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Internet Movie Data base meta-date is run time 1 hour and 53 minutes, rated 8.0 by 55,708 cinemitizens.

Audrey finds herself the target of three thugs and Cary comes to her rescue. Stanley Donen, a master of musicals, out Hitchcocked Hitchcock in this confection. It is absolutely marvellous and eye candy from the opening credits.

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There is zing between Audrey and the twenty-six years older Cary. The villains are downright villainous and the diplomat is so oily that frequent hand washing is required.

The three thugs thinks she has the moolah for which her unloved husband was killed. There are rifts among them but no doubting their individual and collective willingness to do whatever it takes to get the money. In the brew is Cary, seemingly a bystander, but then it turns out he is has been involved all along. He has convinced the trio he is with them, while convincing Audrey he is not. Sometimes when all parties are in the same room. Is this man teflon or what.

All that romance is nice but where is the green stuff? Then the number of villains is reduced. Whoa! Who did that? Is there another party in this party? The fraternity brothers broke into a sweat at this point. Indeed, no one ever raises the obvious questions, who killed hubby? Well, the underused police inspector did but no one else seems to care.

The plot unfolds, and in so doing makes use of everything, including young Jean-Louis and that dental appointment. The pace is effortless. The direction crisp. The delivery of the lines is perfect enough to please any author. And the lines, including Audrey’s last, are gems.

I enjoyed seeing the American Express office in Paris where once I, too, along with Tyrone Power, collected mail. Niggles, I had a few. I bristled at the bland statement that the OSS was G2, Army Intelligence. No so. Nor was I at all sure that slipping 250,000 American dollars into 1944 France made any sense. Nor did the ease of infiltrating the US Embassy in Paris fit the Cold War milieu. The snapshots of the trio in uniform shows them in post war uniforms and haircuts. Hmm.

Hard though it is to believe, it did not win any Oscars. George Kennedy as the crazed Herman deserved one, along with the director. ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Hud’ dominated the major awards that year. Granted ‘Hud’ had memorable dramatic performances from two veterans Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas. But 'Tom Jones' came and went without a trace. Fun while it lasted but it did not last.

It has to be said that Funny Face carries the film, proven when one reviews the still photographs on the IMDb. She does comedy, romance, drama, determination, fear, alarm, conviction, love, all with elegance and grace. Her star eclipsed Cary's in many a scene, so said the fraternity brothers.

Try this. Imagine a remake today with one of Hollywood’s drug addled egomaniac midgets in the lead, wearing a torn tee-shirt with a drippy nose. Audrey could be a self-centred talentless person famous for being famous on the way in and out of rehab. The writer will be a case of arrested development. This combination seems a sure recipe for success. All it needs is a lot of CGI and a soundtrack of train wrecks.

Instead of dirty money the quest can be….a vaccine to cure stupidity in climate deniers. No, that would not sell. Then the quest can be for… a lot of money to pay for making a trashy remake.

I hesitated to write it up, thinking there was nothing left to say, but the idea of remake and a check of Oscar winners for the year overcame that doubt. Moreover a look at some of the linked reviews brought up some truly ridiculous post-modern interpretations, which are beyond mockery, but there was the reek of PhD theses among them. A masochistic reader may wish to have a look.

IMDb meta-data: run time, 1 hour and 7 minutes; rated 5.4 from 1,610 cinemitizens, and released 14 May 1941.

Handsome, Sidekick, and Comic Relief make a forced landing on a Caribbean island en route to Panama from the Bahamas. Thump and bump and the three emerge in the studio conservatory. Comic Relief gets to work, on whom more later.

The trio find a mansion in a jungle clearing and unbidden enter. Whoops! There they encounter the Mad Scientist who has taken a lot of Prozac for the occasion and speaks slowly with eerily correct grammar and a strudel accent. That grammar alerts viewers that MS is not all he seems. It is going to take more than a few hints to alert Handsome. ‘Well MS seems weird,’ admitted the fraternity brothers, ‘what more could he be?’

Check the release date, lads!

King Zomibies card.jpgThe lobby card is wrong on every count. The ritual is from a Masonic Lodge. There is no torture and no human sacrifice.

Prior to crashing the trio picked up a radio message in German. Though the word ‘German’ never passes their lips for reasons to be explained below. After apologising for the intrusion, Sidekick politely asks to use the radio to call for help. MS denies possession of a radio. Hmmm.

His wife joins them for dinner. She has the vacant eyes and slack jaw of a Republican Senator. She speaks not a word, which MS confides is just her way.

By now even the fraternity brothers would have been suspicious, but not these two. We will leave Comic Relief for later. They blithely get into their jammies, which they must have brought along from the plane, and hit the sack. The two of them are in a double bed! Banned in Alabama!

They snooze through much coming and going elsewhere in the mansion as MS gets about his KPIs. He has in the handy dudgeon a US Navy Admiral whom he is torturing for details of the defences of the Panama Canal! Meanwhile upstairs Handsome is getting his beauty sleep.

All the while Comic Relief, played by that one-man band Mantan Moreland with 130 credits on the IMDb, enlivens proceedings with his black racial stereotype, excitable, ignorant, and incoherent. He has learned the word ‘zombie’ below stairs where he was relegated, and he has seen these hollow-eyed slack jawed GOPers with his own eyes. His several reports of these doings below stairs to Handsome and Sidekick are waved off as delirium induced by his skin colour.

The irony, perhaps unintended, in the very watery script is that Comic Relief is factually correct long before the whitebreads realise what is happening. He noses around, asks questions, checks things, and reports to his superiors who dismiss him. If he is dumb what about Handsome and Sidekick? Beyond dumb.

Handsome rises to the occasion when the MS’s comely niece is introduced. Sotto voce she tries to tell Handsome things are crook; he seems not to hear as he studies her form. Subtle. She is trying to free her aunt, the Mrs MS, from the hypnotism she is under. ‘Hypnotism’ is too big a word for Handsome so he goes to the library. Meanwhile, Comic Relief is trying to explain zombies to him. Whew! Handsome was not cut out for graduate school.

‘What is a zombie,’ he asks. It is a good question. The fraternity brothers thought a zombie was dead risen, like Lazarus. But here as in ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ (1936), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, they are hapless folk hypnotised to lose their wills and become the slack-jawed instruments of another like a Republican.

Finally Handsome realises something beside the niece’s form requires his attention. When Comic Relief and Sidekick go missing he stirs.

He stumbles into action, discovers and frees the admiral, which actor gives the only genuine performance in the movie in a brief scene. Comic Relief and Sidekick reappear to help out, as does Niece.

The grammatically correct Mad Scientist was using VooDoo magic to transfer the mind of the admiral with its secrets to his wife, whose mind an earlier effort had blanked. That is the price of scientific progress. Next up was Niece. MS speaks with a Hollywood German accent and claims to been an Austrian refugee. Of course, Handsome buys that.

The VooDoo magic was aided by a face mask that the MS says is an Irish Druid mask. Smooth talker.

At no time is the word ‘German’ used. Why not? Because at the time other films that did were sometimes boycotted by German-Americans before Germany declared war on the United States on 8 December 1941. One instance had earlier bankrupted the Poverty Row studio that put it out. Still less was there a reference to Nazis. But the German on the radio is there to be heard and MS speaks some German to a black untermenschen. But instead of Germany there is a reference to a ‘European power.’ They speak German in Liechtenstein, right?

Sidekick had been clobbered, stashed, and hypnotised but it seems his will is stronger than the black untermenschen and it wears off. Yet when he attacks MS, the bad doctor pulls a gat and shoots him three times at close range. (It is the sort of thing that the fraternity brothers count to earn NRA demerit badges.) He survives without a visible scratch and Handsome says a few days in the hospital will fix him up.

Huh?

Does being partly hypnotised make the subject bullet proof? It did in this screen play. All the whitebreads leave with Comic Relief. No idea what happens to the remaining zombies and MS’s many black servants, retainers, and co-conspirators.

While picking nits, how did the admiral get there? It is said he was lured by a radio beacon. How does that work. Was Circe on the radio?

That it rates 5.4 must be because the Undead are voting for it.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 4 minutes, rated 4.7 by 1013 raters.

The brother of a kindly and diffident small town physician dies and at his funeral are many grim faces. While no one comes forward to stick pins in the body to make sure it is dead, per Herman (George Kennedy) in ‘Charade’ (1963), the relief at the brother’s death is expressed by one rather distraught woman who flings open the church door and delivers a rant that briefly livens up proceedings.

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It is a nice touch to interrupt this conventional and somber scene with a vicious denouncement delivered by a mousey-looking woman.

She proclaims the deceased to be Satan’s spawn. ‘Must have parked in her drive way,’ mused the fraternity brothers, remembering the times those words had been directed at them.

The deceased is the identical twin brother of George Zucco, and George plays a double role. No, there is no flashback, because dead Brother is much in evidence. See title, though note it should be singular, Dead Man Walks, Talks, Nips, Sips, and More.

No sooner is Brother buried, despite the woman’s suggestion that he be burned, than Igor digs him up and opens him up so that Brother can join the Undead. Pedants note: The Undead also include zombies and that is what I was expecting. But no, here we have a vampire, but a second rate one since he has no cape, and -- more importantly-- he is not the singular Bela Lugosi.

The Undead are those who do not return the many books they have checked out from the library and have learned how to become a vampire by correspondence school. Brother graduated at the top of his class. Risen, this Evil Lazarus preys on the locals, well on George’s niece, sipping her blood every night to sustain himself. Though later an excited crowd accuses him of more, there is no indication in film he did anything more than dine at home on his niece.

This incestuous necking makes her intended mad, though why he is so far away at the sipping times is a mystery. He takes out his bile on innocent George. Denouncing woman offers helpful hints from ‘Women's Weekly’ on how to cope with a vampire uncle in the family. After several bouts of sibling rivalry, George accepts the idea that Brother is Undead.

Igor is the weak link in this exercise, as he rumbles around the coffin on a wheel barrow at all hours. Obviously he is a Villain School drop out.

In the end George has to go down mano-à-mano with his evil twin Brother in the flames. Cain and Abel all over again, once more, anew. The end.

Zucco (1886–1960) played suave villains or mad scientists in many B pictures, including Professor James Moriarty. He has 98 credits on the IMDb and half would fall on the shady side of the moral street. But he always made an impression with his presence.

Here is a change of pace and yet not. In one part he is an innocent who slowly comes to realise the truth about his brother, though how he missed it in the first place is open to question, and also the evil brother. He managed to distinguish the two characters in appearance, voice, manner, and gait. Accomplished was this stager who was born in England but started acting in provincial Canada. Close observers will note he lacks two fingers on his right hand, a war wound.

IMDb meta-data is run time of 1 hour and 18 minutes and rated 6.6 from 792 cinemitizens.

This is film noir at its best, simple, direct, dramatic, and basic. Erich von Stroheim is the title character who has vaudeville shooting act (sponsored by the NRA) where he hits everything but Dan Duryea. It has the requisite very femme very fatale in Mary Beth Hughes (seen in some Charlie Chan movies).

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Femme decides to shed Dan and his many empty bottles, and seduces the Frog with the gun. Erich is no pushover since in an unstated backstory a woman ruined his life by taking his monocle. But over he goes, heels over head. Picture that. Dan has been unreliable for some time and Erich gives him notice with a .38 caliber bullet in the act!

Since Dan was stiff with drink, no charges follow. Frog promises all to Femme and she takes it. Scram. It takes Frog some years to figure out he has taken to the cleaners and dumped. He freed her from husband Dan and she freed him from all his dosh. Off she went.

Thereafter Frog dedicates himself to tracking her down for….revenge! He does and he does. The wages of sin are paid in full per the Code.

At one point Femme has four men on the string, and they not playing yo-yo. Whereas A pictures in 1945 were subject to much restraint both external and internal, B pictures like this one were allowed more license regarding sex. B pictures were often screened after the A picture to a dwindling audience.

Moreover, there is some eroticism with the guns in both the action and the dialogue. Why did I think of Charlton Heston stroking that rifle at the NRA convention? That scene is available on You Tube for those who wish to lose any respect they might yet have for Chest Heston.

Regrettably most of this film is told in flashback, and in this case that takes the air out of the drama. No doubt considerations of timing and cost dictated that approach. It means Frog delivers some of his best lines while dying on the floor.* The gossip mill says the Frog resisted the flashback approach to no avail. He always wanted linear stories and that is another reason to like him.

The director was Anthony Mann at the beginning of an illustrious career and he certainly shows his talents for pace, timing, mood, energy, angle, light and dark. Some of the double shots are startlingly even to this jaded viewer. He elevated a common story on a skimpy budget to something more for over an hour despite the draining flashback.

When trawling through You Tube offerings for Sy Fy I came across a thumbnail for this and recognised Erich von Stroheim. He is always must see, so I did. His transformation from Prussian autocrat to love sick puppy is forced by the run time but he carries it off.

Chapeux to Mary Beth Hughes who delivers lines with double and triple meanings with no apparent effort. She does not miss a beat as she turns from one man to another with a lie. How it is that she did not make the A list of stars is a mystery in itself. Fox Studios failed to renew her contract in 1943 and she found her way to Poverty Row with Republic Pictures. In time, she quit and worked as receptionist in a doctor’s office where she said she met a better class of people than in Hollywood. Perhaps she was a #metoo in her day.

DD also gives a fine performance, combining as only he could vulgarity and vulnerability in one line.

*Yes, I thought of William Holden face down in the pool, too. Why not when Billy Wilder’s older brother was credited as producer for this film as W. Lee Wilder. Of course Erich is there with William in that picture, too. It is perhaps thanks to Mann that this Lee Wilder production is miles better than most of the others he turned out, like 'The Snow Creature' (1954) reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

IMDb meta-data 1 hour and 32 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.9 from 4657 time wasters.

A cheap and cheerful exploitation of Star Wars from the heartland of such ersatz imitations, Cinecittà in Rome. This film is often cited at the spoor that released scores of Italian Sy Fy simulacra. It is also often proclaimed as the worst of the derivative spawn it spewed.

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First the setup, then the tear-down.

Lord Bad’s lines are ‘Kill. Kill. Kill them.’ He knows what he wants and how to communicate it. His aim is to displace Plummy and rule the Ford Galaxy. Lemmy Caution would then not be able to visit Alphaville.

The only things standing between Lord Bad and success are the bikinis of Stella Starr! The fraternity brothers cheered!

Bond Girl struts around as Stella in a fur bikini on the ice planet, a metallic one at a rock concert, a feathery one with the Amazons, and more, sometimes less. David Hasselhoff’s bouffant displaces Marjoe Gortner near the bikini. The fate of the Samsung Galaxy depends on Bond Girl, Bouffant, and a boy with a woman’s name. Only the scriptwriter could save them.

Gortner had been a child evangelist who turned and tried his hand at this. He needed no make up to look alien. In a pinch Gortner has laser eyes so he can do his own cataract surgery. Handy. Nothing is ever forgotten or done only once at Cinecittà and the same gag is used at the end of ‘Escape from Galaxy 3’ (1981), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

The effects are coloured paper and so are the characters. The dialogue is speech balloons from comic books. Recall Lord Bad’s dialogue as quoted above more or less in its entirety. There is neither science nor fiction though there is energy and zest. Altogether it looks like a failed animated Marvel Comics pilot, it lacks the pathos characteristic of Marvel heroes.

Looking disconsolate, Christopher Plummer, as Lord Good Guy, aka Plummy, after hiring Dr Who as a consultant, stops time. Indeed watching this treacle feels like time has stopped. Gossip is that Plummer signed for three days but finished in one to get it done and get out. He had to rush back to London to throttle his agent.

Then there is the Texas robot who keeps Bond Girl warm on an ice planet by holding her….hand. 

Lord Bad Guy sports a Princess Leia hairstyle when shouting his monosyllables.  With that hair bun it is hard to take him seriously. 

Bad Hair stella.png See.

Disclosure Statement. About half way through I left it running and took the dog out for a turn in the park for thirty minutes. Did I miss anything?

Be warned! It has been released under a variety of titles to lure audiences to the miasma.

IMDb meta-data 1 Hour and 32 minutes of Dali Time, rated 4.7 by 243 relatives of the producer.

In psychedelic 1969 Chicago the world has been taken over by The Monitors who are silent men in long black over coats, black turtle neck sweaters, and black bowler hats who speak slowly and politely. Only if necessary do they spray sleeping gas to quell a disturbance.

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With the advent of the Monitors peace and prosperity reign for one and all around the world. No more storm clouds over Lake Michigan. No more poverty, racism, corruption, war, disease, or reruns on television. In fact the only television broadcasting is testimonials to the benevolent rule of the Monitors.

In this Eden emerge NRA reactionaries who pine for the good old days when murder and mayhem were a constitutional right. They make SNL efforts to undermine the pacific order of the Monitors who in turn infiltrate secret agents into their ranks. These skits would have been rejected for SNL. Then lust or is it love rears up. This surge briefly aroused the fraternity brothers from their habitual lethargy, but not for long.

There is satire here but it is laid on like a load of bricks. Why would anyone revolt against perfection? So asked the Hall Monitor in Chief, and the hero has no answer. I wondered if the Chief Monitor was related to the Honcho Monitor in 'The Island Earth' (1955), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. He has the hair for it.

There are hip Sixties fashions piled high. There are a great many cameos by one and all from ChiTown from Xavier Cugat, Ed Begley, Sherry Jackson, Alan Arkin, to Everett Dirksen. But no Ernie Banks, Gale Sayers, Harold Washington, or Bob Boozer. Indeed this Chicago is all whitebread as are the Monitors.

Also absent are a story, plot, or purpose. The level varies from Sy Fy to slapstick and back. Then it tries for comedy with the finesse of the Three Stooges. Mugging does not comedy make.

Disjointed is the word for it.

The acting is mostly ham from Corporal Randolph Agarn, though the leads Vina and Dean's older brother try. They act like they are in a different movie, and they would certainly want to be. The sets are bare but the cinematography in, around, under, and above Chicago is delightful.

Though the Monitors are all knowing and all powerful they cannot push open a door and retreat when assailed with rotten fruit. Sure. We never learn anything about them. Where did they come from. How did they take over? What is their purpose? Where did they park the flying saucer? Where did they get those hats? What did they do with Fox News? Did it hurt?

IMDb meta-data 1 hour and 31 minutes rated 6.5 at from 2846 cinemitizens.

The majesty of the roof of the world in Tibet provides the background to this tale. Peter Cushing is the very British scientist scouting high altitude plants and Sergeant O'Rourke is the bluff American showman. They join forces to search for the Title Character is this Creature Feature with many a difference.

AB Snow card.jpg

The crass showman explains his desire to profit from the increasing curiosity of people about the world which can now be satisfied by radio, television, and movies. His interest is commercial but he sees a larger meaning in it. Like Benjamin Franklin, he wants to do well by doing good. Cushing’s interest is a personal obsession since he once saw the footprint of a gigantic Title Character. While he is a Sensitive Victorian Age Chap in manner with pipe, tea, and scarf, his interest is personal, not scientific.

Though muted, the collision course is set. Cushing wants to take pictures, open a dialogue, exchange email addresses, and become Facebook friends with the Title Character. Sarge wants to cage one and take it back for show and tell. Maybe run it as a Republican for the Senate from Wyoming. As tensions rise, the worst comes out in each of them.

Sarge gets more huckster and Cushing gets more sanctimonious. They compete vigorously in stereotyping.

Is the Abomie an offshoot of human evolution? Is Abomie an alien hiding out in the mountains, waiting for Zontar? Is Abomie the successor to humanity so that after we all kill each other and leave the Earth will Abomie and company come down out of the mountains to claim the world? Is Abomie id?

There are many nice touches. The telepathy of the Lama and the Abomie added to the spookiness, as did the dark interior of the lamasery. Then there is the whistling and whispering wind in the mountains.

Then one dark and windy night in the high peaks, they shoot and kill an NBA player, eleven feet tall with the shoe and ego size to prove it.

Yeti big.jpg Big.

But dead. Well a dead NB-Abomie might still be worth something, both of scientific and commercial value. Time to pack up and go home.

Ah huh.

Turns out Abomie has family and friends and they want … to give his body an Himalayan burial, cash-in his Opal card, take revenge on the murderer, keep their secret by killing the whole group, or watch 7Mate.

It is 1957 and everyone smokes, even on Mount Everest they stop for a fag.

Cushing and co.jpg Before the body count starts.

Between smokes the party of five is reduced, to four, to three…. The guide runs away. Two of the dead have no marks on them, yet they are dead. One of them commits suicide, more or less, and the other dies of fright after reading the script to the end. Two little Indians remain on the India side of the mountains.

To bait a trap Sarge had convinced one of the party to be a scapegoat. And arms him with a rifle loaded with blanks. Nice guy. His excuse was to avoid killing another creature. Not out of concern for the creature but to have a live example to exhibit. Nice guy. Now he has a dead scapegoat.

Yet later Sarge tries to expiate his guilt and finds himself trapped in an avalanche of his own making. As he turns to face it, perspiring, exhausted, gaunt, his fatalism is complete. But that pales next to Cushing’s final confrontation.

Yes, there is no Yeti.

In a display of spunk rare for a 1950s damsel, Cushing’s scientist wife whom he left back in the lamasery making tea and cataloguing the specimens, sets out to find him, fearing the worst. By force of will she drags along his assistant and she finds him. Atta girl! Whew!

There is intelligence and wit in the screenplay that rises above the stereotype of the Creature Feature genre and the subsequent reputation of Hammer Films. Let be said that the reputation is largely undeserved, but there it is.

The comparison has to be ‘The Snow Creature’ (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which stems from the same premise, scientist and showman in search of the Yeti in the Himalayas, and the two films differ thereafter in every respect. In ‘The Abominable Man’ the natives are accorded respect and even deference, as it is their country. While the showman is crass he can explain and justify his approach and he shows remorse later. The party consists of mixed characters and not disposable cardboard. And Abomie is granted a spirituality denied to the lab specimen in the telephone booth.

The ice and snow came from a second unit working in the Pyrenees, and it is marvellous. No CGI there but guys slogging through snow.

Nigel Kneale wrote the story and then the screenplay, and it is directed by Val Guest who mastered mystery, pace, locale, tension, drama, who dared leave much to the imagination of the viewer. This started as a story called ‘The Creature’ for the BBC two years earlier. This combination of Kneale and Guest produced quality time and again.

Sergeant O’Rourke did several B picture in England like ‘The Strange World of Planet X’ (1958), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

I found it on Daily Motion and the print I watch was jerky but easy enough to watch and hear.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes of Dali time 3.7 from 538 cinemitizens

Having just inherited the vast Stanton fortune, Scott Brady descends on the Stanton Institute for Time Research to get his watch repaired. Brandishing KPIs he demands results!  The lab coats there cannot even change the battery in his Rolex! Useless! If they cannot do better he will divert the funding to Weapons of Crap Destruction and start with Hollywood!  

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Whoa! Under that gun the Senior Scientist skips pages in the Time Traveller's Manual and throws all the switches. 'More power,' Igor, the ever present assistant, cries and more power he gets from somewhere.  
They get comfy and tune in the same television I had in grad school with endless horizontal rolling and showing nothing but very old, very tired reruns on the only channel it can receive. They watch about 30 minutes of the film excerpts from public domain stock footage of rubber dinosaurs, fake cowboys, playful cavemen, decent Republicans, forbearing Christians, and other forgotten pre-Fox News relics glimpsed briefly when the horizontal roll pauses. ‘Comfy,’ well there is only one chair. Guess who occupies it? Yes, Scott Bully.

Time Lab YV.jpg The time lab where they watch television. Note the sunken floor.

The other notable accoutrement of the lab is an elevator that descends two steps to the sunken floor of the lab. Brady makes ostentatious use of it when he comes to crack the eggheads. Later, as below, when he is running for his life, he skips the elevator and uses the steps. Makes sense, but why is it there in the first place. We’ll never know.

Well Brady is impressed that the time travel lab seems to travel in time, but where is the dollar in the past?  Let’s try the future. Hmmmm, but it is his dime so Senior and Igor with the requisite female on screaming duty comply.  They go looking for Yvette Mimieux and the Eloi in the future. The fraternity brothers cheered.

Whooska, and they flit through time to…. some time. There they find a spaceship and Blue Poles, yes, Slavs standing on plinths. See, it’s like this. Bully Brady, Senior Scientist, Igor, and Screamer are standing in their sparsely furnished time lab blaming each other for forgetting to order Indian takeaway before launching into the future, when the men in blue… No, wait, that is the blue men kick in the door and take them away at finger point. Thereafter the blue men, showing their superiority, climb on top of the plinths to lecture them. Well, it makes as much sense as some of the training seminars I have had.

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Then in another empty room they encounter the rest of the Blue Poles who recite gibberish from the script about being in the middle of a war.

Here was Bully Brady’s chance at some technology transfer for his weapons industry. But does he take it? No, he is too busying plastering his remaining hair to his forehead to make a deal, grab a phaser, steal a super secret blue print pinned to the notice board, slip a plinth in his pocket, or anything.

Seeing how useless these travellers are, the Blue Poles send them back to the Time Shed amid a hail of sound effects. Once there levers are levered and switches switched, though what the power source would be out there is unknown to them and to us. They go whirring back to 1967 hairstyles.

But wait, Bully Brady annihilates himself. That was a nice touch, but completely incomprehensible. In short, he played chicken with himself and lost. That was one ka-boom we all cheered.

This film is proof that things can always get worse.  After a run B films rated below 5.0 comes this entry. The director, writer, producer David Hewitt came to this movie after his remarkable ‘Monsters Crash the Pajama Party’ (1965) in his own search for the bottom of the barrel. This latter film has proven illusive on the inter-web but the fraternity brothers continue the search during their conscious hours.

Hewitt’s efforts are ably assisted by Scott Brady who exudes bad will with a thuggish air few could equal. He is perfectly loathsome but waiting a long time to see him get his comeuppance was boring. The direction seems to have consisted mostly of Brady turning his head to the left, and then… to the right. Wow! That’s entertainment, not. Was he rolling his brain into the socket, watching a tennis match, feeling water in the inner ear, or doing as he was directed? Decide now! 

For most of the cast this is the single entry on their IMDb vitae.  The fraternity brothers had no trouble predicting that.

The production values are well below Dr Who. Indeed a Dalek or two would have livened up the otherwise dead script. Moreover, the 1967 Tardis was a luxury craft compared to this Time Shed.

IMDb metadata: run time per episode in 26 minutes, rated 8.1 by a paltry 122 cinemitizens.

A one-year television series in thirty-eight episodes from the United States depicting space flight pioneering with respectful attention paid to the science and technology. Willy Ley would have approved. Maybe he did. It stars everyman William Lundigan.

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And he alone is the constant through the episodes. No other player is listed for more than eight outings. That may partly explain its failure, not enough characters to develop audience identifications, together with the lack of dramatics from calm, cool, collected, and sometimes nearly catatonic Bill. The tone is realistic and the presentation emphasises the difficulties. Space flight is hard enough without zombies, meteors, or John Carradine.

The drama emerges from the divergences among the crew, and occasionally from mechanical elements. Some of the crew are determined to complete the mission even at high risk, and others are more cautious. Everything is being done for the first time, and some of the equipment fails. Think Apollo 13. Think low-bid contractors.

The series was made with what appears to be the unstinting cooperation of the USAF, as noted in the terminal screen acknowledgements. These Saturn rockets are military without a doubt.

In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower created NASA to explore space. There must be quite a story there of Ike wresting some of the missiles from the generals. But who mistrusts generals more than a one-time general, and who better to convince Congress likewise than that same general.

No doubt this creation was part of a policy to encourage the Soviets not to use space for military purposes. But of course there must have been some serious cooperation between NASA and USAF that continues today. Those rockets grow on money trees in the defence budget green house. No doubt there have been occasions when the USAF made a bid to take over from NASA, too. These bureaucratic fights would be fascinating studies in themselves.

This series might have appealed to the Air Force as publicity for its sole-agent claims to space. Though the references to an enemy ‘them’ are few. Indeed in one episode the safe return of Bill himself is only possible with the cooperation of a Russian tracking station. No doubt when the script writers get bored they will throw in some sabotage, and that friend of the jaded writer, the meteor, but not in the early going.

Even so it is notable that each of three episodes seen so far end in failure. The Moon orbit is aborted and the whole crew returns safely. The Moon landing is compromised and one crewman dies on the Moon, and the rest have to leave before completing the mission. Ditto the third, another injury truncates the it. The program, a cynic might say, was creating a climate of low expectations for space exploration.

Man down 2.jpg Man down!

The key is so low that the first steps on the Moon are nothing much. The door opens, down the ladder they go and start standing around waiting for the director to cue them. No dramatic pause before the step onto the surface. No finely calibrated remark. No excitement.

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No speeches and no flag. Neil Armstrong got no tips from this scene for his step into eternity.

While there is a revolving door of characters the sets are of great verisimilitude for the day, thanks no doubt to the Air Force. The acting is fine, the more so considering how quickly each episode was made. Maybe not in one-take, but close to it. The worried wives, look very worried. The anxious generals on the ground look anxious. The stressed flyboys look stressed. By the way, the ubiquitous Australian Michael Pate appears in one episode.

The one mistake is in the portrayal of the representatives of the media of the day as sober, sensible, and civil, but then maybe they were back in those days. Certainly today no self-disrespecting ABC journalist would fail to badger the worried wives with questions about death, children about absent fathers, generals about incompetence, and so on. Why let the dust settle when stirring it up goes on the resumé.

Like the acting and realism, the special effects with models and travelling matte are far superior to many a B-movie reviewed on this blog. Free-fall in the cabin is fun to watch. In space there is no flame from the rockets. The EVA astronauts are floating in the ether.

The Mind Palace has no entry for this program from the time. It was programmed against ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’ and ‘The Price is Right,’ so I guess our boob tube was on the Nelsons in 1959-1960.

IMDb metadata is this: 1 hour and 32 minutes of treacle, rated 3.2 by 277 cinemitizens who confessed to seeing it.

First there was ‘Starcrash.’ and then when it seemed Italian Sy Fy films could not get worse, the same production crew that made it came out with ‘Escape from Galaxy 3,’ from which there is no escape. The production liberally plagiarised the special effects, vista shots, and costumes from the earlier film, and this story, such as it is, starts where ‘Starcrash’ (mercifully) ended.

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What is the set up? Princess Lolo and King Dad are in for trouble when Liberace shows up dressed for the Newtown Mardi Gras right down to sparkle in his beard.

Liberace.jpg Looks like he fell off a float.

He has cosmic mega candelabras and blasts them. He did not come in peace. He came in sparkle. Since he is styled ‘King of the Night,’ the fraternity brothers wondered if he was searching for the Queen of Night from Mozart with her very, very high Cs. Should be able to hear her anywhere in the galaxy when she hits it.

Yes, this is yet another Italian Star Wars exploitation. It goes to the bottom of a long list.

Lolo with Seia, her bodyguard, flee. Liberace pursues. They flee some more. Liberace pursues some more. When he gets close they fire their puny candlesticks and he replies with his cosmic mega candelabras that destroy whole planets that get in the line of fire. This takes forty-five minutes or five on Very Fast Forward, best friend of the obsessive film reviewer.

Desperate for an espresso, Lolo and Seia land on Earth, 20,000 years ago to tank up. Yep. the fraternity brothers recognised the Italian peninsula for what it is, a phallic symbol. So do the travellers. Once there they learn from the birds and bees. This couple of losers did not know what those bits were for back home. Now Seia takes his duties as Lolo’s body guard to new…. No wonder Liberace thought it was time to exterminate them. There follows about forty-five or five minutes of frolicking. Old Liberace has been forgotten. Oh, sure.

Until he arrives with his mega cosmic candelabra and starts blasting Earth, then the script remembers him. The natives blame Lolo and Seia for making God mad at them, and so they should. A soccer riot follows and Liberace grabs Lolo and Seia, though why he wanted these two stick figures is not clear. They face off, and — whoa! — Seia burns Liberace to a crispy critter with his laser eyes. ‘Laser eyes?’ Yep. Saved those for the end.

Lolo and Seia decide to stay on Earth and start Italy.

The end.

In a word: terrible.

The Italian title makes it sound far better than it is, namely, ‘Giochi erotici nella terza galassia,' which according to Siri translates as ‘Erotic games from the third galaxy.’ There is no science and the fiction is incoherent, bland, and predictable (except for those laser eyes, which he must have borrowed from Superman and augmented them somehow).

It was also released in English-speaking markets as ‘Starcrash II’ to warn off movie goers. It worked. Other Italian imitations of ‘Star Wars’ include the aforementioned and difficult to forget ‘Star Crash’ (1978), ’Star Odyssey’ (1979), ’War of the Planets’ (1977),' ‘The Humanoid’ (1979), and others I have successfully forgotten.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour a 25 minutes, rated 7.0 by 2773 cinemitizens.

When Quatermass’s moon project is starved of funds, he goes to Whitehall to bludgeon bureaucrats into stumping up the dosh. This method has always worked before so off he goes. Meanwhile, his crew watch the gentle ascent of a flock of meteors.

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Strangely in London no one this time is moved by Quatermass’s bluster and bullying. Quatermass draws the only conclusion possible, eh Erich. Yep, the aliens are at it. That, by the way, would explain a lot about Whitehall decision-making over the years.

After shouting at his subordinates for a while, Prof Q pays attention to the meteors, and now having nothing better to do, he scouts the location where they fell. Well, no, he cannot do that because it is fenced off in the manner of a German death camp. Moreover, the perimeter is patrolled by some very silent, icy, and heavily armed guards in get-up that is un-English.

Q plaform view.jpg A conveniently located viewing platform offers perspective to the Prof.

These guards spirit away the hapless assistant who drove Quatermass to the locale, and as Quatermass goes all Alpha Male on them, one steps forward and hits him with the butt of a gun. Down went Prof Q to the cheers of the fraternity brothers. ‘About time someone told him where to get off for assigning all that homework over Easter,’ they cried! Aside: all profs look alike to the fraternity brothers.

The meteors are eggs that hatch out a gas that infects humans, turning them into slaves. The word ‘zombies' is used once, but oddly not the word 'Republicans.' The slaves built in a day or two the great complex Quatermass espied before his lights went out. When he recovers he rushes about, partly to find his assistant who has the keys to the WC, and to divert funding from this mystery project back to his own KPIs.

More doors are slammed in his face. Ah ha! It is a vast conspiracy. Yep the ‘Invaders’ (1967) have been at it a decade before Roy Thinnes came along, and most positions of authority are occupied by Republicans aka aliens! Look at those little fingers! Proof positive!

There is a fabulous scene where a delegation is being shown around the facility and a parliamentarian wonders off and is slimmed! Slimmed! There are many striking touches like this in the film. But consider what does it take to slime a politico.

Sid James appears as a sotten journalist who telephones in the story from the local pub, only to be mowed down by the aforementioned security guards. Witnessing this murder, shakes up the locals and to calm down they watch ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) and get an idea. They gather with torches, pitchforks, straw hats, darts, and other accoutrements of rural life to march on the mystery site.

Mayhem ensues around a Shell Oil refinery. Quatermass just happens to arrive to boss everyone around. Meanwhile, his deputy, Bryan Forbes, launches the rocket and somehow this disconcerts the alien protoplasm. Forbes went behind the camera to direct later in his career.

Protoplasm march.gif The protoplasm which looks like that of the earlier 'Quatermass Experiment.' He needs an autoclave in his laboratory to clean up and prevent such growths.

At no time does Q try to negotiate with the amoebas. A big BOOM follows. Catastrophe averted, yes, but Quartermass strides off to prepare for the next one.

The Quatermass Franchise grew from Nigel Kneale’s typewriter first as serials on the BBC and then films. He was a very fine writer, some of whose other works are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. This script was filmed as a television series but it did not survive the BBC policy of taping over past productions. The director was Val Guest, who once again offers a masterclass in pace.

This outing presages much to follow in its paranoia, the mark of Cain on the humans who have succumbed to the aliens, the James Bond shoot out in the refinery, but also draws on the established tropes with those meteors. The obvious compareson is ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) which stole much of this film's thunder in the North American market.

Scuttlebutt on the interweb street says Kneale and Guest argued about the character of Prof Q. Kneale wanted an avuncular English eccentric, but Guest wanted energy and tension in the part, and the producer wanted to sell the finished movie to the American market, so he wanted an American in the lead. Some of the more inane remarks, and that is a competitive field, on the IMDb blame Brian Donlevy, who played Quatermass, for the characterization, but it is obvious to anyone but a retard that the director did it. I guess the blunt, belligerent, brash, bossy, bullying, boorish, and bellicose Professor Quatermass was their idea of an American after having studied Dwight Eisenhower.

The IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 10 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.5 by 1099 cinemitizens.

