Sunday, March 25, 2018

Red Zone Cuba, Coleman Francis, John Carradine sings!

By Doug Gibson

I sat through Coleman’s Francis’s 1966 mess, “Red Zone Cuba,” AKA “Night Train to Mundo Fine.” It’s 89 minutes that even with Mystery Science Theater 3000’s gags thrown in, feels like a three-hour movie. I believe if I ever dared watch this film sans the comedy thrown in, it would feel like 890 hours and I would suffer some of horrible, reverse “Infinite Jest” coma-induced death with feces abounding.

There is one reason to see this film. With his sole bit of sense, Francis had John Carradine come in for a day and shoot an opening for the $30,000 film. His acting is ho hum, but then Carradine, I kid you not, sings the film’s theme song. The camp value of Carradine belting out the vocals to “Night Train to Mundo Fine” is a hoot. He sings well, with his hoarse voice. That’s not a surprise since he was a Shakespearian actor. And he compares almost as well as Lon Chaney Jr. did when the aging, alcoholism-ravaged thespian sang the title tune to the camp/horror classic “Spider Baby” earlier in the 1960s.

But the remaining 85 or so minutes, eh, it’s just awful. The film is boring, the characters colorless, the plot incredibly confusing and meandering. The editing is terrible; there are cutaways that leave the viewer bewildered as to what is happening and what has happened. The characters mumble, and that’s just when they are actually speaking. Much of the film was shot mute with no soundtrack synchronized. You hear mumbled words sans the speakers mouths being shown.

The plot involves three crooks on the lam from the cops. Their leader is played by Francis, and a Curly of the Three Stooges lookalike without an ounce of charisma. He tries to affect a tough, Broderick Crawford type of toughness but fails. His cohorts are played listlessly by Anthony Cardoza and Harold Saunders. On the lam, the trio is recruited as mercenaries for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. This portion offers a tad bit of hilarity with Cardoza, one of the producers, putting on a beard and makeup and playing Fidel Castro. (I know this sounds camp/hilarious but in the hands of director/writer/producer Francis, it isn’t. ) The “training” and “battle” scenes are so low budget that it appears that no more than a dozen or so people actually participated in the Bay of Pigs.

Somehow the guys escape from Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. They return to the USA, commit a few crimes. In one scene Coleman throws an old storekeeper down a well. The scene is badly shot and fools no one. Eventually, Coleman and his cohorts are shot dead around a train station and the film ends. The last line, delivered in Francis’s overly solemn narration: “Griffin ran all the way to hell, with a penny and a broken cigarette.”

Hard to watch, boring and nonsensical, it’s still worth a MST3K watch for Carradine, Castro and a few jokes. But stay away from the director’s cut! Actually, if you have the courage, watch the MST3K-less "Red Zone Cuba" above!

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