The episode: “Cave Dwellers,” ep. 301
The riff: Acknowledged as confirmation by Tom after a group of samurai appear and he exclaims that the picture has suddenly “become a Kurosawa film.”
The explanation: Toshiro Mifune was a beloved Japanese actor who appeared in more than 170 feature films, but was best known for 16 separate collaborations with the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. He appeared in the lead role in many of Kurosawa’s most famous pictures, including “Seven Samurai,” “Roshomon” and “Throne of Blood.” Kurosawa considered him the finest actor in the country.
Novelty factor: This one is right up my alley. If you want to see a great performance by Mifune, watch “Throne of Blood,” Kurosawa’s Japanese version of “Macbeth,” where Mifune plays the title role.
The episode: “The Sinister Urge,” ep. 613
The riff: Inserted incredulously by Crow as dialog after a man talking on the phone says “What? A spot?”
The explanation: Dinah Shore was an American pop singer and actress who achieved unprecedented fame as a solo singer in America’s big band era, the 1940s and 1950s. Later in her career she moved to television acting, including hosting the popular “Dinah Shore Chevy Show” from 1956-1963. A musical variety show, the theme “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” lived on for many more years in Chevy advertising.
Novelty factor: I’ve never heard of this woman or her show, but judging from the photos she was one gorgeous lady.
The episode: “Time Chasers,” ep. 821
The riff: Noted with a degree of horror by Mike as a pudgy-looking figure with a mop of red hair squats on top of an abandoned building. (The characters are in the future)
The explanation: Mason Reese is a former child actor turned restaurateur. He was mostly known as a child in the 1970s, when he appeared in many commercials for Post Raisin Bran, Underwood Deviled Ham (ick) and Dunkin’ Donuts. He was recognizable mostly because of his slight lisp, sort of squished-looking face and red hair. Today he owns several restaurants in New York City.
Novelty factor: Okay, I’m not proud to admit it, but this kid kind of creeps me out.
The episode: “Operation Double 007,” ep. 508
The riff: Chided by Joel as a man in a flowing golden robe walks into the scene. He is quite bedazzled.
The explanation: My, this is one dense riff. First, a “kaftan” is a type of front-buttoned overcoat or overdress of many Islamic cultures. It came into the vogue among American hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. Jessye Norman, on the other hand, is a Grammy-winning contemporary opera singer associated with a lot of classical Wagnerian operas. I believe the reference refers to the sort of costumes she typically would end up wearing in these shows.
Novelty factor: This is one obscure riff, even for MST3k. Why do they even know this?
The episode: “Teenage Crime Wave,” ep. 522
The riff: Said indignantly by Tom as a short-haired woman attempts to drink alone in a bar and a man with a “pushed-in face” sizes her up.
The explanation: Judy Carne is a British actress most notably remembered for her appearances on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. On the show, she played a kind of ditzy girl who would end sketches by saying “Sock it to me!” before getting doused in water. This became the show’s most famous catch phrase, with even President Nixon trying to ride it in his ill-fated appearance. Later in life, Carne published a biography called “Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the Sock-It-To-Me Girl,” which chronicled her struggles with drugs, her bisexuality and her two-year marriage to Burt Reynolds in the 1960s.
Novelty factor: I didn’t know the name, but I’m obviously familiar with her appearances on Laugh-In.
The episode: “Village of the Giants,” ep. 523
The riff: Slipped in as a third suggestion after the teens overlook the effects of their new growth serum on ducks and remark “Can you imagine if you fed this to cattle or chickens?”
The explanation: Jim J. Bullock is a comedian and actor who is best remembered for co-starring on the ABC sitcom “Too Close for Comfort” in the mid-1980s as the ambiguously gay neighbor Monroe Ficus. In one famously weird episode, Monroe gets kidnapped by a group of women and raped, which is played for laughs. Gay in real life, he was diagnosed with HIV in the mid-1980s and has successfully fought the disease ever since. This is one of those riffs where I have absolutely no idea why they chose that name at random to include. He’s not even a short guy. Anyone have a clue?
Novelty factor: The name didn’t mean anything to me when I heard it. I didn’t think I’ve ever even heard of “Too Close for Comfort” before, until I found the rape scene, which I’d seen discussed before.
The episode: “Being from Another Planet,” ep. 405
The riff: Asked by Tom as a bevy of reporters swoop forward and an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is opened with great fanfare.
The explanation: Tom is mocking a famous television failure: “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” program that was broadcast in 1986. Geraldo Rivera, then a famous investigative journalist, was the host for the live two-hour special, which received heavy promotion and hype in the days leading up to its broadcast. For two hours, Rivera told audiences of the treasures he hoped to find inside; everything from gold to dead bodies. When the “vault” was finally opened, only a few empty bottles were found, which Rivera speculated might have contained “bathtub gin.” The let-down of the empty vault went on to be widely satirized and seriously hurt Geraldo’s credibility as a serious journalist.
Novelty factor: I’ve always loved this story–it’s just so silly. It’s hard to believe someone could have planned a two-hour live program without ensuring there was anything in the vault first.