Sci-Fi Films of the ’60s
This is a list of science fiction films of the 1960s, with some reviews of my own. Once again, I’m interested in the ideas about science and space, and about how people might be in the future, in other places, in strange situations.
The gap in quality between the worst and the best is very wide. Mostly they have nothing to show for popular scientific ideas, and nothing beyond the common social ideas of their times. With a few notable exceptions, they are mostly very very bad movies, with little to recommend them even as Saturday night teen entertainment. But there were a few brilliant moments.
|+||good but flawed|
|OK||interesting but not for everybody|
|−||poor, some redeeming features|
|−−||sad, historical interest only|
1960 Ultra Film - Titanus as “Space Men”
|Rik van Nutter||Ray Peterson|
|Alain Dijon||Commander George|
|Anita Todesco||Venus Control|
|José Néstor||Venus Commander|
|Screenplay||Ennio De Concini (Vassilij Petrov)|
|Note: Titles in the U.S. release change several names, and reports the director as “Anthony Dawson”|
−− Date 2116
Cocky young reporter Peterson is assigned to “a routine check of infra-radiation flux on Galaxy M-12”. What the others are doing is space is not explained, but they are military, under the guidance of the “high council”.
Cool three-stage rocket ship BZ-88, is depicted separating after launch. Many other other intricate rocket ships, space stations, and “space taxis” appear. The rocket models never succeed in giving an impression of size. Stock sounding-rocket film depicts flight over planets. The travel consists in buzzing about the solar system.
An “electronic brain” controls things with its “impulses”. Messages are transmitted by Teletype.
Hibernation “in order to overcome the Earthly gravitation” is “a congealing process simulating an apparent death”. Lots of space walks, whereby cosmonauts just careen from one ship to another. “Weightlessness caused by lack of gravitation” is impressively depicted choreographically. On the space station, the narrator explains “gravitational area is similar to Earth’s”, because “all space stations rotate about a central axis”. Meteorites are deadly; asteroids are scenic.
The station “girl”, Lucy, tends things that convert “hydrogen into breathable oxygen”, when she isn’t being a navigator. She is nearly hit by a meteorite but saved and immediately hit upon by Peterson. He usurps the previous alpha male; she falls in love with him accordingly.
The pilot (and sacrificial hero), Al, is black!
Very badly poetic and philosophical. Lots of dreary moralizing about impertinent issues, e.g. giving people numbers. Space men are mostly dehumanized and depressed, in what appears to be an attempt to set a mood. Plot is awfully complicated, by multiple savings of cosmonauts, various fearful situations, a love-triangle, and a salvation of humanity. The dialog is laden with particularly confused technobabble.
1960 Columbiia Pictures Corporation
|Ken Clark||as John Anderson|
|Michi Kobi||as Dr. Hideko Murata|
|Tom Conway||as Dr. Feodor Orloff|
|Tony Dexter||as Dr. Luis Vargas|
|John Wengraf||as Dr. Erich Heinrich|
|Bob Montgomery, Jr.||as Rod Murdoch|
|Phillip Baird||as Sir William Rochester|
|Richard Weber||as Dr. David Ruskin|
|Muzaffer Tema (Tema Bey)||as Dr. Selim Hamid|
|Roger Til||as Dr. Etienne Martel|
|Cory Devlin||as Dr. Asmara Markonen|
|Anna-Lisa||as Dr. Segrid Bomark|
|Francis X. Bushman||as Secretary General of the International Space Order|
|Screenplay||De Witt Bodeen|
|Story, Producer||Fred Gebhardt|
|Art Direction||Rudi Feld|
|Producer||Thom E. Fox|
−− jumbled and generally crummy.
An announcer "speaking for the International Space Order" goes on to brag about how many people are watching his announcement.
The international effort to reach the moon and proclaim it international territory.
The launch of ship "Lunar Eagle 1" is depicted with stock film of various USAF Atlas missiles, then an Atlas-Agena rocket. In space and on the moon, it appears as a completely different cartoon rocket, through which background stars are clearly seen to move. It launches with liquid fuel, but switches to atomic power outside Earth's atomosphere. A room full of controllers on earth is probably also stock footage.
This film takes a serious stab at the idea of international crews. They're from Japan, Russia, Columbia, Germany, England, Israel, Turkey, Sweden, and Nigeria. It's lead by a olympian American of course. Of the twelve, three are women. One is explicitly an aid, but the others have their own functions. Rounding out the crew is a dog, two cats, two monkeys, and parakeets. The cats are involved in an uncertain and inconclusive way.
Dr. Heinrich is from the start noted to be unhealthy, on account of his being old. Sure enough, he gets heart problems en route. being old. Sure enough, he gets heart problems en route.
There's a brief shower scene: but it's an ultrasound shower! Don't see much skin on the girls, but then they're interrupted by a scarcely-clad olympian captain, who at least makes up in skin and muscles!
The Russian relentlessly plugs Russia. One crewmember is the son of a Nazi — which makes for tension and drama with the Israeli.
Their space suits are 1950's pressure suits, with fighter pilot helmets. During launch, they recline in aluminum lawn chairs. During maneuvers, everybody stands holding a pole, providing an opportunity for Hideko to fall into the arms of a cute crewmember.
They have magnetic meteorite deflectors. An "invisible electromagenetic ray screen" provides a protective shield over their faces (and obviates the need for visors, which would obscure camera shots).
As to what they're doing on the moon, besides looking for creepy moon-life and other creepy moon things: they are "photographing various parts of our Galaxy, from which we hope to gain a new perspective."
The captain decides to get ouf of his chair while they're still launching. He's nearly hurt by this sillyness, but he recovers OK. No issues with weightlessness.
They are beset by an impressive array of dangers, just halfway through the film these include:
- an unusual magnetic field
- a meteor cluster
- a meteoric dust cloud—which they get through by some kind of force field
- then another meteor swarm.
- On the moon, there are more meteors, which sparkle through the sky like fireworks, and burn on the ground also like meteors. But their magnetic shields protect them—the problem is, the meteoric explosion knock up big rocks—these slowly float to the ground.
- Plants (or something) that explode.
- Moon creatures prone to abduction and long-winded threats.
- Some liquid comes out of a rock, and a guy runs over and puts his hands right into it, burning them badly. He accurately remarks that this was stupid.
