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December 2017

This Soviet classic (‘Planet of Storms’) has been an undercover agent of influence in plain sight for years in the West as ‘Voyage to the Pre-Historic Planet’ (1965) and 'Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet of Women’ (1968). The fraternity brothers have wall posters for the latter film. These latter two films were cut and pasted for English-speaking audiences. Sherlock Holmes put in an appearance in the former and Mamie van Doren in the latter. Wall poster, indeed.

Planet storms card.jpg

Having feasted on these two simulacra, it was time for the subtitled original.

In 1962 the Soviet Union was winning the space race and to promote that achievement rubles flowed into science fiction movies like this one. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, the ruble spigot was turned off.

Here is the set up. Three space ships are approaching Venus. While they are all crewed by Russians, there is someone who say ‘OK’ a lot and his name is Allan Kern. There is no military symbolism or insignia to be seen.

Maybe the effort is a combined international effort. The film opens abruptly and no explanation is given, though there are many references to the Earth rather than Russia.

Each ship has a crew of three. Wallop! Two ships remains. What else? A meteor clobbers one ship. The carefully contrived plan of landing is obliterated with it. Earth instructs the two remaining ships to wait two months while another space ship is launched and joins them.

Two months eating airline food and using that plumbing. No thanks! They come up with a new plan and Earth control rolls with it. (Sherlock did this part in one of the Cormanites.)

The he-men decide to leave one ship in orbit and to land with the other in two stages. First a surface lander will drop down to scout a spot with good duty free shopping, and then the second ship will land there. ‘OK,’ say Allan Kern.

The third member of one crew is a woman and she is left in orbit to communicate with Earth. Unlike the Yankee Sy Fy of the time there are no sexist remarks about a woman doing a man’s job, though she is the squeeze of the captain of her threesome, their relationship is chaste. So far so good. She is left in orbit not because she is a frail and flighty woman, but because she knows to turn on the radio as communications officer. Push the big red button. Ah huh. Nice try. That did not fool the fraternity brothers for one minute. She is left behind because she is frail and flighty woman.

While the men are resolute, she dithers later and in one light moment she floats around the cabin. None those resolute newish Soviet men would do that. Even so this subtlety is way beyond Hollywood at the time.

On Venus they find a lot of Godzilla’s cousins and fend them off, sometimes with revolvers. It is an inhospitable place, boiling mud, flowing lava, clinging plants, rubber dinosaurs, a lot like Wyoming. Kern has a big robot called ‘John’ who is snooty. Unless addressed politely by name, he ignores instructions. Think Siri, who does not react well to some of the things the fraternity brothers say to her. Robo John also serves as a mobile computer. Try putting him in a pocket.

Robo John is useful but in the end it fails the Laws of Robotics. Bad robot!

Unlike so many British and Americans on other planets, these Soviets do show scientific interest in it, collect samples, discuss findings — when not hacking and shooting the fauna — and speculate about intelligent life. So many of the Anglo-Brit planeteers are bored, indifferent, napping, smoking, and lining up for the return trip without a backward glance.

The Soviet equipment was not made by the lower bidder, because it works, and they return to space, and presumably to Earth. But we get no triumphal return (unless I hit the off button, too soon).

They have a hovercraft that is also a submersible, though it is not quite up to James Bond-standard.


Even so the under water sequences are well done, As is the episode of weightlessness mentioned above. These effects would have been quite fascinating at the time. They still are considering there is not a CGI in sight.

As they leave the planet the ending is spooky, but it is not connected to the preceding story, and seems an afterthought, as though inviting Roget Corman to do what he did with it, and get two more movies out of it.

Meta data from IMDB: 1 hour and 17 minutes 6.7/10 from 2263

Hard Rock come to San Angelo in a big way. The bigger they are, the harder they fall; the more they fall, the more of them there are. Figure that out.

Mono Monster card.jpg

Monoliths, yes; monsters, no. This is a creature feature without a creature. Just the sort of thing that confuses the fraternity brothers.

These monoliths missed Stonehenge and Carnac and hit the desert Southwest as so much Sy Fy did in the 1950s. A r-e-a-l-l-y big meteor hits the desert. Boom!!!!!

No one notices. Richard and Babs from ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1953), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, usually spot meteors but they must have at their anatomy lessons.

A park ranger finds a rock chip on the road. It looks different. Odd. He takes it back to the office. Too bad.

This first act is very classy. the ranger stops the car to take a look. He uses a rock to chock the wheel of his vehicle on the slope without a thought. Then when it is time to go, he kicks it away and notices its peculiarity. He tosses into the car for subsequent examination.

Back in town he takes his kit and the rock into the office, which has been closed all day in the hot sun and he opens up the door transom and the back window for the air. This is all so brisk and natural that it hardly seems a prelude. But every one of his actions has unforeseen consequences.

Spoilers below.

Later he kips on a cot in a side room and, as it does in the desert, it rains hard and water blows in from the back window onto Rocky lying on the work bench.

Next morning his offsider, the affable Grant, comes back from a road trip and finds the back room a shambles and his buddy….. standing in for Lot’s wife — petrified.

Bad. Inexplicable. Much Geordie speak about rocks, which did not remind me at all of the Geology lab I did as an undergraduate. Nothing would. Gone.

Conclusion? Rocky did it! Others fall victim to Rocky and his friends. Worse.

Edie’s prize pupil goes all ‘Them!’ and is rushed to LA and an iron lung kept on standby for Sy Fy movie use. More Geordie speak about carbon, silica, and pancetta. Who knows?

Rain on the rocks makes them grow into monoliths. Nice skyline shots of monoliths against the desert sky painted on a travelling matte. Tourist attraction in the making, but then….crash they fall over and fragment. Each fragment grows into a monolith in the rain and then falls over. Thus do they at once proliferate and move. They are mindless and destructive. Reminds me of some people I know.

A call to Mr Pomfritt, doing a summer job at the weather bureau, says more rain is coming. Yikes!

Mons coming.jpg Here they come!

No effort is made to negotiate on either side. Grant with the help of a visiting professor (for once good for something) and the local newspaper proprietor figure it out. As much as Rocky likes water, Rocky does not like salt water. Okey-dokey! Now what? The Gulf of Mexico is too far away. The Pacific Ocean is in use. But, but, but the Morris Dam is just around the corner. Sprinkle all the salt shakers in town into the reservoir and then blow it up!

Everyone agrees this is a good idea. The fraternity brothers always like a big bang.

By this time higher authorities have been alerted and are arguing about whose KPIs cover the situation. Consultants are showing each other Power Point presentations about paper, scissors, and rock. Lawyers are amassing billed hours without uttering a word. Pollsters are drawing samples to interrogate. The Twit in Chief is playing golf. This is crisis management at its best.

The rocks keep coming, falling on people, animals, farms, but missing Republicans.

Without waiting for approval, Grant blows up the dam. Much congratulating follows. Edie falls into his arms. ‘Aw. shucks.’ mutters Grant. The End. Off camera the police arrest Grant for blowing up public property and turn him over to Homeland Security and their r-e-a-l-l-y big waterboard.

It is crisp and direct. The staging of the rocks is striking on a wide screen. The actors are solid, including some ever reliables, like Lee Tremayne and Trevor Bardette. Phil Harvey as the first victim is utterly convincing as an ordinary Joe doing his job. Edie Hart is luminous long before Peter Gunn came along.

Director Jack Arnold is credited as a writer here and his sure hand shows. Those who do not know Jack, should. Paul Frees supplies the narration and Troy Donahue makes a brief appearance.

IMDB metadata: 1 hour 26 ,minutes 5.6/10 from 199.

Despite the lobby card and the newspaper advertisements, much to the disappointment of the fraternity brothers, there was no monster. There is a lady, and about her more at the end.

Lady Monster.jpg

The ubiquitous Curt Siodmak published ‘Donovan’s Brain’ in 1942 and it spawned this movie, and two others. Siodmak went to this well again in ‘Hauser’s Memory’ (1968) which in turn generated two derivative films.

In distant Arizona a castle in the desert is inhabited by the requisite mad scientist, in this case, the singular Erich von Stroheim. Igor assists. Upstairs is a live-in niece who is the lady of the title, and a grim and taciturn house keeper. The cast of Otranto is complete.

A small aircraft crashes nearby and the local plod sends for the mad scientist since he is the nearest doctor. The pilot died on impact but his passenger is barely alive. This is Donovan, a shady millionaire.

Ah ha!

Erich has been trying to keep alive brains from monkeys, rabbits, rats, and Republicans in jars. The laboratory is full of backlit jars of milk with objects within. Igor and the niece pitch in as required. The housekeeper looks on in disapproval.

Donovan dies and Erich gets his Egyptian nose pickers out and extracts his brain. ‘Hand me another Mason jar,’ he cries! Niece hesitates but Igor obliges.

The brain lives! (Donovan was not a Republican if he had a living brain.)

Next Erich dials up the brain for a chat. Much EKG tape comes from the adding machine. Strange sounds are heard. The lights dim. Igor sits up with the jar as if with a sick child.

He and Donovan’s brain commune. Igor is putty to Donovan’s indomitable will. He manipulates Igor who assumes his personality, strong, bitter, commanding, mean. Yes, this manager is managing. Shenanigans follow.

Donovan's widow sheds not a tear but seeks the ill gotten gains. Her oily shyster lawyer ably assists. In the middle it becomes a film noir as Donovan reborn in Igor sets about his plan, the niece tries to break Igor away from Donovan, while Erich encourages the brain-bond, and the housekeeper dusts.

There is a conclusion in laboratory. Where else? Much sugar glass is broken. The housekeeper gives notice with a revolver. The niece tips over the Mason jar, and dinner is on the way.

This product from Republic Pictures is a classy B movie with superb lighting and deft camera work. When Donovan possesses Igor he is lit from below. The lab seems sometime large and other times small to fit the mood, thanks to the lighting and camera work. The pace is snappy with the exposition kept to a minimum. Most of all there is Erich von Stroheim, mad and bad and unique.

A number of early John Wayne vehicles bore the Republic badge. If not an A studio it was B+ in the Hollywood pecking order of the day, until about April 1944 when ‘The Lady and the Monster’ was released. There is quite a backstory.

The President of Republic pictures had seen the niece skate in Europe and brought her to Amerika where he would make her into a movie star. She changed her name from Hruba which no one could pronounce, except Roman Hruska, to Ralston. She had no acting interest, training, experience, or ability. It shows here in this her first wooden role. She spoke little English and recited most of her lines phonetically. Because it was a vehicle for her, the President threw much more money into this picture than the usual B feature. A lot more. He did the same in the next four or five films she made until Republic Pictures was near bankruptcy and a management coup turned him out. The notoriety she gained from this scandal briefly extended her career but it soon ended.

Erich von Stroheim’s career was a roller coaster. In 1936 he stole the show in 'La Grand Illusion' and in 1950 he almost did it again in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ In between he played mad scientists, shoving George Zucco aside. No easy feat that. He started years earlier as a director and acted, at first, only to generate income for his projects, and to put schnapps on the table.

Richard Arlen who usually played light weights turns in a superb performance in the transformation from skirt chasing Igor to deadly Donovan.

Metadata from IMDB: run time of 2 hours and 15 minutes at 6.0/10 from 4411 ticket holders.

A couple decide the solution to (some of) their problems is to downsize themselves. Years before a Norwegian scientist found a way to shrink the kids and anyone else. (Remember that episode of ‘The Avengers’?) After much angst they do so, well, sorta, because at the last moment after hubby has done it, wifey baulks and backs out. Mini-him is now on his own. Adventures in Disneyland follow.

Downizing card.jpg


I loved the characters, the boring physiotherapist Matt Damon, the devil may care Serbian neighbour, the laconic boat captain, and most of all the feisty Vietnamese. Watching them bounce off each other in their little world is diverting for a time, but not two hours and fifteen minutes of it.

The story is like a combined Thanksgiving and Christmas lunch with the extended family. There are too many courses. It just goes on and on and loses its way. No sooner is one course served than another appears competing for table space. Desserts are followed by savoury courses, again.

What is it about? A satire on materialism? That is why Matt and Audrey decide to shrink, so their dollars will go further and they can have a big house like those In Elkhorn. Is it a warning of things to come about climate change? Hence the Norwegians digging in. Is it about being different? The discrimination against the little people. Is it about dislocation? The Vietnamese refugee. Is it about saving the world one hot meal at a time? The food distribution. Is it about saving the world? The original Norwegian concept. Was shrinking a metaphor for retirement, since no minis seem to work, though in fact some do, and in social isolation. Is it a parable according to which paradise has a slum to service it, pace ‘The Magic Mountain’ (1924) by Thomas Mann?

The list goes on. Way too much to digest in a sitting. Indigestion follows.

There are so many themes that they get lost, one after another, and none is developed. The mini-me-s live in Disneyland, and some one makes little cars and buses for them, but who and why since in the end they represent less than three percent of the population.

The Serbian and the sea captain are vital to the Norwegian’s final plan. But why? No idea. They take Matt along. Why?

Why are there Norwegians in the first place” (The external shot of the Norwegian laboratory in the opening looked a lot like the College of Business office building at UNO in Benson.) To have fjords latter, I guess, there had to be Norwegians. But why were fjords even in it? It started in Omaha and went to sunshine in Arizona and then fog in Norway.

Can mini-theys only live in sunshine? Aren’t there any mini snow shovels?

As the doomsayers disappear underground, the best lines in the film come from the Serbian 'They’re just people. They will behave like people. Fight, kill each other. The usual.' There is no technological salvation from humanity itself. The final fizzle was a sign not to take it all too seriously; that is understood, but the joke then is on the audience that has sat though one hundred and sixty-five minutes to get there, not counting the deafening advertising barrage before the feature, which always set my teeth on edge.

'Downsizing' should be downsized by at least forty-five minutes. The prologue about the discovery of shrinking could have been done in a two minutes voiceover, and without that prologue, the epilogue could be omitted, too.

Boring Matt made one big decision because he thought he knew what he was doing. The consequences followed. Nothing is added to his character by giving him a second big decision, the more so when the has no one to go with him. His only three friends never for a moment consider the hole in the ground.

And none of the problems of these leprechauns has been addressed. If they are but three percent, will airlines cater for them. Is there an ACLU division for minis? Will there be any new minis now that the Norwegians have given up?

Leafing through the paper, the indication of the Sy Fy genre caught my eye and since there seemed to be no CGI exploding heads involved, I read on and came across a name I knew, Alexandros Papadopoulos, to the fraternity brothers that is Alexander Payne. His ‘Nebraska’ (2011) was compelling. ‘About Schmidt’ (2002) was memorable. ‘Election’ (1999) conjured dark memories from high school. He knows a story and how to convey it. Better luck next time. We missed his ‘Descendants’ (2011) despite the Hawaiian setting.

IMDB meta data: 1 hour and 15 minutes; rated 4.9/10 from 735 citizens.

A late entry in the British quota quickie market, this creature feature has the magnified insects so readily available to film producers at so little cost. Sometimes called 'Cosmic Monsters' with typical British understatement.

Planet X title.jpg

Before enlistment Sergeant O’Rourke of ‘F Troop’ is working at laboratory in rural England with a mad scientist who is doing experiments with magnets. Iron filings are flying everywhere. Masses of electricity are used to provide snap and crackle. One lab assistant gets zapped to show how dangerous this work has become as ever more juice is applied.

The juice is so great it knocks out the electricity supply to the telly in the local pub showing a darts competition. A rural riot follows, i.e., much grumbling about them doings.

The lab coat of the zapped assistant is filled by a new recruit, a woman! Much consternation! No one else qualified is available, or wants to go to Midsomer. Alright, but Sergeant O’Rourke will have to supervise her closely. Does he ever!

The lights keep going out during his supervisions. Can two fit into a lab coat, says the smooth talker? Ah huh. The fraternity brothers were making notes of this technique for their own use.

Tucker.jpg Sergeant O'Rourke bespectacled and lab coated on the far right.

Three things follow. First a disfigured character in the woods rapes women, but since it is 1958 the word cannot be used. Second, magnified bugs are also spotted in the woods. (Moral? Stay out of the woods!) Three, Klaatu’s shy little brother is also in those crowded woods, where he shaves his whiskers to fit in with the locals.

Little Brother helps the plod nab the rapist and this puts him in solid with the pub crowd. To serve as a credential for Bro seems the only purpose of the disfigured rapist. British subtlety at its best.

Now accepted Bro then tells Sergeant O’Rouke and the new assistant that the steroid bugs are feeding on the magnetism of the mad scientist’s experiments. Worse, these experiments are tapping the Earth’s core (where James Mason and Pat Boone are at this very moment) and will throw it off its axis with the disastrous result of flared trousers. Talk about a big deal, this is a BIG DEAL.

This is a lot to swallow with warm beer. To prove his points Bro also lets them know, he is from Davana (’Not of this Earth; [1957] reviewed elsewhere on this blog). This pair will believe anything. They nod. After all his clothes fit, he bathes, and does not drink warm beer ergo he can hardly be British.

The mad scientist is not going to scrap his life’s KPIs on the say so of a clean-shaven alien. ‘Show me the flying saucer,’ he cries! He shoots people who get in his way as he throws more levers and switches. Snap and crackle! Sergeant O’Rourke uses his hand-to-hand stunt work to pull the plug.

Klaatu’s bro gets in his saucer and leaves. After watching him take off everyone denies seeing the saucer.

