Warning from Space

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(4/10) Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru, released by Daiei in early 1956, is Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. Remembered for its wonky star-shaped aliens, the jumbled, illogical movie borrows from earlier sci-fi classics without managing to tie the themes together. Although beautifully filmed and decently acted, it moves along slowly and is way too talky. Occasionally brilliant, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, often numbingly stupid.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

The mighty Pairans from outer space. Once seen they can never be unseen.

Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.
IMDb rating: 4.4/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A 

Poster.

Poster.

While still absolutely unknown in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Movie studio Toho had released four sci-fi movies: the flawed masterpiece Gojira (1954, review), the invisible man film Tomei ningen (1954, review), Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review), and the ill-fated snowman movie Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, review), which the studio withdrew from circulation soon after its premiere. While Toho is the one of the Japanese Big Six studios that we (rightly) come to think of first when we talk about Japanese sci-fi, Daiei was not far behind. In fact, Daiei had originally beat Toho to the mark with its low-budget invisible man crime thriller Tomei ningen arawuru (1949, review). Now, however, Daiei decided to outdo Toho and make Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. And while it was probably tempting to enter the monster movie genre, the studio opted to not put all their eggs in one basket and try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie – in fact this is the first Japanese movie to feature space flight, aliens UFO:s. Not content with this, they threw in a planetary collision as well, thinking they might get Japan’s first apocalypse film underway while they were at it. The result was 宇宙人東京に現わる (Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru), literally translated as Spacemen appear over Tokyo, but anglicised as Warning from Space. The film premiered on January 29, 1946, before Toho’s colour film Rodan. Continue reading

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Day the World Ended

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(2/10) Roger Corman officially directed his first science fiction film in 1955. Seven people hole up in a secluded bungalow after total annihilation in a nuclear war. As personal tensions mount, it is a race to see if the blood-thirsty mutant prowling the valley kills them before they kill each other. Richard Denning leads a capable cast, but the film is done in by a 45-minute deadly boring stretch where nothing at all happens. Paul Blaisdell’s crude mutant costume is fun to look at, but as half the film is padding, there’s just no way of saving it.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Day the World Ended (1955, USA). Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Lou Rusoff. Starring: Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Paul Birch, Mike ”Touch” Connors, Adele Jergens, Paul Blaisdell. Produced by Roger Corman for Golden State Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of actor Mike Connors, who sadly passed away on January 27, 2017, at the age of 91.

Second, I feel I should address the elephant in the room, namely my low rating of this film. Of course, this can probably be partly chalked down to personal taste, but it is rather seldom that I wander 3.5 stars off the IMDb consensus. I have a feeling that some reviewers tend to bump up their assessment of this film based on a notion that it is a trailblazer, and thus should warrant extra points for its ideas, even if they are poorly executed. But this notion is false. Day the World Ended was not the first post-apocalyptic movie – but it was almost certainly the worst at the time it was made. Continue reading

Timeslip

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(5/10) The last of actress Faith Domergue’s three science fiction movies of 1955 was a British quota quickie. Released as The Atomic Man in the US, it concerns two journalists investigating the case of a radioactive man who gets pulled back from death on the operating table and seems to be out of sync with time, all while his doppelgänger is involved with secret and potentially dangerous nuclear experiments. The sci-fi is underdeveloped, the science laughable and the script flawed, but entertaining and even exciting. Ken Hughes directs solidly and the acting is excellent.

Faith Domergue and Gene Nelson as reporters and lovers in Timeslip.

Faith Domergue and Gene Nelson as reporters and lovers in Timeslip.

Timeslip (1955, UK). Directed by Ken Hughes. Written by Charles Eric Maine. Starring: Gene Nelson, Faith Domergue, Peter Arne, Joseph Tomelty, Donald Gray, Vic Perry. Produced by Alec C. Snowden for Merton Park Studios.
IMDb score: 5.5/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

DVD sleeve.

DVD sleeve.

