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October 2017

‘No battle and little sun, but two for the endurance of one.’ That is the tag line that applies to this 1hr 17 minutes exercise. On the IMDB it is titled ‘The Sky Calls’ (1959) yet the art work proclaims the title ‘Battle Beyond the Sun.’ Go figure.

Battle Sun cover.jpg

It was made in the Soviet Union a short while after the launch of the first Terra satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957 as the threshold of space flight was crossed. In some shots it shows something of Star City where the Soviet space program developed and the displays of weightlessness are good. These effects are several cuts above the norm at the time. However the space flight effects are at the norm, e.g., flames in the void of space.

Two for one? There is the original Soviet version and another. In the first version the Soviets with rockets clearly marked CCCP have an orbiting space station devoted to celestial science and are methodically preparing a peace-loving mission to Mars. Then out of the void a US rocket calls for permission to dock and repair engines. The Soviets graciously agree. Though the interaction is constrained, the sneaky Americans learn that the Soviets are Mars-bound.

The Americans rush back to their ship and blast off for Mars in the hope of getting there first and claiming all the Mars Bars for Yankeeland. In the haste, the back draft of their rocket injures a hapless Soviet crewmen star-bathing on the deck of the space station. He is long suffering and very forgiving.

In due course the Soviets take off for Mars and no sooner do they do so than the impetuous Americans run into trouble and SOS to the Soviets, who divert from the Mars course to rescue them, and in so doing they expend most of the fuel. Gulp!

Both crews are only two man, one a retiree and the other younger, both clad in polyester knits. Remember those? If not, lucky you.

Both rockets were built for a two-man crew, right, but somehow the two American passengers squeeze on board into the micro-economy seats. The Soviets decide to land on a convenient asteroid and send for road side assistance. They borrow a dime from ET and call home. An automatic, pilotless fuel tanker is dispatched to the asteroid. It is no recommendation for Tesla self-driving cars that the fuel tanker crashes into the far side of asteroid. Gulp!

It seems the asteroid is too hard to hit for a computer so a second pilotless fuel tanker rocket is sent with a volunteer pilot. How he squeezed in is left to the imagination. The fraternity brothers imagined the worst.

He pilots the rocket to the asteroid and lands. The stranded spacemen do not seem to notice, so busy are they in trading clichés about cooperation and peace. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

The tanker pilot of the once-pilotless ship becomes sick from radiation poisoning since the pilotless fuel tank rocket had no shielding to protect the pilot. Did anyone tell him? Is there workers compensation? What are the KPIs here? Did the manager manage? The sick pilot roams around the asteroid and dies. The maroonies find the dead man and realise he came by rocket. They are scientists after all and they can make inferences. Zounds! They tank up and blast off for Terra to carry the clichés back. The end. Then the dreamer awakes and it was all a dream. The double end.

Wait! There is more!

Roger Corman bought the film and edited it for the US market in 1962. He hired a destitute film school student to do the work and credited him as associate producer, that was Francis Ford Coppola's first on-screen credit. He took liberties in the Corman manner.

All references to the the CCCP and the USA are obliterated by kindergarten finger-painted blobs of colour. A voice over prologue says the following story takes places after an atomic war and it is a race to Mars between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, the two Orwellian blocs that emerged from the rubles. (Joke.) The dialogue was cleansed of the anti-American references or mentions of the Soviet Union. The dubbing is as annoying as it usually is. The nylon double knits remain, as do the geriatric Soviet actors who move with glacial speed. It is set in 1997 and, despite the insertions, is shorter than the ponderous Soviet original. Mercy be. It remains ponderous.

Knowing the market, Coppola also exercised artistic license to insert a scene on the asteroid while the dying tanker pilot wanders around, in which scene he observes two proto-CGI creatures fighting each other. This scene qualified the movie to go on a double-bill of creature features, and the fight has nothing to do with the story and is never mentioned by any of the survivors. Accordingly they do not warn future travellers not to stop there. They bad. Thus launched was FFC’s film career.

In the end, the rocketeers watch red Mars in the near distance as they blast off for home.

Mars red.png

Yes, they have their clichés safely on board. This is no dream.

But to watch it is to see, Braque-style, two movies in one. The original Soviet snooze and the Corman mash-up.

An emeritus professor played to a T by Miles Malleson — described as the lord of Brit screen eccentrics — wants to demonstrate conclusively to skeptical colleagues that he has mastered robotics by presenting The Perfect Woman to them. Before exposing his creation to the doubting Thomases the Prof wants the Perfect Woman road tested, and hires a ne'er-do-well who, like all the best cinema ne'er-do-wells has a butler at hand.

Pefrfect poster.jpg

In the comings and goings at the Prof’s house and laboratory his niece insinuates herself into the proceedings and the ne’er do well mistakes her for the robot he is to escort around. ('Quiet down, Fraternity Brothers!' 'Stop that snickering!') She plays along for laughs. The sight gags are many, as is the word play as Ne’er and his butler read aloud the user's manual for the robot to learn the voice commands. 'Siri!'

Perfect inspection.jpg Inspection of the robot with manual.

From this set up it descends into a genteel bedroom farce, rather than a rumination of what it means to be human or for that matter to be a robot. There are no laws of robotics here. While the pace dragged a little early, in the last reel it rattles along and ends with a bang.

The rattling offers the stereotypes and conventions of the time and place. The Perfect Woman does exactly as she is told, has no will, does not eat or sleep, does all woman's work without a word, and stands mute. Just what a 1949 chap wants in bride, and Ne’er is smitten. Screened in a gender studies class today, it would confirm much of the syllabus. Screened on Channel 7Mate and it would fit right in.

Truth will out and in the aftermath they lived happily ever after.

All the players ham it up and the energy is good in the latter half, including a ride on the tube with the robot. Patricia Roc is top billed and carries the picture with her sly looks, inner smiles, blank stares, and mischief. Likewise the robot Olga is played perfectly, too.

Perfect till.jpg A production still that shows how hard it is to be intimate on film.

By the way, this was a major production with well known actors, extravagant sets, many extras to fill the screen, and plenty of cameras, very unlike the Quota Quickies that dominated Brit Sy Fy at the time.

Not something I would ordinarily have selected but I noticed it on SciFist, an excellent blog about the history of science fiction films, and looked for it thereafter. It is a 6.0 from a paltry 107 votes on IMDB.

The data: 1 hr 22 m at 4.3 from 481 opinionators on the IMDB

Sky X cover.jpg Lobby card.

Paul Hubschmid, Switzerland’s best known movie star, plays a fearless spaceman riding the first rocket to the stars from Cape Shark in FNQ, that is, Far North Queensland to the shoe-wearing southerners. Whoa, ‘Switzerland’s best known movie star,’ some of the weberati say, but the fraternity brothers demur, remembering that scene in ‘Dr No’ (1962), they cried Switzerland’s best known movie star is Ursula Andress.

That Paul is Switzerland’s biggest movie star is uncontested. At 6 feet and 4 inches plus he looks like a small alp among the cast in this Sy Fy yarn. How did they get him into that rocket. He looks bigger than it does in some shots (and he certainly was because it was table top model).

Paul.jpg The alp that is Paul.

HIs bold launch is acted out with a micro budget and a lot of wire. The main prop is a crash helmet borrowed from Ro-Man. Throughout the film is padded with stock footage of airplanes landing, airplanes taking off, more airplanes landing, animals rampaging, football fans rioting, crowds crowding, managers managing, and close listeners will hear the same laments in the background a dozen times as the tape loops.

Though made in the deep freeze of the Cold War it is international and ecumenical, quite unlike most other productions of the time. In that sense it is hopeful and optimistic. It does not use space as a metaphor for dealing with commies. Rather it starts with the Franco-Italian production company and continues in the cast which includes Swiss, Brazilian, German, French, Russian, and Italian names. No Brit or American though it was clearly made with those markets in mind, hence the Australian setting (in an Italian sound studio), which, by the way, for a film of the time was extraordinary. There is no Cape Shark in FNQ but there is a Cape York and at times Queensland governments anxious to distract voters from reality promote Cape York as a spaceport, perhaps because Joh Bjelke-Petersen, long time Czar of the North, saw this movie and got the idea; Richard Branson has even had a look. What he saw was the traditional aboriginal owners who showed no interest in a spaceport. If and when Branson flashes that big smile and that even bigger bank roll they may see the stars, but not just yet.

The space mission portrayed in the film includes Russians! Yes, all nations are cooperating in this fictional 1958. Many chefs spoiled the stew because the mission cocks up. After launch the controls on the spacecraft seize up, probably during an IOS update, and Paul bails out. Bails out from space.

I blinked and missed the detail but he bailed out and returned to Earth leaving the rocket to plow on into deep(er) space. He did not, he claimed that he was unable to, set the auto-destruct. One measly button and he forgot to push it, probably ogling a picture of Switzerland’s best known movie star when he should have been watching the dials. That is what the fraternity brothers thought, judging from the guilty look on his face. The rocket with its 1958 atomic reactor engine retrofitted from the Nautilus is left to fly on. There are some recriminations about this oversight of the ‘I thought you did it’ kind with ground control. Key Performance Indicators are brandished. Then all is forgiven.

Georg Hegel once said that nature always wins. (It took him nearly a whole 500-page book to say that.) In this case the rocket blows up in space and that explosion throws a giant meteor onto a collision course with Earth!

Sky exploding.jpg See, exploding sky. If it is missed the first time, it is repeated twice more.

That turn of events occasions much footage of scientists making presentations to each other about the forthcoming catastrophe, talking heads explaining planetary extinction to each other, and breathless journalists trying to get a last exclusive onto their obituary CVs. Meanwhile animals stampede, crowds lament, and women cry in the recycled stock footage. I left the room while the padding played on.

There are sub-plots. There is a young woman referred to as a mathematician who inputs data into the calculator, which is sometimes called a computer on other pages of the script, and the man who wonders if being smart is not unnatural for a woman. Being smart was not a burden for him.

Paul has a wife and child and occasionally they appear only for him to say he is too busy saving the world to see them. The icicles between Paul and the Brazilian playing his wife lowered the room temperature at our place. ‘No rapport’ does not convey it, more like an open hostility that did not bode well for Swiss and Brazilian relations. Proof? Well look at Brasilia. Are there any alps there? See! Case closed.

As DOOM approaches, one of the German scientists goes nuts. He turns off the air conditioning and in FNQ that is a capital offence and goes around shooting people with his NRA-approved Lugar which is only a misdemeanour there. For once the Swiss stand up to the Germans and Paul knocks him into a Mars orbit.

Then Paul, having flexed some of his many muscles, has the bright idea of having all nations, and I mean all, fire their entire armoury of nuclear armed missiles at the meteor and blow it into meteor dust. The list of nations with nuclear armed rockets includes Japan, Australia, Netherlands, India, USA, Denmark, Texas, USSR, France, England, San Marino, Andorra, but strangely not North Korea, Israel, or Iran.

It works. The end. Ahem, the science correspondent on the sofa thought the ensuing meteor dust would blanket the Earth and end any further career openings for Switzerland’s biggest movie star.

Was Brazil dropped from the list of nuclear armed nations, is that why Paul's wife is so angry? Did she forget to iron his shoe laces, is that why he is so reluctant to go anywhere near her? Kevin may know, but I do not.

The version we watched was dubbed for release Stateside in 1960 and some spinning newspaper headlines referring to JFK were inserted to connect with that. The variety of accents from the polyglot cast of dubbers was good but we wondered about the Strine drawl of the 1960 Australians for that was a time when the BBC accent was a Down Under thespian requirement. Still there it is.

As I watched Big Paul tower over the others, I wondered was it in his contract that no one in the cast could be as tall? Then I realised that I recognised him. He was Johnny Vulkan in ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966) with the white Cadillac convertible tooling around West Berlin.

Vo;kam car.jpg

By the way he had an earlier film career in Berlin working for Dr Goebbels in Nazi Germany with small parts in about a dozen of light-weight entertainments that the Evil Dr used to distract people from reality. This was no bar to Paul making a few movies in Hollywood, including several as the male lead with a major star like Debra Paget.

Fresh from ‘Cat-Women of the Moon,’ Al Zimbalist cranked this one out. Some facts first, it runs for 66 minutes and scores 2.9 from 3,772 rankings on the IMDB. It is often cited as a leader in the category of It’s-so-bad-it-is-good. It certainly is bad. By comparison ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ is sophisticated cinematography.

Ro man poster.jpg

Yet ‘Robot Monster’ is distinctive in the creature feature annuals for one very important reason. The creature - Ro-Man, as he sometimes styles himself - has a soul and it shows. Keep that in mind for later. Did The Blob have a soul? No! Did the Creature from the Black Lagoon have a soul? No! Do Republicans have a soul? But Ro-Man does! Compared to these other creatures he has a spiritual quality.

The set-up is loopy to be sure. Bang. The Robot Monsters have killed all Earthlings but seven or is it eight. The count changes through the movie. (In addition, in one scene a passer-by strolls along the back of a shot. Is she in the count or not?) At least two of the survivors mentioned are never seen. Then there is a garrison in the space station who seem to be sitting out the apocalypse and do not figure in the count.

A Robot Monster has been sent to find and kill the last remaining aboriginals so that the Earth can be colonised as Terra nullius. Take that, White Man! With that Key Performance Indicator in mind Ro-Man gets right to work with a billion bubble blowing machine and television screen transmitter. These survivors are a family of two adults, three children, and the elder daughter’s boyfriend, played by George Nader on whom more in a minute. The budget is so small it does not run to a shirt for Nader in most scenes.

The players try to make something of the script, and fail. The two younger children are annoying enough to invoke the curse of W. C. Fields. It was a relief when the heartless Ro-Man killed them. Yes, for despite the unofficial and all the more stultifying Hollywood code at the time, Ro-Man strangles the children, to the cheers of the fraternity brothers.