He may be from Planet X, who knows. We find out nothing about Planet X, strange or not.
The title is misleading but that is common in this realm. ‘The Man from Planet X’ would be a more apt title, but that was taken in 1951.

The film is compact and stays pretty much on point. The acting is accomplished. Even Sergeant O’Rourke does a passable job of wearing a white coat to keep the electricity stains off his suit. The alien is enigmatic and low key and that compels interest, though he also seems much like ‘The Stranger from Venus’ (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Very much. Exactly very much.

Such B movie Sy Fy features, with or without creatures, in the States are usually set in cities, where stock footage of crowds can be used to punctuate points, or on military installations in the desert southwest where the Marriott alien hotels are located. Nearly all of them have a Cold War patina. There are ominous references to ‘them.’ Under most beds, there among the dust bunnies, are the Reds.

In contrast, the quota quickie Brit entries are often rural, where it was far cheaper to set up the lone camera and do middle distance shots, and the Cold War metaphors are attenuated, or even absent. That is the case with this title. Government officials are involved, but they try to stop the project when it keeps going over budget, and Dad’s Army gets involved, too, but to go bug hunting. The military applications of the really big magnets are mentioned in the abstract with no reference to 'them,' the enemy, nor are there any pinkos lurking around. No Steven Geray to add the seasoning of an Eastern European accent after his failure to grab ‘Tobor the Great’ (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

These quickies often were produced in association with American companies and so an American element was often included so that they could be marketed in the USA, too. ‘The Man from Planet X’ (1951) has a Chicago journalist in the Scots gloaming, the ‘Four Sided Triangle’ (1953) has a damsel come home from Yankee-land to stir up hormones, ‘The Atomic Man’ (1955) had two American journalist slumming in rural England, and so on. Each of these films is reviewed elsewhere on this blog. In this entry we get no backstory to explain Sergeant O’Rourke. For that omission much thanks, since backstories are so trite and trivial.

IMDB metadata: 1 hour and 17 minutes at 5.9/10 from 817

The Cold War was never hotter than in 1953 with the see-saw Korean War piling up a body count of GIs. Was this but prelude to World War III? A lot of pundits at the time said so every day. Some wanted it to happen, believe it or not. This was the atmosphere in which audiences first saw this movie.

Magnetic Monster card 2.jpg The lobby card implies a creature, one that came alive.

Richard Carlson, ever reliable in B movieland, is sent to investigate strange occurrences at a local store. Voiceovers by Carlson with date and time noted, give it a documentary tone throughout.

Everything in the store is magnetised. Clocks and watches stop. Washing machine doors open and close. Loose change flies up to and adheres on the ceiling. Carlson stokes his chin and decides to go upstairs.

But wait! He and his bespectacled offsider, King Donovan, don radiation suits to do so because the click-click of the Geiger counter is excited. This is noteworthy.

Haz Mat suits.jpg

The official line of the Atomic Energy Commission at the time was that radiation was a nuisance. Wash your hands, wear a coat, take an aspirin, and there will be no problem. For an example of this treatment of radiation see ‘The Atomic Man’ (1955), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. In 1953 fears of radiation were denounced by red blooded idiots as Commie fake news to weaken popular support for the development of Made in the USA nukes. There were those who denied the lethal but unseen effects of radiation.

Carlson finds upstairs that an emeritus professor, never to be trusted those types, has created a new element that combines nuclear radiation and magnetism! They also find Igor, dead. Both the element and the prof are gone, though the lingering aftereffects of the element remain virulent. Kind of like after a Twit in Chief speech, a deadly miasma remains.

The police, army, and girl scouts are called into the crisis, says the Carlson in a documentary voiceover. All are shown to be responsive and responsible. Ha! Well it is a work of fiction, so there are no petty bureaucrats obstructing things, no police officer dedicated to coffee drinking, and no soldiers hiding in the motor pool for a smoke. No girl scouts short a cookie or two.

They follow the invisible spoor of the prof’s radiation with Geiger counters aclicking to reassure the public. Big Brain that he is, prof has packed the deadly element in his tattered briefcase with his lunch and taken plane to Washington on the DC to prove to the world that he is no useless emeritus, but a genius. The element disables the airplane and it also kills him. Two dead. More follow.

Again radiation suits proliferate and great care is manifested in taking possession of the deadly element, so unlike most 1950s presentations of uranium, let’s call it that to keep it simple. No one rips off the hazard suit mask for close-ups, as we saw in ‘Arrival’ (2016).

Carlson and company peer through a microfilm reader at lights projected on the wall through the bottom of a Coca-Cola bottle in cutting edge science. The element which is here christened Carlsonium absorbs energy in great gulps and doubles in size every twelve hours. The fraternity brothers are a lot like that: Ingest everything and grow ever larger, but they are peaceable. Not so Carlsonium which sucks and sucks. It sucks!

The bigger it gets, the more it sucks in energy. Not even AAA batteries are safe from it. Lead-lined rooms cannot contain it. More deaths occur.

After thirty minutes of this, Carlson, who must have had a dog, decides to see just how much energy it can eat. He will pump so much energy into it that the resultant indigestion will kill it. Is this a plan or what?

Fortunately he knows just the place to stage this food-orgy (fraternity brothers, that is, 'food orgy’), Nova Scotia. For generations people have wondered what Nova Scotia was good for and now they know! How quickly people forget, because the Nova Scotia Tourist Commission no longer mentions this event among its claims to fame.

Thanks to some quick typewriting in the screen play, they devise a way to transport the Carlsonium to Nova Scotia. Once there everyone dresses for a 1930s German expressionist film in broad brimmed fedoras and ankle length, tent overcoats. There they find yet another scientist pursing the KPIs of his life in a vast machine that can zap 600,000 watts of electricity at a time. Think of all those light bulbs.

MM machine.jpg Nova Scotia, Light, and Power

He welcome Carlson as a fellow scientist only to recoil at the plan to blow up the ever enlarging Carlsonium along with his gargantuan machine. Americans only go to Canada when they want something, he thought to himself, but this is too much.

This machine is served by a horde of workers dressed in ‘Metropolis' (1926) fashions. At one point Carlson puts on a flat soft cap to fit in and then takes it off.

This is the only discord in the film. Fisticuffs result. Guess who prevails. Ka-boom. End.

This third act is mostly cut from an earlier German film, 'Gold' (1934). and inserted into this story line. Knowing that to be the case, one can easily see it, though for a naive viewer it might slip by with the pace of the story, which is lively. Robin Bales, always quick to slice and dice a film, when he reviewed this one made no mention of this insertion.

The director and writer was Curt Siodmak.

Hasuer memory.jpg

This was the first of producer Ivan Tors’s three films featuring the labours of the Office of Scientific Investigations whose agents, like Carlson in this instance, were styled A-Men, the ‘A’ being for Atomic.

The titular reference to a 'Magnetic Monster’ puts in the phylum of creature features, but, in fact, there is no creature to this feature. Just a lump of coal. It is inert. Even less energetic than the fungus of ‘Space Master X-7’ (1958), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The story of this latter film is similar in the pursuit of a carrier of a dangerous element. Though the film at hand has more lively direction, makes some effort at science, and has a more engaging lead than ‘Space Master X-7.’

IMDB metadata: 1 hour and 33 minutes of Dali time at 4.3/10 from 2197 time wasters.

Based on an early novel by Stanislav Lem, this is a Polish-East German production made at the height of the Cold War.

lem_ogimage.jpg Stanislav Lem, the prolific Polish Sy Fy writer. Do not blame him for this mish-mash.

The original screenplay was, sources say, larded with anti-American pronouncements absent from the novel, and as a result Lem quickly disassociated himself from the project.

Venus title.jpg

The title above translates as ‘The Silent Star’ but it has been released in several versions, each with a different title. On You Tube it goes by ‘First Spaceship on Venus.’ The edited versions are dubbed and the dubbing is also done in a way to fit the intended audience.

The You Tube version was bought, edited, and dubbed for an American audience at the bottom of a double bill or for the insatiable and indiscriminate drive-in audience. The import of the changes are many.

Set in far distant 1985, an international space program led by the Soviet Union is about to launch the first mission to Mars. The magnificent eight are multi-national, a black African, a Japanese, a Chinese, an Indian, an East German, an Italian red, and a Tom Cruise, and the Russian who is the leader. World peace prevails apart from the petulant ructions of Tom Cruise.

In the many cut and dubbed versions the identities of the Russian and American are reversed, and in France the East German becomes French, in Italy….

In the American version the Russian who has become an American by the magic of dubbing arrives at the assembly point in a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. Sure they put telephone books on the seat so that Tom Cruise could see.

Assembled, the team mutters platitudes, and just below eye-level Tom Cruise struts.

Meanwhile, in far Eastern Siberia scientists have dug up something from the site of the Tunguska meteor impact of 1908. It is never clearly shown on screen but it is referred to as a wire. This wire has been fabricated, made of elements not of this Earth, and is a recording device. There is an incomprehensible signal on it. Many squiggles are shown on the Moog synthesiser. Meanwhile, the astronomers have gotten their imaginations to work and concluded from the angle of impact that the meteor came from Venus. Sure, after Tom got out of the MIG the astronomers stood on the telephone books and there was Venus. Morning star and all that.

In response to this evidence of an intelligent communication from Venus, the mission is changed from Mars to Venus. Out come the slide rules to chart a new course. Done!

Off they go. There are no tensions among the crew, though one of the crew tries to re-kindle a romance with the Japanese, who in the original has many things to say about the Hiroshima bomb dropped by those horrible Americans. These remarks are omitted in the American version. Oddly enough she does not discuss the Japanese Occupation of China or Korea.

At no time in this 1959 production does one of the men marvel at a woman who is a scientist as unnatural, odd, or against nature. Nor does any of them try to hit on these two women. It is unique in the annals of 1950s Sy Fy to lack sexism. Just the kind of perversion to be expected from the Russkies. They also take along a small robot tank that rolls around doing nothing much.

They land on a murky, dank, dark, gaseous Venus that must have been impressive on the wide screen in 1959 when the original version was released. This Venus is altogether other worldly.

No one is home.

Donning their credible spacesuits, they wander around using up fuel and oxygen until they stumble on to some feral USB sticks in the shape of small Northern Territory blowflies. They find a giant golf ball into which they plug the USB flies and set about learning Venusian, which is similar to Venetian so the Italian in the crew quickly masters it.

The ‘Ah ha’ moment arrives. The signal on the wire in the tundra was targeting data for a Big Bertha energy weapon on Venus. The aim was to blast Earth. Why? Because it is there.

Ever the peril with low bid contractors, Big Energy Bertha failed and the backfire depopulated Venus in one big bang, that no Earth astronomer noticed. What were they doing to miss this? We’ll never know.

There are some striking images of humanoid figures burned onto walls like some in Hiroshima from that atomic blast. This sight unhinges the Japanese woman. The design, art work, and travelling mattes were very well done on Venus.

The Venusians died to the last before they could safely eject all the peripherals from the big, old iMac golf ball. All the nosing around by the crew has awakened the equipment which starts an ominous IOS update and by some blink of the eye we are are transported to Yellowstone National Park, home of boiling mud, some coloured but most black. This sludge is enveloping everything. Not good.

They skedaddle but in the confusion the noble American (Russian) sacrifices himself to save others. Can any one picture that midget ego doing that? No? Moving on. Two others also get killed. The remaining change the D batteries and return home. They declare the mission a success. Sure. Why not.

They have learned that blowing yourself up is bad. Very bad. Don’t do it. No. Lesson learned. Moral: blow up others, not yourself.

VEnus 2.jpg The Cosmostrator later did duty on Liberace’s piano.

Pedantic note. Venus is a planet, not a star. It does not twinkle, as twinkle, twinkle little star. It is silent in that, since everyone is dead, no return phone calls.

‘The Nine-Tailed Fox’ (2017) and ‘Pong Pong Heart’ (2015) by Martin Limón

Entries in this reliable series following the (mis)adventures of George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, Criminal Investigators, 8th Army Headquarters, Seoul, South Korea circa 1972. In earlier reviews descriptions of the two protagonists and their world have been outlined elsewhere on this blog. Go there for background.

Suffice to say here, that these entries maintains the standard of the earlier titles.

Nine fox.jpg

Ping Pong Korea.jpg

There are many things to like about these books. First is that there is always a mystery that requires detective work. Sounds simple but so many books in the genre lack both mystery and detection. The common substitutes are sex and violence.

In addition, here as in several others, Korean lore and myth are integral to the plot. That is, it is rooted in the time and place culturally, as well as materially.

Moreover, Limón treats the Koreans, be they business girls, file clerk Miss Kim, innkeepers, or the redoubtable Mr Kil of the National Police, with respect, even deference. It is, after all, their country.

There is much about how an elaborate organisation like the Eighth Army operates and a recurring cast of characters around headquarters, e.g,, Sergeant Riley who knows everyone and if asked very nicely can secure even top secret documents when official channels are closed, Lifer Harvey, called Strange for good reason, who knows where many bodies are buried, the blustering provost who has been counting off the days until retirement for a decade, the motor pool chief who sees a lot more than he tells, and so on.

There are also martinets, bullies, thugs, many of them field grade officers. There is a rich black market in PX goods and conflict among the army wives, too.

In short, there are many crossfires in which to get caught, and these two often do get caught. Conflicting orders are after all common in any organisation but never mentioned in KPIs.

George is moody and introspective, planning to stay in Korea when he hits twenty years and maximises the army pension. He is learning the language and tries to immerse himself in the culture in food, drink, music, arts, and so on. The ever resourceful Ernie always has his lock-pick with him, namely a size twelve boot with which he kicks in doors that for some reason will not open. Ernie plans to drink himself to death by retirement age.

Sometimes the bow is long but the arrow continues to fly true.

Anne Hillerman, ‘The Lion’s Song’ (2017)

Inheriting the mantle from père Tony must have been difficult in every way. Yet I have read to the end each of her three novels and found things in them to like. I do not bother to finish books that do not engage my interest. Best to stop beating one’s head as soon as possible.

Lion song.jpg

Chee, Bernie, and Leaphorn each play a part in this one. But always the dominant character is the place, in this instance the Grand Canyon. To see it is to know why it is called that.

A proposal for a tourist development near the south rim of the Grand Canyon is on the table. There is a great deal of money at stake, and some of it is already wafting around. There are so many overlapping, competing, and conflicting jurisdictions that no one is quite sure who has the last word. In addition there is the St Bartholomew parade of activists, interest groups, holier than thou greenies, each and all of whom want a say, not just a say, but THE say. Then there are the native Indians, who are divided among themselves, first by tribes, but also by generation, and by more venal interests, too.

The stew is rich and to sort through it a mediator is employed, a very seasoned lawyer from Phoenix, who has done this kind of thing before. He works methodically and with superhuman patience.

Is it just coincidence that his car was blown up? Why do the lights in the town hall where the host is gathered keep going out? Why does the mediator seem to disappear at times?

In a game of hot potato Chee is assigned as the mediator’s bodyguard and he comes to learn a great deal about his backstory and that might explain current events.

The variety of characters is good and they are given individuality. The complexities of the mediation are well realised. The elderly grandmother is arresting. The fog in the Grand Canyon during which the title is explained is marvellous.

Yet the balancing act with three foci — Bernie, Jim, and Joe — is just too much. Also there are far too many pointless descriptions of the pockets from which keys are extracted, the winding down of car windows, the aroma of tea, and so on and on and on. Some readers, perhaps this very reader, were shouting at the book to move on. This a lot of this padding.

Cowboy Dashee appears in this one and I thought he met his end a long time ago in another book. I mean him no ill will but I was surprised to read of him. I think it was ‘Dark Wind’ (2010) and I will check on that for my own satisfaction.

John D MacDonald. ‘The Deep Blue Good-bye’ (1964)

Graeme Blundell recently recommended JD. Long ago I tried to read one, this one I think, and put it aside. I have done so again.

This is the first in a very long running and successful series — twenty-one titles according to Wikipedia — and perhaps some things changed with confidence and success, and perhaps they change for the better but I will never know. This is the one Blundell, whom I find a reliable cicerone, recommended so I tried it.

Deep blue.jpg

Outer Florida in the 1970s was a frontier where a loner could go to escape and that is what Travis McGee does on his cruiser in the Keys. MacDonald does the regional accents and the class syntax well, but it just goes on, and on and on and on. The characters are differentiated. The locale is brought to life. All that is true.

But it proceeds by endless exposition, like a textbook. There are pages and pages of exposition. Page and page. It is exhausting without forward progress, like listening to a non-stop motor-mouth. One does nothing but grows tired.

I gave up at the twenty percent mark according to the Kindle. If I have not suspended disbelief by that time with a book and entered into its world, I do not press on. There is no honour in the hollow achievement of finishing something I would rather not have started.

A screenwriter would be needed to pull it apart and give it some life. Even the scenes where Travis is questioning witnesses read like depositions rather than dialogue.

John D MacDonald has an interesting backstory himself, but knowing it does not make the book any more engaging. He was a Harvard MBA who gave up a corporate career for the typewriter when he had a young family and worked hard at being writer. I admire that, but, well, see above.

IMDB facts: 1 hour and 5 minutes of treacle time, rated at 3.9/10 from 219 opinionators

What happens? The Caine Mutiny in miniature. It is 2015 and the tyrannical captain of a space ship provokes a mutiny. He may have been right at the start but once the trouble starts, it spirals.