In the middle of El Muerte desert in Old Mexico Uncle Fester is conducting experiments to recreate Gale Sondergaard! ‘No chance,’ said the fraternity brothers, ‘she was one-off.’ Fester is splicing genes from an unlimited supply of spiders and an unlimited supply of Hollywood wanna-be starlets. The result was Tandra Quinn aka Tarantella! There were many others such women with Fester but only she had a name in the cast list. The others are termed, with admirable imagination, ‘Lost Woman.’ About ten of them. They were not even distinguished by a number like Lost Woman 1. The fraternity brothers hoped to find them when the lights came on.

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Two bumps upset Fester’s apple cart laboratory. First he awarded a nationally competitive research grant to a scientist to join his lab. Fine. When this aged Post Doc shows up, turns out, he doesn’t like this kind of gene splicing. What a sissy! He even recoils from the fifty-pound spider Fester keeps as a pet, an early experiment that did not work out quite right.

Second, an airplane crash lands on the mesa and brings onto the Rock of Otranto a mixed group of passengers and crew. They blunder around. Smoke cigarettes. Blame each other for the crash. Decry Republicans. And notice, slowly, that their number is being diminished.

Fester has sent his little men after the intruders. ‘Little men?’ Yes, a by product of splicing the spider women is the production of shrunken dwarfs as their paramours and ….. [Here the veil is drawn.]

The film was a boon for Hollywood’s dwarf population some of whom got a day’s work out of it. Likewise for the wanna-be starlets. Neither dwarf nor starlet had any lines. These human spiders, as Fester likes to call them, communicate by telepathy. Ergo, the actor’s minimum wage did not have to be paid.

This set-up has at least as much potential as ‘The Wild Women of Wongo,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog, but the execution undermines any prospects it might have had. Though admittedly it is better than that film but then so is a blank screen.

It is told as a flashback within a flashback and the characters are undifferentiated so that the audience — me — was never quite sure who was whom, apart from Fester. The oil man who finds the couple wandering in the El Muete desert and the airplane pilot were identical twins on camera, but in the credits different guys. Oh.

Though the second scientist escapes from Fester’s Mesa later he just happens to the on the airplane that crashes on to the mesa. How easy is the scriptwriter's life with such coincidences.

Equally coincidental Fester's oriental servant is one of one of the passengers on that plane, though he is not a dwarf. How he got from the laboratory in one scene to sitting on the airplane in the next is down to the magic of the scriptwriter's typewriter.

Within minutes of leaving the wrecked plane the just married bride among the passengers leaves her husband and goes into the bushes with the pilot for a anatomy lesson. She wants him to understand her. He does.

That second scientist, when he fled put miles between himself and the mesa, yet by coincidence he found Tarantella in the bar he walked into for a drink. After he shot her dead, she got up and left. Spider women never die! He then boarded the airplane to....the Mesa of Lost Time.

Yet later they all die in a fire started by our hero, whoever that was.

Throughout the mish-mash are interspersed for no discernible reason close-ups of Fester, perhaps he is using You Telepathy Tube, but who knows. There are also a number of equally pointless close up of the wanna-be’s larded into the proceedings. The fraternity brothers will explain those transactions to anyone who writes in and asks nicely. The dwarfs don’t get many close-ups.

There is an intrusive musical score that sets teeth on edge. It consists of three chords on a guitar repeated without purpose or end, punctuated now and then by a vase falling on a piano keyboard. Half-way through the fraternity brothers formed a lynch mob and set out to find the composer.

The direction is haphazard, if existent. The production values came fo Filene's Basement. Fester is too low key to laugh at. Most of the cast are described on the IMDb with this phrase, ‘little remembered.’ Yep. For most of them this film was the apex of their career.

This movie is another example, among many, of the overlap of the genres science fiction and horror. There is ostensibly science in Fester's lab explained with dialogue, but the results are horrible. Well not so horrible as to require expensive make up and costly special effects. Though, admittedly, the finger nails take seeing.

Internet Movie Data base metadata: 1 hour and 15 minutes in Dali time, rated 2.8 from 819 cinemitizens.

The International Space Organisation represented by silent film star Francis X. Bushman (born in 1883) proclaims ‘the greatest day in human history' with the launch of the ISO ship and crew for the Moon! ‘All nations have contributed’ to this ‘Earth shattering event,’ he says. FXB has other Sy Fy from this era on his CV.

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The twelve are diverse, including two women, who are not demeaned or deprecated, as is so common Sy Fy of this era and ilk. They go about their business without sneering by any of the men, or — what is always worse — efforts at comic relief at their expense.

The security is tight. Each crew member has to say his or her name! Wow! That would stop the fraternity brothers most days of the week, without a peek at the driver’s license.

We have a Frenchie, a Germanian, a Brit, a Jap, a Swede, a something else, a Nigerian, an other, and a Pole resident in Israel, and a Russkie. This Russkie is played by someone born in Russia, namely the Saint cum Falcon, showing the wear and tear of the bottle. The leader of the pack is Yankee Doodle.

Smooth sailing does not last long. Members of this handpicked crew soon fall to bickering among themselves, per the script, and then they have to duck meteors, the scriptwriter's friends. Whew! Still they make it to the Moon, where their number quickly diminishes. I seem to recall one of them falls down a hole. Gone. Two others wander off. Gone. Another gets clonked by a blunt meteor. The crew is getting less international by the minute.

Then from the ship’s computer comes a string of meaningless characters, which Yankee Doodle immediately recognises as Moonshine. Ooops, just kidding. He says they look Oriental and since one Oriental looks like another he orders the Jap to translate. Being a smart fortune cookie she quickly learns this Moonie lingo and translates. The message is: ‘Scram! But leave the cats.’

Cats? Yes, they brought two cats for scientific reasons which are too delicate to reveal on a family blog. (They also brought a cocker-spaniel to sniff their luggage.) Evidently the ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1953) wanted company. (This gem is reviewed elsewhere on this blog.)

We never see or hear the Moonies, hiding as they are deep underground to save on the production budget. As if! Maybe this is a trick to ruin the mission by one of the crew, shouts the hysterical genius. He is slapped down with his own slide-rule. But it turns out, in a twist, that the Frenchie is trying to scuttle the mission because he is one of ‘them,’ though the Russkie is not. Those who figure this out get a giant No-Prize. The geriatric Russkie is no match for the geriatric Frenchie, and Yankee Doodle has to whack him.

They lam off the Moon only to find the Earth a snowball. Yes, the Moonies want to watch ‘Ice Age’ (2002), not reviewed anywhere on this blog. What will Twelve Minus do? Of courses, blow it up! Huh?

They resolve to build an atomic bomb, fly over a handy volcano, drop the bomb down the spout, and the explosion will restart the carburettor, or something. This is a risky mission so the two who are to do it are bitter enemies, who have a reconciliation just before they ride the bomb down, like Slim Pickens. (You either get it, or you don’t.) Two more gone to dust.

That fixes that. Twelve went away and seven came back. I lost count, as did the director.

The end.

This a work of fiction without the science. The absence of anything remotely resembling scientific knowledge is complete. The ship exhaust flames in the void of space. The cats breathe on the airless Moon’s surface. The gravity is one-sixth so that of Earth, some characters trudge along as though under the sea. When the explosion in the volcano occurs we get shots of solar flares. Though they are always putting on and taking off crash helmets, there is no glass in the front of the faces because it is unnecessary thanks to hocus pocus. The list goes on. Since the film presents itself as a near documentary account such errors are laughable.

But even more amusing than these mistakes is the apologies for them in some of the User Reviews on the IMDb. Usually I skip these comments because so many of them are egotistical drivel, but since few of the critics linked to the IMDb, and none of the ones I have learned to respect, comment on this sludge I scanned the User Reviews. It was a refresher course in why I do not do this. Several scored it as 10 because of the gripping story. Oh hum. A couple of others praised its scientific acumen. No doubt a climate change denier. ‘Stop!’ I cried, and I did — stop.

Then there is the stage craft. In space we see the black pole on which the spaceship is stuck as it passes in front of the star matte. In the first shot of the Moonscape there is someone walking in front the light casting a shadow on the distant cliff face. Boom mikes occasionally intrude at the top of the screen. The actors sometimes speak so slowly it is clear they are repeating lines just recited to them.

It is also a creature feature that spares the expense of having a creature. We never see the Moonies, though the fraternity brothers suspected the Cat-Women were the culprits.

All in all though it is a crowded field, it is a contender for the worst of Sy Fy.

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 5 minutes, but it seemed longer, rated 3.2 by 1241 cinemitizens.

The set-up is complicated for such a short pot-boiler, but here it is. During the Great War a French Army is being overrun by Huns, when….a regiment of Colonial Troops from Cambodia appears and proves impervious to German steel and lead. France is saved! A dead soldier cannot be again killed, and these are zombies, the animated dead.

Zombies title.jpg

They were raised from the dead for just such an emergency by a Cambodian priest who parades around the winter trenches in a loincloth.

In a show of gratitude the priest is murdered because such zombies could mean ‘the extinction of the white race,’ cries one general to another.

While Woodrow Wilson was re-drawing maps at Versailles, these generals convene an international meeting for the purpose of eradicating the zombie threat to 'the white race.' Managers are keen to do this since it is a waste of ammunition trying to kill the dead. The plan is for an International Expedition disguised as archeologists to find the heart of Zombiedom at Ankgor Wat and kaboom it. A few back projections from a real expeditions suffices to set the scene.

Indiana Jones was too young to get a visa so instead they have assembled Dean Jagger with hair, Frail, and Beau among others. The latter two are as one whenever possible and a few times when it seemed impossible, according to the expert opinion of the fraternity brothers. Yet Dean professes his love for Frail, who is kind to him, always a bad sign, kindness like that. He does not take it well.

By now Dean, since he cannot be one with Frail, has been swotting the books and has discovered the secret incantation that saps everyone of their will — McKinsey Speak! The mumbo-jumbo of Key Performance Indicators, 360 degree reviews, deliverables, and the living dead are conjured, as can be seen in any meeting room nearby.

There in front of the back projection Dean has his way! The fraternity brothers took copious notes.

But Frail still does not love him! There is no money back guarantee with McKinsey-Speak so Dean falls for the oldest trick in Eve’s book. He renounces his mystic powers so that Frail will love him for what he is: A dope.

Even as the pompous Dean does on about what a noble thing he is doing, relinquishing his supernatural powers, all for Frail, those Cambodian zombies in the back projection revolt against his will-sapping tyranny. End of Dean, hair and all.

The end.

Good thing Woodrow was busy with the crayons, because if he had got wind of any of this plan, he would have banged on about applying the Fourteen Points to zombies. (Woody never knew when to quit.)

However, the scriptwriter would have done well to borrow a map from Woody since this scenario starts in a battle along 'the Franco-Austrian frontier.’ Huh! No such place. The Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Great War was a vast conglomeration in central and southern Europe a long way from France.

The border between science fiction and horror is permeable and one genre informs and influences the other. Thus it happens that horror movies like the one at hand turn up in searches for Sy Fy. Seeing it on a list one night, I chose it because the length suited the nocturnal schedule. I watched a very poor print on You Tube, though subsequent investigations found a better one at the Internet Archive.

The commentariat has a lot to say about this film, despite its well-deserved obscurity. It attracts attention because by some measures it is the second zombie film to come from the Dream Factory. The first was ‘White Zombie’ (1932), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which was a commercial and critical success. No wonder: it starred Bela Lugosi. ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ came from the same production crew in the effort to recapture the magic and the money, and recycles some scenes from the earlier film, but lacks the verve, plot, and -- most of all -- Lugosi. These two films gestated a plethora of subsequent zombie movies and in time the concept of the zombie evolved to meet the needs of scriptwriters.

‘The concept of the zombie’ is something, along with much else, to which the fraternity brothers have heretofore given no thought. That time is over.

A zombie is a corpse raised from the dead and animated but without human qualities, like greed, emotion, hate, stupidity, and the other loveable features of our kind. They are directed by the mind of another, like robots. Indeed the word ‘robots’ is used in ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ about the Cambodian zombies in the trenches. That is per the ‘Oxford English Dictionary,’ which finds the word 'zombie' used in English in 1819 by a traveller returned from Brazil who observed Voodoo rituals.

Wikipedia assures the gentle reader that zombies play no part in 'the formal practice of Voodoo.' ‘The formal practice of Voodoo,’ that wording set the fraternity brothers to wondering about the informal practices. Or is Voodoo just about dolls and pins? (Is this the place to confess my own flirtation with a doll and pins?)

It is absolutely obvious that the Cambodians whom Dean enthrals are alive, and have not yet ever been dead, ergo proclaims the commentariat they are NOT zombies. Tricky. They have no wills and are mentally enslaved, but they have yet to be dead so how can they be undead. This circle goes around and around.

Zombies living dead.jpg 'The living dead march again' screams this lobby card yet the movie belies it. Moral? Never trust a lobby card.

In the spate of zombie films that followed, especially in the 1940s when horror films diverted audiences from the real horror of the Great War II, the zombie mutated to become a flesh eater. Nor was it any longer necessary to die first before dining on the flesh of others. Zombieism became virus passed by touch or bite, taking a tip from Dracula, a nip. In the Cold War, the soulless Zombie got red.

For further details see….‘I Walked with a Zombie’ (1943), ‘Revenge of the Zombies' (1943), ‘Zombies on Broadway’ (1945), ‘Valley of the Zombies’ (1946), ‘King of the Zombies’ (1953), ‘Voodoo Island’ (1957), ‘Zombies of Mora Tau' (1957), ‘The Dead Live’ (1961), ‘Voodoo Swamp’ (1961), 'The Plague of the Zombies' (1966), ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978), ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), and more. Oh, and the personal favourite of the fraternity brothers, ‘Cockneys versus Zombies’ (2002). No doubt there a PhD dissertation or two charing the mutation of the concept of the zombie and its influence on.....

IMDb runtime 1 hour and 36 minutes, rated 6.8 by 1184 masochists.

It opens ever so slowly with a moon landing, then cuts to one space-suited astronaut dragging another across the surface of the moon, only to abandon the dragged body and ascend in the LEM. Meanwhile, bug-eyed as always, Klaus Kinski is shouting into a microphone at what looks like mission control. Who would put Klaus in charge of anything! Keep that man away from the matches!

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Then we turn to Alice, a translator in Rome, who goes off the rails. She misses days at work without herself noticing it. She finds things in her apartment of which she has no memory. She has lost an earring somewhere, somehow. All of these things she mentions to her friends who tell her to get some rest.

Because she found a postcard from Garma without a message on it in her apartment, she heads there, a remote and obscure location we are given to understand. When she arrives it is all but deserted in this resort for it is out of season. There she meets Beau, annoying Brat, and Lila. It seems she has been here before but everyone there knows her as Nicole. She also finds the missing earring. Thus the audience is sure she has been there before, even if she still is not.

Alice remains positive she has never set foot in the place, yet when Nicole’s clothes are presented to her they are a perfect fit. And so.

Brat tells her Nicole was on the run. Beau hangs around. Alice has recurrent images from that moonwalk and abandonment. She buys a second pair of large, and — no surprise — lethal scissors. The only reason she buys them is to have them handy later, it would seem.

It is a nice set up and then it is repeated for the next hour or so. Oh hum. It put the fraternity brothers in mind of ‘L’année denier à Marienbad’ (1961) though less glamorous. The repetition is eased by some very dreamy photography of Garma, about which more later, and an elegiac musical score.

Florinda Bolkan as Alice or Nicole carries the weight well enough but she has little to do but look perplexed. But she does not materialise from the screen like Delphine Seyrig.

It was released in one of its edited versions on DVD as 'Primal Impulse' in an effort to attract an audience by arousing expectations irrelevant to the film. Another triumph from a marketing department.

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Completely misleading though the title is.

Spoiler.

After investing an hour and a half of watching and trying to fathom Alice’s predicament the end is a royal cop-out. After so much brain taxing the fraternity brothers were exhausted and then upset to arrive no where. Do not bother to look for meaning because there is none. The closing title card says Alice is a psycho to be confined to an asylum in Switzerland. End.

Guess where she left the scissors. No not in the Brat. But Beau is no more.

The visuals are striking, including the last scene on the pebble beach, but pointless.

Remote and obscure Garma was Kemer on the south coast of Turkey, hence the mosques and Arabic script on buildings. The sequences in Rome were filmed in the EUR district which is as unRoman as possible with glass, pre-fabricated cement and steel office blocks, and a grid of streets rather like La Défense in Paris. Everywhere the Romans went they laid out orderly cities with wide streets in rectilinear alignments. But not in the rabbit-warren that Roman itself remains.

The film has not been well served by time and tide. It failed to get many theatrical releases. Its production is unclear. One source says it was filmed in English and then dubbed into Italian. Then in an effort to get a theatrical release in the Anglo markets the Italian version was dubbed into English. Likewise, it was re-edited. None of these efforts bore fruit. It more or less disappeared for a generation.

Then some enthusiasts came upon it and have since gathered different versions and spliced them together, and one such example is what I watched on You Tube. It is indeed confused. The English dubbing is occasionally dropped and we have a scene in Italian, at other times there are Greek subtitles with English dubbing, and on still other occasions French dubbing with English subtitles. Variation also applies to the title cards, some in Italian and some in English. I compared two of the several versions available on You Tube and confirmed the observation that scenes have been edited out of some versions.

The critics linked to the IMDb site agree that these changes do not alter the substance, which is ethereal, insubstantial, and vapid.

‘Giallo’ is the Italian word for mystery stories like this, but knowing that did not help.

It came up in You Tube searches for Sy Fy because the references to the Moon, and at the outset it looked like a Moon mission was the key.

In the end it seems these early and recurrent images of the Moon mission came from a movie young Alice saw as a child, which frightened her, because one living astronaut was abandoned on the Moon, so that she ran from the cinema without seeing the end. Ergo, neither do we see the end. We never do find out what Kinski was up to but then he never knew either.

It was intriguing to watch with the eye and ear candy, and a change from elderly male actors slugging it out with CGIs. which is too much Sy Fy these days.

IMDb: 1 hour and 32 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.7 by 280 relatives of the actors.

A photographer and a model are in the English countryside doing a fashion shoot. Much snapping in a sunny lea occurs, then for a change of mood they enter a darkling glade, and after a few minutes there is off-camera heavy breathing. No, wait that was the fraternity brothers on the sofa.

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Well, yes there is heavy breathing on the soundtrack, and we get a distant fisheye view, the first of many, of the twosome. They then feel creepy and scoot.

Back in his home dark room, the photographer develops the pictures and sees….! (Well, maybe it was David Hemmings from ‘Blow-up’ [1966] because it starts the same way). I was never quite sure what we were supposed to see in the photographs since they were out of focus as was most of the film, but latter it is declared that there were ETs on the snap. Ok, those with the script should know.

The snapper has a haircut like an unclipped Puli or maybe two Beatles’ wigs one atop the other. With that hair he cannot be too bright, and to prove the point in the dead of night he returns to the glade. Guess what happens to him!

Yep, the ETs get him, though not without a fight in which a local farmer and his dog are casualties. Thereafter the body count increases. Puli is on board the saucer and the twig-thin and short ETs in grey, polyester, and knit onesies with opaque blue visors set about him. These rompers are stompers!

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Boy, can he bug his eye out! Boy he had reason to do so! See the size of that probe! Yikes!

Efforts to find a picture of the ET onesies failed. The conspiracy of silence applies even to that!

Puli had left a message for Eye Candy of his idiotic plan for a nocturnal visit to the glade and she turns, as one does, to the nearest blood sucker from the media, who sets about making matters worse.

Thereafter it is a race to see who can destroy the evidence of the ETs first, the ETs themselves with their fisheye views and heavy breathing, or the conflicting forces of order: police, detectives, military, secret service, and the men in black. Yes there three men in black and without the moral compass of a pug they go crazy. The forces of order want to suppress the ET news to avert panic and have been doing so for two generations. Well done, chaps. They spend a lot of time arguing among themselves about KPIs.

The ETs may have their own agenda but there is no communication with them. We are left to fear the worst, McKinsey managers! They just breathe and gander while themselves knocking off bystanders. The body count rises as both sides seek the pictures and then the negatives.

Spoiler alert!

It does have a twist in the tail. When Blood Sucker has the facts, the men in black, not wanting to be outdone on the KPI of bodycount, kill him and his two or three, I lost count, abettors along with Eye Candy in a hail of sound effects!

The end.

Moral? Do not cross men in black without a pug.

The closing title assures us that this story is based on fact. How so since most of the principals are dead is anyone’s guess? Did the the men in black kill-and-tell?

It is an Italian production set in England with German and American actors as well as Italians. While the number plates are English and there is Land Rover much in evidence neither this vehicle nor any of the others are left-hand drive. The American is dubbed with a Scots accent, sometimes. The German speaks German and is dubbed with a mumble.

Italians have been trying to pretend they do not have an ET problem by projecting such tales on to England, but Silvio has been a dead give-away.

From the IMDb: 1 hour and 12 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.1 by 912 cinemitizens.

Verdict: woeful.

In sum and in short, on the tropical island of Wongo, a tribe consisting of ugly men and of beautiful women discover that the nearby island of Goona is inhabited by a tribe of ugly women and handsome men. This discovery is made when one of Goonaese men paddles a canoe over the tepid Gulf of Mexico to warn the Wongoese that the bad Roman ape men without a GPS could not find Sabine, and will now raid Wongo in order to capture mates.

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They combine….forces to fend off the even uglier ape men, well, there were two men in ape suits. The combining leads to attentions and tensions between and among the Wongoese and Goonaese. The result is like with like. That is a guess because the action is, ....wait, what action? The movement is, whoa, what movement? What dialogue? What direction? Yes, what direction? The pace is not leaden only because there is no pace at all. It seems to be the only credit of the IMDb for each member of the cast and crew in the Florida production. It seems they learned from this experience.

The 2.1 from 10 is a result of masochists rating it 4.0+ on the it-is-so-bad-it-is-good criterion. Still it a rare film that starts with a voice over from Mother Nature reminiscing about Father Time, and mentioning Aristotle. Florida is nice to look at as long as one does not feel the humidity, the dew-point, and the insects, particularly, the aptly named ‘no-see’ums.’

The ugliness is achieved by paste-on eyebrows, wax in the cheeks, and bad posture. The handsomeness and beauty is achieved by a filtered lens. Once again we have the magic of the silver screen.

The men on Wongo have blue hair, making the fraternity brothers think Superman might have been among them.

Among the things it is not, it is not Sy Fy, but it turned up - and with that title it was irresistible— when researching ‘Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women’ (1968) which led to ‘Women of the Prehistoric Planet’ (1966) which led to this. The previous two titles are Sy Fy, but this is not.

This just in!

There is a musical called, sit down, 'Wild Women of Planet Wongo.’ ‘Book the tickets now,’ cried the fraternity brothers! It has been reviewed in the ‘New York Times,’ so it must be real.

The fraternity brothers’ favourite a sub-genre of films is ‘Women without Men’ until some come along. The likes of which includes ‘Mesa of the Lost Women’ (1953), ’Prison Women’ (1955), ‘Swamp Women’ (1956), ‘Jungle Women’ (1959), and more.

IMDb: 1 hour and 24 minutes, 4.7 from 790 cinemitizens.

Pirates who steal a valuable space ship from a dock find on board a nine year-old boy who hid there when the raid started.

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As required by the manual of 'Star Wars' knock-offs, the pirates are a mixed lot, one in a rubber mask, one a lady stick figure, one a cowboy without the hat, one New Age sensitive, and blah. Six in all, well, five because one is killed in the raid. One less pay cheque.

His death is one of the better scenes because it shows, unlike so many CGI shoot ‘em-ups the agony and the pain and the loss. However that mood is soon broken by endless games of Tron that follow.

Ben Casey is the leader of the pirates and at fifty-five he moves like he is older, though not wiser, or he would not be here. It is as painful to watch him as an action hero as it was to watch a sixty-five year old Dan Dureya do so in ‘The Bamboo Saucer’ (1968), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The creaks were nearly audible in both cases.

To pacify him the Brat Ben promises to return him home. This promise leads to the death of everyone on his crew, Ben included. That is the spoiler. The corporation from which the pirates stole the ship sends its thugs after the raiders. Because a reward is offered for the boy, entrepreneurial bounty hunters gather. Bigger villains would like the stolen cargo and so on and on.

There is no rapport among the pirates. They act like people waiting on a bus stop. The vacant boy remains vacant. The villains are cardboard, well, rubber masked in most cases while others are CGI robots, and look it. The CGI in space is, well, as boring as CGI always is. The stunts when our heroes roll around to avoid invisible lasers, look like a geriatric exercise class. Yes, that is right, by the way, there are no light beams for the lasers.

The fraternity brothers liked the late scene where Brat dresses Ben's fatal wound with a glue gun. That is the Ben Casey touch! Let's see the twelve year old 'Good Doctor' do that!

Wikipedia has it that Ben’s celluloid career took a hit because of his addiction to Dame Fortune. He was a gambler, and it consumed him. Didn’t he read the Fyodor Dostoyevsky story ‘The Gambler’ or meet Pete Rose?

Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.3 by 850 cinemitizens.

Verdict: guilty of a waste of celluloid.

When this title came up in research on another film, the fraternity brothers demanded it go to the top of the Watch Later List, and so it did. Their anticipation was raised by this tagline on one poster for the film: ‘It's the battle of the sexes as savage planet women attack female space invaders!’

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Slowly the hiss of deflation followed. There are no women to be seen on the pre-historic planet, despite several publicity advertisements featuring women clad in fur bikinis. Yes this was the Year of Raquel in ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966). Despite this let down there are some points of interest in this yarn. The redoubtable Wendell Corey has the lead and the ever present John Agar is the loyal and bored lieutenant.

They are leading a flotilla of three starships heading home after a long mission. The ships travel at ‘near optic speed’ but even so the ‘time dilation’ is considerable. Huh? Check with Einstein. While the explanation, given twice for the dunderheads at the drive-in, is that time is relative between speeding spaceships and rotating planets. While the crew will have aged 18 months on the mission, the folks at home will have aged 18 years. That is keeping it simple for the dunderheads reading this.

That explanation makes little sense but give credit where it is due. It is the only time in the Sy Fy thus far reviewed that time relativity has been mentioned. A C+ for trying.

On the note of trying, there is Comic Relief from which we get no relief. One of the crew makes crass jokes every ten minutes. The fraternity brothers had hoped the boiling mud would get him, but no such luck. Then the giant snake. Nope. Then the leaping spider. Not.

The Red Shirts again get it though; but it is unusual that in this film they have names, Owens and Harris. Another victim is Angel from ‘The Rockford Files.’

No less unusual, there are many women in the crew and none of the men make deprecating remarks about having them on board. 'Can a woman really be a scientist, explorer, map reader, navigator, switchboard operator, or make tea?' None of that. However, the women are treated as sex objects, yes, but their abilities are not questioned.

The tension among the crew is race, not gender. Yes, race. Some of the crew are Centaurians, apparently distant offspring of ancient Roman centurions, and they look Asian. Well, the Romans in Syria may have done what we are supposed to do in Rome. Some of the whitebread crew mutter about the barbaric Centaurians. The only specimen of this race we see on the ship freely wanders without about any evident duties overhearing these remarks and biting her knuckle in a barbaric way.

Then the third and last ship in the formation veers off course, and Admiral Corey goes into command mode. By the miracle of cross-cuts we see that some of Centaurians on the third ship have mutinied, though why and to what end it is impossible to judge or to care. Their rebellion caused the driver to blink and the ship hit a magnetic field and down, down, down it went to the planet Solaris. Stanislav Lem’s novel of that name was published in 1961. Did someone sneak a peak at it?

Corey decides to go after it. Note, the admiral slurs his words sometimes and the pea brains who comment on these things suppose he was drunk on set. Well, it would not the first time an admiral was sloshed, but in this case Corey’s biography on Wikipedia indicates his speech was effected by a stroke, and he died a couple of years later. He kept working up to the end because there is no pension plan for supporting actors and he needed the money.

John Agar has no such excuse for mumbling through his lines on the way to the pay cheque and the elixirs it would buy.

The rescuers land and discover many planet years have passed (but only a few spaceship months, see time dilation above). The alienated Centaurian, let’s call her Eve, on the crew takes off on her own to sulk, while a search party looking for the downed ship finds many perils and the Red Shirts pay the price, along with Angel. Regrettably, Comic Relief survived.

The editing is so badly done it is quite impossible to figure out what the search party is doing apart from tripping over props, as its number dwindles. Are they searching for the downed ship? For survivors from the downed ship? For descendants of the survivors? For inhabitants? For a McDonalds? For a better script? No luck.

Eve succeeds where the search party failed. She finds someone, whom we shall call Adam. He looks Asian, too. They get on well together. Ahem. He is a sensitive prehistoric planet guy who has kept his deceased parents from the mutiny ship frozen in clear ice blocks in his cave. Eve does not find this odd.

They continue to get on well together, while the search party number further dwindles. Then Adam and Eve are attacked by the barbarians who live on the planet, and slo-mo replay by the fraternity brothers found that they were all men. Not a bikini in sight. Much confused editing follows. This attack lasts about thirty seconds. No doubt timed for minimum payment to the two attacking extras.

The theme within the adventure thus far was race and racism, Class. Again unusual for the genre at the time, though 1966 was in the midst of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and the year ‘Star Trek' appeared with his ecumenical approach to race and nation.

Now pay attention because a spoiler is coming, and it will not be repeated but, yes, St Peter has it on the final examination.

The admiral gives up on finding Eve and the ship takes off leaving her behind with Adam. Got it so far? You got it.

Corey drones in the ship’s log that this blue planet shall be entered into the galactic charts as 'Earth,' and the camera pans over a globe with the Florida peninsula dangling. Did Erich like that or what! Adam and Eve were aliens. Why he chose to call it 'Earth' and not 'Blue' or Yuck' is not stated.

Which was the worse crime to Alabama audiences, the fraternity brothers wondered? That Adam and Eve were aliens or that they were Asians. That was an entertaining thought.

The IMDb metadata is: 1 hour and 18 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.7 by 1054 who admit knowledge of it.

Verdict: only for the very determined viewer.

Cosmonauts landing on Venus encounter dangerous creatures and almost meet some sexy Venusian women who like to sun-bathe in rocks in 1970s hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell brassieres. Sounds better than it is.

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How could this be? ‘Why didn’t NASA get there first,’ demanded the fraternity brothers? Good question. The answer is that it is a Roger Corman production. That fact explains the inexplicable.

Corman bought the USA rights to Soviet films because they were cheap and the Sy Fy ones had good space flight effects. He then industriously dubbed them, edited them, cut-and-pasted them, added new sequences, omitted footage and from one Soviet film he got two and sometimes three D-pictures. D is for the Drive-In market. In the course of these exercises he hired impoverished Film School students like Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich to do the work for the experience, not the money.

In this case the original was ‘Planet of Storms’ (1962) or ‘Planeta Bur’ in the original Commie, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. In it a multi-national crew sets down in a forbidding Jurassic Park with a giant robot and stumble around from one perilous situation to another.

Being members of the NRA, they tote six-guns and blast much of the local flora and fauna. They speculate that there may have once been a civilisation on this planet, but now long gone, though the wind, which somehow they hear through their fishbowl helmets and inside their cute little hover craft, sometimes sounds like a woman’s voice. If so, it is no woman the fraternity brothers want to meet.

This was Corman’s cue to add about twenty minutes of footage, interspersed throughout the film, of ‘Bay Watch’ inhabitants who slowly become aware of the invaders and think bad thoughts about them. The leader of this rocky beach party is Mamie van Doren who dons a chef’s hat when she is really mad. There are seven or eight women as described above who stare vacantly at the camera while they communicate via the telepathy of voiceover. There is no sound technician needed, and the women cannot act but they can stare vacantly.

Likewise much of the early going for the cosmonauts is voiced over to set the scene. Dubbing is more expensive than a voiceover.

Among the casualties of the cosmonauts shot-em up is a rubber bird that the women worship.

God is dead.jpg God is dead.

This causes them to put a hex on the invaders and a big storm blows up as a result. Mamie puts on the hat and the storm gets worse for the Cosmo readers, while for the women it remains California.

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The Soviets just barely make their escape, leaving behind the big robot who had forgotten the laws of robotics and tried to save itself at the expense of its human companions. Bad Bot!

The cosmos and the prehistoric women never share a frame together.

The women find the remains of the robot which was disabled by the lava flow of an IOS update gone wrong and gather to worship it. On the Left Coast they will worship anything, Jerry Brown, Zinfandel, alfalfa, and a selfish scrap heap that once was a robot.

This film seems to have been the high point of MvD’s career, topping even ‘The Navy versus the Night Monsters’ (1966).

No doubt it was great fun pulling all this together, but not so to watch it. However, in reading about it, I discovered a whole cache of films about Prehistoric Women! The fraternity brothers have insisted this genre be explored in the coming weeks. At the top of the list is ‘Women of the Prehistoric Planet’ (1966) because it features the man who never said no to a bottle or a part, John Agar. aka Mr Shirley Temple.

IMDB data: 1 hour and 38 minutes, rated 5.5 by 31,661 pre-pubescent boys,

After many months on Mars, the crew of the Irish Space Commission are packing up for a rendezvous in nineteen hours to return to Earth. The digits on the clock flip. (Clocks don’t tick anymore.)

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Wait! Irish in space? Well the production was partly funded by the Irish National Lottery and directed by an expatriate Irishman who will never return to Eire. Plus the logo on the gear is ISC. Nothing gets past the fraternity brothers.

The set-up in Act I is good. There is a large and mixed team that represented the variety of Ireland, though no one mentioned James Joyce. Having been on Mars for six months, they are tired, care-worn, testy, and eager for the return flight. The gear and procedures have verisimilitude. Jordan once again doubles for Mars as it did in ‘The Martian (2015) and 'Mission to Mars' (2000), both reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

But…., yes, there is a big ‘But’ coming. The production team evidently thought getting to Mars, landing on Mars, surviving on Mars, doing science on Mars, leaving Mars, making it back to Earth, that all of this is boring. So instead of teasing out the drama implicit in the list above the film swerves to a creature feature. Oh hum. This is Act II.

Turns out in the last hours, one of the crew out spelunking, finds life, a microbe, which infects him and goes on to infect others, turning them into Zombies! Sometimes they remain in their space suits and sometimes not as they wander the Jordanian desert. These Zombies want company, and get it by infecting others. Is this a case of the selfish gene?

Becoming aware of the microbe, the leader the mission gives all kinds of orders that no one obeys. It reminded this writer of trying to get the fraternity brothers ready for Monday. Pointless.

Needless to say this ineffectual leader is one of the first to turn, first dead, then animate again! That is the nature of the zombie, despite the liberties taken by many scriptwriters.

With all the yawning, I lost count of the crew, but say Ten Little Indians. They all succumb but one who makes the rendezvous in Act III. Is he a carrier? That would surely explain the Living Dead Trumpettes.

Did the Irish Film Board recover any money on the Irish Lottery investment? The money was spent in England, in Jordan and in the USA. The fraternity brothers did not hear any Irish accents in the crew above chewing popcorn and slurping sodas.

IMDb 1 hour and 35 minutes, rated 6.1 by a paltry 179 ra(n)ters.

Jack and Jill are about to get married on a fine spring day somewhere in Europe. Jack buys flowers for Jill as he hurries to the get himself to the church on time. In the street a one-note newsboy shouts, repeatedly, ‘War declared!’ Jack only has ears for church bells and ignores this declaration, while others in the street react in alarm, amusement, and denial.

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The release title was ‘Rat’ which is ‘War’ is Serbo-Croatian, the language in which the film was made in Zagreb of the Tito’s Legoland Yugoslavia.

Mistaking him for Kevin, everyone asks Jack what will happen. His parents must have been Pollyanna and Dr Pangloss because he is exhaustingly optimistic about everything. For him an empty coffee cup is an opportunity to do without coffee, and not a life threatening disaster. Figure that out! Everything is fine. Everything will work out for the best. All is good. All is ad nauseam. He is the kind who would grin through a 360 degree review, because he enjoyed it!

While Jack and Jill are at the altar the bombs start falling. He keeps smiling. As they leave the church with you-know-what-in-mind he is press-ganged into the army. Next thing you know he has changed costume and is parading around in a uniform with a firearm. More bombing occurs, but Jack is sure wiser heads will prevail. As if.

While in a bomb shelter he suggests people proclaim their desire for peace. They do. He is then a traitorous ringleader in a rebellion, apprehended, and sentenced to be shot. He keeps smiling, while inviting the firing squad and the sentencing officer around for dinner when all this is straightened out. Which it will be very soon!

But then it gets brighter than a thousand suns. Afterwards while crawling around in the rubble, Jack meets the Prime Minister who assures him that war was the will of the people per the 'White Book,' on which more later. The shock wave blew off most of Jill’s clothes and that briefly piqued the interest of the fraternity brothers. As the radiation washes around them, Jack and Jill retire to their new apartment - a ruin - and he sets about making coffee. She does a swan die. Will Jack wake up to reality now? Fade to black.