- Extremely quick quicksand pulls Rochester down despite his comrades trying to pull him back up. A second guy nearly goes in, but they attach a winch to him and pull him out. They later attribute his sinking to heavy lead in his boots.
The classic moon scene shows black sky with stars, and a gloomy surroundings, with high cliffs in the distance.
As they disembark, the captain admonishes them to "develop an additional reflex action."
On the moon, the sound track starts out quiet like a vacuum should be. But there's steam rising out of vents everywhere, and out the end of the rocket. They walk real slow at first, with long steps sort of suggesting low gravity (I guess).
First thing they do is look for air and life. A cave seems a good place to look, so the Turk and the Swede investigate.
In the cave, they prompty locate strange life forms. Then their equipment shows air, and so they pull their helmets off. And then they embrace and kiss. Well who wouldn't? As they explore further for more private surroundings, a whispy being freezes the opening closed. These two aren't seen again—just as well, because the plot is already getting way too complicated.
Gold, they find in a pile and throw aside. But a glowing stone is "like liquid fire" "beautiful, but evil!" "Careful you fools careful don't damage it!"
The Nigerian looks at the sky and declares "I feel something".
Strange symbols appear on a ticker-tape display, which Hideko can read (cuz Japanese is like symbols you know). These are sent by moon people (she reads "the Great Coordinator of the Moon"). It tells them to go home, and that they read their minds by thought waves, live in a great sealed city below. Cuz the earthlings are contamination. And they are studying the two lovers who got lost in the cave, and are studying their emotions. And also the cats—please leave the cats. Meh, "could have been an earth power, trying to scare us off."
Just as we're pondering that, Dr. Heinrich gets a heart attack.
So they drop the cats and skedaddle, naturally. (The cats disappear in an ominous shadow...we don't really know what happens to them.)
All this was alltogether too slow I guess, so at this point, the film takes a strong turn for "hey, how about this!".
They get more meteors, then the glowing moonrock ignites—but that's just filler.
And it continues to its dizzy end. Something like this:
Just to give the crew something to do on the way back home, the moon-men get mad at the earth and shoot a freeze-ray at it. The googoo-gorgeous captain is at wit's end (unconventionally for this kind of story) but the scientists convince him there's a way: to save the earth—all they need to do is fashion an atom bomb and pilot it into a volcano! And why not... there's a Nazi conspirator among them who wants to use the bomb for other purposes. I mean, why the hell not? So the Israeli and the son of the Nazi snuff it dramatically while dropping the bomb, forgivness coming in the nick of time. The desparate measure at first seems to work, but then the ship is caught in the freeze ray -- depicted as the rocket with snow sprinkled on the top of it—in space.
Then the moon-men symbolically say they're sorry, and everythings OK again.
So any plot it had falls all apart. I think 12 was way too many characters to make up dialog and stories for.
This film shows a transition in thinking though—the moon scenes are straight from pre-60s science fiction (and some of the more elaborate ones, at that), but the international crew, and women being taken somewhat seriously, is ahead of its time.
Did I mention that the Nigerian sports an earring? And he gets some of the better lines, and he's not nearly the worst actor!
Allah be praised!
1961 Ultra Film - Sicilia Cinematografica
|Claude Rains||Professor Benson|
|Bill Carter||Commander Robert Cole|
|Maya Brent||Eve Barnett|
|Umberto Orsini||Fred Steele|
|Carol Danell||Mrs. Collins|
A Coke-bottle glasses Claude Raines steals the bulk of the dialog as the crusty “Old Man” Benson. He’s the stereotypical sociopathic inveterate scientist (the film doesn’t distinguish his specialty), who can’t understand why they don’t just put him in control, after he has put them into their places verbally.
At least three characters utter the line “will somebody please tell me what’s going on” in the first 20 minutes of the movie. My best guess is, the filmmakers hadn’t yet figured this out either. But Benson has, by use of mathematics; “I have one advantage over all of you: Calculus!”
There’s a long sequence on Mars Base 3, and a substantial amount of space flight, and space walking (called “self-launching”), but the effects are very like those in Margheriti’s previous Assignment: Outer Space.
So a hollow planet “the Outsider” has come to visit, meaning no good. It launches flying saucers against which Earth rockets are nearly defenseless.
There are insectoidal alien masses inside the planet, but they are meant to be dead. All that remains is the “electronic brains” that control the flying saucers and the planet, which are represented as glowing plastic cylinders.
Women are prominent throughout the film, but often their role is described as “assistant”, and they are explicitly told to fetch coffee. The only non-caucasian I noticed was a Chinese member of the United Commission.
This is very tiresome. Without for Raines’ performance, it would be chokingly dull, and simply a worse repetition of Assignment: Outer Space.
This film provides its own parables:
“What importance does life have, young fella, if to live, means not to know?”
Battle beyond the Sun
(U.S. edit of "Небо зовет")
(Credits say “A MOSFILM PRODUCTION”)
distributed by American International
|Producer, Director||Thomas Colchart (pseudonym for Roger Corman)|
|Asst. Producer||Francis Ford Coppola|
|Special Music||Carmen Coppola|
|(cast members cited are the people who voiced the overdub, not the actors)|
This is one of several superior Russian films bought by Roger Corman and re-edit for U.S. distribution. It is often noted as the first major work of Francis Ford Coppola, who was hired to do the re-edit.
It was a bit of a question to me, whether to list this as two films or one. My goal is to compare science fiction and social ideas presented in these things, and the Corman version is a re-write, primarily to alter objectionable political and social messages.
What Corman did here is outrageous on several levels. The edits went far beyond removing Soviet propaganda, to destroy the cohesion of the story line, and confuse or delete the science and engineering aspects of the premise. By all accounts, it was just a fast way to put a movie out, to make cash.
Perhaps biggest outrage is the complete replacement of the credited actor’s names with the those of the voices of the people who overdubbed them, evidently to mask the film’s Soviet origin.
It’s telling that, in the first release of the U.S. version, also Corman’s name is not listed—a “Thomas Colchart” is listed instead as producer/director, evidently a pseudonym. Small wonder—but I take issue with anybody who calls Corman’s actions “shameless”.
Besides this, changes seem intended to abstract the U.S./Soviet distinction to one between “North and South Hemi”, and to change the politically charged motives of the bad guys.