Ro man slays boy.jpg

The code did not allow for children to be murdered. They could die, disease, war, accidents, but not be murdered, kind a reverse spin on the current NRA approach. The code was not rigorously imposed on B pictures which is why they are often racier than their A picture peers, as known to all fraternity brothers.

Ro-Man's HQ is a cave in a rocky desert with the bubble blowing machine and the intergalatic portable TV. This is the best he could do for real estate, this superior alien being? A cave? Take about low rent!

Ro man.jpg

What a dump!

What makes ‘Robert Monster’ singular is that Ro-Man goes all Frankenstein’s monster and wants Alice, the older daughter, to love him, after he has murdered her husband, and her siblings and is about to murder her parents. In fact, he seems to ask her to sit tight while he goes off to murder her parents. Is this a sensitive New Age alien in the making? He refuses to murder her, and goes into a Hamlet soliloquy:

‘We are not built to feel emotion. Please do not hate me. Yes! To be like the Hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan? I must, yet I cannot! How do you calculate that?! At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I cannot … but I must!’

Move over Shakespeare! Here are words.

This is deep thinking for a man in an ape suit with a fish bowl on his head. That is Ro-Man. The back story goes that the producer had a robot in mind but could not find one available at his price, and found the expense of having one made beyond the small-change budget, but he knew a fellow who once worked vaudeville in an ape suit! Voilà! But the titles had all ready been run and there was no budget to do them again, so... The fish tank went on to complete the ensemble.

Nader was her boyfriend but somewhere along the way, they got married, and went off on their own for honeymoon during the apocalypse. Believe it or not. While canoodling away from the protective shield of the family home (which does not seem to have a roof but has some kind of electronic barrier), Ro-Man finds them, throws Nader off a cliff to his death and ravishes Alice. It is all very Channel 7Mate.

Robot Man is the furriest robot ever filmed, and could be mistaken for Yeti except for the Newtown fashion accessory of the fish bowl. He plays a double part as himself and as his merciless control back home on Robo-World who is called Great Guidance. This is someone that no one would dare call GG. Despite the lobby poster shown above, neither of the Robot Monsters has a face. That must have made talking hard.

Great Guidance tires of hearing Ro-man going on about his existential crisis of conscience rather than the KPI. This crisis cuts in when Ro-Man seems to have started to rape Alice, by tearing her dress off, again crossing the prevailing code line. Fraternity brothers supposed that the sight of her wherewithal gave him a reaction.

Anyway, Great Guidance zaps Ro-Man from afar, and he dies. Such is corporate power when one misses the KPI targets.

The end! The end. The end? Not quite. Whereupon the annoying little boy wakes up and evidently it was all a dream. Maybe that it was all a dream, like life, excused the code violations, though it is hard to believe this title had much distribution to theatres.

George Nader is quite specimen here, seldom with his shirt on.

Nader German.jpg He played G-Man Jerry Cotton in more than a dozen West German films.

He left Hollywood and went on to a film career in West Germany. Like Eddy Constantine, Jess Hamm, and Lex Baxter he became the American in European movies. The word on the web is that Nader was a homosexual who found it increasingly difficult to get parts in Hollywood, at least parts that he liked, and Baxter was an old friend who suggested he try Europe. Some years later he returned Stateside to work in television.

It says it all when the distributors do not know the name of the movie. In England where it was made, it was released as ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ while Stateside it went out as ‘Fire Maidens of Outer Space,’ giving members of the commentariat endless fun in a pointless discussion of the difference. Still it is not often that ‘Fowler’s Guide’ is brought into B-film reviews.

fire Maidens title.jpeg

If that was not enough to signal the fun ahead, then there are the credits in which the name Cy Roth figures, repeatedly: A Cy Roth presentation, produced by Cy Roth, directed by Cy Roth, story by Cy Roth, screen play by Cy Roth, tea service by Cy Roth. See. For someone in love with the sight of his own name, Mr Roth is quite shy on the internet. I could find nothing but the scant entry on the IMDB. Not even a photograph. His other credits are few. Very. Conclusions to follow: Cy cannot present, produce, direct, write, stage, or pour.

The conceit of the movie is that the two great postwar powers, the United States and Great Britain combine to launch a manned space flight. Ah, the James Bond illusion that in 1956 Britain was a great power. As if. England was still rationing food and petrol. The war debt remained crushing. Victory had nearly destroyed England, just as victory had nearly destroyed France in 1918.

The early going is treacle. We see people walk down stairs, slowly, and then back up the same stairs, slowly. The action stops while the men light pipes. ‘Action?’ Well in fact, the only action is lighting the pipes.

Then with no further preliminaries than a voice over, the six spacemen strap into their office chairs (with rollers) for blast off. Stock footage of V-2 rockets and such follows. The wires are visible in some of the later effects. This must have been a quota quickie to supply British content, as legally required, for theatres. What other explanation could there be, Erich? Quota quickies are explained elsewhere on the his blog. To find out about them do the homework.

Their flight is interminable, or so it seemed. The goal? The thirteenth moon of Jupiter. Huh? Jupiter has dozens of moons and there is no saying which one is the thirteenth. The thirteenth in size, the thirteenth from Jupiter but that varies as some of the orbits are irregular, the thirteenth discovered, thirteenth from the left or from the right, the thirteenth in Republican voters. The scientists Roth consulted found that this moon is like Earth, so off they go. Vroom. In their V-2.

They pass flight time smoking. The number two never takes his naval hat off. That always makes me think the head in it is bald. Keep that hat in mind.

They land in Sussex, a long trip to end up there, and then go outside for more cigarettes. It’s all good. Someone throws rocks at them. (The audience?) They see an object and hear voices. They divide. One group stays with the rocket ship and calls home, repeatedly. Repeatedly. Those they call intermittently never move from their floor marks. It is one shot repeatedly shown to save costs.

The other three go to find the voice(s). On the way they cross three fields, repeatedly. By this time, the fraternity brothers were desperate for the Fire Maidens.

The three explorers show no interest in anything. Oh hum. Another day in space on a distant world for the first time! 'Got a cigarette?' They are as bored by it all as the audience, like one of those works of modern art that is intended to be boring. That is, until they find the Fire Maidens when they perk up a little. Not much.

They find a walled garden and enter it to find it is the Fire Maidens’ dormitory. What luck! There are scores of the women twirling around in short skirts no one wore on the street in 1955, except men in Scotland. The fraternity brothers came to attention.

They meet the top man, whom we shall style the Professor. Yes, it is a man. An old one. He tells the travellers that these are the last of the Atlanteans, as in ‘from’ or is that ‘of’ Atlantis. That explains why they speak English. (!) When the waters rose, the Atlanteans took to the skies, assuming the water would engulf all. That was a blunder, but once airborne they could not cash in their non-refundable Virgin Spaceways tickets so they went to the end of the line. Since then, as the millennia passed, the men have died out — why they died is never mentioned and the explorers, men themselves, have no interest in such incidental matters — but somehow new beautiful woman keep coming along. Maybe Prof is not as old as he looks?

When the conversation lags, which is often, Prof venerates a cheesecake picture on the wall, as his grandmother, as his daughter, as Aphrodite, as Hestia, as his mother, as whatever comes to mind. Not the sharpest laser in the block is the old Prof. Definitely emeritus material.

Here is the tricky part. Prof wants the travellers to stay, what with all these nubile girls around….and the need for more Atlanteans. The travellers don't get it. Why does he want us to stay? It takes them a long time to get his drift. Whatever fraternity they were in must have been a sorry lot. Prof drugs them so they will not fly away and they sleep a lot. Great footage of the navy man sleeping with his hat on.

They sleep some more. (So did I.) Meanwhile one of maidens loves the leader of the spacemen. He may be a distant, cold, and arrogant fool but she loves him anyway.

Fire Maidens lead.jpg

He is one Anthony Dexter who once played Valentino and never got over it. His subsequent credits include some other Sy Fy entries, before he saw the light to became a high school teacher. Think about that. Valentino at the chalk board.

The three stay-behinds keep calling home. The team at home never moves between calls. The three in the dormitory sleep some more. Oh, and the Fire Maidens dance. Not once, not twice, not three times, but four. Music and choreography by Cy Roth? The men sleep; the maidens dance. Is this edgy or what? Or what.

The stay-at-homes finally come looking for the three wanderers because it is time to return the V-2 or they will lose the deposit on it. They encounter the rock-throwing creature of the feature who is impervious to their pistols, though since they fired from the hip, having seen too many westerns, it is doubtful they hit the barn door, so they subdue him with a gas grenade. It was a well equiped mission, cigarettes, pistols, and gas grenades. Check, check, check.

Meanwhile, the sleepers awake and make trouble. The Fire Maidens dance. The creature breaks in on a dance routine and the spacemen throw a gas grenade at him, while he is cutting in on the Fire Maidens dance, near an open flame amid them all.

Fire Maidens dance.jpg

Thanks to some quick typewriting by Cy Roth, only the creature is killed.

Oh, earlier Prof was walking in the garden and the creature killed him. That was an afterthought.

Freed of the tyranny of the old doddering Prof emeritus the Fire Maidens…yep, they dance. Six of them pair off with the visitors, but Valentino assures the others more Earthmen will come. When last seen the fraternity brothers were booking their tickets.

It is a well used trope in B movies, the island, mesa, cave, moon, valley, planet, swamp, town, castle, world, office building of women without men, who do not know what they are missing until the men arrive. Then they find out. Housework. Ironing. Babies. Shopping. Drunken husbands. Sweeping. Dusting. Putting out the rubbish. Moping the floor. Cleaning the toilet. It is an adolescent fantasy. Somewhere are women so desperate that they will want even.....spacemen.

Scifist, a blog on the history of science fiction films that is meticulous and amusing, does not deign to review this length of film, and it stoops to review quite a lot like it. The line had to be drawn somewhere and this title ended up on the far side. At 78 minutes it seemed longer and less than the IMDB score of 2.1 from 1,277 votes. To date it is the lowest scoring film I have watched to the end.


Cashing in on the rash of Sy Fy movies in the 1950s the dreaded production team of Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin rented a studio for a week and produced from blank paper this celluloid story. The mob at the IMDB score it at 3.6. It is definitely below the Mendoza Line. (You either get it, or you don't.)

The lobby poster says it all. But note that Marie Windsor gets top billing but that is not her on the lobby card below. Figure the out. On her more later.

Cat cover.jpg

In the first manned, emphasis on ‘manned,’ space flight a crew of five sets off for the Moon. On the way it is struck by the de rigueur meteorites. How is it, in the vastness of space, every Earth ship is struck by 1950s meteors that is one the mysteries of the genre.

The crew is led by Sonny Tufts, and consists of Victor Jory, William Phipps, and Douglas Fowley, and Marie Windsor. The last four are reliable B picture regulars. Jory, perhaps for the only time in his fifty-year career, plays the romantic lead, sort of. An eternally young Phipps is the ingenue, and Fowley the greedy bastard that each crew must carry. Marie is the navigator and that is a refreshing change.

Knowing its reputation, when I started watching it, I was surprised to find I liked it at the outset.

Why? A woman has to be in the crew so that the man can fight over her, that is understood. In this case she is navigating rather than serving coffee. Excellent.

Moreover, in the opening scenes as the meteor damaged rocket approaches the Moon she is sassy and demanding. The men want to turn back without landing now that the rocket has a scratch on the paintwork. Not Marie. She came for the landing, not the ride, and she has her way with Sonny Tufts who then orders a landing. That is so different from the usual role for women in the genre.

Cat Windsor.jpg

Marie Windsor takes charge, as Jory stares with incredulity, and Sonny looks for his flask.

There is mystery since she seems to know where to land, how to get there, and what to do next. She seems to be in charge while Sonny tries to remember his lines. Again so unusual, so excellent.

They don the spacesuits, rented from a novelty shop, and trudge in front of a matte painting of the moon done by one of the producer’s nephews, or so it seems. Along the way there is the only science in this science fiction film, and it is the science of Anti-Vaxxers. Even by the standards of the redoubtable Ed Wood, it is silly. No fifth grader would swallow it. Oh, wait, anti-Vaxxers would.

Some features of the Moon are demonstrated using cigarettes which the crew brings along on the flight and on the journey they make.

Journey? Once they land, Marie once again suborns Sonny into a walking tour to collect samples. Once again the men want to go home. Once again Marie prevails and Sonny gives the order.

See, she is in charge, though Sonny is the captain and Jory has a hard pistol at the ready.

A word on Sonny Tufts for those who don’t know him. He was a journeyman in Hollywood who got some lead roles in the 1940s when others were away on war service, then receded to this, and this, I am afraid, was not as low as he could go. In this picture, for those that pay attention, there are at least two occasions when all eyes turn to him for the next line and he stands mute. He forgot his line. Missed the cue. Was checking his hip flask. Or all the above. Fowley fills in for him once and Phipps the second time, as would happen in a stage play. More on old Sonney at the end.

The production is so cheap there were no re-takes. Indeed, so cheap that the end was truncated when they were told to vacate the studio and so some sources say six-pages of script were skipped, and they blast off.

Marie Windsor was the frail and sometimes the femme fatale in a number of excellent B noirs, like these crackling films: ‘The Killing’ (1956), ‘The Narrow Margin’ (1952), and ‘Hellfire’ (1949). She often played women of whom her Mormon relatives in Utah would not approve. She did everything on television, including ‘Murder, She Wrote.’ A real trouper. Ditto Jory, Phipps, and Fowley.

On the Moon she leads the party into a cave that has an atmosphere and Earth gravity, such is their science. They doff the rented spacesuits which had to be returned for the deposit and encounter the inhabitants.

In a creature feature a creature is necessary and they encounter several large rubber spiders like the one the fraternity brothers put into each others clothing. Yuk.

While quick draw Jory blasts away at these creatures, they are observed by shadows with up-do hair buns. Yes, these are the cat women. And about time.

