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November 2017

1 hour 30 minutes, 6.5/10 from 58,642

Europa cover.jpg

Sy Fy, drama, mystery, documentary, these are all terms that might apply to this film. In it a multi-national, multi-ethnic crew pilots a spaceship from Earth to Europa, a large moon of Jupiter. Europa is an ice world and where there is ice there might be now or once water, and where there is water, there might be life. That is why Europa.

There is not a uniform or rank in sight. This mission is that of private company. Shades of the Alien franchise.

The approach is near documentary and the time line is jumbled as new data is made available. The perspective is a forensic investigation into what went wrong, using video sent back by the ship. ‘Everything’ is the short answer. The company CEO reports on the mission … [to the shareholders]? It was amusing to imagine Richard Branson doing this, flipping his hair, flashing his teeth, and thrusting forward the hips, as he does.

We are treated to the starry firmament and the awe of the deep and dark unknown. There is much display of the tedious work of running a spaceship. William Xu is in command but there is much discussion, but no one ever calls him captain.

Europa crew.jpg The crew before....there were none.

Repairs have to be made and are routine,… not all. One repair requires an EVA and when a bolt flies out, the first crewman is lost, drifting off into the void in radio contact for a while…. No bang, just a whimper.

They land on Europa, as per plan, leaving the orbiter above. It is indeed ice, but not solid. Hmm. Will the ice withstand the weight of the lander? It seems OK. They do some ice fishing, cutting a hole and dropping a probe down into…. yes, it is water. The data streams in, then the probe stops. Huh? What happened? An IOS update? Flat battery? One of the crew goes to change the battery and sees the ice cracking and… Two down.

Another one forgot to fasten the seat belt. Whack. Three down.

So it goes until only one is left.

These are explorers like those who went with Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Captain Cook, Marco Polo, Edmund Hilary, Robert Scott, Thor Heyerdahl, and their ilk. They want to know what is there, and send that knowledge back to Earth. Or the scientists like Marie Curie who exposed or injected themselves to their discoveries to see what happens.This desire to know kills each of them one-by-one like the Agatha Christie story shorn of the evil mastermind making it happen. Just the laws of physics.

Europa with Jupiter.jpg

The film is distinctive in good part for what is not there.

1.There are no meteors to provide an easy crisis. This is the oldest chestnut in the Sy Fy writer's manual.

2.There is nothing military about the exercise, and no weapons of any kind were on show. No wonder the NRA banned it.

3.There are no political echoes from Earth of any kind. No scheming Russians, no holy Greenies, no nothing of that sort. In no sense is this mission to save Earth, another common trope omitted.

4.There are two women in the crew of six, and there is nary a word about whether a woman could be a scientist and a woman, etc. All that tiresome, trite, and trivial nonsense so favoured by scriptwriters of Sy Fy in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Oddly, they got paid for writing such bilge. One hopes they are out of work today.

5.Although the mission is a private business there is none of the corporate chicanery beloved by the scripts in the Alien sequence. The CEO suppresses emotion at times recounting the fates of the minions.

6.There are daring deeds but no grandstanding heroics to pull off a miracle. It is realistic enough that most of the time crew members are wrapped in safety gear, which they do not rip off for close-ups pace ‘Arrival’ (2016). None have make-up like Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’ (2013).

7.There is no creature in this feature. Much to the annoyance of the monkeys at keyboards who have commented on IMDb and You Tube. Yes, they do find an amoebae of sorts in the water and that is life, and that is tremendously exciting, but that bug does not cause any trouble. It just is.

8.There is, mercifully, no comic relief. No character who tells jokes trying to be funny, emphasis on trying. This figure appears far too often and in many films the butt of the humour is woman. Glad to be rid of that.

9.And there is no salvation. They all die. Very lifelike.

‘Completing the Channel Tunnel in 1940….’ are the opening words of this futuristic movie made in the depths of the Great Depression from the typewriter of the then recent German refuge Kurt Siodmak while in England.

Tunnel poster.jpg

Face-time video telephone calls are common. Giant television screens in public squares, on outside walls, in railway stations are the source for news. Aerodynamic designed automobiles glide by. Non-stop transatlantic flights ply the airway from London to New York City and back. (The first non-stop flight on that route occurred in 1958). The face-time calls are also made from the airplane to home. The first passenger train took the Chunnel in 1994. As always Curt was ahead of the times.

The 1940 Channel Tunnel led to the development of a steel that can hold up the universe and a radium drill that churns through all matter and antimatter, too. The investors who paid for the development of those technologies want to see them used again for a return on that investment. The financiers gather to start the trans-Atlantic tunnel. Among them are many wheels within wheels. Some are motivated by philanthropy, others see in the Tunnel greater unity to prevent (another) war (though the Great War is never mentioned explicitly or implicitly). some are there for the likely profit, and then there are the merchants of death who think the tunnel (somehow, and this is never explained) will lead to war and increase demand for the armaments they have to sell.

There are three plot lines, which is three more than in some films reviewed on this blog. First is the Tunnel itself. Second is the personal life and relations of the Chief Engineer on the project. Third are the machinations of the financiers. Without a doubt the Tunnel is the star of the show.

The Tunnel is a gigantic maw that consumes money, labour, tools, lives, men, emotions, patience without end.

Drill.jpg

The five year project takes twenty. (Mega-engineering forecasts have not improved since then.) Chief is so obsessed by it that he does not notice his son or his wife. Wife tries to share his passion for the Tunnel by going to work as a nurse in it, where she contracts Tunnel disease from the gases and goes blind. Chief does not notice. Now blind (but evidently wealthy) she leaves him with the son. Chief does not notice. The son grows up. The Chief does not notice.

The daughter of one of the philanthropic investors is madly in love with Chief, married or not. Chief does not notice. She throws herself at him repeatedly. Chief does not notice. (This man needs glasses. Look at those assets.)

The financiers buy and sell Tunnel stock to drive others out of the project and Daughter sells her body to the arch villain to secure continued funding for the Tunnel. Chief does not notice.

Accidents, floods, power surges, equipment failure bedevils the project. These the Chief notices. He throw himself even deeper into the work. Workers die. The Chief does not notice. HIs son comes to work in the Tunnel. The Chief does not notice. His son dies in the Tunnel. At last the Chief does notice this, and united by grief he and Wife reconcile.

The Tunnel is vast, on two vertical levels with two way monorail traffic and a two lane road between the monorails.

Tunnel car.jpg

Nothing like the dual tubes that comprise the Chunnel, which is still losing money. Its investors are still in the red.

Daughter discovers that life with the villain is exciting.

The British Prime Minister and the US President pontificate on the unity of the English-speaking people, though Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Bahamas, and Australia are absent from this incantation. Walter Huston does the US President whose pathetic pension meant he had to go to Mexico to find ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948).

In the end, Chief has to do it himself. He does. End.

It got a laudatory review in the ‘New York Times’ and so it should. The design and staging are striking even today. Siodmak’s futuristic toys outdo ‘Metropolis’ (1926) and its successors like ‘High Treason’ (1929), ‘Just Imagine’ (1930), or ‘Non-Stop New York’ (1937).

The Chief was completely consumed by the Tunnel. How will he live now that it is completed?

It was made at a time when talkies were filmed in three (or more languages) in parallel. The props, costumes, designs sets, and story on the English version were used with a different actors and directors in French, and then again with another cast and crew in German. All this was done quick smart. Doing this led to huge multi-lingual and multi-national production facilities like Gaumont in Paris and UFA in Berlin.

Tunnel French.jpg The French version.

These polyglot facilities later opened doors for actors, writers, directors, designers, engineers, cinematographers, and others to move from one country to another after 1933.

From the IMDB, 1 hour 34 minutes at 6.2/10 from 548

‘They won’t believe me,’ should be the tag line for this story. It has been rendered twice. In 1953 it ran one hour and seventeen minutes scoring 6.6 from 5828 votes, while the big budget CGI version in 1986 is 5.5 from 5972 votes running one hour and forty minutes.

Invaders 53-1.jpg The 1953 lobby card makes it into a creature feature.

Invaders 86-1.jpg The 1986 cover.

A boy of twelve is a star gazer, and he sees a bright light land just over the tree line. He convinces his dad to check it out. The re-make mimics the original in this scene and yet it is played differently. In the original there is mystery, while in the second it is explicit. In the original the loving father comes back from checking out the light a zombie in some kind of inner pain. While in the second he comes back an automaton with no interior. Leif Erickson in the original plays this transformation very well. He is no longer the loving father, but in distancing himself from his son, on his face we seen confusion and even anguish, while in the latter version the dad comes back an expressionless robot.

L Eric Mars.jpg

The subtlety of the original is lost in 1986. While in 1953 the persistence of the boy triggers events, in 1986 he is a midget Indiana Jones who makes things happen. Indeed at one point the Marine general defers to him. Ah huh.

Mind, there are some nice touches in the 1986 take, as when Nurse Ratched is caught eating a live frog, legs last. If only Red could have seen that. I also liked the unspoken reaction to the mother, now a zombie, burning a pile of bacon to blackened ruins and then calmly eating it. A frog, well that is odd but what do you expect from Ratched, but charred bacon is positively appalling. She must be an alien to do that. Burn it, I mean.

The only character in the 1986 version who bites into his role is the general who hams it up for all its worth. He, at least, knows it is a joke. While I loved the general, the time it takes him to blast the Martians was boring.This part was played in 1953 by that Sy Fy stalwart Morris Ankrum, of whom no criticism will be heard.

In 1986 Karen Black gives a a good performance but it does not match the material, but this woman can look worried, thoughtful, determined, and more. She is trying but …. its not enough. Yes, I know the boy is her son and perhaps that explains a lot. He seems to be stubborn, wilful, and blank most of the time.

There is far too much CGI of the Martians and their tunnel. It goes on and on and bored me. The rubber suit for the Martian in 1953 is preferable to this monotonous red CGI. The planet is red, see, so the Martian bugs are red, too, and everything around them is red, see. Yes, I saw.

In addition, I was never quite sure what the Martians were up to. Ugly yes, but what else? Yes, yes, I saw the NASA connection but I still did not fathom the point there, and since it is all boom-boom there is never an exposition, not at least while I was still engaged enough to notice. In 1953 it was clear they wanted to thwart the spaceflight but in 1986 there seems to be more to it, and less.

I liked the tribute of 1986 to 1953 in casting Jim Hunt, who was the boy in the earlier film, as the sheriff in the re-make. A nice touch.

OK, I admit I did some FF and may have missed the subtlety. While confessing, my comments on the 1953 version come from the Mind Palace, not a recent viewing.

Operation Ganymed 1 hour 56 m 6.6/10 from 258 : Orion’s Loop 1 hour 25 m 5.6/10 from 78

These two Sy Fy movies have much in common with each other and with ‘Space Odyssey’ (1968) and ‘Solaris’ (1972). As to the latter they are post-modern avant le mot, ambiguous, incomplete, contradictory, unreliable, deceptive, all much like some …[fill in the blank] I have known.

‘Operation Ganymed’ from West Germany starts with astronauts returning after several years from a mission to Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, which went wrong, leaving members of the expedition dead. (We never find out why Ganymed?) The five left are returning to Earth, among them Jürgen Prochnow, in a hurry to get to Das Boot. These survivors are dazed, battered, and anxious as they power home. The anxiety turns to angst as they near the blue dot because there is no radio communication. They keep calling but no one picks up, and yet they are sure their radio is working. If they cannot get ground help, it will be hard landing. Siri! Wake up!

Gany poster.jpg

As for the Russkies, there are many space ships out and about and recently a number of them have come to grief. No, not by coming across Rush Limbaugh broadcasts, nothing that awful. Rather some unknown kind of radiation is penetrating the ships and driving the crews mad, and killing many of them. Video evidence from an Italian space ship shows the crew, eschewing pasta, and bashing into walls in their orange jumpsuits, double knit with flared trousers. Hold on, any Italian made to wear such a clown-suit would surely contemplate suicide.

Orion poster.jpg

A committee meets. [Shudder.] Pontificating follows. Ditto. Ditto. The Libras want to study the phenomenon for a while, maybe forever. They can see research grants galore, fulfilling their KPIs, until retirement. The Taureans want to get out and taste the radiation. The noble Russkies agree to lead the mission in purpose-built ship they have whipped up. There were eight or nine of them. Each is cloned into an android to ease the burden. This gimmick is not integral to the plot and used in only two scenes. Much ado about little. The androids do not seem to be proof against the brain pain radiation later.

Distracted by the hijinks of the fraternity brothers, this correspondent missed some details, now and later, in both films. Ahem.

The Germans have no help and have to land hard and out of control. Surviving the landing, they emerge from their craft rocky and rolling after years in low gravity space. After some this-and-that, they guess that they missed the Pacific Ocean! Instead they are in Baja California near that ocean.

That is the mystery. What happened? Where is everyone? Meanwhile, how are these weakened men with only a few leftover supplies from a four-year mission survive in the harsh desert conditions in which they now find themselves? This environment is as harsh and forbidding as any Martian landscape shown in other Sy Fy films.

While the imperatives of the operation on Ganymede and then the concentration required to return kept the five cohesive and sane, this empty desert weakens those bonds. Injuries, delirium, dehydration further impair them. They head north and come across a few abandoned trucks and a few empty villages at crossroads. But no people, dead or alive, nor any animal or bird life. Just that rugged, endless, dry stony desert under a relentless sun.

Gany walk 1.jpg The walk.

We then get the dreams and nightmares of the individuals. I loved one who dreamed of being the only survivor interviewed by the media while himself dying. The carrion of the media attack him with a battery of trivial and stupid questions, oblivious to his mortal distress as he dies under the barrage of their self-serving and aggressive questions. It seemed so plausible and realistic it could have been on the ABC.

Another stunned astronaut, blinded by the sun, imagines himself in a ticker tape parade of welcome.

A third has disconnected, blurred flashes of what happened to the others on Ganymede.

This parade of delusion interspersed with conflict among the five, though they are too exhausted for much.

On the other fork in the space-way, the Russkies are nearing the energy source which is cotton candy whirling in space. Their craft has all manner of special shielding, such as applied to those about the go to a dean’s budget briefing, but even so members of the crew start experiencing brain pains of considerable magnitude, though not as bad as though endured by budget meetings. It kills some. Even the androids need Tylenol. Others put on headphones to listen to Reiki music to recover. (Well, that is what it looked like, and I missed some the subtitles.) The crazier ones want to destroy the ship by pulling the USB cables out without ejecting the device in the prescribed manner! Unsafe withdrawal! That is a death wish! Others just want to go home. More die, though there is no gorefest. They just creep off and lie still. Kind of like Alexander Technique exercises.

Barnars loop.jpg Barnard's Loop stands in for Orion's.

Whoa! Other members of the crew get holographic visitations that seem to be communicating with them. It takes a while to tune into the channel, but when they do, the message is, ‘Wait! I am not a dream. Listen.’

These visitations cause pain to the one visited, like when the in-laws come for Thanksgiving. The holographs have been trying to tune their visits so as not to kill those visited, something in-laws never do. The holographic visitors do some Geordie Speak and claim that they are there to help. Ah huh, this is after killing the crews of several other ships with these brain-pain inducing visitations. The energy field called Orion’s Loop, which the holographs have created, will save Earth from a speeding orb on a collision course, not yet sensed by Earth’s primitive instruments. Ah huh. But Earthlings must not interfere with the Loop. (Why did I just think of El Trains in Chi Town?)

‘We come in peace. We are here to help.’ That is what the holographs say as they flicker in and out. The visits seem to take a lot out of them, too. Why they did not try FaceBook is unknown where all the other weirdos go. The Russkies have heard all that before. Said it even. Some think it is a trick and without ejecting pull out more USB peripherals, while others dally with these spectral visitors. Dally. Pull. Dally. Pull.

Then it ends.

Back to the Germans. A couple of the wandering astronauts die in the desert.

Then it ends.

‘Operation Ganymed’ is a character study as each of the survivors deteriorates. While ‘Orion’s Loop’ shows the reactions of crew members to these alien apparitions.

Both movies have effective set designs, especially the Russkie computer, which is walk-in, like the one that used to be in the computer museum in Boston. The spaceships, the space suits, the instruments, especially in the German take, all have a verisimilitude to this viewer. Though the Germans are always complaining about what junk their Audi ship is. Whinge. Whinge. Whinge. It got them there and back.

Both movies are like ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Solaris’ in being cryptic, and it is left to the viewer to get something out of them. OK. Not something I would pay to watch, but far preferable to the Italian Sy Fy I have seen where there is a story and plot and both are confused and nonsensical, and evidently forgotten by the cast half-way through. No loss.

At 1 hour 10 minutes, 5.3/10 from 417 casters.

A missile appears on Soviet radar and the response is measured but finally an effort is made to intercept and destroy it. It fails, while intelligence reports that the missile did not originate in the USA or its allies. Huh!

The Soviet interception, while it did not disable the missile, deflected it into an Earth orbit. Around it goes at such great speed that the heat and sound in its trail destroys all. The new course will bring it over New York City in an hour. The countdown begins. (Note: the Russkies did it even they did not mean to do so.)