But the most bizarre edit was to drop in some silly, cheap monsters—by all acounts, directly on Corman’s order—making a farce of an otherwise dignified story. By itself this can be viewed as a comment on the intelligence of the American audience.
In a sense, Corman’s actions proved the point of the anti-American propaganda that he cut. This was greedy and foolish, to the point of being immoral.
On the other hand, given the mood in the U.S. at the time, a simple overdub of the original would have been impossible to show. I think it was a pity: the Soviet attitude portrayed would have been instructive to Westerners—and it might have been interesting to contrast the silly Soviet propaganda with U.S. propaganda, even at the time.
Instead, what we got was a particularly weirdly confused space/horror(?) movie, with a strange mix of social messages.
The U.S. trailer makes it to be a horror story, emphasizing the monsters and “planet Askar(?)”.
US version begins with science intro à la Science Fiction Theater, mostly showing clips of NASA models (replacing the corresponding scenes of model Soviet space probes). Calls itself “a Fantasy of the Future”. Good heavens... this is the same intro as to Corman’s later Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Man, that’s cheap!
Some of the changes can be interpreted in terms of making the content palatable to touchy Western audiences, some in terms of hiding the Soviet origin of the film. But some defy charitable interpretation.
Some scenes seem gratuitously altered: in a scene which in the original described the space station in detail, the sound is replaced by narration, which doesn’t go into the same detail. This is very hard to justify. (Weirdly, after the “glorious return” scenes at the end, further narration is added about the glory of science and man, but this time, with a different narrator’s voice.) The asteroid is renamed “Ankor”(?) in the U.S. version…funny thing to change.
The U.S. version explanation runs:
It’s November 7th 1997. After nuke war, citizens of “South Hemis” plan to land on Mars… To keep is secret from North Hemis, they name the project “Red Planet”. Unknown to them, the North Hemis have their own Mars rocket. In the original, the bad guys are Americans; in the U.S. version they are North Hemis.
The name of the Soviet Mars-rocket is Rodina (Homeland), which in the original is painted as “Родины” on its side. This is replaced in the U.S. version with a logo design (which in a few scenes kind of wiggles suspiciously), and the rocket is referred to as “Mercury”. Likewise, scenes showing people writing—these too are removed. But was it just too hard to remove the Soviet star from the fins of first rocket ship? Or did they miss that?
In U.S. version, the TYPHOON’s problems are blamed on magnetic field of the sun, and asteroids, rather than American haste and unfortunate decisions due to financial pressures. Scenes depicting American decadence—neon signs etc. are gone.
The U.S. version has ugly “creatures”, all slimy with a big toothed, vaginal mouth and and eyestalks and tentacles and snortn’ and growlin’ like a bull-lion; they hop up and down and bump into one another in rage(?) or something? They scare(?) an astronaut to death or something(?). No apparent connection with the rest of the movie—one might venture to guess this is because the audience is expected to be so stupid as not to require one.
In the original, the heroic astronaut is killed by radiation. In the U.S. version, although we don’t see it happen, we are told he is killed by the “creatures”.
It’s hard to make out the rationale for the title. There isn’t anything like a “battle” in it…unless it’s the two weird monsters. And they stuck in some talk about the sun, but… they were falling into the sun at some point…Just random nonsense, I guess.
In the overdub, the actors have a great deal of trouble getting their technobabble out, but also with achieving any sort of natural tone or tempo.
Probably the single coolest scene in the film, that of Mars rising over the asteroid and astronauts, is marred by the observations, added in the U.S. version:
“Then life must exist there!”
“In all probability.”
Here’s another mystery: the “glorious return” ending scene was stupid and immaterial in the original. Why on earth didn’t they cut that?
A single positive thing to say about the edits: the overall message that people ought not to be fighting on another, is preserved.
- 1961 MGM
|Sal Ponti||as Demitrios|
|Joyce Taylor||as princess Antilla|
|John Dall||as Zaren|
|Edward Platt||as Azor|
Hadn’t seen this since I was a kid. It’s about the mythical ancient land of Atlantis, which Plato described as being on an island, perhaps in the Atlantic ocean.
It gets Sci-Fi rating on account of some vaguely scientific themes, and a "heat ray" that goes wild, causing destruction.
My main memory was that (to my horror) the rogue ray blasts a guy (the bad guy I think) turning him into a skeleton. But it’s a skeleton from a doctor’s office — with the cut for displaying the inside of the brain clearly visible. Even then I thought this was very questionable.
There’s also an interesting theme about the misuse of technology, some crystals, that proves their downfall.
1961 Four Crown
|as Capt. Frank Chapman||Dean Fredricks|
|as Liara||Coleen Gray|
|as Herron||Tony Dexter|
|as Zetha||Dolores Faith|
|as Seson||Francis X. Bushman|
|as Lieutenant Roy Makonnen||Richard Weber|
|as Judge Eden||Al Jarvis|
|as Colonel Lansfield||Dick Haynes|
|as Pilot Leonard||Earl McDaniel|
|as Lieutenant White||Michael Marshall|
|as Captain Beecher||John Herrin|
|as Lieutenant Cutler||Mel Curtis|
|as Navigator Webb||Jimmy Weldon|
|as Communications Officer||Akemi Tani|
|as Radar Officer||Lori Lyons|
|as a Solarite||Richard Kiel (“Jaws” of James Bond fame)|
|Produced by||Fred Gebhardt|
|Directed by||William Marshall|
|Story by||Fred Gebhardt|
|Screenplay by||William Telaak, Fred de Gorter and Fred Gebhardt|
Rockets all blast off from the USAF base on the Moon. Just what they’re doing there is not explained, but there’s some talk about a Mars project.
Vehicles: USAF rocket ships: Dart-like with very 50s paint jobs, at least have a realistic stock of equipment. Aliens all drive asteroids. Squeal/roar of monster’s ships very similar to that of Darth Vader’s.
Aliens live on asteroid Rheton. They are people 6 inches tall. Chapman shrinks to their size, because of the atmosphere—the atoms have “narrower electronic orbits” (their size has no further bearing on the story.) They fail to explain why they speak English. It is immediately suggested that Chapman take one as his bride.
Main alien technology is gravity. They move their asteroid about with it, and use it as a weapon.
Monsters: “Solarites”, who are very ugly and unreasonable and have a chip on their soaring shoulders, but can appreciate a pretty girl.