The end.

Well, it is an anti-war film of sorts, with special reference to atom bombs, coming out of the precariously non-aligned patchwork that was the workers paradise of Yugoslavia. Given the post-Tito blood bath of that part of the world, I wondered if a contemporary audience in Belgrade would have perceived the origins and ethnicity of each of the players. Is that why Jill is played by a Pole? To confound that ethnic typing and residual animosity there in paradise? Or to gain it box office in Warsaw?

There is a cast of thousands, and it looks like the army cooperated, given all the marching men, weapons on parade, and fly overs. In the time and the place that cooperation would make it an official government film in all but name. It was bought, edited, and dubbed for the US drive-in market as background to anatomy lessons.

The cast and crew were among the best in Belgrade but this is not their best work. Most of the failure goes to Cesare Zavattini, the script writer who settles for simple-minded nostrums and witless Chaplineque situations, though that may have been what the producers wanted. Hard to believe the same typewriter produced 'Shoeshine' (1946) and 'The Bicycle Thief' (1948).

The 'White Book' the grovelling prime minister carried, seemed to be a report on public opinion regularly prepared for him. Gallup was not involved. A short search on Dr Google produced no enlightenment on the subject. But the combination of ‘White Book’ and Yugoslavia produces many hits, false positives.

The comparison has got to be ‘La Jetėe’ (1962), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which is far more imaginative, creative, enticing, and enigmatic. It gets across more in its running time of twenty minutes than this feature length film does in ninety minutes.

IMDb 1 hour and 40 minutes, rated by 527 cinemitizens at 4.8/10.

In the year 2015 the first mission to Mars consists of Canadians! Well, they know cold weather and there is plenty of it on Mars, despite the sunbathing of ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The Canucks are employees of a corporation. Shades of the Alien franchise.

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With neither a creature, sex, nor a Hollywood name, its 4.8 is the result. It moves slowly and there is good deal of the science and engineering of spaceflight. The Laws of Physics are so hard and implacable that no creature is needed to complicate things. These Laws kill without hesitation or mercy. They are like a McKinsey manager managing.

We have five crew, two women and three men, one a Russian. We are guided along the way by a television news announcer. Everything is played up to satisfy the corporate sponsor who has invested frequently told billions of loonies in the enterprise.

They make it to Mars and land. Together the co-commanders (one for flight and the other for ground). a man and woman, take the first steps on to Mars. This was a nice touch. The exaggerated television account was a gentle satire that escaped the reviewers consulted.

Then the Band of Five are struck by a pile of clichés, namely meteors, which do not burn away in the thin Martian atmosphere, and pelt the landing craft - a shuttle mock up. Oh oh, even as all the onboard systems fail one by one, the crew gamely sends back to Earth upbeat video messages to satisfy the KPIs in their contracts which require them to remain plucky unto death.

Yes, it is starting to sound like ‘The Martian’ (2015) but there is much less scientific detail here and much more about the tensions among the crew in this dire situation. Ergo it is a character study of this crowd on the planet Otranto, and how they — individually and collectively — react to the dread they face.

It is all very Canadian. Low key does not quite describe it. Catatonic is closer. No one goes all Hollywood ballistic. Nor, thank the stars, is there any comic relief. A comparison might be ‘Operation Ganymed’ (1977), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, but this latter film has more mystery and drama. It, too, is about science, not CGIs. But the fraternity brothers liked the name of the mission, Sagan, and that it was not explained. Either one gets it, or one doesn't. It is not often they respond to such subtlety but they did this time.

There is spelunking and in a cave is to be found a biochemical reaction that bespeaks water. Sure enough there is a drip. No! Wait, that is the director. 'The Europa Report' (2013) compares on this point. It is reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

All problems are solved when one of them dies. Without him, they have food and fuel to ascend and return which they do. It seemed all too easy after the built-up of the hopeless situation. Likewise, there was talk earlier of contamination which disappears in Act III.

It was filmed in Winnipeg, of all places, but they know cold there, too.

IMDb information 1 hour and 24 minutes, rated 4.8/10 from 272 cinemitizens.

Norwegians in space!

Well, why not. All that oil revenue had to be spent on something. Why not space flights in 2054. Although the fraternity brothers recommend better footwear for inter-planetary travel than the Nikes one of Wegians was wearing.

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Thanks to the discovery of an alien Tesseran ship years ago inter-planetary and inter-stellar flight is common. The key discovery was….a scriptwriter!

Fox News got the first ship and its life support keeps,,,, [Use imagination here.]

Now the Wegians have come across a second Tesseran ship it seems. Fox News dispatches one of trained killers to eliminate the Norse and get the ship. So far, so News Corp.

But the killer is Pentan, a female cyborg, who turns. That is turns with a capital ’T.’ She strikes several blows for the sisterhood, as inane screenwriters get the chop. There is quite a backlist of hacks for her to thump. Oh, that was wishful thinking on my part.

In between murdering her fellow employees come to fetch her back, she says she is sorry. Not very. This is one Cubicle Cutie to avoid at all costs.

She hires Han Duo to fly her around because he sports aviator glasses and chews gum. Must be a hot shot like the midget from ‘Top Gun.’ Off they go. A smart girlfriend is a good thing but a killer….? That takes getting used to for HD. Though she is fully functional.

Hitch! Once she turns. an editor from News Corp switches on the in-built destruction system in her head which will relieve all pain in seventy-two hours. She and HD head to Dr Nooniun Sing (or is that Sung) to fix this up and find him but they forgot to ask him to turn off the bomb. Ooops. Tick! Tick! Somewhere along the way this death-threat vanishes from the story or maybe my attention first vanished.

In between punching out villains, Pentan muses on her back story — boring — and ruminates on life, liberty, and stadium coffee. Did I mention boring? Far too often we hear the death knell of interest, 'As you know....' We didn't and don't want to ...know.

Although, we do learn that Cyborgs like a change of clothes and a shower. We also learn that handsome scientists on lonely, desolate moons keep on hand changes of clothes for passing lady Cyborgs, and are careful not to refer to her as a replicant for fear of IP and the descent of the trial lawyers. But does a Cyborg sweat? The Terminator never needed a shower and look at his body-count. Did Philip K. Dick cover that?

The showdown is a boring Tron game. All her missiles hit targets and the villains miss every time. Send them back to Villain School!

All trip and no arrival because Tesseran space ship just sits there.

This is an independent production, so the fraternity brothers cut it slack. But the direction is lethargic with many pointless close ups of actors who are silent. Is this deep thought? Is this waiting for the director’s cue? Is this waiting for the one camera to move? Most of the acting is leaden to match the pace.

Twenty years later the director re-cut, re-edited, and added many CGIs to the film and turned up the soundtrack for a second release aimed the brain-dead pre-pubescent audience at a theatre nearby. The You Tube version that I watched seems to be the original. The fraternity brothers liked the kick-boxing female.

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They also liked the reptilian regalia of the henchmen, as pictured above, though they were so slow…. must have been, under all that gear, emeritii henchmen.

There was no explanation of the title, and the re-release had two different ones, which likewise made no sense, namely ‘Star Quest,’ 'Black Moon Rising,' and ‘Outer World.’ Go figure.

IMDb 1hour and 43 minutes, rated 4.9 by 2032 raters.

A spin on the post-apocalyptic genre. ‘Having exhausted the Earth’s resources Nature took its revenge in a cleansing wind, the Slipstream,’ says an opening voice over. Social order has decayed to tribal groups who can only live along the Slipstream, away from its effect the air, earth and water are poison. It is a nice kick-off.

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Two self-described law officers — though what law exists in this world of detached tribes is an open question — apprehend a pin-stripe suited and passive Ray. He is quickly taken from them by a bounty hunter called Bill. Thereafter, it become a road movie as Ray and Bill bond in their misadventures among the tribes they pass through along the Slipstream. At first the destination is to turn in Ray somewhere, but later the goal is to get away from the two pursuing officers.

These two officers are a near albino Luke Skywalker and a pencil thin woman; they leave a trail of dead bodies behind them.

Ray and Bill encounter Robbie Coltrane in a hot tub, Murray Abraham in at a Viennese soiree, Turkish peasants, and others in a pastiche that has neither rhyme nor reason and most of the guest stars are cameos with no character or purpose. The unstated premise is that in a post-apocalyptic world like-minded people would seek each other out and set up their own communities. Think of Robert Nozick’s ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ (1978), that missing Oxford comma a constant irritant. Our two murderous officers represent the Night Mare, er, Night Watchman state Nozick posited. Though how like-minded people could find each other in a post-apocalyptic world is left to the imagination.

As the fraternity brothers fidgeted, the plot thickened because the passive Ray feels no pain, has inhuman knowledge, and wears a necktie, all sure signs he is weird.

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Ray finally has to tell the thick Bill that he -- Ray -- is an android. A nice twist.

Thereafter, Ray discovers the pleasures of the flesh, finds he is fully functional, and falls asleep for the first time. Bill releases Ray just as the two albinos kick-in the door. There is a pointless and incompressible shoot out. (Who would have guessed that?) More flying and crashing, and finally the End.

In sum, a good kick-off and a nice plot twist, but, well, there isn’t much of a plot to twist. The enigmatic Ray, played by the revered Bob Peck, remains a cipher thanks to the inane screenplay. Ditto all the others. The peoples and places they pass through are a vapid travelogue through a poor imagination.

There is compensation is some very nice aerial photography, part of it over Cappadocia in Turkey where we went hot air ballooning in 2015. Bob Peck, of course, commands attention even if the material does not.

From IMDb 1 hour and 29 minutes, rated 4.2 by 328.

RAAF officer Wagga Wagga Jones is assigned a secret and mysterious flight by Nemesis, an old rival, in August 1945. WW Jones has foresight, because even as he takes the assignment, he knows the war is about to end. This fact is something that no one else knew at the time, when feverish and enormous preparations were being made for a million-man invasion of the Japanese homeland with the expectation of a terrible price. Nemesis makes threatening noises and WW laughs them off. The fraternity brothers groaned with boredom already.

Sky P card.jpg

The cargo for this flight include an American general in an anachronistic uniform, a C of E vicar, and a couple of grunts, oh, and big wooden box with a very large label that says Do Not Open. (Wanna guess what happens?) Off they go in a Dakota (Douglas C-47) but no sooner do they set about bickering among themselves than they run into a CGI storm that throws everything about and they end up the water where the Red Shirts die. It seems one of now deceased grunts opened the box to find a light for his smoke. This individual was the product of free public education and carefully selected for this super duper top most secret mission, he evidently could not read the label.

Thereafter it descends into a delirium of images floating by, Easter Island Heads, Bermuda shorts, Stonehenge parking lots, an IBM selectric, Old Faithful, and Old Yeller, too. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but one thing is clear…..! Erich did it! Yes, 'what other explanation could there be, but aliens?' Well, could be the scriptwriter was chemically enhanced at the keyboard!

There is no whip, but there is a large pistol, a leather jacket that WW seems to wear even under his scuba driving gear, which he carries in the map pocket of his Lands End chinos. The sets are barren. Three is a crowd. The uniforms are inaccurate. WW’s mystique is sadly lacking. The haircuts are not military. There is a mixture of Indiana Jones and Mad Max in a pastiche of scenes that seldom connect one to another from Ayers Rock (unseen) to a cave on Easter Island (in a Melbourne sound studio).

There is a love interest who screams and faints in the 1950s manner. In frustration she assaulted the scriptwriter and quit the business. Whoa. Just made that up. But she should have. She did quit.

At forty-one WW remains a lieutenant. At forty-one he is greying at the temples. At forty-one he is creaking at the joints on some of the moves he makes. But at forty-one he is John Hargreaves whom the camera always loved and does so here. It is pretty clear he is in on the joke and makes sure any unfortunates who paid to see this blur get it, too. Bill Hunter injects some gravitas. Sky Pilot Max Phipps tries way too hard.

Why it is called ‘Sky Pirates’ is anyone’s guess. There is plenty of sky, but no Johnny Depp to be seen.

The only Sy Fy element is the reference to aliens, but since it came up in a search for Sy Fy, I had to watch it to be sure. The IMDb give its genre as Sci-fi as well as Adventure.

IMDb 1 hour and 5 minutes, 3.9/10 from 395 addicts.

Novelty value there is. This is a Swedish-American co-production, a rarity of the time. Moreover, it is set in the far north, Lappland, and features Sami in their costume. The ‘Seventh Seal’ also gets a look in. For the denouement read on.

Terror.jpg A Yankee lobby card.

Lappland card.jpg A Swedish lobby card.

Prof is at a conference in Sweden and his niece, an Olympic athlete, is training up north, when a meteor strikes Sami country. Prof just loves meteors and takes no convincing to go look at the object that may have come ’from another world.’ It is a nice line and delivered with conviction by Robert Burton, instantly recognised from countless 1950s and 1960s television programs where he invariably played authority figures: judges, senators, colonels, deans, and even professors.

Barbara Wilson is the athletic niece who starts off confident, poised, smart, determined, and no nonsense, which fits the Olympic achievements, and she can skate and ski. After her character is established it is thereafter destroyed by endless demands to scream and faint, four times that were counted by the fraternity brothers between trips to the beer fridge.

What is all the screaming about?

Prof joins with a Swedish love interest for his niece and some police officers to go investigate. Many shots of the white blankness of snow fields and of Lapplanders in their curly-toed shoes and frilly hats, each designed to deal with the snow. While the testimony of the Lapps is treated seriously by the Swedish authorities, pretty boy is dismissive.

What testimony?

They say that the meteor glided in at a low angle for kilometres and then skidded for a distance on a nice soft snow bank. Gasp! It sounds like a controlled descent. Sure enough, Prof confirms it. Meteor just hit. Wallop! No gradual descent. Pretty Boy shrugs. This gesture turns out to be his dramatic range but he speaks English.

Just where the Lapps said, the Prof's party finds the object and it is no meteor. It is the same ship that featured in ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1955). Only part of it is visible in the snow bank. Much musing follows. Meanwhile, Hairy turns up. Hairy is big and hairy. BIG. He wanders around leaving enormous footprints which the investigators finally notice. Gulp. More musing.

The party divides. Some will stay on site. Others will go for help. Many will wait off camera.

Hairy grabs Niece who goes through her repertoire of screaming and fainting. It is King Kong all over again once more and anew. Hairy has found love and when she screams ‘No!’ he knows it is a come-on, and means try harder. He stashes her in a ice cave, and wanders around some more smashing balsa wood miniatures that someone spent hours making. Such are the frustration of interspecies love. Naughty, Hairy! But he is meeting his Yeti KPIs, that is Ka-blooie Performance Indicators.

Then his managers show up, and this is the best part of film. Three sketal skin heads in hoodies with bleached faces silently surround Niece, who…. [yep, screams and faints]. They do look like Death who played chess with the Knight in the ‘Seventh Seal’ (1957).

Spooks.jpg The Hoodies.

They an silent and stare at her. She screams and faints. Again. When she recovers, they point at an enormous footprint, and she screams and faints. Again. (Is it any wonder Barbara Wilson quit acting after this outing?)

They leave. Who knows why and where? Not the scriptwriter for sure.

Hairy returns and scoops her up as required in creature features. By this time the Samis are mobilised with torches. Remembers that scene from ‘Frankenstein' (1931). Like that, except it is bright daylight on blinding show. They corner Hairy on a cliff edge over an abyss. Hairy thinks, ‘What would my hirsute brother King Kong do in a situation like this?’ To think he puts down Niece on a nice bed of snow.

While he is thinking the Lapps fling so many torches at him that all that hair he has catches on fire and on the ensuing excitement he falls over the edge into the abyss.

Pretty Boy then scoops up Niece and Prof muses over what just happened. So did I. ‘Dunno’ was the unanimous conclusion of the fraternity brothers.

Were the skin heads keepers of Hairy? Did Hairy escape and were they looking for him? If so, such inept aliens should have stayed home if they could not spot a thirty foot pile of black costume hair against the white backdrop. Or was Hairy a local and the skin heads wanted to Yeti-nap him for a zoo back on home world? But there was nothing earlier to indicate the neighbourhood had a Yeti problem. Were the skin heads surrogates for Commies, all quiet and insidious. Was Hairy a metaphor for….the Welfare State, Volvo hegemony, IKEA tyranny? Pick one! Pick two!

Apart from its resonances with other films of the ilk, it is distinguished by the exotic locale, long before SBS brought Norseland to the a television near everyone. All that snow. All those Swedish accents, and some Swedish spoken. (A film with even one untranslated sentence in a foreign language was often regarded as a box office killer in Hollywood.) The Swedes wear Swedish clothing. It looks like it was filmed there but the backstories on the web are not decisive.

There were two subsequent re-editings for the USA drive-in market. One is by Jerry Warren and the other by the unstoppable Roger Corman and released as ‘Invasion of the Animal People’ in 1959 with an opening voice over from John Carradine, who never said no to a gig.

Animal.jpg The Corman lobby card.

In these two versions nothing is left to the imagination. The Beast has come for women. He is looking for fraternity brothers with whom to party and needs a date.

Web critics disparage both versions. The IMDb does not distinguish among these derivatives. The You Tube version I found looks like the original.

IMDb data: 1 hour and 23 minutes, rated 6.7 by 5824.

‘The End of Days is nigh!’ The Earth is doomed! Repent ye GOP voters!

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Yes, astronomers have once again spotted a heavenly body intent on smashing the Earth, styled ‘Bellus’ and its attendant satellite ‘Zyra.’ Travelling thousands of kilometres a second, they will pass close to Earth in a few months and the passages will wreak havoc on Earth. The oceans will rise in giant tsunamis. The mountains will crack open to spew lava. The plains will continue to vote Republican. Much stock footage will be shown.

Or so claims the Lone Voice, while all his colleagues fatten their CVs by debunking his claims. Nonetheless Lone Voice pressed on and his conviction and data convince some backers to fund his fantastic scheme. Larry Keating of ‘Mr Ed’ played Lone Voice with great integrity and authority.

The plan is to build a rocket ship and hop onto Bellus as it passes. One of his financiers is a hard case, played by the ever reliable John Hoyt who gives the best performance in the ensemble. A team of six hundred specialists is recruited to build the ship and from those ranks, forty will be chosen at the last minute to make the flight. At every point the risks and uncertainties are emphasised. It is all rather Calvinist. Work as if chosen, but nothing can insure it. Most will have laboured in vain.

To equip the ship with knowledge a team of women sit at 1951 photocopiers rendering a reference library into microfilm. That was a nice touch. Though I did not notice Plato’s ‘Republic’ being included. Now where will they be packing the 1951 microfilm reader?

Everyone on Earth will die, that being the only way to kill the GOP virus.

Those that take flight may perish in the flight, die in a crash on Bellus, default on their AMEX payments, or find Bellus uninhabitable. Note, while passing by it will destroy Earth, but Bellus is unaffected in scriptwriter’s logic. The number forty was decided by bodyweight ever so finely calculated, though at the end Lone Voice added Barbara Rush’s boyfriend, a waif, and the waif’s pet dog. But to make way for them he stayed behind with the troublesome financier to face certain death. Is this noble of what. Babs, by the way, went on to ‘It Came from Outer Space’ in 1955 to cement her Sy Fy credentials.

The fatalism is out of time for 1951, when most Sy Fy movies overcame all odds.

There are conflicts among the rocketeers who are widely mocked by the ever responsible media, until the Earth moves under their feet. Then they mob the rocket site and have to be fended off. Good thing there was an arsenal included in the research grant. The testy financier had predicted this reaction and prepared for it while dreamy scientists had not.

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For reasons known only to rocket science the passengers wear a uniform of brown sweat suits and fly economy class without overhead storage bins for roll-aboards.

When the crunch comes, despite all efforts to avoid conflict, conflict occurs and the launch is compromised, but the ending is upbeat. While the Earth is split in an apocalypse, Bellus is green fields and blue skies (in pictures that look like they were ripped from a kindergarten classroom wall, as what must have been a late addition to the production, so out of keeping they are with the forgoing standard).

New Eden.jpg

They made it and humanity can start its cycle of destruction anew! Whew!

There is much location shooting and an altogether big budget, mostly spent on the effects and not on big name actors.

The opening scene is an observatory in a remote South African location, and there are several subsequent references to other spaceship projects in other countries, but there is no technology transfer or cooperation among them. That seems realistic. There are never KPIs for cooperation.

The draw of the final forty seems to have been random, so it might yield forty tech heads who have never seen a vegetable or daylight. Neither does the six hundred nor the forty include any brown, red, yellow, or black faces. All whitebread, though, credit where it is due, many are women. For a New Eden science declares women are necessary. Amen, sighed the fraternity brothers.

Another Sy Fy offering from producer George Pal, known as the Happy Hungarian for his sunny disposition. He has many Sy Fy credits, some excellent, like ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) and the execrable ‘Conquest of Space’ (1957). Both are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. He tried to get the science right within the limits of the genre, the budget, and the capacities of the cast and crew.

IMDb metadata is runtime 1 hour and 18 minutes, rated at 5.8/10 by 1392 raters.

An asteroid approaches Earth and science is mobilised!  With flashing slide rules and pocket protectors, the equations lead the nerd brigade to only one conclusion. Blast it!  (‘Haven’t we seen this before,’ whined the fraternity brothers?  Patience, please.) But this asteroid uses the Delta Manoeuvre to elude the rocket's red glare!  Oh, oh!  It seems intelligence is at work! Then the asteroid harmlessly slides into the Pacific Ocean off Baja California. Whew! 

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While it was passing over the desert south west (where the aliens get a special discounted rate) an orb split off and seizes the mind of the director of the nearest top secret defence laboratory.  Sure. This new zombie had previously led a crew to Mars in ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  In that picture he was supposed to land on the Moon but missed it and hit Mars.  Grounded!  Once zombied he engages in silent communion, ever so cheap to film, with....Kronos! Kronos? Kronos.

While his soul is being devoured, his three top minions go to Mexico to observe the asteroid in the ocean. They observe each other, too.  All is quiet on the asteroid front, so they get on with mutual observing, until...  yes, right on cue a dome appears in the waters, and, no, it is not another water park, but a Kronos factory that emits Kronos 1.0.

Kronis-2.jpg

People have noticed that Dr Zombie is not his usual self and that Sy Fyian extra-ordinarie Morris Ankrum fails to collect on his bill!

Pause.

Kronos is a big TinkerToy.  The trio borrow a handy Mexican helicopter for a closer look and land on the contraption just as it seems to stir, after a long-distance communion with Dr Zombie.  They scoot and Kronos sets off, stomping through stock footage from a variety of locales, none of them Mexican. There is no further attempt to share Kronos’s pain.

Kronos sucks down electricity as it goes.  It follows the grid to Lost Angeles! 

Kronos sucks.jpg

In so doing it by-passes the much closer San Diego, because more stock footage of Lost Angeles is available.

The slide rules flash again, the giant main frame computer from ‘Desk Set’ (1957) flashes lights and what other conclusion could there be! Blow it up.  More stock footage of boy toys.  The attack of the boy toys does not slow Kronos.  If only there had been a wall to keep out the Greasers! Kronos would have then stayed down Mexico way, supping on wattamales and voltstadas.

Somehow Jeff Morrow (after his frontal lobotomy addition in ‘This Island Earth’ [1955] [reviewed elsewhere on this blog] which by the way turned his hair white) figures it out.  The Kronosians must have depleted all the non-re-newable energy sources on Krono and have come to Earth to stock-up.  He also figures how to stop Kronos with wind farms and solar panels. 

Remember ‘Clockwork Orange’ (by the way a giant Jackson No-Prize to the first person to explain why ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is called ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and not yellow or cerise)?  Jeff did, and he gluts Kronos on so much juice not even Mylanta can help.  

The female lead, who does not even have to scream, finally gets her big line to ask if more Kroni are coming. Jeff said all deadpan, ‘Dunno, but if they are we’ll be ready!’ The end.

Sorry, Jeff, but there was no vote of confidence from the fraternity brothers for that encomium. What we saw was comprehensively unready. The super top secret defence lab was penetrated by a truck driver with a wrench. The biggest scientist was zombied with a couple of flash lights. Mexico was drained of juice in a few hours. Lost Angeles had to be nuked. This is ready?

It is on the cusp between Sy Fy and creature feature. Kronos is not much of a creature, no drool, no fangs, no GOP ugly look, no Twit in Chief leer, no grabbing tentacles, and 'it does not carry off a woman, as is mandatory in a Real Creature Feature,' declaimed the fraternity brothers. Nor are the electricity effects up to Dr Frankenstein standards. More like a bulb going out in the frat house than an eye-popper.

On the other hand, the acting is uniformly good. Jeff looks interested in the science de gook, and the Zombie’s inner turmoil is apparent, and Morris Ankrum is also pitch perfect, as always. The director keeps it moving. But the stock footage is not well chosen, nor well integrated. The miniatures for Kronos are nothing special, even for the times.

Interpretions of the symbolism can keep the fraternity brothers happy for hours. Is Kronos, the accumulator of energy, a metaphor for the unbridled consumerism of the era? For the insidious effects of Communism? For creeping managerialism that leaves empty KPI husks behind? For the spectre of technological growth represented in this film by a computer system called SUSIE that adds nothing to the proceedings? Or is a Trojan TinkerToy? Is Odysseus inside?


Computer hackers get control of Siri and Alexa!

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes, rated at 5.5/10 by 822 raters.

The third and last of producer Ivan Tors loose sequence of stories about the fictional Office of Scientific Investigations, represented here by Richard Egan, who is summoned to shoot trouble.

Gog lobby card.jpg

Deep in the desert southwest, where else, in an underground laboratory, designed to withstand an atomic blast or one speech by the Twit in Chief, that nation’s best scientists labour to bring forth the first space station, before ‘They do.’ Yep, 1954, with the Korean War still Red and raw.

The Yankees have entrusted this super-duper top most secret facility to a one legged Brit by the name of Herbert Marshall, with his owlish eye glasses. Immigrants even in those days took American jobs!

‘What’s the trouble?’ The scientists are being murdered! Two were frozen, one after another, in the cryogenics lab. A radioactive pot plant crisps another. The whirly gig takes out two more. The body count rises in the Laboratory of Otranto, while Egan tours the several levels of the bunker. Is he bad luck or what?

The whole establishment is run by an IOS Home computer called NOVAC, which has two robot minions, Gog and Magog. Why names from the Book of Ezekiel are used is anyone’s guess. There is no explanation in the film.

Gog and Magog.jpg

These robots are precursors of Daleks with their waving arms and tank treads. They are as useful as Siri and Alexa. They can open doors, hand over screwdrivers, and strangle Mr Pomfrit. In addition, the lab has solar energy in use, and a sound laboratory full of deadly tuning forks. Yes, it is a lavish and inventive production.

The body count rises. Turns out NOVAC has been hacked by ‘Them’ and is itself destroying the Nobelists by using Siri and Alexa before they can give long, boring, pointless speeches, forgetting to mention the underlings who did all the work. Egan figures this out about an hour after the fraternity brothers did, and sets about thwarting it. How?

He calls in the USAF to shoot down an airplane that is always overhead. See, what I said about slow. The evil virus code is being transmitted from that aircraft. Stock footage of Saber jets taking off and in mid-air transformed into Thunderbirds. Kaboom! So much for that TWA flight.

Before that crescendo, Egan has to fight both Siri Gog and Alexa Magog mano à mano, well, with a flame thrower. Just the sort of thing to keep around super-duper top most secret deep underground laboratory working on space flight. In fact, they have two of the contraptions that have always killed more operators than enemies.

But wait, the plot thickens. How could good old American code be hacked? In the world of defence contracting it turns out Heidi built the robots in the Swiss Alps, and it must have been there that ‘they’ infected them with a virus which the bots in turn imparted to NOVAC. Moral? Build your own robots. That is a new twist on Cold War paranoia, blame the Swiss neutrals. Boycott Lindt!

In the interest of science there is some concern about radiation. Everyone wears a badge that reacts to it as a warning of exposure. When the killer pot plant is approached, the technician wears a hazard suit and uses some long kitchen tongs, dropping the killer ingot into a lead lined box. Good. Trouble is Egan, his girl Friday, and several gawkers peer over the hazard suit’s shoulder to watch the proceedings from two feet away.

Later they recover from a little radiation by lying down with aspirin.

Much of the first thirty minutes is an exposition of the different parts of the facility and an introduction to the scientists who occupy them, leading the viewer to suspect that the culprit is among them. Indeed, Egan says that at one point. That was a nice bit of indirection.

The scientists are all just west of mad and most have highly suspicious accents. Each has the ego of brain surgeon and the personality of a CPA at tax time. They have accomplished such astounding things as burning balsa wood models. No wonder they think so highly of themselves. Although, come to think of it, that is more than some egomaniacs of my acquaintance have done.

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 23 minutes, rated 5.2/10 from 2356 opinionators.

Rocket M1 is en route, that is Mars One. It left Earth more than two months ago and nothing has been heard from it since it was scheduled to land on M A R S! Then it appears in the sky, Earthbound. Putting new batteries in the remote control, ground control lands it by pushing a lot of buttons. The procedures of the operation are shown in some detail, including concern for radiation.

Angry Ed card.jpg

Turns out things did not go well on Mars. There were four crew members, but in return only two remain alive, and one of those has been slimed. Wow! The details emerge in flash back from Irish Iris, who is traumatised by the screenplay. Who can blame her. She is a many PhDed biologist who is consigned to screaming.

The original crew also included Jock, who is the working class comic annoyance, Doc who smokes his pipe thoughtfully, and male lead, Gerald Mohr, who made a career in B-movie land out of a vague resemblance to Bogie. And Iris(h) makes four.

Angry crew.jpg The crew on Mars.

The players are all experienced and able. The direction is adequate, apart from the comic annoyance. Whenever he appeared the fraternity brothers cried, ‘Cut!’

They land on a very red Mars.
Angry red filter.jpg
This is 1959 and there are Reds under the beds as it is. Why go looking for more? There is no answer as to the purpose of the expedition.

What they find is a red jungle. Donning overalls with scuba masks, they venture out into the red filter and find... a jungle. Iris collects samples galore, and one of them tries to collect her. While Gerald has a six-gun — that he loaded before cleaning in the NRA-approved method! — and a sound bazooka, that is so cheap it does not make a sound. It wilts the plant. (By this time the space suits made for ‘Destination Moon’ [1950] must have been worn out from use in so many other films.)

Earlier they had to spray a bat-rat-spider (who knows). They espy the spires of a city in the distance across a lake. Yep, a lake wherein dwells an ugly Republican Senator who devours Jock. A word of thanks came from the fraternity brothers.

Now they rush back to the ship. It seems stuck but they struggle for lift-off, much as I did this morning, and while so doing, a voice comes over the speaker, a pleasing baritone, that tells them to scat. ‘No destructive Earthling immigrants are wanted on Mars’ gardening and exterminating. ‘Stay on Earth and kill each other,’ says the voice.

In the whirl, Gerald got slimed and retires to his cot. Doc and Irish throw a lot of switches and blast off, without following the checklist of procedures, with the result that Doc is crushed, pipe in hand. Iris did buckle up and survives but is rendered unconscious. Gerald has a green arm. Is he an incipient Green-voting bore in the making?

All of this is told in a flashback that is far from flashy.

Once back on Earth, Iris figures out what’s wrong with his arm and kisses it better. The end.

Huh? Can Reds on Mars exclude freedom-loving Yankees from Mars? No way! Is Mars a metaphor for Eastern Europe behind the Red Curtin. Time for Radio Free Mars to go on the inter-planetary airwaves. Drop gardening manuals and blue blockers to open the eyes of the downtrodden. The blue blockers will cut the red mist. Some gardening will make the lush Martian jungles Yankee-friendly. This is the Martian Plan.

We never see the Martians, just their pot plants and house pets, and the distant spires painted on a matte. But who are they to say ‘Yankee go home, and stay there!’

The word is that it was done in ten days, using a new filter that sometimes makes Mars and the space suited crew look like cartoons. This look was unintended but there was neither time nor budget to do anything but go with it. Likewise the creature models were not quite what the director expected but he had no choice but to use them.

Speaking of the director, it seems that he and scriptwriter have since duked it out in conventions and screenings for thirty years over which one was genius responsible for the film. Really. Say no more.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 13 minutes of Dali run time, rated at a generous 2.7/10 by 944 raters.

A group of people sit in bar and talk. That sums it up. About three-quarters of the film is stock footage from World War II of shells exploding, soldiers soldiering, airplanes flying, bombs falling, destroyed buildings, and on and on.

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The sitters are in a New York City sports bar and they watch the progress of nuclear war on television. The ‘enemy’ lands paratroopers in Alaska, and pictures of Germans landing in Crete are shown. That mix up is typical. There are references to jet planes when propeller planes are shown. Washington state and Washington DC are run together. The script is so sloppy that the Illinois Congressman in the bar is later posthumously elevated into a Senator.

The enemy is never named but we know who it is.

There follows bombings here, there, and everywhere. Sometimes they are called atomic bombs and sometimes not. More paratroopers paratroop against back projections of Capitol Hill. Is no where safe? Yankee Stadium?

In addition to the sitters we see four Americans in ill fitting, mixed uniforms sitting around a table telling each other the bad news in excruciating dialogue so bad that -- believe it or not -- McKinsey-speak would be better.

Occasionally we see six or eight others in drab uniforms and thigh boots shouting at each other in a variety of enemy accents, Latino, Slavic, Brooklyn, German, Armenian, Italian, Texan.

Commies.jpg

They go on about liberating the masses in a people’s government. The creeps! Wait until 1985 when cute little Chuck Norris gets ahold of them! He’ll kick 'em right in the knee, if he can reach it.

The barflies earlier bemoaned the heavy hand of government, of crushing taxes, of waste in defence spending, of watered drinks, of paper work, while the bartender boasted of ducking the last war, cocktail shaker in hand. Consequently, the US of A does not have the army, the weapons, or the will power to repel the Enemy!

When the going gets tough, however, the barflies become Minute Men and Women. The men rush to factories to produce tanks, to the ranch to produce food, to the library to pay overdue book fines, to the blood bank to give blood, to the blood bank to take blood….but it is too little and it is too late. The Enemy prevails across the nation. Leaving little to the imagination, there is also a rape. According to the fraternity brothers, whose expertise on such matters is complete, it was no worse than a NCAA football team on the loose.

Seattle, Omaha, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York City are all levelled. There being no limit to the dastardly enemy’s evil, he blew up the Boulder Dam. The Enemy is frequently referred to as ‘he.’

Then…the sleepers awake from this nightmare. It seems Mr Ohman, Omen (Get it?), put them all in a trance with his restful Irish brogue combined with their many post-lunch martinis. Long before RoboCop, this is Dan O’Herlihy who describes himself as a forecaster, and this is his forecast.

Dan the Man.jpg The enigmatic Mr Omen.

He is marvellous in his smug superciliousness with an air of detached mystery. His purpose is for these barflies to see the errors of their ways. They do. As he departs (without leaving a tip) they are changing their ways. The only woman in the bar changes beaus.

Yet 2.7 seems too high and the Finn gives it 1/10 only because he does not give 0s. It is nearly unwatchable. My pants were safe, contrary to Hedda Hopper's prediction on the lobby card reproduced above.

In earlier scenes of the nightmare we saw lines of people at the New York City Airport trying to fly home, as one would during a nuclear war, and the two ticket agents were Lois Lanes from the Superman franchise, Noel Neill (in the 1948 film serial and later the television series with George Reeves) and Phyllis Coates (in ‘Superman and the Molemen’ of 1951).

William Schallert also puts in a brief and late appearance as a news reader. He’ll always be Mr Pomfrit to me and Dobie.

The surprising thing is that such a turkey was made by an experienced and talented cast and crew. One singular indicator of the incompetence on view is this: Twice the US President is shown on television calling for calm. Each time he is seen from the rear! We never see his face. Just a 3/4 profile from his rear left side. At first I thought this was somehow important later I realised it must have been a mistake and with no budget for re-takes it was used as is. The speaker was Joseph Granby, uncredited, but very reassuring.

The set-up has promise: are they really watching World War III on television? In addition to the RoboCop chief and the Lois Lanes, there is also Gerald Mohr and Peggy Castle, each with a long list of creditable performances in other movies. Likewise the director and producer have solid credentials. The writer had a Hugo nomination for one of his other screenplays. Yet taken together….. well, don't.

It does demonstrate the paranoia of the time, but not very well compared to many other films.

While hardly Sy Fy, the obsessive Finn (Scifist) includes it in his list and so I had a look.


IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 46 minutes rated 4.9/10 from 5730 raters.

A big budget disaster movie from the era of big budget disaster movies. The clichés are all there: the solitary Chicken Little, the fetching femme, the stalwart buddy, the doubting Thomases, the extras to become victims, the special effects of falling bricks and rising waters. But it does have some twists that set it slightly apart.