Lost Missile.jpg A misleading lobby card because there is no creature in this feature.

In Gotham we learn that a really big missile called Jove is soon due for a test flight at nearby Havenbrook. In New York City itself other scientists are making a bigger and better bomb; all are enlisted in finding a way to eliminate this threat. Among them is Robert Loggia, he of countless television programs, who spouts Geordie-speak and proposes to use Jove to carry the bigger and better bomb to blast the Lost Missile. He and his colleague Philip Pine, another TV regular, set to work against the clock. Tick, tick, tick…

Will exploding a hydrogen bomb in the atmosphere near New York City be wise? The Geordie-speak covers that. As the missile continues, it destroys Ottawa; no one noticed.

Only Philip Pine even wonders where the missile came from or with what intent and that is brushed aside by Loggia. Who cares? Let’s blow it up! Though admittedly, communicating with the silent runaway does not seem the obvious thing to do.

To get the plutonium bomb from New York City to Havenbrook, Loggia puts it in a Macy’s bag and sets off with his fiancée in tow. Sure.

Loggia.jpg Loggia rides to the rescue and his own demise in one of his few leading roles.

He sacrifices himself to arm the missile and launch it in the best Hollywood manner by installing the shopping bag in the missile, handling the plutonium. As crude as that it is, this is one of the few instances of movies of that era that emphasises the deadly radiation of nuclear weapons and atomic energy. Contrast that to ‘The Atomic Man’ (1955) where radiation is an annoyance to be treated with soap and hot water followed by a lie down and an aspirin.

Meanwhile, New York City is evacuated and those that stay in Gotham imitate Brits in the Blitz and gather in air raid shelters in a tense but calm manner to do the crossword puzzle. As if…

In between this action we see a lot, too much, stock footage of rockets, airplanes, weapons, wreckage, city streets, panic, and so on and on. These inserts seem promotional videos for the Air Force, for Conelrad, for NORAD, for Civil Defence, Macys, for…. One of them showed school children calmly crawling under their school room desks which would… (Remember that drill? I do.) Those inserts are good quality but pointless in the story. Perhaps sixty percent of the screen time is this padding. That made me wonder if the story was originally conceived to be shorter for a television playhouse program and then padded with this footage to B movie length.

The action with Loggia and company is well acted and briskly directed, but there is too little of it. Given that there is nothing about the origins of the missile, despite the misleading lobby cards with the hoary hand releasing the missile, it is hardly Sy Fy. We are none the wiser after it is blasted. Hope it does not have any siblings.

Again unusual for the time, the Soviets are shown to be cautious and the population of New York City includes blacks. Both are unusual for the time.

Common to the times is the role of the women to panic, cry, shout, and so on. Loggia's girl is a scientist but you'd never know it after the introduction. She performs the stereotype duties well enough but there is no hiding how tiresome those duties are.


3.7/10 from 575 at 1 hour 25 minutes

A slasher movie with invisibility and no slashes.

A convicted murderer reads a lot. Strange. He murdered his celebrity mother because she ignored him. HIs reading has given him telekinetic powers and also the on/off switch for invisibility. Wow! Mrs Hoover was right in the sixth grade when she said reading broadened the horizon.

Astral coveer.jpg

The cast includes some name-recognition players: Sue Lyon, Elke Sommer, Leslie Parrish, Stephanie Powers, and Marianna Hill. Most of these women get one scene where they pretend to be strangled by an invisible man. Put that on the demo tape. On the other side, Percy Rodrigues is wasted though he imparts gravitas and integrity to a cardboard role. But the male lead is Robert Foxworth, about whom more later.

Back to the crazed killer.

Astal man.jpg

His reading homework done, the villain, Sandman, uses his telekinetic powers and invisibility to escape the slammer and mow down the those enumerated above. The only incident that engaged the jaded attention of the fraternity brothers was the murder during a modern dance performance, and that was the choreography. Honest!

To get ‘The Invisible Strangler’ (alternative title) the master plan is to bait him onto a stairway and then remodel the house with gunfire. The bait at the top of the stair is Elke Sommer. Well, that would work. A step is loosened under the carpet so that it squeaks. Set! Wait a minute, who put the cat out?

Sandman is duly riddled in an NRA-approved fusillade. For about five minutes. End. Though how they know he is dead remains a mystery since he is still invisible, or did I blink.

Did not these people watch any of the Invisible Man movies? Evidently not. To flush out an invisible man or woman, blow smoke, pour water, vent steam, spray insecticide, use paintball, something. But not here; instead it is a hail of bullets.

To attract the slasher demographic the alternative title was used when it was finally marketed. ‘The Astral Factor’ is never explained in the film anyway, and it would just confuse the anti-vaxxers. Mondays do that, too.

There were no special effects. No floating glasses, moving telephones, and since he strangles there are no wafting weapons. Nor is there any problem with invisible clothes and shoes or going bare and barefoot. Nor is there ever any explanation of how Sandman does it. Who cares anyway? (But which book was he reading? )

It was made in 1976 but not released until 1978 for the desperate VHS market of the day.

Seeing Robert Foxworth reminded me of one of the most enjoyable movies that has ever come my way, ‘The Black Marble’ (1980). It is a police procedural that is sad, funny, romantic, idealistic, pragmatic, has dogs, a chase, singing, and gave me an appetite for St Petersburg Russia, which was satisfied in 2017, though not in August. I re-read Roger Ebert's laudatory review from the time and agreed with every word and sentiment. Foxworth is the movie but it helped to have that Amazon from Texas, Paula Prentiss, and the desiccated Kentuckian Harry Dean Stanton alongside. Joseph Wambaugh, the author of the novel, one of many, felt that previous Hollywood renderings of his books were stupid and superficial, so he decided to do it himself with this one. He succeeded! Chapeux!

A boring film of 1 hour and 13 minutes about a nuclear apocalypse. It is marked as 5.5/10 from 557 time wasters.

A highway patrol officer in the Alabama Hills near Los Angeles is ordered by radio to set up a one-man road block in the middle of nowhere because a fugitive is about. He complies.

Not a test cover-1.jpg

For nowhere there is lot of traffic and each time he orders the driver to stop, pull over, and wait without a word of apology or explanation. Send him back to the training course, cried the fraternity brothers. The motorist are varied.

Yes, this the Otranto roadblock where a mixed group of individuals are thrown together by larger, external events and must interact with each other. A disaffected wife sneaks off into the bushes, unbuttoning her blouse with the virile truck driver, a worried businessman has to fly to Mexico, a drunken socialite wants more liquor and her ageing beatnik boyfriend wants to match macho with the police officer who promptly clocks him with a rifle butt. This is a man of few words.

Copper forbids them from returning to their vehicles and has pocketed all their keys, hence no one can listen to commercial radio. The only source of intel is the police radio which begins to talk about evacuation of the city with the title phrase, ‘This is not a test.’ Everyone of a certain age will recognise the title as the Conelrad alert for atomic armageddon. Sixty minutes is mentioned as the time to….. Transmission ends.

The police officer redoubles his efforts to keep the party together, get those two out of the bushes, whack some sense into the would-be beatnik, kill the socialite’s annoying dog by strangling it, and coerce the truck driver and his off-sider to empty the truck. Why? So that it can be used as a bomb shelter! Yep. Well it is better than nothing. That was one training course he did.

So they crowd into the Otranto moving van truck which just happens to have a supply of canned food and bottled water, well beer. There was not much bottled water in 1962. Everyone in the truck feels sorry for themselves and has to decide how to live the remaining hours of their lives. Mostly they stand around saying that. They need an agenda and chair to focus the discussion. They need a McKinsey-speak manager to confuse things properly with micro-managed KPIs.

One hopes that in the truck's supplies there is plenty of deodorant, because they may have to stay there for months. So it is said. It varies between oblivion in sixty minutes or months of waiting while the radiation dissipates, and that seems to be realistic in a way. Who knows? Who has tried to sit out a nuclear war in a truck before?

In 1962 nuclear war was a reality though the Soviets are never mentioned, and there is no chest-thumping about the American way in the back of the truck. Ergo it is certainly of the time but subdued. There are many films with a similar setting, like ‘Five’ (1951), ‘Alas, Babylon’ (1960), ‘Ladybug, Ladybug’ (1962), and more. Each of these three has a lot to offer.

Like many of those other films this one is intended to be a taut character study, but, well, it never had a theatrical release, not even for the triple feature drive-in market, where the cheap schlock was always welcome, and it is easy to see why. It is not taut though it is confined like a stage play. The writing does not produce or reflect tension though it is combative. The characters are so shallow, who cares. The more so when compared to the films named above. It seems to be the only credit for the director, screen writer, producer, and lead actor. The cinematography is either bleached or shadowed.

The Easter Islander playing the lead is monosyllabic and seems to have no inwardness. Some the players are familiar like Thayer Roberts, the farmer driving a crop to market and Norman Winston as the husband who shoots himself, not at the prospect of incineration but because it was his wife off in the bushes with the truck driver. In the hills the fugitive is still after the one-armed man.

However, despite its qualities, the film brought back a lot of unpleasant memories from that time and place when nuclear Armageddon was a prospect. The drills in school. The repeated testing, as in 'This is a Test' of the Conelrad network. The public service announcements on television about taping windows in preparation for annihilation. The ominous announcements in October 1962. Then there was the ordinary high school day when we were sent home early without explanation. Gulp! I have never been able to watch 'The Day After' (1983) because I thought I would relive that.

A novel about two underlings in the negotiations at Munich in 1938. Years ago I read Georges-Marc Benamou’s ‘The Ghost of Munich’ (2009) concerning the late-life recollections and reflections of
Édouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister who took part along with Neville Chamberlain.

Munich coveer.jpg

The stereotypes of this episode are many and seldom varied. Too bad. Harris, as always, digs deep into the strata and finds complexity, contradictory strands, variation, mixed motives, and men in way over their heads in deep and dark water where there is no bottom to touch.

In the main the reader looks over the shoulder of the youngest of the private secretaries in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s office, Hugh Legat. At times we see his Oxford friend, Paul Hartman, sometimes it is implied ever so delicately that they were very close and more than friends, who has become a translator in the Wilhemstrasse Foreign Ministry. They meet at Munich.

Much of the novel demonstrates the great pressure Chamberlain was under to find a way to peace and avoid another blood bath, his heart-felt desire to do that, his unflagging energy even at age seventy to pursue every last chance to the Nth degree, and his creative strokes in keeping the peace-process, as we have since learned to call such negotiations, alive on the assumption that talk-talk is better than kill-kill. He emerges as a good swimmer destined to drown in a mighty tsunami.

While the sniping from the Churchill lobby is noted, the real problem is always Hitler. He is the swirling eddy sucking everyone else into the maelstrom. Harris is a master of the detail of the Nazi regime down to the buttons on the uniforms of the waiters, and yet if comes across easily.

Chamberlain’s most creative stroke was to draw Benito Mussolini into the conference and that did buy several days, a week even. Hitler could hardly refuse the participation of his one and only ally, and Mussolini liked a stage and made the most of it with his prolix German and French. But here he is relegated to the wings.

Daladier said virtually nothing, so exhausted and preoccupied was he by the back-stabbing and internecine struggles in Paris that he spent most of the negotiating sessions making plans to do down some of his host of opponents at home. Among his own dwindling supporters some rallied under the banner ‘Better Hitler than Blum,’ the socialist Jewish alternative.

Chamberlain’s second stoke came after the partition of Czechoslovakia was agreed; it was to extract from Hitler that piece of paper he brandished at Heston aerodrome. At the end of the formalities in Munich he asked for a private meeting with Hitler and presented Hitler with a joint statement that paraphrased one of Hitler’s own recent speeches about peace. Clever that. Although Hitler had no interest in seeing Chamberlain he did so, he said, out of courtesy. Still less did he want to issue a joint statement, but he could hardly repudiate his own words just then. Moreover, it was just a piece of paper so why not sign it, if for no other reason than to get Chamberlain to leave. So he did and he did.

Chamberlain is shown to be a terrier about details throughout and to have an encyclopaedic grasp of the situation. He is also aware of how greatly people wanted peace.

Indeed, one of the interesting elements in this telling is the jubilant popularity Chamberlain had in Germany where the women and men in the street saw him as a messenger of peace, and cheered his every appearance. They crowd around the hotel and call for him to appear, but he does not do so in deference to his host. This popularity annoyed Hitler, who darkly grumbles about the problems with Germans weakness.

There is much in the book about how the PM’s office worked, relations with the cabinet, and with the Foreign Office, that shows the stage machinery of such dramas as well as the rivalries. As always Harris has immersed himself completely in the subject. Likewise, we read much about how Hitler’s entourage was organised at the time, as Hartman is drawn into it, and then recoils from it.

Legat and Hartman have their own private dramas but the master narrative that unites them and propels the book is this. What if Chamberlain (and Daladier) knew for a fact that Hitler’s intention was to go to war? Would that knowledge have led to a change at Munich with a different result?

I included Daladier about in parenthesis though there is virtually no liaison with the French shown in these pages. The French were paralysed by their own domestic strife and were present only in body. In Benamou’s novel Daladier is fatalistic. War is coming and there nothing to do but wait, and then he had faith in the Maginot Line. He is more worried about the prospect of a French Civil War similar to that in Spain.

Legat and Hartman offer such proof of the bellicose intention, and Chamberlain refuses it. Intentions can change, he may have believed, and maybe here today we can influence that change. Moreover, there is no advantage in being seen to be the aggressor. He is perfectly aware of the fact that a signature on a peace of paper will not stop Hitler from doing his worst, but it will give England the moral high ground. And it might delay the inevitable if it is inevitable for a few more days.

Furthermore, Hartman’s suggestion that an aggressive Britain would precipitate a coup d’état against Hitler is so much wishful thinking. Everything the Brits saw in Munich convinced them that Hitler had complete control of the country and that fit with every other source of intelligence they had. To be sure there were dissidents but they were but fleas.

Appeasement to use a word that barely figures in this text is the term usually associated with the period immediately before World War II. In its earliest days, when Germany reclaimed the Saar, and the Rhineland, and unilaterally cancelled some debts, appeasement was a positive policy by England, France, and Italy to assuage some of the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles, which had been imposed upon Germany at the insistence of Georges Clemenceau who wanted forever to cripple Germany. Subsequent French governments wanted, not to ease the German plight, but to strike at Clemenceau’s legacy for momentary political advantage, and so acceded to British initiatives to relent. The Brits wanted a German bulwark against Communism from the East.

But the demands from Germany continued, and no one in France or England wanted another war. While England and France had won in 1918, the war nearly destroyed both. Peace was popular, very. In addition internal political turmoil in France was paralytic as its own fascists were inspired by the Italian and German examples and the Spanish Civil War. Italy soon went with the wind into Hitler’s camp. The French hated each other more than any enemy and locked themselves in a battle to the death; that is no exaggeration because there were assassinations and beatings aplenty.

Chamberlain had learned the value of publicity and ensured that the press with BBC news cameras were waiting his return, though Harris is silent on this point, and in the wind after a rain shower he made that much quoted remark with that peace of paper in his hand which promised ‘Peace for our time’ but I have heard it said that this seventy year old after the arduous days in Munich where there was little sleep and no rest misspoke and meant to say ‘Peace for a time.’ By that measure it was a success.

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It is certainly plausible but Harris passes on this possibility in silence.

That possibility reminded me of Neil Armstrong’s much quoted 1969 remark ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Wikiquotes now does Armstrong the service of inserting an indefinite article in from of the noun ‘man’ so that it reads: ‘one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.’ But accompanying sound file has no ‘a’ in it. The commentariat has been squeezing ego-time out of that ever since.

What else then could Chamberlain do but buy time, and hope against hope that the winds might change, and those cheering crowds in Munich heartened him, though his long political experience meant that he did not bank on an enduring vox populii.

For some years I was an HSC examiner and read each night for three weeks countless, well in fact they were counted — eight an hour — handwritten scripts on Modern History examinations on appeasement and this era. The words occasionally swam before my eyes but on it went but I learned a lot, about both the subject matter and the high school examination process, though as to the latter I was disappointed by its mechanistic rigidity, no paper could be awarded the highest grade of twenty unless it had mentioned every possible point on the list, emphasis on list. Out of the scores I read there was an outstanding one that was intelligent, well written, insightful, and probing but which, because of its tight focus, omitted a single point on the checklist and so, despite my advocacy, it was docked. That still rankles all these years later. (There were many other good ones but I refer to the one I tried to promote. Thereafter I learned my lesson and did not push.)

While indulging in autobiography, I spent a day in Munich in 1983 in a driving rain that inhibited much sight-seeing but I did find the bookstore that figures in a few episodes of 'Derrick,' a long running German cop show on SBS.

Starring Christopher Lee and Lolita, this was released in the same year as ‘Start Wars.’ That is the only thing they have in common apart from the genre classification of science fiction. This one is in the class ‘End of the World’ films like ‘Doomsday Machine’ (1967 and 1972) reviewed elsewhere on this blog and watched on consecutive nights. Contra T. S. Eliot on both nights it ended with a bang, not whimper. 'Start' for 'Star Wars' is the fraternity brothers' idea of a witticism, since that first film started the endless franchise that is still with us.

