(0/10) Flying Saucers over Istanbul is Turkey’s ”first” science fiction film, and quite possibly the worst as well. An unfunny comedy about belly dancing alien women who land their UFO in Istanbul to bring Earth men to their planet. Noted for featuring Turkey’s ”queen of disgrace and scandal”, belly dancing vamp and nude model Özcan Tekgül. And Marilyn Monroe. Sort of.
The robot Stelekami and the alien amazon women.
Ucan daireler Istanbul’da (1955, Turkey). Written & directed by Orhan Ercin. Starring: Orhan Ercin, Zafer Önen, Türkan Samil, Özcan Tekgül, Halide Piskin, Mirella Monro, Özdemir Asaf. Produced by Özdemir Birsel for Birsel Film.
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
If you want to say something good about this film, translated as Flying Saucers over Istanbul, then it is that it has some historical value as the first Turkish film to deal with space flight, UFOs or aliens. In addition it is – maybe – Turkey’s first science fiction film ever. It is a toss-up between this film and Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da (1955) or The Invisible Man in Istanbul, which I, unfortunately, haven’t been able to find online nor on DVD. I can’t find any release dates for either of the movies, but write-ups on the web seem to at least indicate that the invisible man film was released prior to the UFO film. I don’t think that Görünmeyen adam Istanbul’da has ever been released on DVD, whereas Ucan daireler Istanbul’da is available online with English subs, as it has fallen into public domain. Continue reading
(5/10) Based on a short story by Paul Fairman, Target Earth is one of the first empty world movies of the fifties. Best remembered for its clunky robot and its opening shots of an empty city, the film stumbles on bad dialogue and a low budget. Good actors like Richard Denning and Kathleen Crowley give the film gravitas, but ultimately the film’s ingredients are too thin to elevate it above B movie status.
Target Earth (1954, USA). Directed by Sherman A. Rose. Written by William Raynor, James H. Nicholson, Wyatt Ordung. Based on the story Deadly City by Paul W. Fairman. Starring Richard Denning, Kathleen Crowley, Virginia Grey, Richard Reeves, Robert Roark, Arthur Space, Whit Bissell, Steve Calvert. Produced by Sherman Cohen for Abtcon Pictures and Herman Cohen Productions. IMDB rating: 5.7/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
Kathleen Crowley and Richard Denning fighting the invader robot.
1954 was a year in sci-fi that gave us some of the great classics, like Creature from the Black Lagoon (review) and Them! (review), but also movies infamous for their cheap camp, like Killers from Space (review) and Devil Girl from Mars (review). But then there are also the pictures that, justly or unjustly, are more or less forgotten today by most except us aficionados, because they were neither good nor bad enough to become either classics nor cult films. One of those is Target Earth, an independently produced cheapo that one wishes would have had a little more time, a little more budget and a little better screenwriters. In a way it is a film that you would like to like a little more than you actually do, because there is an unfulfilled potential in the movie. Continue reading
(4/10) Known for its impressive, if clunky, robot, this 1954 independent film is pure kiddie fare. It was adapted from a more serious draft about using robotic test pilots for space flight, but as the budget went down, it became a juvenile ”boy and his robot” movie with a tacked-on communist spy subplot for enchancing the action. Contrary to popular belief, the robot was not designed by Robert Kinoshita. A mildly entertaining run. William Schallert and Lyle Talbot make brief appearances.
Tobor the Great (1954, USA). Directed by Lee Sholem. Written by Philip MacDonald & Carl Dudley. Starring: Charles Drake, Karin Booth, Billy Chapin, Taylor Holmes, Steven Geray, Franklyn Farnum, William Schallert, Lyle Talbot. Produced by Richard Goldstone for Dudley Pictures Corporation. IMDb rating: 5.2/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
Taylor Holmes as Prof. Nordstrom follows Tobor carrying Billy Chapin.
In his splendid fifties sci-fi bible Keep Watching the Skies, Bill Warren points out that boys and robots have gone hand in hand since the fifties. We do heartily agree, though we hope that Hollywood would soon realise that there are plenty of girls who like robots as well. But gender issues aside, Tobor the Great is really the starting point for films about boys and their robots, a subgenre that has been getting mauled with steadily declining Transformers movies in the last years. Where robots had primarily been depicted as threats in the few instants they had appeared on previous movies, Tobor the Great was one of the first to be used for good. Continue reading
(5/10) Ivan Tors’ third OSI film was hugely influential on sci-fi writers such as Michael Crichton, who basically ripped the film off in his book The Andromeda Strain. Extremely ambitious, the film ticks so many boxes of ”first time ever on film” that I can’t fit them all into this introduction. The script doesn’t live up to its ideas and director Herbert Strock fails to create a claustrophobic suspense drama. The viewer forgets that the protagonists are trapped in an underground lab because of the bright Eastman colours and the seemingly spacious science lab, where a giant computer runs amok and killer robots stalk the corridors. Quintessential cold war drama with communist infiltration, nuclear threat, space race science and casual sexism.
Gog (1954, USA). Directed & edited by Herbert L. Strock. Written by Ivan Tors, Tom Taggart, Richard G. Taylor. Starring: Richard Egan, Herbert Marshall, Constance Dowling, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Michael Fox, William Schallert, Billy Curtis. Produced by Ivan Tors for Ivan Tors Productions. IMDb rating: 5.5/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
Killer robots on the loose: Gog and Magog!