These Earthlings are scientists, the first on the Moon, who show no interest whatever in anything they find. Despite Marie’s urging, they collect no samples, but once the spacesuits are off, they light up those fags. For her part, she plunges on ahead, annoying the men who still want to go home.

Though it is only sixty-four minutes long, it seems longer, and they eventually met the cat women who are described in the credits as the Hollywood Cover Girls, eight in number, in black leotards. These are the only survivors of a once thriving race in the Moon caves, with the spiders. No cats are present. No cats are mentioned. No cats are shown. There are no cats. But then the Hollywood Cover Girls had no existence outside this movie either.

Here is the back story of the Moon. The women grew to dominate the society and the men died out. Without the men there were no more women. So far, so biology.

This is what happens when women get bossy. They take over. The poor hapless men lose their manly vigour and MPG - Minus Population Growth.

In fact, this tale has been acted out on the flight to the Moon, where Marie bosses them around and then leads the men into this trap. Their vigour, however, remains in tact.

Trap? Yes, trap. The cat women want that ship to travel to Earth and boss the men around there, too! First an inch, then 250,000 miles.

And this nefarious plot explains everything. They used their telepathic powers to identify Marie years ago, and to impart to her knowledge of solar navigation. How else could a woman find the Moon? The cat women had learned all this from their last men before they went emeritus. With this knowledge Marie became the navigator. As the ship approached they telepath-messaged her again and she then landed the ship on the spot, and led the ground party to the cave, and while the crew was having a smoko, the cat women swiped the rented spacesuits and returned them to the novelty shop, thus capturing the crew for their purposes. Note, the women get all the knowledge from men and past it on.

Maire is but a puppet controlled by mental telepathy. Jory has been irritated all along what with Sonny missing his cues, and Marie ignoring his charming smallpox scars, so he brandishes his six-gun now and then, disrupting the catty plan. At one moment, he grabs Marie for some within-code manhandling, and in the clinch the telepathic hold on her is broken by his manly grip and smell, and she blurts out the secret femme fatale plan!

Jory likes that and continues the manhandling so that Marie will tell the others. Sonny gets confused and forgets the name of Fowley who has wondered off to get killed. Remember the spiders? No one seems to miss him.

Phipps has found true love among the cat women and his squeeze confirms Marie’s warning. Gadzooks, as we say on Tuesdays.

Then Jory starts shooting. End of cat women, including Phipps's true love. Maire, Jory, and Phipps skedaddle for the rocket ship. Sonny stayed in the bar. THE END.

Technical notes. While the space ship has a lot of dials and levers, it also has a lawn lounging chair where Tufts lies recumbent much of the time.

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Sonny strapped into his lounger from whence he commands.

Indeed, throughout the picture a lot of people are shown sleeping, not all of them are in the audience but many must have been. Maybe these were candid shots because the cast found the whole thing a bore. The cat women dance.... for themselves. Their guests are…sleeping. Once the guests are gone, the cat women can no longer resist the impulse to put those leotards to good use.

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They dance for a while. Looks like a 1950s Beatnik number.

I made light of finding the Moon above, but in ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950) the crew missed the Moon and hit Mars by mistake. Maybe solar navigation is harder than it looks from the ground.

Sonny Tufts was a high diver. The scion of a Boston banking family, he made the Back Bay mistake of graduating from Yale University and pursued a career as an opera singer in New York City, until it was discovered he could not sing. He was forty-one when Cat-Women was made and looks more than ten years older and the paunch is clearly visible in standing profiles. That is why actors befriend cameramen, to avoid such shots. He was big and lettered in football among the Elis, playing against the Crimson. This was a sin never forgiven in Boston. By the time this film was cast, his name was a joke in show business. He had fallen head over heels in love with alcohol. His wife frequently had him jailed. Several women sicced the police on him for his unwanted attentions. He was to be found wondering the streets in the wee hours looking for another bar. He is parodied in Humphrey Bogart’s ‘In a Lonely Place’ (1950) as the drunken and permanently between engagements thespian next door. ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ may have been the highpoint of his career.

Everyman Richard Carlson leads a handsome cast in this Gothic thriller made for the Fright Night drive-in market.

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Carlson is dancing the night away to celebrate engagement to Beauty, when he receives a telegram. The news is bad but not that bad. His Scots uncle has died and he is the new baron, required to go to the distant, remote, and forbidding castle…in studio 13 of Roach Pictures. Few who go there, return…to A pictures.

Richard takes leave from his fiancée with many endearments and promises a speedy return after completing the formalities.

Guess what happens next?

The movie opened with a cryptic conversation between Australian Michael Pate and another retainer in the dank, dark castle when his Lairdship cacked it. An air of menace hangs over them. Carlson’s inheritance seems tainted even before new reaches him.

Some days later Beauty gets a letter from Carlson blowing her off, for good, for ever. for good-bye.

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She and her aunt study the letter for its subtleties.

It is a ‘Dear Joan’ letter to end ‘Dean Joan’ letters. It stings but she is one bracing woman and with her aunt in tow sets out to Studio 13, that is, Scotland, to straighten out Richard. Could not quite see why she was so determined to land him, but she is.

It takes some will power to get there, first the Atlantic, and then across the moors (of course), and even more to get into the door of the castle. Michael Pate is one polite but reluctant doorman. Once admitted she meets again her beloved and finds him a changed man.

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Once young, now old. Once affable, now grim. Once in dinner suits, now in tweeds and argyle socks. Changed. (The fraternity brothers were betting on a kilt.)

Yes, about a pound of make-up has been pasted onto him along with much grey hair spray to age him and make him look haggard, like a man with a credit card debit he cannot pay and a pile of unmarked examination papers waiting for him.

This shock redoubles her determination to get to the bottom of this mess. A sensible woman, her aunt wants to go home. So did I by then. Various hijinks and confrontations follow. To continue the narrative I have to spoil the denouement and I want to, because it is so Abbott and Costello. To ask an audience to suspend disbelief is one thing, this is another.

As Richard explains in the wrap-up at the end, when he arrived at the castle he discovered that his great grandfather was a frog. That was bad. Worse was that frog great gramps still lived, because some frogs are long lived. The slithering in the hallways at night, the midnight splashing in the pond at the middle of eponymous maze, Carlson’s make-up, these all trace back to great gramps, who still runs the place, frog though he be. The succession of Barons, Carlson being the latest, have been fronts for great gramps, tenderly cared for by Michael Pate and his Igor, who runs the show as Frog in Charge. Everyone addresses this frog as 'Sir.' Sure. I kept thinking of Elmo.

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Carlson reading up on teratology in the amphibian section.

The Castle of Otranto atmosphere is thick and entertaining. There are lots of cobwebs. The mystery of Carlson’s transformation is intriguing. The confrontation in the maze is creepy. The players are fine, and the pace is measured. Pate is so ominous no denouement could live up to the foreboding he inspires.

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Carlson and Pate trying to look the parts.

In short, the set up and the build up are good, but the result in Act III is a fizzle. Like those storms that crack and whirl and then dissipate with a drop or two of rain. The screenplay had no finish. ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon' (1954) or ‘The Fly’ (1958) made more sense.

How uncle combined the mind of laird and the body of a frog is Ed Wood science. Moreover, with that family tree, why would Beauty want to marry Carlson? Newts, efts, and toads to come are there? Or did she trust that her kiss would transform?

The novelty of 3D at the time was such that even this schlock-fest was given the treatment. But 3D never worked in drive-ins anyway.

The Salamander is an arsonist in Occupied Lyons in 1943. A fire in a cinema immolated nearly two hundred patrons on a freezing winter’s night.

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Screening was ‘La Bête Humaine’ (1938) from the novel by Émile Zola and realised by Jean Renoir. Many of the victims of the fire were railway workers and their families.

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The central characters in the celluloid story were railway workers led by the peerless Jean Gabin before his face was scarred by German shrapnel in 1943 in North Africa. Many rail lines converge on Lyons, giving it a large resident population of the chemin de fer.

The freezing weather, absence of materials and expertise, and infighting among the responsibles in the civic administration combine to preclude any forensic investigation. There is a very great deal of duck and cover. Then by chance a German fire chief just happens to show up and throws his weight around, seemingly determined in all but word to misdirect and confuse. Yet he must be there for a reason.

The Nazi commandant is one Klaus Barbie, young, educated, debonair, sophisticated, handsome, bilingual, and blood thirsty, a soft-spoken vampire.

Klaus_Barbie.jpg Called the Butcher of Lyons for good reason.

Was the fire an act of the Résistance that somehow went wrong, or internecine conflict among factions of the Résistance? Either is possible. Was it Klaus Barbie’s way of attacking the Résistance? This is certainly within the bounds of possibility. And if he did, he might prefer not to publicise it, just to trade on the doubt. Or is a murderous arsonist at large threatening one and all?

A large gathering of hundreds of nasty Nazis is scheduled for Lyons very soon, and to allow for the histrionics of their conclave it will be convened in a huge, old opera house full of dry timber, a catacomb of rooms, with a maze of gantries and catwalks that have never been mapped, side entrances, underground loading docks, concealed exits for divas to elude adoring fans, and other mysteries. In short, an arsonist’s delight and a nightmare to police.

Barbie will not delay the meeting of the coven. To do so would damage his prestige and be an admission that he cannot control Lyons. Uh huh. Is that because the first fire was his and he feels safe, or is it just arrogance? Not even his superiors in Paris are sure and so they send St Cyr and Kohler in case there is a firebug at work. Of course, if a Nazi barbecue occurred the retaliation is unthinkable and that knowledge motivates St Cyr and Kohler to superhuman efforts, and writer Janes spares them nothing.

Kohler is a good German but not a good Nazi. St Cyr is a good cop and patriot, but crime is crime.

There are the usual plot twists. In this outing St Cyr seems unstable, accusing nearly everyone he mets of the crimes. Kohler, for once, has cut back on benzedrine and is calm by comparison, though he is caught with pants down and survives.

There is a great deal of description that goes beyond setting the scene. This is an early entry in the series and the writing is uneven. But the portrayal of Barbie is ambitious and measured. Mad and bad, yes, but controlled and calculating, too, and well aware of the fact that his own superiors could cut his throat at anytime for reasons of their own. As always the stifling and exhausting atmosphere of the Occupation is the principal character.

But the greatest fault is the presentation on the Kindle. The text is continuous even when it cuts back and for the between Kohler and St Cyr. Kohler is in one part of the city creeping through cellars looking for phosphorous and St Cyr is at a hotel checking on guests and luggage. When the scene changes from one paragraph to another there is no signpost of any kind, no blank line, no asterisk, no signal in the text. Ergo I was taxed to re-read many paragraphs when I realised it had switched from one to another. The publisher bears responsibility for this needless levy on my time and patience. Tsk, tsk, and tsk.

When reading Marc Bloch’s memoir ‘Strange Defeat’ (1940) for the first time years ago, I had a conversation with a very intelligent philosopher who found my curiosity about Occupied France odd. His line was that the defeat in 1940 was the cleansing failure of a corrupt capitalist regime. And after all, as Bloch notes, life went on the day after pretty much as always, hence Bloch’s title. I did protest to this intellect that changes came, but these, I was told, I had got our of proportion. Ah but I continued to protest, Bloch himself joined the Résistance and was captured, tortured, and killed by the Nazis. This fact was a mere bagatelle to my interlocutor. Bloch brought it on himself that was his line. Really nothing had changed from one day to the next with the change of the flag. That philosopher ascended to the professorship confident in his judgement. All very like those academic apologists for Pol Pot, Mao, and all the other mass murders.

St Cyr and Kohler know what this great intellect did not, does not, know, reality comes through the skin.

While sojourning through the historic gold fields of Central Victoria we visited M.A.D.E. in Ballarat. It is located on the site of the Eureka Stockade of 1854, and in part recounts that story for those who missed the Chips Rafferty film. It is named on the premiss that the Stockade founded Australian democracy.

The museum is purpose built and very well designed and attractive. We particularly liked the symbolic rendering of the Stockade outside. Inside it is circular and so draws along the visitor, while mimicking the circular stockade outside. The centrepiece is the tattered remains of the homemade Eureka flag, which is surprisingly large.

Erueka flag curator.jpg The curator at work shows the size of the flag.

Ought not that to be the national flag? (And ‘Waltzing Matilda' the national anthem; the 1977 plebiscite be damned?) Around the museum are artefacts from the days when Australian political practices developed and more general displays about the nature, value, and exercise of democracy, or so it is alleged.

But, and it is a large ‘but’ I found it as confused about what ‘democracy’ means as the rival museum in Old Parliament House in Canberra, though I thought MADE had more intellectual content and was less puerile that the Canberra version. There are comments on this latter museum elsewhere on the blog for those looking for trouble.

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By the way, I typed it as MADE and not M.A.D.E. because I cannot fathom the point of the periods after the capital letters that stand for single word in an acronym. After all NASA and NATO have gotten by all these years without four additional and superfluous periods, as did the USSR. Yes, pedant that I am I did look in style guides for an explanation of that accoutrement and found none.

What the museum seems to be about is liberalism, that the individual is an autonomous being and that social and hence political arrangements should recognise and respect that. This liberty of the person is based on the capacity for autonomy and in turn that justified endowing the individual with the political rights to express and defend that autonomy. Rather than leaving individuals to defend those rights in a combative state of nature, political institutions develop to protect them in an orderly and predictable manner making social life peaceful. The foregoing is a gross gloss on Immanuel Kant who best explains this concept of autonomy with some seasoning from Thomas Hobbes.

The point to bear in mind is that persons may have social, economic, and moral liberty without political rights. A benevolent government, say a monarchy, may permit this, and in fact that is the evolution of political rights in England. But that evolution was contingent not necessary.

The Goldfields Diggers were, moreover, good John Lockean liberals and mixed their labour with the soil to create property. That term ‘digger’ took on another meaning in the trench warfare of World War I.