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This entry runs feature length of 1 hour and 28 minutes; by the end we all wanted it to end. The End of the World was a small price to pay for the relief. On the IMDB it rates 2.9/10.0 from 654 votes. That comes in below the average excrescence from Adam Sandler, but 0.5 ahead of ‘Doomsday Machine.’

It starts well, and that has trapped a lot of viewers per the comments on the IMDB. The cadaverous Lee in a Catholic priest’s garb with a vacate look blunders into an all-night dinner; no one else is there but the attendant. Lee is sub-verbal, like a 7MATE announcer, but looks like the survivor of a car wreck. Stunned, dazed, off-centre, and muttering about calling the police. OK.

Then the telephone explodes off the wall! That’s Telstra service! Anyway, then the coffee urn explodes and the whole place goes up in blazes. Lee stumbles into the dark and ends up in front of St. Demon’s church, where he is greeted by …. himself! This is a mysterious start…and most of the mystery ends there, too.

Meanwhile we see Square Jaw sitting at a 1970 dumb computer terminal in a room full of clicking, spinning, blinking gizmos, so we know this is hi-tech. We see a lot of him sitting. He's good at it. Sometimes he smokes a cigarette in this hi-tech environment. Then he sits some more. Occasionally he furrows his frontal lobes. Is this gripping or what? “Or what,’ said the fraternity brothers.

After what seemed like twenty minutes of furrowing, he says he is receiving messages from S P A C E. No one cares. His boss, the redoubtable Dean Jagger (what porkies was he told to take part in this travesty?) wants him to get back on schedule and forget this nonsense. Stick to the KPIs! Lolita just wants to party.

There must have been a sweet talker in the production because some of the footage is from the Rockwell plant where a space shuttle is under construction. This part is limited but it is impressive.

In the best tradition of a earlier era, Square Jaw takes Lolita hither and yon. No doubt the director knew who viewers wanted to see more.

They go to a super secret facility and walk in to find Lew Ayers who injects gravitas and humanity to this connect-the-dots exercise. More on Ayers below. We never see him again, nor is any use made of the gobbledegook he spouts from the screenplay.

They go to St Demon’s which is a convent and nose around. They nose around some more. Square Jaw exerts his lobes again.

Most of this movie was evidently filmed at night, in the dark, and through a fish tank. Much is not seen and every comment I found on the inter-web said that, so the print I watched was not unique.

Spoiler.

It turns out the alien garbage crew has landed. These aliens have duplicated Lee and the nuns at St Demon’s, though the real Lee keeps wandering about. (He rehearsed this role earlier in an episode of ‘The Avengers [1965].) No explanation of that. The avatar Lee explains that the Earth is a menace to the universe with its pollution, 7Mate, wars, hideous advertising, immorality, lousy presidents, and he and his crew of nuns have come blow it up.

Today that message has resonance about the pollution and destruction of the Earth but in 1977 it sounded dopey, the more so when joined with moralising about how evil humans are. That is, considering the the avatar Lee boiled the short order cook alive in the opening scene, and murdered a few others along the way, including his alter ego. Is he above reproach, not hardly.

With that explanation avatar Lee sets the bomb ticking and his crew step through a portal to go home, as avatar Lee steps up he invites Lolita to come along and Square Jaw, too. in an after thought. The former the fraternity brothers could understand but not the latter. Anyway without a word of demur, they do so.

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After all, the news on CNN is that the world is ending. Kaboom! The END of the movie.

This is a production that languished without release, until it was bought by another producer and sold to the late night television market, where it continued to languish taking a few unsuspecting viewers with it.

In the paranoia of the 1950s witch-hunting, Lew Ayers became suspect to the Tweets of the Time in a whispering campaign. After all he had starred in an anti-war film early in his career. This, they alleged, set him on the Red path as a fellow traveller. The film was ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1930). Worse, in World War II he had served as a front line medic, rather than carry an NRA approved gun. His film career slipped away and he turned to television. Many years later inspired casting made him the incoming President of the United States in ‘Advise and Consent’ (1962) and that put him back on the wide screen.

From the IMDB: 1 hour 35 minutes and 6.2/10 from only 88 opinionators

A movie made on the cusp of talking pictures. It was made silent and then shortly thereafter a soundtrack was added, though the inter-title cards from the silent version remain. It is called the British response to ‘Metropolis’ (1926) with its futurism rendered by miniatures.

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It is set in the far distant future of 1950 where face-time phone calls are the norm at the top of the social pole.

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We never see any proles. Everyone of the elite scoots around in a personal airplane. Art Deco is über alles. The gear is all sleek and flapper with cloche hats. Fantastic, perhaps, but the clipboard is much in evidence. Not a computer in sight. But rows and rows of clerks adding things up. What things? Dunno.

The post-Great War world is divided into the Federated States of Europe and the Atlantic States, as illustrated on a map. Did Eric Blair see this movie?

Somewhere there is a land border between these two. Greenland? Bermuda? Wales?

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At the border the opposing guards play cards and joke about another war. A futuristic car pulls up and much suspect behaviour ensues. Will they declare the duty free or not? Not! Finally the car breaks away and shooting follows. The guards in the best NRA training start shooting each other rather than the fleeing automobile, which looks like a low-slung rocket on wheels. We never do find out what this is all about except that the guards are trigger happy, and that is well conveyed.

The blame bat swings and the politicos on each side of the border pontificate and bluster. All this is observed over a tele-screen by a room of bearded men in a smoke filled room who are spying on the politicos and brag about manipulating them. These are the plutocratic merchants of death. They are indicted by the film for encouraging war, but how they caused those border guards to go all NRA is never explained.

Once the bluster starts it has no end. See Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

In a parallel path we have the World Peace League, which is compromised mainly of women who wear white. There is a lot of white. There are millions of members, but, of course, the head is a man, ahem, whose daughter is betrothed to a soldier. The Montagues and Capulets at it again.

When Romeo and Juliet go to a ball and dance there is marvellous scene with an automated orchestra and a mechanical dance. The scale is great but the movements are stiff and poorly timed, by purpose, to reflect the pace of the instruments. At least that is what I think the point was.

Dad Montague is president of the Atlantic States and keen for war. No reason is offered for his belligerence; he is just written that way. Romeo Montague is a pilot who is ordered to bomb the Federated States of Europe, which is headquartered in London. Juliet Capulet in white harangues one and all campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize or at least the Sydney one.

There follow two confrontations. One is choreographed like Busby Berkley at the aerodrome between the bomber pilots in slick black leather gear, and the women in white, lots of them. They mill around, confront, mill some more, while Romeo dithers. This scene is very nicely staged. The pilots have to get to those boy toys so they can blow people up, and quick! Guns are drawn, but…

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Meanwhile, Dad Capulet in white goes to see President Montegue in his private sanctum. In passing we learn that many chaps are keen for another war, though there are some chaps who know better in white, too. Not a white feather is sight. Boys Own stuff. This man of peace carries in his pristine, moral high ground white clothing a gat. A smile comes to the NRA composite. Got a problem. Shoot it! Problem gone.

Ah…. Peace now prevails in this world of personal rule. No more detail about this miracle is offered. If Hitler had been murdered at Munich….? Well, then perhaps Reinhard Heydrich for Führer. Gulp.

Instead we have the trial of Dad Montague in white for murdering President Capulet in black. The judge, determined to make the law an ass, rules irrelevant all matters of context and intention. A life for a life is the rule he knows. Though the jurors are anguished cravenly they comply with the direction of the judge, and he is sentenced to death, left then staring at the camera, while Romeo comforts Juliet. He never seems to note or care about the murder of his dad. Will the Federated States now launch an attack. Unknown. Maybe they are having their own white and black confrontation. Who knows.

That is where the version I watched faded. Fine with me. It is available for Free View from BFI web site, but I cannot access that. I found it on the Internet Archive and mirrored it to the Apple TV.

The futurism is fun, and the extended Art Deco set design and costumes are noteworthy. The comparison to ‘Metropolis’ is right for the staging, but not the story. War and peace is a big subject, true, but here it reduces to the bad will of a single individual, President Capulet. There is never any indication that the beards with cigars have any influence on Prexie Capulet and they disappear from the film. Or will they return to manipulate his successor into war? ‘Metropolis’ offers a more complex account of good and evil. Nor are there the macabre touches from ‘Metropolis.’

Start with the IMDB information: 1 hour and 23 minutes, with a score of 2.4/10 from 761 brave souls.

It is also a fact that it has two dates. The core was filmed in 1967. Notice the bouffant hairstyles and the hairspray required to hold them in place. The film, however, was not released until 1972 when a creative entrepreneur bought it, and proceeded to cut and paste into and around the core excerpts from two other, as yet unidentified movies, to produce this pastiche. Ordinarily such comments about production follow a discussion of the film but in this case they offer an explanation for the mish-mash.

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Let’s try to take it in turn. It opens with a woman sneaking into a secret (but poorly guarded facility) and since everyone looks California Chinese we are to conclude it is RED CHINA! This woman is a spy and she proceeds to murder the hapless security guard. Evidently the budget cutters had been at it and reduced the security to this schmo. She also -- and the fraternity brothers liked this touch -- strangles a lab technician with her own pigtails. She also stabs another lab rat who happens along. With her blood lust sated, she then examines a throbbing mechanism. Imagine what the fraternity brothers made of that.

Next she is seen behind a slide carousel (that’s a memory test) projecting pictures of the aforementioned mechanism to a room full of hirsute men with yacht sails for neckties, saying only Chairman Mao has the key for it. Heavy! They conclude it is a Doomsday Machine and pick up the phone to call the president in Florida on the golf course.

This is part one and it is lifted from another film entirely and we never see any of these characters again, but it justifies the title that was put on in 1972. It is all poorly staged, acted, lit, photographed, and very unbelievable. Not even the Twit-in-Chief would fall for it. Hmm.

Now we come to the core which has an airforce mission to Venus in preparation. NASA is nowhere to be seen but there are many blue uniforms and much saluting. There are seven men, straight and tall, ready to go. Much banter among them. Much stress on the physical rigours that await them, and their superb preparation. More saluting.

Then a car pulls up, security here, too, is lax, because a civilian emerges. Suits are always bad news among uniforms and this suit has three women in tow, but at least they are each in uniform. Gasp! One of them is in a brown uniform with a Red Star on it! Gasp. A Russky! Gasp! [It goes on like this for a while.]

By order of the Twit-in-Chief, three of the men are stood down and the three women replace them. Much amazement among the men that a woman might be a flight surgeon, a space pilot though this patricianly specimen was the first woman on the Moon, and an astrophysicist. Uniforms, military rank, a bushel of advanced degrees these they may have but they are WOMEN!

However ‘ein Befehl ist ein Befel’ and Colonel Physique submits, though he asks repeatedly why, especially as to the Red Russky. The long established plan is abrogated and they are launched toute suite, without a lot of TSA pre-flight checks. Again there is no explanation for the rush, but viewers know it must have something to do with Chairman Mao.

In sum, we have three young men and the old codger along with three nubile young women with bouffants. The fraternity brother had no trouble following this.

Sure enough the codger goes crook, and the women look after him, when not serving drinks. Colonel Physique strips off his shirt, and on him and this more below to reward the persevering reader, and parades around bumping into the women in states of undress. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he shouts. So did we. The visual evidence confirms three young men and three young women.

Pairing begins immediately when one unstable, snivelling male, let’s call him Donald, jumps on one of the women. So this the elite of the best of the best. His approach reminded the fraternity brothers of things they had seen in the zoo. The object tries to put him off, short of belting him. 'No' is not the answer Donald wants, and we all knew ‘he’ll be back.’

Meanwhile, they lose contact with ground control, because…. there is no longer any ground. Turns out the China Syndrome was right. Bored one night, Mao turned the key on the throbber and it split the world apart. Gasp! They watch the CNN broadcast of the end of the world, but give it a stingy two stars. Bang. No more Earth. Ah ha, that is why the women are on board. The United States Air Force has sent Adams and Eves in space with that codger as chaperone, though why a Russky was included still baffles Physique.

As usual, a meteor has crippled the ship and radiation is bad so they apply much Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty here and there to fix it up. But they have used too much fuel outrunning the debris that once was Earth and dodging the meteors. Meanwhile, Donald continues to harass the object of his extension. In fact, and this is a first for the Sy Fy seen thus far he tries to rape her, in an airlock.

Remember how lax the security has been everywhere? Ditto for airlocks. There is a big red button with a sign in 8-point type that says Do Not Push. In their struggle it gets pushed and the load is lightened by two as they are blown out into space. Donald, OK, but her, she was the victim. There is no justice in space.

Still the load is too heavy to reach Venus. Whoa. Almost forgot Venus, and so did the director and producer. They talk about throwing each other out to lighten the load.

‘Why didn’t they use the hairspray aerosols for propulsion?’ cried a fraternity brother. ‘Why not ditch the codger? asked another. A third, suggested that they jettison the hairspray tins and the brushes, combs, and other impedimentia seen earlier. In fact, he suggested they ditch their clothes. These boys are smart despite their grades.

In the meantime one crewman and the Russky in space suits clamber outside the ship to repair a tear in the Reynolds Wrap and accidentally on purpose the rocket zooms out from under them and the are lost in space floating. They make comic relief remarks.

But by chance, in the vastness of space, there floats by a Russky spaceship. Is that handy or what! They board… Wait.

Here is where another, third film is cut and pasted in showing two completely different people in different space suits entering a ghost space ship where they find the crew dead but the ship fully operational, though it is the comic relief man who pilots it, the Russky ship, and not the Russky woman pilot with him. No women drivers in space. Note for pedants. These space suits are not those originally made for 'Destination Moon' (1951) and used repeatedly in other films since that year. Either they were worn out when this clanger was made or they were checked out to an Apollo mission.

They radio the mother ship [get it] and there is much talk of heading on….

Cut back to Adam and Eve, oh and the codger is still looking on and moving his lips about the future. An eternal optimist.

At this point a title card came up: The End.

Word on the inter-web is that the producers of the original film about the Venus mission went bankrupt before filming the Venus part and that is why it went on the shelf in 1967. The new producer spliced in other stuff and added a voice over ending with the codger rabbiting on about little rabbits or something to sell the resultant turkey to the drive-in market.

Roger Corman also spliced in various visuals of the destruction of the Earth from public domain news footages of fires, floods, GOP majorities, and other disasters, passing space junk, including two or three ersatz space stations cribbed from other movies and which were never noticed by the crew, and many different rockets. The ship they set out on morphed into two later configurations. Ditto the space suits as noted above.

The comic relief by the way was played by that triple threat performer Bobby Van, cannot sing, cannot dance, and cannot act. Confirmed. Confirmed. Confirmed.

Physique is played by Denny (Scott) Miller, a Hosier. whose stint as the title character in ‘Tarzan, the Ape Man’ (1959) left him forever shirtless. His parents were physical education nuts and passed it on to him. He went into television and had a long career as an extra, often unnamed. I recognised him from something but could not identify it, though he was recurrent on ‘Wagon Train’ (1961-1964). Although his real claim to fame is that he played basketball at UCLA. Most Hoosiers are born with cross-over dribble in the blood.

His Eve was Ruta Lee neé Ruta Kilmonis from Quebec, who likewise had a long subsequent career on day-time televisions soap operas up to and including 2017.

Mike Farrell has a few early lines as a journalist, before he went to Korea.

After completing the Invisible WoMan spin offs, this seemed the next logical title. It was all the more intriguing for being directed by Edgar Ulmer whose ‘The Man from Planet X’ (1951) and ‘Beyond the Time Barrier’ (1960) had merits and his ‘Detour’ (1945) has many rave reviews. That was enough for me to tune in.

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It starts with a boring jailbreak where the villain climbs a wall and hops into a hot convertible driven by a moll. In the dark he sheds his prison stripes for civies and in a moving car without the aid of mirror he ties a bow tie! Wow! This is a man to watch, as long as possible.

Bow tie.jpg Note the bow tie.

I knew then why his name was Joe Faust. He had already sold his soul to the devil if he could do that.

The convertible was driven by B-picture stalwart Marguerite Chapman, who topped the bill in ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951). Her childhood nickname was Slugger and it seems she lived up to that name in later life as a few wanna be Lotharios discovered. Now if she had just knocked some sense into this screenwriter.

James Griffith, familiar from 1950s television, wants Faust to steal radium for experiments he is running with a coerced German scientist whose daughter he is holding captive. Faust was in the slammer as an ace number-one bank robber, and so knows a thing or two about vaults, entering and exiting there from.

So far, so what, but…Griffith wants radium for transparency experiments. The word ‘invisible’ was never used, and I listened for it, as I am sure the lawyers for the Universal franchise did too. His German scientist, who gives the only creditable performance, can render living beings transparent for brief periods but he needs more radium to perfect the process and extend the time. Of course with prolonged exposure one becomes dead and buried, beyond transparency.