If science fiction enthusiast bemoan the exclusion of visionary producer George Pal from discussions about pioneers of the film genre, then they should be doubly as wronged over the fate of the now almost forgotten Ivan Tors. If Tors is remembered today, it is mainly as creator of the Flipper franchise and other family-friendly animal shows. But in his own way, Ivan Tors was just as visionary a science fiction producer as Pal in the fifties, albeit working with significantly lower budgets. His main claim to fame within sci-fi is his movie trilogy about the fictional OSI, or Office of Scientific Investigation, a sort of precursor to the X-Files, without the new-age mumbo-jumbo and lacking in aliens. Gog was the final film in the OSI series, and probably the most ambitious one. Continue reading
(4/10) In 1954 British filmmakers took advantage of ten days of studio time left over from a TV show that finished early. The result was this ”Dracula from Space” film, remembered for its latex-clad dominatrix in the title role. It’s a hilariously campy romp played (with some skill) completely straight, and has a surprisingly good technical polish for a non-budget film. Unfortunately the script, whipped together in a matter of days, is disastrous from beginning to end. Features two Hammer horror scream queens.
Devil Girl from Mars (1954, Great Britain). Directed by David MacDonald. Written by John C. Mather & James Eastwood. Starring: Patricia Laffan, Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri, Joseph Tomelty, John Laurie, Sophie Stewart. Produced by Edward & Harry Danziger for Danziger Productions. IMDb score: 5.0/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
Joseph Tomelty and Patricia Laffan in Devil Girl from Mars.
It’s funny how history changes things. Described by ”serious” critics as the low-point in Scottish director David MacDonald’s career, Devil Girl From Mars is the one film he is remembered for today, a film that is loved by science fiction fans and friends of B movies all over the world, and one that inspired both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Sure, this ridiculous science fiction yarn probably wasn’t quite what MacDonald had in mind as his legacy when he worked as an assistant producer in Hollywood for Cecil B. DeMille on films like Cleopatra (1934) and The Crusades (1935). After returning to Great Britain in the late thirties, MacDonald made a number of so-called quota quickies, and made himself a name as comedy director. During WWII he directed and/or produced a number of acclaimed morale-boosting documentaries, and his career seemed to be looking upward when he returned to feature film with the well-regarded thriller Snowbound in 1949. Unfortunately when it came time for his final breakthrough, the big-budget historical epic Christopher Columbus (1949), everything fell apart. The film was ridiculed by critics and audiences alike, and almost killed star actor and Oscar winner Frederic March’s career. Described by The New York Times as ”an uninspired succession of legendary but lifeless episode of tableaux”and later by Britmovie as ”a long and extraordinarily tedious affair”, this would have been his legacy unless Devil Girl from Mars would have come along, because nobody remembers any of the other low-budget movies he made after that. Continue reading
(2/6) In a nutshell: Sci-fi radio and 3-D film pioneer Arch Oboler touches the low-point in his career with this ill-advised comedy of a TV set from the future that takes charge over the life of a college professor. Badly adapted from a sci-fi horror satire by Lewis Padgett, the film never finds its tone, the actors struggle with the concept and Oboler continues to use a sledgehammer to pound in his anti-authoritarian message, in case the audience is slow to catch on.
The Twonky (1953). Written & directed by Arch Oboler. Based on a short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. Starring: Hans Conried, William H. Lynn, Gloria Blondell, Edwin Max, Janet Warren, Evelyn Beresford, Connie Marshall, William Phipps. Produced by Arch Oboler for Arch Oboler Productions. IMDb score: 5.6
Promotional poster for The Twonky.
If there was one thing that filmmakers were more afraid of in the fifties than UFOs, nuclear war and those damn Commies combined, it was the television set. Hollywood was in open rebellion against TV, with some studios even banning televisions altogether from their movie sets. This is why it is easy to misjudge the prevalence of the goggle box when watching films from the early fifties. Hollywood was so afraid that television would make people watch films at home instead of going to the cinema, that filmmakers collectively stuck their heads in the sand and pretended that TVs did not exist in the lives of their movie characters. When included, the television was often shown as a menace or a nuisance. Writer-director-producer Arch Oboler decided to put the cat on the table and made a satirical comedy featuring a TV set from the future that becomes a tyrant in the house of an unlucky college professor. Continue reading
(5/10) In a nutshell: Often named as one of the worst movies ever made, this 1953 cult gem is actually better than its reputation, despite the super-low budget, the sloppy direction, the non-existent sets, the complete lack of logic and the truly bewildering script. It makes up for this with ambition, imagination and soul, and a huge amount of talent both in front and behind the camera. And an obese robot gorilla in a diving helmet that gets an existential crisis while trying to eliminate the last seven people on Earth with a death ray that shoots soap bubbles.
Robot Monster (1953). Directed by Phil Tucker. Written by Wyatt Ordung (and a shady furniture salesman). Starring: George Nader, Claudia Barrett, Selena Royle, John Mylong, Gregory Moffett, Pamela Paulson, George Barrows, John Brown. Produced by Phil Tucker for Three Dimension Pictures. Tomatometer: 31 %. IMDb score: 2.9
Robot Monster in all his poetic beauty.
There are bad movies and then there is Robot Monster – a film nearly as bad and nearly as loved as Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). It is often cited as a ripoff of standard fifties sci-fi films regarding aliens coming to Earth to wreak havoc, but it isn’t all that simple. In 1953 there simply hadn’t been many of these movies made. There was a string of such films released in short succession during the spring and early summer of 1953, but with its release date of June 10, 1953, Robot Monster was definately a forerunner. Continue reading