MVSpaceflight cover5BZTZlYjQ2MzAtODAyNy00MWNlLTk2ZGMtYTFhMDVhYTY1NTQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQ2MjQyNDc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpg
Let’s back up to beginning.

In this telling instead of waiting for the aliens to come and tell us what a mess we have made of things, the Earthlings figure it out for themselves. To add authority to this dictum, it is delivered as a prologue by a uniformed figure. It looked like a Coast Guard coat, but who knows. We need a military figure, it seems, to tell us things, and he does.

The mission is a combined effort of the USA, UK, and Canada. Strines missed out again.

The response to the unspecified catastrophes is to colonise space where further catastrophes will, no doubt, ensue. Thus Spaceflight Inter-Stellar One is on its a way to an unnamed new world to plant a colony with its crew, about which more in a moment. Fortunately, unlike most other space ships launched from Earth in Sy Fy movies this one does not encounter any meteors. Whew!

The crew consists of four married couples and the journey will take years. If a number of years was mentioned my ears blinked. We pick up the travellers at the end of their first year in space when things seem to be going fine. Happy smiles all around. ‘That won’t last,’ predicted the fraternity brothers from the back row.

In addition to these eight there is a cyborg with a human head in a fishbowl on top of a washing machine (to keep him clean). He is an interesting addition to the crew but adds nothing to the story, since he does not get around much. There are also three children, one each for three of the couples. but none for the captain and his prime mate. Indeed, this seems to be a sore point, since colonies need colonists. The fraternity brothers wondered if weightlessness might have…. They were skeptical about the gobbledegook about artificial gravity.

That the captain is twenty years older than his mate and an ugly brute might figure in the equation, too.

The final crew members are four spares, who are in a cryogenic suspension, perhaps a hangover cure. Occasionally the doctor opens the freezer to have a look at them.

The children are entertained after their school lessons with a holographic clown. A nice element but again not integrated into the story.

Scene set, now is the time to thicken the plot. The doctor has a wife and she gets woozy. Next thing you know he diagnoses her and finds a life-threatening disease of some sort. More gobbledegook follows. He demands that the captain turn back so she can be treated before it is too late.

‘Turn back? No way.’

This crew was screened in every way for this mission including health, genetics, toe nails, personality, etc. This is most elite of A-Teams, remember that. Yet they each wear a label of their assignment, engineer, botany, doctor, educator, mutineer, in case they forget. This after a year.

If her genes lack moral fiber and get sick, better she should die in space before reaching the new world, That is the captain’s line, as he refuses either to turn back or to consult Earth command on his iPhone. (That her child is on board is not brought into the story in any way.)

Much angst is developed and expended. Sometime in all this confusion the doctor’s wife, who does not want to go back anyway since it would queer the new world for her child, commits suicide by watching this film. Grim.

The doctor, now enraged, seizes the captain with the help of some others, but at least one couple remains loyal to the captain. Now he has command but the doctor cannot turn around and go back and he cannot keep El Capitan in the brig forever. ‘Smooth move, not,’ shouted the fraternity brothers.

Most of the crew are deliriously happy at the change because now they can remove their assignment designations from their shirts. Rip! Off they go. Was that what the mutiny was about? Trivial but apparently true.

The captain breaks free and regains control with threats, imprecations, Key Performance Indicators, and managementese. Mutiny, eh! That means the death penalty. He laments that it is impossible to build a scaffold or arm a firing squad. This is a sensitive New Age captain.

Ah, being a leader, he has an idea. Shove the mutinous doctor out the airlock. Oh, but wait, he is the doctor. No bother. Before we murder him, he can defrost the spare doctor to take his place, if we ask nice. Asking nice is not in the captain’s playbook. ‘Do it!’ is in his playbook.

Defrosting in haste is never a good idea, as cooks know, and the second doctor bursts out of his freezer like Boris Karloff, all stiff-legged, maybe he got arthritis in there, with tubes and sensors trailing off him. He blunders into the captain, and since this thawed doctor came out without his Hippocratic Oath, he whacks him but good. End of captain. ‘Why didn’t someone do that an hour ago,’ asked the fraternity brothers? Good question.

This thawed doctor, though strong enough to kill the captain with one blow, is smacked and dies. Body count: three.

The doctor pairs off with the captain’s widow. Spaceflight IC-1 continues with no further communication with Earth. Thank goodness.

There may have been an epilogue from Uniform Man but the remoter cut him off.

There is nothing stellar about spaceship Otranto. Space outside is a moor, a swamp, a blizzard, a creature from the IRS, a void to cut off the players. The players seem to be trying but the script gives them nothing. The doctor emotes. Some others look bored. (Ahem.) The captain seems constipated most of the time. He repeats three or four times that he has absolute authority in case we missed it the first three or four times. Remember someone got paid for writing this script.

The cyborg, the children, the holograph are all interesting but do not move the plot. Likewise at some point when the captain is berating his wife for weaknesses he reveals he is a member of R.U.L.E. Wow! What’s that? Dunno and we never find out what it has to do with anything, though the fraternity brothers taxed both very little grey cells speculating on what the acronym stood for. None of their suggestions is edifying enough to repeat here.

What is the trick to watching five Sy Fy films in one night? Simple. Do some time travelling with the remoter to select another, and another, etc. I confess to watching none of them from beginning to end, and that was a judgement.

They came to a screen near me in this order.

(1) ’Teenagers from Outer Space’ (1959) 1 hour and 26 catatonic minutes, 3.6 on the IMDB scale from 2637 tweenagers.

Teens space.jpg Acne attack!

I started with this deadly earnest movie in restful black and white. To sum it up, alien boy meets Earth girl and decides not to eradicate all life on her planet. But then he has to decide what to do with the giant lobsters he brought along to devour all life on her planet. The fraternity brothers shouted, ‘Built a barbecue and get cooking!’

While the boy is very boyish, this Jocasta looks forty. Certain lack of verisimilitude there. This viewer lasted for about twenty minutes punctuated with fast forwards, and then the urge to flip over-powered him.

(2) ’It Came from Somewhere Else’ (1988) 1 hour and 29 minutes of Dali time. An astounding 5.7 on the IMDB scale from 100 casters. The producer must have an extended family.

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Since ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1953) is one the hallmarks of the Fifties surge in Sy Fy, I hoped this would be a tribute in some way. Best part was….. [being elsewhere].

It never made it. This viewer lasted ten minutes or so. In the words of one critic: ‘illogical, dopey, stupid, sloppy, strange and incredibly amateurish.’ Too kind, perhaps, but enuf said.

(3) ’Plan 10 from Outer Space’ (1995), 1 hour and 20 minutes at 5.9 on the IMDB scale from 218 ratings.

Plan 10.jpg

The title is a reference to Ed Wood, Junior’s infamous ‘Plan Nine from Outer Space’ (1959) and it opens with a copywrite infringing excerpt from that schlock, which, all things considered, proved to be more interesting than the student revue that followed. Get it? Ed Wood did it better.

(4) ‘Through the Thorns to the Stars’ (1981) 2 hours and 29 minutes of Dali time. Rated 5.1 from 932 on the IMDB scale. The original title was ‘Cherez ternii k zvyozdam,’ a Russian proverb I am told.

The version I saw had subtitles and I missed quite a bit, what with doing the New York Times crossword and going out to walk the dog for half an hour in the middle. Yet I did not feel like I had missed anything I wanted to see.

The special effects of spaceflight are very good: weightlessness, movement between space craft, the starry void, and the planet Dessa. The story has two threads. One is the strange humanoid creature found on a derelict space ship. She is weird. Looks like someone from an Eastern European death camp of the 1980s with eyes so big I began to suspect some sort of prosthesis. She is enigmatic and perhaps amnesiac.

thorns droid.jpg

For a good hour everyone wondered if she was human or android. The fraternity brothers offered to give her a physical examination, but to date that offer was not accepted.

She traces back to Dessa, a planet completely despoiled by the pollution of the evil industrialists, read capitalist, to the extent that Russians are called in to help clean it up, now that they have paved over Lake Baikal. On Dessa, because all resources have been depleted, the industrialists sell citizens bottled air, while making plans to take rocket to a brave new world to exploit. Just to make things clear for dim wits like the fraternity brothers, the chief industrialist is played by a dwarf.

When I returned from my outing with Majic, the credits were rolling. The end.

Why did I think of Mikhail Kutuzov. Do little and wait was his motto.

(5) ’The Tower' (1993) 2 hours of eternity. Over-rated at 4.6 form 467 on the IMDB. N.B. there are several films of this title.


A smart building turns on Paul Reiser and tries to kill him. The fraternity brothers rooted for the building. Paul is immature, slovenly, rude, ungrateful, disorganised, and so a hero who can outwit a door.

Toward the end of this long night of investigation, I began to think of mashing all five of these films together into one.

The Russians land on the Tower where they are seized by It Came From Elsewhere and made to watch Plan 10, repeatedly, in the company of Teenagers from Outer Space and their zits.

IMDB facts: 1 hour and 20 minutes, rated 5.9/10 from 1417 raters.

A band of four orbit Mars and head for home but the Aussie on the controls is on the wrong side of the road and they fly into the future by more than five hundred years. That is high octane.

They land on a future Earth and set about recreating the society they left behind. They encounter the giant rubber spiders that the fraternity brothers lost.

World without End poster.jpg There are no scenes in the movie like that portrayed here. Yes, another misleading lobby card.

After some trudging through Bronson Canyon they find the Mole people who are hospitable, and whose society is harmonious, self-sufficient, stable, and dying out for a lack of manly vigor. Note the bronzed Aussie above who cannot keep his shirt on. By the way, he liked time travel so much he did again a year later in ‘The Time Machine.’ Once they get the travel itch, it itches.

The only salvation for the Moles is sunshine. See, very Strine. The leader of the pack is Hugh Marlowe of the pleasing baritone who urges the Moles to go topside and live in the sun. Vitamin D will overcome their endemic anaemia, says Dr Hugh. Stories about skin cancer are Commie disinformation plot to sap the vitality of the Moles.

But topside real estate is owned by mutants because this is a post-apocalyptic society after an atomic war that ‘no one wanted and no one could stop’ intones the Mole historian. There are many more mutants than Moles though the Moles have two eyes and this allows them to have better dress sense with their cloth helmets fitting like a cloche on the men.

Mole hats.jpg Note the headgear.

Mole damsels parade about in 1970’s mini-skirts designed by Alberto Vargas, always ahead of the times.

Al Vargas.jpg Al Vargas.

At the end Hugh has convinced the Moles to go out and fight the Mutants. Ah, war, glorious war. Among the last scenes is one of the pack instructing the now healthy young conscripts on locking and loading. Even the senior Moles, once top side, shed their headwear for sunburn.

In the Cold War context the Moles stand in for those Americans who pretend a normal life is possible and do not sweep under the bed every night for Commies and those soft Europeans who just want to live in peace after two world wars. Bah! What sissies!

In addition to their dress sense the Moles favour hard primary colours that show up best in Cinemascope. The top Mole is a kindly Ray Walston without the antenna, but there are others who mislike these strangers and plot against them. As usual, a scriptwriter is the cause of the strife and it is blamed on a woman.

One of the servants who cleans up after the men was born top side and she seems fetchingly normal, but nothing comes of this realisation. When a bazooka can be made, though how remains a mystery since the Moles have no metal, who needs words. Blast them! They blast them, and the survivors live for a while after, as humanity starts long term preparation for another Armageddon.

It may seem ironic today but none of that was intended at the time.

One oddity is that early on when the crew fails to respond to signals from Earth, we see the wife of one of them waiting with two children. She is worried and distressed. In the same room the press briefing comes to a close. And the journalists respect her privacy and let her leave the room unmolested. Fiction, indeed. Polite, considerate, tactful journos. In this respect the scriptwriter gets full marks for creative imagination.

It weighs in at 1 hour and 17 minutes of Dali time with a score of 5.2/10 from 476 of the demographic.

The schizophrenia in the production is indicated in the lobby card reproduced below.

Tobot card.jpg The usual misleading lobby card.

Is it a creature feature. the creature being the robot, or is a kiddie feature? The lobby card draws the creature fans, but the film is more for ages 7-12, making it perfect for the fraternity brothers. It features a precocious and tiresome boy know-it-all. At no time does the robot scoop up a babe. ‘Our client is innocent!’ declared the fraternity brothers from the sofa. There is far more brat than babe in slow moving ooze.

Mr Handsome is Charles Drake, one time sheriff of Sand Rock Arizona where 'It Came from Outer Space' in 1953. He must have moved on and gone to grad school in the intervening year to become a scientist in this gig.

It has a thick Cold War patina because 'the enemy' is out to get Tobor. The party chiefs have ruled and they must be obeyed or else, exile to New Jersey!

‘Tobor’ is, yes, bright eyes, ‘Robot’ spelled backwards. Toby is a bot but the gossip on the street-web is that someone made a stencil to spell R o b o t for a title card but sprayed it wrong way around and there was no budget, not even in those expansive Ike years, to do it again and so Tobor was christened. There is an explanation of the name in the film, nor of the sobriquet ‘the Great’ except that Robot is mighty big.

The Prof and Sheriff Drake want Tobor to ride rocket into space rather than human monkeys because of the dangers, and the unfunded pension plans. Hmm, that makes sense. Two problems that no one notices: Tobor is a giant at 9 feet tall and weighs as much as a four sumo wrestlers. He will not fit into a rocket capsule! He barely fits into Rhode Island.

Tobor with cast.jpg Tobor the Big

In addition, the Prof has endowed Tobor with emotions be inserting a sponge in his brain box. Hmm, just the thing for space flight, a moody, home-sick, lonely scrap heap.

Just to ensure things go wrong, the Prof has also called a press conference proudly to demonstrate his bot. He might have done this to embarrass the rocket men into using Toby and not more pilots but then he asks the journalists to keep Toby secret. Sure. Tell the press all and then say, pretty please, do not use it. They broadcast all details immediately to make the job of THE ENEMY easier.

The brat plays with Toby, while the adults are Einstein-napping, and nearly destroys the house. The adults declare the brat to be a genius. Hands up all parents who would react that way. ….. Thought so.

The Enemy is led by Istvan Gyergyay better known, if known at all, as Steven Geray. Like Drake, Geray did much duty in B Land with that accent he made a perfect Commie in more than one feature, with or without a creature. He was born in the Ukraine to Magyar parents when the Hapsburgs held sway

Mr Pomfritt is there, as a journalist, before he went into teaching Dobie, who blabs all. He is a B Sy Fy stalwart. But he went straight after his malfeasance in ‘The Man from Planet X’ (1951).

Running time 1 hour and 19 minutes of Dali time, rated at 4.0/10 from 31,671 time wasters.

Conceived, written, directed, produced, and loved by Ed Wood, Jr. Because it is excruciatingly bad, it has attracted a following as witnessed by the extraordinary number of votes on the IMDb. This for a movie without a theatrical release.

Plan 9 card.jpg DVD cover.

Leaving that reputation aside for the moment, here is the set-up. The aliens have tried eight times to communicate with Earthlings. Each attempt has failed. Even when contact is established Earthings simply deny the reality of flying saucers and aliens despite the evidence in front of their eyes. Hmm. That has a contemporary ring. Climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, Tony Abbotts, unite!

Using non-Aristotelean logic, the aliens give up on living humans and decide to raise the dead (using John 11:38-44 as a manual) and work with them! Work with them? Yes, to destroy the Earth! Egads, why? Because Earthlings are violent, destructive, hostile, and aggressive.

The aliens declare that the Earthlings will not be satisfied with blowing each other up but as technology develops they will start blowing up other worlds. Does that sound like GOP foreign policy? I could not possibly say. That aliens have come to stop Earthlings from destroying the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, or the universe is a theme in Sy Fy. Wonder why?

Since Earthlings will not negotiate, it is time for the final solution: Plan 9. Vampires provide the creatures for this feature in the dark and misty graveyard where much of the film is set. Though some scenes switch, inexplicably, between day and night and back. Is this post-modernism at work, refusing to privilege continuity!

The flying saucer makes little effort to conceal itself relying for concealment on the delusions that explain the Republican Party today.

Alein wardrobe.jpg First they iron the shirts and then shine them.

These technologically superior aliens in shiny sateen rigs are defeated by a couple of muscle men who are violent, destructive, hostile, and aggressive, in other words, typical Earthlings. That’ll show ‘em to call us names!

But it ends on a note of caution that they, the aliens, will be back and we have to be ready for them. What does that mean, ready? When they say Earthlings know nothing but violence, just blast them. That works. We’re already NRA-ready!

The production is amateurish. The cardboard walls shake when someone touches them. The flying saucer is sometimes called a cigar (and later it is lit) but it is always shown as what it was, a spinning top. The acting is painful to watch as the players struggle to remember their lines and deliver then slowly with no inflection. The sets are empty, e.g., the cockpit of the passenger aircraft shown twice is two folding chairs, confirming some perceptions of American Airlines.

There are voiceovers that are mawkish and confusing. It is introduced and concluded by a reincarnation of Charles Fort, the favourite author of the fraternity brothers.

Of the cast only Gregory Walcott seems to have had a film career, mostly in television, especially westerns when they were the fashion.