Faust talks tough but agrees quickly. Faust by the way is a behemoth and why he did not just muscle his way out then or later passes belief. Griffith is no match for him on any score and his one measly henchman sleeps most of the time. It is so hard to get good henchmen in B movies.

Faust steals some radium and has fun assaulting unsuspecting people in his transparent state. Since funds are needed he decides to do likewise in a bank where a wad of cash is conveniently bagged on a table top. Off he…, whoops, the transparency juice wears off and he passes into and then out and then back into whole and part visibility. The effects are good but very brief and not well centred.

Marguerite and Faust plot against Griffith and in the resulting showdown the radium is ignited. Kaboom. End.

Earlier the daughter was freed, and she had a non-speaking part and stuck to her amazing silence, and the scientist was liberated. These two survive and he offers the last line asking the audience ‘What would you do?’ The question is about the secret of transparency but most of the audience was surely already gone by then. They knew what to do: L E A V E.

Griffith is referred to throughout a major. He seems very unmilitary and there no explanation. At times he waxes on about a transparent army. His unseen army would have an advantage over the invisible characters from H. G. Wells because they would be clothed. When transparent Faust remains clothed. Huh? Yep. When he comes to light in the bank he has his clothes on. Never tried putting on a pair of invisible pants myself but…. don’t want to try. Would the weapons of this unseen army also be transparent, and if so, how would they ever find them.

The imprisoned daughter is in a bedroom upstairs. Go get her would seem the obvious solution. The gunsel has no loyalty to Griffith and with a word breaks from him. Within five minutes of snarling, Marguerite is in with Faust who hulks and towers over the whole rest of the cast assembled. Talk about a house of cards.

Ulmer did not apply himself, is all I can conclude. Nothing is made of that name Faust. There is no science in the transparency. Just dim the lights and poof! There are no sight gags like floating telephones or drinks. Just guys pretending to be punched and falling over. The fraternity brothers can do that after a night on the keg!

Still less is there any reflection on the advantages and disadvantages of transparency, like finding the pants.

The set, apart from the convertible, is an A-frame farmhouse. Most of the acting looks like it was done in one-take. Yet it was shot back-to-back with ‘Beyond the Time Barrier’ using the same camera crew and so on. This latter film has a poor story but it has some intellectual content and a distinctive visual style. Ulmer’s earlier ‘The Man from Planet X’ had an ethical ambiguity that was intriguing. Here we only have the heavy hand of Joe Faust slapping people around.

In sum, it is not Sy Fy but a very cheap and nasty film noir done in five days for the drive-in market. None of the characters are engaging. Even the grey-beard scientist who freely and quickly admits to having performed experiments on live human subjects to earn his crust. These victims included his own wife. So how come he goes all gooey about a daughter? Was she on his Green Card? Does he need her to remain eligible for his next role? Does art imitate life?

On IMDB 3.8/10 from 1,782 brave viewers. Run time: 58 minutes.

Dare I suggest that the 3.8 is boosted by the short running time. If it had been longer, the score would be lower.

Running 1 hour 27 minutes, 4.9/10.0 from 904 opinionators

The sagacious Finn Janne Wass gives it 1/10 and still that requires justification. Read on.

It is very well staged, acted, and photographed. though conspicuously lacking flying saucers or Martians. The laboratories are well stocked. The telescope looks serious and not cardboard. The interiors are fully furnished in Palm Springs, perhaps owned by someone in the production. The acting is fine. That is the good news.

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Then there is the script and direction. There are too many speeches about nothing much to slow things down and pad it out to feature length. Some of that may be down to the director who does not give pace a priority. There are bumps and drags. But the greatest problem remains. Before getting to that, some context.

The dumb blonde Peter Graves is a radio astronomer who has a home laboratory where his wife assists. He collaborates with Distinguished Professor who has a big telescope. There is much blah, blah, blah. The Prof has photographic evidence of the Schiaparelli canals on Mars and has observed how the polar ice cap is melted into the canals. (These canals were born of the fertile imagination of Giovanni Schiaparelli [1835-1910].) This is proof of intelligence at work! What other explanation could there be, Erich?

It fits because Blonde Peter is getting radio messages from Mars, sort of. He is sending to Mars and later he gets a reply that is identical to his message. It is not an echo, that has been checked and ruled out. So he says ‘tomato’ and later the reply comes ‘tomato.’ It is the way a child might repeat what a parent says to it. This conversation is so boring, Peter will never get another research grant unless he can move things along.

Pete.jpg Peter doing his dumb blonde routine.

Ah ha, an MIT graduate, Blondie decides to send the mathematical constant, pi. Why didn’t he think of this earlier? Well he is a dumb blonde. The Martians will recognise it and extend the result, and… Not only is this a mathematical constant, it evidently is a universal. Huh?

The Martians use the decimal system and Arabic numbers? Clever those redskins. Oh and Morse Code, too, since that is what Peter uses to send.

Worse the explanation of pi is inverted while it also asserted in this garbled dialogue that one cannot have, make, or use a wheel without knowing pi. Oh. Even the fraternity brothers snorted at that, during a brief moment of consciousness. A circle can be made with two sticks and piece of string. Stick a stake in the ground. Tie the string to the second stick and extend the string and walk about the perimeter. The footprints describe a circle. Voilà! A circle. Then there are round stones and logs, and….

Still this is a good set-up. It has basic credibility, an element of mystery, attractive leads. and the promise of more to come. The pace is good at the start; the cinematography is crisp. That is the first third of the run-time.

But wait, wifey goes all wifey. She is a zealot and fears all this science might disorder the Lord’s work. She goes on and on. Science destroys. Prayer is good. Though we never see her doing anything Christian, like shut up and do good works, give away some of the luxury furnishings in their home, teach their children to offer hospitality to visitors, or any of that boring stuff. Rather she fulminates. (Another case this is where the actor ought to have punched the lights out of the screen writers, John L. Balderston and Anthony Veiller.)

Still she wants to send truckloads of prayers to hurricane victims and not desalination planets, vaccines, or MRI machines, and trained up doctors. For this, by the way, she is much praised in the half-witted remarks on You Tube. So much for the longterm salutary effects of free public education.

Peter puts his Jim Bakker wife into her box, and continues talking to the Martians. Which one is the nutcase?

In a parallel plot the Russkies are also trying to dial up Mars. Red Planet Mars, right? It must be Red. (Get it, Mortimer?) No luck. Their vacuum tubes are leaky, just good enough to listen in on Peter’s transmissions. Some Russian is spoken though the chief villain is Michael Anthony, later of fame on television, who speaks only nasty.

The NBN connection to Mars clears and Peter get the skinny on Mars from his unnamed correspondent. Mars is Eden. There is no scarcity. No disease. Obama-care for all. No bad stuff at all. Not a single Republican on the planet. Everything is free. Everything is good. It is an all-over Donna Reed Show world. Average life span is three hundred years. (Think about sitting through strata meetings for three hundred, that is, 3 0 0, years while Mr. Numnuts bangs on about the drain pipes.) But not a word about those canals or the ice cap.

News of this paradise gets out and hits the spinning headlines around the world. Realisation that Mars is so well off depresses everyone on Earth in a kind of reverse of schadenfreude and they stop consuming, working, earning, start phoning in sick, altogether which makes the world economy crash and society begin to collapse.

How come the Martians are so well off, asks Blondie? Well, they follow the words of the Lord to the last detail. Yep the little green man from the Red Planet starts spouting the King James translation of the New Testament. No copyright?

This news heartens the god-fearing Westerners, and does-in the Earth Reds. The Soviet peoples rise up and overthrow the Commies. Bye, bye Michael Anthony. The Patriarch puts Vladimir Putin in the big chair and he in turn puts the Twit-in-chief in the Oval Office.

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At this point the Hallelujah Chorus should have cut it, but there are few more twists and turns. They just do not know when to quit, these people. Fortunately, I do.

Why the good news about Mars should depress people and lead to social, economic, and political collapse in the West is anyone’s guess. Likewise, why this news should arouse the Soviet populace is another guess. After all, if they needed scientific evidence via that radio to uphold their faith, well then, it is not faith now is it?

All of this is presented with a straight face. God is a Martian! He is a Red from the Red Planet. See title. And like all Martians he is a little green man. Tricky as a Red could be, hiding behind that green look. Lyndon LaRouche is right the Green movement is Red at heart! Mars, the symbol of war and blood, is E D E N. Is there an NRA message in this? (Don't know this Lyndon? Keep it that way.)

No wonder the half-wits commenting on You Tube love it. Still less, do any of them understand the liberation rhetoric of the King James edition of the New Testament, but they wax enthusiastic in the self-imposed dark.

Janne Wass says on the blog Scifist that the original stage play from a generation earlier used the religious card for laughs, but when the playwright tarted it up for the cinema in the frigid atmosphere of the Cold War, it went all serious, solemn, and sanctimonious, a cynical judgement of the audience in 1952 and one that continues to payoff. It is impossible to underestimate some things. It was during the Korean War and the HUAC rampage for those who were not born and have no brain.



From IMDB 3.4 / 359, 1 hour and 18 minutes

In far distant 1975 four astronauts are Mars-bound when they check in with Earth control. Everything is AOK. We knew that would not last. It didn’t. No sooner did Deep Voice hang up the phone, then strange things began to happen.

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The plan had been to orbit Mars once, gathering data by scans, ogling, and pressing buttons, when the ship began to shutter and shake. Was it a meteor strike? Meteors are always on hand during space flight films. Was it some force from Mars? Had the lease expired on the ship? Was not it built by the low bidder?

The crew is four, along with Deep Voice, for whom this is the single credit in the IMDB, there is Goofy Charlie, Doc, and Whiner. The dialogue goes like this, repeatedly: ‘I dunno,’ Deep Voice. ‘Let’s find out,’ Goofy Charlie. ‘I’m scared,’ Whiney. ‘Let’s study it,’ Doc. This four-cornered exchange occurs enough times to send me to the crossword puzzle. Deep Voice never knows anything, making him the perfect McKinsey manager, having no encumbrance of knowledge. Charlie is always ready to leap into confusion. Doc wants more data before moving.

Whiney is the woman in the crew and she is always scared, when is not afraid, worried, sick, crying, or wailing. Personally I thought she should walk off the set and sock the script writer for sticking her with such a pathetic character. After all she sat on a mountain of combustible liquid rocket fuel to travel a squillion miles through the void of space to get there, and once there she goes all mushy. Really! 'Sock him, girl,' we cried!

More generally I considered the question of whether these four were the best the population of the Earth could find for this unique mission. A leader whose big line is ‘Dunno.’ Doc who looks like a Colombian drug lord. All that about study is just cover. Charlie the dolt. Really, this is the A-Team. Next thing a television clown will be US president.

Oh.

When things go wrong the crew has to land on Mars, though the ship, was not designed for that purpose and compromises have to be made. They use the command module as a heat shield and retreat to the landing pod. They jettison the module and bump, bump, bump, they land on Mars!

Doc wants to wait in the pod for rescue, estimated at four months. Whew, did he bring that much deodorant? (Well, it is a fair question.) Whiney also wants to sit tight and be scared, but Dunno Deep Voice wants to find the remains of the command module and salvage the radio and his PlayStation from it. Using the radio they can pinpoint their location (if by some miracle they can figure it out) and he can pass the time with the PlayStation. ‘Let’s,’ says Charlie, again, and again. My brief hope that they might jettison him went for naught.

Since he has a deep voice, the others agree with Dunno. They don their space suits, for once not those from ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) which must have disintegrated from repeated use under bright lights, and sally forth. Whiney goes on about water, food, nail polish, while silently cursing the script writer. Doc constantly falls behind studying sand, rock, paper, scissors, whatever. Charlie bounds around like a puppy off the leash. Whiney…. well,… Dunno still doesn’t.

For the next thirty minutes or more they traverse Mars. They are awed by it, fascinated by it, wary of it, and thrilled to be the first Earthlings to see it.

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What a change of pace from Mars movies up to this time, when most Earthlings on Mars, just want to go home. Though ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950) has some splendid imagery of a mysterious sepia toned Mars, none of the intrepid adventurers seem to notice, while in other films the explorers do no exploring whatever. In this respect, ‘The Wizard of Mars’ is superior in its effort to present Mars as unknown, mysterious, different, and so on.

The science may be whacky but at least it tries to present a brave new world.

That the only creature in the feature is a PVC alligator is down to the materials at hand. Though the creature high point has to be the Ferengi under glass with a transparent skull for a dome in the city they discover.

Yes, they discover a city by following, I am not making this up, a yellow brick road to the castle on a hill. The Wicked Witch was out but the Ferengi was in. (If you don’t know ‘Ferengi,’ get a life! Or ask The Google, as we were once advised to do.)

Regrettably the Ferengi with the glowing dome merely points the way, and bows out. Too bad because though he had been dead for eons, he showed more life than the Wizard to follow.

The Wizard is the head of John Carradine projected against a field of stars mouthing a ridiculous but lengthy speech about space (vast), time (long), and Visa card payments (overdue). He went on and on, and I began to pine for the thirty minute trek across the sands of Mars, which sands by the way, were white and not red, because it was filmed in Great Basin National Park in Nevada where red sand is scarce. Most of the time during this rant he is out of focus and that helps endure it.

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Finally he comes to a point. (He must have been paid by the word, though pretty clearly this is one take and his contribution to the film is this ramble.) If these strangers (I’ll say) will just adjust the universal symbol of time, he will - Hey, presto! - power their rocket ship back to Earth. It seems his watch has stopped and he has forgotten how to set it. Just like my granny.

Charlie says, ‘Let’s.’ Deep Voice, ‘Dunno.’ ‘Let’s study it,’ Doc. And, inevitably, ‘My watch has stopped,’ Ms Whiney. (She really should have socked the writer. Though it should be noted she is not harassed by the men in the crew.) Turns out easy enough. The Universal Symbol of time is a pendulum. Remember that, class. Charlie adjusts it by replacing the rock crystal with the city within. Don’t ask.

Whuska! Off they go back on board the space ship, checking in with ground control for re-entry, only two minutes after their last check-in! Two minutes! What? Was it all a dream? The laundry suggests otherwise but these four are puzzled. Look at yourselves! Their clothes look lived in, torn, dirty, and rumpled. Moreover, and conclusively, wee Charlie has grown a dirty upper lip for Movember. The script writer and director have overlooked this obvious and visible evidence.

This opus has had other titles. including ‘Horrors of the Red Planet’ and ‘Alien Massacre.’ Neither is accurate but the marketing department prefers alternative facts. It has also been re-cut hither and thither to make a silk purse out of it. No go.

A word on John Carradine (1908-1988), the man who pursued a triple career. He appeared in many classic A-features like ‘Stagecoach’ (1939), ‘The Grapes of Wraith’ (1940), ‘The Last Hurrah’ (1958), ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’ (1962), ‘Cheyenne Autumn’ (1964), working with some of the greatest stars and directors in the Hollywood firmament. This is by no means a complete list.

In parallel he also was also a guest star in every television series of the epoch, 'Gunsmoke.' 'Perry Mason, 'Mr Ed,' and so on and on and on. Though not, I noticed, in 'My Favorite Martian.'

But by night he also appeared in such cinematographic works as ‘Captive Wild Women’ (1943), ‘Revenge of the Zombies’ (1943), ‘The Mummy’s Ghost’ (1944), ‘Half Human’ (1958), ‘Invasion of the Animal People’ (1959), ‘Curse of the Stone Hand’ (1964), ‘House of the Black Death’ (1965), ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror’(1967), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978), ‘Evil Spawn’ (1987), and ‘Buried Alive’ (1990), which fittingly appeared two years after his death and that was not his last credit for he died on set. This is by no means a complete list. It would seem, he never said ‘No’ to a part.

The script writer’s previous major work is listed as ‘Monsters Crash the Pajama Party,’ which was never produced. Sighs of gratitude were hears around the room at that news.

Perhaps it was best that the print I watched was smeared. Then again, perhaps, it was made that way. Per Wikipedia it was made using an optical printer for special effects and was filmed for $33,000. A glance at the cast and crew on IMDB suggests none of them had a prior or subsequent career in the dream factory. Still the space suits looked good, and the desert trudge was noteworthy, if boring.

The facts from the IMDB: 1 h 53 m and 5.5 from 507

A whopper from 1880, oh wait, make that 1930, but it opens with a comparison of New York City in 1880 with that of 1930 to illustrate the change in fifty years and then projects another fifty years into the future for the story of Romeo and Juliet in space suits, sort of, with singing and dancing. Yes it is that rarity of rarities, a Sy Fy musical, only the second I know of. (Read to the end to find out about the other, or just scroll there.)

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In distant 1980 things have come, pace H. G. Wells. Evidently traffic is so bad that everyone uses a personal, fold-up light hover craft to get around. The craft is a light airplane capable of vertical take off and landing, and can hover, as the opening scene shows. In it Romeo and Juliet meet in the air and each sets their craft to hover, while they talk of their troubles.