The set up is this: A large object is on a collision course with Earth! Only James Bond, once again, can save the world. With half-hearted grousing he is summoned for reasons that never become clear since he does nothing thereafter but snipe at others. President Henry Fonda mouths lines. Trevor Howard has a few moments to impart some purpose.

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The twist is that to destroy the Really Big Space Rock will take the combined effort of the USA and the USSR. Much mutual suspicion is exercised, but in the end the Soviets agree and trust the mission, controlling fourteen USSR nuclear warheads to one scientist and a translator, whom they send to New York City. Sure. That is the way the Kremlin worked in 1979. The Russians are coming.

Russians.jpgThe scientist is the redoubtable Brian Keith who does it well, and his translator is a very drawn Natalie Wood, who adds grace to anything.

The USAF in the person of Martin Landau opposes everything with childish temper tantrums. Salute that! Don't blame Marty because he is written that way.

Together the Russkies and the Yankees blast the rock but shards still strike Earth giving us some nice disaster scenes. Yuk. Bond saves everyone.

By the time this one was made the disaster tire had no tread left on it. All the tropes are there but everyone from the scriptwriter to the extras seems bored by it. Karl Malden puts the most into his part, and Keith seems to enjoy the language barrier, but Bond and the ethereal Wood seem to be waiting for it to end. So did I.

Richard Crenna in ‘A Fire in the Sky’ (1978), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, did the same part as Sean Connery in this film, and Crenna did it better - more energy, more intelligence, more conviction, and he had material that had some science and some compassion in it. This film seems to rest entirely on the big names in the cast, and they in turn go through the motions as quickly as possible.

The rockets in space was a neat idea and well presented for the toy model special effects used.

This block buster was delayed in production in the effort to improve it. Failed. The 'New York Times' reviewer, Jane Maslin, nailed it: slow, sludge, half-baked, boring. Those were her kindest remarks.

IMDb metadata: 180 minutes @ 6.6/10 from 333 raters

The scientists agree a meteor is headed for Phoenix!  Whoops!  The scientists do not agree!  Is it a meteor or comet? Will it hit Earth or pass by? If it hits where? If it passes by, then how close? How big is it anyway? There is disagreement among the boffins on each and every point.

Fire Sky newspaper ad.jpg

In a roomful of PhDs all the KPI career incentives reward disagreement, even at the end of the world. The bickering, logic chopping, semantics emerge to mask the egotism, opportunism, and careerism. Seminar normal.

The local political decision makers decide the financial disruption of an alert is too great. This decision is partly based on the belief a panic would ensue with loss of life, destruction of property, and worse, the arrival of Fox News. They are also sure that there they do not have the infrastructure of shelters or trained personnel to do anything constructive. No one wants to pay taxes for comet shelters.

Journalists, of course, know better and strive to tell all without regard to consequences! Situation normal. They tell all and panic ensues with the loss of life which in journalism logic is vindication.

In Arizona the gubernatorial response remains guarded and equivocal. After all only one scientist is doing Chicken Little. Why is he right and everyone else wrong? Because the script says so, that’s why! 

Meanwhile, the USAF applies the usual foreign policy response: blow it up. But the rocket misses. Whoops! So much for that.

The script includes a lot of science, including a distinction between a comet, asteroid, and a meteor. Despite the summaries and reviews on the net, in fact, the political decision making is shown to be careful and sensible. At first the Air Force general is reluctant to go the expense of a missile launch on the say-so of one scientist, but in the end there is a pre-emptive rocket fired and it is a miss, a near miss, but a miss. But the screenplay also includes far too many sidebars that blur the focus. Merlin Olsen is a treat but out of place. Ditto the thwarted young lovers.

Andrew Duggan imparts dignity to the proceedings as President. Governor Dukes lays out the complexity of the social consequences. But Richard Crenna carries the film with integrity and conviction.  Particularly striking was his effort to frighten the child as a way of showing the parents what the reality of the situation was likely to be. That was surprising and effective, and done with conviction. He learned a lot from ‘Our Miss Brooks.’  

The direction is leaden but perhaps that is because the material was stretched to 180 minutes! Had it been halved the pace would have been better.

The 1970s fashions are much in evidence, aviator glasses, wide neckties, hirsute faces with flared trousers, altogether enough to put off any time traveller.

The original plan was to air it on television after the theatrical release of the big budget ‘Meteor’ (1979) to ride its publicity coat tails. (Its IMDb score is 4.9.) But with the big budget went big egos and that production languished and in fact ‘A Fire in the Sky’ went to air first. Best laid plans and all that.

IMDb metadata: run time 1 hour and 50 minutes rated at 6.6/10 from 5206 raters.

A tale of survival on the Red Planet told in a semi-documentary fashion.

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Mars Gravity Probe 1 from the United States Air Force orbits Mars gathering data for subsequent surface missions: lights blink, levers click, wheels turn. The MGP1 has a crew of two and half. Half? There is Batman, Survivor, and … Monkey, part mascot and part scientific subject, but mostly comic relief. Ah huh.

Round and round they go in a low Mars orbit, until the script writer’s old friend, a meteor arrives to spoil the ride. They have to put the pedal to the metal to get out of the way. The budget cutters made sure the fuel was adequate with no reserve, so the MGP1 is now out of gas in a decaying orbit. Time to leave. They eject. Nice effects.

Batman cacks it on impact, but the monkey survives. Survivor also survives and the next forty-five minutes documents his determined efforts to find shelter, air, and water, which he does with the help of Scouting manual and the monkey. He records it all on his enormous iPhone for Watney in ‘The Martian’ (2015), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Mars is colourful and has all the survival-conveniences an astronaut could want. It reminded the fraternity brothers a lot of Arizona. It is also empty. Survivor hallucinates now and again. But he puts his training to good use. Blah, blah, blah.

Then company comes. Remember crossed telephone lines in rainy weather courtesy of Telecom? This movie gets crossed with ‘War of the Worlds’ (1953) and its Martian spaceships appear zipping and zapping. Well, it is their planet, after all.

Miner zaps.jpg

Someone should have yelled ‘Cut!’ and sent them to the right studio. But no, they are part of this story, too, working overtime.

It all seemed random to me, but Survivor concludes they are ‘interplanetary spaceships’ (psst, we know better, they are Martians) mining ores from Mars using slave labour with wardrobe by Pharaoh.

Survivor lies low but an escaped slave tumbles into his arms. They flee and in time bond, helping and saving each other from the perils of the pursuit of the mining zipper zappers, stumbling around the set, and enduring the monkey’s scene stealing. Survivor is left no choice by the screenplay and he calls this man Friday.

The miners search for Friday with more zipping and zapping repeated ad nauseam. The two of them make it to the polar ice cap for some reason. Maybe the miners are afraid of the cold. Shirtless Survivor finds it cold. Geez. The clock ticks. How will it end? ‘Soon!’ cried the fraternity brothers. A rescue mission from Houston arrives to collect them. What will become of Gypo? Where are the zipper zappers? How will the rescuers land and take off? These are some of the known unknowns to ask Donald Rumsfeld about the next time I see him on a crosswalk in DC.

Daniel DeFoe’s novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (1719) had themes of colonialism, racism, humanism, equality, fraternity, and more. Living with the noble savage Friday, DeFoe’s Crusoe comes to re-evaluate the norms and conventions of his society, and in so doing he himself changed. All of these themes are washed out of this rendering, leaving a documentary of Hollywood survival. Survivor spends a lot of time shirtless, sunbathing on Mars, Friday looks like he left a pyramid building site, and those cut-outs from ‘War of the Worlds’ do not fit.

Sunbathing.jpg Taking the air on Mars.

Survivor was Paul Mantee, an anonymous toiler in Telly-wood, cast precisely because he was unknown, and he stayed that way. This was his only starring role, and without a woman in sight, but, well, the monkey is called Mona. (Sniggering was heard from the fraternity brothers.) A cast of three and half is it. Batman has only two scenes, but the second, the dream sequences is very well done, with the blank face and dead eyes he anticipated his Batman.

In short, it lacks just about everything a feature film of the 1960s had to have, yet it runs for nearly two hours when the norm was 90 minutes for everything but a blockbuster with a giant cast of well known stars. I saw it on release, I seem to remember, but it left no impression. (Maybe it was date night.) Nor does it now.

IMDb metadata: 1 Hour and 47 minutes. 8.1/10 @ 312,875 Opinionators

How could such a tired, clichėd, and disjointed movie be made of this event? That it ranks highly as shown above only indicates the audience. I put off watching it knowing I would find the historical inaccuracies a pain. Right again.

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Why do the inaccuracies matter anyway? Isn’t it just a movie? Afraid not.

I have heard far too many people refer to movies for historical facts. None of the half a dozen reviews I read after watching it made any reference to historical reality. Yet many viewers, most viewers will take it just that way.

In short, both John Mills in ‘Dunkirk’ (1958) and Jean Paul Belmondo in ‘Week-end à Zuydcoote’ (1964) had better material and played it better.

What’s to like? It makes a short list.

It just starts. Bang. No information card. No voiceover. That makes it a fast and clean start. Good, let the ride begin.

The cinematography steals the show, especially in aerial scenes, and I am sucker for that. The best I have seen since ‘The Dark Blue World’ (2001) and before that ‘Piece of Cake’ (1988).

Some of the acting is up to the ‘Mrs Miniver’ (1942) standard, notably on the small boat, but most isn’t.

There is a high blood pressure soundtrack which too often competes with the screen. A mute button was needed for that. If the visceral reality is the point, then let’s hear that as the men did.

I also like that it is feature length and not an epic of endurance for the viewer!

What’s not to like is a longer list.

Overall we get nothing about the human side of it, the decision-making, Belgian, English, French, or German. Without that, it becomes a disaster movie where an uncontrollable force of nature erupts and a mix of individuals try to survive. It could have been played without a word of dialogue and that might have improved it.

This impression grows because we never see a German until a few shadows in the last scene. The unseen enemy becomes a malevolent storm, not other fallible human beings.

Likewise most of the characters are nameless ciphers. Though, curiously, some of the nameless are named in the credits. Confusing or confused? Pick one!

By default the movie also makes the evacuation seem disorganised but in fact the staff work to organise and plan was extensive and that is largely why it was as successful as it was. I have mentioned this is another post on this blog. The essential point is that it was ten, that is, 10 x, more successful than early estimates, most importantly including those made by the Germans.

Here are a few IS, that is, Irritating Specifics.

At the beginning, the five Brits amble down the street; they are too clean. They dawdle. There is no urgency. After at least five weeks in the field they are clean. Ah huh. They might have 2018 fashionably long hair after weeks in the field but they would also be unshaven and dirty with torn and soiled uniforms. This impression is not mitigated by a few close ups of dirty hands. Nor would they amble at this juncture. They dawdle for no other reason than to have the idyl broken by gun fire. Very staged and it is obvious.

The town of Dunkirk is shown tidy in the film when in fact it was rubble by the time the BEF got there. 'BEF?' That is, the British Expeditionary Force, as it was called.

Dunkirk city 1.jpg The reality.

Dunkirk was held to anchor the flank and it was devastated, a ruin, not a ghost town as presented here. This is an important point because the French did fight hard in the North, particularly around nearby Lille which was also flattened. The defence of Lille delayed the German advance in the North making the evacuation possible.

The mountain of sandbags is impressive and pointless. Who had the time to build it? And why bother? Manned by only three poilus, who are not even going to slow up a German patrol. Nor is it likely they would know about the evacuation. Master plans from London are seldom passed onto to isolated French riflemen like the uncredited Daniel Auteil. Moreover, more than 100,000 French were evacuated, some in French ships usually omitted from English telling of this story, though some of the ships we see in this film with British flags are French. Confusing, non?

Branagh does a lot of posing and takes off his hat for no other reason than the look. Who he is and what he is doing, apart from posing, is left to guesswork.

Why does the loaded hospital ship stay on the pier long after it is declared full? By the way it clearly was not full.

SHup not full.jpg This ship is full, not.

Ship full.jpg This ship is full.

Indeed the crowd in this film was often sparse. Except for a few scenes there were not many extras. The whole cast might has well have been CGIs given how little humanity is allowed to them.

While on matters nautical the destroyers do not seem to have anti-aircraft Bofors guns but the I-class ships did and they were the ones there.

The men who take refuge on the beached Dutch trawler make a sitting target for a Stuka bomb attack. Surely they would have known that. Nor do they take the simple precaution of posting a sentry. Why someone getting off would plug the holes in the hull is anyone’s guess. Yes, I know stress does bend the mind, but it does not enlist sympathy.

The choreographed cheering looks just like that. The news does not travel down the line but erupts all at once, clearly on cue. Moreover, most men on the beach were hiding in the dunes out of sight to avoid being targets for air attack until ships were available so they would not have seen much.

Nor did Branah have to wait for the French as the Irishman says in closing, because after the first day Churchill, unseen in this telling, ordered first come first served and about 100,000 French and Belgians were lifted to continue the war.

The aerial choreography was grand but full of inaccuracies. The Messerschmidts did not have yellow nose cones to make them easy to identify. The Spitefire carried ammunition for one 20-second burst, or divisions thereof. To hit anything they had to close to one hundred yards or less so that the target filled the target ring. This Spitefire has nearly forty minutes of ammunition. Moreover, after all the early fuss about fuel, the last one has a bottomless tank. Nor does the Spitefire have the endless glide path shown. With the engine, weapons, and pilot in the front, it was front heavy.

Yes, the Tommies on the beach did decry the lack of air cover but surely they would not have said ‘airforce,’ but RAF. Was it a marketing decision to script it as ‘air force’ in case some viewers did not know what RAF is? The RAF did want to preserve assets for the next round until Churchill overrode it. The limitation was distance and also guessing when the Luftwaffe would be there to attack.

The Luftwaffe did not have to go out in the Channel to engage the RAF. Why do so? The RAF attacks were limited by range and were as unpredicable as the German ones, while the beaches and waters were full of big targets.

Unlikely Heinkels were much used there but applied elsewhere to the main German drive, contrary to the myth, was miles away toward Paris with many stationery targets like railway yards, bridges, etc. For Heinkels to hit a moving ship with a bomb is a script writer's dream.

The Channel is too shallow for U Boats and Dunkirk was a resort town because of the shallow waters which kept the destroyers out to sea but made loading small boats easy. Shallow water made submarines easy to spot from the air.

Of course, a Heinkel might have been there, ditto a U Boat. The point is the film is pastiche of incidents with no coherent story line. Looks like someone did a lot of reading and picked out of context a diversity of incidents for their cinematographic potential and then strung them together, not to convey what happened but to hop from one tableau to another and back. The result is a series of incoherent images without rhyme or reason. There is neither plot nor character. And as noted a couple of times above, the direction is stiff.

Yet no doubt some viewers will conclude that they know the history now.

It is heartening to see that some user reviews on IMDB are negative, despite the average rating. Unlike the professional critics who carefully avoid ruffling any feathers. I pine for a Pauline Kael destruction of this nonsense.

IMDb metadata is 28 minutes of run time @ 8.2 from 23,848 raters.

Jette cover.jpg

A Sy Fy short that often appears on lists of great movies, and I can see why. It is arresting and mysterious.

It is after an atomic World War III and some think they have won but most died. Survivors have dug into the Earth.

Paris is a burned cinder but deep down in the Châtelet metro station in the first arrondisemen where six lines pass are survivors. A lot of them. They have prisoners on whom they perform experiments.

One prisoner is selected and he prepares himself to meet a terrible fate with a mad and cruel scientist only to find a placid doctor who explains that they are trying to time travel either to the past to avert the catastrophe or to the future to get help. Some who have tried to travel through time have been driven nuts, others just died, not being strong enough for the emotional wrench and the mental effort.

The major prop is an eye mask with some wires inserted in it and a hypodermic. The rest is imagination!

The Man without a name submits and dreams or travels. No one is sure which it is. He, too, is unsure. The doctor is unsure. The viewer is unsure. the fraternity brothers dozed.

In the course of his backward travels he meets a woman to whom he tells his story and she listens, calm, attentive, interested. He keeps going back to her, though we learn nothing about her.

He also makes one forward trip and meets in a cloud of mist four individuals from the future with two franc coins stuck to their foreheads. They reject him but later relent and offer him personal sanctuary but they cannot help the others.

However by then he prefers the past with She who does not have a name.

In a dreamy sequence he goes to her at Orly aeroport on the observation deck, the pier, la jetėe of the title, and he is murdered by someone from the Châtelet metro station who is there with the other prop, the scary goggles optometrist use to calibrate lenses corrections.

Goggles.jpg

He realises, as he dies, that he has seen this death, his own death, before. Huh. All very post-modern.

He dies. No one can escape fate is the moral, it seems.

There is an intermittent voiceover narrative that is laconic and cryptic. And all the film is still photographs, many striking ones of Paris in the spring and the gothic underground refuge evoking German expressionism. But all is done with a light hand.

At times in the silence, and there is a lot of that, there is a nearly inaudible whispering in German. Don’t know what to make of that. An echo from the past.

Mostly the palette is dark in that underground redoubt with many shadows in the black and white photography.

I have seen at least one repetition of that scene on la jetėe at Orly in a krimi with Alain Delon or Lino Ventura. Can’t pin it down. Orly was shiny, new, modern, and futuristic in 1962. Later it became shopworn and dilapitated, as when I made a pilgrim to it in 1980.

Marker was a photographer among other things and borrowed a video camera for one very short scene of a few minutes. Like others at the time nuclear war seemed inevitable to him.

He did other conventional documentary films, and what he called photoessays.

While he was a traveller to make the documentaries and friends with cinemaistas like Alain Renais, he shunned all publicity. No interviews.

Chris Marker.jpg Chris Marker

Few photographs of himself. No official explanations of his work. Lived to 92.

IMDb metadata: 2 hours and 24 minutes of life @ 8/10 from 597,255 zits

Martian DVD.jpg

The most boring job at NASA in 2055? Monitoring the visual feeds from its Mars satellites. But someone does it and detects activity on Mars!

Backup a little for the set up. Ares I is NASA’s first crewed mission to land on Mars with four men and two women. They are at work on the Red Planet collecting samples. The combination of camera filters and sands with the desert in Jordan is well done in creating a Mars.

As they work, on cue a large and powerful sandstorm strikes before they can all get inside the ship. In the ensuing maelstrom, one of the crew, Watney, is struck by a flying rock and carried away into the murky darkness. Meanwhile, the rocket is so buffeted that it is in danger of tilting too far to the looney right for takeoff. It’s a do-or-die situation.

Commander, as she is called, pushed the button for blastoff, after suitable lip chewing. It is clear they could never find him in the storm and that the computer predictions of a catastrophic tilt are accurate. Willpower does not overcome the laws of physics, as it too often does in Hollywoodlandia. It is five against one to complete the mission.

Off they go on the six month return flight to Earth. What can go wrong?

Watney did not die. Through a combination of circumstances he survived the impact of the rock and the storm but he is now ‘Marooned’ (1969) on Maris. (Remember that one?)

Mars Jordan.jpg Red Mars

He becomes a ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), remember that one, by first cleaning up his wounds and then setting about surviving with all the gear Ares I left behind.

Watney determines he will do science to survive. He uses his knowledge and sets about learning more as he goes. First air and water, then food. Then energy for the rovers and the Rube Goldberg mechanisms he engineers to meet his needs. It is not easy. Things go wrong. Mistakes are made, but he persists. Science is the way. Right down to burning a wooden cross left behind by a crewmate to make a fire. Banned in Alabama and Iran for that.

Homework.jpg He survives by homework, not prayer.

The storm destroyed communication so he cannot call home. Ares continues toward Earth. Watney does not know and does not ever seem to think the Mars satellites might spot him or his traces. He could have spelled SOS with the solar panels and saved us all a lot of time. On time see below. But his traces are spotted.

They watch his tracks as he manoeuvres solar panels and batteries. A lot of this. Too much.

NASA has thrown a lot of taxpayers money at Mars and left machines there from previous unmanned landings. Watney scavenges parts and material from the junk yard, including some communication devices.

Back at the ranch in Houston, Rubber Chin has to decide whether to tell the world Watney is alive and whether to tell the crew of Ares, some of whom are still chewing their lips. The decisions are complicated: nice scenes of hysterical journalists looking for a kill in a press conferences, and the political reactions related to funding some kind of rescue mission which may arrive too late anyway.

The two most interesting parts of that are the deux ex machina involvement of the Chinese space program in the planning and Richard Sharpe’s mutiny in leaking a hairbrained plan to the crew of Ares. By the rules of Hollywood, the hairbrained plan is the path of redemption which they must take.

Even more hairbrained schemes come into play to recover Watney. Glad wrap to the rescue. In ‘The Doomesday Machine’ (reviewed on this blog) it was aluminium foil.

Loved the emphasis on science and on teamwork and brainwork pace ‘Apollo 13’ (1995) to find solutions to one problem at a time. There are no histrionics. No he-man stuff and no resort to prayer to solve problems. Banned in another seven states and Syria.

Watney is well realised but not so Rubber Chin who has neither depth nor gravitas. Maybe I say that because in his efforts to look serious he reminds all too much of Al Gore whom I could never take seriously.

It is an ensemble piece and apart from these two, the screen time is distributed among the members of the group, many of whom are super nerds, as indicated by their ragged attire and evident poor personal hygiene. Keep those tired tropes coming!

Space flight, take off, link ups are marvellously presented, the gear has verisimilitude. No one smokes on Mars, unlike the 1950s visits to Mars by B-movie landers.

Again in contrast to that era, no big deal is made out of that the fact hat there are women on the crew or that the Commander is a woman. Even in the 1980s this was a theme screen writers had to use as a substitute for creativity.

Also mercifully absent were any magnified spiders much to the disappointment of the fraternity brothers.

R Scott.jpg Director Ridley Scott is the master of the medium.

It is an epic. — for the audience— to endure at two and half hours, and it could certainly have been cut to feature length. We don’t need to see everything when much of it is repeated in the video logs Watney makes and the ever present mini cams. Much of the footage seems to be there because we have it, not because the story needs it for the audience.

IMDb metadata: 1 Hour and 32 minutes. 7.8/10 from 68,694 discerning viewers.

‘Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.’ Repeat after me...... (and we pimpled youth did in case we ever ran into a Gort. We were ready!)

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This was THE 1950s Sy Fy movie made with an A movie budget. Yet there was no creature in sight. But a very composed and dignified individual, Klaatu who made the mistake of trying to be rational in D.C. and got drilled for his trouble, twice over.

For the benighted, unenlightened ones, and included in this group all those who have seen the remake, the set up is this. One fine spring day a flying saucer finds a parking place on the Mall.

Saucer mall.jpg

It is a sleek craft and there it is. Rush Limbaugh denies it exists. The Army tries to blow it up. Republicans vote to cut its appropriation. The media goes into a frenzy. Democrats try to mate with it, and the gawkers turn out in force to see blood. The circus is always in town in D.C. Scientists write papers on it to fatten the cvs. (Not the CVS drug stores.) Two days of tension follow until the alien emerges to proclaim peaceful intentions.

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Obviously a Commie plot, so he is shot. Bang, problem solved, proclaims Rush.

Gort turns on his evil eye and atomises quite a few Red Shirts but then lapses inactive during an IOS update while Klaatu is carted off to a hospital.

Gort.jpg

When the alien comes around he is polite, correct, and rational. As such, no D.C. insider can understand him. ‘No, world leaders cannot be assembled to hear his message!’ Is the reply. ‘You are in our hands now,’ is the implication.

As if.

Klaatu commits an interstellar misdemeanour by stealing some perfectly fitting clothes and leaves the hospital. As usual the guards in this movie are always half-wits, relatives of the fraternity brothers.

Klaatu rents a room at Patrica Neal’s boarding house where he befriends her son Bob who becomes, unconsciously, his guide to the ways of humans. Cf. Carradine learning chess in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959). Seeing this refined, kindly stranger in the house, irritates Hugh Marlowe, Pat’s squeeze, she being a war widow. Hugh goes all passive-aggressive.

After a moving visit to the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu is impressed by the words of Abraham, Klaatu with Bob go to see Sam Einstein whom Klaatu helps with his arithmetic, and then reveals himself. He then arranges via Gort a selective but worldwide power blackout for thirty minutes starting at twelve noon Eastern Standard Time, just when he and Pat are alone in an elevator. He spills the beans to her, too. Now that he has started blurting it seems he cannot stop. The blackout was general but not complete in that aircraft in flight, hospitals, machinery supporting life continued to operate. We can hope it cut Rush off in mid diatribe.

Klaatu calls himself Carpenter. Get it? Smooth sailing to date, but Klaatu came out without his Amex card and he has to borrow bus fare from Bob in return for a pocketful of diamonds! Next thing you know, Hugh has sicced the army, police, navy, Rush Limbaugh, Girl Scouts, infielders, and the carrion of the media onto him. By the way, how did he pay the first weeks rent on the room in advance if he is busted?

Lock Martin wrapped in tin foil stands around, that is, Gort to the gormless.

The staging is simple and elegant almost documentary. Klaatu uses the flashlight on his iPhone one night to communicate with Gort. The interior of the ship is spare and yet intricate to the eye. Movement sensors turn light on and off, it seems. Mostly Klaatu listens and talks very politely, and correctly. With such good grammar and syntax, he must be an alien!

After Hugh has blown Klaatu’s cover, Klaatu and Pat scat, and in the ensuing chase the Rush posse kills Klaatu. Dead. So much for an alien taking a parking place on the Mall! That is a capital offence in the Capitol!

With his dying breath Klaatu sends Pat to Gort with that message. With the grit born of Kentucky coal country she does so, whereupon, as required by the film’s publicity department, Gort sweeps her up into his arms and carries her off to the spaceship, a helpless doll being carried by a creature was necessary for the advertising to communicate with the moronic members of the audience. That always works for the fraternity brothers. Gort then departs and recovers Klaatu’s body from the morgue by dissolving a wall and returns with it to the spaceship. There were only two guards, the third stooge, being absent, and Gort dissolved them, too.

We all know that left to her own devices Pat would not have gone all helpless and hurled herself onto a pile of folding chairs.

Neal.jpg Neal's face upon meeting the Twit in Chief.

That was the doing of the writer and director. On her own she would gulped and got on with it without the histrionics.

Earlier Gort had incapacitated guards while two of them lounged with their backs to him, never alert, but now that Klaatu is dead, Gort is more extreme without Klaatu’s restraining hand, one infers.

While a stunned Pat watches, Gort lays Klaatu into an MRI which klatters and whistles him back to life. Resurrected. Get it.

Now robed in his shiny spaceman’s suit, Klaatu emerges from the ship with Pat, who scurries away, and Gort the Impacable. Note, the fraternity brothers cannot take a spaceman seriously unless in shiny pants. Klaatu’s turns to the assembled scientists Sam had gathered and some itchy fingered army types. Klaatu’s Address is this.

Blow yourselves up, if you wish. But the combination of rockets and atomic bombs makes Earth a threat to other planets. The League of Other Planets, LoOP, employs many Gorts to prevent such intrusions. Gort is merciless and all powerful. Cross him and he destroys the planet. Get it? No excuses. No extension. No sorry. No mercy.

Even pithier than Lincoln.

Off he goes: whooshka!

That message ignited ranks of successor films to explain why advanced aliens would bother with Terra.

Michael Rennie was cast precisely because he was unknown to Yankee audiences, so he would not trigger any residual expectations in viewers. He is austere and yet warm with the boy and so much more mysterious than the excitable and predictable Hugh. Though Hugh earned his Space Cadet stars in ‘The Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ (1956). Pat is a one-woman congregation who learns the lessons of peace and forebearance, or else, from the carpenter’s messenger, Get it?

Billy Gray is crucial to the presentation of character, but his part is not kid stuff. The is no ‘Tobor the Great’ with childish antics.

While the Army is portrayed as alert, organised, determined, and prepared, except for the sentries at the saucer who were careless, unbelievably stupid, and itchy fingered. The guards around the saucer are inattenive, how else could a giant in tin foil sneak up on them. The first response of the Army is to shoot. When the guards are alert it is to shoot. Slack in that only two grunts are left on guard, no more, and no officer to make decisions or with some phone numbers to duck responsibility.

Press hysteria in newspaper, radio, news reels, and television is there but in a minor key.

While Klaatu, as with every other alien visitor, wants to talk to the whole world, the Yankees will not hear of it. The conclave of scientists Sam gathers is international by the stereotypes of dress and appearance.

Rob Wise.jpg Robert Wise

The director, Robert Wise made splendid films in many genres. His next Sy Fy was two decades later, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1971) and the first ‘Star Trek’ movie in 1979.

Pat reprised some of her role in a less dramatic account in ‘Stranger from Venus,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. To be enlightened find it.

The producer and director wanted to make a film about peace and cooperation during the Korean War and the evils of HUAC, a pre-Twit curse. To that end they rejected Spencer Tracy for the lead, thinking he would conjure up fatherly figures from his many other roles. They hired a brilliant musician for the score who cemented the theremin into Sy Fy. They risked offending Alabama with the temporary resurrection of Klaatu but put in a meaningless and distracting reference to ‘the almighty spirit’ to comfort the Alabamans who fear, rightly, that no one loves them. The producer insisted on employing the blacklisted Sam Einstein and not just for his electric hair. It would seven years before another producer would dare to employ him, such was the baleful influence of the junior Senator from Wisconsin whose name never crosses my keyboard. It took the decision and influence of the studio head, Daryl Zanuck to make all of the happen, and the risks for him were great but he ploughed ahead.

A second unit went to D.C. and filmed the Washington scenes, the actors worked in Hollywood and the editor brought them altogether in a seamless whole.

While it was stimulated by a Sy Fy story, the screenplay departs from and improves it immeasurably. It offers a more complex story with a larger cast of characters and a more fleshed out Klaatu. In this case the screenplay is superior to the story from which it is derived.

While channel surfing on a trip this popped up,and so I watched. Vaguely I had been putting it off until later, partly because it is not on You Tube and partly because I remember it very well,from previous viewings.

Disclosure statement. The reviewer has not seen ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (2006) and has no wish to do so, because it will give priority to CGI over the simple story and will replace the detached calm of the original with a fevered attempt at action. So I assume. No doubt the time will come when curiosity will take me to it, but especially not immediately after seeing the original for fear of spoiling it with an unpleasant after taste.

IMDB metadata: 3 hours in six thirty-minute episodes, scored at 8.2 by 640 scorers. The plus sign (+) indicates it was shown in December 1958 and January 1959 on successive Friday nights.

Q and Pit title card.jpg

Workers report finding human remains on a building site and a team of archeologists begin excavating the bones. Felix Leiter is a palaeontologist who leads the team and he needs publicity to delay the construction so that the remains can be carefully and fully removed in his own sweet time.

Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass is resisting attempts by the army to take over his missile experiments, but he is losing the ever so polite battle at the committee table.

Leiter calls a press conference and in the whirl runs into his old friend Prof Q. They compare troubles over brandy. The skulls are humanoid but not human. Are they the missing link, or that of the Twit in Chief?

Then the diggers come upon object, an object big enough and with the evident shape of a bomb, perhaps an unexploded bomb left over from the Little Blitz of V Rockets in1944. Down tools! In comes the UXB squad to do some more careful digging. Leiter fumes at being barred from his dig while the developer denounces the whole thing as a costly delay. By the end of the second episode anyone but a fool could see it is not a bomb, but Colonel Cardboard who has taken charge continues to insist, per the script, that it is German bomb. Unable to get his buddy James Bond, Leiter has called in Prof Q for moral support and together they do….research. This is not Indiana Jones country. This is thinking! Not punching.

They carbon date the remains and objects they find and they go to the library and archives to research the vicinity, Hob’s Lane. What do they find?

That the bones and skulls, though sort of humanoid, are five million years old. That makes them an odd fit for the chain of evolution as it was understood at the time outside Alabama, and for what it is worth, unlikely to be German. Not a single swastika was found. Moreover, they find that Hob’s Lane has a time-honoured reputation as a spooky place, with ghost stories going back to the Fourteenth Century and as recent as 1927 when the house adjacent to the building site was abandoned as unliveable because of…..'things.' That got the attention of the fraternity brothers. ‘Things!’ They like things.

Meanwhile the Colonel has unearthed an object about the size and shape of a flying miniature submarine. There is much ill will between Colonel and Prof Q about what it is. They discover that it is not metal, as they know it. Nothing can penetrate it. Not an acetylene torch, not a diamond drill, not a split infinitive, not even the Twit in Chief’s ego. Colonel Cardboard’s solution is the soldier’s old friend, TNT. Prof Q goes all quivery and talks him out of it.

Finally, they find an open door on the other side of the gradually unearthed object and enter an empty vessel. The interior looks like a culvert, but the forward bulkhead is sealed off. Again they try to penetrate it with their penetrators. Then one after another a soldier and a safe cracker go spare while belabouring the bulkhead. Others will follow. Colonel is at a loss but cannot admit it. He puts it all down to a diet lacking moral fibre. Prof Q is turning his thoughts skyward. Leiter is counting his Loonies.

Q ship.jpg The unexploded bomb of Colonel Cardboard's dreams.

The bulkhead has pentagrams on it. Whoa! Is it time for the occult? Then, seemingly of its own accord, the bulkhead opens. Inside they find……gargoyles!

The ship was clearly divided into two parts, a large compartment for passengers — those humanoids — and the sealed bulkhead wherein were found three deceased gargoyles on loan from Quasimodo. Huh? Moreover after careful examination the craft itself has no mechanisms. One officer, not Colonel Cardboard, speculates that the ship itself must be a mechanism of some kind. What a brew!

Quatermass does what scientists do best, speculate. He fumbles slowly to this conclusion. The gargoyles came from Mars five million years ago before life was extinguished on Mars. What were they doing? They were scooping up some of our simian ancestors, taking them to Mars where the Martians altered the simians by some means (surgical or biological), and then returned them to Earth. This find was but one of many such missions to alter the population of Earth.The other missions were successful but this one was not. Why they went to this trouble is not clear. This Martian intervention explains the missing link in human evolution. God does indeed work in mysterious ways because Martian insects made us human beings. Does that writer have a sense of humour or what?

This program of genetic engineering by the gargoyles was observed through the millennia five million years ago, and they were remembered in images of devils, satan, and other creatures that were the reality on which the gargoyles were modelled. First superstition and then religion arose against the reality of Martian insects.

Q and Martian.jpg Prof with his favourite Martian.

Meanwhile, Colonel Cardboard continues to yell about a German trick. Here the scriptwriter lets us down. Cardboard is so superficial it is impossible to take him seriously. But then the media begins to do what it does best, spread misinformation, panic, and hysteria. To hose it down, the Minister prefers the Colonel’s interpretation, and he makes sure he does not see for himself to keep his ability to deny reality in tact. That seems all to realistic.

Things go from stupid to disastrous when the minister decides, Colonel Cardboard being right, to hold a press conference on site and lay the whole story to rest as hoax. The energy of the crowd and the generators to power cameras, microphones, egos feeds the ship, which itself is some residual spectre, and things go flying.

Turns our Prof Q was right all along. It ends with his subsequent testimony laying out the story we have just seen.

It could not be made today. Bugs made humans. No God necessary.

There is much exposition across the episodes and each begins with a recapitulation of the story so far. It was re-made as ‘Five Million Years to Earth’ (1967). At feature length of 90 minutes this version compressed much with a faster pace.

It came from the fertile keyboard of Nigel Kneale, who has many noteworthy credits to his name, including the Quatermass franchise, ‘The Stone Tapes,’ and ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics.’


 

IMDB 1 Hour and 22 minutes @ 6.8/10 from 4295

On a mild autumn evening a young couple doing anatomical research in the long grass are disturbed by a rocket screaming overhead. It rattles the crockery and sets off the dog at a nearby farm. The eternal British Army Scotsman Gordon Jackson takes up arms to deal with the disturbance, but well none of his previous cinematic experiences has prepared him for rockets and it is his last scene above stairs. No, he doesn’t get zapped but calls in Professor Quatermass. Gordon went on to his next gig.

QXperiment.jpg

The QX was to send a three-man rocket into orbit and return it to Earth. While his rocket kit was home made, he has Lionel Jeffries from the Ministry ineffectually dogging his steps as he orders about everyone around with contradictory demands. Prof Q certainly likes being the boss!

After much dallying they pop the door and find one spaceman much the worse for wear. Where are the other two? Mysterious, indeed. Speculations follow.

Meanwhile, the Survivor, who gives a devastating performance, is rushed to a hospital for returned spacemen and guarded by a dolt. The spaceman's wife decides a private hospital would be better but Prof Q wants to study the Survivor by bellowing at the nurses. Wife decides to spirit him away. This does not go well.

Now he is on the loose, wandering and wondering around. Some very nice scenes of his encounters. There is an inner struggle and the man is losing to the protoplasm. Oops, that is a spoiler!

As his humanity recedes, the protoplasm’s appetite increases. There goes the zoo. Gulp. At this point my imagination turned D.C. How long are zoo animals there safe from the GOP protoplasm?

