“J-Men Forever”: Rock ‘n’ Roll battles Muzak in Proctor & Bergman’s Night Flight cult classic

By on March 22, 2019

The “rock’n roll’em high comedy” J-Men Forever — which tells the story of the Secret World War, a War of Cultures as Rock ‘n’ Roll smashes Schmaltsy Music — was created by the Firesign Theatre‘s Phil Proctor & Peter Bergman, and we now have this outrageous mock-dubbed comedy film streaming in its entirety for our subscribers on Night Flight Plus!

J-Men Forever became the signature for Night Flight’s stoned comedy audience in the 1980s,” Night Flight’s Stuart Shapiro is quoted as saying. “This ultimate late night chronic high comedy was the most demanded rerun for the entire eight years Night Flight was on the USA Network.”

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As we mentioned previously in this previously published Night Flight blog (where we went into a lot of detail about the history of cinematic “mock dubbing”), this film project originally began when Proctor and Bergman — two Firesign Theatre comedy troupe members who regularly did projects on their own — and producer Patrick Curtis began working with Republic Studios and produced an homage film to another one of Republic’s key genres, the B-movie western.

Curtis told Proctor and Bergman about the cliffhanger-styled serialized shows that Republic also in their vaults, and watching these serials eventually led to them coming up with the idea to edit the different series all together to form a completely new feature, which they then overdubbed with their own written dialogue (and a few newly-shot scenes) to create J-Men Forever.

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The movie’s “plot” here chiefly concerns a secret culture war. In fact, until the film was released theatrically, it was known as The Secret World War.

Stuart Shapiro released the film theatrically in 1975 under his International Harmony distribution company, changing the name of the film from The Secret World War to J-Men Forever.

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On one side, we’ve got the J-Men — a group of unhip government agents hired by the legendary J. Eager Believer (parodying J. Edgar Hoover, natch) — and on the other side, there’s the enigmatic Lightning Bug and his henchmen and henchwomen (including the villainess “Sombra”).

The Lightning Bug attacks Earth with transistorized radios blasting rock ‘n’ roll — not to mention lots of marijuana smoke — in order to devastate the peace-loving populace, corrupting wholesome middle-class America while brainwashing the planet’s citizenry into becoming his slaves.

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The J-Men Chief and his bumbling sidekick Agent Barton lead a group of agents who battle back against the rock ‘n’ roll invasion from outer space from the Lightning Bug, who takes on many forms by appearing in several different super-villain disguises.

One of those disguises is the Crimson Ghost, whose face famously served as the Misfits’ band logo.

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It’s not really about the movie’s plot, though, and more about Proctor and Berman’s wonderful wise-cracking jokes.

They make fun of both sides in the culture wars: the hippies and the counterculture brainwashed by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and the un-hip square establishment who are more inclined to listen to schmaltzy Lawrence Welk orchestrations and syrupy pop tunes.

Watch an excerpt from the film here:

Read more about J-Men Forever below.

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“Far out, I’m the Lightning Bug, and my rock ‘n’ roll invasion of Earth is underway. Look at them, they’ll be rocked and rolled…they’ll all shake and dance… and now I must split to Earth in my Rocket 88 and personally train willing slaves to spread my deadly music and enslave the Earth as I enslave the Moon. Pack all my disguises!”

As we mentioned previously, J-Men Forever didn’t really attract its core stoner audience until several years after it was screened theatrically, not until Stuart Shapiro bought the film for the “Night Flight” TV show and began it airing regularly on the USA cable network show.

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Soon, word of mouth began spreading between the Night Flight fan base (“puff, puff, pass…”) and Shapiro began hearing back from fans of the show who told him they were making sure they always had a videotape ready in their VCRs on Fridays and Saturday nights, in case the film ever aired again.

They didn’t have to worry, though, as J-Men Forever built up a huge underground cult following through repeated airings on “Night Flight.”

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Stoners watching “Night Flight” at home in the wee hours embraced it as kind of a late night “chronic high comedy,” a fact not lost on Proctor and Bergman either.

After all, the J-Men’s motto was “U Cannibus Smokem,” adorning a stoned eagle. The new footage that Proctor and Bergman added actually allowed the Firesign duo bring in a lot more marijuana humor too.

Nearly every scene they’re in has some kind of pot reference, in fact, which is one reason the film was marketed as a “rock’n roll’em high comedy.” They are “J-Men,” after all.

Soon there were spin-offs like Hot Shorts — released by RCA Home Video in 1983 — which used the talents of the other members of the Firesign Theatre.

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After Night Flight ended its run, a deal was made to have J-Men Forever released on VHS home video in 1979, through a company called Lightning Video, but it didn’t remain in print very long, and bootleggers were soon trading their VHS tapes of J-Men Forever, the price escalating to as much as a few hundred bucks for original home-taped copies.

Luckily, Stuart Shapiro found a good print of the film and made a deal to have it come out again, which is one reason why we’re able to offer it for streaming.

Watch J-Men Forever on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, 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.