Walcott.jpg Gregory Walcott

Perhaps his North Carolina accent made producers think he was from the west. West, south, there is no difference when viewed from Hollywood.

The gossip on the web is that Ed Wood started this project as a biography of Bela Lugosi, who figures in about two minutes of the film, and then Lugosi died. Had he seen the rushes? Nothing stopped Ed Wood. He hired his wife’s doctor to stand-in for Lugosi hiding behind the cloak held to his face.

Cape.jpg Is there a doctor in the cape? Yes.

That the good doctor was a foot taller than Lugosi with a different colour of hair was ignored. For all of this and more see ‘Ed Wood’ (1994), a biopic

It runs 1 hour and 32 minutes of Dali time, scored 4.4/10 from 212 friends and relatives of the producer on the IMDB.

Outpost Zeta is a crucial toehold in a vital part of the galaxy. OK. The original garrison went off the air. A rescue mission went in, and it, too, went silent. Then a second. Still nothing. Gulp! Whatever is going on at Zeta, it is not good.

Zeta poster.jpg DVD cover.

A third rescue team of volunteers is assembled, who then dutifully make last wills and testaments. That is a sobering beginning to this low budget creature feature. They are five in number or is it six. They are slain one by one. No wonder, to defend themselves from the unknown and unseen menace they have caulking guns! Still less do they wear any body armour or space suits. The tip jar did not run to such accoutrements but the local hardware store had caulking guns on special.

When arriving at Zeta, they find a space buoy with a message from one of the benighted rescue teams warning them off. Needless to say, this warning is disregarded and they land.

Mercifully we get no backstory for these volunteers. One pales to think what this screen writer would have done with that. Mawkish, adolescent, trite, these are the words the come to mind. Yet none of them strikes this viewer as the volunteering type, pursed lips or not. They are too young to be fatalistic. They are so unlined and unwrinkled, do they have the experience and cool heads to survive where others have, evidently, not.

The squeamish medical doctor is a woman and there is not one demeaning, derogatory, or sexist remark from the Sensitive New Age Soon-to-be-Dead Men. There is also a woman scientist who squawks about the hindrance of security. Yes, one would belittle security after eighteen mysterious deaths. Sure. She is the first to go, and ‘Good riddance!’ shouted the fraternity brothers.

The team does show interest in this strange and alien world. This fact is worth noting because in many B Sy Fy entries the explorers of new worlds show no interest in the new world. These six do. There are a couple of other things to like mentioned below.

The acting is pursed lips, furrowed brows, open-mouthed stares, and many blank looks. The directing is leaden. The production values are homemade. We get a few creature’s eye view that lets the air out of the mystery too early. There is also much heavy breathing. Much.

But the surface of Zeta is eerie and forbidding with an orange filter on the lens and I got to like their red jumps suits and visored white crash helmets. I liked the landscape because it did look strange, unlike so many of these Z movies where the alien world is the producer’s backyard, and looks it. I liked the visored helmets because they were used, not opened for close-ups. It put distance between the viewer and the players with some verisimilitude. Contrast this latter point to ‘Arrival’ (2016) where the safety mask is removed almost immediately for close-ups thereafter. Such is the ego of actors.

Zeta lansaacpe.jpg The fashion on Zeta

Moreover, I liked the creature, some moving hot rocks. Why like murderous hot rocks? Because they are the descendants, surely, of the Horta from ‘The Devil in the Dark’ of Star Trek the Original Series in series one in 1967.

Deveil Dark.jpg

This film, however, lacks the mystery and the compassion of the Star Trek episode. It is played strictly as a hot-rock-creature feature, not an existential rumination on sentience, consciousness, communication, and compassion.

No surprise to see that none of those associated with this film have substantial CVs on the IMDb.

One hour and 9 minutes of running time, scored 5.5/10 from 842 votes.

More a creature feature than Sy Fy, but from a story and screenplay by that Sy Fy journeyman Curt Siodmak and starring the future governor of Hawaii, Richard Denning(er). The director was Edward Cahn.

Atomic Brain.jpg

It has a grim opening with a figure walking, dead-eyed, down a darkened, tree-bowered residential street.

A brain.jpg

Nice. It gets off to a good start.

A gangster is murdered, then the DA, each time the murderer leaves behind finger prints galore. In case plod misses them, they glow in the dark! The police swing into action, aided by the Governor. Wait! The finger prints trace back in each case to a dead man!

Yes, there is mad scientist with plenty of Bunsen burners at work, implanting electrodes into the brains of recently dead men. Being a sexist he does not body snatch dead woman and give them equal employment opportunity as criminal zombies. He powers the electrodes with radium, hence the word ‘atomic’ in the title, but the creatures are multiple not singular. Since the scientist speaks with a German accent, IMDB reviewers assume he is a Nazi, but there is nothing in the film to support that interpretation apart from the accent. In fact, the actor is Gregory Gaye who was born in Russia and he faked the accent.

His research into brains, electrodes, radium, and espresso has been funded by Frank, a notorious villain who is out to wreak vengeance on criminal business rivals and lawmen. He is as merciless as Ming. In fact, the mad scientists wants to quit but… well, research grant KPIs are KPIs

We do not get to see the body snatching but do get a look at the lead-lined laboratory, lit by Bunsen burners, Bad Frank and Mad Scientist have to crawl through some (unexplained) plastic wrap. It was an unusual effect, but there no point to it, i.e., unless in 1955 plastic shields radium. They crawl through it once and we see it four times. In case we missed it the first three times.

Atom brain team.jpg Inventory of the dead.

Denning goes around thinking, rather than kicking in doors, and is pleasant and polite, so different from current Hollywood Hop-Heads who yell, stomp, and sulk. He enjoys a normal home life with homemaker wife.

Denning glass.jpg Denning thinking.

She is the Donna Reed stereotype of the time and place but perhaps it is more honest than those Sy Fy films of the period that include a lady scientist and then thereafter belittle her and limit her actions to serving coffee and treat her as an object fo the men to fight over.

There is also pathos when one of the avuncular police officers is murdered, and who yet in death helps to undo Big Bad Frank.

Speaking of the stereotypes of the time and place. The army and police are presented as responsive, competent, diligent, dutiful… Well, it is a work of fiction. Where are the lazy coffee drinkers, the petty martinets who will not move without a written presidential order, the oh-hummers who are bored by the end of the world, the corporate underminers? No, the forces of order are not always presented in that way in creature features of the time. In 'Not of This Earth' (1957) the local police are lazy, incompetent, heedless, and unresponsive. That seemed more likely to this jaded viewer.

Many zombie movies, and this is the sub-class for this one, made during the Cold War were thinly disguised references to communism. It is easy to see how that can work. Yet in this case I did not get that impression. There is no greater purpose in the film than a few twists and turns to entertain an audience.

Cahn turned out B features ten or more a year with titles like ‘It! Terror from Beyond Space’ (1958), ‘Zombies of Mora Tau' (1957). ‘The She-Creature’ (1956), ‘Voodoo Woman’ (1957), ‘Dragstrip Girl’ (1957), ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men’ (1957), ‘Cures of the Faceless Man’ (1958), ‘Invisible Invaders’ (1959), and more. What a CV.

The facts from IMDB: 1 hour 15 minutes, 5.7/10 from 814.

The Russians are coming! But some citizens have slept through it. What an advertisement for Serta.

Backup. This is one of those Empty City/Earth movies. Where have all the (other) people gone? A few scattered individuals emerge to find…silence, more silence, and each other.

Target EArth.jpg

First they have to accept the situation: They are alone. Next they have to decide what happened? Where is everyone else? Third, what shall we do?

Tensions arise at every step.

One of the tropes is leadership. Will a leader emerge from this random assortment of individuals? If so, will there be rebellion. This premiss provides rich pickings for a screen writer.

It all goes pretty much according to formula, but if formulaic it is nonetheless creative. The opening scenes of the quiet cityscape at street level are arresting. The inserts of stock footage reinforces the abandoned look of this large city. (Chicago in the original story, but filmed in Lost Angeles. On that more later.) The beginning is very eerie and promises much.

The camera cuts to a Kathleen Crowley gradually awakening. There is no sound. None. She does not moan or groan. There is no street noise, yet it is hot, there is sheen of sweat on her, and the window is open to a slight breeze on the curtains. Silence. She fumbles around and gets dressed. We hear snaps, clicks, and snicks as she dresses, opens, and closes drawers and doors but nothing else. On the way out of the apartment building she knocks on a couple of doors to no reply. She meets no one but she seems inwardly preoccupied, as though late for a 360-degree review with a McKinsey-speaker. We notice the empty silence but she does not, quite. She hurries along the empty street and gradually realises this is not right. She comes across a dead woman lying on the street. ‘Gasp’ is the first sound. Definitely not right!

This silent opening was daring indeed, and given the attention-span deprived audiences today, no film maker would dare do it now. Everyone would reach for the iPhones in boredom to check-in on Facebook. Yet it offers mystery, tension, eerieness, the more so because the audience realises the silence before Crowley does.

Now she hurries on, we know not where, and the silence remains, until…. she turns a corner and runs into Richard Denning. Say his name with respect because he did not survive ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ Later Denning was the 5-O governor of Hawaii with an office in Iolani Palace. Some CV, gobbled up by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but making a come back as governor, and in that palace.

She is fearful and Gov slaps here around to tell her he will not hurt her! This is 1950s man-logic. Smack! See, I won’t hurt you! Smack! (Remember Denning did not write it that way and enjoyed a reputation as a gentleman professional.) After she has been beaten into submission, they club together and head for mid-town on the assumption there will information, if not people, there. Along the way they establish that the telephones are out, and no one has a iPhone. There is no electricity for radios.

Then in silence they hear sounds and trace them to a bar where a couple are carousing, devil may care. Virginia Grey and Richard Reeves are the players both instantly recognised from countless supporting roles, but here getting a lot of camera time. She has chiseled cheek bones and he is a man-mountain. Now the team is four and clearly Governor Richard is in charge. Off they go, and find automobiles have been purposely disabled. By this time Gov has concluded that there have been an evacuation.

Having just got in from Detroit, travelling eighteen hours, he slept through it. Crowly was comatose from an OD of sleeping pills. Grey and Reeves were sleeping off an alcoholic stupor before starting the next one.

It must be W A R. Yet there is no rain of bombs or missiles, just empty streets. They find another corpse.

Then there appears another citizen, frazzled, clothing askew, like he just came from a frat party, who says he has run away from the invaders on the North (Korea) Side of town, where there is indeed destruction. He is hysterical, a duty usually consigned to a woman. Nice change.

While the characterisations have been changed from the original story the narrative so far is consistent with it.

Now it diverges. For while the five gabble, a shadow falls on a building. A giant shadow. They take cover. The shadow wobbles. Is this the Amazing Colossal Man on the loose again! or The Fifty Woman who got rid of Abbot and Costello (I wish). Mr Hysterical runs amok into the street and the Shadow, a tin man, zaps him with a Gort eye-ray. Poof! That is some hysteria cure! Oh oh.

They hide in a hotel on the assumption ‘they’ will not search all the rooms just yet, because this is an advance patrol moving in from the North. Bloody Canadians! The weather has finally driven them south, and this big thing, must be an armoured polar bear. What other explanation could there be, Erich? Although how this giant will enter and search a hotel is a question best left unasked.

The deviation from the story is showing the Big Tin Man. In the story the invaders are unseen. Given how clumsy and awkward Tin is, that might have been better. Tin is slightly more agile than Chani from ‘The Devil Girl from Mars’ who tripped over his own size twenty-two shoes. This robot is stunt man Jack Calvert who make robots a speciality. This outing must have been early on that career path before he perfected a technique.

Robot.jpg Enter Tin Tin

The second deviation is that about now we get cross cuts to a military operations room with lots of extras in mismatched uniforms from an Army Navy Store. They know nothing except that something has happened. Well that confirms the street cred. Solution? Bomb it!

Much stock footage of war planes taking off, retracting landing gear, assembling in formation, flying off in great numbers. They fly over the city observed by our team, and then they are blasted out of the sky in a sun burst. Not very well done but we got the idea. Kaboom! No more airplanes. That eye-ray is a killer.

The colonel at HQ is flummoxed. 'Bomb' was the only play in his playbook. By the way would a chicken colonel be in charge of bombing Chicago, Lost Angeles maybe, but ChiTown? As per usual there is no indication that there has been any effort to communicate or negotiate with the invaders, say, by offering them Mexico, Russ Limbaugh, or Paris Hilton.

Despite radar, telephones, underlings, fruit salad, and pips, the colonel knows nothing about the invaders. On the street, we know they are tin men. Well there is only one Tin Man, but that is enough with that eye death-ray. (In high school there was a rumour that Mrs Picks who taught Latin had a death-ray called the ablative case. No one every dared test the myth. Or if they did, poof, there was no report.)

The happy campers four do not offer the screen writer enough tension so he added a psychopathic killer to the mix. He has a gun, of course, and is addled. He is also a relative of the moneybags who invested in this celluloid, and so he is a must. His inexplicable behaviour leads to the final confrontation with Tin, and it is a good thing they found can opener in time.

The invaders are technologically superior because they got there, though Canada is not that far away, are brought low by merciless Yankee ingenuity, whereby they play Bing Cosby singing ‘White Christmas’ repeatedly and this cracks the robots eye, and the cyclopes go down, down, down. Who would not? Hard as it is to believe, bombing is not enough. By the way, the ever reliable Whit Bissell came up with sound effect. Well done, Whit.

The survivors begin stockpiling more Der Bingle records because THEY will be back. These inhuman invaders were Russians in tin cans, right? Only team work and w(h)it can defeat them. Oh, and Der Bingle.

Denning Carlson.jpg Richards Denning and Carlson hunt the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Denning did an MBA and went into business which he found a bore and he dabbled in amateur theatrics where he was encouraged to enter a radio contest, which he did and won. The sponsor of the contest gave him a screen test but rejected him because he looked too much like an actor already under contract. But by now Denning wanted to escape spreadsheets and pitched himself to Paramount and was born his B-movie career, for despite his good looks, easy manner, and professionalism he never ascended the heights, but he always had work and retired early to Maui, showing his good sense.

He was lured out of retirement for 5-O on condition that (1) he never had to leave Hawaii and (2) that he would not be required for every episode. That was agreed. (The rumour is that when Jack 'Look at that Hair' Lord quit 5-O he chose to stay on Maui, too. In our visits to Maul we have been unable to confirm this story. The search goes on.) Knowing Denning's commitment to Hawaii caused his star to rise further in my cosmology.

The cynics think that the advertising department demanded that the Tin one be inserted into the movie to appeal to the creature feature market. Tin certainly does not add to the action, since he is largely immobile. Nor is the death ray all that exciting. More like a blurred screen that a mighty, crackling zap. Maybe he needed lessons from Gort.

The empty city is in fact Lost Angeles. This tip jar budget did not run to securing a police license with accompanying fee to film on the city streets, so it was done on the QT with a skeleton crew in a van going here and there in the very early morning. The film was then edited to remove any environmental sound and cut out passers-by. It is well done and the more intriguing for knowing how it was done.

1 hour and 43 minutes, 5.6/10 from 274 ballots.

A throwback from the 1950s. Word on the internet street is that it was made in 1966 and shelved. That part is easy to see why. Yet it could not have been made during the coldest part of the Cold War for reasons made clear below.

Bamboo poster.jpg

Here’s the deal. Eric the Fly Boy reports seeing a cobalt blue flying saucer during an X-plane test flight. Oh oh. That gets him grounded as a nutcase. We saw it, too, and know Eric is solid.

He becomes obsessed with vindication. Then he gets called to D.C. where he meets Dan who considers Eric an expert on flying saucers. DC Dan is a big wheel and telephones with demands hither and thither to throw his weight around. Fly Boy Eric is impressed and signs on.

Signs on to what? Well he did forget to ask, but DC Dan tells him anyway. There is a flying saucer sitting in Red China and we are going to get it before Mao realises it is there and gets his chopsticks on the iPhone within. Mao doesn’t know? No, it is in a remote part of China. We are later shown this with matte paintings of the Alabama Hills outside LA. Mountains equals remote. Got it.

Plus the saucer landed itself in a dilapidated, roofless Catholic Church, whether apse or naive is not specified. Since godless Commies do not go near churches the local authorities have not noticed it. The local peasants saw it land and saw two human figures emerge but keel over, die, and decay into dust. (Too long without coffee! What other explanation could there be, Erich?) The locals have passed the intel onto DC Dan because the peasants are oppressed by the regime and are plugged into the USA spy network even out there in the mountainous sticks. Got it.

DC Dan was 65 in 1968 and it is painful to watch him bail out of an airplane over remote China in the night, carry an empty back pack, and climb over papier-mâché boulders. When the action starts he moves like molasses. Sorry, Dan, but it is true.

DC Dan, Eric Fly Boy, and two tubby technicians are this A-Team. No sooner are they wandering about the Chinese Alabama Hills then they run into a Russian A-Team. There is much bluster and many threats but the script is clear, both teams are on the same mission, and neither wants to cross chopsticks with the Chinese. Anyway the Chinese are busy oppressing peasants. Got it.

This is the part that could not have been done in 1958. The American and Russians join forces to find the saucer, to fathom the saucer, and to evade the Chinese. No doubt each side will break the alliance when it is ready to do so. It sounds better than it played.

