Destination Moon
Rocketship X-M
Flight to Mars
Radar Men from the Moon
Red Planet Mars
Invaders from Mars
Project Moon Base
Riders to the Stars
This Island Earth
Conquest of Space
World without End
Invasion of the Saucer Men
20 Million Miles to Earth
Дорога к Звёздам "Road to the Stars"
The War of the Satellites
From the Earth to the Moon
Vynález zkázy "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne"
Небо зовёт "The Sky Calls"

More Old Sci-Fi Films

It’s another avoidance mechanism, I guess!

I’m particularly interested in space films, and in their ideas, scientific, social, and stylistic.

I leave out films for which a future or extraterrestrial world is a mere backdrop for a mundane story, and films for which some science idea is a mere excuse for a monster. The science needs to be somehow worked into the fiction.

I don’t exclude films that are merely poorly executed.

Destination Moon

1950 Eagle Lion

as Jim Barnes John Archer
as Dr. Charles Cargraves Warner Anderson
as General Thayer Tom Powers
as Joe Sweeny Dick Wesson
as Emily Cargraves Erin O’Brien-Moore

Produced by George Pal
Directed by Irving Pichel
Screenplay by Rip van Ronkel, Robert Heinlein and James O’Hanlon
Based on a novel by Robert Heinlein
Space art by Chesley Bonestell

This was the first full-length space film out of Hollywood since 1930. It at attempts some degree of technical realism, with the advice of the famous science fiction writer, Heinlein. (Well...better than nothing.)

Only boys on this mission; Heinlein never wrote well for women.

Technology: Clips of White Sands V-2, discussion of satellites

Vehicle: Silver, cigar-shaped rocket with big fins. Not really very big. Nuclear rocket engine: steam super-heated by nuclear reactor.

Clackety computer similar to that in Attack of the Flying Saucers

Beautiful pitch for going into space by Woody Woodpecker! With lesson in Newtonian mechanics.

Why go to the moon? “There is no way to stop an attack from outer space”

Public opposition to the nuclear motor is dismissed as propaganda financed by “somebody with money and brains”.

“Rockets are an absolute necessity—if any other power gets one into space before we do, we’ll no longer be the United States, we’ll be ‘This United World, etc., etc.’ unquote.”

On landing on the Moon, they “claim possession for the United States, for the benefit of all mankind”.

Effects of acceleration are depicted as excruciating.

Very nice artist’s rendering of Earth; astronauts soliloquize on its beauty.

Weightlessness done well, with invisible wires. They report that weightlessness makes swallowing difficult. They walk with what appear to be real magnetized boots!

Oxygen tank used to thrust astronaut to make a rescue.

Rocketship X-M

1950 Lippert Productions

Lloyd Bridges as Col. Floyd Graham, pilot
Osa Massen as Dr. Lisa Van Horn, able co-worker and assistant, Dr of Chem.
John Emery as Dr. Karl Extrum, designer & brilliant physicist
Noah Beery, Jr.as Maj. William Corrigan, Engr.
Hugh O’Brian as Harry Chamberlain, astronomer, navigator
Morris Ankrum as Dr. Fleming
Patrick Ahern
Sherry Moreland
John Dutra
Katherine Marlowe

Produced, written and directed by Kurt Neumann

Vehicle RXM (Rocketship Expedition to the Moon). Two-stage, shaped rather like a squid’s mantle. Carries “Twice the fuel we expect to use to keep within the margin of safety.”

Not strictly a military project, but built in secrecy. That “…an unassailable base could be established on the moon, to control world peace.”

According to a trailer provided with the tape, the crew consists of “Four Men and a Girl”.

Comment as they’re taking their physicals: “The weaker sex, the only one whose blood pressure is normal!” “Unless you look like a test tube or a chemical formula, you don’t have a chance”. She’s on board because she invented the fuel the rocket uses.

They get a case of meteorites.

At some point between the Earth and Moon, they have an encounter with reduced gravity. It’s briefly amusing, but they aren’t bothered by it again.

While in space, they gaze upon a gage that reads “Air Speed - MPH”.

Something goes wrong: “By heading into space, we’ve added the Earth’s orbital velocity to our own”. They’re doing a course change, and everyone blacks out (for days). Perhaps they were to have made another correction.

“You know the consequences of a body moving with unchecked velocity in free space…Infinite motion!”

Ship ends up going to Mars instead of the Moon. They acknowledge that this is wildly improbable, and “pause and observe respectfully while something infinitely greater assumes control”.

On Mars: “We have atmosphere here, we won’t need pressure suits”

Martians are just people. They have nuked themselves back to the stone age. The whole Mars episode is rather disappointing.

Most of the film is B&W, but Mars scenes are pink!

Musical score by Ferde Grofé resembles the Star Trek theme.

Texan Bill Corrigan prefers colorful expressions like “Mars—whaddya know!”. Remarks: “On my ranch, I’ve thrown heifers over my shoulder bigger than that”. Col. Graham retorts: “You sure that wasn’t a bull?”

Graham has been chipping away at Van Horn’s icy exterior all alone, but after a couple of guys die, and they’re headed back to Earth, it’s time for romance. Graham: “Lisa, you’re a pretty swell girl.” Van Horn: “Girl? I’m not Dr. Van Horn any more?” He has hit on the right formula!