Plenty of asteroids and meteors. Space walk is marred by deadly micro-meteorites that whiz and ricochet. The co-pilot is killed on the space walk when his air line is busted, then he floats out into space (2001).
At first Chapman likes Liara, the daughter of the boss, then he decides she’s a snob and goes for the mute girl Zetha (who finally gains the ability to speak by screaming at a Solarite.)
While the astronauts are a boys-only club, there are female technical officers, one of whom isn’t caucasian.
Pretty girls are too self absorbed.
If you gotta fight a duel for honor, you gotta
Ugly monsters are evil.
Nobody will believe you when you get home.
1962 American International
|Producer, Director||Sid Pink|
United Nations is sole governing body of the Earth. The only goal now is the pursuit of knowledge.
Vehicle: Spaceship Explorer 12: A stock Atlas missile launch, a small celluloid image of the missile serves thereafter to depict it in flight. Inside it’s a big metal cylinder, packed with ‘60s electronic boxes, and what may be jet fighter seats. Nuclear engines. Based on figures they cite, must be traveling at about half the speed of light. Floating apple depicts weightlessness. Atmospheric entry depicted by stock sounding rocked video.
Mission: Survey, land, and investigate the seventh planet, Uranus (with the ’a’ pronounced as in "father"). Some radiation signal has been traced to this planet.
Weapons: ray guns.
Alien: some kind of mind-controlling narrator-creature. Every time he speaks, he strains to be weird and scary, bragging and threatening. Miserable. Later depicted as a glowing, throbbing glob in a hole.
Crew: white guys in flight suits, accents vary, but several are plainly Danes. (The women in this film are all mirages.)
Dialog is standard gee-whiz Sci-Fi fare. Starts off talking about sexual relationships, in a very 60s macho way.
As they orbit, an alien entity appears as flashy lights, and announces that it will drain their minds and possess them, etc. etc., and make their world its own. (The crew doesn’t remember the monologue: it’s for our benefit.)
Stop-motion shows foliage being generated about a model of the rocket. Planet Uranus looks just like a Danish pine forest. (Cuz the alien made it like that.) But the plants have no roots! They just jump right out of the rocket, where they get "deja view". "Has anyone seen anything alive?" they look and see the forest full of trees and flowers, and shrug. (Cuz by "alive" they mean "animal".)
Suspecting trouble, they don blue, yellow, and red space suits, and find a way through a "force field" that takes them out to the true surface of the planet, which is all snowy and icy. They are very concerned about radiation. Further vague stop-motion of landscape, is indicative of ... not clear.
A stop-action cyclops rat-mouthed monster appears, and is quickly dispatched by the ray guns. A screaming tarantula (black-and-white scene ripped from another film) proves more robust, but they out-think it.
The film was originally shot in Denmark. The story is, the Danish special effects were judged unshowable, and replaced with scenes ripped out of other sci-fi films. The result is doubly clumsy. Most of the cast weren’t experienced actors, and have decidedly Danish accents.
Is it alive? Let’s try shooting it!
Great women in space? Better look for a hypnotic brain!
1962 Nauchno-Populyarnich (Soviet Union)
|Georgi Teikh||Allan Kern|
|Director||Павел Клушанцев (Pavel Klushantsev)|
|Screenplay||Александр Казанцев (Alexander Kazantsev)|
+ superior to competing films from the West at the time
Soviet rocket ships voyage to Venus: Сириус, Вега, Капелла (Sirius, Vega, Capella, the last of which is immediately destroyed). Sirius goes on to land; Vega remains in orbit of the planet.
Robot "John" plays roles of electronic brain, super-strong big brother, and menacing monster. Much discussion revolves about the question of whether it could replace cosmonauts.
Features meteorites, an excellent robot, an emotive female cosmonaut, man-eating plants, ferocious guys in dinosaur-like suits (also man-eating), a floating car. Not sure about computers… weightlessness is depicted as being lots of fun…the younger guys have the most amazing bouffants… And there’s a hook…
It’s got everything!
The overall quality is better than Western sci-fi of the time. Besides the rockets and props, the atmosphere of Venus is particularly nicely rendered. It’s very colorful, and in many ways very beautiful.
When grabbed by the man-eating plant, the guy pulls out his knife and promptly drops it! Bad move! Cosmonauts shoot the bad guys with conventional hand guns.
The film was bought and cut up by Roger Corman to make Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet (1965), and then Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1966), both of much less value than the original.
Seems to be available with subtitles: http://sepnet.com/rcramer/scifi.htm .
The book (in Russian) by Kazantsev is also available on-line http://www.rusf.ru/books/
Мечте навстречу (Mechtye Navstretsu)
"Toward Meeting a Dream",
or A Dream Come True
Begegnung im All
1963 Odesskoi kinostudii khudozhestvennikh (Soviet Union)
|Николай Тимофеев(Nikolai Timofeyev)||Cosmonaut Krilov|
|Отар Коберидзе(Otar Koberidze)||Cosmonaut Ivan Batalov|
|Лариса Гордейчик(Larisa Gordeichik)||Radio Astronomer Tanya Krilova|
|Б.Борисенок(Boris Borisenok)||Cosmonaut Andrei Sayenko|
|П.Шмаков(Peeter Kard as P.Shmakov)||Commander|
|Николай Волков(Nikolai Volkov)||Doctor Laungton|
|Directors||Михаил Карюков (Mikhail Karyukov)|
|Отар Коберидзе (Otar Koberidze)|
|Screenplay||М.Бердник, Иван Бондин (A. Verdnik, I. Vondin)|
To begin with, the presentation of this story is very odd in the sci-fi genre. Many of the scenes are narrated, including all introductions. The story is punctuated with florid, heroic song (not badly done, but strange—reminiscent of Japanese manga). I have mixed feelings about this, but I’m willing to call it a style. The acting is overall quite good.
We have: aliens (from “Centuria” but they’re just people in fancy outfits) with very cool gizmos, scenes on Centuria, Earth, the Moon, Mars, and Mars’ moon Phobos, space travel by aliens in a cool starship and by cosmonauts in rocket ships, a smidgen of comic relief, plenty romantic episodes, lots of depiction of suited cosmonauts walking on the Moon, Mars and Phobos, and a small space-emergency vehicle.
(What is it with aliens with the capes and skullcaps?)
Fun Soviet public efforts, heroic scenes, and inspiring speech-giving, there’s a gigantic public news-television, to which the crowds turn for their pravda. There are multiple scenes of titanic Soviet public environments.
