We started the evening with part one of a three-part short presented by Daniel Rathbun (parts two and three will come along with Daniel’s feature presentations in the upcoming weeks). Created by Joss Wheadon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.) as a side project during the writers’ strike, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is equal parts musical, mad science, and love.
Act one introduces us to Dr. Horrible. He’s a mad scientist, he’s a blogger, he’s trying to gain entry into some international society of evil (does it really matter which one?), and he’s madly in love with Penny, a stranger with whom he shares semi-weekly visits to the laundromat. Here we see Penny trying (and failing) to collect signatures for the benefit of a homeless shelter.
But before love, comes evil. So Dr. Horrible, with hopes of recognition by the society of evildoers, sets out to steal…some mythical element…to complete the construction of his freeze ray. And lo and behold, while he is in the very process of attaching a remote-control device to the Mythical Element Transport Van, he is interrupted by none other than Penny, pimping her petition. Needless to say, he loses his concentration, allowing his nemesis Captain Hammer to doubly thwart him. Not only does Captain Hammer smash the remote control device, sending the van careening out of control, but he then saves Penny from the path of the oncoming van (by, as Dr. Horrible notes, throwing her into a pile of garbage). But never fear, evil-lovers! There are still two acts to come!
Next, our feature presentation – Seven Beauties by Lina Wertmüller. This 1975 film takes its American title from the nickname of its main character (reflected in the original title Pasqualino Settebellezze). We meet Pasqualino as a deserter from the Italian army somewhere in Germany during WWII. He meets up with another wandering Italian soldier, and wrapped around a comical episode where Pasqualino cordially steals some food from a German household we have just enough time to hear the story of how he came to be in the Italian army (in flashback) before they are caught by the German army.
It appears that despite his questionable looks (he’s a dead ringer for The Kids In The Hall’s Bruno Puntz-Jones), Pasqualino was quite the ladykiller in old Napoli. He was quite a charmer, and that’s how he got the nickname “Settebellezze” — it wasn’t for his seven sisters, who were decidedly NOT bellezze.
After his eldest sister (the spinster) was dishonored by being lured into working at a brothel by a man promising to marry her, Pasqualino murders the man to save his family’s reputation, but botches the killing. Since he didn’t give the man time to find his own weapon (and hence no self-defense claim) he is forced to chop him up and ship him off in suitcases to three different cities.
Problem is, he’s turned in by his bereaved sister, whereupon the newly-christened “Butcher of Naples” confesses to the crime and is sent off to a mental institution following an insanity plea. He then proceeds to make himself irredeemable by deciding to rape a woman who is restrained in her bed while working off his sentence as an orderly. He’s caught of course, and things get worse (and by worse, I mean electroshock-therapy-worse) until he is told that his only chance to escape his newfound hell is to join Il Duce’s army. So he does. Of course, in the end, the only place it gets him is into a German concentration camp. Dramatic irony #1.
While wasting away in the concentration camp, he devises a plan to escape — he’s going to use his prisoner-charms to woo the camp’s cruel (and unattractive) headmistress. Through a sequence of pitiful music (humming, whistling, singing) he manages to catch the attention of the headmistress and gain a private audience with her. He professes his undying love for her, and she’s not buying any of it. But she decides to play along — if he can make love to her, she’ll improve his lot in the prison; if not, she’ll kill him on the spot. It’s no easy task, but he eventually manages the necessary priapal feat, committing the same sin he lately chastised his sister for. Dramatic irony #2.
The headmistress is good to her word, elevating Pasqualino to leader of his barracks. Of course, she then immediately tells him that he is to select six barracksmen for execution, with the caveat that if he does not turn over a list, the entire barracks will be killed. A fine promotion that is, you heartless German wench! Although Pasqualino performs the task, he refuses to name one of his friends who begs to be included to be put out of his misery. When the others are dragged off, this friend loses his cool, breaking free and diving into a common latrine where he is promptly shot by guards. Pasqualino’s only other friend ALSO loses his cool, and Pasqualino, as leader of the barracks, is assigned to execute him, which he does reluctantly. (We can be comforted that the executed man was also begging to be put out of his misery.)
We don’t get to see Pasqualino’s eventual liberation from the concentration camp, and the weight of that final scene is carried directly into his homecoming to Naples, where he is immediately engaged to a young woman (turned prostitute to make ends meet — not that Pasqualino minds any longer) he knew before the killing which resulted in his departure. “At least you’re alive,” someone says to him. “Yes, I’m alive,” he says, and looking deeply into a mirror to find his his own dead, dead eyes he repeats it. “I’m alive.” Dramatic irony #3 and Fin.