Another feature that would not have been done in 1958 is that DC Dan and the Big Russian are pretty much alike and DC Dan acknowledges this. The Enemy of Freedom and the Defender of Freedom are both bastards. Huh? No wonder it had no market for its message.

Lois Nettleton is a scientist with the Russians, and she gives Fly Boy a lecture on the equality of women in the workers’ paradise before the Big Russian slaps her down for not putting enough sugar in his tea.

DC Dan and his Russian alter ego are consumed by the mission, so Lois and Fly Boy pair off in the bushes. The other scientists reminiscence about pi derivations.

They elude routine Chinese army patrols. Due to budget cuts these conscripts have no eye glasses and don’t see much.

The Russo-Americo team finds the saucer. First problem is to get in. Much scratching and pounding. Meanwhile one of the scientist gets out his portable electric razor to tidy up, as you do on your first secret mission behind enemy lines, and ‘Voila!’ The saucer opens up to the gentle buzz. Being clean shaven got him into the saucer, if nothing else. Once in they have to fathom the gizmo.

Fly Boy grabs levers while the scientists deploy the slide rules they carried on the parachute drop.

The Chinese arrive in force and a shot-out results, but the near sighted Chinese cannot hit anything. DC Dan and the Big Russian stand back-to-back and blast about a hundred extras until the pile of Chinese bodies falls on them. Squash.

The time for slide rules ends. Fly Boy grabs another lever and off they go. Whoosh. They wobble around the Solar System for a while, until they encounter the de rigueur meteor, allowing Lois to scream. The fraternity brothers hoped it would end there, leaving us to wonder about the in-flight service, frequent saucer points, and toilet facilitates for humans. But no, there is a pompous coda.

Fly Boy and Lois clinch to affirm Americo-Russo friendship. They get control of the saucer and go back to Earth to land in Geneva of the Swiss where they will give the saucer to the world, which will lead to world peace. Why? Because those Saucerites will be back and we have to be united. Why? Maybe they came in peace looking for Klaatu. Are the Chinese invited?

The production is soap opera quality with many pauses as each actor reacts to a remark. The scenes related to the test flight are film school. Ditto Fly Boy’s sulking around afterward. The acting may not improve but there are fewer close-ups to remind the viewer later.

Video quality was excellent. After some Sy Fy movies seen lately, the saucer effects were neat.

This was DC Dan’s last film and he died before it was (finally) released. This Cornell graduate went into advertising and that brought him into contact with actors and on a bet he auditioned and got a part in a theatrical production. That was fun, and he did another. When a Broadway play he was in was to be filmed, he got the film part and went West, where he stayed. There seem to be hundreds of credits on the IMDb and he did everything. Some romantic leads in the 1940s, supporting actor, and sometimes villains in film and television, westerns, noirs, dramas, and even comedy.

First, the undercard ‘Space Master X-7’ (1958), running 1 hour and 11 minutes, rated at 5.3 from 298 preferences.

Space Master cover.jpg A lobby card that misleads audiences. Typical.

The Sy Fy aspects are few and quickly pass from the story. A rocket called, modestly, Space Master X-7’ returns its cargo of samples (from parts unspecified to my memory), which when spread around kill people. Morale. Do not spread space samples around. Ever wonder what that Moon rock in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. is up to?

The sample becomes an enveloping and mortal fungus with the personality of a GOP senator. It destroys all without a backward glance. See, the comparison is apt. This fungus might have been a metaphor for Communism in a 1958 pix, made during the Cold War, but I did not detect any such innuendo. No, the sledge hammer script went at it literally, a fungus is a mushroom beyond the plate.

At a top security base in the remote desert Southwest a scientist, about whom more later, examines the sample, after much stock footage of rockets, parachutes, tin cans, and security blankets, uh, boxes. But people keep interrupting him, so he takes the sample home to work uninterrupted on it there.

Top security, right.

While poking the sample at home he has an argument with his ex-wife come a-calling. She goes away in anger and he keeps poking. Whoops. The fungus has had enough of that and it is goodbye scientist. Gulp. In truth, and very risqué for 1958, though the she and he had a child, they were, in fact, not man and wife. Gasp! In the morēs of the time that transgression allows a fate to befall the poking scientist.

By this time the slow-witted security officer at the base, played by Bill Williams, with his usual concussed look, comes to the house and seeing the fungus has had its way burns the house down. To avert a panic he puts about the story that the scientist died in the fire, and that they are looking for the woman seen there. In turn she thinks they suspect her of the fatal arson and takes evasive action. Bill wants to find her to stop the spread of the fungus but she knows nothing of this fungus, having not entered the home lab. This part is believable: she outwits the FBI, the USAF, and the police for an hour.

Per B-movie conventions they track down this interplanetary Typhoid Mary and that is that. The origins of the fungus, how to avoid it in the future, and such details are ignored.

Hardly Sy Fy.

There are only two interesting things about this overrated dross. Two of players are immediately recognisable. One is the scientist who is played by Paul Frees and many viewers, young or old, would twitch. He was a voice actor who did that work for two or more generations, much of it in animated movies until 1987 with ‘The Wind in the Willow.’ He also does the announcements at the train station in this picture, after the scientist is dead. He calls the timetable from the incinerator.

Frees.jpg Frees in lab coat.

However, I remember that voice well from ‘The Milllionaire’ (1955-1960) where each week the heard but unseen John Beresford Tipton voiced by Frees handed over the dosh.

His Sy Fy credits as a voice actor are many and include ‘When Worlds Collide’ (1951), ‘The Thing’ (1951), ’War of the Worlds’ (1953), ‘Space Attack’ (1955), ‘Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ (1956), ‘The Twenty-Seventh Day’ (1957), ‘The Mysterians’ (1957), and ‘The Time Machine’ (1960). Like other voice actors his name seldom appeared in the credits but he always had work, unlike many credited actors.

The other notable player is Shemp Howard of The Three Execrables playing a straight part as a cab driver. Seeing him, the fraternity brothers waited eagerly for the pie in the face and were disappointed.

Now for the main event. the very superior ‘This Island Earth' (1955), running 1 hour and 26 minutes with a 5.9/10 from 7413 opinionators on the IMDB.

Island earth card.jpg

It stars Rex Reason’s chin as the Earth’s greatest scientist and test pilot. While flying his X-Plane it conks out, ever the peril with the low-bidder products, and a green aura surrounds the aircraft as it gently descends to Earth.

Rex and chin.jpg Chin and airplane.

While Rex is used to the unusual in his charmed life this experience does give him brief pause. But only that. He goes to his top secret laboratory where strangers come and go at will. Next thing you know boxes and boxes of equipment arrive unordered, and with Allen Key in hand Rex and his obsequious assistant start putting together the Ikea television it becomes.

Once complete Siri turns herself on (down, fraternity brothers!). and there is Jeff Morrow with the strangest haircut congratulating Rex’s chin on winning the Nigerian Research Grant Lottery, first prize is an all-expenses paid trip to a secret locale where there is another laboratory. Who could rest that? Not that chin.

Morrow 1.jpg Check it out, and there are more like that at home!

Spoiler coming.

Jeff and that white bouffant are from MetaLuna, well that is what it sounded like to me, which is losing a war because it is running low on nuclear energy. Being vastly superior beings they have sent Jeff via a nicely realised flying saucer to gather up scientists from all over the galaxy, though none of these other gatherees do we see, to synthesise nuclear energy on MetaLuna. Yeah, sure. Just add radium.

Jeff provided the green aura that saved Rex and his chin.

Among the scientist Jeff has gathered in his castle in the desert hideaway is Faith Dominguez. 'Nice going, Jeff,' shouted the fraternity brothers. While last year she and Rex did some skinny dipping when at a conference in Vermont (are there conferences in those woods?) she feigns not to recognise that chin. Since that is impossible he knows something is amiss but keeps it to himself.

The Professor from Gilligan’s Island is there, perhaps this explains how he got tenure on the islet, and with Faith he tells Rex that Jeff is not to be believed or trusted. Disbelief and distrust are now the order of the day.

While Jeff is Mr Congeniality, he has a mini-me with the same hair who is a white lab rat. Jeff reports to The Hall Monitor on an OLED Smart television and stalls for time while the scientists work, but the mini-me later tells The Hall Monitor that Jeff has gone native, watches baseball games, eyes off Faith, plays Monopoly, listens to Mozart, and has generally gone native and it not to be believed or trusted. Disbelief and distrust are now the order of the day.

This is the toxic atmosphere typical of most organisations, so Rex gets on with caring for his chin. When he cannot find a razor, he decides to escape with Faith and since the Professor seems an ever-present third wheel, him, too. Meanwhile, The Hall Monitor overrules Jeff and demands that he pack his scientists on the flying saucer and return home where they will keep working in a slave laboratory. Mini-me pursues Rex and company with lightening bolts. Zap! The Professor sacrifices himself for the man with the better chin, and a passerby is also zapped to show what lousy aim mini-me has. No wonder these superior beings are losing the war with gunners like that.

When Rex and Faith are flying away in a conveniently parked Piper Cub, they are John Deere tractor-beamed on board the flying saucer and whoosh…..

Jeff tells his sad tale as above. More whoosh.

Security may be a joke to the USAF but TSA full body scans are necessary to land on MetaLuna.

Bidy scans.jpg

On MetaLuna the war is lost and Jeff defies high command and steals the saucer, evidently the only one left, to take Rex and Faith back to Earth. He does; he dies. They descend in the Piper Cub. Chin and Faith cuddle up in the Piper Cub, which hardly seems possible, with no further thought to the Meta-heads.

Meanwhile, the fatally wounded Jeff nobly crashes his saucer into the sea to be found later in other Sy Fy films.

The saucer effects are good, and the flight over the battle scared MetaLuna is effective, as is the shattered underground fortress, though the insect peons are there only for the creature feature advertising. Faith screams on cue. The pace is good. The sets are well designed and there are plenty of extras with that hair. It has the look of a A-picture. While Faith has Sy Fy credentials, the Chin does not, while Jeff has at least one other on his cv.

The gossip is that the original script played Jeff as a villain but the actor Jeff Morrow, who was well-known as opinionated, argued with the director, writer, producer, and busboy to make Jeff more human and rounded. He won and he was. This Jeff is a decent alien driven to extremes by circumstances beyond his control. He has indeed gone native, and was probably watching 'I Love Lucy' instead of beating the scientists into success with a slide-rule.

OK, but that does not explain the hair. Still less does it explain the fact that every other Meta-head we see on MetaLuna has the same hair under a clear plastic football helmet, except the Hall Monitor whose exalted status, apparently, frees his locks. Efforts to find a picture on Google Images failed. Suppressed!

The Hall Monitor has some pretty unkind remarks to make about Earth and Earthlings. He is a graduate of Kim Jong-un School of Intergalactic Diplomacy.

Faith Dominguez is there to scream and scream she does. She is not even permitted a lab coat! What a travesty of science.

Nor did I figure out any meaning from the title, on this the Nth viewing. I did not get any Cold War vibe from it.

IMDB rates if 5.1/10 from 441 casters. It runs 1 hour and 6 minutes.

Sputnik went beep-beep in October 1957 and overnight space flight became main stream, no longer for kids in 'Space Patrol,' 'Rocky Rocket', or 'Flash Gordon.' Independent film producer Roger Corman rushed to turn out the first post-Sputnik film in a deal with Allied Artists. This is the result.

war sateliites poster.jpg A Faux News poster. No one wears a spacesuit brandishing an NRA in the movie.

Here’s the set-up, a united Earth through the United Nations is launching satellites. While some delegates in the sparsely attended UN sessions are skeptical that the satellites will work, they are nonetheless party to the effort. The Cold War is only obliquely present when one character refers to ‘them’ who would like to see ‘us’ fail. It makes no sense in the context of UN but echoes the Cold War context.

Hey, the skeptics have a point. As the pix opens nine satellites — one after another — have already been launched and each has blown up as it reached the Mendoza line.

Note on terminology. Corman always does things his own way and he calls the space vehicles satellites, and he should know, but they look like small space stations, each with a crew of ten, and move through the void like chubby spaceships with porcupine antenna. Maybe the production was named and the design of the craft came later. In a Corman production there would be no money to re-do anything already done, like publicity material. And this was a rush job to get on the con trail of Sputnik and maybe that is the explanation. Sputnik was a satellite so this has to be a satellite no matter what it looked like or did.

Nine exploding satellites means ninety dead volunteers. The head of the mission is Pol van Ponder not even attending the requiems for his dead. (The fraternity brothers amused themselves with that name, especially later when he hit on the required woman in the crew.) Ponder ponders the situation and decides to press on, but wait…..

Meanwhile some teenagers doing an extra-credit anatomy lesson in a secluded parked car are disturbed by a bright light from the night sky. Wow! That brings things to a head. Then there is a flash and crash. Wacko! They find a small rocket that has just burned through the atmosphere but they pick it up and have a look. On it is an inscription in Latin. Latin! Latin?

Is this a premature July 4th Roman Candle? Is it a message from the Pope to these two teenagers to button up and go home!

After consulting Mr. Pomfritt off screen, the teens turn the rocket over to someone who passes it on to the UN scientists at the satellite project. An ancient Roman translates the message.

‘This is a warning! Do not attempt any more space flights. Your corrupt world will NOT be permitted to infest the Universe!’

Gulp! Corrupt? Did they foresee in 1958 the Twit in Chief of 2017?

Ah, but there is a twist here. Pol van Ponder rushes to the UN meeting where a response to the Latin message is being slowly composed in the ablative case. But, then there is that bright light in the night sky again. It goes all disco as a strobe light and blinds, let’s call him Van, Van who crashes his car which by Hollywood convention bursts into flames. No more Van. (Picky viewers note that we never quite know where we are, there are California plates on Van’s car, but the UN is in New York City, and the missile launches of the time were from Florida.)

Without Van there is no satellite program. End of story. Whoops, almost, but then at the Council Room, half empty as usual, Van appears, in tact. Not a tear in his tweeds. Amazing! Relief is general.

Spoiler alert. Stop here to save the best for a viewing.

The Latin-writing aliens have somehow both burned Van’s body to the ashes found in the incinerated car and fabricated an exact replica Van who now acts as Van with his memories and the same dour personality. There’s more.

As we quickly learn this New Van has a split personality.

Van splits.jpg Van splits!

He can be two places at once! Imagine the advantages of that for KPIs. The scene where he splits into New Vans 1 and 2 is neat. It seems it is not something he can or need do a lot but he can do it when necessary.

The New Van is dedicated to scuppering the satellite program from within. What with Latin homework, the UN is about to give up anyway. Who wants to decline Latin conjugations. New Van sits back and waits for the inevitable defeat, but his pint-sized underling Dick goes to the meeting and makes a speech worthy of the Twit in Chief. Full of words. Good. Ones.

‘The very reason we have to go into space is to prove we can!’

With that great logic and his duck-tail haircut he wins over the delegates, who, as they think of their actors’ guild minimum paycheques, applaud his words. Listening on the radio, New Van is cranky about this turn of events and furrows his frontal lobes. Never good when an alien does that.

A tenth satellite is prepared and New Van volunteers to captain the crew, risking his own life. Remember the ninety space corpses already compiled. His plan is to botch the mission. He could do that by convening a 360 degree review or a SWOT analysis, but instead of McKinsey-Speak he prefers a more direct approach, a wrench in the reactor.

Now the title satellites are complicated affairs, as we now learn. Three rockets are launched, each with two stages. By the way, the ground control operator who shepherds them into the void is none other than Roger Corman. Once the three rockets rendezvous by the magic of wire and glue, they emit little dishes that join up to form the satellite, space station, ship. Too bad NASA did not go this route.

Picky viewers will note the same set is used both to the launch rockets and the satellite. Pedants will add that the previous nine satellites mean twenty-seven rockets have gone to the space junkyard orbiting the Earth. What was that about a polluting infestation anyway?

Now we have the satellite and New Van starts sabotaging it, but the crew keeps getting in the way. Moreover, tiny Dick spotted New Van, just before taking off, splitting in two. No one believes a haircut like that.


New Van continues putting sugar in the reactor. Another crewman also suspects New Van but he and Dick never do compare alien-spotting notes. Let’s call this other crewman Jerry, who confronts New Van.

Jerry.jpg Jerry made his eyes pop off the screen, but it did not scare Van.

End of Jerry. He goes out the Memory Hole into space. More in the junkyard.

Then the doctor, prodded by Dick, examines New Van. Oh oh.

Van Heart.jpg

New Van quickly gives himself a heart beat for the examination. That satisfies the doctor briefly but later he, too, confronts New Van and with a flick of the wrist, he, too, goes down the Memory Hole to the void. What is the body count now? Ninety-two.

New Van blames the deaths on Dick, who then runs up and down the same empty corridor for ten minutes. Exercising while in spaces essential.

Meanwhile, New Van with a heart now hits on Wasp Woman, much to her surprise for she has only had eyes, many of them are needed, for little Dick. (She played Wasp Woman in another Corman extravaganza though in fact the insects were bees, but no one told her before her business card was printed.) Now with a heart New Van has become a weak-willed and lustful human. He divides himself again, and — for a brief moment, as the fraternity brothers tensed — it looked like New Van 1 was going to clobber New Van 2 for being such a cream puff.