And there is a heartbreakingly pretty radio-astronomer/cosmonaut (mostly seen operating a radio).
Gorgeous settings and devices are the strength of this film. Later sci-fi was certainly influenced.
The alien starship is of a design I have never seen elsewhere. a sphere circled at the base by thick pipes—very wild and pretty.
Many traditional looking rockets (like heavily-winged ICBM’s): spaceship “океан” (“Ocean”) bound for Mars, another “метеор” (“Meteor”), cargo spaceship “RDU-12”. As special effects, these are generally unimpressive. A cute little “emergency ship”, with the cabin of a fighter plane and two egg-shaped pods on either side—I don’t know what to compare this to.
Nice clips of Soviet military planes.
No weapons; no robots. Computers? not as such.
(In these notes, I usually avoid detail as to the story line, not to spoil it for possible viewers. But I had a hard time sorting this one out, due to a complicated plot, and poor translation of poor subtitles, so I’ll include a brief sketch.)
Signals are received from an alien starship, which (somehow?) crashes on Mars, but first dispatching a pod to Earth, which splashes down in the ocean, and is found to contain the ship’s log-book.
International discussions ensue, concerning how to proceed. Dr. Laughnton provides the foreign voice of doubt and hesitation, and irrational fear. The brave Soviets proceed, but the questions he raised reappear…
Plans to launch a spaceship to Mars are accelerated by means of transporting more “energy” to a Moon base. The spaceship arrives at Mars, but is damaged, and requires more energy to leave, so more energy is requisitioned from the Moon. (It gets complicated here and I don’t understand it all.)
On Mars, cosmonauts appear in long outdoor scenes, struggling with a very harsh environment. (The outdoor scenes in Alien are strongly derivative from these.) Here they discover the crashed alien starship, and one dead alien cosmonaut. But…there should be three aliens—where are the others? A few of the Mars scenes even look surprisingly like the real planet.
A cargo spaceship “Meteor” from the Moon lands on Mars’ moon Phobos (itself having insufficient energy to land on Mars?) Here the cosmonauts walk and observe a brilliant red Mars rising, in a scene very similar to that in the earlier Небо зовет “The Sky Calls”. (Small technical complaint: rising Mars over Phobos is depicted fully illuminated, as viewed from Earth—whereas viewed from Phobos, Mars would usually be partially-illuminated.)
On Phobos, they encounter…the missing alien cosmonauts! One still lives. They can take only two passengers from Phobos to Mars in the emergency craft, so one cosmonaut must stay on Phobos (permanently?). This is made even more dramatic by the crash of the craft, but they survive! The last scene shows a rocket ship apparently returning to Earth. (I don’t understand how, given that the emergency craft, which was supposed to deliver the “energy” to get them off Mars, exploded.)
Overall, it is a very pretty thing to watch—and because it’s rather beautiful—not nearly as ridiculous as the story is to relate.
1963 Barrandov (Czechoslovakia)
|Screenplay||Pavel Jurácek, Jindřich Polák (said to be based loosely on a story by Stanislaw Lem)|
|Zdeněk Štěpánek||Captain Vladimir Abajev|
|Frantisěk Smolík||Anthony Hopkins|
|Dana Medřická||Nina Kirova|
|Radovan Lukavský||Commander MacDonald|
|Miroslav Macháček||Marcel Bernard|
|Rudolf Deyl||Ervin Herold|
|Martin Ťapák||Petr Kubes|
|Jiří Vršťala||Erik Svenson|
|Jaroslav Mareš||Milek Wertbowsky|
|Jozef Adamovíc||Zdenek Lorenc|
|Jaroslav Rozsíval||The doctor|
|Svatava Hubeňáková||Rena, MacDonald’s wife|
Vehicle: Ikarie is an interstellar craft. “A small space town with 40 inhabitants” Smaller space saucers are launched from main vehicle.
A “Master Computer” is onboard.
Destination: the planets of Alpha Centauri, where “the existence of life is expected”. This goal is mused over throughout the film, but its realization is disappointing. They will return in 15 years. Due to time dialation, the travelers will have aged only 28 months. (Time dialation is later ruled out as the cause of a crew member’s illness, on account of its “mathematical abstraction”.)
Robot: “Old-fashioned” robot “Patrik” is mostly comic relief.
Giant space port, ray-gun weapons. Weightlessness is depicted in a few scenes.
B&W. Lavish sets, costumes reminiscent of early Star Trek.
Portrays social aspects of long-term space travel. They have a fancy space ball, and dance a reserved jig to space jazz. Deals with space madness and space sickness.
English-dubbed version released in U.S. as Voyage to the End of the Universe.
Czech DVDs with English subtitles are available.
|Producer||Charles H. Schneer|
|Associate Producer||Ray Harryhausen|
|Edward Judd||Arnold Bedford|
|Martha Hyer||Kate Callender|
|Lionel Jeffries||Joseph Cavor|
Year: the bulk in 1899, later:
Aliens: moon inhabitants – Selenites
Travel to the moon is made possible by a paint that shields gravity.
Spaceflight: shows weightlessness, but little else of interest. On the moon, they discuss the vacuum, and so wear space suits—to talk, they have to touch helmets-but the suits don’t have gloves.
Kate comes aboard by accident, but proves useful by supplying food. She starts out as a technological woman, driving a jalopy. But her relationship with Bedford makes no sense: he lies to her and cheats her, and she goes back to him no struggle at all.
Bedford and Kate kill Selenites indiscriminately, Cavor wants to learn from them and teach them. The Selenites are ugly and scary, but it is unclear whether they’re good or bad. Ultimately it doesn’t matter.
|Paul Mantee||as Commander Kit Draper|
|Adam West (Batman)||as Colonel Dan MacReady|
|Victor Lundin||as “Friday”|
|Mona||the Wooley Monkey|
|Directed by||Byron Haskin|
|Written by||John C. Higgins and Ib Melchior|
− Some interesting, quick FX, wrong-headed social moralizing
The trailer proclaims that the film is “scientifically accurate”, “just one step ahead of reality”.
Vehicles: space probe to Mars. Landing craft looks rather too much like a Gemini capsule—doesn’t last long. Alien mining ships, look pretty unworldly. Shaped rather like the body of the 1953 War of the Worlds Martian ships.
