In 1979, a few years after the diaspora of the surrealistic stream-of-consciousness comedy troupe Firesign Theatre, that outfit’s Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman created J-Men Forever, a pastiche film a la What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, from old crime and superhero shorts. They combined footage from several different serials and dubbed in their own dialogue to create a ridiculous plot about evil forces (“The Lightning Bug,” represented by several serial characters including the Crimson Ghost, whose face famously served as the Misfits’ logo) trying to take over the world with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, while the forces of good (“The Caped Madman,” a Captain Marvel figure whose transformation word is SH’BOOM—Sneaky, Hateful, Bigoted, Obnoxious, Obnoxious, and Mean, and yes, I know “obnoxious” is in there twice) fought back with elevator music. It rambles, it barely coheres, and it’s funny as all hell. Given its eminent stoner-friendliness, you’d think it’d have been a natural midnight movie, but it gained its life and audience when the USA Network’s treasure-filled insmoniac’s pal Night Flight played it in its entirety and harvested clips from it to use as interstitials.
In his 15 Minutes With…Forty Years of Interviews, film historian and radio host G. Michael Dobbs spoke with Proctor about the film.
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.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Farewell, dear friend: Peter Bergman 1939-2012
More sugar: Firesign Theatre’s ‘High School Madness’ visualized