But too late. Brace yourself for a bummer.

God is in the pilot seat (and He can’t be killed!)
Races naturally engage in combat on first encounter.
Mars is too boring to bother with.

Flight to Mars

1951 Monogram Pictures

Marguerite Chapman as Alita
Cameron Mitchell as reporter Steve Abbott
Arthur Franz as Jim Barker, Chief Engineer
Virginia Huston as Carol Stafford
John Litel
Morris Ankrum as Ikron (Alita’s Father)
Richard Gaines
Lucille Barkley
Robert H. Barratt
Professor William Jackson
Dr. Laine

Produced by Walter Mirisch
Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn

Date “Fifty Years into the Future” (from trailers)

Built in secret by the Pentagon, but the (much-discussed) reason for the ship is just to get there.

Vehicle: Sleek silver rocket-ship, boarded in the conventional manner—a little ladder to a door at the rear.

“What happens when the rocket finally levels off, do we walk on the walls?”
“Our gyro mechanism keeps this cabin vertical at all times!”

If you're looking for utterly idiotic dialog and miserable confusion not only of scientific facts, but of human behavior and the workings of government and what might constitute humor, go no further. There more chaotic efforts and worse production, and even examples of worse acting. But for sheer dumb, this film explores every crevice!

Crew: a frigid woman scientist, a know-nothing-but-whimsical newspaper reporter who has unexplained authority over the others, the handsome and lusty captain, and some old guys who worry about stuff.

They nearly get sucked into the moon by its gravitational field, but they manage do some last-second swerving to avoid it. Obligatory encounter with “meteorites” (which appear to be micrographs of blood cells) causes crash landing on Mars.

The inside of the rocket ship is identical to that of Rocketship X-M.

Martians are just (white, North American) people with futuristic clothing. The thoughts of both species turn promptly to procreation with the other.

Martians running out of “corium”, which is their equivalent of coal.

Martian girls can’t really bend over in their outfits. Futuristic! The length of their skirts was a taste of things to come in Star Trek.

Mars is a “woman’s paradise”, because instead of a kitchen, there is a “food laboratory”, which delivers meals, and washes the dishes.

Watch out for meteorites.
Mars is dying.
Martian girls look good in mini-skirts.
Martian women belong in the food laboratory.

Radar Men from the Moon
Introducing Commander Cody

1952 Republic

George Wallace as Commander Cody
Clayton Moore

Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Produced by Franklyn Adreon
Screenplay by Ronald Davidson

Serial in 12 chapters; this is very poor indeed.

Vehicles: Commander Cody has a rocket suit! There’s an experimental moon rocket. Cody must always command a “180 degree turn” on landing. This turn is executed in a leisurely horizontal fashion, not so the rocket can land on its tail. Some effort is put into decorating an army tank as a Moon tank. It’s got fins and a cool paint job, and belches diesel smoke.

A woman is on board the rocket explicitly to cook.

Weapons: Moon men have atomic weapons, which can be hand weapons or cannons, but which are exceedingly clumsy to re-load, always allowing Cody to escape.

Aliens: Wear tight hoods, are evil and incompetent. Hire Earth men who are bank robbers by trade and who can’t complete any mission. The atmosphere on the Moon has become too thin to breathe, so that’s why they want Earth.

The Moon is dying.
To land, make a 180° turn.
If you want a hot meal, don’t forget the women.

Red Planet Mars

1952 Melaby Pictures

Peter Graves
Andrea King
Marvin Miller
Herbert Bergof
House Peters

Directed by Harry Horner

Scientist invents gizmo to talk to Mars. (Or did he steal it?)

Message from Mars says there is a God. Everybody gets religion. Commies head for the hills

Sociopath Nazi scientist claims he invented the gizmo, and has been sending the broadcasts.

Very little sci-fi here; this is a morality tale. Some good performances, but the script dooms all attempts to keep one’s interest.

Invaders from Mars

1953 Twentieth Century-Fox

Helena Carter
Arthur Franz
Jimmy Hunt
Lief Erickson
Hillary Brooke
Morris Ankrum
Max Wagner
Bill Phipps
Milburn Stone
Janine Perreau

Produced by Edward L. Alperson
Screenplay by Richard Blake
Directed by William Cameron Menzies

Kid sees saucer land, exclaims “Gee, whiz!”. Nobody believes him.

Martians suck victims into the sand. The victims return home, with only a little scar on the back of the neck to show for it, and…they aren’t the same.

Scary brainy Martian in a plastic bubble has tentacles, orders the other Martians around using his bloodshot eyes. The other Martians are in fuzzy, faceless, teddy-bear suits.

Glowing flying saucer, brain implant, rock-boring ray.

Weird choral music by Raoule Kraushaar reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Listen to the kid!
Martians, bad!
Leave it to the army!