I liked was the extremely swift motion of the spacecraft. It’s just painted celluloid, but they are trying to depict the great speeds of real interplanetary craft. Also depicts frictional heating on entering the atmosphere.
Depicts weightlessness (by means of monkey). Talks about difficulty breathing Martian atmosphere (as I recall, at the time the measurements of its thickness varied greatly).
They encounter a meteor, with the result that for most of the film we miss West’s wonderful presence.
The scenery is colorful, anyway, and the plot is busy, anyway. So it’s not completely un-watchable.
One remarkable special effect is that of the evil slaver ships darting about, death-raying the slaves. Pretty cool, actually, and not reminiscent of any other sci-fi spaceships.
Slavers are evil.
Non-whites are natural servants.
Oh yeah, the meteor.
1964 American International Pictures
|Francine York||as Dr. Lisa Wayn|
|James B. Brown||as Col. Hank Stevens|
|Baynes Barrow||as Dr. John Andros|
|Russ Fender||as Dr. Paul Martin|
|Produced by||Burt Topper, Leon D. Selznick|
|Written and Directed by||Leonard Katzman|
|Technical Assistance||Space Technology Laboritories,|
Rocketdyne Division of North American Industries Inc
− very low budget; rather behind its time sci-fi-wise
Date Year 2000
Ships belong to the USA. Operations are completely military.
Launches and an explosion depicted by Atlas-1 and Redstone missile takeoff footage. Views of earth from sounding rocket footage.
Seems what they’re looking for is a planet people can live on.
First ship: Faith-1 — Captain crawls back into his ship, calls headquarters to request destruction of space ship, because “gasses penetrated suit”, ship may be “infectious”, “radiation beyond Roentgen scale”. The general shrugs and pushes the button to blow ’im up... and that’s the last we hear of that.
Main ship: Hope-1, is nuclear powered rocket with big fins. Little detail can be seen in the miniature. The film includes space flight issues of computers, space walks, space suits, jet packs, airlocks. Spend a lot of time fixing computers. The ship also has a “force field”, used several times. A submarine sonar pings all the time in the background.
There is a lot of discussion generally in this film. This includes the usual man-in-space topics: replacement by computers, necessity of men, and especially women, in space. Unfortunately, they repeatedly confuse “solar system” and “galaxy”.
The wisdom of having a woman on board is discussed at length. The commander states that he opposed her being there. The tough guy points out she “fills out her space suit better than any of the rest of us”. The old guy points out the only man more competent weighs a lot more. Compressed food is served by the lady of course. She goes on to prove her worth as a crew member — and — as a woman!
They find alien craft that doesn’t respond to hails, go to investigate. It’s all open, and there are gizmos inside with weird writing. Then an ugly alien guy shows up and jumps them, so they shoot him dead. Then they blow the alien ship up, because it’s a menace or something. Afterwards, they discuss this — in terms of morality, science, and of social problems, and one guy suggests it might have been all for the best. This episode has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
A swarm of meteor(ites!) dead ahead! They look like burning charcoal nuggets. A force shield is used to deflect most of them, but this somehow causes them to speed out of control.
They find themselves nearing the “Triangulum galaxy” (“a couple of million miles from anywhere”.)
They land on an ocean of a “moon” for repairs. Seems to be no problem for the space ship to be deep underwater. Later they call the moon a planet.
The ship gets investigated by giant crabs. A marvellously confused discussion of evolution ensues, concluding with a decision to look for humans on the surface. They break out the scuba suits, and the tough guy goes to see what the land looks like. He is closely followed by a real ugly submarine humanoid alien. On land it looks just like — California. As he comes back the alien jumps him — he doesn’t make it. We find out he was a good joe after all.
The first alien mask was apparently from The Wizard of Mars, and the second from War Gods of the Deep.
Although the writing is very weak in technical and scientific aspects, and there are big plot flaws (as is typical of the genre), the psychological aspects are much better done — even interesting at points. The acting in this film is superior to that of most others of the genre.
Aliens just want to jump on us and scare the dickens out of us.
Tough guys are really softies.
People don’t have to live on earth anymore!
The alpha male gets the girl, even if he opposed her being on board (somehow just makes him seem more sweet).
1965 Italian International Pictures /
American International Pictures
|Barry Sullivan||Captain Mark Markary|
|Fernando Villeña||Dr. Karan|
|Alberto Cevenini||Toby Markary|
|Frederico (Rico) Boido||Kier|
|Screenplay (English)||Ib Melchior and Louis M. Heyward|
|From short story by Renato Pestriniero||One Night of 21 Hours|
Ships Argos and Galliott are blue chevron-shaped things, with some design similarities with the Enterprise of Star Trek. They’re cool designs, but the of size is completely lost—they look like toys.
They are traveling to planet Aura, it seems, to find the source of signals, possibly produced by intelligent life.
Space ship interiors are big and roomy, with steel floors and thick pressure doors and lots of blinky panels and 1960s switches and buttons. No apparent computers or robots.
Two races of aliens are found on Aura. One is dead, found in a creepy deserted alien ship, with sexual suggestions outside, glowing cones inside.
Alien skeletons “three times the size of us … probably belonged to an ancient civilization.” Finding them is reminiscent of Alien Pretty scary recorded voices of dead crew. But these are not the aliens to be afraid of.
The species “Aurans” native to the planet is non-corporeal and scary. Live on a “vibratory plane different from yours”. Their sun has been dying. They “summoned” the earthlings to take their bodies. They manifest themselves as walking dead or flying lights (luminous globes out the corner of my eye)
Infrared laser to penetrate fog. Lots of technobabble (time units are “fractions of megon”). A “meteor rejector” (to avoid ship “look like a piece of Swiss cheese”) figures heavily in the plot. Black rubber suits with high collars, and yellow trim, look like motorcycle racing suits. (Their small yellow helmets are kinda cool, really.) Lots of trouble with acceleration effects. Immediately contract space sickness that makes them attack one another. Ships seemed to be powered by “solar batteries”. Crew have wristwatch TV communicators.
Crew is all white, but there is an amusing story about the nationalities of the actors. Women are equal crew members who simply emote more, and look sexier in their suits.
Crew carry “field ray gun”: some sort of heat-ray weapon. Ship carries plutonium detonators for blowing stuff up.
The influence of this movie on Alien is often noted. It’s unmistakable especially in the scenes of the deserted alien spacecraft.