The rest is a police procedural to track him, which has become an it, down. They do so in Westminster Cathdral. Well a mock up of it since they film company was denied access to the real thing. There they turn to the mad scientist’s old friend, electricity, to fry it. Success! Fried protoplasm is on the menu.

The intrusion into Westminister is cleverly done to juxtapose a bland high arts program on the building with this thriller. The former represents most BBC television at the time, fussy, erudite, recondite, arcane, dusty, in contrast to the whiz bang of Quatermass and his happy band of alien hunters.

Everyone is exhausted! Aghast! Relieved! Many sighs are heard. Wife is not consulted about any of this. Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass has learned his lesson and strides off to build a new protoplasm-proof rocket.

It seems this first rocket while in space passed through matter that entered the ship by magic and absorbed the crew. That is where the missing two went. Since this was a new cuisine, Proto proceeded slowly,and was only starting on the third when the ship under remote control from the ground crashed interrupting the anatomy lesson.

This story had aired in the BBC in 1953 in six parts to a great reception. That emboldened the entrepreneurs who would become Hammer Films to hire the author, Nigel Kneale, to re-write the story into a continuous film script, Kneale went on to write more Quatermass, so much it is hard to keep it straight. He also wrote one of the best things I have sever seen on the box, namely ‘The Stone Tapes’ (1972).

This film has the look of a quota quickie because the Yankee action man Brian Donleavy plays Prof Q, and does so with evident relish. Quota quickies are explained elsewhere on this blog. The essence is that they were cranked out to meet local content requirements but often had an American actor for marketing there. Most were as quickly forgotten, but not this one. It triggered more Quatermass films and encouraged Hammer Films down the genre path of Horror.

In 1955 an X-rating meant adults only, and Hammer accepted that readily by incorporating it in the title as was the case with some other films like ‘The Man from Planet X’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. What children were then denied they can get today on video games.

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 18 minutes, 6.6/10 @ 320 opinions

Funded from the tip jar at the tea room, the sets are bare, the effects ordinary, but the scene is well set and there is enough mystery to hold interest. Strangely, John Carradine is not in it.

%22Unearthly_Stranger%22.jpg

It opens with a wide- and wild-eyed man in fear running down a dark and empty street. He looks back as if he is pursued. In a close up, John Neville is bathed in sweat. A paranoid atmosphere is established with a minimum of fuss. Neville ascends a circular staircase, working up more sweat, bursts into an office and starts a reel-to-reel tape recorder to tell the story in flashback.

Neville is a scientist in the Space Research Centre somewhere in Britain (where the streets are devoid of cars).

We learn in the flashback that he has just been promoted to the top job and that he has also just got married after a whirlwind romance in Switzerland. Is the conjunction of these two events a happy coincidence? Or has the script writer set it up? Guess!

The Space Research Centre consists of a receptionist, a large map of the moon on the wall, two offices, a chrome dome Philip Stone (who has been in everything), and Neville. His predecessor, whom we see ever so briefly, blew a brain gasket and died. Young, vigorous, and cheerful, yet he keeled over and the autopsy showed blood vessels shredded in his grey matter. Ouch.

Enter the rotund security officer,
Mother.jpg
Mother (as he was later to be in ‘The Avengers’), who tells Chrome Dome that a number of astro-scientists have blown brain gaskets in England, USA, and the USSR, though this latter report is suspect. Is looking at a large map of the moon the cause? What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Well, the fraternity brothers took a look at the wife. Ah ha! Turns out other brain-blown scientists also had new wives. Oh, ‘nocturnal over exertions may be the cause,' they cried. Rotund does not even consider this obvious line of peeping.

Neville, eyes turned to the heavens, speculates that 'they' (hint) up there may not want us to get there.

However, attention now swings to Wife. It seems Neville knows nothing about her, ahem, apart from that, and it also seems, as he gradually realises, she took all the initiatives that led to the marriage. What he just assumed was his magnetism can be interpreted otherwise.

At times he seems to have suspicions of her, and at other times he is quick to defend her from Rotund’s insinuations. Neville is clearly in thrall to her. The fraternity brothers terminology is not suitable for a family blog like this.

But even the smitten Neville admits she has quirks. She sleeps with her eyes wide open all night. (Androids do this in other films.)
Asleep.jpg
Okay. She has no pulse. Okay. (The fraternity brothers immediately spotted that as a trait of Venusians, per ‘Stranger from Venus’ [1954], reviewed elsewhere on this blog.) Moreover, she grabs a red hot casserole from the oven bare-handed with no ill effects. Later, the tears she cries burn her skin. What does all this add up to? See title above.

Aware of these oddities, Neville manages not to add them up. Nor does he connect the dots to his earlier speculations about what ‘they’ up there might not want. Thrall, indeed.

Wife gets misty at the sight of children. Hence the tears. Then when Neville cracks the formula for something crucial, who knows what, more tears come, because…. It is time to blow another brain gasket.

Spoiler.

She is indeed one of ‘they’ on a mission to stop the Space Research Centre from meeting its KPIs. In cinema-land few, if any other, aliens are women. What we get here is an alien who is conflicted, who has compassion, who has maternal instincts, as well as asbestos hands. This is a rarity in the Sy Fy genre. While some come in peace and do good works, no other alien to date falls in love and finds life on Earth good enough to stay. Wife does not want to hurt Neville, and she would like to have children.

Okay, okay. This is a pre-Liberated Woman who just wants to be a wife, homemaker, and mother, but in the context it is a volte-face. Of course, the fraternity brothers had a lot of questions, which are best omitted, about alien women.

When she wimps out of blowing up Neville’s brains, the receptionist steps in. Turns out for the last twelve years she has been erasing the blackboard every night, so that the scientists have had to start the formula over each day. This trick is called a Penelope among the Sisterhood. None of the big brain scientists have noticed this, not even the chrome dome boss.

However Chrome has figured how to overcome an alien. He grabs a sock from the laundry basket and the odour drives her to jump out of the window. Phew! Whew! Like Wife, she just vanishes. There today, gone today.

But there are plenty more aliens in the sea, since the last shot is of a group of women having a look. Gulp! Are they more of the Lunar Sisterhood? We’ll never know until the sequel.

No one smokes. Now that is odd in a piece from this period. No pipe fiddling. No cigars, No cigarettes.

Some reviewers call this an alien invasion film, but not so. there are aliens on Earth as agents of influence, but there is no invasion, nor a threat of one as long as the blackboard is kept clean over night. Brains are then safe.

The Cold War is there in the distrust of the Russkies, but the aliens are not a metaphor for them, or are they?

IMDB meta data: run time 1 and 45 minutes; scored at 7.3/10 by a paltry 124 voters.

‘Coming sooner than you think,’ is the opening title card.  About time, cried the fraternity brothers!

Made fifty years ago, this film is an anticipation of reality television, even before ‘Death Watch’ (1980).

Sex O card.jpg

The set up? The televised trials for a place at the next world Sex Olympiad are underway in a television studio. Watched from a control room by the bored producers, clad in paisley pajamas, who are dedicated to keeping the viewers apathetic in a society where

‘it is better to watch than to do.’  

They watch and so do we.  The vicarious sex on the telly is to sate the libidos of the audience so that there is less reproduction.  (Pornography has never done that for the fraternity brothers.)  There are other sex program catering to the artistic. Another program is aimed at reducing the appetite for food through custard pie throwing. Very Three Stooges. There is a joke about this in the credits with a long list of consultants on pie throwing, including Bernard from ‘Yes, Minister.’

Paisley PJs.jpg Those jammies.

In general the purpose of television is to quell the emotions, drives, and impulses of people because they cause conflict.  The goal is a quiescent society. like Canberra on Saturday night.  

This situation has gone on so long that the current generation we see no longer seems to know the larger context or purpose or the historical evolution of the industry and the society it serves. It just is this way.

Everyone speaks a clipped functional language.  The television producers are High-Drive people.  The audience they cater to consists of Low-Drive people, the vast majority.  That translates readily to the world of Channel 7Mate where the producers cater to an audience they despise and make millions doing it. No one goes broke underestimating the tastes of that demographic where urine drinking is a competitive sport.

Finding the balance in this television game is tricky.  Nat with eyebrows that often speak for themselves is pressured from above by the Controller, a standard BBC term, to improve his programs and threatened from below by a underling who wants his job. Situation normal in an organisation but mercifully this depiction is pre-KPI so there is no cloudy and vague McKinsey-speak further to confuse matters in the name of clarity.

Two disruptions occur.  First an artist arrives in the studio and he wants to upset people with horrifying pictures.  Think of Evard Munck’s ‘The Scream’ or the Twit in Chief smiling.  Ugh! These people are indeed horrified by the art.  The studio High-Drives are so cocooned they have never seen an unpleasant sight. The artist tries to disrupt a broadcast to show one of his pictures and becomes one himself when he falls to his death! 

Eyebrows, however, finds the pictures fascinating, albeit unsuitable for broadcast. He is, perhaps, not quite as superficial as he seems, then into his life comes a personal crisis when a child by his first wife is tested as Low-Drive, which will reflect badly on him.  He has no interest in Ex or Child except as they show in his file. He is a very model of a modern McKinsey manager avant le mot and only thinks of his KPIs. 

The idea emerges of isolating a couple on a deserted island amid cameras so that viewers can watch them cope. Eyebrows and Ex volunteer with Child. These three missed Scouting and know nothing. They do not know what fire is let alone how to start and maintain one or to pull a vegetable out of the ground on the windswept rain-soaked island in Holland Park to which they are consigned.

They have copious instructions from Wikipedia on an iPhone which are frequently consulted. Eyebrows had an iWatch in the studio bit he did not take it to The Island where he went low tech.

The program is called ‘Living Life.’  The audience finds it amusing and it is a hit. The audience by the way is represented by a focus group of twelve garbed in pink sweatshirts and pants. These are the Low-Drives of Channel 7Mate.

Without the professor from Gilligan’s Island, Eyebrows and Ex are hopeless.  They have been spoon fed so long that they only know the shape of the spoon. Child falls, breaks an arm, and slowly dies of an untreated infection.

Focus group.jpg

The sweatpantsers find that hilarious. Ratings soar. (See, like ‘Death Watch.’)

The inevitable comparisons are the E.M. Forester story ‘When the Machine Stops’ and George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’  Though as to the latter, there is no hint here that there is a regime oppressing people per Orwell but rather a commercial enterprise giving the Pink Sweatpants Nation what it wants, when it wants it, and how it wants it. Is not that broadcast populism, or democracy? Responding to what the people want is one definition of democracy. 

This is another gem from the fecund typewriter of Nigel Kneale. The players include Reginald Perrin and the estimable, but here very young, Brian Cox. I found it on the Internet Archive. 

It was filmed in colour but only a black and white archival print remains. The expensive colour film was reused though why the BBC did it in costly colour at a time when there very few colour televisions to see it on is anyone’s guess.

Inspired by this viewing, I will look for ‘Death Watch.’

IMDb meta-data, 1 hour and 27 minutes, rated 5.1/10 from 60 voters.

A road movie in space as the lonely space trucker Bruce with 20,000 tons of Iowa hog fat picks up an escape pod passenger.  Not quite a hitchhiker but close to it.

Trucker card.jpg

They get to know each other and then they encounter The Dark Object and they struggle to survive.  They bond. Bruce is in the Channel 7Mate demographic.

Moral, space travel is boring.  Subtext, watching boring space travel is boring.  

Trucker action.jpg

Very. 

This is a no budget exercise written, produced, directed by one of the actors. See. It was posted to You Tube by the maker by way of a release.

I managed to watch it to the end but then, strangely, forgot about it until now quite a time later. 

Not to be confused with ‘Space Truckers’ (1996), which on the IMDb ranks at 5.2 or a mere 0.1 higher despite its much bigger budget and some fine actors, e.g., Dennis Hopper, Charles Dance, and more.

IMDB metadata: 1 hour and 37 minutes @ 3.9 from 479 friends of the producer.

Half Sy Fy and half an ersatz James Bond thriller from Italy.

Stardust card.jpg 'Staggering?' No more like numbing.

The first Earth flight lands on the Moon, and its four-man crew sets out to do some science, collect samples, survey, map, and gawk at Terra. (They do not light up.) But they are not alone!

There is another ship, a round June bug with external retracting landing gear. The fraternity brothers thought it was cute, more so later when it gave birth.

stardust_ship.png The June bug on the Moon.

After a standoff, two of the Terrans meet the aliens who are as insecure as Ivy League graduates who have to tell everyone immediately and repeatedly that they are Ivy League graduates, and boast again and again about their superiority to the Earthlings. Superior, maybe, but tactful not. The chief proclaimer is a chump-cha Twiggy in a platinum wig. In addition there is a wise old owl, and robot who seems nicer than Twiggy and smarter looking than the wise owl. Pretty sure that wig was used again later in ‘Sette uomini d'oro nello spazio’ or ‘Star Odyssey’ (1979) without Twiggy underneath.

'Superior,' did she say, time after time, and yet they can’t change a tire on the spaceship, which is why it is stuck on the Moon waiting for some road service retards from Earth to wander by. How superior is that! The Terrans volunteer to change the tire, while Twiggy repeats the scriptwriters mantra. Owl gets all faintly and the Terra doctor notices he has leukaemia. Tire changing will do that.

Twiggy and the Earthmen join....forces to treat the disease in the owl. Because they are so superior the aliens have neither a doctor nor medicine. Did she say superior? Well maybe it is a superior form of leuekmia, which the fraternity brothers thought mainly afflicted the young. Mr Owl is no spring owl.

Best treatment for leukaemia on Earth is to be had in Mombassa. Mom bosa? In Kenya. Sure.

The big June bug ejects a mini June bug and an away mission to land in east Africa. Twiggy brings along one of the really big-button remoters for geriatrics just in case. Superior technology, not! It gets put to good use.

The wise old owl goes on about the union of the two peoples of Earth and owls. The fraternity brother responded to that idea with enthusiasm.

There we switch to James Bond, complete with a villain sporting mirror-shined loafers and stroking a hairy pet. Blofeld slumming. Another wanna-be villain.

It’s like this. The Superior Beings with a flat spaceship tire and leukimea have a stash of diamonds. Blofeld knows this because one of the four Earthmen contacted him to rat it out. (Disclosure statement, I fast-forwarded past this revelation, so that is my interpretation based on what happens next.) Blofeld also knows that they are going to the clinic so he plants his killer nurses there with Uzis up their... It’s a trap!

Earlier the army had wasted screen time trying to blow up the ship, the robot, and the director’s chair. Something. Anything.

Later there is confrontation and shoot out on the Moon. The traitor gets it. Blofield gets it. Twiggy gets it.

To union or not.jpg Union at last. The end.

Never seen anything quite like it. It is a genre mongrel, part drive-in Sy FY and part low-budget James Bond. There are other mongrels in the Sy FY kennel, usually noir thrillers like ‘The Atomic Man’ or ‘The Amazing Transparent Man’ and others that blend with musicals, krimis, ghost stories, and .....

The levitation effects were fun. The robot unmasking was neat. The June bugs large and small were cute. It must have used everyone in Kenya as an extra.

But, really, 3.9 seems high.

IMDb Metadata 1 hour and 20 minutes of Dali Time, rated 3.0/10 by 670 time wasters.

‘It Conquered the World’ (1956) was Zontar’s first effort at Terra domination. But Zontar had a sibling and here it is. Sexing Venusians is beyond even the fraternity brothers, so we will leave it at ‘It.’

The Dallas production company copied ‘It Conquered the World’ nearly line by line and scene by scene, except at the coda. It is not a continuation of the previous story but a tired and trite repetition of it. The plagiarism is so literal that it even includes the same 1950s ethnic accents for some of the most minor characters. However, the decor, fashions, hair are all of the 1960s.

Zontar Venus.jpg

John Agar, about whom more below, saves the world once again, single-handedly as he prefers. This is done after his wife and his friend try to kill him. Macho Man that he is, he kills his wife, but bonds with his friend. Is this man-love?

The acting is uniformly wooden. Agar is the exception; he is robotic: stiff and mechanical.

Copied yes, but the homily at the end differs. Most Sy Fy films have some kind of coda. At the end of ‘It Conquered the World’ Peter Graves told audiences that humanity would prevail because humans have feelings, emotions, compassion,…. [ad nauseam]. In this outing, Agar’s text does not celebrate all that girly New Testament stuff, but declares humanity will endure because we think, reason, do science, and such. Hooray! Banned in anti-Vaxxer states across the nation.

That pulled me up short. While ‘It Conquered the World’ is a better movie, this is a better message.

‘It Conquered the World’ is a better movie at 4.9 on the IMDB opinionmeter, though in the basement, because it has much more energy, vitality, momentum, and tension than this leaden exercise.

Once again John Agar’s (1921–2002) feet do not touch career bottom. He kept it up for nearly another forty years! For a man who was second to John Wayne in ‘Fort Apache’ (1948), ’She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ (1949), and ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ (1949) this is a long way down. After marrying America’s sweetheart, Shirley Temple, he found a greater love in the bottom of innumerable bottles of alcohol, so the story goes, and that love ended his marriage and put dent in his career.

The titles indicate the substance of this selection of his oeuvre.
‘Revenge of the Creature’ (1955)
‘Tarantula’ (1956)
‘The Mole People’ (1956)
‘Daughter of Dr Jekyll’ (1957)
‘The Brain from Planet Arous’ (1957)
‘Attack fo the Puppet People’ (1958)
‘Journey to the Seventh Planet’ (1962)
‘Women of the Prehistoric Planet’ (1966)
‘Curse of the Swamp Creature’ (1966)

In most of them he played an authority figure, a scientist or an army officer, something he never was.

That career came as a result of his marriage. After he married Temple, her studio hired him, put him through acting school, and cast him in his first film, ‘Fort Apache.’ When she divorced him friends like John Wayne tried to help him with work but the shambles continued. Despite it all he kept acting, in his way, when not in jail for drunk driving, assault, harassment, stalking, petty theft, and such, yet he has a long list of roles on the IMDb, the last released in 2005 after his death. He is another Hollywood high diver. Started out on top and plunged to the bottom in no time at all.

According to the cinema oracle, IMDb, there is a Zontar Television series. Tempting….

IMDB metadata 1 hour and 7 minutes @ 5.0/10 from 1246 time wasters.

‘The aliens are coming! The alien Russians are coming!’

II poster.jpg The lobby card misleads. As usual. There are no zapping flying saucers.

The Cold War is very cold and John Carradine, with his cadaverous appearance and other worldly voice, leads the spooks once again.

He was a nuclear scientist who adds sugar to his radium and blows himself up. Sad. His dear friend and colleague ruminates on the morality of atomic weapons in the aftermath with his comely daughter and Igor. B o r i n g.

To liven things up comes the Zombie Carradine, looking even more cadaverous and spooky than ever with the pancake makeup. No, he does want a cup of coffee. He is there to lay down the law. His dead body has been put to work.

This Lazarus is speaking for the otherwise Invisible Invaders (the I-Squares) who live on the Moon, and have done so for squillions of years (without paying a cent of rent). Not even the really big telescope at Mount Palomar that Bruce Bennett used when Carradine was the 'Cosmic Man' (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) could see them or their works. They are INVISIBLE. (That is music to the film’s producer because it means no special effects budget is required.)

Indeed the main effect is shuffling foot prints so we know the Zombie alien is coming. It seems the Zombies are invisible, too, well, some of the time but not always. Consistency is not a Zombie virtue.

The budget cutters have been at work on the Moon, and to economise the I-Squares are using the Earth's dead as Zombies. We are told often in a radio voiceover that there are hordes of them rampaging around killing the living to convert them into Zombies to meet their KPIs, Killing Performance Indicators. Yet we only see six of them, all men in suits with neckties and all of them 1950s whitebread. We see them about six times. It looks like two takes, repeated and repeated, one coming down a slope and one on the flat, all in Bronson Canyon. The property values never recovered from this exercise.

Why do the I-Squares want to depopulate the Earth? Are they anticipating the Solar contamination of Paris Hilton? The fraternity brothers have no idea. Situation normal.

Carradine is not there to negotiate, just to threaten. He tells his ruminating old buddy to call on world leaders to surrender and be quick about it, which his buddy does by going to D.C. to pass the word where he is laughed out of court. The carrion the press join the fun with spinning newspaper headlines. Situation normal.

Though the threat is global we only see the Yankee response. Not just whitebread, but only Yankee whitebread.

‘No more Mr Nice Guy,’ declares an disembodied Carradine (whose body has now gone onto to another gig), and the I-Squares begin inflicting disasters on the world. First, they take ‘I Love Lucy’ off the air and riots follow. Then they cause the New York Yankees to lose the pennant. Can it get any worse?

Yes, Richard Nixon gives speeches. Aaargh! Enough. There is stock footage of fires, floods, and famines that result from Nixonionisms.

Now D.C. responds by throwing all the resources of the mighty Federal government into the problem. These resources are: one ruminating, aged scientist, his assistant Igor, his daughter who bites her knuckles, and John Agar, proving there is no bottom to touch in his career descent. There is also one jeep and a panel van, and one, only one, radiation suit. That’s it. The Boy Scouts were always better prepared for Armageddon than that.

Fiir agains II.jpg Life on Earth depends on these people!

This is the Arsenal of Humanity? Blame the budget cutters! Fortunately, they have an in with the script writer. Plus now that Carradine has gone, the Zombies are not only stiff-legged, they are stiff-brained. There is no ethereal voice to scare everyone.

Despite the absence of Whit Bissell from the lab, the aged scientist hits on the killer weapons for the undead dead Zombies whose bodies are inhabited by the spectral I-Squares.

Taking a page from Bissell’s lab manual in ‘Target Earth’ (1954) (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), the aged ruminator prepares a sound ray. (Hey, that is what it is.) It focuses Beach Boys songs onto the Zombies and the ‘Good Vibrations’ are too much for them. They are driven from the cadavers and die. Die, alien, die! The fraternity brothers liked that.

Igor chickens out but recovers. From this episode we know he has no chance with the knuckle-biter. Agar sleepwalks through most of it, and his stunt double in the radiation suit does the heavy lifting. But there is no doubt he got the girl.

While the I-Squares are Reds in invisible disguise, they are so geriatric with all the foot dragging that, well, they would fall over their own feet. If left to roam around they would eventually do themselves in.

The sets are empty. The film editing leaves in much that should have omitted, like the firing range targets in some of the explosion footage. Most of the, er ahem, story is told through radio voiceovers. Always a sign there is no sound technician getting paid. The direction is static, usually a sign of one-take. No one moves once the focus is set, so that it does not need to be pulled again. The screenplay is…. (what is the right word…) absent.

John Carradine must have been working off some gigantic karmic debt in doing all these one and two day gigs in Z grade films. This would have been half a day for an old trouper like him.

John Agar, well, what more can be said. He is another Hollywood high diver. Once a second lead to John Wayne, he fell to these catatonic depths. He is leaden here, no doubt responding to the director’s orders. I have described his descent in another post.

The director is that speed merchant Edward L. Cahn who could turn these things out in five days or less, much loved by producers for getting it in the can. He could do fifteen of these a year, but no one can watch that many in a year, and retain sanity. I could not find a picture of him on the inter-web.

That the IMDbasers give it a 5.0 average irritates, since the better ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959) is 4.7 where Carradine brings an interplanetary Marshall Plan.

Metadata from IMDB: 1 hour and 12 minutes, 4.5/10 from 302 opinionators

A shadowy figure offers world peace and an interplanetary Marshall Plan, while curing a polio-stricken youngster, and in return is then gunned down by men in uniform. Ah, the 1950s when the worlds were so much simpler.

cosmic_man_poster_02.jpg This lobby card wins first prize for irrelevance to the movie it purports to summarise. There is no spectral green figure in a cape, and the insert in the upper right refers to a ten second blur.

While it repeats the tropes from many of its Sy Fy genre stablemates there are elements that appeal to viewers over the mental age of the fraternity brothers. (Think of them as part of Channel 7MATE demographic for whom ‘Top Gear’ is high culture.)

Before the twists, the set up. An orb is found suspended in mid-air in Bronson Canyon, a favourite Hollywood locale where Randolph Scott dealt with many a villain.

Orb.jpg
It looks like a large golf ball without the dimples.

‘Can’t have that,’ declares Smokey, the park ranger. It might fall on someone. Unbeknownst to millions of visitors to Bronson Canyon there are many secret atomic military bases in the vicinity, and Smokey calls in the police and they call in the uniforms. A Commie plot is suspected in all but word. No one thinks to call Sam Snead, the golf ball expert of the day.

Someone also calls in Herbert Brix, a scientist from Mount Palomar, who is shown driving out of the parking lot of this famous installation, not once but twice, in exactly the same film footage. There are no interiors of the big telescope there.

Thereafter the colonel on the scene and the scientist spar over what to do. The colonel wants to contain, capture, control, crush, cut, and do other manly things to the sphere, which continues harmlessly to hover.

Brix wants to think, to look, to inspect, to test, to speculate, and to do science, perhaps even communicate with the owner of the golf ball.

Brix doing science.jpg Brix more science.jpg Brix sciecne sicncei.png Brix doing science.

‘Thinking! Who has got time for that,’ bellows the colonel! ‘It is a threat!’ (The fraternity brothers have always had their suspicions of golf balls because they always seem to be guided by unseen forces.) But the colonel’s efforts, adumbrated above, are ineffective, so reluctantly he listens to Brix.

Brix surmises from no evidence apart from the script that the golf orb came in peace and is a vehicle and that its passenger has disembarked through the forward, invisible door. The colonel telephones the general, who is too lazy to come and see for himself, for ever more soldiers to find this infiltrator. A cordon bleu is thrown about Bronson Canyon much to the annoyance of Charles who lives there.

The soldiers and more scientists converge on the spot and put up in an inn whose widowed proprietor has a crippled son of, say, ten or eleven. Dad was canceled in the Korean War a few short years earlier and the widow took the payout and bought the inn where she can attend to her boy. It is out of season but now she has a full house. Cha-ching goes the cash register.

Meanwhile, a peeping Tom seems to be about, causing much consternation among the citizenry who pressure the police, who pressure the mayor, who pressures the army which pressures the scientists. Much pressure to Do Something.

With all the coming and going at the inn another fellow shows up, rugged up in an overcoat, a floppy hat, and wearing coke bottle glasses.

Carradine.jpg What else could he be but a scientist in that regalia.

He speaks in the voice of John Carradine. Shiver. He speaks ever so slowly and formally that we know right away he is not of this vernacular. The widowed proprietor mistakes him for another scientist and gives him a room in the back where he can rest. We know he is golfball orb lagged from his travels.

Brix tries to reason with the colonel, and the colonel listens and even rebuts part of Brix’s argument. Nice. Reason.

Enough! Carradine’s two-day contract means he has to hurry up and spill the cosmic beans. When the whole group is gathered in the inn, JC dowses the lights and reveals himself as the Comic Man, the first of the cosmonauts. Yes he uses that last term, which latter became identified with the Soviet space program so he must be a Commie. He warns against nuclear weapons and war, and offers the help of the Cosmonauts in development that will lead to world peace.

He does not exactly reveal his very own self since he is invisible, being from another universe, dimension, bad dream, or something. Or maybe he is the prodigy of the Invisible Man and Invisible Woman as reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

To Brix this message fits with the low key way the Cosmic JC has been going about things. First Contact is always tricky in Sy FY. First the alien has been trying to scout the place, steal some of clothing, and drink some coke to get those glasses.

To the colonel it is Yalta all over again, once more. This peace will be slavery. Better dead than contented! That seems to be his motto.

Meanwhile, JC has taken a liking for the crippled boy who teaches him to play chess. Nice.

Having seen enough, JC prepares to depart. In so doing he takes along the boy! Alien-napped! A hostage! The worst possible interpretations flow fast and furious. The colonel is ready to nuke the place! Better to destroy the boy than lose the boy.

JC puts aside the boy and as he alone approaches the golf ball orb he is blasted by the United State Army! Makes a Twit proud to see one harmless old man chopped down.

In a nice touch, the switch is not thrown by the colonel, but by another scientist called in by the colonel because Brix is such a sissy. This scientist does it, he says, because he want to detain JC. Ah huh. Intentions aside. JC is cooked. He disappears into the dust, and blink, the golf ball orb is gone.

The boy, on his feet, walks to his mother because he is now cured of his disability.

Whew.

It was not clear to this jaundiced viewer if the colonel got the message about the boy, or if he cared.

Nor is it clear what the other cosmonauts will do now that JC is dust. But no one in the script seems worried about that.

Meanwhile, the slow but sure Brix has insinuated himself with widow. The colonel can tell the general he will not have to move.

It is easy to see this tale as social criticism applied to the trigger fingers of all those uniforms. That was risky in those days of Cold War uniform worship.

It is also refreshing in the Sy Fy genre to see a scientist who is not mad and who is not completely ineffectual. The colonel, having seen many other Sy Fy movies supposes Brix is ineffectual because he does not understand what Brix is doing. In fact, his science is what provokes JC into revealing himself and it is mainly to him that JC speaks. This annoys the bristling colonel no end. He and his men try to shoot JC in the dark after hearing this Yalta message.

Generally in Sy Fy, there is no science at all, a mad scientist who started all the trouble, or a bunch of clipboard-carrying do nothing scientists. Brix is none of these.

His brief conversations withe colonel make sense.

One critic speculates the John Carradine must have been working off an enormous karmic debt by taking every part in every bad movie he was offered. He certainly did.

The critics linked to the IMDb page deride the film for its poor special effects. It is after all a magnified gold ball and some claim to see the dimples. The shadowy shots of the invisible Carradine are mostly murk. As a creature feature, it lacks a creature, despite the lobby card above. Moreover, there is little ka-boom to keep the retards happy.

However, its biggest sin on the keyboards of these critics is that it repeats the message of Klaatu from ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ Peace on earth, good will, and harmony for all. ‘Boring,' cry these critics. ‘Been done,’ they say.

What clots!

There are no original stories. It is how the tale is told that makes it interesting, and this low-key telling with some respect for science and scientists is out of the ordinary. The romantic element does not get in the way of the major plot, whereas in many films that would have been the cause of tension between Brix and the colonel. While the widow does a scream or two, she is mostly window dressing. The tension is about what to do and nothing else. The paraplegic boy is integral to the plot but not a tear-jerker.

That is, the elements are in balance and the focus is always on the main plot. Aristotle would approve.

It is noteworthy how little science there is in many Sy Fy films. The aliens appear and the cast blasts them. Sometimes a lab coated scientist, inevitably Whit Bissell, fine tunes the blaster and bang, that is it. In many, there is no science at all. They are played as mysteries, or thrillers. Period. ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1953), a personal favourite, has no science in it, after Carlson puts aside his telescope in the first two minutes.

Herbert Brix, ever heard of him? He was an Olympic athlete whose physique led him to play Tarzan in a film serial when John Weissmuller beat him out for the feature film role. Brix liked the life but, unlike many, realised his limitations. He quit and took acting lessons for some time, and then changed his name to leave behind his he-man persona and became Bruce Bennett, and returned to become an accomplished supporting actor. This outing would have been one of his few romantic leads.

He has a easy manner, a slow smile, a reassuring baritone, and fills this bill well. He supported Bogart in ‘Sahara’ (1943), ‘Dark Passage’ (1947), and ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948). He quit a second time and went into real estate in California and did well. He is described on Wikipedia as a recluse who did not attend fan conventions, do interviews, reply to would-be biographers, and such as many retired actors do. He stayed married for sixty-seven years and died at one hundred.

1 hour 19 minutes: 7.0/10 from 20,081

It is a creature feature; it might even THE creature feature, but is it Sy Fy? Janne Wasse includes it on his Scifist because there is much pseudo-science in it about geomorphology, geology, geography, geostuff, topography, evolution, riverine systems, and the like. It is not the usual astronomy and space flight but it is science but there is not a mad scientist in sight.

Creature_from_the_Black_Lagoon_poster.jpg

The title passed into the vernacular two generations ago, understood by people who have never seen the movie and do not want to do so, and it spawned two sequels in an era when such follow-ups were rarer than is today a good film from Big Hollywood. More than 20,000 ratings puts it in the inner circle for such films on the IMDb. The two sequels were ‘Revenge of the Creature’ (1955) and ‘The Creature Walks among Us’ (1956) to be watched only for those who pursue the complete set, say the experts. Note that the sequels each had a distinctive title without a number on the evident assumption that audiences could figure it out. Not so today when numbers guide the prepubescent ticket buyer: Rocky 19, CGI Crap 13.

Here is the set-up. A strange fossilised skeleton is found in the upper reaches of the Amazon River. So strange is it that the Americans on sabbatical leave nearby become interested. These Americans are Richards Carlson and Denning and Julie Adams. Denning is the dean of a research institute, and he is totally preoccupied with funding, whereas Carlson is a rock-chopper, and Julie is the theorist whose work is praised more than once as vital, though we neither see nor hear any of it. To gold plate the Sy Fy credentials they take Whit Bissell, ever a fifth wheel in such capers.

Antonio is the local man who hires the boat and crew. Nestor is the captain and he is ready when the chips fall. Equipped they return to the site of the discovery to find two of Antonio’s men slashed to death, as though a crazed Canberra budget-cutter had got them. Oh, oh.

Well it is a jungle and such things, if distressing, are to be expected so they continue and set a guard. Much sweating in the Jeff Bezos sun follows with no result. Then after seminar gobbledegook, they decide to go further up river into….the Black Lagoon. Nestor. having peeked at the script, is not so sure this is a good idea but the money wins the argument.

With scuba gear there is much arresting underwater photography. However, the highpoint, which every viewer remembers, is the parallel water ballet between the lissom Julie Adams on the surface with a backstroke and….the Creature in depths below mimicking her turns, evolutions, and strokes. These are hormones falling in love with a vision come to his dark, remote world.

Watr ballet.jpg

We know, by the way, that he slashed the peons earlier but we do not know why, and we never find out.

As Julie disports to wash off the hot day's toil, she treads water upright to call to a Richard, and the Creature reaches for her foot.

Tickle.jpg

It is delicate, almost shy approach. It tickles her toes and with a start, off she goes.

Julie and Carlson are a couple, very much so, but it is explicit from the near the beginning that they are not married. That was a risqué thing to say in a 1954 movie but there it is. They spend much time…together, when Denning thinks they should be earning his crust. There are words, low key but serious, about KMIs, Key Money Indicators.

Then a guard gets slashed and footprints are found from the Lagoon to the camp. The footprints are of a gigantic….creature!

Denning wants to capture it, seeing headlines and patrons throwing money at the institute. Carlson wants to take pictures of it (with largest iPhone ever seen) and come back with specialists to study this merman, a link to our primordial past, as heralded in the opening voiceover. (Not on the Fundamentalist list of top movies this one since it has much to say about evolution from the seas.) Julie wants to communicate with it but how…? An SMS? Antonio wants to get back for soccer game because Pelé is playing. Nestor wants to get paid. Whit Bissell patiently waits for a cue as supporting actors must.

Then, suddenly, it does not matter what they want. The Creature kills another peon, then after hiring a beaver as a consultant, damns the entrance to the Lagoon. They will have to fight their way out. They do. Denning is fish food, after saving Carlson, who saves Adams from a fate worse than a GOP majority.

The fraternity brothers counted: three missiles from the underwater spearguns stick in the Creature, he was shot three more times by a rifle from a distance, scorched with flaming kerosene, and blasted innumerable times up close by pistols, and still he went on. With skin this thick, he should be the dean.

For its time and setting, it is notable than all the peons had names, and the one who is wounded remains with the crew in the care of Julie, who as a theoretician can give him sips of water which no one else could do. When some of them are killed there is stunned silence and grief on the part of the principals that such nice and helpful chaps got wasted. By contrast in ‘The Snow Creature’ (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, none of Japanese-speaking Nepalese peons have names and their deaths are merely inconvenient, not an occasion for regret and remorse.

Although she is assigned the screaming duties, Julie does pitch in during one crisis with more vigour than 1950s damsels were usually allowed. She had a subsequent long and distinguished acting career, but she is only ever remembered for this role, as she ruefully acknowledged in later life.

Though the discussions are abbreviated, it is also noteworthy that the Creature here is accorded some respect, again unlike ‘The Snow Creature’ (1954) which is treated as a big, huge, lab rat. Divided though they are in intentions, at the outset neither Richard means it any harm, but both want to prove its existence, one for further study and the other to reap publicity that will fund more B movies. Alternatives to bam-bam are aired and debated. Not so in most creature features of the era, where bam-bam is the first and last option as per the Snow Creature.

The Richards are B Sy Fy aristocrats, each with an impressive pedigree.

Two Richards.jpg Spot the Richards.

Carlson is so ordinary that he is everyman, slightly withdrawn, thoughtful, and not an action man, but when action is required, well someone has to suck it up and get it done, and he does.