Project Moon Base

1953 Galaxy

as Colonel Briteis (Brighteyes) Donna Martell
as Haydon Rorke General Greene
as Ross Ford Major Moore
as Larry Johns Dr. Wernher
as Herb Jacobs Mr. Roundtree
as Barbara Morrison Polly Prattles
as Ernestime Barrier Madame President
as James Craven Commodore Carlson
as John Hedloe Adjutant
as Peter Adams Captain Carmody
as Robert Karmer Sam
as John Straub Chaplain
as Clarke Keene Spacecom Operator
as John Tomecko Blockhouse Operator
as Robert Paltz Bellboy

Produced by Jack Seaman
Directed by Robert Talmadge
Screenplay by Robert Heinlein and Jack Seaman
Based on a story by Irving Block

Date: post 1970

Elaborate sets and models manage always to look like sets and models.

Very small one-person rocket ships Canada and Mexico fly to the space station, from which a moon ship departs.

Space Station 350 ft in diameter. USSF: U.S. Space Force (but craft bear the USAF insignia ). Built to “consolidate the safety of the Free World.”

Everybody smokes.

Haydon Rorke has a lot of trouble with the technobabble.

First surprise: Colonel Briteis is a woman! Last surprise: The President of the U.S. is a woman!

It is explained Briteis was picked because she weighs so little.

Briteis doesn’t fill us with confidence, though. She’s as cute as a button, but sounds like Judy Garland (“Ooh! YOU!”). And of course, due to her feminine weakness, she accidentally fires the rockets that force them to land on the moon.

The “enemies of Freedom” kill a scientist that was to go on the flight, and replace him with a double who’s to destroy the Space Station, which to them is a “perpetually menacing eye-in-the-sky”.

Briteis and Ford get stuck on the moon, and are duly married, as is required by common decency, thus providing an ending to the story.

Some time is spent on issues such as space-docking, weightlessness, the airlessness of the moon. They have the sense to wear space suits on the moon, and communicate by radio while in the space suits.

Space crews all wear T-shirts and shorts, a cute little skull cap, and cute space-boots. While Briteis makes this look great, the others strain to maintain their dignity.

Unconvincing weightlessness of “free-fall”: They wear special space-boots that allow them to walk normally on ceilings or floors, to which are attached conventional chairs and tables.

Crew exhibits signs of great distress each time the rocket engine fires.

A woman on the ship is bad luck (but if she must be President, I suppose she must)
In space—to enforce Freedom!
The perpetually menacing eye-in-the-sky of Freedom!
When on the Moon, get married!

Riders to the Stars

1954 United Artists

William Lundigan as Dr. Richard Stanton
Herbert Marshall as Dr. Donald L. Santon (and Narrator)
Richard Carlson as Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Lockwood
Martha Hyer
as Dr. Jane Flynn
Dawn Addas
as Susan Manners
Robert Karnes
as Walter Gordon
Lawrence Dobkin
as Dr. Delmar
George Eldredge
as Dr. Paul Drayden
Dan Riss
as Dr. Frank Warner
Michael Fox
as Dr. Klinger
King Donovan
as James F. O’Herli
Kem Dibbs
as David Wells
James K. Best
as Sidney K. Fuller

Producer Ivan Tors
Director Richard Carlson
Director of Photography Stanley Cortez
Screenplay Curt Siodmak
Assoc. Producer Herbert L. Strock
Assist. Producer Dick Taylor
Assist. Director Marty Moss
Special Effects Director Harry Redmond, Jr.
Special Effects Editor Cathey Burrow
Scientific Advice
Assoc. Producer in Charge
of Scientific Research
Maxwell Smith
Space-Medicine Research Dr. Konrad Buettner
Acceleration Research on the
Human Centrifuge at the
University of Southern California
Special Photographic Effects Jack R. Glass
Art Director Jerome Pycha, Jr
Set Decorator Victor Gangelin
Makeup Louis Phillipi
Script Supervision Jack Herzberg
Sound Jack Goodrich and Joel Moss
Color Consultant Clifford D. Shank
Color Color Corporation of America
Music Composer and Conductor Harry Sukman
Song Lyrics Leon Pober
Vocalist Kitty White

Date: contemporary.

This is another “man in space” film: there are no aliens or fantastic weapons. It’s about, what would we do up there anyway? This is a pretty elaborate production. Aside from the outer space scenes, the cinematography is surprisingly good.

Several groups are cited as scientific advisors for this film. Various institutions, such as Palomar Observatory, are plugged repeatedly. Despite that, a lot of facts are garbled: cosmological time scales are reduced by large factors: the moon may be destroyed by cosmic rays in a million years, meteors “survive” in space for thousands of years.

Meteors are everywhere in space, and just as much a menace as in most other space films of this time. Weightlessness is depicted. An astronaut whose ship blows up is immediately skeletalized.

Premise is to “catch a meteor in flight”, “to study the molecular structure of its outer hull before it’s burned away by friction with the air”, because it has been observed that metallic objects are “pounded to dust” by cosmic rays quickly.

One pilot, Wells, objects on political and moral grounds:

Stanton: “Mr. Wells, if we’re not the first nation to solve the problem of space travel we’ll have small chance of survival.”
Wells: “Here we go again, boys! War, killings. Every invention seems to have the same end.”
Stanton: “The exploration of space, by us, may be the end of wars! A space platform operated by a dictatorship would make slaves of all free people.”
Wells: “The man who invented the bow and arrow probably gave his countrymen the same speech!”

