Our next feature is not technically a movie but is a single 3 part story of the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger television series from 1954 and is called Crash of Moons.
Rocky Jones and his companion Winky escort Secretary Drake back from an unsuccessful diplomatic mission to Ophiuchius. It seems the ruler Cleolanthe doesn’t want any help from the United Worlds and isn’t above shooting the intruders if they don’t get off her planet. As Rocky’s ship approaches the refueling station OW9, they discover that the orbital station is in the path of the gypsy moons. After saving the space station, they then plot the paths of the gypsy moons to discover that one of them is going to collide with Ophiuchius. Can Rocky convince Cleolanthe to evacuate her planet. Can the moon Posita be evacuated in time?
Once you get past the cheesy dialogue and make allowances for the special effects of the time, there is a surprisingly good story here. The idea of a rogue planet heading towards another and the political and social ramifications on the two planets would be a very fantastic story. It is glossed over in this telling, but there is the kernel of something here. Couple that with the fact that the heroes try to save the planets and fail and you have the makings of something very good. The execution was all that was lacking.
If you can find this somewhere, it is worth seeing if you are willing to look deeper than the 1950s surface.
The first movie of this week is Killers from Space from 1954. It stars Peter Graves who is best known for his role in Mission Impossible.
Dr Doug Martin (Peter Graves) is a scientist working on a nuclear project for the military. During a test, Martin’s plane crashes and he disappears. When he finally reappears he has a strange scar on his chest and can’t account for his whereabouts during his absence. The military blocks him out of his research as he starts acting unusual. What really happened to Dr Martin? Why is he so anxious to know when any nuclear tests are going to be performed? Who are the “killers from space” for which the movie is named?
The idea behind the film is interesting, however the execution of said ideas, less so. Aliens are bent on taking over the planet and wiping humanity off the face of the Earth. This plot has been done a million times before and will probably continue to have legs long after we have a real first encounter with beings from space. The problem with the structure of the movie is with the manner in which we finally meet the aliens. It is done as a pure info dump late in the film. The aliens explain their history, their plans and their motives to Dr Martin. This kind of info dump makes for a dull movie. The resolution has problems as well, but I can’t go into it here without spoilers.
This movie is pretty terrible. I’m glad that Peter Graves has Mission Impossible as his best known work. If this movie was all we had of him, he would have disappeared into obscurity.
Despite being bad, the movie is interesting because you get to see a young Peter Graves. You can see the movie here for free at Archive.org
The next movie on my list is called Planet Outlaws from 1953. I got real excited at first because it turned out to be the Buster Crabbe Buck Rogers tale. Well, sort of…
Buck Rogers (played by Buster Crabbe) and his companion Buddy Wade crash their dirigible somewhere in the northern wastes. 500 years later they are revived by people from the “hidden city”. Earth is in the control of a crime cartel headed by Killer Kane. Buck and Buddy decide to help the free people of the hidden city fight back. Their adventure will lead them across the solar system to Saturn and back again before they find themselves coming face to face with Kane in his headquarters. Can Buck make a treaty with Saturn against the Criminal empire?
The original serial was shot in the 1930s and was divided into 12 parts for a total running time of 237 minutes (roughly 20 minutes per chapter). The final cut of Planet Outlaws runs about 71 minutes. So to make the movie the original serial was chopped up and spliced together to make a shorter feature. This really doesn’t do the story any justice. It jumps around a lot and you have to infer parts of the story that are missing. Also, because this is essentially a re-edit of the 1939 serial, I don’t know if I should count it as a mark of the 1950s. I guess not.
If you look at it from 1939 eyes and ignore the jumping around in the story, it is okay. However, I would recommend seeing the full serial instead. It makes more sense.
Once again you can see Planet Outlaws on Archive.org here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a reliable source for the original serial.
Next on our list is Phantom from Space which was released in 1953.