Denning’s character has a little edge here, which differs from his usual Mr Libra roles. The two of them spend most of their time in their underwear, ah, swimsuits, and it is evident to those with a sympathetic eye that there is gut-sucking going on.

Denning had been on the way up in A films before World War II, but when he returned from three years in the Army he had been surpassed by newer up-and-comers. He could not get any work.

With his GI loan, he and his wife bought a van in which to live and caught and sold lobsters off Long Beach to make a living, while he went to one audition after another, landing a few very small roles. Enough to give him hope of more to come but not enough to eat. One cheque a year is not enough. Evelyn Ankers, a scream queen from B movies, his wife, more or less gave up and concentrated on the lobsters.

By 1948 he had proven himself again: photogenic, compliant, always prepared, responsive to direction, affable, stable, reliable, and helpful if an another hand was needed on the set to do something. He went where the work was for him, to B pictures and made his career there.

The Hollywood Star System of the era had many laws and one the chasm between A and B pictures. The B pictures were made by B picture units and players. A young B picture director, writer, or actor, might rise to A-land and an A actor could slide into B never to return, but there was no free movement back and forth between the two worlds. All tickets were one-way. There was a similar wall between the A-land and television, whereas there was no such block for the B world, which is why as television grew it was populated with those from the B picture world in front of and behind the camera.

As Denning got back into the casting calls, Ankers gave up the lobsters to grace the silver screen once again.

The director was Jack Arnold. His name in the credits is almost always a guarantee of a brisk pace, artistic set-ups, quality camera work, good special effects, and care in establishing the context so that the action makes sense.

None of the actors ever saw the Black Lagoon that viewers see. They did their work in California getting wet in a water tank outside the studio. The Lagoon footage, including the ballet with the Creature and Julie’s body double was shot in Florida.

One critic at the time called it King Kong underwater. The Creature is the last of his kind and he discovers an impossible love that drives him to destroy those who get in his way, and finally to his own destruction. Well, something like that.

It was made in 3-D when that was the fad du jour. Creature features were made in 3-D for a few years, but it died because (1) it was expensive to shoot, about twice ordinary cost, (2) it was then expensive and difficult to project, and (3) only a few effects worked in 3-D.

Reasons (1) and (3) might not have been decisive, but (2) was. To project a 3-D movie in the Rivoli on Second Street in 1954 required two projectors (not one) and Dale McCulloch had to synchronise them to the single individual frame. One frame out of sync and the film became a blur to the audience, four of five out of step was an LSD trip. Moreover the film reels were so large even a modest feature like this had to have an intermission so that the second reels could be loaded and synchronised. The big studio sent technicians around the country to train projectionists, like Dale at the Rivoli, on projecting because it seemed that was the wave the future. Then it waved goodbye.

Metadata from IMDb: 1 hour and 29 minutes, 7.7/10 from 37,942 opinionators.

In a flying saucer Earthmen travel by hyperdrive to far Altair sometime after AD 2200. Vroom. Yes, Regina’s own Frank Drebin leads Bart Maverick, Warren Stevens, Comic Relief, and Richard Anderson on a voyage to discover… Anne Francis. That’s the way the fraternity brothers saw it.

Drebin had already had an 'Appointment on Mars' ('Tales from Tomorrow' [1951]) and he is the honcho.

Lee Tremayne (uncredited) tells us in an opening voiceover that ‘men and women in rocket ships’ were now colonising the stars. But no women are to be seen on the United Planets Cruiser C 57D, nor any dark faces or slanted eyes. The sizeable crew is all whitebread.

Still in 1956 merely to mention women on rockets ships was progressive.

Robbie the Robot, voiced by Marvin Miller (uncredited) of ‘The Millionaire,’ is only upstaged by Francis’s micro skirts. He never carries her around per the lobby card.

Forbidden card.jpg

Robbie is much too reserved and she is too demur for that. But still when you have never seen a man, maybe a robot is fully functional.

It is ‘The Tempest’ with phasers, lasers, a robot, and an Id. The staging is elaborate and it was budgeted as an A-picture in Cinemascope colour. Mr Miniver is there as Prospero, a man in black, and he makes a good fist of some bad lines. When Robbie and Francis are not filling the eyes, the long vanished Krell dominate proceedings with their Leggo sets. But when Id appears, well, that’s it.

Drebin and company are come to check on an earlier expedition which stopped reporting a year ago. As they approach planet Altair the usual dire warning ‘Do Not Land’ comes on face-time. As usual they ignore it and land. So far, so usual. The inside of the flying saucer is elaborately done compared to the office roller chairs and sun loungers in most Sy Fy of the day.

On Altair they find that only Miniver survived from the earlier expedition. His Miranda, Francis, was born on Altair, and he quickly assures Drebin, known as a stickler for law and order, that he has the marriage licence (and birth certificate?), paying homage to 1950s conventions: Francis was not born out of wedlock. Miniver made Robbie and Robbie made everything else, including the Frank Lloyd Wright desert home in primary colours they inhabit. That is one busy Robbie.

Miniver and Robbie.jpg Mr Miniver and Robbie.

All the others from Expedition One were killed by some dark, unseen force. Only Miniver was spared, perhaps, thanks to his Dunkirk service. It is hard to believe. The Stranger from Venus would not buy it.

Francis has a tame tiger which later tries to attack her in the company of Drebin who keep showing her his interest. This is a harbinger of what is to come.

By some mystery the ship is damaged. Then two crewmen are murdered! Yikes! The flour is in the gravy now. Lumps and recriminations follow. Drebin shows more interest in Francis.

There is a marvellous scene where an invisible creature attacks the saucermen's encampment. The pyrotechnics are startling. After the invisible creature, made visible in outline as it tries to cross a force field (the spaceman’s friend, along with Tums), kills two more red shirts, Bart Maverick, for reasons known only to the scriptwriter, rushes forward to meet it mano à mano and becomes, briefly, a roman candle. RIP Bart.

Now Miniver admits Robbie did not do it, that is, build everything in the sprawling ranch style home. The Krell and their wondrous machinery are revealed and displayed. Wow and wow! Many arresting visuals as Miniver does a show-and-tell. Key is the brain booster, which he has used to become an Egghead rivalling Kevin. He impressed Drebin with his knowledge of vexillology. vacuumology, ventriloquism, or something. No one ever explains Robbie's origins. Is he Krell, or not?

Books.jpg Brain booster. Get it?

Every time Drebin shows his interest to Francis, something bad happens. (No, not that.) Stevens as the doctor figures it out. Sigmund Freud has been there and Prospero-Miniver, thanks to the brain booster, unconsciously projects the energy of his thoughts into actions to get the remoter. Evidently, he eliminated all the original party this way, too, probably so that he could watch what he wanted to watch and at full volume. Accidents happened, repeatedly.

Doc tries the brain booster without reading the manual. Bad idea. RIP Doc. Francis and Drebin plan to move to New Jersey. (Bad idea.) Miniver struggles and finally, taking a page from the playbook of James T. Kirk, Drebin talks Miniver to death by citing Ziggy in the original Incomprehensible. ‘Ugh,’ cried the fraternity brothers.

The survivors, accompanied by Miranda and Robbie, take off. Altair goes boom. Must have been New Year’s Eve. No one else will ever again be tempted to rival Kevin as a big brain by using the Krell device.

Homebound.jpg 'Home, Robbie,' they cried.

The end.

It always ranks near the top of lists of the best Sy Fy, the more so when CGIs cartoons are omitted. More than 30,000 ratings on the IMDb is something for a 1956 movie in this genre. It has a strong but surprising story line, some great visuals, an elaborate background, a slow build-up, and agreeable characters. The comic relief is mercifully brief.

It starts with a twist, putting Drebin in a flying saucer (rather than the aliens) and stays a little off-center of the genre conventions thereafter. Quibbles follow.

If Miniver wanted them to leave, why did he damage the ship, making it necessary for the ship to stay? Maybe he should have visited the big brain booster for a top-up on cause-and-effect.

But then why did id kill all the original survivors of the first mission? Was it really a fight to the death over the television remoter? That seemed likely to the fraternity brothers.

Yet many of the critics linked to the IMDb have some churlish and childish things to say. One derides it because the King Gee uniforms worn by the crew are not shiny. Yep crucial that. Another wants more creature and less feature. Back to the kindergarten with that 7MATE viewer. Another says Shakespeare was not much. [Gasp.] Others tell erring readers which sofa on which they sat to watch it. Crucial that. Others wanted more action and less thinking. Look in a mirror for that.

At the time of its release the pompous ‘New York Times’ reviewer Bosley Crowther waxed enthusiastic about it. Now that is odd. His reviews of Sy Fy were usually condescending, disdainful, and snide, altogether like some professors talking to undergraduates.

Ever after Drebin went to Police Academy to earn a living back in New Jersey, and Miranda set up as a PI in ‘Honey West.’ Miniver went to the Senate to ‘Advise and Consent’ and a reborn Bart went all ‘Maverick.’ None of the B Sy Fy regulars are in the cast.

Nor are any of the crew Sy Fyians. The screen writer, director, and producer were generalists with no Sy Fy visas in the CV. The soundtrack of tones is noteworthy, though where was the theremin?

Metadata from the IMDb: 1 hour and 15 minutes, 5.4/10 from 294 viewers.

Patricia Neal, driving along a country lane, is blinded by an unexpected light and jerks the steering wheel. The automobile goes off the road and smashes into an inconveniently located oak tree. Wallop! Afterwards a copper examining the wreckage says no one could have survived that crash.

Stranger screen.jpg

Yet later that afternoon Patricia walks into the pub with a few bumps and bruises. Earlier we saw feet approaching the smashed car with Pat sprawled across the steering wheel. When that copper arrived she is nowhere to be found and neither are those feet. 'Where is Pat,' asked the fraternity brothers?

Those are no ordinary feet.

They belong to a man who appears in the village and things gradually happen. He is a stranger, and he later tells the local that he is from Venice.

At the pub we have the local doctor, a stiff-legged publican, a barmaid, Mr Smarm who is Pat’s squeeze, and, shortly, two police officers from the site of the car wreck. Into this gathering walks the Stranger.

He is dead calm, two degrees below laconic. He sits. Yes, he would like a drink. Offered choices he chooses by pointing to a glass. Beer comes. Here is the first clue he is an alien. He says he does not like that (warm beer), Suspicious are aroused.

The doctor tries to chat him up. This stranger has no small talk. That is not all he does not have. ‘What’s your name?’ asks the quack. ‘I have no name.’ Oh, oh.

That is not all he does not have. The quack tries to take his pulse. No pulse.

Mr Smarm tells the cops to arrest the Stranger to find out who he really is and find where he has hidden his pulse. They discover they cannot touch him, try though they might. But he agrees to let them take his fingerprints. He has prints but not human. Well, of course not, he says, ‘I am from Venus.’ Oh, Venus! By now they believe him.

At times he can read minds, but at other times with no explanation he cannot. Blame the script writer or a low battery.

He has no money. Now that is serious in a pub. Who is going to pay for that undrunk beer! The Stranger suggests he work for his keep in the garden. He likes the garden and spends much time among the flowers while the others discuss their reactions to him. This quiet flora-loving stranger appeals to Pat. After Gort he is a change.

Smarm sees his career stock rising if he capitalise on this Venusian, but he does not seem to be jealous of Pat’s affections. Fool that he is! He can use this Stranger to become famous or something. He calls in heavy weights from the capital. The terms ‘London’ or ‘Whitehall’ are not used.

The Stranger says he wants to meet world leaders to explain his purpose once he recovers from flying saucer lag. Nuclear testing will alter the Earth’s orbit and such a change would have an impact on Venus as well as Venice. In return for putting aside nuclear weapons, Venus will help Earth develop other technologies (like solar and wind). A major delegation awaits in the mother ship once the Stranger has arranged a meeting.

The Heavy Weights say no world meeting can be arranged so quickly in the circumstances. Secretly they plot to lure the mothership into a trap so they can seize its technology. (Aside, technology transfer does not work that way. Give a caveman an iPhone and he will use it to spilt rocks. I have tried this with the fraternity brothers and confirmed this result.)

Wait! The Stranger has an iPhone that lights up when he communicates with the mother ship. When he loses it, he becomes animated for the first time.

It is slow without special effects. The Stranger does not have a shiny suit or any of the other paraphernalia of Sy Fy aliens. There are a lot of extras as soldiers surrounding the area and fencing it off. Many rustics are shown listening to radio reports. Much equipment is seen to be deployed and it does not look like stock footage. It hardly seems a cheap production as many critics claim. It does seem a story that does not need a lot of artifice.

The process by which the Stranger reveals his origins and convinces the others is compelling. The reactions of the members of the group in the pub are interesting, too. The scientists, the doctor and later a figure from the Ministry, believe the data about fingerprints and pulse. After a nocturnal visit from the Stranger, the publican regains full use of his stiff leg. He then is convinced. Others are slower to admit it.

The barmaid prays for guidance and then accepts him at face value as a gentle soul from God's creation. No doubt acceptance would see it banned in Alabama where only the sins of football players and Twits are forgiven.

The setting is deliberately ambiguous and this subtlety has been lost on most critics. The radio announcer has a mid-Atlantic accent, Neal carries coal-country Kentucky in speech, the publican is very British, others are muted. Moreover, when the coppers come from the road accident they wear gaudy uniforms and carrying sidearms. These are not 1954 Bobbies. When the Heavy Weights arrive the offical car sports at tricolour flag, not the Onion Jack.

While a journalist is present, he waits for government permission from the Ministry of the Interior to publish. The village looks British to be sure, but there has never been a Ministry of Interior in the United Kingdom. What self-disrespecting Brit journalist ever waited for permission to publish? D-Notice be damned!

The setting is contemporary to 1954 but it is not quite England and certainly not the USA. Orthogonal rotation gives us a variant reality making the setting more general. This is not England, this is anywhere. Most of the critics seem to think these aspects are a result of the small budget, whereas I think they were contrived to add to the uncertainty, the mystery, and the strangeness. It works.

Some of the cockamamie interpretations by critics may stem from the origins of the film. Yes it is resonant of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) though it stands on its own.

Yes, Patricia Neal plays a similar role in this outing as she did in ‘The Day Earth Stood Still’ though she has much less to do here. Whew! No Gort. She had moved to England with Roald Dahl and the gossip is that they bought a house and to pay for re-decorating and furnishing it, she went back to work. But of course the film world in Great Britain had a pecking order and she was not in it.

His Lordship Desmond Leslie, a specimen who defines the English eccentric, was a UFO devotee, and he set up a shelf company to produce this film Neal wanted work and he had just the thing for her.

Helmut Dantine plays the Stranger with an Austrian accent (though in one scene he switches through French, German, Spanish, and Russian to prove what an alien he is).

Gelmut.jpg

He had been imprisoned by the Gestapo for anti-Nazi activities after the Anschluss and it took a really big bribe to spring him; then he fled to England. He made a film career there in 1940s playing Naziis. Never a lead but always there in a dozen films in 1942 alone where on celluloid the Brits were clobbering the Nasties. Post war he moved to California in the hope of more and varied work in the bigger pool there but he never quite made it as an actor, and realising that he went into directing and later producing.

The film did not get a theatrical release in the United States, perhaps because Twentieth Century-Fox protected its investment in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ or because there was no theremin music. It has been presented under other titles, e.g., ‘Immediate Disaster’ and ‘The Venusian’ on late night television.

Not easy to find and perhaps that explains the few IMDb comments and votes. I watched the version at the Internet Archive which seemed to be complete. There are edited versions about the gossip says.


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.

Hovercraft.jpg

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.

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.

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.

Somewhere else.jpg

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.

Tower.jpg

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.

Dickie.jpg

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.

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.

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

Europa cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it goes until only one is left.

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

Europa with Jupiter.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tunnel poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

Drill.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Tunnel car.jpg

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

Daughter discovers that life with the villain is exciting.

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

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

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

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

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

Tunnel French.jpg The French version.

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

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

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

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

Invaders 86-1.jpg The 1986 cover.

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

Leif.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gany poster.jpg

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

Orion poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Gany walk 1.jpg The walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it ends.

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

Then it ends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3.7/10 from 575 at 1 hour 25 minutes

A slasher movie with invisibility and no slashes.

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

Astral coveer.jpg

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

Back to the crazed killer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bow tie.jpg Note the bow tie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete.jpg Peter doing his dumb blonde routine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Planet god.jpg

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

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

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

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

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



From IMDB 3.4 / 359, 1 hour and 18 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

Mars sand.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo and Juliet Air.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JI Lab 1.jpg

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

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

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

Girls girls girls.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It Terror.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The IMDB data is 4.7 / 160.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brimley is always a treat.

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

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

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

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

Gale S 2.jpg Spider Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IA poster.jpg Lobby card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coqnuest Geo Pal.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conquest funeral.jpg
Who had to tell his mother? I wondered.

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

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

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

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

The Japanese plants a seed and it grows.

Conquest red.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.9 from a measly 46 opinionators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wass Janne.jpg Janne Wass

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

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

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

That seems to be it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athene Seyler.jpg Athene Seyler in the 1950s.

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


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

$ sided poster.jpg

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

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

Neeson Steve Murray.jpg Stephen Murray as Liam Neeson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It rates on IMDB 5.9 from 425.

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

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

Conquered osyrt.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zontar.jpg See.


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

Graves.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Moon Base.jpg Two words

Moonbase.jpg One word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoa. Colonel Briteis is a woman. Gasp!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hats and walls.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EvFS poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EvFS Morris brain.jpg

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

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

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

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

EvFS DC.jpg

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

Whew!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EvFS aliens.jpg

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

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

Invisibl woman poster.jpg A lobby card.

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

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

Invisble stocking.jpg

The stocking scene was a shocker at the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ring notes.jpg

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

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

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

Battle Sun cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait! There is more!

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

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

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

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

Mars red.png

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

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


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

Pefrfect poster.jpg

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

Perfect inspection.jpg Inspection of the robot with manual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky X cover.jpg Lobby card.

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

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

Paul.jpg The alp that is Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vo;kam car.jpg

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


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

Ro man poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

Ro man slays boy.jpg

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

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

Ro man.jpg

What a dump!

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

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

Move over Shakespeare! Here are words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fire Maidens title.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Maidens lead.jpg

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

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

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

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

Fire Maidens dance.jpg

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Cat cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Cat Windsor.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sonny strapped into his lounger from whence he commands.

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Guess what happens next?

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

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

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She and her aunt study the letter for its subtleties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carlson reading up on teratology in the amphibian section.

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

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Carlson and Pate trying to look the parts.

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

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

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

Who could resist such a title? Not me.

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

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

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

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

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

KK Vernon.jpg Comeuppance delivered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lobby card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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A misleading lobby card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Moonies hangout.

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

As if.

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

Why fight enemies when fighting friends is so much easier.

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

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'Groovy robe, man.'

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Lobby card.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Red Mars.

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

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Note the gear for Martian exploration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dalton Trumbo on the way to the slammer.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Lobby card.

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

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Birch without the shades.

What a set of Key Performance Indicators!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alien window shopping for the latest Earth fashions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end! The end. The end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Moon poser.jpg

Lobby card

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

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

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

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

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

Destination Moon Woody.jpg

Woody explains space flight to the magnates.

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

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

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

Destination moon suits and crcks.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Why?

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

Planet X poster.jpg Lobby poster

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

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

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

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

Planet X diving bell.jpg


There is a diver in the bell!

Plane X with girl.jpg Diver with woman.

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

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

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

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

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

Planet X Igor.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hangar 18 cover.jpg

The DVD cover.

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

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

Step one is to take possession of the object.

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

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

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

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

H 17 McGavin.jpg

McGavin

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

Yes, but…

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

Oh hum. There is always an excuse, if an excuse is needed, see Jean-Paul Sartre on inauthentic choice. Which is the bigger deal here? Alien contact or the electoral college? Current incumbent excepted, I would like to think any occupant of the Oval Office would see the priority here. Not so the screenwriter.

We never see the President, and the suspicion grew in my mind that Vaughn was playing a lone hand and not briefing the POTUS who would then have perfect deniability because he does not know a thing. Ronald Reagan in good conscience could always convincingly claim complete ignorance. What was harder to believe was that Vaughn did not go to Texas and see for himself. Too jaded to bother, I guess. In DC aliens are commonplace, after all.

Once the craft is secured the second step is to discredit all those who saw it, starting with the shuttle astronauts. Again the general dissents but is overruled on the ground that later when the story can be told in full they were be exonerated. Later never comes for underlngs.

The telemetry from the shuttle is altered. Video is edited in a flash. Voila! No saucer. In addition the farmers who saw it must be rendered harmless, suborned by alcohol and a rumour campaign. Sounds like Scooter's work. Of the grunts who dug it up, the base personnel, and the technicians who edited the data, not a word. Sworn to secrecy?

From now on we have an update on the Roswell fable. An inept government cover-up ensues of necessity involving very few conspirators who thunder and blunder about leaving a body count. After several accidental deaths and one murder, even the scheming Vaughn pauses.

Then, being an ideas man, he has an idea straight out of US foreign policy. Get all the witnesses together in Hangar 18, and blow it up. Problem solved.

H 18 Vaughn.jpg The ideas man is having an idea. Kaboom, it is.

With genius like that it is easy to see why he is chief of staff. This decision is made by Vaughn alone and one lackey. Evidently the general has been cut out of the loop for being too fussy.

The problem now, it is clear, has become the guilt of the conspirators more than the saucer itself: Goal displacement once again prevails in public administration.

In fact, the only witnesses gathered are the astronauts and dozens of NASA scientists working on the saucer.

H 18 scientists.jpg

The witnesses about to be obliterated by the ideas man.

The Air Force grunts who dug it up are not there nor the technicians who edited the telemetry, nor are the two farmers who saw it fall and watched the digging from afar. The screen writer erased them I guess because no one will believe them anyway. No one but the ‘National Inquirer’ and ‘Faux News.’ (One imagines how Faux News would work Hillary Clinton in the frame.)

Meanwhile, the NASA scientists enter the saucer and find two dead humanoids killed by a gas leak (precipitated by the collision with the satellite) and that led to the crash-landing of the saucer which is otherwise sound. They also fathom the onboard IOS computer system and the alien language to learn much about these saucerites. Talk about a fast study! Thereafter it is straight from the playbook of Erich von Däniken. Stupid and boring.

When watching the film I read a few reviews, including Vincent Canby in ‘The New York Times’ who was so….[what is the right word] disdainful, I wanted to defend the movie. The tone of Canby’s review is personal irritation that he, reviewer for ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’ had to review it, but that is hardly the fault of the film-makers. Complain to the assignments manager and in the meanwhile act like a professional and ‘Do your job’ as they say at Foxboro.

The set up reminded me of Stephen Coonts's ‘Saucer’ (2002) which I liked for its mile-a-minute ride. The conundrum of what to do with evidence of alien life also called to mind ‘My Favorite Martian’ but not for long.

This is a B picture par excellence. According to those who say they know, it was rushed out in fifteen days to get into the market ahead of George Pal’s bigger budget, aspiring A picture. ‘Destination Moon’ on which I comment elsewhere on this blog. There was a buzz of anticipation for this latter film and the effort here was to ride on that free publicity.

Flight Mars poster.jpg Spot the Martians in this lobby poster.

It is a melodrama in which the science is displaced by the fiction from the start. The science of space flight is an E-Z boy recliner with some grimaces on takeoff. These intrepid spacemen head for the Moon, and then take a hard right for Mars. So that is how solar navigation works. Please note that the top dog of the mission smokes his pipe while flying the M. A. R. S. to Mars. The mission is called M. A. R. S. for reasons that escaped me. (A lot did because I watched a poor quality print with skips in it and Portuguese subtitles. It’s what I could get at the time.)

Fl;ight Mars poster 2.jpg The latest launch gear.

Why they want to go to M. A. R. S. did not get through to me. Perhaps. because it is T.H.E.R.E.!

They make a hard landing on Mars, though even that seems odd because the Red Planet (in every other sci-fi movie) is white with snow. No idea why. Yes, it is the North Pole of Mars. Maybe it was too dangerous in 1951 to have anything to do with Reds even on Mars. Did I mention science? They emerge from their battered craft in bomber jackets with surgical face masks for the Martian environment shod in war surplus boots soon to be sent to Korea. Oh boy. This seems to have been a come-as-you-are space flight.

That gets even stranger when they encounter the Martians who wear proper-looking and very familiar space suits. (These were borrowed from the Pal production, as were most of the other props.) Let’s get this straight. The aliens from distant Earth are wearing jackets and the local Martians are in spacesuits. Figure that one out.

To spice it all up this crew includes a journalist who is brazen, loud, nosy, and affable. There is also ‘a lady scientist.’ Cringe. Her presence, first in the crew, and later on Mars occasions some truly embarrassing dialogue for which the author was paid. For a start the journalist cannot fathom that a woman could be a scientist, and if by some anomaly in the universe she is, then she is no longer a woman. He makes sure to tell her this a couple of times. This man has charm, and knows it. It gets worse.

She is spared overt sexual harassment by the silent production code of 1950s films, but there is a love quadrangle later that I found as confusing as the participants did.

The crew also includes some geriatrics who were passed fit for bomber jackets. They wax philosophical at times.

On snowy Mars they encounter those real(er) space suits encasing Martians who welcome them with a handshake and a hot meal. Everything seems to be hunky dory. The Martian chief in a red cape to make Zorro envious is that sci-fi stalwart Morris Ankrum, who should have a star on Hollywood boulevard for the most aliens played.

Morris and cape.jpg

Ankrum, per Wikipedia, did a law degree at USC and à la Perry Mason dabbled in amateur theatrics as preparation to be a trial lawyer and liked that better than trial-lawyering. He has an uncanny resemblance, including the voice. to a boyhood friend of mine, and so I always think of Larry when I see him.

Mars may be a bit out of the way, but it is not behind the times. The Martians have monitored Earth radio and television broadcasts since they began so well that they all drive on the left, play baseball, and speak English, which makes eavesdropping a lot easier than it might otherwise have been. After dinner everyone sets to work repairing the spaceship. Maybe it was called M. A. R. S.

The love triangle gets a fourth with one of the Martians (no anatomical details were supplied), Marguerite Chapman, who by the way got top billing on the lobby posters although she does not appear until half-way through. The lady scientist is delighted to learn that Martian technology has automated both the preparation of dinner and the washing up, so she does not have to do it. She loves Mars for its kitchen. This lady scientist, however, shows no interest in how that technology works. Indeed she contributes nothing to the ersatz science and technology while on Mars. Don't blame her, she is written that way.

The Martian women sport surprisingly micro mini skirts in garish CineColors that anticipate the bad taste of Sixties by more than a decade. These get-ups also have ballistic bras and Everest should pads.

Micro skirt.jpg Martian fashion.

The Martian men DO NOT wear flared trousers, so we have something for which to be grateful. But they do sport fey little cloches for hats.

The ingenuity that went into these costume appurtenances has sapped the Martians of the technical capacity to build two-way radios or spaceships. While they can receive everything broadcast on Earth (in English - what will they make of 'Gilligan's Island'?) they cannot transmit. Still less can they build spaceships. What losers!

Warning! Here comes the melodrama. The fossil fuel Martians need for their underground cities (why are there so many moles in sci-fi?) is running out. They had their own Tony Abbot telling them that re-newable energy was unnecessary. Now what, Tony? Morris hatches a desperate and dastardly plan to let the Earthlings complete repairs, and make the ship spaceworthy, then top them, and replicate the ship into an armada to invade Earth, conquer it, and take over a habitable world. He thinks big for his KPI. No wonder he is top dog. See ‘Invaders from Mars’ (1953) where the stalwart Morris, now an Earthling, is to be found with some others from this cast dealing with the consequences of that scheme. What goes around, comes around, Morris.

For those who doubt Tony Abbott’s Martian duel citizenship, take a close look at those ears.

The naive Earthlings press on, but then get a tip off; plot and counter-plot is played out in a static set. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Walter Mirisch produced this lemon, but lived it down to become a big-time Hollywood mogul. He moguled on into his Nineties.

One of the first and best flying saucer movies, but without a flying saucer in sight. Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush star with a very able supporting cast. Jack Arnold keeps the pace moving.

It Came form oUtspace poster.jpg It was made in 3D when that was the fashion for creature features.

The film is dominated not by the leads nor the alien(s) but by the Sonora Desert around Sand Rock, Arizona, replicated in a studio. The screen play and the director make full use of it.

Mojave.jpg The desert created on a soundstage.

There is the starry sky of desert at night. In the early morning comes whispering wind in the telephone wires along an empty highway. In the Death Valley heat of the day prevails an eerie silence of a sun bleached desert. The long shadows of dusk make Joshua Trees seem alive. It is itself an alien environment that serves as a surrogate for the alien(s). (In the same way the Arctic does in 'The Thing from Another World' [1951].)

Richard is an amateur astronomer and with his best girl, Barbara, see a gigantic nocturnal meteor fall nearby and investigate. Whoa! He clambers down into sizzling hole and sees a craft. but before Babs can have a look rocks fall on top of it and conceal it. Was the fall of rock an accident or a contrivance? He does not know.

Will she, the science school teacher, take his word for it, or not?

This is the first of several instances where Richard has to convince another. He does so by persistent reason, evidence, and argument, and he succeeds first with Babs, and later with Sheriff Drake. How rare it was in a Sy Fy thriller to see sceptics brought around by argument and evidence. What it usually takes to change their minds is a god-awful slavering alien as in ‘Killer Klowns from the GOP.’ Not so here. Personal credibility, circumstantial evidence, the accumulation of oddities, and more reach the tipping point.

Richard Carlson is perfectly cast and plays the reserved and introspective intellectual right down to the elbow patches on his Harris tweed sports coat. Later he was busy leading three lives.

At the climax Barbara Rush, blank and expressionless in an inexplicable posh evening gown fit for a royal reception and a flowing scarf, is ethereal on the ridge. She says nothing but nothing is sometimes a lot, Cordelia.

Babs 2.jpg Dressed for dinner with the aliens.

In this regalia she and Richard have a showdown that still surprised me when I watched it again recently on Daily Motion. This is a teaser, more below.

Earlier the telephone repairmen, Joe Sawyer and Russell Johnson, get some of the best lines and moments on camera. Again that is a rarity in the genre for supporting actors to get this much screen time and importance. These two working stiffs respect the desert, and even see poetry in it.

Linemen.jpg The stiffs at work.

Sawyer, the older man, does a memorable turn as a zombie, his face so cold and dead… [Words fall me.]

Joe zombied.jpg Zombied.

Russell is good too but not quite as otherworldly as Joe. Yes, this Russell was later the professor with Gilligan. [Those poor people!] Sawyer served his time later in ‘Rin Tin Tin.’

The alien(s) get up to some mischief and Richard Carlson is on the case and in time slowly convinces others to cooperate, though of course the carrion of the press mock him at every turn. He discovers that an alien ship has crashed and is being repaired in order to leave. To make those repairs it has zombies Joe and Russell and others to work on the ship. Once the repairs are complete, they will leave. Promise. Promise. Promise. Is this Yalta again? Will the Reds leave Eastern Europe after things are righted? Ha! The Sherrif knows his Paul Harvey and does not believe a word of such promises.

Will egghead Richard fall for that line? Is he a fellow traveller? Or will he be a real man and give in to xenophobic hysteria and blast the damn thing!

This is the Cold War moment. Will Richard go all weak and liberal and let the alien(s) complete the business, or will he get all macho and call out the nuclear posse? Which will it be? A shoot out or a truce? Or something in between.

Again a rarity in the genre at the time even to pose such a question, let alone the way it works out.
Spoiler coming. Richard convinces the posse that an accommodation with the alien Reds is best for one and all, and it is. Once the ship has a new muffler, off it goes, first releasing all the zombies.

When Richard follows Babs off the ridge he is in for several surprises. First she tries to lure him to his death. Some squeeze she is. When that fails, she fires her phaser (where did she stash that phaser in that form fitting gown, the fraternity brothers asked) at him and, zig-zag, it cuts into the rock behind him, while he fumbles for the gun in his pocket; he has fumbled for it before, and he....yes, he shoots her dead. Huh! Because he realises she has been zombied, too, and this is not the real her but an avatar used by the aliens.

This is where the logic breaks down. Clunk. It seems that for the aliens to use a person's avatar they have to take physical possession of the body. They create avatars of Joe and Russell to do the shopping and keep their real bodies on alien ice in the cave. See? They have done the same with some others and the avatars are all busy working on the space ship when Richard, fresh from killing avatar Babs rushes in on them. So far so good....

But first, why would aliens need human labor in the first place. Yes, to go into town to buy and steal copper wire, but to work on the ship? Is this a design flaw, that the aliens cannot work on their own ship but need human hands to do that? How low was that bidder.

The human avatars are working under the supervision of.... [wait for it] an avatar of Richard himself with whom he proceeds to negotiate. But, they have his avatar, having earlier cleared his closet of clothes, though no one knows why all his clothes were needed for one scene, but not his body! See? No, neither do I.

But at least two of the aliens have been killed. The avatar Joe was shot by the sheriff's posse at a roadblock and incinerated, and Richard plugged Babs with his fumble shooter. No fuss is made over these collateral KIAs by the aliens.

The sheriff holds off when the real bodies are released in a show of good faith while Richard and himself take a tearful farewell.

Kind of surprising that HUAC did not come red-baiting after the makers of this film, as it did after so many others for so little because a headline is a headline.

Is it an alien or aliens, singular or plural? It is never quite clear. Sometimes there is a subjective camera from the alien point of view, watching the repairmen, or others, through a clouded (vaselined) lens. So simple and so effective. There was a production argument about whether to show the alien. The marketing department won that argument. It wanted a creature to feature on the posters and in the trailers. Something for the women to scream at. Though in fact that never happens in the film, it featured in the advertising. There are lies, damned lies, tweets, and advertising.

In the early 1950s enthusiasm for creature features, Sy Fy got a boost. Ray Bradbury, who later became one of the deans of Sy Fy, was hired to write story for film. He did it in five weeks and turned in a hundred page story. All the ideas are there, but it was not a screen play.

It was turned into a script by a hack who broke up the monologues into dialogues, blocked the content out into scenes, and re-arranged it into set-ups. Then the director went through it and cut much text to be replaced by camera shots, gestures, close-ups, stage directions, and tracking shots. The the producers reorganised it into a shooting schedule to economise on sets, costumes, extras, camera time, and so on. The hundred pages shrank.

In Bradbury’s story the alien is singular and never seen. What is the old adage? Leave the creature unseen and let the reader’s imagination fill it in. But that was too subtle for the creature feature market. Indeed, rubber masks and suits of the creature features were awash at the time and to be competitive in that market segment, there had to be a visual.

It rates a mediocre 6.6 on the IMDB; that puts it level with some of the excrescence of Adam Sandler.

A movie made for the drive-in market, written, produced, and directed by Leonard Katzmann who has a lot to explain. The IMDB score is 3.8/10. With that in mind…. Some 1960s role modelling kills any nostalgia for those days.

In the distant future year 2000 the Space Probe Taurus is launched, though the probe is called Hope One. The crew members say repeatedly that their destination is Tyrus. Watch and listen but Taurus never puts in an appearance. That slip is characteristic of the standard of this waste of celluloid.

Probe gat.jpg Notice the gat in hand. Wanna shake? Ready to shoot.

The crew of four strap into the La-Z-Boy recliners and blast off beyond the solar system. Note: beyond the solar system. Got it? Good, on that more in a moment.

There in deep space they come upon another space ship drifting by. They hail it but no one is picking up the phone. OK, they suit up, and the suits look pretty good (credit the wardrobe department) and float over where they force the door, saying it was not locked. Ah huh, burglars aways say that. Then they enter the engine room and start checking the instruments. Whoops! An alien appears in a rubber suit to protect those delicate instruments. After some mutual staring, the rubber alien refuses the handshake the unwelcome and intruding Hope captain offers, who then promptly shoots the alien with the .45 he was packing into deep space. Bam! So much for first contact. Shake or else!

Wait! It gets worse. They decide to blow up the alien ship. Whatever for? To hide the body of their victim? No, but because gravity will pull it to Earth where it will crash and hurt someone. This from beyond the solar system, remember? Deep space, get it?

Are there any more aliens on board? Are there other alien crew out and about in their rubber suits yet to return to the ship. No one knows. No one checks. No one cares. Boom!

The Probe is called the United States Probe. Not Earth probe, but United States Probe. It fits US foreign policy, bam and boom.

There is more to come. Through no fault of their own they do land on a habitable planet, where they promptly kill the first inhabitant they meet. Consistent anyway. Thereafter they congratulate themselves on finding a habitable world. It will be habitable as soon as all the indigenous inhabitants are murdered. Think Australia. Hence the 'nullius' in the alternative title above.

There is no irony in any of these events. Not hint of it. The acting is leaden. The story, well, what story. The special effects are rubber. Could be I am making it sound better than it is. This'll cork it: Roger Corman made better movies! Thought I would never say that of anything.