It is proposed that an “electronic brain” should fly the rockets, but “it would have be a mile long and would weigh thousands of tons”. Another reason given: “courage and aggressiveness that’s why we need men rather than machines for this job”. (At another point though, an “electronic computer” is used.)

The script mostly concerns the choice and training of the pilots for the job. (Despite all this, they all proceed to crack up and flaunt empassioned orders from the ground.) The script is a bit heavy on the drama and romance. The principals wax and wax and wax romantic, about exploration, and the stars, and about romance generally.

The script also emphasizes respect of professions: most of the characters are fancy doctors and pilots. One of the doctors is a lady. (One of the guys reacts to the information she’s a doctor, and another says “Please, no obvious remarks.” She looks great in the various brown jumpsuits she wears, and is, as it turns out, available. Still, this film is more adult about the question of women professionals than many in this genre.) The progression rocket–jet–“prop job” is repeated, with dismay always expressed for the latter, doubt and surprise for the former, and awe for the middle one.

The only non-white person involved is the famous jazz vocalist, Kitty White, who sings the terribly lame lyrics with egregious competence. Not depicted, but at least cited!

The acting isn’t bad, typical of the time period. In fact, I would say that it was excellent, given the corny lines they had to work with.

Unfortunately, the rockets and meteors vibrate ridiculously on their wires, swooping and wobbling worse than in earlier sci-fi serials—and the rockets whistle like bombs on their way down. It’s rather a pity— it blows any hope of realism that they tried so hard to set up.

There are several inappropriate relationships: the main pilot is the son of the main scientist in charge, and a romance emerges between him and the lady doctor.

Most of the guys are smoking most of the time — but that’s the way it was. Nonetheless, one candidate for the mission is ruled out because he was “pacing and chain smoking”. (There are “No Smoking” signs about, when rockets are being fueled.)

We don’t even see the rockets until 3/4 through the film. On ground and launching they are depicted with various stock footage of U.S. V-2 tests. There is also some footage about assembly of the V-2s that I had never seen before. It is supposed to extend wings to fly back to the ground (explained but very poorly depicted) and it has a “scoop” for collecting meteors (again very poorly depicted). Famous stock footage of earth photographed from sounding rockets also appears.

Space is a place to go crazy about.
Look out for the meteor!
No rocket fuel around? Have a smoke!
The cute guy gets the best girl whose career brings her closest to him.

This Island Earth

1955 Universal

Jess Morrow as Exeter
Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams
Rex Reason as Dr. Cal Meacham
Russell Johnson
(The Professor of Gilligan’s Island)
as Dr. Steve Carlson

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
From Novel by Raymond F. Jones

James-Bond-handsome scientist Cal Meacham is lent a jet fighter by the U.S. Air Force just because they want to be his friend. He zooms around in it, and gets into trouble with aliens.

When he gets to the lab, he’ll unzip his flight suit to uncover his tweed jacket, and the science can begin!

Aliens are from Metaluna, which is at odds with planet Zahgon, whose inhabitants keep shooting meteors at them.

They provide instructions on how to build an “interociter”, which turns out to be a triangular TV equipped with deadly laser beams. (The laser beams being provided explicitly to underscore the superiority of the technology.)

Space ship is stylistically very reminiscent of the Star Trek Enterprise disk. Has something like a tractor beam.

Cal and Ruth are taken to Metaluna, where they get scared by a “Mutant” slave, get threatened with captivity, then run away just in time to escape the planet’s destruction.

The aliens have motives, which are naturally ulterior.
Metaluna is dying.
The usual stuff about the alpha male and the girl.

Conquest of Space

1955 Paramount

Walter Brooke as Gen. Samuel T. Merrit
Erik Fleming as Capt. Barney Merrit
Mickey Shaughnessy as Sgt. Mahoney
Phil Foster as Sgt. Jackie Siegle
William Redfield as Roy Cooper
William Hopper as Dr. George Fenton
Benson Fong as Sgt. Imoto
Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon in “The Wild Wild West”) as Sgt. Andre Fodor
Vito Scotti as Sanella
John Dennis as Donkersgoed
Michael Fox as Elsbach
Joan Shawlee as Rosie McCann
Iphigenie Castiglioni as Mrs. Heinz Fodor

Produced by George Pal
Directed by Byron Haskin
From Novel by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley
Adapted by Philip Yourdan, Barré Lyndon, and George Worthing Yates

The lead-in is a nice summary:

This is a story of tomorrow, or of the day after tomorrow, when men have built a station in space constructed in the form of a great wheel, and set a thousand miles out from the Earth, fixed by gravity and turning about the world every two hours, serving a double purpose: an observation post in the heavens, and a place where a spaceship can be assembled, and then launched to explore other planets and the vast Universe itself, in the last and greatest adventure of Mankind—a plunge toward the…Conquest of Space

(Those who enjoyed the Muppet Show will recognize a familiar spoof of this lead-in.)

This is a straight-up “man in space” movie. There are no monsters or aliens, computers or weapons.

Several space vehicles appear besides the Wheel. The coolest is Spaceship 1, which combines a beautiful mono-wing craft, a classic rocket ship, and realistic space fuel tanks. Then there is a single-person “taxi”, open to space, and some transport rockets. The realism was marred for me by rocket exhaust effects that owe to the Flash Gordon serials, but otherwise, these are the best space ships of the decade.