MADE makes no mention of Kant or Locke, but implicitly that concept of autonomy best unifies its exhibits. Some of this concept is masked by a smokescreen of jingoism according to which what is on display is Australian democracy, not democracy, but AUSTRALIAN democracy. Is it like invoking Singapore democracy when harassing journalists? Is that like dropping an apple and explaining it as the work of AUSTRALIAN gravity?

In contrast, there is little or nothing about the practice of democracy and the institutions, formal and informal, that embody it, still less any critical perspective on any aspect of it. The extension of the franchise gets a mention, but not systematically enough for this pedant. The property, racial, and gender discriminations that limited the franchise for generations was also Australian but it is passed largely in silence. Slavery in the Queensland cane sugar fields that compromised Federation from day one is likewise omitted. Indeed Australian history books coyly even now do not use the word ‘slavery’ for this quaint far north Queensland practice but maybe this is a tangent.

The evolution of the secret ballot seemed to be absent, yet as a school boy on the distant Platte I learned that the secret ballot was the (South) Australian ballot. A little jingoism on this point might be in order, or is that out of bounds because MADE is about VICTORIAN democracy? Once begun parochialism does not easily end.

Still less was there anything about the peculiarities of the hybrid Australia assembled by shopping in both Westminster and Washington for institutions. Nor is there anything about the oddities of the methods of voting and vote counting that run through Australian politics, from that Hare-Clarke system in Tasmania where everything must always be different to the endless rumours that the thirty-eighth preferences were not counted on upper house ballots in New South Wales. Some suppose this obsession with convoluted voting systems reflects a low level of social trust, which hardly fits the triumphal message of the Museum. Alan Davies used to say that.

Nor is the strange case of Queensland, speaking of differences, mentioned which has gotten by without an upper house for all these years and, despite the implications in MADE, has not been noticeably more democratic than the other states for the absence of the check on the democratic lower house.

Then there is the oddest thing of all: compulsory voting, which was legislated in 1924 as a convenience for political parties and is now a sacred totem seldom discussed rationally. When combined with the preferential ballot it produces strange results yet it is worshipped as OURS.

To many intellectuals the very word ‘liberalism’ is anathema and to the popular mind it is often associated with the political party of that name. As to the latter, set that aside. After all one can talk about labor without invoking that party, so surely one can talk about liberty without limiting it to Liberals. They do not own liberalism any more than the ALP owns the concept of labour.

As to intellectuals the story inevitably is longer though simple. The short version is the liberal-democracy has been regarded as the root of all evil for two generations. That mantra has made many a career, Think Noam Chomsky and all the little wanna-be little Noams out there, often citing incomprehensible French and German thinkers to clothe the nostrums they spout. Against that bulldozer of opinion it is a brave scholar who proclaims allegiance to liberalism. This ground has been trod in previous posts, the most extensive being on a CBC program; I forebear from repeating here not out of consideration for the bleader, but because it is too depressing to recount.

Suffice it to say that during the Cold War, complacent and secure intellectuals made it a career to attack and undermine their own society, and they did such a good job that their spawn now is the President of the Electoral College, the Twit in Chief.

Getting back to MADE, there is intellectual content. The analysis of the speeches on audio and video was very fine and well worth doing, though neither that analytic content nor the speeches themselves were integrated into the meaning of democracy. Yes, speeches can be influential. Adolf Hitler knew that, and by the way he participated in and won elections without the bedrock of liberalism. Likewise the video parade of books was well done but was not integrated into the theme of the Museum. What Thomas More's 'Utopia' has to do with AUSTRALIAN democracy is anyone's guess.

Outside is a symbolic replica of the Stockade and that is imaginative, informative, and interesting. It is located on the original site, and it gives some idea of the scale of events. Well, I assume the scale is relevant. It is small though inside the rhetoric is large.

As homework for this visit, I read Clare Wright's ‘The Forgotten [Women] Rebels of Eureka’ (2014).

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I got a lot of the context of the Victorian Gold Rush from it, which was all new to me, despite the agony of reading all six volumes of Manning Clark's vastly overrated 'History of Australia.' (That Clark hatred Australia was very apparent to this reader and also that he resented the fact that he lived here.) The explosion of the population and the attendant confusion was food for thought. The population of the colony of Victoria doubled in weeks, and then doubled again, and again. The flood of gold-fevered immigrants was so great that a FULL sign went up and they were turned away from Port Phillip in Melbourne. To circumvent that prohibition passenger ships landed many in South Australia who then walked a thousand kilometres to Victoria.

Most of these feverish get-rich-quickers were young men. Half the population was under twenty-five, burning with the brassy impatience and dangerous inexperience of youth. Thousands and thousands were Chinese and this influx was one catalyst for the later White Australia policy which was born in Victoria. Many Chinese had been displaced by the aggressive British Opium Wars in southern China. (For the fraternity brothers who cut the class, the British fought the Opium Wars [plural] to force the Chinese to accept in trade British opium from Afghanistan. From this chapter of history was born the mythical Chinese Opium Den [British owned].)

The vagabonds, freebooters, refugees, gold diggers, and others who flocked to Victoria were polyglot. Some were late Forty-Niners from California, including some riff-raff thrown out of San Francisco. (Imagine what it took to get thrown out of San Francisco at that time.) French escaping the turmoil of 1848, as well as Hungarians, Jews, Croats, Italians, Venetians (who then, as now, do not regard themselves as Italians), Irish, Rutherainians, Ottomanis, and the like found passage to Victoria. Those who missed California in 1849 were not going to miss out again!

It is some indication of scale of the gold rush that these centuries later that two of Australia’s largest and most substantial inland cities were built from scratch at the time and remain, Ballarat and Bendigo. Each still evinces the wealth that abounded in their past in the scale of their streets, the monumental public architecture, the grand houses, and the art in galleries.

This human assortment at Eureka had nothing in common but gold lust. They were not Englishmen out to (re-)claim the traditional rights of Englishmen as were the American revolutionaries. They were not Europeans bent on toppling the privileged and exploitative ancien régime, though MADE draws a straight line from these uprisings to Eureka, leaving aside the pogroms the accompanied many of them. They were not intellectuals inspired by Thomas Paine’s ‘The Right of Man.’ They were greedy individualists. Period. Sorry, Chips, but it is the obvious truth. None of them was there to make a better world, serve humanity, cure cancer, or anything else, but to feather their own nests. They wanted secure property rights for individuals, not majority rule.

Here is an irony. If this human soup was the origin of Australian democracy, the practice of democracy in Australian for the subsequent century and half was partly dedicated to straining that soup. It had started earlier with the near extermination of the aboriginal population. White Australia kept out the Asians. The oppression of the Catholics kept the Irish and later Italians in their place well below stairs. The reluctant acceptance of Post World War II refugees, known as refos, from Europe was only slightly preferable to Australian democrats than the Yellow Peril from the north.

The point is that Australia was no better. albeit no worse, than other European societies.

Who could resist such a title? Not me.

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On the IMDB it is described as a comedy. I hoped it would equal, nothing could surpass, ‘Spaced Invaders’ (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Not so. At first I thought it was a documentary about the Republican Party. Mea culpa.

The set-up is priceless and the execution is consistent, but it is not comedy as we know it. The genre would have to be Horror, sub-species ‘coulrophobia.’ Look it up, Mortimer and be enlightened, for once.

A circus tent complete with an ensemble of grotesque clowns, oops, klowns, lands in Royal Dano’s (who else!) pasture outside Hicksville USA. The Klowns set about harvesting climate change deniers, wrapping them in cotton candy to ferment, and when just right…..

When interrupted by teenagers doing extracurricular biology lessons, the alien klowns call out the dogs. That was a cackle and a half.

There is a phylum of Horror movies where teens discover the evil and try to report it to authorities, who stupidly reject the reports until it is too late. ‘The Blob’ (1958) was the landmark in this category, though not the first and certainly not the last. In this instance authority is played brilliantly by Sheriff John Vernon, and we waited for his comeuppance which came on cue.

KK Vernon.jpg Comeuppance delivered.

We also like the shadow play on the wall, and then wooshka!

There is an ice cream truck, lots of red noses, and a Willy Wonka interior of the Tardis space tent.

There is one scene of tension with a little girl and a wooden mallet.
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And a long, boring, and pointless scene in a pharmacy.

The Klowns are frustrated by the teens and blast off in their tent spaceship before hundreds of eye witnesses who use alternative facts to explain the destruction left behind. These are people are known as the Klown deniers. But more importantly, what did happen to Royal, his dog, and the others? Who knows. What were the Klowns doing? We’ll never know, until we watch the sequel.

IMDB has it at 6.1, which way to high to me, though I admired the artistry in the effects when it was clear the budget was … well, what budget? The cast, apart from Mr Dano, were unknown to me as no doubt I am to them.

A much better movie than its paltry IMDB rating of 5.3 indicates. What I liked was the message that we are destroying ourselves. Who needs aliens when we are so good at it. I also liked the integrated set design and the ambiguous ending. Altogether it is more thoughtful and well realised than the score which puts it a mere 0.2 points ahead of the turgid and indigestible lump that is the big budget ‘Saturn 3’ (1980) at 5.1 with its all star cast.

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Lobby card.

Chuck Yeager had the day off and in 1960 test pilot Robert Clarke (remember him from ‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ [1959], probably not under all that make-up of sun skin cancers) flies his X-Plane into the year 2024. High octane, indeed! Whoops!

He seems to land back at the airbase he left, unaware of the elapsed time and finds it an abandoned ruin. Empty. Spooky. Eerie. Nice. There is no one and nothing among the ruins. Not even a calendar. Little does he realise he is beyond the Time Barrier! (Most airlines charge extra for that.)

He heads toward a distant light, wearing his flight suit and helmet. He does that a lot. Not the most comfortable of gear, but it does make him stand out.

He stumbles on to an underground civilisation where, after assaulting the first natives he meets, as per his survival training, he is perceived to be an enemy, a spy, a threat. Dunno why. I suppose the flight gear partly explains that reaction but it is not made explicit. He is imprisoned and in time finds there are three other prisoners, Russians who, thanks to the miracle of Hollywood, speak perfect English. Russians. 1960. Oh oh.

There follows much Geordie-speak about the time barrier. Oh hum. When they show him the current Dilbert desk calendar Clarke finally gets it: 2024. (He goes all able when he thinks of how many IRS returns he has missed!) While these four realise they are time travellers, the Mole people do not believe such a thing is possible and deny reality. Now who does that remind me of….

The four scapes decide to use Clarke’s plane to go back in time to warn humanity of the plague and so prevent its occurrence. ‘Scapes’ are those who escaped the plague. (What a struggle to quell automatic correction to ‘scares.’)

Plague? Yes, as one of the Moles explains to Clarke, the accumulated pollution of earlier times had depleted the ozone layer and harmful radiation bombarded the Earth in 1994 creating a plague. There were three results: most people died, others mutated into beasts called GOP, and a few fled underground but are now sterile moles.

To review, class, the dead are gone. Forget 'em.

The mutant beasts roam around the surface making it unsafe for the Moles, though Clarke encountered no beasts on his wanderings thanks to the low budget for wandering beasts. When we see some of these beasts in The Pit where Clarke is briefly incarcerated they are straight out of a Weimar expressionist horror movies like ‘Nosferatu’ (1922), white as Dracula, bulbous shaved heads, and slavering creatures. Yuck. They are certainly Republicans. We never see any of their brethren or sistren in the out of doors, nor is there ever any explanation of why these several have been imprisoned in The Pit except as a forthcoming plot device.

The Moles are a classy lot with swanky gear and funky art deco furniture but their kind is dying from sterility caused by the plague. Only Eve is not sterile and from the get-go she fancies Clarke as her Adam. Must be the sexy flight pressure suit codpiece. Ahem. He is slow on the uptake and who can blame him since Eve says not a word, giving him the silent treatment. She is a deaf mute but the Mole scientists are sure she is not sterile. And ready for …. Uh huh, but how do they know that?

She communicates by sign language. ‘One is for….’ She is also a telepath who reads minds and finds that Clarke is harmless and protects him with vigorous sign language like a third base coach on speed.

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Triangle on the wall, who is the fairest empath of all?

A silent role is not a good foundation for a Hollywood career and she has few other credits and some are hard to forgive, like ‘The Dukes of Hazard.’

There is also one reference to other survivors but that is left a loose end for those of us who were paying attention.

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Clarke and the Russians hatch a plan. However, well, it is 1960 and the Russians are not to be trusted now are they.

Still, Clarke, a changed man, is intrepid and makes it back to 1960 to warn the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, and the Tweet-in-Chief of the coming plague. Yeah, right, that’ll do a lot of good.

Edgar Ulmer (he of ‘The Man from Planet X‘ reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was the director and once again he showed Roger Corman how to do a lot with a little.


It was filmed in five days funded from the tip jar. The set design of triangles is brilliant and consistently carried through in the camera dissolves and fades.

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There are also automatic doors, and sometimes the triangles are askew, giving the effect of a world gone Escher.

Some of the comments among the self-appointed reviewers are a cackle. One shouts ‘time travel does not work like that!’ Evidently there are daughters among us those who know how time travel works. Keep that in mind.

A late entry in British 1950s science fiction on a par with Gerry Anderson productions. (Mortimer, you either get or you don’t.)

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A misleading lobby card.

Meteors land all in a row in a Sussex field and bright lights take over the minds of the scientists sent to investigate. Only the Top Scientist is immune, because he is numbskull.

Spoiler! The Anti-Vaxxers are right! Colanders with tin foil do offer protection.

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These guys are ready for 'They Came from Beyond Space.'

The Top Scientist finds that his squeeze now rejects him. She must be possessed by an alien. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Top is multi-skilled in marksmanship, judo, lock picking, all skills the essential for a PhD in astrophysics. He can also talk opponents to death in the best seminar manner. He is a boring James Bond with a nary a twinkle. He, unlike Bond, is not in on the joke.