Romeo and Juliet Air.jpg

Troubles? Yes, they have troubles right there in Sky City.

For a start the Volstead Act is still in force, as one of the characters says in a contemporary reference. Fraternity brothers, cover your ears. Moving on.

Think of Plato’s marriage festivals first, to get in the right frame of mind, Mortimer. A man has applied to the Marriage Bureau to conjugate with Juliet against the application of Romeo, whom she prefers. In this world she is not even consulted in the matter. The Bureau decides in the favour of the other chap, whom we shall call OC. OC is of a higher status than Romeo and so gets the wife he wants. Period. End. Well, if it ended there, it would be not one hour and fifty-three minutes long.

Men apply to marry women, but women, as it explicitly stated, cannot apply to marry men. This process is asymmetrical.

Romeo appeals and has four months to lodge a counter application. But how can he raise his status in that time? He is already at the top of his profession as a Zeppelin pilot and there is no way up from there. (Get it, Mortimer? [Probably not]) Not sure why but he does not think of going into management. Guess the scriptwriters did not foresee the Invasion of McKinsey Managers and the havoc their KPIs can bring.

He wanders around the Big Apple and bumps into Igor to whom he tells his troubles. This is just the man Igor is looking for, because he boss, Mad Emeritus Professor 1, wants a disconsolate but experiences Zeppelin pilot to fly his experimental, virginal spacecraft to Mars. To be the first man to fly to Mars and return will give Romeo a super deluxe status and he will easily win Juliet’s hand and all that goes with it. If he survives the trip.

Earlier when he was drowning his sorrows with this buddies, they went to watch, as one does, Mad Emeritus Professor 2, resuscitate a dead man killed in 1930.

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He is the Comic Relief, whom we shall call Lazarus. Lazzie tells stupid jokes for the rest of movie. Reviews from 1930 suggest this was instantly detected.

Naming the characters at will is both easy and necessary because in 1980 no one has names but only numbers, e.g. JN-102.

Romeo, one of his drunk buddies, and Lazzie fly to Mars. Gaavoom! And their iSpaceShip hits Mars. There they are greeted by Busby Berkley’s dance company and have a high-ho time.

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Though things are confusing because everyone on Mars is a twin, one good and the other a Republican. They get confused. They do look alike.

Every now and then someone breaks into song, and there are many dance numbers. Indeed the Martians are mimes who express themselves in dance, a lot.

The film was enormously expensive to make with all those sets, mechanical contrivances, travelling mattes, and extras, and it bankrupted the studio just as the Great Depression closed theatres. Not a CGI in sight. It was made prior to the Hayes Code and there is much female flesh on display, and some implicit homosexuality. On the other hand, there is little cigarette smoking, which is so pronounced in some other, later Sy Fy films on the Moon and Mars and even in the space ship en route.

In 1930 talking pictures were in the first decade and many of the conventions, camera angles, transition cards, and the like are used. In vaudeville shows there was often a comic or clown on the stage between acts, as one set of performers cleared out and another set up, to fill the gap and hold the audience. That is what Lazzie does here, though in this case he had the reverse effect of clearing the sofa for a time, with his lame, forced, often incomprehensible efforts at humour. Suddenly an urgent need came over this viewer to fill the dishwasher.

Maureen O’Sullivan is in it, before she landed in the jungle with Tarzan, but like most of the other players, she goes through the motions. Marjorie White as her brassy girlfriend is the only one who injects energy and vitality, albeit not creditability, into the proceedings in her scant screen time. The word ‘scant’ also refers to some of her costume, what there is of it.

Among the other appurtenances of 1980 are video phones and televisions, and meals in pills. Buildings with two hundred stories are equipped with light-speed elevators.

Among the songs in this film are ‘Old-Fashioned Girl,’ ‘I'm Only the Words, You Are the Melody,’ ‘The Drinking Song’ and ‘Never Swat the Fly.’ ‘The Drinking Song’ is staged on a dirigible and the ‘Never Swat a Fly’ was a show stopper when, instead of Fast Forward, mistakenly I pressed Pause.

Before condescension overtakes us, pause to consider how well we might do today just imagining 2067? About as well as John Lennon did?

Fritz Lang’s monumental ‘Metropolis’ (1927) had only appeared a couple of years earlier, and many in the audience for ‘Just Imagine’ may have been unaware of it. The ‘New York Times’ reviewer, at any rate, does not mention it. Mortimer, that was a silent movie with a wall of sound for orchestral accompaniment.

‘Time Flies’ (1944) is the only other entry in the category Science Fiction, Musical, Comedy. Believe it or not, it was made in England. In it four contemporaries travel backward in time to the Sixteenth Century to correct Shakespeare’s spelling. Well, what other explanation could there be, Erich?


From the IMDB: I hr 9 m with 6.1 / 3674.

A creature feature concerning a Mars mission. Here is the set-up. In distant 1973 square-jawed Marshall Thompson is the man-in-charge, but, well, on Mars things happen - off camera. His whole crew of nine has been killed and only he survived to be rescued by a second mission. Marshall is suspected of murdering his crew, since what other explanation could there be, Erich? Marshall does not know what happened. Napping while in command it seems. Even if he did not kill them, and no motive is ever mentioned, he is guilty of malfeasance.

It Terror.jpg

But on the way back in the rescue ship…., yes, down in cargo hold is a very ugly and very large set of bunions. Any one with feet like that is going to be irritable. But what podiatrist would take on such an impossible set of toenails? For convenience let’s give this creature a name, something creative and imaginative: Mars Bar (MB). Where was TSA when this piece of work boarded?

MB sets about murdering the crew of the ship on the return flight while Marshall is locked up, so he is off the hook. No effort is made either to communicate or contain MB, instead the crew, mid-flight through space, get out their war-surplus pistols, rifles, bazookas, and hand grenades which they use with the panache of Hollywood, shooting from the hip. None this blasting bothers MB much, nor does it rupture the ship’s skin. They must have build it it for inside battle. Me, I would have aimed at the toes.

Murdering members of this crew is almost too easy. They repeat their mistakes repeatedly. They open hatches to see what is going on and the opener finds out the hard way. That does not discourage his mates from doing the same thing again, and again…. Until there were (just about) none.

MB stowed away on Mars for reasons unknown, and so comes from a particular place. How that could be ‘beyond space’ as per the title is lost on me.

Spoiler Alert. When all else fails the remaining crew don the well-used space suits originally made for ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) and seen in many films since, including this one, and let the oxygen out and this kills the creature. Quite how the surveyors are going to re-inflate the ship and return home is elided. That the creature needs oxygen is ... just said since he parades around in the rubber buff.

Also lost on me was the skull with a bullet hole in the forehead which is produced by one point to prove Marshall’s guilt. No explanation is offered then or later that I heard, but napping I may have been. Yet at no time did MB pack a rod. With feet that like he had no need of a gat.

There is nothing about Mars, though two ships have landed on it. Both were clearly and exclusively American. There are two women in the crew who by turns serve coffee and scream. On the other hand the writers were confident enough in the audience to include an airlock without and explanation and also to a multi-story ship again without stopping to explain it. That is some evidence that the genre was maturing.

The end is the tag line that ‘Mars is death!’ No more missions will go to Mars. Instead the strange creatures called Republicans will be examined.

Still this experience did not deter him from 'First Man into Space' (1959) where things were even worse.

Marshall Thompson geared his whole life, it seems, for Hollywood stardom, or so it is said. His family moved to Los Angeles to give him a shot while he was but a boy. He grew into a handsome young man and did all the right things and in 1944 and 1945 when many other Hollywood stars were involved in war work of one kind or another, from active service to fund raising or propaganda filming, he got some parts, but thereafter 'It! The Terror from Beyond Space' is what he is best know for. Except for...

Marshall.jpg Marshall Thompson was so named because his family claimed relation to the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall.

Yes, 'Daktari' in the late 1960s. By some twist of fate he got cast as the veterinarian in an African game reserve and made a success of it. Moreover, even when it wound down, Thompson found he could not let it go and thereafter worked as a philanthropist to raise money for African animals the rest of his days. Though he was upstaged in 'Dakar' by chimpanzees and lions, he forgave them and became a friend to they and their kind.


A Whodunnit on an international space mission made in Canada for television with a major cast including Michael Ironside, Wilford Brimley, Martin Balsam, and more. The Conestoga has a crew of nine: two Soviets, two American, one Canadian, Italian, French, England, and East German. This crew has just completed the first Mars landing and exploration and are returning to Earth, a few days from re-entry when things start happening.

Murder Space cover.jpg The graphic is misleading as there is never a cadaver floating around and no one wears a space suit.

Contrary to the IMDB summary, the start is the unexpected and unexplained death of a Soviet woman on board, about thirty years old. That engages the attention of ground control in the form of Wilford Brimley. Fearing a Martian pathogen is on board, the ship is ordered to hold position for further analysis. There follows a long distance autopsy using the facilities of the ship and analysed at ground control. This is one the many interesting ideas in the film that are not developed.

The IMDB data is 4.7 / 160.

There are political repercussions to consider and the Soviet ambassador is Martin Balsam who intrudes, ever so tactfully into the proceedings along with Arthur Hiller as the US Vice President in charge of the space program. The more so when the autopsy reveals that the Olga, the victim, was suffocated.

Murder! In Space! That is bad. It redoubles the reason to delay landing. There is worse. Another one of the nine little indians snuffs it due to cyanide poisoning. Yikes! Is this homicidal cabin fever when so close to home, or what? Or what?

Spoiler follows. There follows a convoluted Agatha Christie like unraveling. The East German killed her because she threatened to reveal his homosexuality. Before she died Olga put cyanide in the insulin of the poison victim who refused to help her. Ironside killed the East German in his self-appointed role of judge, jury, and executioner because he figured out he had killed the Soviet. The second Soviet accidentally blows himself up - this is the explosion mentioned on the IMDB — when he responds to a coded order to seize control of the ship.

Qualifications are in order. First as to the explosion. It was not clear to me, and yes I was paying attention, whether the explosion was triggered by accident or it was booby trap to silence the Soviet planted by the Soviet government. While he was fumbling with the gear someone was knocking on his door and that distracted him. Despite the fact that the explosion fatally ruptured the ship, the door knocker walked away. More on the fate of the ship and surviving crew below.

Second, Ironside kills the East German because no one has jurisdiction in space and he would otherwise go free on landing. Really! I would have thought the Soviets would deal with him. Jurisdiction is much discussed but not developed in plot or intellect. It caught my attention because we used space jurisdiction in debate in college. The details have long since been overwritten.

The TSA was not on the job for this flight. Olga had a supply of cyanide for recreational use and the Soviet man had a sub-machine gun in his NRA-tagged luggage.

There is nothing about Mars, the mission, or space flight in the movie. Our nine might well have been on a railway train, a ship at sea, a castle on a hilltop, or cut-off by the weather in Otranto Inn. That was a major disappointment. After the ship is damaged by the explosion, despite the earlier worries about either a pathogen or a killer on the loose, the remaining crew members exit via an escape pod and land.

Likewise I never understood why the US Vice President had the call on an international space mission to Mars. In general I thought the political dimension was well handled, though a needless plot twist was inserted when the Soviet premier changes mid-flight. That is linked to Olga, the first victim, but it seemed a needless distraction. Although none of the other nations figures in the diplomacy.

The Wikipedia entry says the film was made without an ending, and only after some focus group screening, was the explanatory end filmed. Groan. That tells me that no one knew what they were doing or why. It shows.

On the plus side there are women in the crew and there is sex but the women are portrayed as capable crew members with jobs to do and they do them, only once is one of them required to go all female and scream, this from someone with the grit to walk on Mars. But otherwise the film has left behind the puzzle of how a woman could be a scientist that bothered so many men in earlier Sy Fy. A small mercy.

The pressure of the media feeding frenzy is well realised, but rather subdued compared to the reality. But the constant demands by representatives of the media distracts and confuses everyone.

The direction is crisp and the actors are fine. The cinematography is fluid. Ironside was effective as the man in charge who never expected this!

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Brimley is always a treat.

The last of the Universal franchise of TIM (The Invisible Man) before descend to Abbott and Costello. The credits declare this to be an original screenplay, and the ubiquitous Kurt Siodmak is himself invisible. The story lines from ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘The Return of the Invisible Man’ have atrophied.

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In this outing the invisibility is born of John Carradine, squinting to prove his intellectual credentials, who experiments on birds, cats, and dogs until Jon Hall comes to the door. This is Hall’s second tour on invisibility duty. When last unseen he was saving the USA from a Nasty invasion, when not lecturing on the American Way.

Instead of another mission as a secret agent, Hall is now a homicidal maniac who has escaped from the White House, oops, from an asylum in South Africa. The film opens with him cutting his way out of Qantas class… from Durban on the docks of Southampton. He seems to have surrendered his Yankee citizenship, too, become Hollywood Brit.

He has come to England for revenge on Spider Woman and her insipid husband whom he claims earlier cheated him out of a diamond mine Africa.

Gale S 2.jpg Spider Woman

Spider Woman is no one to trust, but it seems she and her husband did not cheat him or leave him for dead after clubbing him, though he alleges all of this. Reality does not matter to him, in the spirit of the Tea Party, for Hall thinking it is so makes it so and he sets out to bedevil them. After efforts to placate him fail, they put the local plod onto him and he absconds, stumbling to Carradine;s door.

Carradine is ready for a human subject, and here he is! One jab and there he isn't, now invisible. Special effects follow, one being a darts game in a pub. Oh hum. Then floating glasses and such. The magic, however, has worn off for this viewer.

The twist here is that Hall wants to be invisible to elude the plod but visible at other times to assume a new identity, and to make that transition between the two states he needs blood, and lots of it. Several home-brew transfusions follow, and Carradine pales to dry. Much to’ing and fro’ing follows, all without eliciting much interest. This sanguinary element references the conclusion of ‘The Return of the Invisible Man.’ Hall’s megalomania is also of a piece with the foundation stone, ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933).

In the end Brutus kills him. The end. Brutus? Carradine’s loyal and once-invisible dog which has dogged his steps since the death of Carradine. We cheered Brutus on. At 1 hour and 18 minutes we only wished Brutus had got him earlier.

This outing has shifted genres to Horror and left Sy Fy. This villain is a competitor with Bela Lugosi for blood. One imagines, and if I can imagine it, surely some hack did, too, Dracula and TIM fighting it out in a Red Cross blood bank, like two oenological connoisseurs in a cellar of fine wines. Crash and smash! This idea is copyrighted but for sale, cheap. Contact the agent, if he can be seen.

In sum, TIM has gone back to his origins in England and there are no references to the war, though this was made in Hollywood in 1944. No doubt the assumption was that audience had enough of war entertainment, as the casualty lists grew.

Spider Woman, Edith Holm (Gale) Sondergaard (1899–1985), won an Oscar in 1936 and was nominated again in 1946. She quit films in 1949 and left Hollywood when her husband, Herbert Biberman, was pilloried by HUAC and she only reappeared on film in 1969. Our loss. In the interim she trod the boards in New York City.

More shenanigans from an invisible man with a screenplay by Curtis Siodmak, also known as Curt and Kurt. In 1942 the more Anglo-Saxon name Curtis appeared in the credits. And this title is very much a wartime period piece.

IA poster.jpg Lobby card.

From get-go our hero, Jon Hall, is accosted in Nowheresville USA by thugs led by the ever so British Cedric Hardwicke, all dressed in mufti, and Hall knows instantly that they Nasty Germans. Cannot fool a Yank in 1942. Hardwicke knows invisibility when he sees it since he saw it in 'The Return of the Invisible Man' (1940) in which he led the bill. Since the invisible man punched his lights out in that film he became a Nasty and is out for celluloid revenge.

In this series the name of the invisibles has varied, Griffin, Radcliffe, Nerks. Is such confusion the inevitable result of invisibility, ahem, because maybe the lady did not know which was whose. That is the conclusion of the fraternity brothers.

The Nasties are Naziis. They want the formula for invisibility or else…. Hardwick is a bloodless reptile, but the scene belongs to the understated Peter Lorre as a malevolent Japanese along for the fun. Hall is a printer and in his printshop is a guillotine paper cutter. Shiver! Lorre thinks of ways to use it, on Hall.

The Nasties are overmatched, four thugs and a Nip against one Yank on his home court. He fights them off and they scurry away.

That Japanese is Mr Kentaro Moto who has answered the call to the flag and is now working for Japan and not the International Police. Yikes. He is perfectly sinister but he was useless in the fight. Strange how he had forgotten all that judo.

Hall is then asked ever so politely, not a waterboard in sight, to give his formula to the USA government, but he gets all pompous and refuses because it is too terrible a secret to reveal. In earlier films the serum was dangerous to the recipient because of its side effect (megalomania, aka Potomac Fever) but that is largely omitted here. The terror is in the capacity to be invisible and the evil that invisible evil men would wrought. As already seen the invisible woman was resistant to Potomac Fever.