Weightlessness and the vacuum are treated pretty well. Space workers wear very functional-looking space suits, and walk only with magnetic shoes. We also see atmospheric burn-up, and a space-walk on a moving ship, both fairly well explained in dialog.

During rocket accelerations, faces are contorted grotesquely and sometimes bleed. They accelerate to 20,000 MPH (according to the “Space Speed Indicator”).

This is a military outfit, but it isn’t clear whose military. Crew members are beholding to the Supreme International Space Authority, and watch TV broadcasts of Trans-World Communications. Crew members talk about having been in WWII and the Korean conflict.

The only environmental hazards are meteors (involved in three scenes), and the dry and crumbly Martian planetary surface.

Even more lethal, however, is “space fatigue”, which causes paralysis, questions of the propriety of man’s place in space, homicide, and readings from the Bible.

The views of Earth from space are beautiful and very convincing. I think these are unmatched in this decade of cinema.

Space explorers eat food from tablets to improve their health, not because it’s more compact. Then they all smoke, presumably for the same reason.

The script is choppy; it feels like they were just trying to do too much. We have very interesting portrayals of space, mixed with formulaic military chivalry, death-defying action scenes, comic relief, awe-inspired monologues, girls in bathing suits, and mother’s love. Then we have discussions of race, family responsibility, and the future of mankind. And so on. A little focus would have helped.

A lot of effort is spent developing personalities and relationships that are either implausible or stereotypical.

Women are archetypal, and appear only in video transmissions, consisting of: a chorus line, a loving, supportive mother, and a vamp girlfriend.

The crew is quite multi-ethnic. Besides the Japanese, German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian-Americans who have lines, there are Black crew members.

While the comic relief, mostly coming from Brooklyn stand-up comedian Phil Foster, is really fun, one wonders why the film required so much relief.

…for a fat solid year I’ve been eating birdseed out of this goofy sombrero with no squawk.

Of a capsulized sandwich he remarks:

This ain’t Kosher corned beef!

As a tough old Irish-American sergeant, Mickey Shaughnessy delivers a performance that is sometimes really scary, and…really out of place.

Listen, you slimy little calumnator—if you were one-tenth the man that the general is, you’d be twice the man you are!
…I’ll pull out your filthy tongue and strangle you with it!
…It’ll be a rope for you, Captain, and I hope they make it slow, very slow, so I can watch ya kick!

The most precious moments are poetic speeches by Benson Fong, wherein he apologizes for the behavior of Japan in WWII, explains why Japanese use chopsticks and build buildings of wood and paper, rationalizes the exploration of Mars, and explains why he and his kind are “little people”. This by itself made the film worthwhile for me.

The Universe was put here for Man to conquer (Man meaning “tough military-type guys”)
Are we explorers, or invaders of the sacred domain of God?

World without End

1956 Cinemascope

as John Borden Hugh Marlowe
as Dr. Galbraithe John Borden
as Garnet Nancy Gates
as Herbert Ellis Rodney Turt Taylor
as Henry Jaffe Christopher Dark
as Deena Lisa Montell
as President Timmek Everett Glass
as Mories Booth Colman
as Councilman Elda Stanley Fraser
as Councilman James William Vedder
as Vida Paul Brinegar
as Beryl Rankin Mansfield
as Naga Mickey Simpson
as Second Reporter Herb Vigran

Produced by Richard Heermance
Directed by Edward Bernds
Screenplay by Edward Bernds

Rocket ship, pointy, silver, winged, horizontal-flying. Has “magnetic gravity”. Leaves for Mars 1957 to do reconnaissance without landing. That’s the end of the Mars part of the story.

On the way back, something (never explained but later described as an “exponential time displacement”) that makes them go faster than light, so that they end up crashing on Earth in the future, 2508 AD. (The crash is very cheesy: the rocket ship buzzes like a diving prop plane, and bounces like a plastic model.)

Earth’s surface has been destroyed by atomic war. They are beset by giant spiders and cyclops cavemen “mutates”.

They find the remains of civilization underground, where the doors slide automatically, the men wear tights and skullcaps in the wimpiest way possible, and the women, who are all under 25, wear high heels, short skirts and very low-cut blouses.

Several romances ensue.

The space guys show the underground humans the benefits of firepower and aggression. They also determine that the best way to deal with a cave man is with a bazooka, hand guns being deemed somehow inadequate. The better-looking cavemen are spared and taught English.

Sets very stylish, reminiscent of Star Trek.

This really has the feel and look of ’60s sci-fi.

Man was not meant to live in an hole in the ground.
(Men, anyway: the men get wimpy, the women get voluptuous)
To live in peace, you gotta shoot the bad guys.
The bad guys are the ugly ones.

Invasion of the Saucer Men

1957 American International

Director Edward Cahn
Producers James H. Nicholson
Samuel Z. Arkoff (Mailibu Productions)
Screenplay Robert J. Gurney Jr.,
Al Martin
Story by Paul Fairman (The Cosmic Frame)
Steve Terrell as Johnny Carter
Frank Gorshin as Joe Gruen
Gloria Castillo as Joan Haydon
Lyn Osborn as Artie Burns
Raymond Hatton as Farmer Larkin
Douglas Henderson as Lt. Wilkins
Sam Buffington as Col. Ambrose
Jason Johnson as Detective
Don Shelton as Atty. Haydon

Vehicle: glowing (reportedly blue) saucer with booms and tails like a WWII P-38 Lightning. Kinda cool, briefly.