The budget for this film was legendarily low, and given that, its substance is very impressive; the color and camera work is great. Don’t expect splendid special effects, but there are a lot of them, and it does have atmosphere — a very dark, misty one.
The atmosphere is unfortunately wasted by a detailed explanation provided by one of the (unconvincingly) walking dead. But have no fear of a Hollywood ending.
Don’t turn your back on the unknown
Don’t trust science
Don’t turn your back on your crew members
Don’t trust the walking dead
Don’t trust your crew members when they’re the walking dead
The aliens want our stuffin’s
Watch out for the meteor!
1965 Shepperton Studios
|Producers||Robert L. Lippert|
|Film Editor||Robert Winter|
|Production Manager||Clifton Brandon|
|Bill Williams||as Mead Ralson|
|Kathleen Breck||as Kate Saunders|
|John Cairney||as Steven Thomas|
|Donald Churchill||as Carl Walcott|
|Jeremy Longhurst||as John Saunders|
|Linda Marlowe||as Helen Thomas|
|Margo Mayne||as Joyce Walcott|
|Norma West||as Jan Ralston|
−− except as an exploration of a certain space flight scenario
Spacecraft: IC 1 Interstellar Colony # 1
It is heading for Earth-2, outside our solar system, is a joint project of GB, Canada, and the United States. The earth is overcrowded, so flights of 25, even 50 years must be undertaken.
The nose of the “rocket” rotates continuously simulating the pull of gravity. “Judging by Earth standards, should be nearing the light barrier.”
Crew consists of 8 men and women and their children. Two further men and two women are in suspended animation (is an “experiment”). They all eat algae, but seem bitter about it.
A space station is depicted, a usual wheel shape (but the round part seems to be constructed of straight tubes glued together).
A guy dressed up like a U.S. army officer introduces everything. A lot of reading from Ecclesiastes follows.
This film is mostly about politics and social questions. No great amount of imagination is applied however. Although the crew are from a centralized society (World Government), and although they were picked for the flight, and although they presumably knew what they were getting into, they object to their circumstances and to being bossed around. In fact that’s the main theme. They are sarcastic and snippy with one another from the beginning. One thing leads to another, which leads to mutiny.
Women play a large — if traditional — role in this film. They are teachers of children, a doctor, and mostly, wives and mothers. The primary issues concern reproduction.
A clown appears from nowhere to entertain the kids… looks like a sort of holographic projection. No explanation is offered.
The sets consist of two model spacecraft and some radio and laboratory equipment.
One character is a “closed cycle man” who eats no food and neer sleeps. His parts are mostly replaced by electronics. Depicted as a guy in a stationary box, with his head in a glass bowl. He says he feels nothing. But he meets his lack of regret with irony.
The captain threatens to kill everybody unless he can remain captain. Somehow he makes this sound reasonable — although at one point the mission is of highest importance, the next, it seems the command structure is paramount. Incredibly, this apparent inconsistency goes unnoticed. Well, he and his wife haven’t managed to have kids, so maybe it’s understandable.
“Rule is All — we are bondsmen.”
|Julie Christie||as Clarisse|
and Linda Montag
|Oskar Werner||as Guy Montag|
|Cyril Cusack||as The Captain|
− impressively lame attempt at Bradbury
Bradbury’s classic novel starts out very twisted and creepy, and gets more twisted. It describes a world where a fireman’s job is not to put fires out, but to set them—on anything considered antisocial, including books and people who read them. Where a normal fireman loves fire, and despises the people he burns. I think it’s only right to point out differences between the novel an the film.
OK so it wasn’t a high-budget flick. OK so it’s the ‘60s and maybe what looked like scary uniforms then already looked dated, cute and silly by the ‘70s, when I first saw this. But really, they lost it here.
The novel opens with people being burned alive. Perhaps this was too much for the time. But flopping a few dozen paperbacks on a steel frame and lighting them on fire before some dour onlookers does nothing to set the novel’s stage of gleeful violence. In the novel, it is normal to do horrible things; nobody remembers any other way. The film misses this, and replaces it with a police-state motif, and I think, strains to portray instead of the “what’s wrong with this picture” world of Bradbury with a colorful, “hip” science fiction flick.
The biggest disappointment though is the “Mechanical Hound”. The description in the novel is just terrifying, first in the reversal of the usually nice cuddly idea of a dog, with that of a huge, fast, furious, lethal mechanical spider, of some malevolent intelligence, whose function is assassination—an instrument of social control. The Hound prop in the movie is small, slow, clumsy and almost cute. Such a thing would be an interesting study for modern CGI, but maybe it was beyond the technology of the time.
Now, the novel is terrifying enough without the Hounds—they’re just one more manifestation of a morally inverted society. It might have been possible to portray the society without them. But to leave this silly prop in the film, they abandoned the terror and twist of the book.
The film is of interest only to those interested in ‘60s period pieces, Truffaut’s failures, or questions like why Julie Christie was cast for two different parts in this one film. My recommendation: read the book.
+ shrinking people for medicine
The Island of Terror
"Insel des Schreckens"
1966 Planet Film Productions
|Peter Cushing||as Dr. Brian Stanley|
|Edward Judd||as Dr. David West|
|Carole Gray||as Toni Merrill|
|Eddie Byrne||as Dr. Landers|
|Sam Kydd||as Constable Harris|
|Niall MacGinnis||as Mr. Campbell|
|Story and screenplay by||Edward Andrew Mann and Allan Ramsey|
|FX by||John St.John Earl, and Michael Albrechtson|
−− awful so awful. a particularly poor monster movie.
This is really a horror film, more than a sci-fi. Maybe it shouldn’t be here.
A cure for cancer goes horribly wrong, producing silicon-based monsters that suck out the bones of their victims.
The monsters are just silly. They look a lot like vacuum-cleaners, and move really slowly. I thought they were dumb when I was a kid, and I still think they’re dumb. The actors have to really strain to hold the monster’s tentacles to their necks!
One of the monsters wraps its tentacle around Cushing’s hand. Judd runs to get an axe, surveys the situation, and whacks Cushing’s hand off. (It seemed to be the reasonable thing to do at the time!)
The doctor proposes giving a sedative to first victim’s widow, before she has been informed of the death. All the ladies get sedatives eventually. P. Cushing declines sedatives after having his hand chopped off.