An unidentified object is tracked from Alaska to California where it is finally lost. Immediately afterward heavy interference is picked up by some communication trackers. As the mobile communications units follow the disturbance they find the trail of a mysterious man in a “diving suit.” After some skeptical investigations by the military, a couple of detectives following up on related homicides and a scientist, they come to the conclusion that the mysterious figure is from outer space. Yet nothing can prepare them for the idea that their spaceman is also invisible. What is the space traveler after? Can the humans find the invisible invader?
This is classic SF from the 1950s. The characters spend much of the time trying to figure out who or what their mysterious figure is. They spend a great deal of the screen time on the scientific analysis of the alien’s suit, his breathing apparatus and speculating on his physiology. The basic premise of a stranded alien trying to cope with Earth is not a new one, even for 1953. However, this movie is surprisingly smart in that the characters eventually come to realize that the alien is in trouble and they should try to help it. The movie also deals with the problem of communication between people who have no basis for understanding. In fact, the alien tries to communicate with the humans on more than one occasion and we never find out what it is he was trying to convey.
This movie is fair. I wouldn’t rush out to view it, but the good qualities I mentioned above make it worth watching at least once.
You can see it for free at Archive.org here.
From the year of 1953 comes our next film titled Mesa of Lost Women.
Dr Arana is doing research on the properties of the pituitary gland and its effect on other creatures. In the process he has made giant spiders and infused women with some of the properties of spiders. Dr Leland Masterson originally wants to join Dr Arana in his work until he discovers what Arana is really up to. So Arana drives him insane. Later Dr Masterson forces a group of tourists and one of his nurses onto a plane which then ends up crash landing on the Mesa where Dr Arana is conducting his research. What is Arana really up to? Can the pilot Phillips do anything to stop the madness? What about Wu?
This is a truly terrible movie. Bad acting, bad dialogue, and a poor plot make this one of the worst movies I have ever watched to completion. On top of that there is a constant musical accompaniment that is distracting and annoying.
There really isn’t much to recommend this movie. It is bad. It is SF, though. It has the typical mad scientist story as it’s underlining premise. But it does a poor job of implementing the idea.
If you really want to see it you can find it here on Archive.org. I recommend against it, though.
My last novel of the year is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I originally heard about this book from the Sword and Laser Podcast.
Cloud Atlas is actually a collection of shorter stories wrapped together in a fairly unique way. It has been described as a russian nested doll of stories. This is fairly accurate as each story is interrupted by a further story until the inner story is reached. Then each story is progressively ended. And while the stories are self contained they are also tied together. This makes the story sound messy, but in fact it isn’t. Once you get past the disorientation of the first couple of interruptions, the story actually flows along nicely.
I was going to break down each individual story, but that wouldn’t really do the book any service. It isn’t about the individual stories, but rather about the interconnected story they make. Which makes it difficult for me to imagine how they turned it into a movie. I’m curious about how that was accomplished, so I will have to see it when it comes out on DVD.
I recommend this book. I’m going to check out more of Mitchell’s work myself.
Still in the year of 1951 we have Unknown World. It was bound to happen eventually, but I have already seen this movie before.
Professor Morley and his team of engineers and scientists are looking for a way to save mankind from the potential destruction of a nuclear disaster. To that end they wish to travel underground where the Earth is riddled with fissures and pockets of earth possibly all the way to the Earth’s core. However, they are forced to accept the funding of a rich benefactor who wants to go along for the ride when they can get funding no where else. What will they find under the Earth? How deep can they finally reach?
There is no doubt that this movie is science fiction as the scientists travel around in a burrowing machine of improbable design. The premise of a hollow Earth is fairly typical of science fiction going back to authors such as Jules Verne with his Journey to the Center of the Earth (which in my opinion is a book every SF fan should read). In fact this tale appears to be a re-imagining of that very story.
Despite the cheesy dialog and poor acting, this movie is quite fun to watch. It certainly isn’t an academy award winning movie, nor is it the best retelling of the “journey to the center of the Earth” type of tale. But it is somewhat interesting as they filmed some of it in real caves such as the Carlsbad Caverns.