Aliens: “little green men”, bloat headed, cat-eyed, no more than 4′ tall; parts can disassemble and reassemble grotesquely, hands have their own eyes, and veinous fingers extend hypodermic needles that inject pure alcohol; react badly to bright light.

A space alien comedy. They have fun with the usual shtick of the army covering up UFO sightings. There’s the teens making out and talking cool, and the farmer who likes to threaten townsfolk with his gun.

“Johnny, get me away from here!”
“Colonel, did it ever occur to you that there might be other units just like ours, covering up other things?”

20 Million Miles to Earth

1957 Columbia

Story by Charlott Knight
Screenplay Bob Williams
Christopher Knopf
Director Nathan Juran
Producer Charles H. Schneer
Technical effects Ray Harryhausen
Bart Braverman (Bradley in credits) as Pepe
George Khoury as Verrico
Don Orlando as Mondello
William Hopper as Col. Robert Calder
Joan Taylor as Marisa Leonardo
Frank Puglia as Dr. Leonardo
Arthur Space as Dr. Sharman
Tito Vuolo as Commissario Charra
Thomas B. Henry as Maj. Gen. A.D. McIntosh
John Zaremba as Dr. Judson Uhl

Vehicle: very large U.S. “air-ship”, a XY-21, single-stage astro-propelled rocket with crew of 17 men, built rather like a space plane, crashes into the sea at the beginning of the film. For its brief appearance, it’s rather awesome—another Harryhausen creation.

The ship has visited Venus (whose closest approach to Earth is indeed about 20 million miles), but gets plugged by a meteor.

Alien: a Venus-creature, looks like a cross between a T. Rex and a man (with a sort of fish’s dorsal fin on it head), craves sulfur as food, and grows really really fast. It’s a wonderful Harryhausen creation. Sounds like a cross between an elephant trumpeting and a man hollering.

Brave Sicilian fishermen try to save the crew of the sinking craft, and bring two out. One is Calder; the other, Dr. Sharman, is mortally injured. Later, Pepe finds a canister washed up on the beach. Its contents, a blob of translucent gel, later comes into the hands of Dr. Leonardo. The creature emerges as a baby from the gel blob, and is nurtured by the doctor and his granddaughter.

Venus’ atmosphere is lethal, even with what they thought to be fool-proof breathing equipment. But they found valuable minerals, and the government needs the creature, in order to determine how to survive the atmosphere.

The creature is treated very poorly of course: caged, shot, electrified. This film does nothing further with interesting setup, but to revisit the end of King Kong. (But the creature lives on in many famous images of its Roman rampage, knocking over recognizable tourist destinations.)

Really great performances: especially the Sicilian kid, Pepe, who wants nothing more than a hat from Texas. Generally, the Sicilians are very sensitively and colorfully played, certainly better than the stiff Washingtonians or the stock space captain. The obligatory romantic angle between the captain and Ms. Leonardo begins with fun sparks, although it has of course nowhere to go. And for Harryhousen’s creature, one feels surprising sympathy. It emotes, exudes body language.

“Why is it always, always so costly, for man to move from the present to the future?”

We must go to space, for the valuable minerals.
We must save the life of the space creature, for the valuable minerals (and also science).
Alpha male, girl—hurry! There’s a monster loose!
Pity about the meteor.

Дорога к Звёздам
“Road to the Stars”

1957 CCCP

Writers Борис Ляпунов, Василий Соловьёв
Director Павел Клушанцев
Георгий Соловьёв as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

This is a Soviet educational film, intended to portray fact, albeit perhaps projected fact. Does that qualify as Sci-Fi?

The production includes acted scenes, animations and models, all of high quality.

The first half re-enacts stories of Tsiolkovsky and Goddard, etc. and explains the basics of orbital dynamics and rocket flight. The second half depicts possible future space travel.

Shows a 3-stage manned rocket flight. Depicts acceleration stress on astronauts (not in pressure suits) (joyous) weightlessness, space-walking (on the surface of the ship).

The last part shows a very nice space station, and all the wonderful things that people get up to in there, showing living quarters, workers doing their jobs. Inside views include curved floors and gardens.

Depicts female cosmonauts and scientsts, of different nationalities. Also a feline cosmonaut.

Finally, a moon base is depicted, but only as models, and then colonies of other planets, then only as paintings. A moon landing is played out with actors, who demonstrate appropriate glee at being the first to walk on the moon.

The War of the Satellites

1958 Allied Artists Pictures

Screenplay Lawrence Louis Goldman
Story by Irving Block
Jack Rabin (also listed as co-producers and special effects designers)
Producer Roger Corman
Director Roger Corman
Dick Miller as Dave Boyer
Susan Cabot as Sybil Carrington
Richard Devon as Dr. Pol Van Ponder
Eric Sinclair as Dr. Howard Lazar
Michael Fox
Robert Shayne
Jerry Barclay
John Brinkley
Tony Miller
Bruno ve Sota
Jay Sayer
Mitzi McCall
Roy Gordon
Beach Dickerson
James Knight

Begins with a drama of "manned satellites". Ten times they're sent up ("a half a million dollars" each!) only to blow up, killing their crew, as they approach a critical area, an "energy barrier" (signified later by the alien "sigma barrier").