In 1955 science fiction still hadn’t really caught on with British movie producers. But the trend was pointing upwards. A change happened in 1953 when BBC made the live-aired TV series The Quatermass Experiment (review), in which an astronaut returns from space, and begins mutating into a dangerous alien life-form that he has been infected with. The series became a phenomenon, and soon thereafter British quota quickie companies started making cheap sci-fi movies, such as Spaceways (1953, review), Devil Girls from Mars (1954, review) and Stranger from Venus (1955, review). They were seldom masterpieces, but never complete turds, either. However, with the exception of The Quatermass Experiment (review), it feels like British producers weren’t quite sure about how to handle sci-fi, and often bungled the sci-fi element in favour of weak romantic plots or an over-emphasis on classic film noir trappings. Such is partly the case with Timeslip, which was released as The Atomic Man in the US, but it is nevertheless one of the better sci-fi quota quickies. Continue reading

Creature with the Atom Brain

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(4/10) Cult director Edward Cahn’s comeback film from 1955 has sci-fi favourite Richard Denning tracking nuclear-powered zombies. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak is back at his favourite subject – brains – but it’s not his best script. An exploitation cheapo with major studio backing, this was a gore-fest in the fifties. Today it seems flawed, but still entertaining and competent.

BRAAAAINS!

BRAAAAINS!

Creature with the Atom Brain (1955, USA). Directed by Edward L. Cahn. Written by Curt Siodmak. Starring: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gaye, Linda Bennett. Produced by Sam Katzman for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

”In a sense, this film’s title sums up the appeal of the science fiction/monster movies of the 1950s. It’s lurid, it’s to the point, and it deals with (a) monsters, (b) atomic radiation and (c) intelligence, all within a single exploitable phrase. Creature with the Atom Brain. Run that around your tongue for a while, and imagine yourself a 12-year old”. Thus writes Bill Warren in his fifties’ sci-fi bible Keep Watching the Skies about the film that this review concerns, a cheap exploitation affair from Sam Katzman’s Clover Productions, a subsidiary of mid-level studio Columbia Pictures. And for once, the title actually lives up to the film. Nay, it undersells the film – it should be in plural: CreatureS with Atom Brains!

Creature with the Atom Brain was produced by Katzman himself as the bottom half of a science fiction double feature (I have waited almost three years to get to write that phrase!), alongside Charles Schneer’s and Ray Harryhausen’s giant octopus film It Came from Beneath the Sea, which I reviewed just a few days back. It was written by Curt Siodmak, probably as a commission, and directed by Edward L. Cahn, an industry veteran known for his ability to shoot films fast but competently. In fact, this was his first brush with sci-fi, unless you count a short Our Gang effort from 1940, which involved a robot, but it certainly wouldn’t be his last. Continue reading

King Dinosaur

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(0/10) Forget Plan 9 from Outer Space, that charmingly childish fantasy from Ed Wood. Bert I. Gordon’s super-cheap directorial (solo) debut King Dinosaur is a much better contender for the title of worst film ever made. This story of four scientists battling a T.Rex on an unknown planet is inept in every single department and doesn’t even have a redeeming amateurish charm to it. The most interesting aspect of the movie is probably the life story of one of its stars, a jazz singer who kickstarted fashion guru Mr. Blackwell’s career and almost caused a diplomatic incident in Argentina.

Douglas Henderson and Patti Gallagher flee a "Tyrannosaurus Rex" in a promo photo. The actual effects of the film never look this good.

Douglas Henderson and Patti Gallagher flee a “Tyrannosaurus Rex” in a promo photo. The actual effects of the film never look this good.

King Dinosaur (1955, USA). Directed by Bert I. Gordon. Written by Tom Gries, Bert I. Gordon, Al Zimbalist. Starring: William Bryant, Wanda Curtis, Douglas Henderson, Patti Gallagher, Marvin Miller. Produced by Bert I. Gordon for Zimgor Productions. Executive producer: Al Zimbalist.
IMDb rating: 1.9/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Note the dissimilarity between the lizard in the photograph above and the one on the poster.

