IMDb meta-data is runtime is 1 hour and 21 minutes, rated 5.5 by 535 cinemitizens
Genre: Sy Fy
Setup? Things are going badly for the US rocket program, despite the best efforts of Herbert von Marshall. The rocket go up whole and then come down in pieces. (That was true, about sixty in all.) What is happening? What is to be done? Herbie V ponders these questions behind his owlish glasses with his team in the heart of the darkest California desert.
Then Ice Blonde concludes the rockets have to be shielded from the cosmic rays that are disintegrating the hulls. ‘Ah ha,’ mutters Herbert, ‘Yes, we have to do this before THEY do.’ This would be the Red THEY of the Coldest War.
Now the talk shifts to what kind of shield? Meteors rocket around without disintegrating until they burn in the Earth’s atmosphere. They must have a protective coating in space which is lost when entering the atmosphere. What we need is a meteor from space so we can examine its protective coating of carbonised bumpkin. Well, why not, the meteor shower is in every Sy Fy scriptwriter’s play-book. (Of course, this line of reasoning makes no sense since the rockets will have to pass through Earth's atmosphere twice. If the atmosphere strips the coating off a meteor on entry, it will have two chance to do that to a rocket.)
Rockets they have aplenty from the bottomless budget allocated to get ahead of THEY. Mission they have, lassoing some meteors in the wild. Now they need some rocket boys to sit atop of tons of volatile liquid nitrogen that can go bang at the spark of a split infinitive. Herbie has been sending white mice — discrimination against brown mice? — up in rockets to study weightlessness but he is pretty sure the Aryan mice are not up to meteor-grabbing. Why not use a computer? Because in 1954 a computer was a mile long and weighted more than a Hollywood actor’s ego. Ok, it has got to be people, well, as of the times, men.
And not just any men but a carefully selected set of Hollywood supporting actors who are chosen by the whirring of computers scanning punch cards. (Be glad if you don’t know what a computer punch card is.) About twenty supporting actors and the leads are invited to join a secret project. Some say ‘Buzz, off.’ Others rush to the door to escape the unwanted consequences of a wanted act. Others go as relief from the boredom of life on civie street. Because it is a curious offer. Because it must be important. Because it is on the way to the pay office. Because the alternative is another McKinsey training seminar. And finally because the script says so.
The twelve who said 'Yes' arrive, all wearing neck ties and business suits and about half wear hats. Several smoke pipes and more than half of the others are sucking cigarettes. Is it any wonder lung cancer surgeons look back on the old days with nostalgia.
Next comes the rigorous testing for the mission. It is in two parts, the first psychological and the second physical. The psych test is fiendish. They are seated in a meeting room and told that the training session will begin shortly! There is no escape; the door is locked! And they wait. For hours. Hours. Hours. What to do? Light up. Everyone smokes. To some perhaps lung cancer was preferable to enduring yet another training session given by twenty-year olds who never use the system and have no corporate knowledge or interest.
James Best goes all whiny and storms around. Another one paces a hole in the floor. A third smokes three times faster than anyone else and disappears behind a midden of cigarette butts. A fourth goes all WTF and pounds on the door. While others sit calmly waiting, napping, talking about sports, or thinking about that Ice Blonde, as were the fraternity brothers.
Sorted. Whiny James (who is he best whiner in the business) is out. Ditto both Pacer and Pounder. Smoker though seems normal enough once he is disinterred from the ashes. How he is going to smoke in space is one of the imponderables that does not get pondered.
Next comes the needles to start the physical examination. Sight of the needle sends others packing. Then they go to the fairground and ride around to test stamina. Next comes the equipment training and more are winnowed out until only four are left. Then for reasons the fraternity brothers missed another one leaves. Some testing! They started with 150 million people and got down to three.