But no, he splits so one of him can molest Wasp Woman, while the others stuffs Dick down the Memory Hole. Ah, but Dick brought along his cap gun and threaten New Van 2 (NV2 hereinafter) who laughs. ‘Your weapon cannot hurt me!’ (He had not read the script, it seems.) Now that NV2 has a heart, he is vulnerable. Bang! Bang! NV2 crumples at Dick’s size-five shoes, and in another empty room NV1 clutching for Wasp Woman also crumples. Whew! Code violation averted.

Quickly Dickie takes command, inserting new solar batteries in the satellite which then bursts through the Mendoza Line where the other nine satellites were destroyed. The satellite sails into space to infest it with the corruption of the Earth. The end.

Evidently the aliens on Line duty, perhaps thanks to budget cuts, did not have any more tricks to use. Or maybe they were in a meeting about KPIs.

Where the satellite is going no one bothers to mention. It just boldly goes….

Why these English-speaking aliens chose to inscribe that warning Roman Candle rocket in Latin has bothered the fraternity brothers since 1958. There is no explanation in the film, and in 1958 it was no more a global language than Swahili.

Much in evidence in the parking lots are 1958 Detroit gas guzzlers with tail fins and chrome. They go with the duck tail. We also like the recliner chairs for space flight and the black zip suits.

The cast includes actors who were stalwarts in Batman (Michael Fox was Inspector Basch) and Superman (Robert Shayne was Inspector Henderson). Both parenthetical inspectors were veterans of B movie Sy Fy. But Richard Devon as Van carries the picture with his dour monotone, until he gets a heart and there flickers emotion in his eyes and a twitch of the lips. About Wasp Woman and Dickie the less said the better.

Corman.jpg Roger Corman at the ground controls.

After seeing movies by Al Zimbalist, Ed Wood, and Lee Wilder, Corman seems like a genius.

Alfred Deakin (1856–1919) was born in Melbourne and became the second Prime Minister of the nascent republic in 1903. He served two other terms in the big chair. Earlier he had been elected to the Victorian parliament in 1879 at age twenty-two and became a cabinet minister in 1883 at twenty-seven. He was active in the colonial discussions of federation from the earliest days and travelled to England as a representative of Victoria in the continuation of those negotiations with the Crown. During his parliamentary career he represented Ballarat, which by chance we recently visited.

Deakin cover.jpg

His parents immigrated to Adelaide from Old Blighty in 1850. His father was a travelling salesman who left little behind in England but his mother was a homegirl from Wales and missed the Old Country for years and years. When gold popped out of the ground in central Victoria, already in Adelaide, they joined the thousands who trooped there. His father had the wit to realise that luck more than anything else determined success in gold mining and turned to supplying the needs of miners by offering transportation to and from Melbourne for passengers, goods, and gold. As a career traveller he knew quite a bit about that. The family lived in Melbourne not Ballarat.

Deakin’s entry into politics came young, as a member of the parliament of the colony of Victoria in his twenties. That became the rest of his life. While as a youth and even when a young parliamentary he was interested in spiritualism, that wore away for more conventional religion. Spiritualism of one sort of another was a fashion in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, and interest was later renewed by the horror of World War I.

Deakin married a social equal but not an intellectual one, and his wife was relegated to the most conventional role as wife and mother. She did not welcome the meet-and-greet that went with politics, and over the years few people visited the Deakin home.

Deakin saw a great future for Australia, freed from the historic conflicts of Europe, and was an early champion of continental unity of some kind. Into the late Nineteenth Century the separate colonies charged each other tariffs, and competed for precedence in London. They also had conflict over the waterways like the Murray River. The first move was to create a single market. As logical as it seems, it disadvantaged some vested interests and created divisions that remained in new configurations.

There were the Protectionists who dominated Victoria and the Free Traders in the ascendancy in New South Wales. Both types were strongly oriented to Great Britain. There were further divisions within each camp. Deakin emerged as the leader of the Liberal Protectionists in Victoria against conservatives who wanted to privilege property owners by not taxing them. Conservatives opposed legal protections against child labor, working hours, pensions, and the like. By and large Deakin favoured such measures.

He rocketed to the top of the Victoria politics before he was thirty. He liked an audience and was a good speaker, moreover, he was a disciplined and hard worker at the desk. He cut an impressive figure, spoke well, and advocated unity. His father had run a stage coach line between Ballarat and Melbourne and Deakin went to that constituency. Though we saw nothing special about him when we visited Ballarat but then we did not go looking for it. When he rose to the top he was one of the few native born Australians in the parliament and he played that card.

As minister of the crown in Victoria he spent freely with all that gold in them thar hills. Train lines were built and the bridges, culverts, embankments, stations, and switches to make them work. Even today some of these lines are only now being laid to rest, as one of our guides complained in 2017. Deakin never did seem to grasp the relationship of income and expenditure. His affinity with the Labor Party may have stemmed from that.

There were inter-colonial conferences about trade and commerce, e.g., the Murray River. The fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension was unprecedented, and it led to a massive gathering in London that was the seed from which CHOGM grew via the Empire and the Commonwealth. Deakin was a hit there and liked the whirl, social and political. His prominence there made him a hero in Melbourne when he returned to the adulation these days accorded only to athletes and airheads. He advocated Australian unity with urgency because of renewed interest in the Pacific by the European colonial powers France and Germany. The French penal colony in New Caledonia was next door to Queensland. German incursion into Northern New Guinea was disconcerting. However England had no interest in provoking a European war over some specks in the Pacific Ocean.

While he never lost his British identify, Deakin concluded that Australia must unify to protect itself. Later when Japan became a British ally and England seemed content to let expand its influence in the Pacific, once again Deakin saw a fissure between the interests of England and Australians.

But first came federation. There were many meetings of representatives of the colonial governments in Melbourne, in Sydney, and in Adelaide, all made difficult by transportation. Not all colonial governments sent representatives to each meeting. West Australia, then as now, played hard to get. Queensland was sometimes embroiled in its own soup, though its conflicts with France over sugarcane slavery would drive it into federation, but first its North-South division would have to be papered over. This latter rupture recurs between FNQ and Brisbane, as the second largest city of New South Wales, as we were once told in Cairns.

New Zealand participated in some talks but quit the scene. Tasmania was included in Victoria during the deliberations. The vast interior that is the Northern Territory had no agent.

Though federation was the logical step, the sitting colonial premiers could never quite be satisfied of the terms. It was a John Quick who proposed taking the final decision out of the hands of incumbents with a referendum. That broke the log jam. The fine-tuning led to the supermarket combination of political institutions taken from Westminster and Washington. The smaller states wanted protection from the larger states and that was the role of the Senate. Proportional representation and the preferential ballot evolved from the hostility and distrust of the anti-federationist who feared a large and remote government. This mutual distrust meant that a national capital was stymied in Deakin’s time. It could not be in any state capital for fear that it would be captured by its environment.

As federation came to prevail, the agreement, partly unspoken, was that the first prime minister should come from the Mother Colony from which the others came, namely New South Wales, and George Reid, the premier of NSW was a keen federationist. When the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office in London finally made peace with each other and Australian federation proceeded the plan was to create a whole, single colony and its first Governor-General would be John Hope, Earl of Hopetoun who would then appoint the first prime minister and cabinet, which in turn would superintend the first national election three months later from which a government with the consent of the governed would emerge.

Ah huh. Meanwhile an election was held in NSW. There were not yet coherent political parties by any manner or measure. Parliamentary groups were loose agglomerations around prominent individuals with little or no binding ideology or loyalty. Those in NSW who opposed federation did so because they advocated free trade and feared the dominance of gold-wealthy Victorian protectionists briefly united to undermine Reid.

Peter Lyne had became NSW premier. In these pages he is characterised as a local fixer with no wider horizon. If anything, he opposed federation, though such abstractions were of little interest to him. There were many hasty meetings and much telegraph traffic among supporters of federation to find another way that would avoid Lyne, who as the first Prime Minister might block federation.

The Governor-General felt duty-bound by the agreement to appoint the premier of NSW at the time as the first prime minister and so he asked Lyne to form a government. Deakin and other leading federations schemed to scupper the exercise. Deakin’s profile throughout Australia and in London was so high that a government without him would lack credibility. Yet he could not directly refuse because that would allow personal opponents and enemies of federation to paint him as selfish. Much squirming follows. In such situations Deakin prayed, wrote in his copious diary, schemed, threatened to leave politics, and such, as time passed. But as long as he did not commit to joining a Lyne cabinet, then others held out, too. He said neither yes nor no.

Tom Roberts.jpg Federation

Lyne was under pressure to form a government quickly to organise elections by the three-month deadline and he just could not do that, and he was not greatly motivated to do so anyway, as he was more interested in pork-barreling in NSW, so he conceded defeat. That freed the Governor-General who turned to Edmund Barton of NSW, an arch federationists who collaborated with Deakin. Barton was not a premier but he was from NSW.

It is all confusing because Barton in NSW was a rarity, a Protectionist, but also a federationist. The election was held and Barton had enough support to continue in office, but support was personal and varied from issue to issue in the absence of parties. What galvanised the advent of parties was the entry of Labor representatives, led by Chris Watson, whose members foreswore individual initiative to comply with the line of the whole, i.e., the party line. Such cohesion and surrender of individual conscience repelled Deakin (and others) but he had good personal relations with Watson and they agreed on much.

While Deakin was ready always to legislate paternalist measures to enhance the status and lives of workers under the protectionist umbrella, he was uneasy with their ambition to take part in governmental directly. While they agreed on much legislation, Deakin could never quite accept Labor, though his governments depended on the votes of this bloc.

Deakin garde.jpg Deakin from the parade of Prime Ministers in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens.

A succession of governments prior to World War I came and went, each based on personal followings and informal coalitions. While Deakin depended on and got support from Labor MPs he did not want a formal alliance with the ALP. It is a little like the Red and Blue governments in Canada of Arthur Meighen when Conservatives and Socialists combined against the Liberals of Ontario.

Deakin succeeded Barton in one such turn of the wheel, and then he stood aside when key legislation failed and there came the first Labor government with Chris Watson as prime minister for a few months. He was followed by Reid, the NSW federationists Free Trader, who had a turn, and then Deakin, then another Labor government of Andrew Fisher, and then again Deakin. The rise and fall of governments between 1901 and 1914 was largely done in parliament since election results in 1903, 1906, 1910, and 1913 did not produce disciplined majorities.

Through these years, Deakin saw himself as creating Australia, not serving the regional interest of Victoria, or any sectional class interest. Measures that did that he always opposed, including some put forth by Labor.

Hindsight allows a contemporary reader to see the emergence of a consensus behind protectionism with an accommodation from Labor. The Great Tariff Wall of Australia that resulted only wobbled in the 1980s, when another kind of Labor government saw it as a liability in the world of the time. Hindsight also shows the deep divide between the colonies become states, and the divisions within Queensland. These remain.

The Pacific environment fuelled unity and federation. When England proved disinclined to go to war over French, German, and Japanese influences in the region, Australians united. While West Australia was bellicose about its uniqueness and independence and Queenslanders concentrated on arguing with each other about whether it was to be one state or two, when a Japanese fleet set sail, they all rushed to embrace the Australian flag.

The arrangement with England that Deakin negotiated was for Australians to raise funds, through taxes, to pay a subvention for Royal Navy operations in Australian waters. Whether this arrangement was unique, I cannot say, but New Zealand must also have had an interest in such protection. I also wondered about the Canadian west.

Deakin’s career went on but his health failed, mainly his mental health, and he wisely chose to quit politics though there were no generous pension provisions at the time. His memory and mind were no longer as sharp as once, yet he still cut an imposing figure. When World War I came he was conspicuously silent largely because of his mental frailties, but since he looked fit, Faux News of the day criticised hm for a lack manly bloodthirstiness.

As his role decreased his wife Patty’s grew. She began to take part in ceremonial activities and then became a champion in war work, raising money, interceding for returned, wounded, and maimed soldiers, and Deakin’s role become one of supporting her. She and Deakin’s sister had been at odds throughout their lives. There had many tensions and eruptions, but in these latter years Patty came into her own.

Although the book opens with an intriguing parallel between Deakin and the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly, it has nothing to say about the Eureka Stockade of 1854 and any influence that might have had on Deakin. That silence is noteworthy given how strident the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka is that Australian democracy was founded in that event. Deakin seems to have missed this point. Elsewhere on the blog I have commented on this museum.

The book is impressive for its extensive research, considered insights into the man and the times, its careful judgements, and the ease with which the story unfolds. The author resists the temptation that afflicts so many writers to inject herself, her attitudes, her sensitivities, her opinions into the story from another world. Deakin is taken on his own terms and on the terms that prevailed in his time and place, and presented fully in a way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Once such an approach was the norm, not it is the exception.

Deakin always kept a diary, he sent and received letters by the score and kept just about every piece of paper it seems. This trove gives the biographer rich pickings which are judiciously employed, though after a time this reader grew weary of another meeting, another diary entry, another pondering of the imponderable.

Brett.jpg Judith Brett

The cool distance taken by the author from the subject is in contrast say to the book I read about the women of the Eureka Stockade in which the author lectures the reader about what to think and why step-by-step. Whoever devised that term ‘public intellectual’ should be, per ‘Clockwork Orange,' strapped down and made to watch and listen to batteries of such self-styled PIs babbling. Regrettably I have had to hear far too much from far too many of these clowns, while dreaming of such punishment. The hallmark of a Public Intellectual is a combination of opinion and volume, i.e., shouting nostrums unencumbered by facts, reason, or logic.

Chuck Restic is a human relations manager in a large firm in La La Land. HIs career peaked years ago and while his star descends that of his wife, a property lawyer, ascends and they part company without acrimony.

Restic cover.jpg

Now Chuck has time on his hands and the hum-dum of the office offers little distraction. In response to a complaint from a employee he talks to Ed about his cologne. Yes, about his cologne. An explanation is below. Chuck finds Ed a nice fellow.

A few weeks later quite by accident Chuck learns that Ed disappeared shortly after that interview. Time passes and Ed does not return. After four weeks AWOL the corporate policy is to clear Ed’s cubicle, box the contents, and mail it collect to the listed address. He is sent down the Corporate Memory Hole.

Chuck decides to pass some time by taking the box to the address by hand. In so doing he is gradually drawn into a real estate swindle in which Ed himself was somehow involved. But when Ed’s body is found, it gets worse.

There are some very tough guys around who fancy themselves to be the Armenian Mafia, Lincoln Heights Branch. They may be tough but the smart money is played by a zillionaire who is pulling all the strings.

Along the way, Chuck finds solace with a police officer who throws herself at him, a fact he accepts as his lot. Too bad he had not seen ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966) where Harry Palmer realises immediately that Eva Renzi is up to no good when she throws herself at him. Poor Chuck.

Chuck is bored at work and idle at home so he starts nosing around and gets in deeper and deeper. Then one of his buddies is murdered and the plot gets thicker quicker. While I remembered Harry Palmer’s self-deprecating cynicism and saw the punch coming, it is played out very well.

There are technical details about Lost Angeles real estate that provide much of the mystery, and while the Armenians are much in evidence, they know there are bigger fish in this sea. Chuck doesn't and keeps stumbling around.

But after a thirty year career of insufferable Power Point presentations, unending off-site retreats, excruciating 360 degree reviews, maniacal KPIs, and nightmarish McKinsey-speak, being beaten up by Armenians comes as something of a relief to Chuck. Still all those years in HR gives him access to a lot of personal information about personnel past and present and even applicants that he puts to use. Futhermore, it has taught him how to read between the lines in files to find out more. He also has contacts among freelance journalists who in the past have dug out information for him; in short, there is a solid base for his investigations.

As to the cologne, this is the story. An employee lodged a formal complaint against Ed for wearing so much cologne that she became ill. Mind, Ed did not work near her cell, er cubicle, but only walked by it once or twice a day. Still she filed the paperwork, and once filed it fell to Chuck to deal with it. It all seemed so realistic.

The complaint was vexatious. The complainer had been with the firm less than two years, during which time seven formal complaints about comparable matters had been filed, while the complained did little productive work. But the complainer, once hired, was untouchable, being a forty plus, pregnant, black woman who ticked all the demographic boxes for a huge personal injury suit from giant uncaring oppressive corporation that had made mistaken of hiring her. She had to be placated at all costs. Ed, on the other hand, had been with the firm for more than a decade, was extremely productive, corporate loyal, but as a white, middle-aged man he would never win a lawsuit. Such is the corporate logic in these pages.

Adams Phillips.jpg Adam Phillips

While the plot is straight out of Raymond Chandler with updates and located in the world of real estate, the corporate backdrop strikes a cord with this reader. The author produces an interesting variety of characters and gives each a distinctive voice. There is much travelogue of the Lost Angeles where people live and work well away from the Tinsel Town stereotypes. The corporate world and the real estate context are refreshing. This is the first of a series and I look forward to reading another.

Peter Graves made this for a Wilder in 1954, the year before he had made ‘Stalag 17' for a Wilder. What a different a Wilder makes. More on this enigma at the end.

First the IMDb facts, it runs for 1 hour and 11 minutes of Dali time, and the 1566 ratings average to 3.1/10. That is right at the Mendoza line.

Grave Peter is abducted by aliens, a frequent occurrence for those from Minnesota, but instead of the anal probe that St Paul of ‘Paul’ (2011) made (in)famoius, they bring him back from the dead with a heart transplant. He never says ‘Thank you.’