You can find it here at Archive.org if you wish to see it for yourself
Finally we have a movie with at least two people I have heard of before. The movie is Bride of the Gorilla (1951) and stars Raymond Burr (of Perry Mason fame) and Lon Chaney Jr (Who followed in his father’s footsteps in the horror movie genre).
Barney Chavez (Raymond Burr) is in love with Dina Van Gelder, but he works for her husband Klaas. Klaas is suspicious of Barney and fires him, so Barney kills him. Unknown to Barney, Al-Long (a local witch woman loyal to Klaas) observes the murder and curses him to become a beast. Police Commissioner Taro (Lon Chaney Jr) and Dr Viet are certain that Barney killed Klaas, but cannot prove it. Barney marries Dina and all seems well, until Barney starts to change. Is Barney really turning into a gorilla or is it all in his imagination?
This story would fall into the category of psychological thriller if written today. There are elements of mysticism and science in the story that places it somewhere in the Fantasy/Science Fiction genre. However, a case could be made for sticking it in the Horror genre as well.
The story itself is okay. I wouldn’t say it is terrible but it certainly isn’t great. I would call it middle of the road. I definitely see the bones of a good story sticking out of it, though. I should really dust those old bones off and see if I can’t make a decent story out of them.
If you want to see this movie, once again you can find it on Archive.org here.
Our next film takes us from 1950 back to prehistory with a tale called Prehistoric Women. This should not be confused with the movie with the same name from 1967 (although that one is supposed to be a remake).
Tigri is the leader of a tribe of women in prehistoric times. Her mother Tana and a group of women and young girls broke free from their original tribe to start their own all women clan. The girls have grown up and need men to take as husbands so that their tribe may continue. One such man is Engor, who Tigri takes as her own. Engor has discovered fire and is captured by Tigri when he tries to free the other men from his tribe. Engor’s discovery allows the tribe of men to take control, but they must contend with A flying lizard and a giant before realizing that they can all work together and form a new tribe.
This is the first movie on my list that is in color so far, although the coloration is so muted that at times it is difficult to tell. However, it is still noticeable most of the time. I imagine people coming out of the theatre in 1950 talking about the wonderful difference color makes for a film. The actual story is a bit mundane and includes some very sexist attitudes. This wouldn’t have been the case for the time, but it shows through today. There is even a gratuitous “cat-fight” between two of the prehistoric women.
I wouldn’t call this movie terrible, but it certainly hasn’t aged well. Sadly, it has been pulled down from Archive.org for being inappropriate. So, if you want to see it, you’ll have to find it on your own.
Next on my list is Queen of the Amazons and was released in 1947. If you are keeping track, we have jumped ahead 2 years from White Pongo. And yet, the jungle movies continue.
Jean Preston is on a quest to find her missing fiancé, Greg Jones, who was last known to be on safari in India … or was that Africa? She is joined by Colonel Jones (Greg’s dad), Wayne Munroe (an obvious rival for Jean’s affections), and the professor (for no readily apparent reason – comedy relief?). They hire a guide named Gary and a cook called Gabby and set off into the jungles … er … scrublands of Africa. It is said that Greg’s safari was lost but that he may have been captured by the Amazon women. They decide to seek out the Amazons, but someone is sabotaging their mission (though how exactly is uncertain). When we eventually find Greg, it turns out that he is in love with Zita, queen of the Amazons. This is okay because Jean has fallen in love with Gary. Gabby turns out to be the saboteur and the movie ends with a double wedding.
That’s really the best I can do on a synopsis. This movie is convoluted and confused. It looks like they sent a cameraman to India and Africa to get stock footage and then proceeded to fill in the spots in between with new footage to try to tell a story around it. This would be okay if the movie had something going for it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. It doesn’t even qualify as SF no matter how you stretch the definition.
I wouldn’t waste my time if I were you, but you can see it for free at Archive.org here.