Don’t mess with Mother Nature
Women are better off sedated; real men don’t take sedatives
1962 Security Pictures Ltd.
|Story from novel by||John Wyndham|
|Howard Keel||as Bill Masen|
|Nicole Maurey||as Christine Durrant|
|Janina Faye||as Susan|
|Janette Scott||as Karen Goodwin|
|Kleron Moore||as Tom Goodwin|
Unprecedented shower of meteors, which sound like sci-fi effects, and look unlike meteors. Their glare blinds everybody in England, except those who were blindfolded for medical reasons. One brings to Earth a fast-growing, plant, which, amazingly conveniently for the pant, finds itself in a botanical garden. The plant moves (slowly), emits a clucking sound, stings people to death, reproduces by windblown spores, has no central nervous system, not killed by dismemberment.
The first disaster is the mass blindness, which causes various crashes and other fatal accidents. But shortly the triffids are everywhere.
English-speaking protagonists travel from Britain, through France, and to Spain.
The biologist couple resolve their personal problems by resolving to study the triffids scientifically.
OK interesting idea, scary monster
+ space and time travel
|Producer, Director||Stanley Kubrick|
|From short stories by||Arthur C. Clarke|
++ A pinnacle of Sci-Fi and filmmaking.
Clarke is the big idea guy of Sci-Fi of the ‘50s and ‘60s, one of very few Sci-Fi authors who is a real scientist.
Nobody before or since has depicted space flight this faithfully. For a film showing no blood, and having no monsters, this is very eerie.
The computer, HAL 9000, is the most memorable character, and he’s real scary. Watching the film again recently, he still gives me goosebumps.
Vehicles: various beautiful space ships, including
- Pan Am space plane,
- space station,
- shuttle to the moon,
- Discovery One, nuclear spaceship bound for planet Jupiter.
- space pods of the space ship,
Aliens: Well. This is tough. The aliens are represented by black “monoliths”, once on Earth, once on the Moon, and once orbiting Jupiter. But what exactly the “monoliths” are... is completely unexplained in the film, only they have something to do with aliens, and they’re up to something.
Gadgets: astronauts are shown carrying something like modern tablet computers.
This film showcases several of Clarke’s signature ideas ideas, including:
- human survival unprotected in a vacuum
- beings so advanced, their actions are indistinguishable from magic.
- human beings upgraded to be something much bigger (the star-child at the end).
Other Sci-Fi: proto-humans, suspended animation.
For all its beauty and surprise and grandeur, it’s frustrating to watch. It’s flawed by rather stilted dialog, but worse, by unexplained psychedelia near the end (it could easily have been clarified, just with a single quick scene; Kubrick evidently thought it would be better not to.)
I think this film set an unattainable standard for space movies for decades to come, and is part of the explanation for the gap in space films in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
—Arthur C. Clarke
|Story by||Clark Darlton, Karlheinz Scheer|
|Lang Jeffries||as Maj. Perry Rhodan|
|Luis Dávila||as Captain Mike Bull|
|Essy Persson||as Thora|
|Pinkas Braun||as Arkin|
|Stefano Sibaldi||as Dr. Frank Haggard|
Based on the Perry Rhodan sci-fi booklet series, is a sci-fi/action/adventure.
An Italian, German production.
Production quality is spotty. The script is dumb; the actors do what they can with it. Lots of elaborate sets, but spaceship models mostly dangle from strings. Most of the music is standard late-60s fare, but some of the vocals are pretty interesting...
Rhodan is a NASA pilot in this film.
Space rocket Stardust in gantry appears to be a U.S. Atlas missile, in space depicted with a combination of models and cellophane. Rocket staging is depicted, but the rocket exhaust pretty cheesy. I like how the rocket turns around to land—they almost achieve a sort of majesty.
About the flight, the government is “keeping real reason truly secret”. (Oh…they found some fancy metal they wanted to mine—doesn’t appear again in the film.)
Elaborate lunar scenes: goofy lunar car has interesting metal wheels.
Alien craft: cool outerworldly spacecraft, supposed to be very big, but the scale is totally unconvincing. In flight, the models are obviously dangling on a string.
Some talk about going faster than light.
Alien robots look like suited astronauts with a screwed up face, they shoot lasers from the eye, which makes stuff disintegrate. (Both are very poorly executed conventional effects.)
In all cases, people draw weapons on sight, and usually fire.
Aliens are from Arkon, 35 million light-years away. They look like humans; one of them is gorgeous, and prompty announces her intention to procreate, and disrobes suggestively by way of emphasis. They are pronounced “medically-speaking identical, but genetically older” than humans, and “degenerate”.
“Gravitational neutralizer” can levitate things. “Highly-active field of energy” used as a shield.
The astronauts and aliens discuss keeping the alien’s existence a secret for the protection of humanity, but almost immediately blow their cover. The alien gets annoyed, melts a mountain or something with some sort of ray—just to prove that one ought not to mess with them.
There’s a mish-mash of bad guys, and it becomes a who’s gonna betray whom. The battle finale involves bad blondes with machine guns.
Depicts multi-racial engineers, and also black officials.
the aliens are old and decrepit
except the girl aliens who are here to snap up our intrepid heros
shoot first, unless it’s determined to be futile, then shoot some more
don’ trus’ nobody
|Author and director||п. клушанцев (Pavel Klushantsev)|
+ Composed of several vignettes, part educational science film, part science-fiction fantasy.
Begins with re-enactments of the observations of the astronomers Shiaparelli and Lowell.
Discusses the vast popular literature and film about Mars, H. G. Wells, Aelita.
Much use of animations, stop-action, and other special effects, as well as film of real scientific research.
Animations illustrate facts of Mars’ atmosphere and temperature. Lots of discussion about extreme Earth organisms that might survive on Mars. Discusses of nature of canals of Mars, contemporary soviet and U.S. space probes of, how they work, what they are meant to investigate.
Beautiful, elaborate, fanciful and amusing scenes of possible Martian life.
Dog-astronaut in space suit, space ships in orbit of mars, and Martian colonies. (These last vignettes contain not only speculative science themes, but something bordering on the dramatic, so they fit my qualification as sci-fi.)
1968 Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica (Italy)
Marianne Productions (France)
− Period-piece sex farce, not always intentionally funny; some curious nudity, manages to be sort of sexy despite being terribly silly.