Then the spinning newspapers report Pearl Harbor, and remembering Moto from the printshop disturbance, Hall goes to a Big Committee meeting in D.C. Who these men are is never explained, and some speak with European accents and some look more oriental than Moto ever did, amid the many Midwestern American accents at the table. Hall offers the formula, and speeches of gratitude are heard, but he has a caveat. Oh?

Only he can be inoculated, and he must do it himself, with the drug because…. Is it the side effects? Is it the secret which might fall into the wrong hands? Not clear to this viewer.

Now as a weapon in war, what good is an invisible man, naked, barefoot, and unarmed? Would invisibility have helped the Finns in the Winter War? This question is never pursued, we just segue to the secret agent, the spy, the invisible agent spy: bare of foot, naked of clothes, and without a weapon in sight.

It seems the Nasties are planning to invade the USA, and the question is when is Invasion Day. Kind of reverse of D-Day in Normandy. They will launch this attack from Nasty HQ in Berlin! Amazing logistics will be needed for that in 1942 This practical matter is later brushed off with a throw-away reference to a suicide bombing fleet leading the way (for the U-Boats laying a bridge across the Atlantic).

Hall is parachuted into Berlin to find the date. Yes, Berlin, well Potsdam a few klicks from Berlin,though conveniently the road signs are in miles. At headquarters the Nasties are Abbott and Costello.

Mind, while parachuting down, Hall strips off his flight gear and that is a marvellous effect. He is invisible when he lands and the Nasties run around crashing into each other. Hereafter the invisible man, while remaining invisible, draws a great deal of attention to himself. The fraternity brothers recognised a kindred spirit in this ghostly presence.

Since he had no training, it seems also that he has no sense. He all but tweaks the noses of Nasties, leaves a trail even Abbott and Costello could follow, and generally makes it known that there is an invisible agent at work.

Lorre and Hardwich.jpg Moto and Hardwick get the word and converge on him, setting a trap, one even Homer Simpson would have detected, but not this ingenue who blunders in and when apprehended blames everyone else!

Not to worry, the Nasties even in Berlin are overmatched and Hall has little trouble in breaking jail, getting the exact date of the invasion, himself bombing Berlin for good measure, and flying off. Whew!

The special effects of invisibility are good. Here he is as a spectral presence which is far more eerie than complete invisibility though he is usually the latter.

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In addition to the parachute drop, our invisible hero takes a bath and as he soaps himself the lathered parts of his body appear, mainly his leg, an echo of the stocking scene in ‘The Invisible Woman’ (1940). Earlier there was a scene of his footprints in straw of barn, an echo of a scene in the original ‘The invisible Man’ (1933). Food, drink, telephones float in the air.

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K(c)urt(is) Siodmak with a line from this movie

It was 1942 and Hall gives lectures time and again on the American way. If all of that was so important maybe he should been more responsible in concealing himself. The propaganda was dished by writer Siodmak, born a Polish Jew, and no doubt heartfelt since he had fled Hitter’s Germany a decade before finding his way to Hollywood, but it is also leaden and seems out of sync with the Abbott and Costello hijinks our hero gets up to when not at the podium.

George Pal produced this title and he always tried to get the science right, and left the screen play and direction to others in a division of labor, but, of course, he selected and hired the director and writer.

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In this case he hired a director who specialised in special effects and knew nothing about directing a drama and a writer, well that is the problem, not one writer but several writers each of whom stitched in this and that and evidently no with a whole perspective. One output of the rumour mill has it that the studio executive in charge of production concluded during filming that the story lacked drama and insisted on adding the Oedipal element half-way through, while cutting the budget, a McKinsey manager avant le mot.

Pal’s groundbreaking ’Destination Moon’ (1950) had many critics who found it more like a boring documentary than a dramatic film. They said
it lacked humour
it lacked tension
it lacked sex appeal
it lacked humanity
it had too much science
it was too expository
it had too much vastness of space
and so on.

Pal went with the flow(s) and this is the result. All those elements ostensibly lacking in ‘Destination Moon’ were shoe-horned into the film. It is easy to picture the Happy Hungarian, as Pal was known, with a clipboard checking all these elements off the production schedule. The result is a mishmash of checklist items.

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In a giant space station, the inevitable wheel because scientist at the time thought it was the way to the stars, a superior elite of the world’s best are preparing for the first moon landing. These individuals are the best of the best of the best of the best, a reference to the Men in Black for the cognoscenti. Each man is a volunteer, each man, for there are no women on the wheel, but yet there is still sex appeal. Intrigued? Read on.

That is the set-up and the ride is downhill from there. The writers reanimate the conventions of World War II submarine movies, where all the men were draftees, few were trained in more than turning a wrench, and the captain had sailed yachts. These superior spacemen complain about everything, want to go home, and are all Americans, almost. If this crew is the best Earth can do, better to stay at home.

Amid the crew are two foreigners, a Japanese and an Austrian. The Japanese gets one speech where he goes on about chopsticks as the miserable future for mankind, while the Austrian’s big scene is as hard to describe as it is to watch. Suffice it to say here it is pure kitsch.

The humour is supplied by an uneducated engineer who cracks jokes, I think, at intervals. Check. By the way this is a reprise for ‘Destination Moon’ where the radio operator did that.

The humanity must be all the whingeing by members of this superior elite who just want to go home. They are just regular guys, not super spacemen. Indeed.

The tension is maxed between commanding officer father and subordinate son, as if this is any way to run a railroad. Though there is a similar paternity in ‘Riders to the Stars’ (1954) from the typewriter keys of the ubiquitous Curt Siodmak.

The scientific exposition remains though, interspersed with lame jokes from the lame joker. Yes, these supermen in space still do not know the basics. All that training, all the preparation, all that work in building the space station wheel which was emphasised at the outset and gravity is still unknown.

‘The sex appeal?’ I hear the fraternity brothers asking. In another parody of World War II tropes the crew of the space wheel watches a movie with dancing girls and an uncredited Rosemary Clooney singing about love in the sand, an excerpt from ‘Here Come the Girls’ (1953). Sex appeal? Rosemary Clooney?

When that excerpt mercifully ends there are excruciating video messages for some crewmen. The Joker’s girlfriend drips 1950s celluloid sex on the screen, and then that Austrian, remember him, Ross Martin (who was born in Poland), who seems to combine German, Austrian, and Jew in a stereotype. His mother sounds like something from a Yiddish burlesque. Poor Ross. More humanity. Her private message to her son is screened in the recreation hall in front of the whole crew. Sensitive New Age management there.

The special effects are well done though many are borrowed from other films. But the vastness of space is there, and the movement from the wheel to the rocket and back is nicely done on a sled. And there is one memorable scene when the body of Ross Martin. who got in the way of an old reliable meteor, is consigned to the stars, though again the procedure mimics burial at sea.

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Who had to tell his mother? I wondered.

As Launch Hour nears, the impossibly handsome William Hopper, before Perry Mason took him on, appears to tell the elite team that their mission is not the Moon but MARS! Gasp! Groan! More whingeing follows from the supermen volunteers.

Walter Brooke as the general is top-billed, a journeyman television supporting actor. Who knows why Paramount with its stable of talents chose him is anyone’s guess. He seems flat and robotic, in what I suppose the director thought was military discipline. There is a subplot about space fever that comes from being in space too long or maybe from watching this film.

Since the mission has crept to Mars, the general asked for volunteers and some of the whiners volunteer so they can whinge some more, and a small crew sets off for the Red Planet. As they do the general gets religion from out of the black and blue of space. He goes bonkers and tries to scuttle the rocket ship and kill them all. Wow! Eric Fleming, before heading them up and moving them out on ‘Rawhide’ is his son and socks him. This sock saves their lives but infuriates one of the crewmen whose unexplained loyalty to the general is so great that seemingly he would rather be killed by him than see the general’s son sock him on the chops.

Even though the general has gone Tea Party feral, the son leaves him at large, while they land on the Red Planet, which looks like the red hills of Georgia. These space explorers show no interest in Mars and wait for the opportunity to leave. The general continues to gum up the works, until…. Remember Oedipus.

The Japanese plants a seed and it grows.

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See, Georgia. Trite as it is on screen there is an important point which we would recognise today but which was missed both by the scriptwriters and the audience at the time, namely that we Earthlings are destroying our own planet and the mission to Mars is to find new resources, including food. It turns out the earlier speech about chopsticks had a point in its garbled nonsense.

They have to wait on Mars for the next launch window, though nothing about that is explained, though gravity had to be explained earlier, and thanks to the general their supplies are low. They make no effort to record observations or explore the red planet. However, it snows and with the water from that they can power the rocket back home! Well that is what it looks like.

But the snow is for Christmas and we have another derivation from WWII movies, with a schmaltzy Christmas on the front line. All the while the loyal crewman mutters threats to the son. It is all so stagey that no one is interested. least of all this observer.

Eric Fleming had a career on television which was cut short, when he drowned in an accident while filming on location.

This film concentrates on the psychological aspects of life in space, and not the technology, nor hairy and scary aliens. That is a welcome focus but the execution is so diluted that most viewers will miss the point. It is diluted mainly by all the tropes from World War II movies, the static direction, the wooden acting, and the mechanistic checklist. Moreover, there is little interest shown in space and exploration by this crew who just want to go home.

One famous scene is the dining hall. Yes, there is a dining hall per all those World War II movies, but in this hall there is no food, but only pills. Yet there is still a vast hall with cafeteria tables and the whole crew assembled for the service of pills. Another pointless trope that undermines the awe and mystery of space travel.

A superb novel that traces the early life and career of the Spartan Gylippus of the Fifth Century BC. He was a major figure in the Peloponnesian War and the spine of the novel is derived from Thucydides’s ‘History’ of that war.

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There is much insight into the inner workings of Sparta. The author knows the detail well but wears the learning lightly, though making no concessions to readers by spelling everything out. The reader is left to figure it out when Greek terms are used or to refer to the glossary at the end.

The divisions in Sparta are well realised. There are personal and clan rivalries and also personal ambition. As one character says much later to Gylippus from the outside the Spartans appear as one man. Hardly. The author makes the Spartans all too human, at times vain, myopic, venal, ambitious, resentful. But those tensions are played out behind many curtains.

Athenians are no better and their fractious conflicts are largely played out in the open air.

The contrast to Gylippus is the Athenian Nikias, another giant from the pages of Thucydides. Nikias does all in his considerable power to avoid war, and rejects command twice when it is thrust on him, and yet he dies in the war on duty,

Readers of Thucydides will know that the crucible for both Gylippus and Nikias was the Athenian invasion of Sicily. The arc of the story begins with the Athenian reduction, pillage, and rape of Melos, where the cry ‘The Athenians are coming!’ anticipated the German cry ‘The Russians are coming!’ in 1945.

That was Athenian democracy at work. The opening scene of the Athenian slaughter of chained Melian prisoners and then forcing the surviving women to stack the bodies of their faheres, husbands, sons, and burn them are gruesome indeed. After that the rape begins, followed by a slave market. Two young girls escape, and though that was unlikely, as a plot device it takes them to Sicily for later events.

We went to Melos in 2007 as homage to this atrocity.

On a pretext Athens invaded Sicily to seize the island and its agricultural wealth now that the Persians have closed the Egyptian grain trade. The expedition was gigantic and command was divided and proved contradictory, aggressive in one instance, and passive in another. Nikias searched for a political solution to accommodate the appetite of the demos on the Pnyx in Athens, while the other generals wanted a battle in which to be a hero. There is no pretence at unity among the Athenians.

Melos had appealed to Sparta for help in deterring the Athenians, but Sparta did not act.

In Sicily the democratic city of Syracuse likewise appealed to Sparta, and Sparta sent one man, and that was enough. ‘Throughout time allies did not sent to Sparta for ships, or money, or soldiers, but for one man,’ said Plutarch.

The divisions within Syracuse are well realised, and full of the irony of reality. The staunch defenders of democratic Syracuse’s independence are the oligarchs, while the Syracusean democrats sell out to the invading Athenians at every opportunity. They do so not for ideological reasons but because they hate the oligarchs.

The Athenians expect a show of force will bring Syracuse to its collective knees, and are mildly surprised by the resistance, but they remain confident that Sparta will not act. Though Nikias is less confident about this than his associates. Indeed he is so very cautious that he does not want to risk a battle for the gods can be fickle and his army is a long way from home, so he set about winning local allies on the island, establishing a supply base and so on. Time passes with small skirmishes.

Then comes Gylippus. There is a marvellous scene where the Athenians are marching around the walls of Syracuse in a demonstration of shock and awe when they encounter in a field a battle-line of hoplites standing at rest. The raw Syracuseans do not stand easy. When they lined up for a battle earlier, they fidgeted, wavered, squirmed, twisted, turned, and all but ran long before the fighting started. Not so on this day. The line is firm.

The Athenian force is great and this opposing line is much less and it is near the end of the daylight. Yet these hoplites stand calm and relaxed with their shield turned side ways to the Athenians. The Athenians approach and then on command the hoplites turn the shields faces catching the last rays of the setting sun to the Athenians who then see the lambda on the shields for Laconia, or Sparta.

Spartan shield lamda.jpg The shield is big enough for a man to hide behind it when the arrows fly. Together with body armour from toe to head the load on a hoplite was about thirty kilograms in battle.

The Sparta have, this time, come, about a thousand of them face this Athenian contingent of perhaps five times that number. The frisson through the Athenian ranks is electric. Spartans! Darkness falls and no battle is joined but the news travels fast and by sunset everyone knows the Spartans have come.

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Game on. Over the next three years there is much cat-and-mouse between the protagonists, each undermined by rivals there and back home. Both Nikias and Gylippus have a two-front war, one military the other is a double political one with their respective home cities and local allies.

While Gylippus did not come quite alone, he came with only a token force compared to the forty thousand in the Athenian expedition. He relied on the defensive walls of the city and concentrated on cutting Athenians supply lines and stealing silver from them so they could pay the mercenaries that comprised the bulk of their forces.

Nikias was often infirm but he was not permitted by the demos to resign and he dared not leave on his own initiative for the demos had more than one unsuccessful general put to death, sometimes along with a few relatives to drive the point home. Likewise Gylippus, frustrated as he is by his reluctant allies in Syracuse, cannot go home without a victory.

The use Hermocrates makes of the two escapees from Melos is cleverly done by the writer. The exposition of the divisions within Syracuse are well set out though the Athenian sympathisers are largely cardboard. The author leaves aside the larger question that confuses modern readers, how could democratic Athens attack democratic Syracuse. The answer is, of course, that Athens by this time would eat anything. Even as this expedition was launched there was talk of Carthage, then but a legend.

The writer’s wit, insight, sympathy for the principal characters and the way he interprets the facts recorded by Thucydides is wonderful.

J E Martin.jpg Jon Martin

Clearly he has walked over all the ground he describes and done so with a sponge in his mind soaking it all up. I read his ‘Shades of Artemis’ (2004) about Brasidas some years ago and found it fine, too.


4.9 from a measly 46 opinionators

An earnest portrayal of the political, social, and technical challenges of space exploration two years after Sputnik. The Cold War backdrop is there in the frequently mentioned enemies.

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In the foreground is a massive space station wheel serving as a base for Moon exploration and landing with a view of colonising for purposes not specified, but to get there before the enemy does. Here as in many space ship films the underlying cinematic conventions come from submarine movies.

The technical problems of space travel are many but mercifully the Geordie-Speak is kept to a minimum. The social problems are surfaced. There are jealousies among the space station crew. The long stints there undermine normal life on earth. But the major problem is politics, the securing of ever more appropriations from Congress. Nothing is cheap in space and Amazon Prime does not deliver there (or here).

A qualification is in order before continuing. This 51 minute film was the pilot for television series and one assumes the other issues would be played out in future episodes. In contrast ‘Project Moonbase’ (1953) started as a television pilot and was converted to a movie, with the result that it is neither an episode nor a movie.

The bulk of this episode is the aftermath of a meteor strike on the station. What would script writers of space Sy Fy do without meteors arriving on cue? Some of the reaction is technical, fix it, and some social, get over it. But the major result is political, going back to Congress for more money.

The big scenes are courtroom-like committee testimony which is well done but which is more Perry Mason than Flash Gordon. The opposition wants to scrap the money pit that the space station is and blast multi-stage rockets straight from Florida’s Cape Canaveral to the Moon to get there before The Enemy. That would be like launching the D-Day invasion of Normandy from New Jersey, though no one says that. But then the American invasion of North Africa in 1942 was launched from Virginia.

Perhaps the best scene involves a visiting scientist come to the station to have a look, being confronted with a leap of faith into space to move from the commuter rocket to the wheel. The look on The Chief’s face was superb as was the crocodile smile Townes gave him before pushing off the ramp into the void. It is The Chief from ‘Get Smart.’ This effect and many others were well done but they came from that mishmash known as ‘Conquest of Space’ (1955).

At the end we are left uncertain of the outcome, but the characters have been established, the station, the Moon mission, the protagonists on Earth, and so on. The outcome of course was ‘No Sale’ and so no more.

Though John Agar is there, his part in this episode is small indeed. That surprised me since I supposed he would star. Rather Harry Townes leads the cast in camera time, and he does it well but he is no leading man.

