Next to Coily, Mr. B Natural has to ‘B’ one of the most odd characters ever featured in a classic Mystery Science Theatre 3000 short. This short will always resonate with me because it was my first introduction to the show. Interestingly, the film Joel and the ‘bots watch on MST3K is actually a heavily edited version of a much longer piece. There’s about ten minutes of extra footage in the original short.
At some point in the 1950s, advertising executives for Conn, the “world’s largest manufacturer” of fine instruments, thought that the best way to sell more trumpets was by making this video about how all the cool kids are in the school band.
That clarinet gets him all the ladies.
Mr. B Natural (Betty Luster) is this creepy ghost creature-thing that represents the spirit of music inside everyone. I hope there’s not really a cheery leotard-wearing music spirit dancing around inside me every time I listen to a song. For some reason, Luster’s character is given the title ‘Mister’ B Natural even though she is clearly a woman. Of course I’m all for equality, and respect whatever gender a person chooses to identify with. I only point this out because conventional media of the fifties didn’t typically embrace this concept. It’s like, after she was cast they couldn’t just change the name to ‘Miss’ B Natural? The script is locked, sorry. But none of the characters seem to notice and the point is never raised. Maybe the good ol’ days were more tolerant than we are today?
Ah, the things you could get away with.
Mr. B’s latest
victim friend is Buzz Turner (Bruce Podewell), a twelve year old kid with no friends or social skills. When he reaches for a record one day, Mr. B appears out of thin air and convinces him that playing an instrument will change his personality and make him cool. But not just any instrument, only a high quality, well made Conn™ brand trumpet! So he’s off to the store with mom and dad to make his life so much better.
Now, I’ve been watching this for over ten years now (pathetic, I know), and to this day I’m still perplexed by this nugget of incoherent dialogue from Mr. B as (s)he narrates Buzz’s school day: “They were all there. With all their young energy. The first time I ever met Buzz Turner. Including Jeannie, the cutest girl in school. Including Buzz.” What the hell does that mean?! It’s nonsense. I wonder if Mr. B is dyslexic and meant to say, “The first time I ever met Buzz Turner, they were all there, with all their young energy, including Jeannie – the cutest girl in school.” That’s the most sense I can make of it after all these years. If anyone out there can comprehend that series of sentences, please explain them to me.
I don’t have time for that, I’ve got band practice to get to!
The biggest difference between this short and the MST3K version is an entire scene featuring the bandmaster, or what normal people today would call a music teacher. They had big egos back then. Before Buzz approaches his parents, he tells his teacher about his sudden interest in playing musical instruments and joining the school band. With the help of Mr. B, the music teacher measures his face and decides the trumpet would be best for him.
Did people of the fifties really buy this stuff? I guarantee you they were laughing at Mr. B’s Peter Pan hat as much as we do now. There’s just no way anyone could ever take this seriously.
No really, I’m a man!
This is a story that works better the shorter it is, considering nothing really happens. If it wasn’t for Mr. B’s terrifyingly whimsical dance breaks, the tale would be painful in its monotony. Nice of them to throw a dash of horror in there to mix things up. Essentially, a kid buys a trumpet, is happy about it, and that’s all there is. This ‘educational short’ is really just a thinly-veiled commercial that could have been three minutes instead of thirty.
Now, in some ways, the original film is actually better than the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version presented it as. I’ve seen the MST3K edit enough to know it pretty well and there are a lot of odd jump cuts in and out of scenes that always stood out to me. Before today I had assumed that was just the short itself, but it turns out the film moves from scene to scene a little more smoothly than I had originally thought. I realize they had to cut the short to fit the running time of the show, but for what it’s worth, they could have found better places to hide their edits. When they cut the film down, they made it look even more incompetent in doing so. They misrepresented how bad the movie is. Does this break some kind of ethical riffing code?
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and the answer is no. With or without their edit, this movie is terrible. No amount of editing could ever rescue Mr. B Natural from its own stupidity.
Watch the original Mystery Science Theatre 3000 riff here.