A Man Called Dagger (1967) and That Man Bolt (1973), and he then settled down to write novels about heterosexual Italian-American adolescents.  And he obviously stayed in shape.

Victor Lundin played a series of Klingons, Indians, savages, and bad guys, and cut some country-western records. Today, on his website, he sells a cd with a song about how much he likes girl-watching.

Neither of the writers seem obvious gay allies, but when we look at the director, Byron Haskin, we find movie after movie set in steaming jungles, where men wear next to nothing and fall into each other’s arms a lot: Man Eater of Kumaon (1948), Tarzan’s Peril (1951), His Majesty O’Keefe (1953), Little Savage (1959). That explains the beefcake; what explains the bonding?

May 3, 2023

"Los Espookys": Who You Gonna Call?

I've been posting about a lot of disappointing tv series -- gay teases that don't follow through, gushing praise that masks endless boy-girl kissing.  It's high time we get to a series that it's actually good -- interesting, humorous, gay inclusive -- Los Espookys (well, that title could use a little work).

In an unspecified Latin American country, one of those magic-realism places where weird things happen so often that they're normal, Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco) creates a horror-themed quinceañera for his little sister.  It is so impressive that his Uncle Tico (Fred Armisen), the world's greatest car parker (he can even park two cars at the same time), suggests that he make a career out of creating horror-themed events.

Renaldo conscripts his best friend, the weird blue haired Andrés (Saturday Night Live writer and Great North boyfriend Julio Torres), into the business.

Andrés is the heir to a chocolate empire, immensely wealthy and powerful (what if they started making sugar-free chocolate? every dentist in the country would be unemployed).

His parents and his bulging swimsuit-clad trophy boyfriend (telenovela star José Pablo Minor, top photo) disapprove of his interest in horror, but he agrees to participate.   

By the way, it's not a subtext: they are a canonical gay couple.

Next they conscript their friend Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a Goth dentist's assistant; and her delightfully obtuse sister Tati (Ana Fabrega), who has a variety of odd jobs, like running a hand-cranked fan or breaking in people's shoes. (Welcome to the new economy)

They expect to plan horror-themed parties, but for their first gig, Father Francesco (Luis Grieco), the priest at the local orphanage, complains that his new, hot, hip associate Padre Antonio (Cristobal Tapia Montt), is stealing all the glory...of running an orphanage?  He wants to conduct an exorcism to get back into the spotlight.  So Los Espookys create an exorcism for him.

Next up: a millionaire's dying wish is to give his fortune to whoever can spend the night in a haunted house.  Los Espokys are hired to create the house, and ensure that the millionaire's son does not win.

They have found their niche, creating fake paranormal events: a sea monster for a seaside town to use as a tourist attraction; an alien autopsy for a UFO researcher to show her bosses; a magic mirror for "the American ambassador"; a fake dream for an insomniac.

Along the way they have the usual daily hassles of magic-realism life.

1. Andrés is pressured by his family to marry his trophy boyfriend (so his cookie empire can be combined with their chocolate empire).

2. Renaldo is pressured by his mother to get a girlfriend or boyfriend, even though he has explained that he only wants friends.  He's openly asexual!

3. Ursula, who is a lesbian, has any number of hookups.

4. Tati keeps expecting the guys she meets on dating apps to look like their photo.  So the quirky, odd comic-relief is heterosexual.  

Only 6 episodes, but fortunately Season 2 is already in the works.

My grade: A+

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