Killers poster.jpg A lobby poster straight out of Faux News

What happened? Grave Peter is a nuclear scientist who knows as much as Kevin about nukes, and is participating in above ground nuclear testing in Nevada (which then as now is not much good for anything else). Since the tests are atomic bomb drops and the technicians, politicians, generals, grunts, journalists, and scientists stand around with sun glasses on to watch, there is also plenty of longer term killing right there. In addition, everyone smokes.

The plane Grave Peter is in mysteriously crashes and is incinerated. The assumption is that he was barbecued in the pile of ash. Grieving Wife sheds a tear. Wooden colonel stiffens his upper lip. The next test is scheduled. Must not hold up progress to Armageddon.

Then Grave Peter in a ragged jumpsuit walks home in a daze. Whacko! He survived! But how? He is stunned and remembers nothing. Not even the massive butchers’ scars on his chest. The fraternity brothers were sure they would remember something like that no matter how OBs they drank.

He is physically fit after a shower, shave, coffee, and a pipe (being a tweedy scientist he smokes a pipe so he can leave a trail of ash for the plot). Yet he remembers nothing. Mondayitis? While the examining doctor remarks on the scars, he does not investigate them in any way. Guess it was a short 15-minute consultation on the Medicare scale and there was no time for more.

The shadow of the Cold War falls with a thump. What if this Grave Peter is a substitute planted by you-know-whom. The real Grave Peter could not have survived the crash. Ergo this one is an imposter. What other explanation could there be, Erich? This possibility does not explain the scars but no one seems to care about that. He is sequestered in the base hospital under observation, i.e., hospital arrest to await the Good Doctor to come and fix him up. But he is compulsive about carrying on. This arouses more suspicions by the wooden FBI man on the scene.

With the touching faith in drugs of B-movies, they shoot up Grave Peter with a truth serum, and he tells all. This is one blabber mouth. It goes like this:

He awoke on an operating table just as a heart, he says his, but he would wouldn't he, was stuck back in his chest by a mechanical arm attended by the losers of a Ping Pong match.

Graves post op.jpg Grave Peter in post-op.

He raves about those eyes. ‘Those eyes!’ He does this a lot.

Then the drug wears off and he wakes up in the hospital to find the doctor, the colonel, the stooge, and the FBI staring at him liked he just confessed to liking the Osmond Family’s music! Disbelief isn’t the half of it.

Conclusion: He’s no commie plant; he’s crazy. They change the locks on the hospital door. Well, no they don’t. And he is now determined to clear his name alone! Not only is he not a commie, he is not crazy, though why else did he accept this part? Grieving Wife is nowhere to be found. Another abduction? We’ll never know.

He breaks into the top security military base, he breaks into the top security safe, where he leaves pipe tobacco ash (was this an unconscious plea to be stopped?) and steals the nuclear test data.

He drives into the night, since the budget did not run to lighting, and sticks the top secret results under a rock. Oops! This is the very rock the FBI man is standing on in Bronson Canyon. Of all the rotten luck! There is punch up and Grave Peter flees. For a tweedy scientist he can hit below the belt with the best of them.

While I was raiding the refrigerator, he got himself into the aliens’ den where the Bug Eye in Chief talks to him. ‘We speak all languages,’ replies bug-eye numero uno Grave Peter’s amazement that he speak English. Polyglot, uh, a sure sign of someone up to no good. BEiC then explains to him in detail the nefarious plot in the best Dr No fashion.

They have destroyed their own world thanks to the climate change deniers and now have to relo. Earth will do, but first they have to rid it of us humans. To do this, sparing Occam’s razor, they will use the radiation from nuclear tests to charge the batteries in the hot house where they are breeding giant spiders and ants (some of which escaped to ‘Them’ [1954] - much the better film) and once they have enough creatures for a feature, they will unleash them to devour humanity. Gulp! One suspects a sequel in the works.

Now the Earth will be overrun with big bugs, but not to worry, then the bug eyes will spray DefCon to kill the insects, whose rotting bodies will fertilise the soil. See, a grade A plan with KPIs galore. In this case of McKinsey speak KPI means Killing People Immediately. Grave Peter is impressed with the grantsmanship of the plan, but instead of throwing in with them as a nuclear expert and getting promoted to Honorary Bug Eye, he escapes.

No gratitude has he. While babbling Geordie-speak he rushes to the one power planet in the place and brandishing a pistol that came with the elbow patches on his tweed coat, he throws all the switches to Off, including the MASTER Switch. Darkness fell. Iron lungs stopped, ‘I Love Lucy’ went blank. Surgeons said ‘Oh Oh.’ Nine months later there were surprises. But the power is off only a ten seconds, so maybe not so much of the latter.

The wooden ones, the colonel, the FBI, the stooge, Grieving Wife are now looking for a net to throw over Grave Peter when KABOOM! That was the sound of the aliens’ den blowing up, just as Grave Peter predicated! The mere sound of the explosion clears everything up and he is welcomed back on the road to Armageddon.

The end.

Seen today there is a message about destroying one's own world by electing idiots, and another about the dangers of radiation. But neither of these was intended at the time. Just plot devices though a few films like 'Rocketship X- M' (1950), reviewed elsewhere on the blog, do have an ever so carefully put case about the dangerous of nuclear radiation. Enough to get the screen writer a mug shot it was. But that was exceptional. In 1954 any doubts about the safety of nuclear energy and weapons were Commie tweets.

The only thing a sensible viewer remembers from this celluloid is the bug-eyed aliens. There are conflicting stories about this effect was achieved. The budget did not run to having anything made by a optician. They look like Ping Pong balls and that is the usual explanation, cut in half, with a black dot painted on them in which is a pin hole so the actors with them glued to his eye sockets does not stumble over a paycheque.

Though there is another story according to which Wilder himself came up this idea. He opened the refrigerator at home to get a beer and noticed the white egg rack built into the refrigerator door. Hmmm.

He yanked the rack out, cut the egg cup receptacles off, and ‘Voilà!’ alien bug eyes without the expense of Ping Pong balls. Because this is a difference without any significance, it heats up cyber space as adherents to the Ping Pong ball explanation dispute with Egg Rack believers. The tweets fly. Good thing they don’t have nukes.

Bug eyes.jpg Ping Pong balls or egg cups? You must decide.

Peter Graves went on and on. His last credit was in 2010, the year of his death. This man seldom said no. Witness ‘Airplane!’ (1980). In the latter part of his career he often played, parodied, himself, grave, stalwart, gravelly voiced, and wooden. In 1954 he was impossibly handsome and trying very hard. But maybe he should have said no now and then.

Lee Wilder produced and directed ‘Killers from Space; hot on the heels of the ‘Snow Creature’ (1954). Since a Lee Wilder movie took no more than a week to film, he could turn them out when there was coin. Coin? The story goes that Lee left his native Austria and migrated to New York City where he became a very successful hat maker. Whether for men or women is a question only further research could answer. His younger brother Billy was cinema-struck as a boy and had gone to Berlin to learn the business.

Reading the blood signs on the street in Berlin, Billy wanted to go the Amerika, and brother Lee paid his way. Billy said thank you and took train to Lost Angeles where talking movies were the go, and he saw his future in that. Off he went, and the string of commercial and artistic successes is now legend. He made one of his masterpieces, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ in 1950. By then he was so well established he could defy Tinsel Town conventions, command extraordinary budgets, attract great stars out of retirement, make a star out of an also ran..…

Lee Wilder.jpg Lee Wilder

Is this a case of inverted sibling rivalry? Older brother Lee then sold his New York City business and moved to Lost Angeles and set himself up as an independent film producer with his son Myles, who did not have to be paid, as the screen writer.

My five minutes of web research indicates that there was no rupture between the brothers, but though they both made films and lived in Lost Angeles they never met there and when they bumped into one another, they exchanged nods, not words, and went on.

IMDb 3.1/10 from 711 votes at 1 hour and 9 minutes of Dali time.

This title is often found on those list of films that are so bad that they are fun to watch. Just about everything is wrong. Error spotting keeps the viewers interest. Nothing else does.

Snow poster.jpg

An American scientific team scales the Himalayas to find rare botanical specimens. This team has only two members, the botanist and a newspaper reporter to publicise the investigation for the ‘Daily Plant.’ To ascend the mountains they hire locals to schlepp the gear, including a radio (so they can follow the World Series?). They encounter the abominable snow man! Yeti they do! They subdue him and ship him back to Lost Angeles where half the film is set in the dark. He escapes and wreaks so little havoc few in LA would notice. The forces of order are mobilised and slay the beast. End of story.

At least half the footage is stock film of airplanes landing and taking off. Nearly all the shots of the actors are in the middle distance. No close ups. A sure sign of a tip-jar budget. Shots of the trekkers are repeated again and again. The one close up of Abominable is repeated three times. The first time it was effective when he stepped back into the darkness. Less so on each repeat. When he is photographed on a slope in the distance, he looks so awkward and fragile that a gust of wind would level him. Some threat.

Another sign of a micro budget is that much of the story is told through voiceovers and not dialogue. That indicates no sound man on the payroll. Nor is anyone credited with make-up in the credits, so Abominable had to do his own. He is clearly wearing a two-piece fur suit. He is seen only once in a close up, and he looks wrapped up like the invisible man.

The fraternity brothers liked the footage of aircraft. In the first, the voiceover ponderously says they are flying into Bombay. Time to change airlines, folks! On the ground beneath the aircraft clearly visible are the pyramids of Giza. That pilot missed India! Cairo, Bombay, what’s the difference?

But wait, there is more. Later after boxing up Abominable (on that more in a moment) the voiceover has them landing in Lost Angeles. Hmm, yet beneath the aircraft we see the Statue of Liberty from New York City Harbor. No continuity editor is in the credits either, though this blunder is beyond the pay grade of a continuity editor.

Those instances indicate the quality of this celluloid from the Dream Factory.

The natives who figure in the first half as bearers are Sherpas, only one of whom is endowed with a name. The others go by ‘Hey you!’

But wait, there is more. They all speak Japanese. Yep, all the Sherpas are Japanese. The fraternity brothers thought the Japanese had been driven out of India by 1944 but apparently some remained under cover as Sherpas. The more prosaic explanation is that the only extras who looked Asian the producer could get at the price were Japanese, and to let them use Japanese was good enough for the Sherpa tongue.

There are condescending and racists asides by our heroes about the Sherpas on whom their lives depend.

The duo stumbled upon Abominable in his lair and the roof fell in and stunned him. Thus incapacitated they tied up this Gulliver and shipped back to the States for study in a refrigerated telephone booth. This was no Tardis.

They knew Abominable was about because it was alleged he had creature-napped a Sherpa woman, but that loose end it left flapping. Just one less Sherpa to make stupid remarks about.

Abominable descends into LAX, and like many travellers is consternated. Officials with clipboards appear, asking what is in the phone booth. Having seen, Dr Who in action, they are careful. If it be man, where is his visa and passport? If it is beast, where is the quarantine certificate? The officials cannot decide. Can we? This is the only interesting scene in the film, and much, much more could have been made of it. Is Abominable a man or a beast? What about the Twit in Chief?

The journalist has made a sensation of him as a man, whereas the good doctor refers to him as an animal. The officials are inclined to believe what they read in the ‘USA Today.’

Newspaper.jpg The Murdoch press, as responsible as always.

Yep. Hard to believe, but if a journalist says Abominable is a man, maybe he is.

To resolve this conundrum, the officials send for an expert. Huh? An expert in what? A theologian perhaps? A talk-back radio shock jock? A fraternity brother, often accused of crossing the line between human and beast? Who?

Whatever this Doctor’s qualifications he arrives, and sits at a desk. No, he does not look at the subject but smokes cigarettes at the desk. That’s how we know he is a regular guy.

By this time, Abominable has had enough waiting in his cubicle and he tips it over and this breaks it open and off he goes to wreak havoc here and there. Women are his prey, though why and what his motivation is, no one bothers with. Maybe he wanted return fare?

At no time was any effort made to communicate with Abominable but maybe he only understood Nepalese and neither Japanese nor Hollywoodese. To keep him quiet before the phone booth was ready they just keep cracking him on the noggin.

In Lost Angeles the rampaging Abominable Man is declared NRA-bait and Bam! They get him. Too bad, but it had to be is the coda.

The one cliché absent from this hash is the comic relief. For that relief much thanks.

No one is credited for the part of the Abominable Man but the gossip is that it was Lock Martin, whose role as Gort was unforgettable and this one was unfortunate.

Late in the piece the ever reliable William Phipps enters and tries to eject some life and humanity into this script but even he fails.

This film is one of several B- creature features made by W. Lee Wilder, the older brother of Billy Wilder, who got all the cinematic genius in the family. Lee Wilder used a screen play written by his son Myles Wilder. Case closed. They say Lee Wilder made worse films, hard though that is to believe.

From the IMDB 3.7/10 from 878 votes, running 1 hour and 30 minutes Dali time. For a Sy Fyan this is a zero (0).

It comes up in searches for Sy Fy but it does not make the grade, but since I had to sit through it to discover this fact, I will give it a few words.

Prsioners Lost card.jpg As crassly misleading as adertising must be, it seems.

In 1983 contemporary Lost Angeles a blood sucker (journalist), a working stiff, and an uncle of Erich’s get transported to an ‘alternative universe.’ One at a time. Like the Three Stooges, each one makes the same mistake and gets transported through the photocopier. Pretty sure they did not go to Wonderland.

Prisoner lost.jpg This poster pretty sums up the picture.

Once there Uncle is nowhere to be found, while Blood Sucker and Working Stiff stick together, ahem. Yet even afterward they still seem tense. The Fraternity Brothers found that odd, but then there were no cigarettes available.

After some roaming around they conclude that this is Disneyland with creeping thingies, hairy cave men, green elves, and more. This is a stone age world with spears, animal skins and furs for clothing. Altogether so primitive that the fraternity brothers felt right at home amid the grunts, thumbs, and beasties. They get into and out of scrapes and the time passed, slowly. S l o w l y,

The credits promised Carmine Orrico and so I persisted because if there anyone who can inject life into …, well, into a film it is Carmine. By the way the Hollywood gossip vine is full of strange stories about his life style choices. Even in Tinsel Town it is outré. He must have saved all his vices up for that because in this part as the Villain in Chief he looks bored, distracted, and worried (about his next doctor’s appointment). In equally limp offerings he has put some steel into the flaccid films. Not so here.

Uncle is working for Carmine as a wizard and Carmine makes sure his wizard does not find a way back to his own alternative universe.

Working Stiff is Richard Hatch from both versions of Battle Star Galatica with Sy Fy credentials, which also enticed me into viewing this swords and sandals bore.

Kay Lenz is Bloodsucker and she reminded me of Gretchen Corbett from ‘The Rockford Files,’ an old favourite. Doppelgänger one for the other they are, as a check for net pixes confirmed.

Most of it is out doors and though it starts with Lost Angeles, the whole thing was filmed in the Republic of South Africa of apartheid. When Bloodsucker is driving to meet Uncle at the outset the car radio is from LA and she drives not on the right, though the car is left-hand drive. The first hint that it was not filmed in the Alabama Hills, though that is the look, in a very dry summer. While the credits show many actors from the Republic I heard nothing I think of as a South African acccent. Still less did I see any black faces. Apartheid on the set, did not present a problem to the cast and crew, it seems.

The director also wrote the screenplay, served the tea, and must have many relatives to account for the few positive remarks in the User Reviews on the IMDb.

While Uncle refers to it as an alternative universe, in the marketing department this became ‘the Lost Universe.’ Of course, it is not lost to those who live there.

1 hour 24 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.5/10 from 415 on the IMDB

In the effort to ride on the ticket sales of ‘Star Wars’ this quickie was rolled out, one of several Italian efforts of this kind. It is hard to get a rating as low as 2.5 on the IMDB.

It is, oh hum, another yarn about the end of the world. A mysterious spaceship appears from the void and penetrates all the many space defences Earth has, satellites, space stations, rhetoric, and an armanda are brushed aside. There is no reply to communication and atomic missiles bounce off.

Sette over.jpg

There is only one thing to do in this crisis! Yes, project the Bat Signal into the night sky.

But wait, Batman took early retirement and is unavailable. Forget about, Robin. He was only ever there to hold the cape.

Instead High Command calls in Big Brain; Italian screen writers have an endless supply of bad tempered professors on call and Big Brain gets this part. He carries on like he is God’s gift to the world, while much of the world is destroyed. He rants on.

Later by some fancy screen writing the villain is defeated. The end.

At the end we learn the villain is a mega Meriton developer who bought the Earth at an auction to market its population as McKinsey KPI slaves. That might have been a better start.

The villain had some makeup! The fraternity brothers could not decide whether it was a road map of New Jersey projected onto his face or he was wearing the netting from last year’s Christmas ham, but he looked weird. In addition, his spaceship was overdue for service because it evidently has killer drafts, considering the triple high collar he wore on the back of his neck.

To subdue the Earth’s primitive inhabitants this bogey man dispatches an endless army of wig wearing androids, who when cut in half look like robots, but the characters insist on calling them androids. Droids or Bots, they all look alike to me.

The Earthlings fight them off with camera flashes. Honest, that is what it looked like. Luke also lent them a light sabre. Yes, indeed.

The decor of Big Brain’s house is all very stylish, I am told, but he never dirties his hands with any science, though some of the Z-team he assembles peer down lens and point at steaming vials.