There are lots of scenes of the satellites and the rockets that launch them. Unfortunately they are very small crude models moving on wires. The interior of the satellite looks exactly like a battleship.

The dialog is very spotty, running from fair attempts at diplomatic speech before a legislative body to corny 50s smalltalk. (The best is the dating couple.) If there is any redeeming aspect to this film, it's watching these actors do their damnedest with very poor material.

The vehicles are the "satellites", depicted as spinning doodads bumpily assembled in space after they're launched. As to where they're going or how they go there -- it's a thin jumble. Solar reactors -- something about achieving photon propulsion.

Sets are well stocked with fancy control panels, and especially, displays that look very much like small modern flat screens. Very comfy stylish reclining couches are used for blast-off.

Several sound effects familiar from other sci-fi, particularly, War of the Worlds and Star Trek.

The Solar Energy Room is marked as such with a cardboard sign that flops whenever the door is opened. The only thing that happens in the Solar Energy Room is the attack of the girl by the alien and her due rescue by one of the heroes.

The crew look good in their fitted space suits, and communicate with cute throat mikes.

Lots of silly technobabble freely confuses nebula, galaxy, solar system. No distinction is made between in orbit around the earth and flying to another nebula or another galaxy. It's just a jumble. They talk about acceleration, but no mention is made of weightlessness. They have two burials in space --- one with a funeral, one not.

The aliens send a toy rocket that crashes into the ground near a pair of smooching bobbysoxers. A message reads out ... in Latin... a warning that the aliens won't tolerate the "contamination" from earth leaving the planet. They reveal themselves as "masters of the spiral nebula Gana (?)".

The scientists puzzle about why the alien messages is in Latin, run through the plausible explanations, only to drop the question for the remainder of the film.

Much debate ensues at the United Nations, which evidently pays for the expedition. This "Sigma Program" is depicted by some cool rockets on background screens. (The effect is ruined by their toy-on-a-wire blast-offs.)

Sylvia, the single heartthrob female crew member, is a very serious scientist. Her going on such a dangerous mission is questioned by her colleagues, but Van Ponder concludes that she's "quite capable of reaching her own decisions".

The journey degenerates to a murder-suspense-whodunit as the alien, in the body of Van Ponder, acts increasingly weird and humorless, murders some guys with his mind, goes all captain Bligh on the crew, then pointlessly, unconvincingly, inexplicably declares his love for the girl, whom he promptly tries to kill.

Stock alien behavior: takes the body of a human, duplicates by walking out of his own body, disappears when he gets killed.

They call back to Earth on the phone to say they're going to Andromeda at the speed of light, the whole universe is their new frontier! (A random selection of space pictures follow.)


“Nations and worlds must fight for survival. If we give in now, let down our defences, give this alien planet full control over our actions and our lives for mere survival, won't they decide to take even that away from us?”
“I was born a human and I'll die one before I'll join a race that kills innocent people for abstract ideas!”

Alien messages in Latin are a drag on your date.
Aliens want to kill us for our own good.
Want a fast trip to Andromeda? Get yourself a satellite!
We ARE NOT a contaminant. ARE NOT!.

From the Earth to the Moon

1958 RKO Radio

Screen playRobert Blees,
James Leicester
Baseed on novel by Jules Verne
Producer Benedict Bogeaus
Director Byron Haskin
Joseph Cotten as Victor Barbicane
George Sanders as Stuyvesant Nicholl
Debra Paget as Virginia Nicholl
Don Dubbins as Ben Sharpe
Patric Knowles as Josef Cartier
Carl Esmond as Jules Verne
Henry Daniell as Morgana
Melville Cooper as Bancroft
Ludwig Stossel

Date: 1868

− Explicitly but very loosely based on Jules Verne’s De la Terre à la Lune. No details of the novel are preserved, save the time period, some of the names, and the notion of reaching the moon. This is just as well: in the novel, the Barbicane is President of the United States and the main engineer, and the primary speaker and driving force—which is even farther-fetched than travel to the moon. So he is re-written as just a brilliant, overachieving engineer.

This was a relatively big-budget Hollywood film, with some of the big actors of the time.

Vehicle: Columbia, a gigantic hollow mortar shell fired from a giant cannon. (They speak of “take-off”, a term unknown at the time.) But it also has rockets (depicted as lazy fires whose smoke billows up over the spaceship—couldn’t they have just filmed the model turned upside-down, so the smoke would go the right way? Details, details!)

Crew: the principal scientists and an engineer; the scientist’s daughter as a stowaway—whose only function is to be silly and pretty and emotional.

Mission: to demonstrate a great new explosive (“Power X”) by detonating it on the Moon (so that all can see).