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He was a well travelled television character actor with a long string of forgettable credits and an Alabama accent where he was an Episcopal preacher between takes. He had gone north to Columbia University where he caught the acting bug. He certainly could act and here he twitches with nervous energy and delivers his testimony with conviction. Yet I could not see him attracting an audience with his earnest admonitions. Neither did the network buyers.

John Agar by contrast had worked for John Ford in the Cavalry Trilogy with John Wayne and married Shirley Temple. He was definitely on the A list of celebrities.

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But came the fall. Temple divorced him citing alcohol, and he proved her right by finding the bottom of many more bottles, and spending months in jail on drunk driving charges. He made a comeback of sorts in B movies, especially Sy Fy and creature features and then television. But the drunk driving recurred.

The comparison must be Star Trek in 1966 where the Earth is left behind for space in a clean break. In ‘Destination Space’ the crew are all Americans and all are in Airforce coverall uniforms with the exception of the scientists who wear suits and ties to space. The crew is entirely masculine, and no women appeared on the space station, thus depriving the script writer the opportunity for the stupid sexist remarks prevalent at the time.

Absent are any women. Absent are the futuristic fashions of Star Trek. Absent are the multi-national and poly-ethnic crew. Absent is a united Earth. Absent is the alien Mr Spock. Absent is much technology, clipboards and pencils are in use. Though no one seemed to smoke on the space station. Absent is a dynamic leader, for Townes plays the committee man to a T but that is all. Absent also is any humour; no Bones to bring things down to the ground, though there is by-play among the crew that lightens the load a little, though it sounds like something the writer heard others say, and is so stale in the re-telling.

Most of all, absent is any sense of adventure or wonder at space and the cosmos. By the way, Harry Townes appeared in 'Star Trek: Original Series' as Reger in ‘Return of the Archons’ where he announced the Red Hour! Strong stuff that.

The fashions may seem out of place in the list above but the fashions alerted one and all that ‘Star Trek’ had left our time and place. Ditto the technology of coloured lights, automatic doors, tri-corders, and the medical scanners. Taken together these two dimensions helps convey the distance, the break between 1965 and this world of the stars.



The second in the Universal franchise after ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). In the intervening years the magic of special effects improved and those that moved slowly and awkwardly in 1933 flow nicely in this one, e.g., the telephone in the air.

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Pedants will note that the Invisible Man played by Claude Rains died at the end of eponymous film, and seven years later his cadaver must have been in no fit state to return. But Universal had paid H.G. Wells for the right make five films, though corporate memory failed until 1940, and a return on investment was to be had. Voilà! Put the scriptwriter to work. On that hack more below.

What we have then is a new invisible man. This one is the brother of the deceased Claude, who in death is portrayed as a nice guy. The scriptwriter evidently neither read Wells’s book nor saw the first movie. Claude became a right bastard from the get-go and the drugs that made him invisible only made him even worse. He was vindictive, small-minded, thin-skinned, vitriolic, inhuman, and cruel. Sound like any Twits-in-Chief? Readers and viewers were all glad when he snuffed it.

But history is written by the survivors in the first instance, before the revisionists make careers out of muddling things up. In retrospect Claude is portrayed as the victim of the drugs, ahem, which he himself developed specifically for the purpose of terrifying others. Some nice guy.

Anyway he is in misty hindsight much missed and it has been concluded, again by those unencumbered with knowledge of the novel or film, that his brother did him in, and this hapless brother has been tried and found guilty and is about to be hanged. Meanwhile the brother’s chaste fiancee frets and his stalwart friend, the doctor, tinkers in the lab. This doc has a nurse but no patients and so, like Batman, is always ready to hand.

While in the early going there are many references to brother Geoffrey, he remains unseen in the slammer.

Spoiler.

On a visit to the slammer Doc slips Jeff some invisibility juice and he does a bunk in the nude. An invisible man hunt ensures and some of it is brilliantly done, as when his ghostly outline appears in the rain or amid the cigar smoke of the detective in charge, who is avuncular and unhurried about the pursuit of a convicted murderer.

Of course Geoffrey was framed and the three try to uncover the real culprit who is before their very eyes and quite visible to us all because he is top billed. But now invisible Geoffrey develops a Trump-complex and starts to rant about world domination seemingly having forgotten his own situation. He blames Hillary for everything. Meaningful glances are exchanged by chaste fiancee and stalwart Doc.

With Jeff on the loose the careful façade of the real villain crumbles and justice wills out, as it does in cinema. There is a terrific fight scene at the colliery and Geoffrey is near death. However Doc finds treating his wounds is difficult since…. he is still invisible. But the blood he has lost is evident.

Invisible or not, Geoffrey needs blood so Doc does a transfusion. Whoa. How did he find the right spot. When I go the Red Cross that is not always easy. Sometimes impossible. Quibble. Quibble. Quibble. Anyway the transfusion works and the new blood brings Geoffrey back to the land of the visibles, and low and behold it is none other than Vincent Price! He appears only in the last scene.

Price arteries.jpg First to reappear at the arteries with the new blood, then the skeleton and then the man himself.

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Earlier on the run Geoffrey dons the clothes of a scarecrow in an amusing scene that took hours to film, but seems effortless on the screen.

Like Claude Rains, Price was cast for his mellifluous voice and crisp diction, since the voice alone has to carry the leading role. His work is superlative from the resigned prisoner to the disturbed invisible to the lovesick man to the gloating would-be tyrant.

Surprising enough the effects were not special enough for an Academy Award. Beaten instead by the flying carpet in ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (1940).

The director was Joe May, an expatriate German who fled the Vaterland in 1933, and who, despite his name, never learned a word of English and who is said to have had the dictatorial manner of his mentor Fritz Lang which earned him many enemies and ended his career. The scriptwriter who bridged the gap from the first film was the redoubtable Kurt Siodmak who gave us Wolfman and much else in Sy Fy and creature features.


Just the facts: 1 hr 7 m and IMDB 6.9/200

Janne Wass includes it in his blog ‘Scifist, a history of science fiction movies in reviews,’ and so I had a look on You_Tube. Such is the Finn’s influence.

Wass Janne.jpg Janne Wass

The film is a conventional krimi set in an airplane. The players are fine but the script is neither fish nor fowl, but more of a homophone of the latter. The villain is so flamboyant even the naive boy spots him long before the dense and dull copper does. The shyster blackmailer is too stupid to live. Sometimes it played for laughs, hearts and flowers at other times, and deadly drama, and back and forth.

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Another case of the lobby card bearing no relationship to anything in the movie.

As to its credentials as Sy Fy, it was made in the USA in 1937 but is set in the distant year of 1938. No, that will not make the cut. After much dithering in the first half, the second half all takes place on a giant airplane that flies from London to New York, non-stop! In eighteen hours! Non-stop! Gasp!

That seems to be it.

The size of the craft is enormous and the non-stop flight over the Atlantic, these get it on the SciFist list. In 1937 that would have been phenomenal because Trans-Atlantic flight was still for daredevils. Most flights were by flying boat aircraft taking off from the waters of western Ireland and landing in Newfoundland. The alternative route, again by flying boat, was to go south through Lisbon, the Azores, Bermuda, and so on. Straight across from London to New York City only came with jet engines in 1958 when the British Overseas Airways Corporation, as British Airways was then called, flew did it. The route was over the northern most North Atlantic to Gander in Newfoundland where the aircraft stopped for fuel, catering, and relief. I once laid up there for a few hours because of weather. I cannot find a time given for these trips in 1958 but they were not non-stop even twenty years after this film.

Today the British Airways web site gives 8 1/2 hours from London to New York City. It is 7 1/2 back to London thanks to the winds. Both of these flights are direct. Singapore to New York City is more than 18 1/2 hours these days. Imagine sitting next so some fool bellowing into a mobile phone for that flight.

Let’s call the aircraft Titan, a flying boat, too; inside it is even bigger than the Tardis. The staterooms put those of ocean liners portrayed on film at the time to shame. The windows are far bigger than those that brought the Constellations down. And, get this, there are open air balconies frequented by the passengers as it wings over the North Atlantic. The baggage hold is cavernous and largely devoid of bags. There is more than one dining room. There are multiple decks and if that is not enough room our hero has to climb outside over the top of the speeding aircraft to enter the cockpit, because its doors only open from the inside. While we can appreciate this limitation as a security measure, it begs the question of how the pilots get in.

Considering that context, ‘Non-Stop New York’ is certainly futuristic in its background, but….. [quibble alert] still not Sy Fy. That futurism contributes nothing to the plot which is an unsolved crime, a missing witness, young police officer meets young woman, etc. It just so happens that the resolution is on the Titan. It could as well have been on a ship, in mountain hotel, on a lake. The futuristic element is incidental background. Harrumph. No outer space, no science of any kind, no aliens, no superwomen, none of the usual Sy Fy suspects.

The heroine, Anna Lee, is feisty, independent minded, and smart. She knows what to do and does it.

Stowaway.jpg The stowaway strides up the gangway to board the airship.

There were a few such celluloid female role models in the 1930s but they evaporated from the screen by the homogenous 1950s. Lee had top billing on the poster and cards of the time and carries the picture.

The story is confused and confusing and tries to slip a ninety-minute feature into an hour. It starts in New York City, then the heroine travels by boat home to England, then back to New York City as a stowaway in the aforementioned Titan. It ends somewhere over Newfoundland. All this to’ing and fro’ing reveals all too clearly the mini-budget. The New York City sets look just like the London ones and vice versa. The whole dynamic rests on the idea that in those pre-NRA days a gangland slaying in New York City is world news, and there are many spinning newspaper headlines from around the world. Some in foreign languages. Wow!

There are some good laughs and some good lines but they do not zing in the spongy morass.

By the way it is derived from a novel by Australian Ken Attiwill and one of the players later emigrated to Australia, namely Desmond Tester, who is the youthful comic relief in this tale. Tester made a career in children’s television in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s and those of certain age remember that name. He also did some Strine television drama in the 1970s. In contrast Attiwill was born in Adelaide and migrated to England. Three of his novels were filmed. As with me, there is no entry for him in either the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography' or 'Wikipedia,' but traces in the former suggest he was a journalist who married an English woman in Adelaide and went to England with her.

The saxophone playing boy Demond Tester is in the charge of his Aunt Veronica and she seemed so familiar to me, but from where? And then it came to me, as things less and less often do, from the mind palace: she was a biologist in ‘The Man-Eater of Surrey Green’ (1965) from ‘The Avengers,’ one Athene Seyler.

Athene Seyler.jpg Athene Seyler in the 1950s.

She had earlier been in ‘Build a Better Mousetrap’ (1964) where she showed the local biker gang a thing-or-two. Curmudgeonly and quirky with a lived-in face even in 1937, she was in much demand in films of the 1940s and 1950s.


Those quaint English villages always scare me. First there was ‘Village of Damned’ (1960) and if that was not bad enough along came ‘Midsomer Murders’ (1997+). Thus alerted, when this title opened on a picturesque English countryside I feared the worst. and I was not disappointed.

$ sided poster.jpg

Two pals do science, a lot of it. There is a tedious backstory first, but the chase is this. They invent a replicator that 3-D prints anything from energy not raw materials. They refer to making works of great art available by reproducing them and supplying rare drugs to hospitals. So far, so altruistic.

Then their prepubescent friend Lena reappears and, gulp, there has been much puberty. Scientist Robin marries Lena, leaving scientist Bill, who is a dopplegänger for Liam Neeson out in the cold, old shed where they have perfected the 3-D replicator.

Neeson Steve Murray.jpg Stephen Murray as Liam Neeson.

Robin goes off to London to square the deal with Whitehall, while Bill mopes. A lot. Mopes some more.

Then, no doubt while thumbing though a copy of Mary Shelly’s most famous book, sets to work on improving the replicator to replicate…..Lena! Yep. It is quite a step from replicating a blank cheque to replicating a person but Bill does it. Much bubbling of liquids, flashing of lights, throbbing of boxes, muttering of incantations in the shed and the rabbits multiply. Next up Lena.

He talks her into it. He talks fast because this a short film. She agrees though why is by no means clear. Hey presto! Now we have the original Lena and the duplicate, Helen.

She is such a perfect duplicate this Helen that she, too, loves Robin, though he still in London. What is he doing there anyway when he has Barbara Payton back in the shed, chorused the fraternity brothers? Strange.

Bill has Helen but he does not have Helen. What to do? Ah ha! He will fine tune her in the shed. Not with roses and sweet words but with the mad scientist’s old friend, electricity! He will adjust the clone to erase her memories of Robin and start fresh with her. Lena, having come this far, agrees to assist so on a dark stormy night the three of them gather in the shed and strap Helen into the dental chair and set to work.

Kaboom! Too much juice and the contraption blows up like a Samsung Galaxy: Bill and one of the women perish in the fire. But which one? A nail biter that.

There is also the implication that the details of the replicator have also been lost in the fire and we will have to wait until the Twenty-First Century for 3-D printing. No more duplicate rabbits or Helens in the meantime.

Gosh, where to start. The ideal of reproducing at will objects from energy is to be found in much Sy Fy like Star Trek. But here no consideration at all is given to the consequences of doing so, though maybe that is why Robin got stuck in London. Some pedant there wanted to think about it. If gold is replicated in masses then its value will fall. If rare works of art become commonplace, they are no longer the rarities they were. If rare drugs proliferate like penicillin maybe diseases will mutate faster.

Still less is any thought given in the screenplay to the moral consequences of replicating a sex toy. Bill just assumes Helen will love him. He just assumes he will love her and not pine for the real thing. He just assumes no one will notice or question the uncanny resemblance of the two women.

Barbara Paton plays both Lena and Helen and she is indeed eye candy in the garish manner of the time. Never do we see any interaction between Lena and Helen, though each is aware of the other. That would have been too expensive to film for a quota quickie.

payton-barbara-1.jpg Payton at the time.

Payton was dead a few years later. The sex, drugs, and alcohol of Hollywood drove her to an early grave. She went to England to film this, it is implied in the Wikipedia entry, to escape these bad habits, but a few weeks in a facsimile English village and she could not wait to get back to Sin City. Once back there she reverted to her old ways.

Together with the robotic ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1949) and the retiring ‘Invisible Woman’ (1940) we certainly get the manners and mores of the times for women in Sy Fy. However in both these titles the women more than hold there own, not so here where Payton is little more than a Barbie doll.

It rates on IMDB 5.9 from 425.

This early Roger Corman effort comes in at 4.8 over 1,618 votes on the IMDB. It runs 1 hour and 11 minutes.

What is the set-up? Buddies Peter Graves and Lee van Clef are doing science of some sort off camera in the desert southwest where most Sy Fy science seems to be done. Each has a wife with whom to play house. While the impossibly handsome Graves is very playful, van Clef with those beady eyes even at this early stage in his career has discovered the pleasure of (H)am_ateur Radio and talks to the stars, well no not his wife played by the redoubtable Beverly Garland who outlasted the man from Davanna in ‘Not of this Earth’ (1957), but to Zontar of Venus. Okay, so it is a planet and not a star for the pedants.

Conquered osyrt.jpg

Zontar plays an old sweet song. He, well maybe Zontar is a she, gendering slime ball aliens is not in my pay grade, but Lee calls him a 'he,' Zontar, has travelled to Earth in Qantas economy class and is recovering strength from the rocket-lag of the trip in nearby cave motel. Been there.

Zontar promises Lee a heaven on earth for all humanity if only he is allowed to take over their souls. Seems a fair deal to Lee. After all Lola wanted a soul for a ball game, admittedly the stakes were higher there with the World Series. (Ray Walston had to go to Mars to escape Lola, but that is another story.) Zontar wants all souls, not just infielders.

In return for this Red Faustian bargain the reign of Zontar promises the peace and prosperity of slavery. No more wars. No more conflict. No more fights. No more pollution by green voters. No more tweets by twits. Please, no more ‘Top Gear’ I asked. Is this world communism, or what!?

Lee has no sales resistance and has bought the pitch and will do anything for Zontar in his blind alien-crush. He is the idealistic, weak-willed intellectual sort who would sell us out to the Enemies of Freedom so conspicuous in movies of the era. He is an enthusiastic fellow traveller. Amen. Meanwhile Zontar is mind-napping some local military types who are pushovers and Big Z wants Peter Graves, not for his chiseled chin, but because his scientific knowledge will help with the enslavement. It is a big world for one Zontar to conquer single-handedly but he is an ambitious red alien.

While Lee runs up the astral roaming phone bill talking to Zontar, his wife listens. She puts up with a lot as 1950s wives were supposed to do. She does protest when Lee kills some people at Zontar’s direction but relents when he gets all sweetness and light. Briefly. On it goes, back and forth. Zontar has brought a few trained bats in his checked baggage from Venus to transmit his mind control venom, but Graves fights them off. I left the room.

