“Hot Shorts”: Nine wacky send-ups of Saturday matinee serials by the Firesign Theatre!

By on January 9, 2017

In April 1985, RCA Video Productions released a VHS tape collecting each of the very funny nine “Hot Shorts,” produced just a few years earlier by Phil Austin, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theatre, which we were happy to find has been posted as a playlist to Youtube.

As you can see, the series harkens back to their funny feature-length movie, J-Men Forever, a longtime Night Flight fave, as well as possibly inspiring the successful cult TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” aka MST3K.

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In the early 80s, Austin, Proctor and Bergman took nine Saturday matinee cliff-hanger serials by Republic Pictures from the 1930s and 1940’s and starting with the original public domain film footage — through an agreement with National Telefilm Associates — then stripped off the soundtracks and created new synchronized storylines, dubbing in their own hilarious dialogue (as well as sound effects and music cues).

That process — which has come to be known as “mock-dubbing” among other things — was detailed in our 2015 post “J-Men Forever”!: the Firesign Theatre’s Proctor & Bergman’s “rock’n roll’em high comedy.”

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The 1985 RCA video — produced by Bud Groskopf — featured the Firesign trio’s all-new comedic storylines to old Republic serials, the kinds that were screened at Saturday afternoon matinees across the country at one time.

They ran the gamut, dealing with sperm banks and anti-smoking campaigns and other timely topics of the 80s; there were tales about Canadian Mounties fighting an outbreak of herpes, and outbreaks of a different type happening altogether at the Israeli border, and New Yorkers rioting in the streets and yelling “White Castle boygars!” at the top of their lungs.

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The titles to the nine “Hot Shorts” are:

Sperm Bank Holdup” (from The Black Widow, 1948);

Toy Wars” (from Manhunt of Mystery Island, 1945);

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The Last Handgun on Earth” (from Radar Men from the Moon, 1952);

The Mounties Catch Herpes” (from Dangers of the Canadian Mounted, 1948);

Olympic Confidential” (from Undersea Kingdom, 1936);

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Heaven is Hell” (from Darkest Africa, originally released in 1936, then re-released in 1948 as King of Jungleland);

Revenge of the Non-Smokers” (from Spy Smasher, 1942);

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Claws II” (from Panther Girl of the Kongo, 1955);

and, finally, “Nazi Diet Doctors” (from the independently produced She Demons, 1958).

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A few years ago, our friends at Dangerous Minds posted about an interview that Phil Proctor did with film historian and radio host G. Michael Dobbs, which he included in his 2014 published collection of chats, 15 Minutes With…Forty Years of Interviews.

Dangerous Minds:

Proctor recounted that producer Patrick Curtis had established a relationship with Republic Studios when he had produced an homage film to B westerns, another genre that Republic had produced.

“We thought it would be fun to do the serials,” Proctor said.

He and Bergman watched the serials and then wrote the new screenplay. They also supervised the new soundtracks, performing some of the voices themselves and casting other performers such as deejay Machine Gun Kelly.

An influx of funding allowed the pair to shoot new wrap-around footage featuring them as federal agents coordinating the fight against the Lightning Bug.

The reception the film received was so impressive that it inspired two spin-offs, a Cinemax special The Mad House of Dr. Fear and Hot Shorts for RCA Home Video, which used other members of the Firesign Theatre.

After Night Flight ended its run, the film was relegated to cinematic limbo.

“For years I tried to get it out,” said Proctor, “but we couldn’t find a good print. It was more important to have it look right. Then [Night Flight producer] Stuart Shapiro came up with a print.”

“Hot Shorts” was also distributed to some U.S.  theaters on a double bill, along with the Ray Davies’ (of the Kinks) film Return To Waterloo, and it was also released on Laserdisc.

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(h/t: Dangerous Minds)

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.