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Rue McClanahan plays a stripper?

The former 'Mystery Science Theater' team finds jaw-dropping gems for its 'Film Crew' DVD series. Up next: 'Wild Women of Wongo.'

August 08, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett can't seem to shut up while watching a movie.

But their pithy commentaries earned them a cult following -- and a prestigious Peabody Award, no less -- on "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the Comedy Central/Sci Fi comedy series that made fun of really bad movies, such as "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Girls Town."

Though the series ended in 1999, the three Minneapolis-based writer-actors never stopped talking over movies.

Nelson has offered his unique brand of commentary on DVDs of colorized campy delights such as "Reefer Madness" and yukked it up with Murphy and Corbett on a DVD of Three Stooges shorts. One can also download their commentary for more contemporary films, such as "300," at www.rifftrax.com and sync up their commentary to the disc.

Last month, they returned to the small screen in a new series, "The Film Crew," in which they play three numskull members of a movie crew who are hired to provide DVD commentary on every film that still lacks one. The series didn't debut on TV, but rather as a DVD franchise for Shout! Factory.

So why not do a TV series?

"Doing a DVD is a lot easier than doing TV," says Murphy. "We have always had great fun doing movie commentary, so when this opportunity came up to do it on DVD . . . ."

Before this project came to fruition, the trio, says Murphy, had gone through "the wringer-washer of pitching a radio show to National Public Radio and had come out the end of that very well wrung-out." So "The Film Crew" was a welcome respite.

The most difficult aspect of the new series, says Murphy, was finding the four titles. "You try to look for a movie whose rights are pretty free and clear," Nelson explains.

Their first film was a jaw-dropper from the late 1960s called "Hollywood After Dark," starring future "Golden Girl" Rue McClanahan as a stripper.

This week marks the DVD debut of a 1954 sci-fi disaster called "Killers From Space," starring Peter Graves and aliens with saucer-sized eyes. Next month comes a doozy called "The Wild Women of Wongo," and the series concludes in October with the sword-and-sandal epic "Giant of Marathon."

Their commentary is slightly naughtier than on "Mystery Science Theater."

"If we were on basic cable now, I think they would demand us to be filthier than we can possibly imagine," says Murphy. "When we were at Comedy Central, they had standards and practices, and they would deliver notes to us. Now if you are not filthy, they have a meeting to discuss what's wrong with the program."

The three have also worked on their own projects. Nelson has written three books. "One was movie essays I had written for a magazine," he says. "I also wrote a book of comic essays in the style of Robert Benchley, and then I wrote a novel."

Murphy wrote a book called "A Year at the Movies. "I wanted to do the survey of the American moviegoing experience, so I took a year and went to a movie theater for every single day," he says.

Corbett has written and produced a few plays -- "one actually starred Mike Nelson" -- and has taught college. "I wrote a screenplay that was filmed and will be out next year starring Eddie Murphy called 'Starship Dave,' " he adds.

The three men don't know yet whether Shout! Factory will ask them to do more episodes of "Film Crew."

"It will be up to how well they sell," Murphy says. "We are never going to run out of material, that's for certain."

--

susan.king@latimes.com

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