He has resisted the mind control of the alien meteors because of the tin plate in his head, the result of too much McKinsey speak at the university with the research manager so off to the kitchen for colanders. Thus equipped he and his elite unit tackle the aliens’ HQ on the Moon.

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The Moonies hangout.

The Moonies have been alien-napping hordes of rustics, who are never missed, to toil at a Big Dig on the Moon. Top and team liberate them and then they — the freed rustics — spontaneously overthrow the Moonies in their lair.

As if.

Once under the tin hats, the rustic toilers would probably turn on their liberators and blame them for not getting there sooner, for letting them be alien-napped in the first place, file for compensation, whine about Toto, argue with each other about whose feelings were hurt the most, reject the tin hats as not eco-friendly or stylish, go on strike for better conditions before rebelling, and so on.

Why fight enemies when fighting friends is so much easier.

At the denouement the Master of the Moon, Michael Gough in a Carnaby Street robe, explains his innocent motives to Top who then graciously agrees to help. Huh? All the fisticuffs, shoot ‘em up, slavery, and mayhem, and yet they shake on the deal.

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'Groovy robe, man.'

Did Bond make a sweetheart deal with Dr No? No way!

Can anyone come from Beyond Space anyway? That threw me. Beyond Space, where is that? The Moon? New Jersey?

Much of earlier science fiction used the threat of aliens directly or indirectly as a metaphor for the Cold War, communism, and brain-washing as illustrated here. Hence the proliferation of colanders in the 1950s in Middle America. On the whole the production is lifeless. I did not care if the hot rocks zapped them all. No loss.

It is a common motif in sci-fi that the aliens are vastly superior to us primitive Earthlings, yet somehow the puny Earthlings overcome the aliens. Because of their superiority the aliens are able to come to Earth while weak humans remain planet-bound. The aliens’ superiority is usually shown in technology, but mental powers are also invoked, and in some cases there is moral superiority - think of those that are Greener-than-thou (and everyone else).

Yet somehow the runts of the galactic litter that is humanity overcome these leaders of the pack. Often doing so involves judo. Using the strength of the aliens against them. In Captain Kirk’s case it all too often involved talking them to death.

It is also a common motif that the aliens have come to Earth for real estate because they have mucked up their home world by listening to the climate-change deniers. In other cases they come for other resources, including US!

A crew of five sets off for the Moon but takes a wrong turn and hits Mars instead. So much for fancy integrated Solar Positioning System of navigation in the new rocket. The film combines very little technology with some striking photography, and the slow and fast death of one and all, and a message. In ground control is that eternal Sy Fyian Morris Ankrum who tries to make it upbeat in the end. He fails.

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Lobby card.

For the first time, say the know-it-all web sites, a movie shows a multi-stage rocket. Indeed Dr Egghead, leader of the eXpedition to the Moon (hence X-M) explains this to the assembled media, who are sworn to secrecy. (These are the same hacks who a few years earlier published details about US depth charge tactics in the Pacific Ocean in newspapers. Guess what. The Japanese kept up their subscriptions and in turn changed their own tactics. Loose newsprint sank a good number of ships. The Newseum in D.C. strangely does not feature this episode in its trumpeting of the free press.)

That verisimilitude is quickly lost when the intrepid crew undergoes rigorous physical examinations fifteen minutes before launch. Blood pressure tests are administered: Readings are elevated as is to be expected. End of physical. They are also wearing buttoned collars and neckties like RAF pilots.

In addition to Egghead, there is Hotshot pilot, moody Stargazer, and Comic Relief. Wait, that is only four. Who is the fifth? The frail. A lady scientist. Egghead says her discoveries made the propulsion system of the rocket possible. Atta girl! However, thereafter she serves as the object of Hotshot’s lust, Egghead’s condescension, and Comic Relief’s efforts at humour. Star Gazer has eyes only for the stars. Though in one brief aside it seems her calculations of fuel use were right and Egghead’s were wrong. He is not big about it.

Off they go. Vroom! Things go wrong. That is what happens with the low bid contractors. They miss the Moon. Yes, They miss the Moon and find themselves Lost in Space, closer to Mars than anything else. They talk. The talk some more. [I left the room.] They are still talking. Finally they head for Mars and land. Well, why not. ‘M’ works for Mars, too.

Sidebar: They may have gone to Mars to avoid unpleasant comments about plagiarising the story ‘Destination Moon’ (1950). The same is said of ‘Flight to Mars’ (1950) by the know-it-alls.

On Mars the washed out rust coloured photography as they traipse around in mechanic’s coveralls and war surplus respirators is very striking. (It was filmed in the Mojave Desert.)

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Red Mars.

The awe and wonder of the red planet comes across, accompanied by some muted theremin music, an essential for quality Sy Fy. More of the silent majesty of a new world would have been nice.

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Note the gear for Martian exploration.

But by this time they are running out of B movie time, and ideas. Albeit, the direction does not feel rushed.

There is movement in the distance among the russet rocks. Natives. Martians who look like injured wrestlers from WWE, limping around with shaved heads, hairy backs, lantern jaws, tiny frontal lobes, big biceps, lots of scars and bruises. The crew stumbles on a sunbathing Martian woman, who does not look anything like something from WWE, and she sets off the alarm with a Hammer horror film scream. Wow! She is blind for reasons to be explained later. Read on.

The cavemen from WWE arrive bearing rocks and hurl them at the crew who conveniently remain within range below the cliff faces. Comic Relief goes first, as we knew he must. He was, by the way, Noah Beery, Junior, who was as ever charming and likeable, if tiresomely predictable. Egghead cracks next. Hmm, these are the best of the best the United States had, sent into space, and they are beaten and battered to death by cavemen. Maybe the physical should have been more rigorous.

The surviving crew shows surprisingly good sense in abandoning these fallen comrades and rush back to the ship and blast off. They have dragged along the square jawed Stargazer who also got clobbered, and is a burden. For some reason the two survivors did not consider lighting the load by jettisoning him. I did, maybe because he is the impossibly handsome Hugh O’Brian. That latter fact might explain both his retention as well as my suggestion to dump him.

Now the Lady Scientist and Hotshot alone together are rocketing back to Earth. She does more calculations with her slide-rule. This is one calculating gal. They have not the fuel for a controlled re-entry! She was indeed right about that as above. Crispy critters are on the menu. Gulp.

But first they have to warn Morris back in control of the dire fate that befell the Martians in the sure and certain hope it can be avoided. Huh?

It seems they made a lot of inferences from their two-minute first and last contact with the Martians, some radiation readings, and an fabricated icon in the red dust. Mars had an advanced civilisation (Exhibit A, the icon) that destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust (Exhibit B, the geiger counter clicking) and has reverted to the mutant primitives they encountered (Exhibit C, hairy and blind) who walloped them. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Is this a composition error? They met one blind woman and a few hairy-backs and have concluded all Martians are blind or hairy. Come to Newtown on a Saturday night and meet the local animal life and from that generalise to us all. Gosh, I hope not.

Hotshot and Lady Scientist in a broken transmission to Morris Ankrum back home pass the word: Don't blow yourselves up! Message received. (Blow up others.) They then plunge to a fiery death while in a fiery embrace. Morris, like some surgeons, declares the operation a success though the careless patients died.

Oracle IMDB weighs at 4.9 opinioniums. That is below some of the effluvia of Adam Sandler.

But wait, there is a serious message buried in the melodrama as Hotshot and Lady Scientist clinch in the barbecue.

Atomic radiation is deadly, long-lasting, unavoidable, and even worse than Faux News. (Yes, that is possible.)

In many Sy Fy films of the era the official line of the US Atomic Energy Commission was followed according to which radiation was a minor nuisance. Wear gloves. Take aspirin. Say the Pledge of Allegiance. No problem. The films from this era are too numerous to list where atomic power is used like overproof diesel to power lawn mowers. It is no solace to know that the same thing happened in the Soviet Union, another example of convergence.

In the early 1950s concern about radiation in the United States was widely disparaged as a communist disinformation plot to inhibit the development of righteous American nuclear weapons and power. If a scientist published data about the ill effects of radiation, it was denounced as Red propaganda by the HUAC and Tail Gunner Joe. These were the climate change deniers of the day. Scientific evidence was dismissed toute suite! Alternative facts were manufactured.

In that context the screenplay’s emphasis on the evil of radiation was a show-stopper. In fact, the screenplay does have a moral within the Tom Swift adventure and the melodrama of the doomed lovers, and that is the evil of nuclear weapons. Subtle huh?

Not subtle enough because the screen writer fell to the HUAC lynch mob for his trouble and spent time in the slammer as a red incubus. That was the very talented and much accomplished Dalton Trumbo, who lives in my affection as the author of ‘The Happy Jack Fish Hatchery Letters.’ All of this cryptic to someone who wasn't even born then: Tough.

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Dalton Trumbo on the way to the slammer.

By the way, 1950 was the very year the lynch mob turned on Robert Oppenheimer, whose leadership led to the atomic bomb, but who had many qualms about nuclear energy, nuclear power, and nuclear weapons. Red qualms said HUAC. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Morris Ankrum must have had a deal according to which he had to be in in every Sy Fy pot boiler. My man-crush on him is explained in another post. Search for it and be enlightened.

Personal note. I did a brilliant grade school project on Atoms for Peace based on the Atomic Energy Commission's publicity when I was a cute little boy. It set me on the way for the great career I had in Physics lab in college. Little did I know.

Second personal note. Learning to use a slide-rule was a major accomplishment and I still have it in my desk. (Though I have completely forgotten how to use it.)

Here is a set-up: A mysterious alien in a black business suit with a briefcase comes to Earth to subdue the Earthlings and harvest their blood. A boring Organisation Man, he carries in the briefcase a McKinsey Management Manual and uses it to condemn the hapless Terrans to endless meetings where the blood drains to the sitting position while they try to out-cliché each other with key performance indicators! Everyone’s job to manage something, but no one does anything. Get it? The aliens take over and no one notices.

Good, huh?! The idea is for sale. Every one has a price, and mine is cheap.

‘Not of this Earth’ is a Roger Corman production and surprisingly low key for this auteur. Paul Birch is the man from planet Davanna in a black suit with dark glasses and a stony expression who is lonely in a crowd. Well. no expression at all and a dry as dust delivery.

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Lobby card.

HIs mission on Earth is laid out in a teleported communique from his commander: to assess human blood, to collect human blood, to teleport this blood to Davanna, to teleport a living human to Davanna for further blood tests, himself to die if the blood is useless, but before dying to destroy the Earth for good measure. He repeats each instruction in a voice without inflection or emotion to make sure the audience gets it. Creepy. He sounds almost mechanical, like a GOP robot.

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Birch without the shades.

What a set of Key Performance Indicators!

Lemmy Caution in ‘Alphaville’ (1961) had it easier. And Birch reminds some viewers of Caution, well, this viewer. But in comparison Caution was a regular guy. He shows interest in some of the people he meets, likes Akim Tamiroff, and makes off and out with a woman. Plus he knows how to drive a car. Not so Birch for whom none of it is personal. How could it be that since he has no personality. (See, I said a McKinsey manager, soulless.)

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How does Birch collect blood? Well, don’t knock on his door and then follow him to the basement. Do not accept an invitation to dinner either. Glug, glug. The story is cryptic but it seems more than a dozen victims have littered the streets, unnoticed by the carrion of the press, each drained of blood. The word ‘vampire’ is mentioned once in connection with puncture wounds found on these victims. Ssssh.

That might sound like a big deal, what with a dozen dead young women lying about, but in the cop shop it is business as usual. Much sitting around eating donuts and complaining about the station coffee is done.

Birch does some analysis in the basement with the chem set from the brief case. Glug, glug. Looks like the Davanans can use human blood, so he opens the closest in his bedroom and teleports thirty cubits of blood to Davanna. (Yes, ‘cubits.’ To find out what the length of a forearm has to do with blood ask Roger Corman.) He also tries to teleport a living specimen, but this specimen arrives compressed. That is best left to the imagination. Bones was right not to trust beaming.

Birch himself is none too healthy and visits a doctor early in the going. With telepathy Birch exercises some mental control over the physician. To keep his strength up for blood-collecting Birch hires a nurse to live in his house and administer blood transfusions each night from some identified source of blood. She is Beverly Garland, who had a career in television with hundreds of credits. Can she handle this blood sucker!

Birch goes to libraries and bookstores to research humanity with special reference to matters sanguinary. He is socially inept and cannot drive a car. Odd for a man of his years in that time and place.

Then in a marvellous scene he passes a woman on the street and then stops to look in a shop window.

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Alien window shopping for the latest Earth fashions.

She catches up with him and stops next to him, and they stare silently into the window, communicating by telepathy with voice overs. She, it turns out, is another Davannan whom he knows and she has come through the teleport in his closet, without asking permission, so desperate are things getting back home. Her account is cryptic. Some reviewers think she is describing a nuclear war on Davanna. I thought it sounded more like the destruction of a Republican Congress.

That is very like the enigmatic account in ‘Alphaville.’ Lemmy drove his Ford Galaxy across intersidereal space to Alphaville to talk the boss computer to death, while smoking forty a day. We are never quite sure why. Just seemed like the thing to do. Jim Kirk watched this as a lad and got his line in talking computers to death from it.

The situation on Davanna is desperate, and this Davannan woman herself is near death. This grim news and her perilous state drives Birch to act in haste (and repent at leisure). By now his cover is blown. The nurse knows something is up, and she no longer trusts the evasive doctor who seems to be part of it, so she rats them all out to the cops.

Birch realises she is onto him and asks her ever so politely and dryly to stand still while he dispatches her. Yikes! She does not comply.

Loved the scene when she calls the police with a perfectly clear demand for help, and let us remember all of those earlier victims, because the cops seem to have forgotten them, while the male officer on the phone dismisses her as an hysterical woman! So stupid, so annoying, so credible.