The crew of four includes a woman, much to the annoyance of the captain who wants chaps. Bet no one expected that! But she got the job because she is a light weight. Literally. She weighs less than a male scientist. Is this clever or what? (Or what.) The two younger crew men hit on her and she finally relents. The rejected suitor, sacrifices himself to extricate the ship from another blunder. Role modelling, indeed. THE END. Amen.

In the second to last scene we learn that the probe is a desperate effort to find a place to relocate the population of the Earth or is it the United States, for reasons not theretofore mentioned or further explained though i suspected it was the aftermath of a GOP majority. Maybe as the end neared someone thought to justify the mayhem earlier in the film. Hmm. Not likely. Probably filmed that last scene first, a common practice, and then just forgot about it. Something I have tried to do myself.

No one ever watched the last feature at a drive-in, anyway. Wisdom in that, as well as hormones.

Leonard_Katzman.jpg Leonard Katzmann much later.

Thirty years later Katzmann directed more than sixty episodes of ‘Dallas.’ Atonement in that punishing duty?

It has also been released as ‘Timeslip,’ which reveals the plot. It is a low budget science fiction film.

Atomic Man poster.jpgTime slip.jpg

The acting is fine and the direction is crisp in the film noir manner of the era. (It was cheaper to film in low light and so many B movies were noir primarily for this financial reason.) The story is another matter. The science is silly. The villains do their best with underwritten parts. For a thriller there is a lack of urgency.

It was a ’quota quickie’ and that explains its schizophrenia about whether it is American or British. All the cast are British except for the two leads, Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue, but all speak of dollars, not pounds. Newspaper reporter Nelson fastens onto the mystery man pulled from the river who bears an uncanny resemblance to a nuclear scientist splitting atoms at a top top secret installation down the road. Connect the dots.

The secret work is no secret to Nelson who barges in and around with insufferable audacity that only works in movies. Ditto he has no trouble getting into the hospital ward guarded by the police where the victim is lying in a stupor.

Nelson and Domergue are a good team, she being a newspaper photographer.

Dom and Nel.jpg The team at work.

He is the action man and she does the thinking. Sporting a noir trench coat, she figures out the problem and takes several initiatives, unlike the female lead in many films of the era. But she is also stereotypical enough to wait in the car while Nelson does man-stuff, i.e., yelling at people. Don't blame him, he did not write it.

More interesting than anything in the movie is the public policy of the ‘quota quickie’ in post war Great Britain. Westminster legislated that 25% of all cinema screenings be British made. This was not in the interest of stimulating the British film industry which at the time was working at full capacity. No. The purpose was to reduce the importation of American films by crowding them out of the theatres so that the earrings of imported films would not taken out of the country. Subtle, huh? There was no prohibition on American films, but a squeeze on cinema proprietors to discourage showing them.

However, because the British film industry was already at capacity, many studios subcontracted the films needed to meet that 25% quota to all comers, like the legendary Danziger brothers (who could knock of the unforgettable ‘Devil Girl from Mars’ in ten days), and to American shell companies set up in London in response to this opportunity. These American companies in turn put a few American touches in the films so that they could be shown in the States in the bottom half of a program or a drive-in triple feature. (Those were the days.) The touches might be leads like Nelson and Domergue, references to dollars, or mid-Atlantic accents from Brits.

This practice of subcontracting undermined the purpose of the policy yet complied with it and yet all the same channeled the money into American companies, actors, and writers.

Nelson started as a dancer but three years in the army in World War II ended the dancing days. In movies he played opposite Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, and Virginia Mayo early in his career but as their stars ascended his did not. Who knows why. In this film he is energetic, times his lines exactly, and knows where to look, as they say behind the camera. Television offered him a second bite of the apple and there he turned to directing and made quite a career of that.

Domergue, once a protege of Howard Hughes, played a scientist in a number of B sci-fi pics like ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), which is a keeper. There is pathos here because plastic surgery figures heavily in the plot of ‘The Atomic Man’ and she herself had extensive plastic surgery as a young woman when a car crash sent her through a windscreen.

The story is by Charles Eric Maine, who also did the screen play; he was a science fiction writer with little interest in and no knowledge of science. It shows.

C E Maine.jpg

He was really a detective writer who used science fiction conventions to set up his stories, and viewed against those expectations this film is worth more than the 5.4 rating on the IMDB. This film is not science fiction. The action turns around a nuclear research laboratory and that is it. He has a long list of titles ascribed to science fiction.

For those who thought ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) was rock bottom, try this offering.

Starship Invastion.jpg

Leading the cast are Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn. Quality right? Wrong!

The acting is Easter Island stone faces. Lips not moving. Not moving?

The aliens are telepathic; ergo their lips are sealed. Most of the film shows expressionless actors staring at each other with a voiceover for the dialogue. Exciting stuff, not. This has to be the dumbest production decision ever made, well, apart from casting Tom Cruise in anything. Christopher Lee as the chief villain imitates a department store window mannequin in a black onesie with a hood over wires on his head to make him look even stranger than usual. That works. He looks constipated.

Lee in uniform.jpg Here is Christopher Lee lips sealed ordering the destruction of the human population of Earth. Ho hum.

Even in the midst of a CGI spaceship battle the extras move like mannequins. An alien commander yells to his only underling, ‘Quick, shields up!’ The underling moves like he is underwater to the console, only to discover it has been sabotaged. That is quick? By the way, was this minion the one who failed to do the pre-flight check? After corporate downsizing, the alien is reduced to one underling. No backup.

Vaughn as a UFO scientist has a few lines which he manfully utters, but mostly the aliens read his thoughts. (I could read them, too, namely ‘Get me out of here! I am going to fire my agent!’) The UFOs whiz around, crash onto highways, are sighted by crowds of airforce personnel in a flyover, land in front the Toronto telephone exchange to steal some vital — as if! — computer equipment (1970s telephone routers, evidently picking up a few things for ET to use in calling home), and crash into the tower of the Bank of Montreal (which relocated to the safety of Toronto when the PQ won an election, and now this), while the authorities and media use alternative facts to deny the existence of UFOs. Faux News strikes again. That part is credible.

The one interesting idea in the screenplay is mentioned and then dropped. Early in the going Christopher Lee examines human DNA and concludes that his own race is the offspring of ancient Earthlings. Huh? How did that happen? But Lee puts aside such girly question and...villain that he is, does not hesitate for a moment to order the planetary extermination of his forbears. That intriguing idea was never mentioned again. It is treated in an episode of ‘Captain Future’ (1948) with far more energy and wit.

The Internet Movie Data Base offers a plot summary, which I do not have the will to do so myself. Yes there is a plot of sorts. The rating there of 4.0 seems high, though, as always, some liked it. That 4 is an average; some of the scorers gave it an 8 or so to balance my 1. (A '0' cannot be cast. i know; I've tried.) Think about that. The only explanation of this celluloid muddle is the tax credits the Ontario government once offered foreign film companies when it laboured under the delusion it was going to create Onty-wood on the Mississauga. This cheap production was subsidised by Ontario taxpayers. Hence some of the supporting actors, like Vaughn’s screen wife, speak with the Ottawa Valley accent.

Another overblown and undercooked science fiction film with a sizeable budget is this entry: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980), a CGI vehicle for John-Boy Walton, and little else.

Battle Beyond Stars poster.jpg

The set-up is intriguing and there are some imaginative elements along with some major talents in supporting roles, but it is decidedly underdone. It transposes ‘The Seven Samurai’ (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa to outer space via ‘The Magnificent Seven’ directed by John Sturges (1960). Though not credited the word on the web sites is that Roget Corman directed ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’ That alone would explain why it is so lifeless, listless, and down right lazy. Kurosawa and Sturges could direct a script from the telephone book and make it interesting, not so Corman who could make ‘The Fall of House of Usher boring.’ Not could, did.

The imaginative element was mostly in the creature-features, always a speciality of Corman. There are several but the one that caught my eye was the multiple Nestor who got the only zinger in the dialogue — ‘We always carry a spare.’ In the context it gives chuckle. And the spare comes in handy. (There is pun there for the cognoscenti.)

Nesstor.jpg Nestor(s)

And Nestor got the only really science fiction element in this shoot ‘em space western with the moving arm. But two moments in 1hr and 44m is too little.

The major talents are Robert Vaughn and John Saxon, both of whom play their parts with deadly earnestness, and George Peppard, who quite obviously wanted to be elsewhere, and should have been. Vaughn reprises his role from the 1960 ‘The Magnificent Seven’ as a world weary, no, galaxy weary, phaser-slinger, though what his particular talents are as a murderer for hire receive no explanation, nor is there any character development apart from his clenched jaw, and ennui filled sighs.

Vaughan jaw.jpg Vaughn and jaw.

In contrast, John Saxon is a wonderful one-armed galactic villain! He is steely and focussed enough to burn through steel, as if this role were his chance at the stardom that eluded Carmine Orrico.

Saxon mean.jpg Saxon scowling.

He does not drool nor scratch, but otherwise he has all the mannerisms of a major league Hollywood villain. He shouts at underlings, describes them as idiots, delights in torturing helpless victims, indulges his senses, devises impossible key performance indicators, cuts budgets, wait, he starting to sound like someone for whom I once worked.

A final confrontation between Saxon and Vaughn might have added up to something.

As it is, the crescendo, and I do mean crescendo because it is loud, of the movie is a twenty minute plus CGI shoot out that goes on and on, and on. (I did the crossword while the CGIs duked and nuked it out.) Peppard, Vaughn, and the Valkyrie, and finally Saxon get killed. At that point the film lost all interest for me, while the ever prepubescent John-Boy waxed on.

Did I mention the Valkyrie? No? What an omission!

VAlkyrie.jpg Spot the Valkyrie!

She has to be seen to be believed. Roger Corman can do some things right and she is one of them. Sybil Danning, need I say more, the queen of B-movie babes who started her career, I do not joke, with ‘The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried.’ Lucky Siegfried.

The mystery is how Roger Corman got such talents to work for him as Vaughn, Peppard, Saxon, and, this time let us not forget, Danning. These players are way above his usual payroll. John-Boy must have had some influence.

A pair of micro-budget parodies of big budget science fiction movies that offer more diversion than most of the films they mimic. Indeed while composing these bons mots I (tried) to watch 'Saturn 3' (1980) with Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel. It has a big cast, all that hair from Farrah Fawcett, and a big budget and set designs beyond the pale. It is pretentious and portentous. Now if it just had a story, a sense of humour, a purpose....something. I flicked away after twenty minutes. That the screen play was by Martin Amis probably explains all of that. (I tried reading one of his novels year ago, and it felt good when I stopped.) While enduring it I found a review from the doyen of reviewers, Roger Ebert, who mercilessly caned it. Amen, Brother Roger.

The ‘Space Invaders’ are the Z-team from a Martian armada bound for Alpha Centura. This hapless crew mis-read the map (upside down) and missed the fleet rendezvous (awoke too late) and is roaming around (lost in space) trying to catchup, meanwhile exhausting the fuel. Think of those laggards with the Spanish Armada in 1588 who stormed ashore in Norway to… I was told once that the genetic inheritance from these dimwits explains both the swarthy genes and the stupidity of some Norwegians. It was Swede who passed the word on this.

Spaced Invaders poster.jpg

While tooling around in the flying saucer the spaced-out invaders intercept a broadcast of Orson Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds.’ It being Halloween a local radio station is airing an old recording for the occasion. These dolts from space lock on to that signal and land in…Hicksville Illinois, blasters drawn and ready for a fight. It is Halloween so one and all are decked out as the weird and wonderful; ergo they fit right in. What if the Martians invaded and no one noticed? They did. They didn't. Just as well because a dolt forgot to charge the blasters.

Moreover, the townsfolk are in an expansive mood because an off-ramp from the I-80 has been built which will bring untold tourist wealth to this dying farm town when motorists fill one tank and empty another. (Think about it, Mortimer.) A few odd little guys in strange costumes are most welcome.

The cast of small town inhabitants is marvellous. The wannabe dumb blonde who cannot quite conceal her superior intelligence but irony is not something much noticed. The shy gas pump jockey pines for her but she’s out of his league so he studies advanced physics journals between horn honks for service from the town bullies. The jostling among the local magnates to take credit for the off-ramp goes on in costume. Then there is Royal Dano, instantly recognisable and whose memorable name is never remembered, as a cantankerous farmer who is about to lose his farm to a slimy small-time, small-town developer.

Dano conference.jpg Dano in conference with the Xers.

Vainly trying to keep order in this mix — the farmer has a shotgun or two and the developer has a bulldozer — is the lantern-jawed sheriff whose ten-year old daughter really likes the costumes of the Martians. Upon discovering they are not costumes, she says, ’They’re not bad. just stupid.’ Very.

Sapced invaders the F team.jpg The Z-Team.

Delightful mayhem ensues. The off-ramp is offed. The developer loses his shirt and much else. The dizzy blonde figures it out. The gas pump jockey discovers the inner he-man. The angry farmer has the means to put things right. (Think silos.) With his help the Spaced Invaders might be able to catch-up with the Martian Amanda, or at least get to Norway and enrich the gene pool.

Segue.

‘Dark Star’ started as a student project by John Carpenter who went on to bigger but not always better things.

It is refreshing change of pace from so many portentous and pretentious A and B science fiction films about the meaning of life or the end of the world. Oh hum.

Dark Satr poster.jpg

This entry is strictly working class. Five grunts who share a disheveled and no doubt odiferous dorm room on a space scow go about their business obliterating planets with smart, and talkative, bombs. They are galactic garbage men clearing up the detritus. That the planets may or may not be inhabited is of no interest to them. The planets are in the way of West-Connex and have to be demolished to create a space route. Sydneysiders know all about this mega road project which is consuming whole suburbs in its path. It is the local version of Boston’s Big Dig and has been in the offing even longer than that behemoth.

Cinephiles will think of the later ‘Quark’ (1977), but Quark was not working class. A garbage scow yes, but piloted by the well-spoken, highly educated, very clean, and aspirational Richard Benjamin who hopes for a promotion and a better assignment. None of that fits ‘Dark Star.’ This crew has topped out with Dark Star. Their career and life trajectories are down, not up.

On board Dark Star an industrial accident has killed the captain but head office demands that the remaining crew press on, though the faults on the ship multiply, even as their budget is cut-and-cut again. Situation normal.

To relieve some of the boredom one member of the crew has a pet. Which tickles. Even in elevator shafts. Has to be seen.

Meanwhile, systems on the ship malfunction, but appeals to head office for permission to put in for repairs are denied. Off camera I imagined the suits in the boardroom suppose the ship, Dark Star, is beyond repair and that these working stiffs are expendable. The crew members are contractors, so there will be no payout to beneficiaries. Mangers managing.

Indeed most of the events can be explained from the McKinsey management manual, though it is well before the Age of Managers Managing. Shiver! That would make a slasher movie.

It all finally comes to a head …. There is a Silver Surfer at end. Intriguing that.

Apart from the gung-ho talking bombs, and the tickler, another high point is the sound track, most of it written and some of it performed by John Carpenter before he turned his hand to slasher movies with which he made a killing.

Dark Star bomb.jpg One of the smart (-mouthed) bombs.

Roget Ebert liked it and that is all I needed to know.

A low-key science fiction movie about, oh um, the end of the world. The set-up is interesting, but it limps in the middle and reaches a puzzling conclusion.

27Day Poster.jpg A misleading lobby poster. There are no zapping flying saucers chasing Valerie French in a bathing suit.

Gene Barry with his experience in outwitting Martians from the red planet at the height of the Cold War in ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953) is here, sporting a RAF moustache that looks so fake that we knew it would have to go and it did. Arnold Moss as the alien is so effortlessly grave that … [on him more at the end].

Five individuals from around the world - Chinese, Russian, American, Brit, and Dutch - are plucked from their routine and plonked into plastic chairs in a bland conference room looking very modernistic though not modern. There is nothing special about them, one a villager, another a sentry, a press hack, a sunbather, and a scientist. With gender diversity the Chinese and the Brit are women. The Dutch scientist is in fact visiting the United States, so that gives Uncle Sam two.

After having proven to the gathering that they are on a spaceship, Arnold Moss presents the dilemma. His planet is doomed and the population must relocate. These are planetary asylum seekers. The Third Rock will do nicely, but being pacifists, they cannot conquer though it is evident that their technology is far superior. Even big Gort seems a clumsy relic against Moss’s magic.

27 DAy.jpg You have the power! (An early iPhone advertisement?)

Apparently, neither can they negotiate. Instead Arnie will give each of the five a weapon (the size of an iPhone) that cam destroy their enemies. Note, it destroys only persons and not material. It works by thought control. If these weapons are not used by the end of the 27th day, the aliens will look elsewhere for suitable real estate and leave Earth alone, and the weapons will become useless. The explanation of the weapons is as detailed and as incomprehensible as McKinsey-speak but it covered every contingency the screenwriters could imagine, however, there is no manual for those who were not paying attention.

Knowing Earth history, it seems the aliens assume that some or all of the weapons will be used, and in effect that will depopulate the planet for their immigration. Rather like the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War stopping short of Paris, leaving the French there to murder each other and to save ammunition. Cynical. But then look at the news today.

During the briefing, Gene Barry gets the phone number of the English woman, clad in a bathing suit because she was plucked from the beach (hence the poster above), and then ‘Hey, presto!’ they are right back where they came from. She promptly throws her device into the sea, telephones Gene, and flies to LAX. She certainly has initiative and tenacity.

The Chinese woman, who says not a word and has no close-up, commits suicide. This seems to be in reaction to the massacre of her village which was underway when she was alien-napped. The cadre were practicing on the helots, they way they do.

The Soviet sentry is dumbfounded and keeps his mouth shut.

The Dutch scientist is on his way to a conference in New York City to which he now travels. Thus three possessors of this doomsday weapon and two of the devices are Stateside.

Sitting tight is not an option, because ….. Spoiler.

Because alien Arnold Moss goes on the air around the world on every radio and television channel, he is more of media hog than the Twit in Chief. He tells everyone about the weapons and names the five who possess them. Cover blown! He had not told the five that he was going to rat them out like that!

The Feds latch onto the Dutchman as he lands at La Guardia.

Barry, having peeled off that moustache, thus disguised he grabs the Brit bit at LAX before the Forces of Order spot her, and together they head off to a hideout he just happens to know. (Probably cased it when dealing with those pesky Martians earlier.)

Pause for thought. Five randomly picked individuals have a doomsday weapon in their pockets. What will they do with them? That is one interesting proposition. Some will see parallels with the New Testament; I did.

Individual choice is quickly compromised by the public broadcast of their names. The Soviet grunt is arrested, suborned, tortured, but remains silent for a time. His motivation is left a blank. In the end, rather than see the weapon used he commits suicide by throwing himself out of an upper story window.

Barry and his girl puzzle over what to do in their hideout. The Dutchman, like the Soviet, keeps the secret…for a time. Though he is pressured relentlessly by the CIA operatives, but none of his inquisitors brought a waterboard.

The second interesting proposition concerns how others react. That an alien is at work becomes accepted by authorities and the public at large. The five individuals are then seen in the ensuing panic to be agents of the alien with Rush Limbaugh-like hysteria laid on. Imagine that! A man bearing a resemblance to Barry, remember that mo, is murdered by a mob. Add Faux News to that equation and the lynchings would be general.

Barry’s idea is to sit out the twenty-seven days, and by some miracle he and his squeeze seem to have enough provisions in the two bottomless grocery store paper bags they have to survive for the duration (of the film) undetected. Until….

Yes, the Soviet grunt finally cracks and the weapon is now available to the USSR, which promptly proclaims it to blackmail the USA to pull out of Europe and Asia. Uncle Sam complies.

This turn of events brings patriot Barry and Valerie out of hiding in the hour of need. The Western Alliance of the American Barry, the Brit bit, an the Dutch professor stall but time is running out. The Russkies know that the weapon will lapse at the end the twenty-seventh day so if it is to be used then it must be before then. To prevent a retaliation from the weapon(s) in the USA, the best time to use is just before expiration. The Cold War context weighs heavily throughout.

Meanwhile, Barry and company test the iPhone weapon app and it does indeed work. Ergo the compliance noted above.

But the professor has a trick or two up his academic gown. When Moss handed over the devices he said it has ‘the power of life and death.’ Significant that? He did not say ‘life or death.’ This egghead applies himself to re-programming the devices with his big brain so as to kill only ‘the enemies of freedom.’ Wow!

We all have candidates for that hit list. Think of whom Ayn Rand would put on that list. Try not to think of Rush Limbaugh. Try harder!

Ayn Rand.jpg Ayn Rand

As the clock ticks and the Soviets prepare to activate the weapon app, the professor does his stuff and … that is it. ‘The enemies of freedom’ die! How easy was that! Lots of Russkies pile up in the streets.

In the aftermath at the United Nations there is an expansive spirit of unity of those who made the cut and Barry suggests offering the aliens some help. Maybe they could inhabit the parts of the Earth that are uninhabitable. The Antarctic is mentioned. New Jersey near the Kardashians seems logical? Some nice real estate in the Gobi Desert can be had for a price. This message is broadcast, and on the eighth ring Arnold Moss answers and rather than accept the offer instead welcomes the Earth into the community of 30,000 worlds! Whoa!

Huh? Was this some kind of fraternity initiation? That seemed to be the conclusion invited by Moss's last remarks. Such a test for admission is a common theme in sci-fi but here it is explained no further.

The film drags in the middle with Barry and the Brit in the hideout listening to the radio. The minutes seemed like hours to them and to me, too. The whole exercise would have been much better in a half-hour Twilight Zone or Science Fiction Theatre episode.

A few notes. Two suicides. The voluntary production code that dominated Hollywood at the time forbade suicides in word or deed. Yet there are two here. The Chinese woman early on and the Soviet soldier near the end. Perhaps because they were both commies, they were better dead than red.

Both the women endowed with the weapon reject it. The Chinese throws it on the fire burning the remains of the village before committing Chinese-kari and the Brit throws it into the sea before flying to Hollywood, well, LA. Lesson? Never trust a woman with a weapon of mass destruction.

Moss 27.jpg Arnold Moss (1910-1989)

Moss appeared in ‘The Conscience of the King’ in ‘Star Trek: TOS’ as Karidian the executioner. With his aristocratic bearing, perfect diction, and melliferous baritone voice he always dominated any scene. Something (else) William Shatner complained about. Moss was Phi Beta Kappa with a Columbia PhD who constructed crossword puzzles for the ‘New York Times’ while waiting on sets.

This film rates a miserable and miserly 5.9 from 660 votes on the IMDB. That puts in the company of some Roger Corman’s creations.  Democracy, so overrated, as Plato said.

This is a thoughtful science fiction film about racism and bigotry in a post-apocalyptic world.  It starts with 92% mortality in a nuclear war, the origin of which is unknown, after which the survivors have created ever more elaborate and human-like robots. The robots are programmed to serve the best interest of humanity! Always tricky that, just ask anyone in politics. (Only journalists know all the answers.)

Humaoids cover.jpg A lobby poster

The robots are necessary but they have to stay in their place! Evidently some Republicans survived — no holocaust is ever perfect — and those who most want to restrict the robots are members of the Order of Flesh and Blood, i.e., code for the GOP. Indeedy. These Luddites accept the work the robots do so long as they look and act like mechanical contrivances and stay in their distant and inferior place. Jack Haley as the Tin Man in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is their idea of a good robot.

However, the robots themselves realise that such Tin Men are inefficient. They are technically inefficient, clumsy of movement, slow afoot, so they improve themselves with each new iteration. (The make-up is good on this.) The more important way in which they are inefficient is that there are social and psychological barriers between them and human co-workers. Some humans refuse to work with these talking machines.

The robots face the facts: the long term effects of the massive radiation unleashed in the forty minute war has doomed the capacity for human reproduction. The birth rate is falling at an increasing rate.

Humanoids confer.jpg The robots confer on their Key Performance Indicators.

For the Flesh and Blooders the answer is simple, ahem, as always, to get rid of those damn robots. Period. Their service makes us soft! Rid of them, humanity would fend for itself and grow stronger again, scientific evidence be damned! Ayn Rand should get credit for this part of the script. In her world the will power of rugged individuals could triumph over any old facts.

The Flesh and Blooders wear party hats and harass those who support and use robots. (On the hats, read below.) They skulk around robot recharging stations. Among themselves, the robots call the charging stations temples and refer to the master computer with admirable and anticipatory political correctness as the Mother/Father or Father/Mother. As it turns out, there is a point to this mumbo-jumbo.

Humanity is dying out and the robots will have to put a stop to it. And they do!

The drama is played out with two principle characters (Don Megowan and Erica Elliott).  The irony is that the Luddite leader, vociferous and violent, is himself an undercover humanoid!  But wait there's more. His squeeze is also one of THEM!  The explanation of all of that is ingenious and thought-provoking.

It is all talk and no action against cardboard sets spray painted in primary colours.   It seemed more like a play than a movie, but the talk is interesting and I paid attention. A rarity that. That there is no action, that the women are fully clothed, and that it is complicated talk must together explain the democratic rating. The Maestro of 'Dark Corners of this Sick World' Robin Bales, no democrat he, also shreds it for the inertia and the inconsistencies in the story, while admitting that it is full of ideas. The alleged inconsistency is that it starts out about the downtrodden robots and then shifts to the future of humanity. Get with it Robin! It is a segue. Stories develop.

By the way, he, too. suspected theatrical origins but evidently found no confirmation, an inference since he left the point hanging. Just the sort of omission he derides in the films he reviews with his razor tongue.

Don Megowan, large of size, chiselled of chin, deep of voice, dark of hair, was a stalwart in television westerns for years, while Erica Elliot quit with this role, she also started with it, as did the director Don Doolittle whose coda was a nice touch.

Doolittle Dr.png Dr Doolittle, who talked to the vacuum tubes.

The opening credits say ‘Introducing Don Doolittle’ and the Internet Movie Data Base indicates this introduction was also his finale.

The hats the Flesh and Blooders wear are ersatz Confederate forage hats. They were sold as novelties at the centenary of the Civil War. Yes, I had one.

Humanoid hats.jpg Big Don is the big one.

Did they purloin those hats from the dustbins after a revival of ‘Gone with the Wind?’ Who knows. It is all of a piece with the hundred dollar budget for the film.

I came across it on You Tube when trawling for 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s science fiction.

It has whet my appetite for ‘Real Humans’ (2012), a Swedish series aired here, which for reasons lost to time, we did not watch.

Jaded cinephiles will think of Isaac Asimov’e ‘I, Robot’ and ‘Blade Runner.’ Readers may recall 'Tin Men' (1965) by Michael Frayn, which tried awfully hard to be funny.

One of the great westerns.  It combines a young director with two of the wisest hands on the ranch. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea between them must have been in more than a hundred and fifty oaters. McCrea made it a point only to accept roles in Westerns and Scott did virtually the same thing though less explicitly. I would like to think that they did so for the same reasons that Justin Playfair gives in ‘They Might be Giants’ for only watching western movies. See the review of this latter film elsewhere on this blog for further explanation.

Ride High poster.jpg

The gossip is that McCrea and Scott flipped a coin to see who played the good guy and the not so good guy.  What a tour de force for the young director, Sam Peckinpah, and what a swan song for Scott and McCrea who both retired after this film, Scott at 64 and McCrea at 58.  

Scoot=McCrea.jpg A publicity photograph.

Two ageing lawmen find the west has changed and so have they.  It is no longer in need of them. One has become a sideshow barker and the other a bar-room bouncer.  Then a job comes up, one with a modest reward but it smacks of the old days and the old ways, off they go once again a team. One is losing his sight and other has arthritis but this is too good an opportunity to miss….for one of them it offers vindication and for the other one it offers something more venal.  

In 1962 audiences were also changing and the Western was on the way out. Nor was there any further need in Hollywood for these two old actors in particular. The screenplay reflects their own situation, too.  It becomes a story about the actors as well as the characters they embody.  

The tattered McCrea remains steadfast, but the flamboyant Scott has heard a different drum, after countless brawls, wounds, ambushes, shoot outs, injuries, chases, beatings, falls, and betrayals it is time to taste the honey. With what he thinks is subtlety Scott tries to suborn McCrea who seems not to realise what is going on. Subplots add depth and as in every Peckinpah film, each character however minor has a name.  Edgar Buchanan’s brief speech at the wedding, Federico Fellini could not have done better, gave me pause for thought.

Peckinpah.jpg Sam Peckinpah

The Biblical reference to ‘entering the house justified’ is another gem.*  Any close observer of Peckinpah’s films will realise, he was student of the Bible and studded his films with imagery and lines from parables, hymns, letters, psalms, and words of the prophets. 

The landscape of the high country is an elegy to a cleaner, better world made foul by humanity at its worst.  

high-country.jpg

Then the denouement comes. Perfect. The exchange of looks between McCrea and Scott constitute a master class in acting in a few seconds. Each man sums up his own celluloid career in a single glance.

Ride High End.jpg The end.

Then there is that last line of dialogue delivered by McCrea as his sun sets.  Moving and marvellous.  Redemption is even sweeter than honey.  

*Luke, 18:14

A very cold Cold War film noir set in the Berlin of 1953, just after the Korean War. Everyone is on edge. The military presence — USA, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and France — in Berlin is considerable. Is there going to be a European encore for the Korean War there in Berlin?

NP poster.jpg

Gregory Peck is in US counter-intelligence, trying to extract a Soviet defector when he is lumbered with the kidnapping of an American soldier, a private, with a very influential and noisy father, played to a T by Broderick Crawford. It is taken as obvious that the Soviets have nabbed the son, but why?

Crawford flies to Berlin to show the paper-pushing bureaucrats how to get results in the real world! This he tells to newsmen whose circumspect replies tip off viewers to what will follow.

In this Berlin human beings are trafficked in all kinds of ways and this incident is another example of that. Nothing happens by chance. Everything connects, somehow, but how?

Crawford discovers a world where insistent bluster and big bucks do not matter one whit. No one wants his money and his bellows fall on deaf ears. Peck gives him a marvelous dressing down but Peter van Eyck does even better in an earlier and lower key scene in breaking the news that his big money and many friends mean nothing in this time and place.

Before he became Jed Clampett, Buddy Ebsen is a perfect chorus to Peck who is effortlessly glamorous and briskly decisive, while Ebsen is an ‘ah shucks a good ole boy,’ but one who knows how to get things done even in this dark and menacing place.

Pecl, Crawford, Ebsem.jpg

Much of the screen play is cryptic by today’s standards. It takes awhile to realise that the extraction is afoot, and the importance of that briefcase Peck constantly carries around slowly dawns. He carries it around, I inferred, because in it he has the most top secret confidential documents that he does not trust, even to a safe at HQ. It is always in his hand or always in his sight. Almost.

Since he is there, Peck insists that Crawford witness the proceedings. He does and it is an eye-opener for him, and a growth experience, though Crawford’s change of heart is a little too quick but the clock ticks relentlessly in this film, and if the final result is just a little too easy, it does wrap everything up with a mighty twist.

There is a lot of talk and virtually no action. In Hollywood terms that makes it cerebral and it would probably not be made today in this way. Most of it occurs in offices or rooms, with one scene in a bar and another at the loading dock of a hospital. One punch is thrown when Peck strikes a woman!

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) wrote the screenplay and it is a corker for its overall plot, its humanity, and dialogue.

Nunnally Johnson.jpg If only.....

Among his many other credits are ‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1939), ‘Tobacco Road’ (1941), ’The Moon is Down’ (1943), ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953), and ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956). The themes in these films include that depression, corruption, oppression, anti-semitism, and racism, and then there is the delightful comedy of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire.’

The military parade at the beginning does drag on but to original audiences in 1954 it would have been reassuring, and it segues nicely into the plot. Original audiences would also have seen that both Peck and Ebsen wear uniforms with shoulder patches indicating combat service in World War II and both uniforms sport impressive ribbons betokening Silver and Bronze Stars. They have been in the shooting war.

I watched it on a DVD acquired from Amazon.

One of the many Westerns that Gregory Peck (1916–2003) made. That alone recommends it. The opening scene is superb and those that follow in the first act are on a par with it. Then comes the slide….

Stalking moon cover.jpg

The silence, the eternal and forbidding landscape, the big sky, and the taciturn dialogue get it off to a good start.

Robert Forster steals some scenes from his mentor Peck, but ever gracious Peck rolls with it. Forster has since been in every television program there is but never equalled this turn.

Foster cards.jpg Robert Foster waits.

There are some moments of humour as with the train ticket that it would take an IRS accountant to figure out.

Harder to take is that chiseled block of satin wood, Eva Marie Saint. That she is largely silent helps but the constant squeeze of the frontal lobes indicates her thespian range. When she speaks it is in whispers which I suppose is to add to the drama. It didn’t. (I admit that she was superb in ‘Don’t Come Knocking’ [2005] with Sam Shepard. Maybe with age directors were less inclined to limit her to eye-candy.)

Most of the faults of this film, however, lie with the screenplay and the director, Robert Mulligan (he of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’), and not the players. Where to start?

Eva, after ten years of (implied) brutal captivity, emerges with makeup intact and speaks English within five minutes as though nothing had happened. It is a strength of the screenplay that what happened is left to the viewers imagination and not stated, agreed. Yet she is none the worse for it.

Peck’s change of heart is a plot device and nothing more. It does not emerge from the events or his character. He says she can cook for him and Ned, but in the only scene of cooking, Ned, does not eat with them. Ned, too, is a plot device and meets the fate of a Star Trek Red Shirt in due course. That was obvious from his first appearance.

The aggrieved indian husband come to fetch home his son is granted no humanity. He is a spectre. Yet Peck has stolen his son as well as his wife. Why Peck chose to invite his wrath remains a mystery. This indian is supposed to be preternatural, yet when the showdown comes he is very visible and it must have taken practice to miss him with fusillade of rifle shots fired at him. He on the other hand drills Forester with one shot.

For a spectre he was none too bright. He lured the two younger men away but did not then go back to fetch his boy, who would have willingly come to him. Instead he prolongs the movie another twenty minutes. So that he can do the same thing again. In a Randolph Scott movie, made on a smaller budget, this kind of repetition did not exist.

But then Peck seems to lack smarts, too. In the last confrontation the indian is backlit in a doorway and Peck has a cocked rifle in hand, but waits politely for nemesis to enter the darkened room and shut the door so that they can slug it out in the dark. Go figure that one, Mortimer. Shouting at Peck to shoot, did not work. Indeed many of the interiors are too dark to see much.

Indeed the boy is likewise not granted humanity. He is a prop for Eva. That he might have collaborated with his father at the moment of truth seemed on the cards (joke, but to get it see the movie) but was forgotten come the time.

While decrying plot devices there is the dog. It is not present until needed for one scene, then is conjured as the watchdog. Ned’s reaction as that of a hardbitten frontiersman is a scriptwriter's cliché.

The final contest between the two alpha males is a forgone conclusion. If that is all that was at stake, we all knew how that would end, and we did not need 1 hour and 59 minutes to get there.

I watched it on Daily Motion and read Roger Ebert’s contemporary review. He nailed it. But then when did he not?

The ‘7th Cavalry’ (1956) is about the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn in June of 1876 when many plains indians united in the Great Sioux War. George Custer led his seven hundred troops into a trap of which he was warned by scouts and against the objections of subordinates. Though dead when this story starts, Custer’s pall lies over it all. He is lionised as a great leader, soldier, general, man, and paragon down to his yellow hair. On him more at the end.

7 cavalary poster.jpg Lobby poster.

The story is a combination court room drama, star crossed lovers (for once Scott gets the girl), dissension in the ranks, and a culture clash.

The tension arises because Scott was sent on leave by Custer just before he set out for the valley of the Big Horn River. It was verbal order and in a subsequent inquiry the suspicion arises that Scott had deserted and is lying about the order. (How anyone could believe for a nanosecond that Scott would do something so dastardly beggars belief.) The result of the inquiry is inconclusive.

Then comes an order from distant Washington D.C. to retrieve the bodies of the now honoured dead. Gulp! The war is on and that is a battlefield. There are seven hundred dead, only a few hundred remain in the fort, demoralised, frightened, and confused without the great Custer.

Who will do it?

Scott volunteers.png I'll go.

Scott steps forward. (Of course.) He’ll go where the others fear to tread. With a detail of a few misfits not otherwise needed by the garrison, off he goes, tall in the saddle as always. The misfits include J. C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, and Denver Pyle. Familiar faces all. How this handful of misfits is going to bury hundreds and cart home the remains of the officers is anyone's guess.

There are many vistas of the Alabama Hills where it was filmed, and much dissension in the ranks, which Scott deals with - wallop. Denver Pyle is ever reliable as a malingering whiner.

The high point of the picture is the negotiation at the Big Horn with the Sioux, who are forbearing, dignified, and conscientious.

Negotation.jpg The negotiation.