There are also two or three robots brought onto the team who move like molasses and only bicker among themselves. These two would be an asset in any fight to save the world, not! Ditto the rest.

Though most of the film concerns assembling this team of Z-grade treacle, they prove ineffective against the Bogey Man and his wig-wearing automatons. As a last resort Big Brain wills the Bogey Man away. Wow!

Frontal lobes are creased in ominous and continuing silence. The Bogey Man relents. So that is what it takes to save the world. Wrinkle the frontal lobes and hang on.

There is also a lot of staring as coloured lights play on the irises of the one staring. If it was hypnotism it did not make the time pass any quicker, though we all hoped it would.

In contrast to some of the other Italian stallions in this stable of ‘Star Wars’ copies, the players in this one seem to be in on the joke and none try too hard to make it stick.

The title roughly means ‘Seven golden (hu)men(s) in space’ making this a variant of the Seven Samurai. Note the seven includes at least two women in this case. None of the characters is developed and none of their talents contribute to the defeat of Bogey Man. Figure that out. Why it appears in English as 'Star Odyssey' is anyone's guess. It has also been marketed as 'Prisoners of a Lost Universe' but that may refer to the money put by the investors. It has been released under several other titles too trivial to list. But beware.

A German production running 1 hour and 23 minutes, which rates 4.0 from 10 on the IMDB from 924 votes. Oh. My vote would be zero (0). The video quality is HD but the sound is not. It is replete with CGI and when they appear it is loud, while the dialogue is quiet. Up and down went the volume.

Ice Planet cover.jpg

The plot? Good question, one I still have though I watched it. Some Earthlings on a space station get attacked and take off, ending up on the Ice Planet. It is a mixed bag of space cadets. travellers, research scientists, and odd balls. (Yes, really fresh-faced space cadets.) Now they have to work together to survive.

Sound familiar? Try Star Trek: Voyager, for one.

The players are the usual suspects. The martinet commander, the slinky woman, the bewildered astronomer, the square jawed cadet, the androgynous waif, and many disposable red shirts. The red shirts get toasted and roasted by a variety of mean CGIs. Boom, crash, wham! Perhaps forty minutes of the picture in all is a CGI mosh pit nonsense.

The visuals of the ice planet are neat but contribute nothing to the plot. They might just as well have landed in New Jersey for all the relevance it has.

A meeting with Ice natives made-up like Inuits is promising but dissipates into nothing. What I liked was the challenge of communicating without a language on the home turf of the Inuits.
Inuit.jpg Moreover, with their local knowledge they seemed like good allies, but no…..

Enigmatic or unintelligible, cryptic or vague, mysterious or incomprehensible, puzzling or impenetrable, full of ideas or indigestible, stimulating or half-baked? Those who gave it a 4.0 or higher on IMDb went for the former in each of the preceding pairs. Me, went for the latter in each case.

The IMDb has a plot summery that may have come from the press kit, because no one relying only on viewing the film would find it even that coherent. There seems to have been plenty of budget for CGIs but not for a continuity editor, and that adds to the confusion. The sound technician was AWOL.

Yet the director was Winrich Kolbe who has many credits from the Star Trek franchise. Many. Now that is a mystery. How did he come to make this…, hum, pastiche seems too elegant a term.

This was a movie-length pilot for a television series, and so we have something for which to be grateful. It was not continued. Reviewed elsewhere on this blog is ’Destination Space’ (1959) was likewise a pilot that failed but a far better exercise with some intellectual content and character development in a mere 41 minutes.

Much of it was filmed in Canada, and a web whisper is that Michael Ironside was in line for the captain’s chair if the series eventuated. Seems best this way.

2.9/10 from 617 brave souls but the zero (0) in the title seems to have application. It runs 1 hour and 29 minutes Dali time.

The only surprise here is that it is rated as high as 2.9 from 10. One of the many films trying to cash in on the success of ‘Star Wars’ but there is no comparison on any score. It looks like something from Poverty Row in the 1950s. The props look like leftovers from Flash Gordon of that era.

A strange signal disrupts all communication. That much is clear and that it about all that is.

Planets poster.jpg

The Italians launch a Ferrari space ship which traces the signal to an undiscovered planet somewhere. They need to clean the lenses on the telescopes more often to spot these things.

On this murky planet they find a giant juke box robot that has enslaved the humanoid locals with a GOP spiel and is now after the Earth! The plucky Italians in cute, colour coded skull caps set out to put things right amid incomprehensible cross-cuts, dialogue that sounds like out-takes from another film, a soundtrack that bears no relation to the action on the screen, until one of the crew takes off the skull cap and goes nuts. Guess that is why they keep them on. Prevents going nuts.

Planest cap.jpg
Proof? Did Silvio Berlusconi ever sport a skull cap? No. Is he nuts? Yes.

Most of it is so dark and so poorly photographed, who knows what is going on. The fraternity brothers made many rude remarks about this.

Our heroes, their numbers diminished in the dark, confront the juke box and talk it to death, and thus distracted, they then blow it up. At last!

Most of the cast and crew are Italians using English aliases, for reasons best known to the marketing department.

The IMDb info is this: 1 hour and 33 minutes of Dali time, rated at 4.3/10 by 563 ratings.

Long before Star Wars, the Italian cinema offered this title. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, who like others in the cast, used an Anglo pseudonym in the credits. In his case, it was Anthony Dawson. The aim was to sell the film into the American market, and along with the aliases, the director/producer recruited the Invisible Man Claude Rains for that purpose.

The set-up makes as much sense as some of the later Italian Sy Fy films. Z e r o.

Rains is a curmudgeon and at first I liked that but it went on and on and on. He lives in a palace by the seaside somewhere surrounded by bright young things. Easy to see why Rains liked the part for the three or four days he spent on it. Every one stands when he enters a room, and the bow their heads to him. Moreover the set abounds with sunshine, nubile and virile creatures coming and going, and no script to remember, just snarl.

Rains poster 2.jpg

Downstairs in his palace is a scientific establishment that by some unspecific means monitors the heavens. The fraternity brothers accomplish this with beer. How it is done in this seaside palace is less clear. Many bright scientists come and go; sometimes they enter Rains’s inner sanctum where they bow and hand him written reports in ring-binders. Furturistic, not. He looks disdainfully at their efforts, and in one case, while declaiming how useless the report is, an over the shoulder close-up shows he is holding it upside down. Well, it would not make much sense that way, would it. (Though I have tried that a few times with journal manuscripts I have had to review.)

He tells everyone how stupid they are repeatedly. He must be emeritus because he is never going to get another research grant with all the friends he is making.

Thanks to the Stockholm Syndrome, the more he abuses people. the more they think he is a genius. Why did not I try that in my career?

Then the Outsider, Planet X on loan from ‘The Man from Planet X,’ appears in the Solar System. Gulp! All eyes turn to Rains, who tells the eyes how stupid they are. See, he repeats the same line again and again. Easy to remember. He punctuates his castigations with cigar smoke.

High Command mobilises its Ferrari spaceships to blast Planet X. Rains tells them how stupid they are. Planet X will not collide with Earth, and only fools would think it would. However, it will pass so close that it will cause catastrophes of all sorts. This last fact does not bother Rains who is more interested in telling the others how stupid they are, while puffing away on his life-ending cigar.

Stock footage of catastrophes appears on cue. Floods, fires, short-order famines, hysterical people, GOP majorities, and stampeding animals, empty coffee cups and other signs of devastation. Rains tell everyone how stupid they are.

High Command sends the rockets to blast Planet X. Whoa! Flying saucers appear from the surface and blast the rockets. Game and set are lost. The Ferraris were a lot more show than go.

Rains tells everyone how stupid they are.

Planet X goes into orbit around Earth. Laws of physics go out the window. Whooska! Rains admits he had not foreseen this, but quickly recovers to tell everyone how stupid they are.

To prove his point he kneels on the floor and writes a few squiggles with chalk. High Command is so astounded that a man of seventy-two can kneel on the floor and get up that it gives in to his demands.

He claims as his own the discovery of an underling that the flying saucers go wobbly when hit with classical music. Phasers and atomic bombs have no effect, but a piano sonata does the trick. How much better it would have been had it been the Queen of the Night's aria!

rains stupid.jpg Rains tells everyone how stupid they are.

At seventy-two he takes rocket to Planet X, but at least this geriatric is not smoking a cigar in-flight. However he does tell everyone how stupid they are.

Sure enough the defending flying saucers go all dishy with the music allowing the Italians to land. Rains penetrates the interior to find THE TRUTH. Meanwhile, the landing party has started a giant doomsday bomb to blast Planet X into the void. (I held out hope this crescendo would be the Queen of the Night's aria, but no.)

There are no inhabitants of Planet X and the flying saucers were automatons whose code was scrambled by the music. It seems an IOS update killed all the Xers long ago.

While telling everyone else how stupid they are, Rains ignores the calls to return to the rocket and leave before Kaboom. He stands around agape. Maybe he is wondering where his cigars are. No need because KABOOM! Now who is stupid?

The end.

That terse summary makes it sound better than it is. Watch at your own risk as they warn on CSPAN.

It runs 1 hour and 24 minutes and it seems like more. Four hundred and twenty-two opinionaters at the IMDb rate it 5.6/10 as of 3 December 2017. A generous lot they are, too.

It comes from the imagination of Arch Oboler, who did much television work, and it seems like an extended skit from a 1950s television variety show.

Twonky (2).jpg

A hapless college professor, played by that television stalwart, Hans Conreid, buys a television, entering the analogue age with reluctance. This is a man who prefers to listen to Mozart while reading large and dusty tomes. I warmed to him right away. Not so the fraternity brothers who made a play for the remoter that had to be smacked down.

To please Wife, who finds him boring, and who would not, he buys the latest television, a device strange to him. It is delivered and left sitting in his study, it seems, while she is away.

Soon enough its true black-and-white colours show. It is Siri on steroids! A beam from the television knocks the second cup of coffee out of his hand. Not believing his eyes, Hapless tries again. Again a beam from the screen foils the caffeine intake. One cup, yes. Two cups, no.

Thereafter this TV Siri takes over. Its beam whirls records onto an off the turntable. Turns off lights when it thinks he should retire and so on. That beam is handy and it also vacuums the floor, answers the telephone, finishes Prof's solitaire games, and prepares food. (However it does not mark the pile of student papers he carts around.) Wife being way, he suspects madness.

To get a witness he calls in his buddy, the ageing football coach whose playing days were well before the concussion protocol. Nonetheless, in time coach is also persuaded that the TV Siri is doing all these things. Even when it is not yet plugged in. Yep. No one has plugged it in or anything else and yet it is taking over. Did Marshall McLuhan see this film?

Twonky vaccum.jpg Twonky at work. Siri does not vacuum.

Efforts are made to return the television to the store. Foiled. To reason with it. Foiled. To cover it with a blanket. Foiled. To lock it in cupboard. Foiled. And so on, for forty-five minutes while Coach mumbles and Prof flicks dandruff off his collar, evidently a task Wife usually does.

Coach, after consulting his inner Erich, concludes this is a TV Siri from the future which has traveled back in time. What other explanation could there be?

This is the future that awaits us! A know-it-all Siri which will restrict our free will. It will light one cigarette for Prof but not a second. One a day is OK as with the coffee, but not two.

Prof gets even goofier than television profs usually are and embarrasses himself in front of a class. I kept looking at the clock, noting how slowly Dali time was passing.

Finally, this Siri TV is destroyed, by accident. Whew! Prof is free to drink more coffee and smoke more cigarettes.

Slight though it may seem, it is prescient because we now have our very own Twonky in Siri who can be programmed to ride herd on us.

Slight as it seems Arch Oboler always drives the points home with an axe. This is our future. Control and repression of our freedoms through technology! If so the film offers nothing about how to avoid this micro Nineteen Eight-Four future, but drink that second cup and smoke that second fag while one can.

Oboler's best Sy Fy is ‘Five’ (1951) though it lacks the leaden humour of this film, it addresses serious subjects, so many that indigestion follows.

The term ‘twonky’ comes from the concussed coach and it means a MacGuffin, something that has no other name.

From the IMDB: 1 hour 11 minutes, 7.4/10 from 23,534,

Genre schizophrenia here. Is it a horror movie or is it Sy Fy? Arguments over definitions are best because they have no end, and no point.

IM poster.jpg

H. G. Wells published the novel ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897) first as a magazine serial and then as a title. His hand makes it Sy Fy, but when Universal filmed it, that studio’s association evoked Horror because Universal had specialised in that genre. Though British in look, it was made in the USA.

Invisible book.jpg

The film differs from the book in several ways. The first and most important is that the Invisible Man is mad from the beginning on film, whereas in the book he becomes more and more unhinged the longer he stays invisible, which may be due to the drugs he is taking for the pain that the invisibility drug causes and the other drugs he is taking trying to become visible again. On top of that he takes strychnine as a pain killer. Killer, indeed. This guy could give the wanna be druggies around Kings Cross lessons in shooting up.

In the film his ambition from the get-go is a Reign of Terror, because he likes having power over others. In the book he comes to this term in his frustration to control the environment so he can concentrate on research to find a way back to visibility. He grows ever more unstable and despicable, but it is a process.

The film gives him a love interest absent from the book. She is played by a luminous Gloria Stuart who later appeared in ‘Titanic’ (1997) and whose last credit was in 2004. There was a sabbatical between 1946 and 1975. There are many familiars in the cast, and some familiar footage that was used again later in other Universal pictures, like the train crash.

While the Invisible Man causes as much mayhem as the fraternity brothers at the end of the semester in the book, in the film the Reign of Terror is not merely a threat, he kills at least two people, including his would-be confederate Dr Kemp. Moreover, he causes a train to crash with countless death and injuries. He is beyond redemption even by the love of good woman.

The book has some discussion of invisibility as a way of being. See! Sartre is relevant, albeit cryptic. (It takes him hundreds of pages to be cryptic. Nausea is certainly relevant to Sartre.) There is no doubt that Wells knew the references to the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s ‘Republic’ and in some way thought he was dramatising something of that philosophical discussion.

The fraternity brothers cut that class, and so for their benefit here is a refresher: Glaucon says a person is only moral because the responsibility imposed by society. Persons free of consequences of their actions would behave selfishly, knavishly, piggishly in the manner of the Tweet in Chief. If an ordinary Josephine came across a ring that could make one invisible, she would get up to no good. Want to know what Plato replied? Read the book! Wells’s novel is an examination of what an invisible person would then do. Though Dr Griffen, the Invisible Man, would hardly consider himself an ordinary chap.

At times I thought of the Invisible Man as an alter ego for Wells himself, and took the study to be autobiographical in a way. This is not a standard interpretation, so do not crib it.

The special effects must have been mind-numbing in 1933. Objects floating in the air, like a telephone. A cigarette smoking itself in mid-air. An unbuttoned shirt dancing by itself. The bicycle riding along sans rider. But most of all the several unveilings when the invisible man removes the bandages that conceal his nothingness. Did Jean-Paul Sartre see this film? Bet he did.

Invivisle chin.jpg The Invisible Man unveils himself.

The denouement is the dealh of the Invisible Man, when the police cordon has finally tracked him down in the fresh snow and dealt him mortal injuries. His shoe prints were easy to track in the snow. Yes, shoe prints. But the shoes were not visible…

Invisisb clade.jpg
Lying in a hospital bed he gradually dissolves into view as the very young Claude Rains.

By the way, the cinematic invisibility of Claude Rains was achieved by wearing a black velvet body suit with no holes. None. Then putting the bandages on and then the clothes over the top. Altogether an uncomfortable and awkward business. Then he would be filmed against a matte, but the technical matters are best left to technicians. The point is that it was hard work being invisible on film just as invisibility was a curse to Griffin in the story.

Claude Rains was a young actor who had appeared in some silent films but who preferred the theatre and was content there. That is, until the Great Depression thinned theatre audiences to nearly nothing and income was hard to get. The Universal agent who negotiated the film rights with Wells agreed to an English lead and Rains, a near unknown then, was recruited. It was easy money for him and a free trip to the USA.

It made sense. A big name actor would be expensive and wasted since unseen until the very end in one shot. Indeed a big name actor might not wanted the part or demanded it be changed for more face time. Not even still photos before invisibility or flashbacks are used to show Griffin before. Plus the Invisible Man had to command the attention of the audience with his voice. Rains’s perfect diction and distinctive intonation did just that. He made it seem credible that he could dominate scene against visible actors where he was unseen, and so carry the audience with him.

Rains had done some screen tests earlier and they were terrible. He effected a declamatory style suited to nailing the back wall of a large theatre, entirely wrong for the camera, which magnifies everything. See Marshall McLuhan on hot and cold media for enlightenment, Mortimer. However his voice got the attention of the casting director and since he would not be seen, Rains’s emoting would not be seen. Moreover, the oral intensity of his emoting was in keeping with the Invisible Man’s madness.

In time, Rains liked earning a living in films and the sunshine, and adjusted his style to the camera. This story is a reminder of the differences between stage and film, and why some players prefer one to the other, and all find the change an effort.

Social invisibility has been a theme in literature and I expect somewhere there is a syllabus that brings some of it together. There is Fyodor Dostoevsky. ‘Notes from Underground’ (1864) and
Ralph Ellison, ‘The Invisible Man’ (1952). (Ross McDonald’s ‘The Underground Man’ is literally a man underground, buried.) Plus the other Universal films and their many imitators.

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