Birch has an Achilles ear and Beverly figures out how to deal with him. Stunned, weakened, confused, under a great deal of pressure, and an inexperienced driver, Birch rams his big Buick into a wall and dies.

The end! The end. The end?

Not quite. As the final credits roll, another man in a black suit with a brief case wearing dark glasses and a dead face strides across the grass toward the camera. Nice. Looks like Davanna has sent in Lemmy II.

The film opened with a scene before the credits, a rarity in 1957, in which the stone-faced Birch behind the dark glasses recites his collection of blood. Unusual and ominous.

The film is well paced, and low key. The music score matches the action, which is not always the case in this genre. The direction is deft and the pace is pacy.

Birch is sometimes called the poverty row John Wayne. He is perfect here, though he does not have the flat delivery the Duke could produce. Birch, too, had a long career in television. The rumour mill has it that Birch and Corman had a mighty argument about something, and Birch quit, leaving Corman to hire another actor to fill-in for him in distance shots. Since much the film takes place the dark, he is after all a vampire in all but fangs, who can tell.

When the doctor recovers his wits and tries to report to the police his conclusion that Birch is
'Not of this Earth,’ Birch conjures a floating octopus that flies through the air and envelopes the doctor’s head like a feral lamp shade. The doctor is no longer of this Earth.

If Birch had flying octopi in reserve why did he not make more use of them? I would.

That creature is utterly gratuitous. Did the marketing department want a creature to feature on the posters and magazine advertisements, and did Corman oblige with this lamp shade which is but a sidebar. It may have also padded the movie when Birch quit or maybe he quit because of it.

On the IMDB is rates a respectable 6.4, though that puts it on the same level as the execrable Adam Sandler movies.

A deuce documentary approach to the first flight to the moon, and back from producer George Pal, who went to great lengths, consulting Willy Ley, to get the science right, as it was then understood, and to get a major studio to release it for an A movie audience. He succeeded with the former but not the latter. The film was so eagerly anticipated that it spawned several quickies to ride the coattails of its publicity. e.g., ‘Flight to Mars’ (1950) and ‘Rocket X M’ (1950) and others.

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Lobby card

Space flight in 1950 was kid stuff, Buck Rogers, Captain Z-ro, Space Cadets, Flash Gordon, and Rocky Rocket, not for adults. The ‘New York Times’ reviewer, Bosley Crowther (1905-1981), agreed in a condescending, snide, and asinine review at the time. Crowther offered his own scientific advice, according to which space flight was i m p o s s i b l e. Period. He explained that the acceleration necessary to leave the Earth’s gravity could not be achieved. Never. Crowther also garbled the concept of ‘free orbit.’ No doubt he would be an Anti-Vaxxer climate denier today with that grasp of physics. Good thing he did not have to review ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

The film follows the preparation, launch, landing, and return of four astronauts from the United States in the hard Korean winter of the Cold War. The word ‘astronaut’ is not used, rather they are spacemen. There are obstacles aplenty. Test rockets that check out perfectly then fail on launch. How can that be? Sabotage by ‘them.’ Get it? The Reds left the beds and are now under the launch pads.

Indeed ‘they’ have infiltrated the government so that it cannot develop the moon missiles. Sounds like the party line from the House Un-American Activities Committee via the typewriter of Robert Heinlein whose story is the root of this film.

Yet it is imperative to get to the moon to prevent ‘them’ from getting there and using it as a missile platform. Something that ‘we’ would never do.

It is up to all those defence contractors to build the rocket. One of their number convenes a meeting and puts the proposal. Time to put up or shut up! After some hemming and hawing they agree. (As if!) A good thing, because if they did not, then no movie and no paycheque for Heinlein.

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Woody explains space flight to the magnates.

Four aged men, none of them a pilot, one a general who evidently is free to roam the cosmos, two technicians who developed the engine, and the red shirt comic relief are the elite crew. In contrast to many other genre films of the time, there is no woman on board to be the butt of stupid remarks. In this outing the stupid remarks come from the comic relief. His naive and querulous remarks allow the three smartypantses to explain the science of moon flight to him. Also absent are tensions among the crew whose members work well together. Space flight is difficult enough, leaving no time for bickering and acrimony and that makes a refreshing change of clichés.

The gravitational force on takeoff, weightlessness, space sickness, free orbit, the starry cosmos. extra-vehicular activity are all there, and well done. The desolate moonscape is very nicely done, though the cracks on the studio floor imply it was once wet like a dry river bed. Hmm.

There are moments of drama during the EVA (see above, Mortimer). The landing is rough and consumes a great deal of fuel, compromising the return flight. Before facing that, the scientists in bright coloured, high visibility space suits claim the moon for the United States. oh, and all mankind. That’ll fix ‘them.’ ‘They’ would not dare set foot up there now!

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High visibility space suits, which were later re-used in other films. Check out the floor cracks.

At the approach of the launch window for the return flight the crew must shed weight from the ship. A lot. More. Yes, as predicted, though they rip out just about all the props there is still too much weight. By coincidence the excess weight matches that of the red shirt comic relief. Gulp!

The three big brains sit around trying to out noble each other by volunteering to stay behind for certain death. The industrialist, the AWOL general, and the engineer with the deep voice compete in declaring themselves useless. [Pause.] While they are listening to themselves, it’s a no-brainer and the comic relief jumps ship to sacrifice himself. ‘Good,’ I said, ‘no more stupid questions.’ But ‘we’ do not leave anyone behind (as ‘they’ would, is implied.)

But wait, at that moment the industrialist sees a way to shed more weight, and it is an ingenious idea, and can only work if the comic relief returns, which he does.

Whew! The four of them make it back to a return of heroes. A few bold individuals can do what the government cannot. Was this Ayn Rand’s favourite movie? ‘The End … of the beginning,’ says the closing title. Six years later Sputnik went beep beep in Bosley Crowther’s ear. George Pal was way ahead of the curve unlike the ‘New York Times’ reviewer whose mea culpa could not be found on the interweb.

Pal could not convince a major studio to make the film so he created a shelf-company and did it himself as an independent production. The can-do spirit of private enterprise did not apply to the big studios. He did negotiate release through Allied Artists.

On a remote, fogbound Hibernian island in the far Outer Hebrides beyond the end of the line an astronomer sets up a small private observatory in a conveniently abandoned castle with his bright and beautiful daughter along with his assistant Igor.


The locals find Prof avuncular and his daughter comely, but still a puzzle. This Scottish island was in Studio 13 on Poverty Row, i.e., Monogram Pictures.

Planet X poster.jpg Lobby poster

Fredrick Ulmer, the director, grew up on German expressionist films before fleeing the new regime in 1933, and it shows in his many American films. The set is dark; it is foggy; it is misty; it is ominous in silence; it closed in and stifling; nothing is quite in focus. Ulmer did much himself, from painting the backdrops to manhandling the camera, and the editing.

The professor went to the island because Planet X has come swooping into the Solar System and is headed for a near miss with Earth. The island is the point on Earth closest to the passing Planet X from whence the Prof will train his telescope onto it. So much for science.

Then in the island gloaming there are flashes of lightning without thunder. Strange that. A handsome young American journalist comes from Chicago to interview the prof but finds the daughter in the gloaming.

Then there is a diving bell on the moor in the mists, in the dark, in the fog, in the night, and ….

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There is a diver in the bell!

Plane X with girl.jpg Diver with woman.

The diver is very well realised, and there is an intriguing ambiguity in this alien. The sci-fi imperative is that the alien is evil, aggressive, mean, in short, a Tea Party acolyte, or a benign figure, because of bad table manners, who is misunderstood by the locals. Not so here. This alien is neither one stereotype nor the other in Act I. Damn confusing that mystery.

The Tin Man from the diving bell is tiny, expressionless behind the fish bowl on the head, and vulnerable with a gas regulator on the back shoulder which he can barely reach. (The designer of this space suit, the low bidder, has a lot for which to answer.) Once revealed Tiny Tin Man hardly seems a threat. In fact on first sight he keels over and only quick thinking by Handsome restores the gas supply to the fish bowl.

Yet when the intrepid journalist and doddery Prof then try to communicate with him, the Tin Man projects a beam on the professor that saps him of the will to publish (and so he will perish on the horns of key performance indicators). Whoa! They beat a hasty retreat.

But Tin Man follows them back to the castle, rather like a lost dog in the park and, well, they take him in. That castle will be familiar to cine-junkies because it was the set for Ingrid Bergman’s ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (1948). Director Ulmer borrowed the keys to use it.

Igor is a greedy bastard, the goatee being a dead giveaway. See!

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He proceeds to torture the Tin Man with the calculation of pi! The Tin Man cannot take it! Who could? Igor is none too subtle but subtle enough to mislead Handsome, Prof, and Daughter. While they are otherwise occupied, Igor hopes to extract technological secrets from the Tin Man to make a fortune. It does not occur to Igor that the Tin Man might have an agenda. He does.

Tin Man subdues Igor with his mind ray and the plot thickens. Tinny also grasps the daughter and zombies any number of locals who all work on his diving bell in the gloaming, which seems twenty-four hours a day.

By now Handsome has convinced the local plod that all this is really happening and together they decide to tell the truth to the local citizens, such is their faith in rationality and discipline of the demos. Hysteria and blind panic ensue. So much for the community spirit and the democratic ethos.

This Island of Otranto is cutoff from outside help, as per the script. Handsome alone must overcome the odds. He does.

What is interesting is the intention of the Tin Man. Was he always intent on enslaving the locals. despite the kindly assistance Handsome and Prof lent him at the first? Or did Igor’s clumsy mathematical abuse rile Tin Man up to retaliate? Or were Tin Man’s intentions always malevolent but tactically concealed at the first while sussing things out?

In the B sci-fi genre of the time this ambiguity is unusual. Stopping to think is usually not the objective of the B film maker.

Equally out of the ordinary is the daughter who has a cool head, a steely determination, and a sense of humour. She is not the stock celluloid woman of the time, weak, flighty, hysterical, uninformed, and the target for sexist remarks. If she looks familiar in the dark, she should, being Margaret Field, the mother of ‘Norma Rae.’

Igor is played by Mr Pomfritt, a stalwart of B movies, especially science fiction, with more than 370 credits on the IMDB. Yes, Mortimer, it is the ever reliable William Schallert whose laconic and sanguine guidance of Dobie Gillis lives on.

The hypothesis of this feature film is intriguing. What should a reasonable person in authority do with a bona fide flying saucer?

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The DVD cover.

There it is, without a doubt an alien spacecraft, come to Earth in what seems to have been an accident. It struck a communication satellite just put into orbit and landed hard in the remote west Texas desert in a controlled descent. The craft is inert with no signs of life. Now what?

From that intriguing start there follows a slow descent into clichés.

Step one is to take possession of the object.

H 17 saucer.jpg Much bigger inside than outside is this Tardis.

The Air Force just happens to have a base nearby and in the middle of the night a the airmen dig it out and uses a crane to put it on a truck taking it to the eponymous hangar, a facility devoted to serving NASA space shuttles. Hush, hush, hardly, hardly. It is thus well equipped for such a call-out. So far, so convenient.

What had happened? A NASA space shuttle was deploying a satellite and the saucer appeared in a blur and hit the satellite just as it was released. Two of the shuttle astronauts saw it all and have the telemetry to prove it. Ah huh.

NASA in the person of Darren McGavin, who breathes purpose, intelligence, and energy into his role, wants to know what happened, since nothing untoward appeared on the ground instruments.

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The Air Force base commander recognises this as an unprecedented situation out of his pay grade so he does what he was trained to do and bucks it up the line.

Now one might think extraterrestrial contact is big enough news to get the attention of the President, but no he is busy tweeting, instead the message goes to the chief of staff, played with the casual arrogance of a master by Robert Vaughn, who briefs the unseen President.

What to do?

The Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff argues for segmented and contained revelation starting with American Nobel Prize winning physical scientists sworn to secrecy and flown to Hangar 18 and allowed to see for themselves, and then to help in comprehending what the thing is, how works, where it came from, what to do with it. There are a myriad of questions. Why is it there? Why did it crash? What are the intentions of the occupants? Starting with, how do we get into it?

But no, Vaughn fears premature leaks with consequent panic. The fewer who know anything the better to allow time for proper decisions. The first time it is said that seems reasonable.

Hmm. It is certainly true that swearing scientist to secrecy will not work. It is equally certain a panic would ensue.

It is also easy to believe that saying to the world ‘We have a flying saucer’ will invite national and global ridicule that photos, videos, and testimony will not dispel and, worse, it will unleash every one of the millions of nut cases around the world to The End of Days. Alternative facts will abound. I thought of the apocalyptic scenes in ‘Contact’ (1997). I thought of Ann Coulter, and preferred The
End of Days.

Yes, but…

Vaughn’s desire to suppress the news is explained by a looming presidential election within two weeks, so that is the efficient cause (per Aristotle) of Vaughn’s effort to keep the secret. Ever since ‘Bullit’ (1968) Vaughn has specialised in these oily political operators.

Oh hum. There is always an excuse, if an excuse is needed, see Jean-Paul Sartre on inauthentic choice. Which is the bigger deal here? Alien contact or the electoral college? Current incumbent excepted, I would like to think any occupant of the Oval Office would see the priority here. Not so the screenwriter.

We never see the President, and the suspicion grew in my mind that Vaughn was playing a lone hand and not briefing the POTUS who would then have perfect deniability because he does not know a thing. Ronald Reagan in good conscience could always convincingly claim complete ignorance. What was harder to believe was that Vaughn did not go to Texas and see for himself. Too jaded to bother, I guess. In DC aliens are commonplace, after all.

Once the craft is secured the second step is to discredit all those who saw it, starting with the shuttle astronauts. Again the general dissents but is overruled on the ground that later when the story can be told in full they were be exonerated. Later never comes for underlngs.