The Sioux belief that the spirit of slain enemies nourishes their strength means the dead must remain in situ, especially Yellow Hair, the leader. Hearing this explanation from a Christian mission-reared Sioux, Scott says, ‘but you know that is all superstition’ to which the Sioux replies ‘just like your Christianity.’ Scott offers no reply. Superb. A moral and intellectual standoff between two well-meaning individuals who are now on a collision course.

Spoiler alert! Though guns are drawn and arrows slung, an ominous silence reigns. What Hollywood director would dare do that today? Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse have no wish to desecrate the field, but neither will they relinquish the bodies.

For the denouement have a look on Daily Motion.

It is a loose end that the messenger whose testimony finally and fully exonerates Scott does not seem ever to have delivered this testimony, and is killed without a comment. It was Harry Carey Jr.

George Custer had a great press, partly because of the efforts of wife and widow. He was careless with the lives of his men throughout his career, though of course he took the same risks himself, if that is any consolation. In the spring of 1865 when the ghost Army of Northern Virginia manoeuvred out of the deathtrap of its trenches at Petersburg, Custer ordered his cavalry division into a frontal attack on a scant division of emaciated infantry under Richard Anderson's command.

Think about it. Men on horseback at a distance of several miles array in a line and then gallop over water courses of a wet spring and scrub bush toward a line of infantry men who, seeing them far off, had enough time to build defensive breastworks of fencing and wagons, unlimber and aim artillery, and to lock and load, take aim, and fire, long, long before the horsemen get close. An infantry musket had a killing range of five hundred yards. In the hands of a marksman the range was as much a 1,200 yards.

The feeble grey infantry killed a great many mounted bluecoats and broke the attack. It was madness. Custer’s command had the latest repeating rifles but even if an trained horseman could handle the weapon while galloping, the chance of hitting anything were near zero and reloading once the first seven shots were fired was impossible at a gallop.

The advantage of numbers saved the day, and the headlines, for Custer. His vastly larger force withdrew and flanked the Confederate line and compelled a withdrawal. How much better it would have been for the widows and orphans of the men in his command if the flanking move had preceded, and thereby obviated, the frontal attack. There was no Tennyson to immortalise this catastrophe. Yet the Custer publicity machine turned it into a great victory for him at Little Sailor’s Creek.


This might be the best of the seven Ranown (Boetticher-Brown-Kennedy-Scott) movies. Why? The complexity of the plot and the surprise ending. Well, it surprised me and I thought I knew the formula backward. In fact, the end, the last scene is most fitting, though it left me wondering about a few things.

Ride poster.jpg A lobby poster.

It starts as the usual story. Scott is the cryptic loner who appears from the dust to aid the damsel, Karen Steele, in distress. He has in tow the murderous James Best, who, as always, makes one’s skin crawl with his servile, whining, inept, craven villainy. Moreover, Scott with Best and Steele falls into the company of a dubious pair, played superbly by Pernell Roberts and James Coburn, both outlaws themselves but not in Best’s class. The shadow of a future confrontation between this pair and Scott is obvious both to the viewer and to the parties. This was Coburn's first film role.

Roberts and Coburn.jpg Roberts and Coburn confer.

Best brags repeatedly that his big brother, the redoubtable Lee van Clef will be coming to his rescue and kill them all. I would certainly fear Lee VC, as he liked to be called.

Lee van Clef.jpg Lee Van Clef on his film career. Regrettably most directors asked no more of him than to squint those beady eyes.

Before that confrontation they have to elude the raging Mescaleros, Apache Indians, who are raiding and have killed Steele’s husband. This is one occasion in the series when the indians are a mere plot device and given no explanation. This party of five had better make tracks to escape the indians and Van Clef.

Yet, at Scott’s insistence, they take the long way, travel in daylight, and cross open country rather than sticking to tree lines and ridges, moving at night. No effort is make to cover their many tracks. It dawns on Roberts that Scott wants to be caught, not by the Apaches, but by Lee van Clef, because…

Roberts and Coburn have a powerful incentive to take Best away from Scott and deliver him to the law, for then they will gain amnesty for their own earlier and lesser crimes, and so be free to live an ordinary life. Roberts is magnificent in wrestling with this temptation. Understated and taciturn per the screen play but endowing it with depth and delivering it with timing. Coburn as a naif is the perfect foil to his ruminations.

Scott never has doubts and so never ruminates: Best is a murder and he must be delivered. He is Scott’s prisoner and so he will deliver him. End of story.

Well not quite because there is a confrontation with Lee Van Clef, the one villain in this series who is not fleshed out but left a cypher, as Van Clef usually was.

Then comes the surprise.

Then comes the ending.

Burning tree.jpg The end.

‘It figures,’ says Roberts in another of his diamond lines tossed over his shoulder.

My homage to Randolph Scott continues, after an hiatus. This one is near the end of the series, and the formula shows through it. Scott, as ever is a loner somewhere, sometime after the Civil War in the West. Reticent, stoic, confident, straight as the Indian arrows he dodges, here he is st age sixty-two.

Comanche Station poster.jpg A lobby poster.

His path crosses that of a damsel in distress, and she finds the enigmatic Scott compelling, yet he a distant and perfect gentleman and she, usually, is another man’s wife. To spice up the mix there must be villains, and to the credit of these productions the chief villains are never Indians, though they are there, but other Europeans. The villains are thrown together with Scott and his charge in hostile circumstances and, in this case, they have to cooperate to avoid the Indians, but we all know a showdown is coming at about minute 70. We all know who will prevail, but the skill of the writer and director still manage surprises through the supporting players like the damsel and the naif.

Inevitably, the naif grows to admire Scott and the naif's commitment of the Villain-in-Chief wobbles. Inevitably, the damsel misunderstands Scott’s motives and only gradually sees through that misconception to his noble core. Thus there are several nested stories. The overarching narrative is to survive the hostile circumstances and return to a town. Within that we have the menace and final confrontation with nemesis. Nested still more are the doubts of the naif and also the dawning realisation of the damsel that Scott is a knight without armour. When all these themes have played out, inevitably Scott rides off alone. Oh, and inevitably Scott wears a neckerchief. Don't know why. To hide a scar?

Another credit to the production is that the villain has personality, and is not just the CGI cipher villain now in Hollywood productions. In this tale the villain is Claude Akins, who combines a rude charm with a bottomless evil.

Randy and Claude.jpg The protagonist and antagonist discuss their differences.

I was disappointed to see Akins's name in the credits when it rolled off ‘Daily Motion,’ the website from which I streamed it, because I remember the caricatures he used to play on television in the 1950s and 1960s but here he projects a distinct individual who is not all bad and yet is - in a different sense - all bad. He is aided in his villainy by the ever reliable Skip Homeier, who is knocked off too early for this connoisseur of slim-balls. The villain in this formula usually has two acolytes, and third in this party is Richard Rust, otherwise unknown to me, who is a naif who has fallen into bad company and knows no way out. The list of chief villains Scott bested in these last films is impressive, starting with the most complex, Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Clef, and Warren Oates, and many others.

Indians, I mentioned Indians and they are here and on the warpath, but they are also shown to be honourable. The Comanches kept the deal they made with Scott at the outset. Moreover, that they are making war is, we learn, precipitated by the murder of many of their women and children by still other bad Europeans off camera. In fact, they are victims who are lashing out at those to hand.

Scott made at least a hundred films and perhaps eighty of them were Westerns. He got type cast but he also liked that. He rode on to the screen time after time with a self-confidence and poise born from having been through it all before, again and again. It is no wonder Sheriff Bart invokes him in ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974).

Seven of the films Scott made at the end of his career have been the object of my veneration in this homage. Why these? Because by that stage in his career, with the astute management that made him a millionaire many times over, and too old to remain under contract to a studio, he was a free agent who could decide what he wanted to do and then do it. This he did with some long time friends and associates producer Harry Brown, director Budd Boetticher, and writer Burt Kennedy. They were made in the Alabama Hills on the east side of the Sierra Madres. Each films includes many elegiac passages as the cast travel through the area. All of them also put the life-and-death human concerns against a timeless and limitless backdrop that shows just how small those concerns are in the ultimate scheme of things.

Budd B.jpg Budd Boetticher at work.

Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorcese and others have both expressed their admiration for these films. Look for them on You Tube. It is exactly this sort of the film that George C Scott refers to in 'They Might be Giants.'

Scott’s career culminated in one of the greatest Westerns, ‘Ride the High Country’ (1962), Sam Peckinaph’s first western, featuring a near-sighted Joel McCrea with an arthritic Scott, the ingenue Mariette Hartley, the drooling Warren Oates, and more. The gossip is that Scott and McCrea flipped a coin to see who would play which part, one a huckster and trickster and the other a pillar of unassailable integrity. Both were pitch perfect and both quit on that note. I will also sneak a peak at one of his defining films that etched itself into my prepubescent mind, ‘7th Cavalry’ (1956).

The other day by accident I came across a reference to this film somewhere or other, and much of it came back in a rush. That is a tribute to director William Wyler who got a performance of a career out of the block of wood known as Dana Andrews. A screenplay by that remarkable wordsmith Robert Sherwood is understated. and often pensive. There is much that is not said because it cannot be said. But it weighs on each of the three principle characters, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell.

That jolly upbeat title belies a taxing story which I doubt I would have the fibre to watch today.

Best Years poster.jpg Then there is this jolly lobby poster which in no way prepared audiences for what they were to see.

These three Odysseuses survived to return when so many others just like them did not, an indelible fact each carries everyday; moreover they return to a new and different world. They have changed and the world has changed, too. The three Penelopes have also changed, and that enters the equation.

Every viewer will remember Homer (Harold Russell) and so we should. How daring Wyler was to cast a paraplegic to play a paraplegic. It broke the unwritten law of Hollywood of showing reality.

Howard Russell.jpg Harold Russell

Even more daring was Sherwood putting the word ‘divorce’ in Fredric March’s dialogue. At the time and place it was simply not a word said in public. That word was the reason the film was not shown in some places. Perhaps the supposition was that to hear the word ‘divorce’ would drive couples into divorce.

The ghosts are many and mighty that overtake Dana Andrews. Andrews, in a long subsequent career, much of it in B-movies, never equalled his portrayal of confusion, consternation, and dread, no shouting, no hysterics but driven deep none the less. That scene when he once again sits in that seat is indelible.

Dana 2.jpg Andrews driven deep within himself.

Perhaps that was Wyler’s genius, to have an actor who would not over do it. But just let it happen. It happened.

If this is too cryptic, Mortimer, watch it. Those who have seen it, they will remember it well. Those who have not, have an experience in store that has no equal in contemporary cinema.

This is the second episode of Maigret with Rowan Atkinson in the title role.

It is a masterclass in drama. Every scene is a tableau. Nothing is extraneous. The characters are rounded, not stereotypes. All the loose ends are resolved. Marvellous.

Maigret deadman tv.jpg

When a crisis demands every police officer’s attention, Maigret insists on pursuing what seems in comparison a trivial case. Why? Because it has become almost personal.

A man in a panic had telephoned Maigret at the office saying that his wife, Nina, knew Maigret…. But he rings off, later to be found murdered. But Maigret knows no woman named Nina. Nor does he recognise the dead man when he is found. Who is Nina? And who is the victim?

This murder has the earmarks of a gangland slaying, and accordingly the powers that be see no reason to investigate it. But Maigret cannot let go. The victim personally asked for his help and Maigret feels obliged to do what he can now, even if it is too late.

What is refreshing about this, as with the first, instalment is the quiet plod of police work. There is no shouting, no histrionics, no flashes of insight, no scientific magic. Instead there is Just plod and more plod, piecing the puzzle together one part at a time. Even when Maigret is proved right, there is just a shrug without triumph.

Atkinson projects the authority, the calm, the impenetrable inwardness of a Maigret who has the strength to remain silent.

The direction is so confident and so demanding that viewers, well these viewers, were gripped by the slow movement, like a very slow tango with complicated steps that seem to go nowhere and yet fascinate.

All the heavy artillery in the opening scene soon makes sense. That the provincial police officer overreacts is hardly surprising. I also liked the respect accorded to him rather than the ridicule routinely written into most cop shows for such individuals. He is in over his head but who would not be so in the circumstances.

A quibble, however, in the novel Maigret slowly takes over Chez Albert. When he finds and gets in, he noses around and then it seems too late to go home and so he beds down there for the night intending to return to home and office in the morning. Then the next morning a punter knocks the door for coffee, and Maigret obliges. Then another punter arrives…. Margret soon calls Madame Maigret, Louise to the cognoscenti, to come and help out. He becomes a stand-in for the absent Albert.

It is the essence of Maigret to enter into the life of the victims and that is very well realised in this film in several ways, including this stay at Chez Albert, but also the betting slips and the lemon frappé. Atkinson performs these moments of abnegation well, very well, when his Maigret surrenders his persona to the milieu.

One powerful scene occurs when an exhausted and so far frustrated Maigret returns home to 54 Boulevard Richard Lenoir where an anxious Madame Maigret says a man is waiting for him in study. It is obvious at a glance that this visitor is one very hard man, a villain, but he has come to help, and after they talk, Maigret hands him a drink. It sounds like nothing to describe it but the humanity, the compassion is all the deeper for being unsaid. In other versions this scene would have handled much differently with some more, superfluous dialogue and perhaps a witticism, as often in the Gambon versions, but not here.

Purest will say that Atkinson is not a doppelgänger for Maigret, and they would be right. He does not have the bulk of Maigret. Michael Gambon fit that bill perfectly.

I said no stereotypes at the outset, and that has to be qualified. The villains are one-dimensional. They are elemental forces that rip through the lives of those caught in their path.

The second to last scene with the bejewelled girlfriend of the instigator is far too pat for this viewer. A woman so easily satisfied with baubles would not bow to reality quite that readily.

Inspired by ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) the prodigious Danziger Brothers — Harry and Edward — turned their hands and low budget to sci-fi in this effort. It offers inspired casting and a prescient screenplay, and we watched it the other night. Well I watched it twice. to get the subtlety.

Devil Girl, indeed. Patricia Laffan is THE movie. When she is on screen there is tension, there is presence, there is drama and when she is not, there is none of the above. On her more below.

Devil poster-1.jpg

In the remote Scots moors an odd assembly takes refuge in a lonely inn. A married couple run the place, baby sitting a grandson, with a handy man, elderly Jim, and girl of all work who is mainly seen at the bar. With the winter approaching the only guest is a beauty from the big smoke and then a scientist with a newsman in tow arrive to investigate the strange lights in the sky. An escaped convict also insinuates himself in the group. Otranto Inn is now ready for the night ahead.

Devil poster-2.jpg

The scientist and newsman provide masculine leadership by debunking the worries of the women about those strange lights in the sky. ‘Just your imagination, my dear.’ They seem to have forgotten that those lights are why they are there in the first place. By now we know better. After the predicable confrontation with the convict, instant jealously over the beauty, and more condescension, Nyah appears!

Can that woman make an entrance. Seven times by my count. Shazam, indeed. The part of Nyah was made for Patricia Laffan, who is cool, calm, implacable, and pronounces her diabolical purpose with diction that would bring a smile to the twisted lips of Professor Henry Higgins. Her vowels are so round; her consonants are so icy.

Nyah-1.png

With a black leather body suit, a cat-like skull cap, a Darth Vadar cape, a mini-skirt avant le mot, and a ray gun, she has it all. Then there is the spaceship and within, Chani, the tin-man. (I thought she was calling him ‘Johnny’ which seemed awfully informal for Nyah, but on a long flight, well….)

Nyah has no time for small talk, nor, I suppose, for a shipboard romance with Chani; she is all business and the business is men!

The near-sighted, shuffling Jim with the feeble manner of an emeritus professor is a poor physical specimen, she declares. Poof! That's it for Jim. He is no longer a drain on the taxpayer.

On Mars the emancipation of the women led to open warfare between the sexes. The females won, usurping the political power of the men. This eventually led to the sexual impotence of the planet's entire male population. (Remember Louis Malle’s ‘Lune Noire?’ Look it up, Mortimer.)

She is Hillary Clinton! Come to emasculate the Republicans! ‘Go, girl’ we shouted from the couch! Grab ‘em by you-know-whats!

Just like the Republicans, the first reaction of the men is amused disbelief. What, after all, would a woman know!

After a few object lessons, the next reaction is brute force. Why negotiate when a good whack should fix things. Think of the 7MATE demographic. Efforts to beat sense into her backfire.

Stage direction. The telephone lines are down. The only automobile won't start. Darkness falls. They are isolated and alone. They will have to work together to overcome this one woman who threatens life as men know it. Gasp!

But wait, what is the problem?

She wants men. Call for volunteers, Nyah! But stand back to avoid the rush!

The screenplay wobbles. At times she wants spirited and unwilling men and at other times the docile tweenager seems to be preferred. This Devil Girl has trouble making up her mind. How like a woman in the stereotype of the era.

The screenplay is inane and most of the acting, especially the male leads, ranges from wordy to wooden and back. The special effects are far from special, even by the standards of 1954. The tin-man clearly had no tin or much of anything else barely making it down the ramp much like the late Jim.

Lobby posters on the interweb give three women top billing. How rare is that! How rare was that in 1954.

Patricia Laffin, per the biography on the IMDB, was ‘a statuesque and striking actress with vaguely reptilian aspects, at once sinister and alluring; a smile that was as much a sneer and a commanding, imperious presence suggesting innate superiority with a delivery that was at once sardonic and disdainful.’

Stop there. That is Nyah.

Nyah is precise, frigid, fiery, and languid. This woman could be hot and cold simultaneously.

Laffan did not fit the pigeon holes of the time and was relegated to supporting roles as a villain or an eccentric. Our loss. (But she stole the show from Peter Ustinov in 'Quo Vadis' (1951) before hitting warp speed as Nyah.)

The men had their turn in ‘Mars Needs Women’ (1967), but Tommy Kirk in a wet suit one size to large for him just does not have what Nyah had! He did call for volunteers and not even Annette came. Mickey Mouse, indeed.

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Both can be found on You Tube.

We idled away a hot and humid Sunday afternoon at the Newtown Dendy to see ‘Arrival.’

First contact with aliens is a gold standard in science fiction. Many examples are shoot ‘em ups from ‘The War of the Worlds’ to ‘Independence Day’ and their kind. Nothing more will be said about these sort.

Before going to ‘Arrival’ I checked an on-line trailer to see if it met our preliminary standards, little or no CGI and little or no shoot ‘em up. CGI is Computer-Generated Images, which are a fatal virus in most movies these days, an easy substitute for thought. It passed these two tests which rule out most of the dross from the dream factory.

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Off we went. What’s to like?

First and foremost its lead and star is a woman, who is neither glamorous nor trying to be a man. Amy Adams plays a skilled linguist named Dr Louise Banks. What she does is listen and think. That is a tough ask for Hollywood: thinking.

The usual currency for thought is the full face close up with wrinkled frontal lobes, but we get little of that here. Instead we get a lot of flashbacks, flash forwards, or flash sideways. I am not sure which, and will return to this point below. Adams does it well, and carries virtually every scene, certainly every scene worth watching.

The movie has pace but it is in no hurry. There is movement but not those crazy camera cuts loved by action directors who have never been in action themselves.

There is an intellectual puzzle — how to communicate with these aliens, who are very alien — placed in a high-pressure context.

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We loved all those alien zeros with their minute differences.

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They were incomprehensible. That is the mystery. What a relief from the NRA-approved Hollywood films, made by bleeding heart liberals, where all solutions lie in a gunsight. Bam! See any of the recent Star Trek movies. Incomprehensible is better than splat.

In the original ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951 [and 2008]) Patricia Neal had to say ‘Gort, Klaatu barada nicto.’ It worked. Whew!

gort.jpg Gort.

To do that she had to get to the right place passed the guards, overcome her own fears for herself and her child, and remember the incomprehensible message, and deliver it by rote to the scary robot. That was hard. Especially when his light went on. See above.

Dr Banks's mission is infinitely harder. With all the same fears that Neal had, she has to figure our first what it means and then how to say it in zeroes. That is some tough exam. It is even more difficult than understanding something said by the Cheeto President-elect.

The biggest theme is time’s arrow which seems to be the governing narrative.

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However, neither of the professional reviews I read from the ‘New York Times’ or ‘Sight & Sound’ mention it. All the flashes, back, front, side, seem to be about the simultaneity of time about which we might find out more in a sequel three thousand years later. (To get the point, see the movie.)

I also liked the understated Forest Whitaker for whom dealing with aliens is another day at the office. Indeed, he is almost catatonic. Of course, it is unlikely a mere colonel would have command of such a situation, though most generals would try to avoid the likely career-ending duty. The massive overkill of the U.S. response rings all too true. The motto of the Pentagon seems to be 'Nuke the jaywalkers!'

Not so likeable were these things.

The dark cinematography defeated some of the exercise. I never did get a good look at Whitaker or anyone else. I expect it will be even more difficult on DVD.

Whitaker.jpg See what I mean?

The helicopter landing at the start is gratuitous, distracting, and unbelievable. The helicopter is seldom the fastest way to travel because its airspeed is nothing special, especially when in civilian airspace full of other aircraft. The noise distracts from the dialogue. It is unbelievable that a pilot would land in a wooded residential area at night.

‘They have to see me,’ Dr Banks says ripping off her Hazard Suit (coloured to remind us of ‘Space Odyssey’ I suppose) mask for no discernible reason than that its time to get that Hollywood star our of the glare of the plastic mask.

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That the hero is bold where others hesitate is a tired trope trotted out here several times. Cemeteries are full of such bold wanna be heroes who never made it to celluloid fame.

The nicknames ‘Abbot and Costello’ come from nowhere and went right back there. While we silverbacks got it, did anyone else, or have these two execrable comedians been resuscitated? I hope not. Unless it referred to the two Australian politicians Tony and Peter.

The screenplay has its share of clichés. Top choice is the Chinese general who has mastered McKinsey-speak when he says that Dr Banks ‘reached out to him.’ I have heard that too many times from cliché-speakers who did the training course. At least he did not insert a meaningless ‘actually’ in his remark. The scene is good and the point is part of the mystery but all of that is deflated by this McKinseyism. The air went right out.

As expected, there is a hot headed soldier, though here the idiot is a working stiff who acts on his own with a few buddies, where in reality it would be an educated and overpaid general in D.C. who wants to blow something up to get another star. Think Sterling Hayden from’ Dr Strangelove' (1964) and you have the reality of General Curtis LeMay, a one time vice-presidential contender. The aside with Russ Limbaugh, the most shocking of jocks, was perfect but added nothing here.

If the pointless tracking shots, and empty rooms were cut, we could lose thirty minutes and not notice it. It is too long and indeed the longer it goes, the less the tension. A slow leak is still a leak.

I have to enter a plea for the chain of command. In this movie a Chinese general acts without the authority of the Communist Party. Never. All those purges Mao unleashed were partly aimed at cowing the army and keeping under the thumb of the party where it still is. Nor would the Director of the CIA call the shots as rendered here. There is a president to do that. Gulp.

The director, by the way, is Canadian Denis Villeneuve who has many other credits that I have not seen.

villaneuve.jpg Denis Villeneuve

Seeing this reminded us of the other First Contact movies. Chief among them is ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ as mentioned above in which a passive alien ambassador is murdered by a trigger happy grunt to the cheers of Russ Limbaugh and his kind. Then there was Jodie Foster in ‘Contact (1997).’ A cut above the mill, this one is for its intelligent screen play. In a class by itself is ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).’ As is ‘Paul (2011),’ though this not really first contact it is unexpected contact. There are also many instances in the Star Trek canon before the franchise descended into CGI shoot ‘em ups. Some of these are very thoughtful when thinking was still valued out west.

This is Year Fifty. It all began in September 1966 and I was there to see it on that night in September. All Trekkies will have to see this, whether they like it or not.

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What’s to like?

The cast members are superb simulacra of the Originals. That is partly looks, assisted by make-up, but also mien, accent, and attitude. The actor’s craft is to inhabit another person and they do it with ease. Bones is perfect and so is Kirk. Spock is more nebbish than the Original. Uhura is more wonder woman, and Scottie is more excitable, but these are quibbles.

The distribution of lines and incidents to the ensemble cast of the crew. Scottie, Sulu, Uhura, Spock, Bones, all have more than one moment in the camera’s sun. Only Chekov misses out, in my memory. It is not all about Kirk, as too many episodes of the Original were.

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There are some zingers to be sure. Throw aways lines like ‘they say it hurts less if it is a surprise.’

The women hold their own. Uhura may answer the phone once or twice but she also delivers some surprises.

Jaylah’s literal-mindedness was amusing. Though good to have on side in a fight, Jaylah seems to be there mostly for the make-up.

The idea of heavy metal music can be used as it is in the movie was marvellous. I am trying to steer clear of a spoiler here.

The explicit tribute to the Originals in the last scene with Spock was humble.


What’s to not like

The repetitive shoot ‘em ups are incomprehensible and pointless and there are many of them, at full volume.

The holes in the plot are sufficient to pass Africa through. The villain’s backstory is vacuous. The Franklin is ... What's the word, it is impossible to suspend disbelief.

The Federation’s own responsibility for its problems is a worn out motif in Star Trek but here it is again.

The variation are the returned veteran was the theme in the predecessor ('Into the Darkness') but here it is again in a slight re-configuration. These writers need to read more to find inspiration, say Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope to broaden the horizons and deepen the insight.

The theme about unity and strength is said a couple of times but left empty. Recalling as I do all those conversation with thesis writers where I would say integrate, e.g., Michels’s Iron Law, and the writer would say ‘But it is on page 46’ and indeed it was mentioned there but it was not developed and integrated into the text. Neither is the unity-strength couplet here. It is a case of 'words without the music.'

The army of CGIs dispatched in the action scenes bring the franchise closer to the comic book status of Start Wars.

Kalara, the bait, with that strange head more or less disappeared from the story.


Summing up.

At two hours and two minutes it is about thirty-two minutes too long. The interest and intelligence of the story do not sustain the duration. It is out of balance.

The effort put into those CGIs and choreography of the action scenes might better have gone into the script.

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What made 'Star Trek' a keeper in 1966 was that it was not just another shoot ‘em up on television where there were plenty others of that ilk. There were genuinely intellectual puzzles, like ‘Court Martial’ and morally challenging episodes, like ‘The Devil in the Dark’ and ‘The City of the Edge of Forever.’ In its current embodiment most problems are solved with a fist and a phaser. Such a contrast to the Original, e.g., ‘Nomad, ‘Return of the Archons,’ or ‘The Doomsday Machine’ where some thinking had to be done.

The Original was made for adults and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ brought that to fruition. The present version is regressing to an audience of prepubescent boys which is probably inevitable since that likely describes the filmmakers from writers, directors, and producers.

A ten-part television series from Iceland.  Nordic noir without the computer graphic images of gratuitous gruesome gore that typify far too much of the genre. IMDB rates it at 8.2.

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It kept us coming back for more. Each fifty-minute episode ending on some crisis, and each subsequent episode beginning with a recapitulation.  Slow and old fashioned.

What's to like?

The pace is measured and low key. No shouting, table banging, or the other crutches mentally impoverished screen writers and directors use to distract from the superficiality of the work.

The setting is great travelogue. Snow, mountains, and fjords, oh, and plenty of ice on the north coast of Iceland.

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The Iceland’s weather is a major character that directs and limits what the human agents can do.

The interaction of the public and private lives of the characters in the small town which is cut-off by a storm.

The three small town cops, each different, make a good team, fallible though each is.

The crippled watcher. But we got too little of him.

The several wheels within wheels which were neatly wrapped up in the end.

The redemption of the falsely accused and imprisoned boyfriend.

'The devil entered me' said the grieving grandfather.

That most of the trouble was all homegrown and did not come on the ferry.

The mixture of languages, Icelandic, Danish, German, French, and English. 

The cannibalistic media. Another tired trope but I am not yet tired of it.

trapped ferry.jpg


What's not to like?

The big city cops are a trope, arrogant, easily satisfied, and incompetent.

The ex-wife's boyfriend is ever present, leading to the conclusion that he will figure in the plot, but he does not. A blue herring.

The ferry captain's change of heart was pat.

The police commissioner in Reykjavik was built up to be important in the story and then dropped.

Andri’s backstory was a boring distraction as they always are. This is another crutch.


We found it on SBS On-Demand.  Hooray!  

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But we found it very difficult to find on the telly. The TV screen search function could not find itself! Nor could it find ‘Trapped.’ 

The iPad app is great. It was easy to find ‘Trapped’ on it but we wanted to watch it on the big screen in front of the easy chairs. The app does not communicate with the television as far as we could see.  

Sherlock Holmes has taken many forms over the centuries, none more compelling and engaging than in this eye-popper.

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George C. Scott, at the height of his considerable powers, is Justin Playfair who had been an attorney of note and then a judge of discerning insight, striving always for justice in large and in small things. Striving always and never yielding, but the years passed and world seemed no more just and then his wife died. Lost of her compass, Justin shut himself away in the family mansion, for Justin has many dollars, and became….a reborn Sherlock Holmes, complete with period costume, laboratory, and (a poor) Brit accent. He secrets himself away in the house for months at a time in a waiting game with Professor Moriarty, who else, the nemesis.

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Justin’s brother needs money and a lot of it soon to pay off a mobster, and sets in motion the wheels to have Justin committed to a mental asylum so that he, the brother, can take control of the dosh. He finds a compliant doctor who will sign anything for a dollar, and then needs a second expert’s signature. Enter none other than Dr Mildred Watson, played by that star of the Hollywood firmament, Joanne Woodward, a frumpy single woman with broken fingernails and an irritating manner.

Yes, Holmes has his Watson, at last! What follows is movie magic when movies still had magic.

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Playfair as Holmes is a force of nature and intellect (‘I never guess!’). When she introduces herself as Dr Watson, Scott’s eyes pop off the screen; even on a DVD on a small television, he is electric.

Of course, he’s nuts, she can see that, but…. well, it takes time to be sure. He meets her, he because he wants a Watson, she because she wants a diagnosis that can be published to enhance her career. Both get more.

Scott’s march down the hall of the mental hospital is a delight to behold. Force of nature, indeed! (No spoiler. But Scott was a Marine for four years and it shows.) It gets better when, with his deductive powers, he diagnosis one of Watson’s patients far better than she has been able to do, working by the book.

It turns out someone is now out to get Scott, to settle the wayward brother’s debts, and the game is afoot.

The search for clues leads to a telephone exchange where a scene with a caller and an operator stayed in my mind for near fifty years. That is some credit to all the players, writers, and directors. When the operator turned, I knew what to expect. It was silent comment on enslavement of us all to the machine that is society, which Michel Foucault would recognize.

There is much more, but best of all is a scene and speech. which over the ensuing many years I have sometimes quoted and often recalled.

Seeking respite from the pursuing villains, Scott takes Watson to a theatre, an old broken down movie house; as they climb the stairs, she, querulous, asks ‘Why here?’ ‘Why … because they only show westerns here,’ says Scott as though naming the self-evident.

‘Huh!‘ is the learned doctor’s reply. Patiently, as to a slow-witted child, he explains why westerns are the ultimate expression of morality. It goes something like this: ‘If you look closely at Westerns you can see principles, the possibility of justice; you can see individuals who move their own lives, bringing them to the ends they deserve.’ There are no masses, no bureaucracies, no excuses. (Bring on Randolph Scott! I cried.)

There are false notes to be sure. Jack Gilford is wasted. The episode with the garden elves is pointless. The scenes of sidling are silly and without purpose. The plot is full of holes. If it is blackmail, no one seems to care. The march of acolytes at the end is fun but pointless, and the final descent in the end still seems…. confusing., incomplete, a let down. Writers sometimes just cannot figure out what to do at the end, maybe because they do not want it to end. I know, in this case, I did not either. A great trip with no arrival like ‘L'année dernière à Marienbad’ (1961).

It is a tribute to many hands that Joanne Woodward, that belle from Georgia by way of LSU in Baton Rouge, could be turned into this dowdy woman, she who melted the screen fours years later in ‘The Drowning Pool’ with that molasses accent and honey blond beauty. Here she looks exhausted and cranky or cranky and exhausted with a big city accent, and shambles around like a lame department store window mannequin. She has many other credits, of course, and I mention a few for the sheer pleasure of calling them to mind: ‘The Long Hot Summer’ (1958), ‘The Sound and the Fury’ (1959), ‘The Fugitive Kind’ (1960), ‘Paris Blues’ (1961), ‘A Fine Madness’ (1966), ‘Rachel, Rachel’ (1968), ‘Winning’ (1969), ‘The Effect of Gamma Rays’ (1972), the list goes on.

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Scott, he too from the South — Virginia, was never better, and that is high praise. Among his remarkable performances was the prosecuting attorney in ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ (1959) who was so smart that he outsmarted himself, ‘The Hustler” (1961) as an avaricious agent, one of many crazed generals in ‘Dr Strangelove’ (1964), before taking the world by storm in ‘Patton’ (1970). He also did a noteworthy television series ‘East Side, West Side’ (1963-1964) as a social worker in the bowels of New York City. He had the reputation for professional intensity that sometimes put off other actors. Once he was in-character, he stayed there for the duration. Though not trained as a method actor, he out-methoded most of them.

Scott intense.jpg That intensity shows in another role.

The IMDB entry is sketchy with only first names for the characters, and not all of them. It has a rating of 7.0 which is respectable but not high enough.

I saw ‘They Might be Giants’ on the wide screen in Edmonton Alberta Canada when a callow graduate student and a night at the movies was a major financial commitment. It was memorable and I have checked many times in the following decades to see it again. No luck. Then a few weeks ago I happened to check again and lo, there it was on the Amazon site. I ordered it and when it arrived, I ripped it open and watched it, a rare treat that has withstood the test of time.

It was a morning on the Sydney Opera House Quay at the Dendy Cinema Theatre where Jim Kitay and I went to see the antics of the Marx Brothers, Julius, Leonard, and Arthur, and so on. Neither Karl, Milton, nor Herbert are in this one.

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It is feature length at 93 minutes, cut from the original release of 98 minutes, and it is a big production, i.e., a large cast, and some set-pieces worthy of Busby Berkeley. Old troupers like Margaret Dumont and Sig Ruman liven things up. The screen play is by that stalwart of the typewriter, George Kaufman. It is scored at 8.1 on the IMDB. That is impressive.

Among the outstanding scenes are the crowded stateroom on the steamship and the aerial acrobatics in the theatre. There is also a good deal of ‘Il Trovatore’ sung by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. Ms Carlisle continued to sing well into her 90s, says the fount Wikipedia.

Otis B. Driftwood, now there is name with which to conjure, reminds me of some scholars I have known. Always on the prowl for easy takings and completely irresponsible.

These things are best seen on the wide screen without distractions, but if that is not an option, turn the lights down and cue it up on the idiot box. These idiots always have something to offer.

While marvelling once again at Willa Cather’s life and work in Red Cloud recently, we acquired this video as an aide-memoir. It is as wonderful as the woman herself. There is a very intelligent narration delivered with grace by David Strathairn, punctuated with interviews from critics and scholars.

While most of the talking head spouted the professional cant, a few seemed to be so emotionally attuned to Cather that they spoke in plain English with a catch in the voice. Those are the capital 'R' readers to this reader.

The sayers of cant are the sayers of cant, and their careers will flourish as they impress each other, but they have nothing to say to a reader.

Someone who hesitates to speak, who pauses to think, who slowly finds the right words within, and then says them slowly in simple declarative sentences without the blot of jargon, these people I want to hear. The video had several of these Readers.

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More important are the readings from passages of her novels through her life as she explored new themes and ideas, but always returned to Red Cloud for inspiration from her formative observations and interpretations.

How a fourteen year old girl could fathom death, as she did, and revert to it more than once, is one of things that makes me think that Willa Cather and her kind are aliens, come to earth to teach us about ourselves.

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That she resigned as the most highly paid and influential editor of the most successful magazine, ‘McClure’s’ in New York City, this girl-woman from Red Cloud, because the magazine kept her from writing is quite a story in itself. Be glad she did.

Led by that man of limited ability and unlimited ego, Ernest Hemingway, she is often disparaged by the literati. So be it. Theirs is the loss. Let them sup on the cant.

Her books earned many favourable reviews and a Pulitzer Prize, but more important, millions of Readers.

This film is more explicit about the lesbian relationship(s) than anything at the Cather Center, but leaves open the question of which her friendship with two other women was erotic. (Figure it out, Mr Spock.) All done with a respectful tact. Ergo not done by journalists.

Welcome to Alliance Nebraska, population 8,519, home of CARHENGE.

Carhenge? Just what it sounds like, Mr Spock. It is Stonehenge with cars.

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We have seen Carhenge with our very own eyes, and long to see it again!

Alliance and its sister city Chadron (population 5,767), which is about an hour by car due North, were way stations for French explorers and trappers who followed the Platte River. Practice French pronunciation on each: Alliance, Chadron, and Platte, and voila!

This video is an account of the origin, creation, and development of Carhenge, featuring the founder, Jim Reinders, who discovered his