Note the dissimilarity between the lizard in the photograph above and the one on the poster. The poster also as five people in it. That’s more than the entire cast of the film.

I had just finished my one-star review of The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), and thought it probably couldn’t get much worse, when King Dinosaur came along and proved me wrong. It seems that 1955 was the turning-point for sci-fi cinema in the sense that filmmakers realised that by running a shrewd marketing campaign promising monsters and babes, they could really film almost anything that had a fleeting resemblance to the poster, create a script that had a beginning and an end, and preferably some padding in the middle, and get the film released. And since the movies probably didn’t cost more than 30 000 dollars, a profit was almost inevitable. Continue reading

Bride of the Monster

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(3/10) In 1955 legendary producer/director Ed Wood released the first film of his sci-fi trilogy, and to his great satisfaction was able to place aged horror icon Bela Lugosi in the lead. Often considered Wood’s ”best” movie, this low-budget schlocker has to be ingested with a good dose of good-will. The inaptly made film is good for a whole bunch of laughs, but Lugosi plays his mad scientist with great gusto and even has some touching moments, and the movie has a very distinct charm.

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride of the Monster.

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride of the Monster.

Bride of the Monster (1955, USA). Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. Written by Alex Gordon and Edward D. Wood Jr. Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Paul Marco, Dolores Fuller. Produced by Edward D. Wood Jr. for Rolling M. Productions.
IMDb raring: 4.1/10. Tomatometer: 45% Rotten. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

The fifties were a golden age for filmmakers without money, time or any particular talent. If you could raise 30 000 dollars, conjure up a script and stick a monster in the film, you could almost bet that someone would pick up distribution rights and make their money back, no matter how bad the movie was. There were quite a few hacks who tried their hands at sci-fi programmers, such as W. Lee Wilder or Bert I. Gordon. Roger Corman, who was in truth a very good producer and director, made an art out of making films on almost no money. But for some reason the name that has gone down in history as the king of bad movies is that of Edward D. Wood Jr. or Ed Wood for short. Best known for his ”magnum opus”, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), he did once produce and direct a film that had an actual budget and an actual script, and is often considered his best movie, and that is Bride of the Monster. Continue reading

Conquest of Space

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(4/10) Back with his fourth science fiction epic, George Pal sets out to explore the mental and theological aspects of a trip to Mars. Good ideas abound, but the movie is scuttled by ham-fisted script. The special effects are very ambitious and impressive when they work. Unfortunately they don’t work most of the time, leaving us with flickering composites and thick matte lines. Pal’s idea of bringing humour into the mix is making one of the astronauts a dim-witted Brooklyn stand-up comedian. Fun to watch, but ultimately disappointing.

Astronauts on a space sled going from a rocket to the space station, "The Wheel".

Astronauts on a space sled going from a rocket to the space station, “The Wheel”.

Conquest of Space (1955, USA). Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by: James O’Hanlon, Philip Yordan, Barré Lyndon, George Worthing Yates. Based on the books Conquest of Space by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Lay and The Mars Project by Hermann Oberth. Starring: Walter Brooke, Eric Fleming, Mickey Shaughnessy, Phil Foster, William Redfield, William Hopper, Benson Fong, Ross Martin. Produced by George Pal for Paramount Pictures.
IMDb rating: 5.8/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

If someone asks you who was the most important person for the popularisation of science fiction films in the fifties, there can really only be one answer, and that’s producer George Pal. It was Pal’s extremely ambitious and visionary, albeit horribly flawed, independent film Destination Moon (1950, review) that kicked off the whole sci-fi craze. Likewise, it has been claimed that it was his 1955 movie Conquest of Space that killed it. This is a questionable statement, since some of the best sci-fi films of the fifties were still to come after Conquest of Space. And furthermore, even though it has been described as a horrible flop when it came out, it actually didn’t do all that badly. It made a million dollars at the US box office, essentially making back its shooting budget. That is not to deny that it is, at so many levels, a deeply flawed film. Continue reading