The telemetry from the shuttle is altered. Video is edited in a flash. Voila! No saucer. In addition the farmers who saw it must be rendered harmless, suborned by alcohol and a rumour campaign. Sounds like Scooter's work. Of the grunts who dug it up, the base personnel, and the technicians who edited the data, not a word. Sworn to secrecy?

From now on we have an update on the Roswell fable. An inept government cover-up ensues of necessity involving very few conspirators who thunder and blunder about leaving a body count. After several accidental deaths and one murder, even the scheming Vaughn pauses.

Then, being an ideas man, he has an idea straight out of US foreign policy. Get all the witnesses together in Hangar 18, and blow it up. Problem solved.

H 18 Vaughn.jpg The ideas man is having an idea. Kaboom, it is.

With genius like that it is easy to see why he is chief of staff. This decision is made by Vaughn alone and one lackey. Evidently the general has been cut out of the loop for being too fussy.

The problem now, it is clear, has become the guilt of the conspirators more than the saucer itself: Goal displacement once again prevails in public administration.

In fact, the only witnesses gathered are the astronauts and dozens of NASA scientists working on the saucer.

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The witnesses about to be obliterated by the ideas man.

The Air Force grunts who dug it up are not there nor the technicians who edited the telemetry, nor are the two farmers who saw it fall and watched the digging from afar. The screen writer erased them I guess because no one will believe them anyway. No one but the ‘National Inquirer’ and ‘Faux News.’ (One imagines how Faux News would work Hillary Clinton in the frame.)

Meanwhile, the NASA scientists enter the saucer and find two dead humanoids killed by a gas leak (precipitated by the collision with the satellite) and that led to the crash-landing of the saucer which is otherwise sound. They also fathom the onboard IOS computer system and the alien language to learn much about these saucerites. Talk about a fast study! Thereafter it is straight from the playbook of Erich von Däniken. Stupid and boring.

When watching the film I read a few reviews, including Vincent Canby in ‘The New York Times’ who was so….[what is the right word] disdainful, I wanted to defend the movie. The tone of Canby’s review is personal irritation that he, reviewer for ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’ had to review it, but that is hardly the fault of the film-makers. Complain to the assignments manager and in the meanwhile act like a professional and ‘Do your job’ as they say at Foxboro.

The set up reminded me of Stephen Coonts's ‘Saucer’ (2002) which I liked for its mile-a-minute ride. The conundrum of what to do with evidence of alien life also called to mind ‘My Favorite Martian’ but not for long.

This is a B picture par excellence. According to those who say they know, it was rushed out in fifteen days to get into the market ahead of George Pal’s bigger budget, aspiring A picture. ‘Destination Moon’ on which I comment elsewhere on this blog. There was a buzz of anticipation for this latter film and the effort here was to ride on that free publicity.

Flight Mars poster.jpg Spot the Martians in this lobby poster.

It is a melodrama in which the science is displaced by the fiction from the start. The science of space flight is an E-Z boy recliner with some grimaces on takeoff. These intrepid spacemen head for the Moon, and then take a hard right for Mars. So that is how solar navigation works. Please note that the top dog of the mission smokes his pipe while flying the M. A. R. S. to Mars. The mission is called M. A. R. S. for reasons that escaped me. (A lot did because I watched a poor quality print with skips in it and Portuguese subtitles. It’s what I could get at the time.)

Fl;ight Mars poster 2.jpg The latest launch gear.

Why they want to go to M. A. R. S. did not get through to me. Perhaps. because it is T.H.E.R.E.!

They make a hard landing on Mars, though even that seems odd because the Red Planet (in every other sci-fi movie) is white with snow. No idea why. Yes, it is the North Pole of Mars. Maybe it was too dangerous in 1951 to have anything to do with Reds even on Mars. Did I mention science? They emerge from their battered craft in bomber jackets with surgical face masks for the Martian environment shod in war surplus boots soon to be sent to Korea. Oh boy. This seems to have been a come-as-you-are space flight.

That gets even stranger when they encounter the Martians who wear proper-looking and very familiar space suits. (These were borrowed from the Pal production, as were most of the other props.) Let’s get this straight. The aliens from distant Earth are wearing jackets and the local Martians are in spacesuits. Figure that one out.

To spice it all up this crew includes a journalist who is brazen, loud, nosy, and affable. There is also ‘a lady scientist.’ Cringe. Her presence, first in the crew, and later on Mars occasions some truly embarrassing dialogue for which the author was paid. For a start the journalist cannot fathom that a woman could be a scientist, and if by some anomaly in the universe she is, then she is no longer a woman. He makes sure to tell her this a couple of times. This man has charm, and knows it. It gets worse.

She is spared overt sexual harassment by the silent production code of 1950s films, but there is a love quadrangle later that I found as confusing as the participants did.

The crew also includes some geriatrics who were passed fit for bomber jackets. They wax philosophical at times.

On snowy Mars they encounter those real(er) space suits encasing Martians who welcome them with a handshake and a hot meal. Everything seems to be hunky dory. The Martian chief in a red cape to make Zorro envious is that sci-fi stalwart Morris Ankrum, who should have a star on Hollywood boulevard for the most aliens played.

Morris and cape.jpg

Ankrum, per Wikipedia, did a law degree at USC and à la Perry Mason dabbled in amateur theatrics as preparation to be a trial lawyer and liked that better than trial-lawyering. He has an uncanny resemblance, including the voice. to a boyhood friend of mine, and so I always think of Larry when I see him.

Mars may be a bit out of the way, but it is not behind the times. The Martians have monitored Earth radio and television broadcasts since they began so well that they all drive on the left, play baseball, and speak English, which makes eavesdropping a lot easier than it might otherwise have been. After dinner everyone sets to work repairing the spaceship. Maybe it was called M. A. R. S.

The love triangle gets a fourth with one of the Martians (no anatomical details were supplied), Marguerite Chapman, who by the way got top billing on the lobby posters although she does not appear until half-way through. The lady scientist is delighted to learn that Martian technology has automated both the preparation of dinner and the washing up, so she does not have to do it. She loves Mars for its kitchen. This lady scientist, however, shows no interest in how that technology works. Indeed she contributes nothing to the ersatz science and technology while on Mars. Don't blame her, she is written that way.

The Martian women sport surprisingly micro mini skirts in garish CineColors that anticipate the bad taste of Sixties by more than a decade. These get-ups also have ballistic bras and Everest should pads.

Micro skirt.jpg Martian fashion.

The Martian men DO NOT wear flared trousers, so we have something for which to be grateful. But they do sport fey little cloches for hats.

The ingenuity that went into these costume appurtenances has sapped the Martians of the technical capacity to build two-way radios or spaceships. While they can receive everything broadcast on Earth (in English - what will they make of 'Gilligan's Island'?) they cannot transmit. Still less can they build spaceships. What losers!

Warning! Here comes the melodrama. The fossil fuel Martians need for their underground cities (why are there so many moles in sci-fi?) is running out. They had their own Tony Abbot telling them that re-newable energy was unnecessary. Now what, Tony? Morris hatches a desperate and dastardly plan to let the Earthlings complete repairs, and make the ship spaceworthy, then top them, and replicate the ship into an armada to invade Earth, conquer it, and take over a habitable world. He thinks big for his KPI. No wonder he is top dog. See ‘Invaders from Mars’ (1953) where the stalwart Morris, now an Earthling, is to be found with some others from this cast dealing with the consequences of that scheme. What goes around, comes around, Morris.

For those who doubt Tony Abbott’s Martian duel citizenship, take a close look at those ears.

The naive Earthlings press on, but then get a tip off; plot and counter-plot is played out in a static set. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Walter Mirisch produced this lemon, but lived it down to become a big-time Hollywood mogul. He moguled on into his Nineties.

One of the first and best flying saucer movies, but without a flying saucer in sight. Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush star with a very able supporting cast. Jack Arnold keeps the pace moving.

It Came form oUtspace poster.jpg It was made in 3D when that was the fashion for creature features.

The film is dominated not by the leads nor the alien(s) but by the Sonora Desert around Sand Rock, Arizona, replicated in a studio. The screen play and the director make full use of it.

Mojave.jpg The desert created on a soundstage.

There is the starry sky of desert at night. In the early morning comes whispering wind in the telephone wires along an empty highway. In the Death Valley heat of the day prevails an eerie silence of a sun bleached desert. The long shadows of dusk make Joshua Trees seem alive. It is itself an alien environment that serves as a surrogate for the alien(s). (In the same way the Arctic does in 'The Thing from Another World' [1951].)

Richard is an amateur astronomer and with his best girl, Barbara, see a gigantic nocturnal meteor fall nearby and investigate. Whoa! He clambers down into sizzling hole and sees a craft. but before Babs can have a look rocks fall on top of it and conceal it. Was the fall of rock an accident or a contrivance? He does not know.

Will she, the science school teacher, take his word for it, or not?

This is the first of several instances where Richard has to convince another. He does so by persistent reason, evidence, and argument, and he succeeds first with Babs, and later with Sheriff Drake. How rare it was in a Sy Fy thriller to see sceptics brought around by argument and evidence. What it usually takes to change their minds is a god-awful slavering alien as in ‘Killer Klowns from the GOP.’ Not so here. Personal credibility, circumstantial evidence, the accumulation of oddities, and more reach the tipping point.

Richard Carlson is perfectly cast and plays the reserved and introspective intellectual right down to the elbow patches on his Harris tweed sports coat. Later he was busy leading three lives.

At the climax Barbara Rush, blank and expressionless in an inexplicable posh evening gown fit for a royal reception and a flowing scarf, is ethereal on the ridge. She says nothing but nothing is sometimes a lot, Cordelia.

Babs 2.jpg Dressed for dinner with the aliens.

In this regalia she and Richard have a showdown that still surprised me when I watched it again recently on Daily Motion. This is a teaser, more below.

Earlier the telephone repairmen, Joe Sawyer and Russell Johnson, get some of the best lines and moments on camera. Again that is a rarity in the genre for supporting actors to get this much screen time and importance. These two working stiffs respect the desert, and even see poetry in it.

Linemen.jpg The stiffs at work.

Sawyer, the older man, does a memorable turn as a zombie, his face so cold and dead… [Words fall me.]

Joe zombied.jpg Zombied.

Russell is good too but not quite as otherworldly as Joe. Yes, this Russell was later the professor with Gilligan. [Those poor people!] Sawyer served his time later in ‘Rin Tin Tin.’

The alien(s) get up to some mischief and Richard Carlson is on the case and in time slowly convinces others to cooperate, though of course the carrion of the press mock him at every turn. He discovers that an alien ship has crashed and is being repaired in order to leave. To make those repairs it has zombies Joe and Russell and others to work on the ship. Once the repairs are complete, they will leave. Promise. Promise. Promise. Is this Yalta again? Will the Reds leave Eastern Europe after things are righted? Ha! The Sherrif knows his Paul Harvey and does not believe a word of such promises.

Will egghead Richard fall for that line? Is he a fellow traveller? Or will he be a real man and give in to xenophobic hysteria and blast the damn thing!

This is the Cold War moment. Will Richard go all weak and liberal and let the alien(s) complete the business, or will he get all macho and call out the nuclear posse? Which will it be? A shoot out or a truce? Or something in between.

Again a rarity in the genre at the time even to pose such a question, let alone the way it works out.
Spoiler coming. Richard convinces the posse that an accommodation with the alien Reds is best for one and all, and it is. Once the ship has a new muffler, off it goes, first releasing all the zombies.

When Richard follows Babs off the ridge he is in for several surprises. First she tries to lure him to his death. Some squeeze she is. When that fails, she fires her phaser (where did she stash that phaser in that form fitting gown, the fraternity brothers asked) at him and, zig-zag, it cuts into the rock behind him, while he fumbles for the gun in his pocket; he has fumbled for it before, and he....yes, he shoots her dead. Huh! Because he realises she has been zombied, too, and this is not the real her but an avatar used by the aliens.

This is where the logic breaks down. Clunk. It seems that for the aliens to use a person's avatar they have to take physical possession of the body. They create avatars of Joe and Russell to do the shopping and keep their real bodies on alien ice in the cave. See? They have done the same with some others and the avatars are all busy working on the space ship when Richard, fresh from killing avatar Babs rushes in on them. So far so good....

But first, why would aliens need human labor in the first place. Yes, to go into town to buy and steal copper wire, but to work on the ship? Is this a design flaw, that the aliens cannot work on their own ship but need human hands to do that? How low was that bidder.

The human avatars are working under the supervision of.... [wait for it] an avatar of Richard himself with whom he proceeds to negotiate. But, they have his avatar, having earlier cleared his closet of clothes, though no one knows why all his clothes were needed for one scene, but not his body! See? No, neither do I.

But at least two of the aliens have been killed. The avatar Joe was shot by the sheriff's posse at a roadblock and incinerated, and Richard plugged Babs with his fumble shooter. No fuss is made over these collateral KIAs by the aliens.

The sheriff holds off when the real bodies are released in a show of good faith while Richard and himself take a tearful farewell.

Kind of surprising that HUAC did not come red-baiting after the makers of this film, as it did after so many others for so little because a headline is a headline.

Is it an alien or aliens, singular or plural? It is never quite clear. Sometimes there is a subjective camera from the alien point of view, watching the repairmen, or others, through a clouded (vaselined) lens. So simple and so effective. There was a production argument about whether to show the alien. The marketing department won that argument. It wanted a creature to feature on the posters and in the trailers. Something for the women to scream at. Though in fact that never happens in the film, it featured in the advertising. There are lies, damned lies, tweets, and advertising.

In the early 1950s enthusiasm for creature features, Sy Fy got a boost. Ray Bradbury, who later became one of the deans of Sy Fy, was hired to write story for film. He did it in five weeks and turned in a hundred page story. All the ideas are there, but it was not a screen play.