Space suits, an idea unknown in Verne’s time, are decidedly 1950s. At the last moment, they get into “acceleration tubes” which minimize the shock of the cannon’s blast (babble about how they “revolve at the speed of 12000 times per minute”, a gas that reduces their heart rate, to “minimize the shock”). Unaccountably, the stowaway survives takeoff outside the tubes. A gyroscope “compensates for gravity”. A very 1960s countdown precedes takeoff.

They encounter the obligatory meteor shower, but the small crew turns out not to be of one mind concerning the wisdom of the adventure, and commits sabotage.

Many sound effects are straight from Forbidden Planet. The actors do their best, but the script is just too silly and confused for salvage. It’s a dizzy morality play.

“One woman among the passengers, for courage.”
“The trouble with scientists…is that they only deal with facts.”

Prevention of war by providing everybody with a super-weapon.

Vynález zkázy
“The Fabulous World of Jules Verne”

1958 Czechoslovakia

Karel Zeman

This is a fantastic adaptation of Verne's ideas, a wonderful stylistic mix of the plate engraving of Verne's day, with the cinematic styles of the 1902 film Georges Méliès "Le Voyage dans la Lune" and 1930s futuristic films by Fritz Lang and the Soviet film "The Space Voyage".

Strange I had never run across this before. I guess I had confused it with U.S. adaptations of Verne's stories.

The overall plot isn't much to speak of (neither are the plots of Verne's novels.) The dialog and action are completely secondary to the setting. It's about the technology and what people might do with it. It's about the style and atmosphere. The sets and animations and camerawork make it worth watching.

If you like Terry Gilliam's cartoons for Monty Python, or his later films, check this out. (You might find Gilliam loses a couple of notches.) If you like Tim Burton's films, check this out.

Bad guys just want to blow everybody up for the dough.
Pretty girls don't know bad guys from good.
Scientists don't know better than to make a super-weapon and give it to bad guys.
The handsomest guy isn't a bad guy or the scientist or the girl, but he is naturally very smart and brave.

Небо зовёт
"The Sky Calls”


Director Valery Fokin
Producers Mikhail Karyukov, Aleksandr Kozyr
Studio A. Dovzhenko (in Kiev)
Music Yu. Meytus
Иван Переверзев as scientist Evgeini Petrovich Kornev
Александр Шворин as engineer Andrei Gordienko
Константин Барташевич as astronaut Robert Clark
Гурген Тонунц as astronaut Erwin Verst
Валентин Черняк as astronaut Grigory Somov
Александра Попова as Vera Korneva
Виктор Добровольский as space station chief Demchenko
Таисия Литвиненк (II) as doctor Lena
Лариса Борисенко as student Olga
Лев Лобов as cameraman Sashko
Сергей Филимонов as writer Troyan
Мария Самойлова as Clark’s mother

The science and engineering content of this film are far beyond most Western productions of the time, and the special effects are surpassed only by the (far more expensive) Fantastic Planet.

The political message is the glory of the Soviet Union, and that U.S. interests are greedy and rash. The Americans play a negative role, and cause the problems, but they’re not bad guys as are common in U.S. movies of the time. Their motivations are understandable, but not commendable.

The American astronauts wear ties and suits, while the Soviets wear sensible, drab pants and jackets. Depicts loud, decadent U.S. exploitation of the space race, including neon signs of bars etc. featuring the rocket ship.

In one of the first scenes, a few models of Soviet space probes are shown, as in a science museum. The space station is described in detail.

Rocket gantry marked РКВ-7

Nice big rocket ship models, classic cigar-shaped, finned rockets, but with interesting details. It flies to space station with “passengers”. The take-off is pretty nice: the rocket exhaust at least looks powerful (better than in many contemporary films). A tail of flame is seen receding into the night sky. From portals, passengers watch Earth fly away.

The U.S. Mars rocket is named “TYPHOON”, and the Soviet one is Rodina (Homeland). Lots of maneuvering, rendezvous are done in by the rocket ships. They land conventionally tail-first, in the last scene in barge in the sea.

Weightlessness is depicted as a sort of accident that happens to people. The astronauts in spacesuits, do execute some strange motions, but otherwise just walk in slow-mo.

They make a big deal of “reclining” before blasting off—when they’re in space anyway—the blast-off from Earth seemed much more comfortable.

Nice very elaborate space station model. Workers are depicted walking on and floating over it. It has hanging gardens etc. inside. And pretty elaborate electrical gadgets.

The scale of the space ships is at least consistent. The effect kind of ruined by rocket somehow scrunching into dock on the space station—perhaps to suggest medium-size ocean ships bumping into dock.

Sun’s heat fires meteors, which pelt the TYPHOON.

Due to bad guys, they have to land on asteroid Ikarus, crossing the orbits of Mars and Earth. (This is odd… why would they invent an asteroid, when Mars was known at the time to have two little moons?) Here are neat effects. Wow! Mars rises over the asteroid, with the astronauts in silhouette—to me, the best scene of the film.

The space station scenes and the scenes on the asteroid were not bettered for ten years, by 2001, A Space Odyssey.

The film ends with a protracted, dull, and probably obligatory “glorious homecoming” scene of the surviving astronauts.

Women are portrayed in positions of authority, but very stern and humorless. (Dr. Garth?)

Love interest is duely attended to, but only as backdrop.