The rockets have scoops which were later passed on to Hugo Drax. But for now our trio go meteor hunting in the heart of darkest outer space. Whew. One bites off more than his scoop can chew and blows up. His skeletal face in a pressure suit floats by the window of a second scooper who panics and tries to bail out. So much for the rigorous testing program. Sight of the first stiff and he wants to bail, scoffed the fraternity brothers, while cowering behind the sofa in fright. Only the stolid William Lundigan prevails and returns to save US from THEY! That melts Icy.
This the third of Ivan Tors’s trilogy about the Office of Scientific Investigation, and as usual Tors tried to get some science into the story. Wacky though it is.
Ivan Tors. Note the microscope. [Witticism needed for caption.]
Ergo the computers look like computers of the day and not Christmas toys. That is bland with nary an array of blinking lights to keep the audience awake. There are no voltmeters, retorts, or Tesla coils passing as advanced scientific equipment. The stock footage of rocket launches is well integrated into the props and effects. The pressure suits the flyboys wear are the real thing. The term 'astronaut' is not used.
There are no villains except for the off stage THEY. Space flight is hard enough without villains or papier-mâché spiders. Overcoming the laws of physics like gravity takes all the ingenuity there is. I certainly feel that way many a morning.
The fairground ride was in fact a centrifuge at USC which Tors got permission to use.
Lundigan getting G-forced for real.
Some of the other effects are not as good. The wires in the weightless scenes are visible.
While all the potential fliers are men, the Ice Blonde comes up with the core idea, and she is a mathematician not a coffee-maker. Like everyone else in the script she is a Doctor and the title is uttered at least fifty times by one character or another about or to another. Fifty at least, because the fraternity brother who was counting ran out of fingers (don’t ask) at that point. Of course, Icy is there to pair off with Stolid Bill though how he could melt her is a tribute the the screen writer’s imagination. By the way the writer is the redoubtable Sy Fyian Curt Siodmak. All hail!
Speaking of Bill, well, it is hard to speak of him, because he is soooo bland. But there is a light in his eyes that sets him apart from the catatonic John Agar whose existential being was eroded by the hundreds of terrible parts he played until there was nothing left beneath. Bill is just attractive enough to be noticed by women but not so damn handsome as to irritate men. That middle way would seem to be his major attribute. He is calm, reassuring, steady, and stolid, and he had that mellifluous voice that got him started in radio advertising when his football career ended.
Having been a BMOC at Syracuse University he had a knee injury that made him 4F in 1941 but he volunteered anyway and in time served. That he volunteered voided his film contract and his career never quite recovered from that. Was he brown-listed? Did such tacky things happen in Tinsel Town? Most of his post-war career was in television. He was the one constant in the very realistic series ‘Men into Space’ (1959-1960) over thirty-eight episodes.
Richard Carlson of much Sy Fy fame is there as second lead and he got the directing credit in a deal with the producer Tors, though this is much discussed in the Cine Nerd Cyberdom. He is another Mr Ordinary, but with an intellectual and reflective mien that served him well. He had hoped to go into directing and this was his first outing, which was made difficult by playing in it as well, but it was a chance to try and he took it. He directed television episodes in the 1950s and 1960s including one starring Bill in ‘Men into Space.’
Hidden in the Ice Blonde’s one hundred and six credits on the IMDb is one star turn in ‘Some Came Running’ (1958), where she had more to do than be eye-candy. She is by the way Martha Hyer whose voice alone melted four of the fraternity brothers. Here she is endowed with sense, poise, intelligence, and purpose. Later she had the screaming, tripping, and fainting duty in ‘First Men in the Moon’ (1964) usually allowed to women in Sy Fy of the era.
Herbert Marshall was owlish in 'Gog' (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. After having a leg amputated in Great War, he gave up a career as an accountant and took to acting. His first and most sustained act was to develop a walk that concealed his prothesis so well most did not know he had it. Ivan Tors thought his walk, which he had noticed, was an affectation for the role, only to be astonished later to see the wooden leg. That wood was a constant source of pain which Herbie doused with whiskey at all hours of the day and night without slurring or forgetting his lines. Thus did the show go on.