It was turned into a script by a hack who broke up the monologues into dialogues, blocked the content out into scenes, and re-arranged it into set-ups. Then the director went through it and cut much text to be replaced by camera shots, gestures, close-ups, stage directions, and tracking shots. The the producers reorganised it into a shooting schedule to economise on sets, costumes, extras, camera time, and so on. The hundred pages shrank.

In Bradbury’s story the alien is singular and never seen. What is the old adage? Leave the creature unseen and let the reader’s imagination fill it in. But that was too subtle for the creature feature market. Indeed, rubber masks and suits of the creature features were awash at the time and to be competitive in that market segment, there had to be a visual.

It rates a mediocre 6.6 on the IMDB; that puts it level with some of the excrescence of Adam Sandler.

Think about it. Free public education for more than a century and a half has brought us to this point.

Puv Ed 1.jpg

The Twitter-in-Chief,
‘Top Gear,’
climate change denial,
Erich von Dänikan,
Faux News,
the NRA hegemony,
all those No voters, and
the demographic that watches Channel 7Mate.

Are these the fruits of all the time, money, effort, intelligence, good will, and energy put into free public education for 150 years? Now that is a depressing thought.

All those stalwarts who championed free public education did so in the belief that it would lead to an informed, intelligent, rational, patient, and capable citizenry and all those teachers who have laboured to realise that vision, all of that and yet….

Who is going to explain these results to the shades of Harriet Martineau and Horace Mann?

Horace Mann.jpg

Eric Blair, we need you now more than ever. One of Blair's biographers, Bernard Crick, says Blair was partly moved to write 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' because he feared that free public education would not prevent the society he portrayed in the novel.

A movie made for the drive-in market, written, produced, and directed by Leonard Katzmann who has a lot to explain. The IMDB score is 3.8/10. With that in mind…. Some 1960s role modelling kills any nostalgia for those days.

In the distant future year 2000 the Space Probe Taurus is launched, though the probe is called Hope One. The crew members say repeatedly that their destination is Tyrus. Watch and listen but Taurus never puts in an appearance. That slip is characteristic of the standard of this waste of celluloid.

Probe gat.jpg Notice the gat in hand. Wanna shake? Ready to shoot.

The crew of four strap into the La-Z-Boy recliners and blast off beyond the solar system. Note: beyond the solar system. Got it? Good, on that more in a moment.

There in deep space they come upon another space ship drifting by. They hail it but no one is picking up the phone. OK, they suit up, and the suits look pretty good (credit the wardrobe department) and float over where they force the door, saying it was not locked. Ah huh, burglars aways say that. Then they enter the engine room and start checking the instruments. Whoops! An alien appears in a rubber suit to protect those delicate instruments. After some mutual staring, the rubber alien refuses the handshake the unwelcome and intruding Hope captain offers, who then promptly shoots the alien with the .45 he was packing into deep space. Bam! So much for first contact. Shake or else!

Wait! It gets worse. They decide to blow up the alien ship. Whatever for? To hide the body of their victim? No, but because gravity will pull it to Earth where it will crash and hurt someone. This from beyond the solar system, remember? Deep space, get it?

Are there any more aliens on board? Are there other alien crew out and about in their rubber suits yet to return to the ship. No one knows. No one checks. No one cares. Boom!

The Probe is called the United States Probe. Not Earth probe, but United States Probe. It fits US foreign policy, bam and boom.

There is more to come. Through no fault of their own they do land on a habitable planet, where they promptly kill the first inhabitant they meet. Consistent anyway. Thereafter they congratulate themselves on finding a habitable world. It will be habitable as soon as all the indigenous inhabitants are murdered. Think Australia. Hence the 'nullius' in the alternative title above.

There is no irony in any of these events. Not hint of it. The acting is leaden. The story, well, what story. The special effects are rubber. Could be I am making it sound better than it is. This'll cork it: Roger Corman made better movies! Thought I would never say that of anything.

The crew of four includes a woman, much to the annoyance of the captain who wants chaps. Bet no one expected that! But she got the job because she is a light weight. Literally. She weighs less than a male scientist. Is this clever or what? (Or what.) The two younger crew men hit on her and she finally relents. The rejected suitor, sacrifices himself to extricate the ship from another blunder. Role modelling, indeed. THE END. Amen.

In the second to last scene we learn that the probe is a desperate effort to find a place to relocate the population of the Earth or is it the United States, for reasons not theretofore mentioned or further explained though i suspected it was the aftermath of a GOP majority. Maybe as the end neared someone thought to justify the mayhem earlier in the film. Hmm. Not likely. Probably filmed that last scene first, a common practice, and then just forgot about it. Something I have tried to do myself.

No one ever watched the last feature at a drive-in, anyway. Wisdom in that, as well as hormones.

Leonard_Katzman.jpg Leonard Katzmann much later.

Thirty years later Katzmann directed more than sixty episodes of ‘Dallas.’ Atonement in that punishing duty?

It has also been released as ‘Timeslip,’ which reveals the plot. It is a low budget science fiction film.

Atomic Man poster.jpgTime slip.jpg

The acting is fine and the direction is crisp in the film noir manner of the era. (It was cheaper to film in low light and so many B movies were noir primarily for this financial reason.) The story is another matter. The science is silly. The villains do their best with underwritten parts. For a thriller there is a lack of urgency.

It was a ’quota quickie’ and that explains its schizophrenia about whether it is American or British. All the cast are British except for the two leads, Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue, but all speak of dollars, not pounds. Newspaper reporter Nelson fastens onto the mystery man pulled from the river who bears an uncanny resemblance to a nuclear scientist splitting atoms at a top top secret installation down the road. Connect the dots.

The secret work is no secret to Nelson who barges in and around with insufferable audacity that only works in movies. Ditto he has no trouble getting into the hospital ward guarded by the police where the victim is lying in a stupor.

Nelson and Domergue are a good team, she being a newspaper photographer.

Dom and Nel.jpg The team at work.

He is the action man and she does the thinking. Sporting a noir trench coat, she figures out the problem and takes several initiatives, unlike the female lead in many films of the era. But she is also stereotypical enough to wait in the car while Nelson does man-stuff, i.e., yelling at people. Don't blame him, he did not write it.

More interesting than anything in the movie is the public policy of the ‘quota quickie’ in post war Great Britain. Westminster legislated that 25% of all cinema screenings be British made. This was not in the interest of stimulating the British film industry which at the time was working at full capacity. No. The purpose was to reduce the importation of American films by crowding them out of the theatres so that the earrings of imported films would not taken out of the country. Subtle, huh? There was no prohibition on American films, but a squeeze on cinema proprietors to discourage showing them.

However, because the British film industry was already at capacity, many studios subcontracted the films needed to meet that 25% quota to all comers, like the legendary Danziger brothers (who could knock of the unforgettable ‘Devil Girl from Mars’ in ten days), and to American shell companies set up in London in response to this opportunity. These American companies in turn put a few American touches in the films so that they could be shown in the States in the bottom half of a program or a drive-in triple feature. (Those were the days.) The touches might be leads like Nelson and Domergue, references to dollars, or mid-Atlantic accents from Brits.

This practice of subcontracting undermined the purpose of the policy yet complied with it and yet all the same channeled the money into American companies, actors, and writers.

Nelson started as a dancer but three years in the army in World War II ended the dancing days. In movies he played opposite Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, and Virginia Mayo early in his career but as their stars ascended his did not. Who knows why. In this film he is energetic, times his lines exactly, and knows where to look, as they say behind the camera. Television offered him a second bite of the apple and there he turned to directing and made quite a career of that.

Domergue, once a protege of Howard Hughes, played a scientist in a number of B sci-fi pics like ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), which is a keeper. There is pathos here because plastic surgery figures heavily in the plot of ‘The Atomic Man’ and she herself had extensive plastic surgery as a young woman when a car crash sent her through a windscreen.

The story is by Charles Eric Maine, who also did the screen play; he was a science fiction writer with little interest in and no knowledge of science. It shows.

C E Maine.jpg

He was really a detective writer who used science fiction conventions to set up his stories, and viewed against those expectations this film is worth more than the 5.4 rating on the IMDB. This film is not science fiction. The action turns around a nuclear research laboratory and that is it. He has a long list of titles ascribed to science fiction.

For those who thought ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) was rock bottom, try this offering.

Starship Invastion.jpg

Leading the cast are Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn. Quality right? Wrong!

The acting is Easter Island stone faces. Lips not moving. Not moving?

The aliens are telepathic; ergo their lips are sealed. Most of the film shows expressionless actors staring at each other with a voiceover for the dialogue. Exciting stuff, not. This has to be the dumbest production decision ever made, well, apart from casting Tom Cruise in anything. Christopher Lee as the chief villain imitates a department store window mannequin in a black onesie with a hood over wires on his head to make him look even stranger than usual. That works. He looks constipated.

Lee in uniform.jpg Here is Christopher Lee lips sealed ordering the destruction of the human population of Earth. Ho hum.

Even in the midst of a CGI spaceship battle the extras move like mannequins. An alien commander yells to his only underling, ‘Quick, shields up!’ The underling moves like he is underwater to the console, only to discover it has been sabotaged. That is quick? By the way, was this minion the one who failed to do the pre-flight check? After corporate downsizing, the alien is reduced to one underling. No backup.

Vaughn as a UFO scientist has a few lines which he manfully utters, but mostly the aliens read his thoughts. (I could read them, too, namely ‘Get me out of here! I am going to fire my agent!’) The UFOs whiz around, crash onto highways, are sighted by crowds of airforce personnel in a flyover, land in front the Toronto telephone exchange to steal some vital — as if! — computer equipment (1970s telephone routers, evidently picking up a few things for ET to use in calling home), and crash into the tower of the Bank of Montreal (which relocated to the safety of Toronto when the PQ won an election, and now this), while the authorities and media use alternative facts to deny the existence of UFOs. Faux News strikes again. That part is credible.

The one interesting idea in the screenplay is mentioned and then dropped. Early in the going Christopher Lee examines human DNA and concludes that his own race is the offspring of ancient Earthlings. Huh? How did that happen? But Lee puts aside such girly question and...villain that he is, does not hesitate for a moment to order the planetary extermination of his forbears. That intriguing idea was never mentioned again. It is treated in an episode of ‘Captain Future’ (1948) with far more energy and wit.

The Internet Movie Data Base offers a plot summary, which I do not have the will to do so myself. Yes there is a plot of sorts. The rating there of 4.0 seems high, though, as always, some liked it. That 4 is an average; some of the scorers gave it an 8 or so to balance my 1. (A '0' cannot be cast. i know; I've tried.) Think about that. The only explanation of this celluloid muddle is the tax credits the Ontario government once offered foreign film companies when it laboured under the delusion it was going to create Onty-wood on the Mississauga. This cheap production was subsidised by Ontario taxpayers. Hence some of the supporting actors, like Vaughn’s screen wife, speak with the Ottawa Valley accent.

Another overblown and undercooked science fiction film with a sizeable budget is this entry: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980), a CGI vehicle for John-Boy Walton, and little else.

Battle Beyond Stars poster.jpg

The set-up is intriguing and there are some imaginative elements along with some major talents in supporting roles, but it is decidedly underdone. It transposes ‘The Seven Samurai’ (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa to outer space via ‘The Magnificent Seven’ directed by John Sturges (1960). Though not credited the word on the web sites is that Roget Corman directed ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’ That alone would explain why it is so lifeless, listless, and down right lazy. Kurosawa and Sturges could direct a script from the telephone book and make it interesting, not so Corman who could make ‘The Fall of House of Usher boring.’ Not could, did.

The imaginative element was mostly in the creature-features, always a speciality of Corman. There are several but the one that caught my eye was the multiple Nestor who got the only zinger in the dialogue — ‘We always carry a spare.’ In the context it gives chuckle. And the spare comes in handy. (There is pun there for the cognoscenti.)

Nesstor.jpg Nestor(s)

And Nestor got the only really science fiction element in this shoot ‘em space western with the moving arm. But two moments in 1hr and 44m is too little.

The major talents are Robert Vaughn and John Saxon, both of whom play their parts with deadly earnestness, and George Peppard, who quite obviously wanted to be elsewhere, and should have been. Vaughn reprises his role from the 1960 ‘The Magnificent Seven’ as a world weary, no, galaxy weary, phaser-slinger, though what his particular talents are as a murderer for hire receive no explanation, nor is there any character development apart from his clenched jaw, and ennui filled sighs.

Vaughan jaw.jpg Vaughn and jaw.

In contrast, John Saxon is a wonderful one-armed galactic villain! He is steely and focussed enough to burn through steel, as if this role were his chance at the stardom that eluded Carmine Orrico.

Saxon mean.jpg Saxon scowling.

He does not drool nor scratch, but otherwise he has all the mannerisms of a major league Hollywood villain. He shouts at underlings, describes them as idiots, delights in torturing helpless victims, indulges his senses, devises impossible key performance indicators, cuts budgets, wait, he starting to sound like someone for whom I once worked.

A final confrontation between Saxon and Vaughn might have added up to something.

As it is, the crescendo, and I do mean crescendo because it is loud, of the movie is a twenty minute plus CGI shoot out that goes on and on, and on. (I did the crossword while the CGIs duked and nuked it out.) Peppard, Vaughn, and the Valkyrie, and finally Saxon get killed. At that point the film lost all interest for me, while the ever prepubescent John-Boy waxed on.

Did I mention the Valkyrie? No? What an omission!

VAlkyrie.jpg Spot the Valkyrie!

She has to be seen to be believed. Roger Corman can do some things right and she is one of them. Sybil Danning, need I say more, the queen of B-movie babes who started her career, I do not joke, with ‘The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried.’ Lucky Siegfried.

The mystery is how Roger Corman got such talents to work for him as Vaughn, Peppard, Saxon, and, this time let us not forget, Danning. These players are way above his usual payroll. John-Boy must have had some influence.

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