Graves’s wife however gets a hickey and becomes one of Them, a Zontar zombiette! Evidently there is no way back, and Graves with barely a moment’s hesitation shoots her dead with his handy NRA piece. Whoa! That was a surprise to this jaded viewer. Was that within the informal production code of the time? Shouldn’t he have socked her and tied her up for a later cure? On the other hand, there is no salvation for those who go Red. Better off dead.

Meanwhile, Zontar is running out of bats and orders Lee, who by now is so batty no bat is needed to infect him, to whack his old college roommate and buddy Peter. Lee pauses, briefly, before reaching for his rifle. All this NRA product placement has got to be seen to be appreciated. This is the last straw for Bevs, a registered Democrat, and she sets off to top Zontar herself with the last line, ‘I’ll see you in hell!’ (In that pithy phrase she sums up my reaction to 'Top Gear.')

Zontar looks like a tall condom with tentacles. No one would notice him at Frat party.

Zontar.jpg See.

This is one of many such creature features with Peter Graves, who was just too handsome to be a movie star. No one could take him seriously as an actor.

Graves.jpg

The masculine version of the Dumb Blonde, there for his looks. (I know the feeling.)

‘Zontar: The Thing from Venus’ (1966) remains to be seen. Keep watching this space for a report.

1 hr 3 m @ 2.8/10.0 from 813 with nothing better to do on the IMDB.

He says ‘Project Moonbase’ and she says ‘Project Moon Base.’ Will they call the whole thing off? Nope. See below.

Never a good omen when the publicity department does not know the name of the film. The opening title on the film is ‘Project Moon Base’ but the lobby cards more often than not have it as ‘Project Moonbase.’

Moon Base.jpg Two words

Moonbase.jpg One word.

Schizophrenia goes deeper than the title and for that read on.

Many Sy Fy films of this era use aliens, consciously or unconsciously, as surrogates for communists with dark powers, malevolent purposes, and slavering tyranny. Whoops, starting to sound like the Twit-in-Chief. Sometimes that analogy is vague and in rare cases even absent.

Here it is front, centre, and explicit from the start in Robert Heinlein’s screenplay. The Enemies of Freedom (aka Commies) are no longer under the beds but under the launch pads of Yankee-doodle rockets. They have been there before in ‘Destination Moon’ (1951).

The Russkie spies in this yarn are dumb enough to sleep under the launch pads. They have an elaborate organisation that is run like General Motors with flunkies doing whatever it is that flunkies do and exact doubles for everyone in the space program so when a scientist is called into the Moonbase project, the Russkie tsar consults the space age 3" x 5" inch card file for the dopplegänger. Stupid, yes, but organised.

They off the scientist and insert their sleeper agent, who probably was — asleep — during agent training given how inept he proves to be at agenting. Not only does he know nothing about science, that could be overlooked, but more importantly he knows nothing about baseball and that is a dead giveaway. Although the crew is less than adept, too.

Paranoia is always a strand of Heinlein stories and it is the major theme here in this one. Another strand is that civilians are all stupid clots, and it is applied here with a sledge hammer key of the typewriter. Only men in uniform know what is what, though they seldom seem to know why is why. But as to the uniforms…well, seeing is believing.

There is a space race and the USA has a space station wheel from which will be launched the first mission to the moon to set up a Moon base as a peace-loving hydrogen bomb missile platform. Yep, it is that explicit. The general does say we had to include some science babble to get the funding, but it is will be ignored. Got it. That is democracy at work, lie and cheat.

The general then tells the putative leader of the mission to the Moon to stand down, because by presidential order the mission commander will be Colonel Bright Eyes. (Well that is what it sounded like to me.) Gasp! Those civilian fools in Washington interfering again in macho military business. This latter theme is another old faithful in Heinlein’s cosmology.

The general and the major agree that Bright Eyes is one giant pain in the rear echelon. Cue Bright Eyes to enter.

Whoa. Colonel Briteis is a woman. Gasp!

Bright eyes.jpg She leaves her shirt unbuttoned so as....

She gets to go because it is good publicity and she is half the weight of a man. Huh. Much was made in the opening that on the Space Station weight did not matter but now it does. Hulking Major Dimwit goes along as co-pilot to save the bacon later.

To make sure Colonel Bright Eyes knows her place, the General threatens to spank her. Yep, that is the military. Coercion and brutality are the order of the day. Later the major in a stirring display of military discipline tells the commanding Colonel to powder her nose. Later the general on the space radio sends Colonel Bright Eyes away for a private chat with Dimwit, thus abrogating the chain of command.

Meanwhile, the Russkies have planted that double as the civilian scientist. See, the civies can never be trusted. He sets about gumming up the works in the most obvious fashion possible, but Major Dimwit lives up to the sobriquet. Colonel Bright Eyes and Dimwit spar. (We all know how that will end.)

There is a rocket called Canada and another Mexico, but rest assured both bear USAF markings. They serve no purpose in the film but pad it out. There is a lot of padding to get a 25 minute film up to the 63-minutes that this is. Everyone walks very slowly. Slower. Slowest. The countdowns to launch are in real time. Zzzzzzz.

The scientist spy is Doctor Wernher whose name is spelled out three time for the dolts in the audience. Get it? Wernher von B….

The story published in 1948 gets some things right. A space station by 1970. Check. Well in 1971 Salyut 1. Oops, a Russkie. A lunar orbit for Discovery. Check. Apollo V in 1968. And that a special lunar landing craft would make the descent. Check. Apollo XI in 1969.

The stress of takeoff is well presented. The fight during takeoff with heavy gravity is an interesting idea, a slow motion struggle against the G-force and each other. The moonwalk is up to Michael Jackson standard. The wall walking and upside down meeting in the space station are contrived for effect and add nothing to the story or ambience. Moreover the general who was left on Earth pops up there in a tee shirt and beanie. It is easy to see why this general was demoted to a colonel on ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’

The Russkie agent is a klutz but Dimwit is just as bad when he rats out the Russkie to Colonel Bright Eyes well within earshot of the klutz. Loose lips. They then fight as above.

The sets are silly, the dialogue insipid, the acting robotic, the sexism suffocating, and the like. Then there are the Peter Pan hats and short-shorts as space wear, perhaps to reduce weight.

Hats and walls.jpg

On weight, the general says no one sent up weighs more than 150 pounds yet earlier he said Dimwit weighed 180 pounds. See what can be learned by listening.

Silly, well consider this. Once they are stuck on the Moon high command calls it Moon Base (Moonbase) One. But with a young man and young woman in a tin can on the moon for weeks or more while a relief force is sent, it would look better in public opinion if they were married! Dimwit is reluctant. See, a dimwit. But Colonel Bright Eyes can hardly wait! She literally jumps at the chance! What all women want, even on the moon is to be married to a hulking hunk. Without courtship and in low gravity they get married. Think about that low gravity, because the fraternity brothers did.

It is worth watching to the very end. Because after they are married up there on Moon Base One the President of the United States appears on the space videophone, and it HILLARY CLINTON. Yes, a woman in the White Hosue by 1970 according to Heinlein.

And Major Dimwit is promoted to general to outrank his colonel wife. The end.

The deeper schizophrenia of the film per ‘SciFist’ is this. The production was commissioned for a ten-part television series with the budget and cast for that. Heinlein’s story and screen play were adapted for that purpose. In pre-production (preparing wardrobe, renting space and equipment, gathering cardboard props, hiring extras, and so on) the studio changed it to a B feature film. Why? Because the success of other Sy Fy films offered an opportunity to ride the coattails of those successes. By this time Heinlein was paid off and gone. The director agreed to add to the script with the result we see. The budget did not change nor the casting. Walking slowly was one way to pad it out to feature length.

The essential difference is that in the original the first episode would be an exploratory orbit of the moon, and in subsequent episodes there would be a landing. In the film the lunar lander crash lands because of the fight with the enemy of freedom agent.

Strangely, along with ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) this was the last movie form Heinlein’s work until ‘Starship Trooper’ (1997). Odd that.

In mentioning props above, I should have noted that the space suits used are the very well used ones first made for ‘Destination Moon’ (1951) but here they have different helmets. They also figured in ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951).

One of the high water marks for 1950s Sy Fy, subspecies flying saucers, phylum alien invasion.

Hugh Marlowe carries the movie in nearly every scene. He was a sceptic about aliens in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) but he is persuaded, slowly, in this 83 minute excursion. He is ably supported by Joan Taylor and Sy Fy stalwart Morris Ankrum. The special effects were quite special in the day and remain compelling.

Marlowe is the lead scientist and the decision maker in Project Skyhook located in the desert southwest. Where else? While driving along with his newly married wife he dictates the latest report on the project which involves launching a dozen satellites to scan the heavens. Then…..

EvFS poster.jpg

A weather balloon appears behind their car and buzzes it. Zounds! Some weather balloon! Yes, Erich, it is a flying saucer for what other explanation could there be given the title above.

Hugh, remembering his journalistic skepticism earlier, will only admit to Joan that they have seen something that looked like a, ahem, a…flying saucer. This scientist is not leaping to tweet the sighting but sitting on scholastic dignity. Joan is incredulous because she knows very well what she and they saw. In all it is a nicely done in-joke about those who doubt their own eyes.

It is also the pivot of the plot, but that emerges only later in a spoiler below.

They report the sighting to Morris at Skyhook who is skeptical but indulgent.

It turns out the Skyhook satellites disappear as soon as launched. Is there a connection between the what-appeared-to-be-a-flying-saucer and these disappearances. Hmmm. Then one of the saucers lands at Skyhook and the doubts and many of the doubters vanish in a cloud of atoms.

Two tin men emerge from the saucer and Morris immediately opens fire on them with an anti-aircraft gun he keeps nearby, killing two of them. This greeting is reciprocated with a disappearing ray that disappears a good number of grunts. The saucer then destroys the whole facility for good measure. Thanks to the script Hugh and Joan survive and lead the response.

Response? Well there is no denying that the Skyhook base has been levelled and hundreds killed, leaving no eyewitness left alive. While the taxpayers money was being burned, Hugh and Joan were sequestered in an underground bunker canoodling and only glimpsed part of the destruction on closed circuit television. There were no tapes. Just their assertions.

The batteries on the tape recorder Hugh was dictating into during the drive get low and that slows the playback of the recording reel where they hear a strange voice proposing to meet at Skyhook tomorrow! Next time, High, check the voice mail sooner! Had he done so earlier the destruction could have been avoided. No wonder his reception in D.C. is frosty. The project he managed is gone. His Key Performance Indicators are zero. Minus even.

The Pentagon panel to which they report is stacked with faces from 1950s television and they are no push overs for wild assertions about flying saucers because they have heard it all before on ‘Perry Mason.’ They listen to the odd message but doubt its relevance, authenticity, and its Euro Vision potential. Still they do know something is up. Just look. Flying saucers are crowding the airspace. O’Hare is even more chaotic than usual.

Hugh calls the aliens on the interplanetary radio he happens to have in his D.C. hotel room and makes another date.

Get this and get is straight! The alien asylum seekers called Hugh and made an appointment. They showed up at the right time, at the right place to be blasted by a 75 millimetres cannon. Bam! Bam! Two dead. Not a good start. The American Earthlings were the aggressors! Gulp. There goes the moral high ground.

Since blasting Skyhook in retaliation to the massacre of their two defenceless asylum seekers, the aliens have been busy. They apprehended Morris and have scanned his brain for intel. (Too bad they didn’t get Pat Robertson. Please!)

EvFS Morris brain.jpg

They now know enough to compete on ‘Eggheads.’ Many viewers long suspected Morris knew a lot more than he was saying.

It turns out the aliens’ plan all along was to conquer Earth! Ah, the moral high ground is restored. What appeared to be an aggressive and gratuitous assault on the alien landing party was a preemptive strike. Maybe the moral ground is more a hillock.

The aliens tell Hugh they had hoped to negotiate an accommodation, having done that elsewhere. Well there are always those parts of the Earth not fit for human habitation, e.g., the Gobi Desert, New Jersey, Mormonland, Trumpville, and the WestConnex wastelands of Australia. But no, we human do not compromise with asylum seekers.

While the military’s weapons bounce off them the saucers, like evidence off an anti-vaxxer, they wreak havoc with special effects on D.C.

EvFS DC.jpg

The saucers destroy the Trump Hotel (the Old Post Office) to cheers from a nearby sofa. Meanwhile super nerd Hugh has come up with a film producer’s dream weapon, wired together from junk, firing an invisible ray, and inaudible sound wave that drives the flying saucers away! And it cost next to nothing to assemble or use. It is one step up from pointing am index finger and say ‘Pow!’

Whew!

There are many visuals of flying saucers, a lot in a prologue that to my mind spoils some of the drama to come. The destruction of scale models of Washington D.C, is well done. Loved seeing the Washington Monument fall on a gathering of Tea Party acolytes denying flying saucer change.

The saucers leave but will they return? Will there be a sequel? We are still waiting on that one.

Made at the height of the Cold War there is no doubt that the aliens are surrogate commies with a nefarious plot. When things go wrong, it is the commies’ doing, even if it is not apparent. And they will stop at nothing, including brainwashing scans. Moreover, when they talk at Yalta their plans are already laid for conquest. Get it?

The United States is leader of the world and has to go it alone. There are only perfunctory references to the rest of the world.

While the military is ready with atomic bombs it does not seem a good idea to use one on D.C., though today some might differ.

Hugh had some extra-planetary experience earlier in ‘Worlds without End’ (1956) and he puts it to good use in this movie. Later he played Rush Limbaugh in ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964).

Ray Harryhausen did the special effects from a story by Kurt (sometimes Curt) Siodmak. The incidents and the visuals became touchstones in the subsequent Sy Fy films like ‘Mars Attack!’ (1996). The direction is crisp and the pseudo-science is mucho pseudo

The asylum seeking aliens are enigmatic in their wardrobe and even more so when uncovered.

EvFS aliens.jpg

I saw it on the widescreen in Lexington Kentucky with cousin Don in 1957, and it stayed with me.

Sy fy but only just, and played for laughs. First there was The Invisible Man’ (1933) and after his return there was the invisible woman. For Plato’s perspective read on.

Invisibl woman poster.jpg A lobby card.

Universal Studios secured the agreement of H. G. Wells to make five films using the invisible man, and this is the third of them. It would be churlish to point out an invisible woman is not an invisible man, the more so when s/he cannot be seen.

Seen or not, here we have a female lead in Virginia Bruce who makes the most of it. Some very costly special effects for the invisibility combine with some stock characters, the absent minded professor who started the whole thing, the cantankerous house keeper, the playboy financier, and Charlie Ruggles as the long-suffering butler. Then there are the villains who want to steal the secret of invisibility and offer more slapstick in their effort to do so, one being Shemp Howard. Say no more.

Invisble stocking.jpg

The stocking scene was a shocker at the time.

The Sy Fy element is a combination of flashing lights, sizzling electricity, and an injection of invisibility serum to activate it all. Alcohol has a deleterious effect on the process. The story is credited to Sy Fy great Kurt Siodmak.

Bruce is a hard working mannequin desperate to keep the pitiful job, bossed around by a petty tyrant. When the professor advertises for a subject to become invisible, among the applications from Christian zealots is her letter. There is no pay, only, say, three hours of invisibility. She jumps at the chance. Her motivation in taking the risk of invisibility is to terrorise the boss at work. She uses the first period of invisibility to do so and he changes his ways thereafter. If only.

What could, should, or would one do if invisible is a question to conjure but no conjuring is done here. On this latter point more below.

Thereafter is much comedy about clothing, which cannot be made invisible. Some of it is funny and all of it is harmless. The villains trip over each other and ham it up something terrible. Oscar Homolka’s eyebrows are positively feral.

Bruce is not the typical retiring silver screen maiden of the era when she literally kicks ass, slugs down booze, straightens out the playboy, and flattens the villains single-handedly. This is all done with élan. Ruggles as the fainting butler handles the duties often given to leading ladies of the era.

The playboy falls in love with this wonder woman and they all live happily ever after.

Bruce of Fargo North Dakota was a student at UCLA and worked as a film extra for the readies and one job lead to another. She was also a voice actor on radio and that talent is well used in this film. She appeared in a few A-pictures as the second female lead, but mostly did B work like this title. When I scanned the list of her credits on the IMDB nothing stood out. This title rates there 6.1 from 1,441 opinionators.

In Book II of Plato’s ‘Republic’ is a discussion of the Ring of Gyges. The Ring, when the bezel is turned just so, renders the wearer invisible. Glaucon, brother of Plato, suggests that given such a ring, a normal person would become immoral because the invisible person is then freed of the social repercussions of one’s actions. Instead an invisible man would perv at naked women, steal, injure or murder rivals, and perv some more. Sounds like the Channel 7Mate demographic. Or Christian zealots.

Ring notes.jpg

Socrates replies anyone who is virtuous only due to the constraints of social consequences is not virtuous to begin with.

When Wells wrote ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897) he was well aware of this discussion in Plato. Other genre writers have riffed on Wells’s take on invisibility ever since. The one at hand is Robert Silverberg’s 1963 story ‘To See the Invisible Man’ in which a future society makes invisibility the punishment for certain crimes. The story considers the social and psychological effects of such treatment.

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