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

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Target Earth

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(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.

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

Robot Monster

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(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.

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

Dick Barton Strikes Back

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(5/10) In a nutshell: A proto-James Bond battles an evil villain set to rule the world with his secret weapon that turns brains into jelly in this first science fiction entry by Hammer Films in 1949. It’s a juvenile quota quickie with an often less than perfect script, and some hammy acting, but with surprisingly solid production values, great atmosphere and good pacing.

Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949). Directed by Godfrey Grayson. Written by Elizabeth Baron and Ambrose Grayson. Starring: Don Stannard, Bruce Walker, Sebastian Cabot, James Raglan, Jean Lodge, Peter Wyngarde.  Produced by Anthony Hinds and Mae Murray for Hammer Films. IMDb score: 5.9

Publicity poster for Dick Barton Strikes Back.

Publicity poster for Dick Barton Strikes Back.

We have another British sci-fi(ish) film! After years of licking their wounds from the financial disaster that was H.G. Wells’ Things to Come (1936, review), the British film industry rediscovered the genre in the late forties. After the time travel comedy Time Flies (1946, review) and the robot bedroom farce The Perfect Woman (1949, review), we get Dick Barton, special agent, in this 1949 mystery thriller, Dick Barton Strikes Back, featuring a James Bond-styled villain with a secret futuristic weapon. Continue reading

Charleston Parade

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(5/10) In a nutshell: A bonkers short subject by master director Jean Renoir from 1927 shows an African explorer in a spacecraft discovering a white native in a post-apocalyptic Paris, and they dance the Charleston for ten minutes. 

Charleston Parade (Sur un air de Charleston). 1927, France. Directed by Jean Renoir. Written by André Cerf, Pierre Lestringuez, Starring: Catherine Hessling, Johnny Hudgins. Cinematography: Jean Bachelet. Music: Clement Doucet. Produced by Pierre Braunberger for Neo-Film. IMDb score: 6.0

Catherine Hessling and Johnny Hudgins meet each other in Jean Renoir's strange short film.

Catherine Hessling and Johnny Hudgins meet each other in Jean Renoir’s strange post-apocalyptic short film. Hessling’s rather skimpy outfit led to the film being labelled as an erotic film on some occasions (in IMDb, for example).

Considering his experimental streak, it is a bit odd that the French film innovator Jean Renoir didn’t lend his talents to science fiction more often. The only time he ventured into the territory was in 1926, when he filmed the 17 minutes long experimental film Charleston Parade (Sur un air de Charleston), which was released the year after.

The intertitles tell us that in 2028 the world has been ravaged by an apocalyptic war, and the pinnacle of civilisation is now Africa, whereas Europe is now known as ”the unknown area”. An African explorer (Johnny Hudgins) sets out towards this savage and unexplored urban wilderness in his spherical spacecraft, and lands on top of a so called Morris column (advertising column) in the middle of Paris. Here he encounters a scantily clad white native girl (Catherine Hessling), along with her pet ape (uncredited, but wearing one of the worst ape suits in the history of cinema). Despite the sexy native’s alluring gestures, she brushes off the black explorer’s advances, and instead opts to teach him the local custom, the Charleston dance. Continue reading

The Last Man on Earth

No rating due to cannot find the bloody film

In a nutshell: Apparently this 1924 silent comedy is a light-hearted pun on a world ruled by women. It is, though, America’s first all-out full feature length sci-fi film.

The Last Man on Earth. 1924, USA. Directed by John G. Blystone. Written by: Donald W. Lee, John D. Swain. Loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man. Starring: Earle Fox, Grace Cunard, Derelys Perdue. Cinematography by: Allen M. Davey. IMDb score: 5.9

Elmer and Gertie.

Elmer and Gertie.

This is not a review, but rather a mention, since I could not find this 1924 silent comedy anywhere. But I thought I should at least give it a shout-out, since it – bizarrely enough – seems to be the first American full-length all-out science fiction film. The 1922 action melodrama The Man from Beyond (review) starring Harry Houdini did contain science fiction elements, as the protagonist was frozen in ice for a hundred years and woke up in present day 1922. The drama film Black Oxen (review) did center around a woman who had undergone a medical procedure to rejuvenate herself, it was more a romantic and social drama than a real sci-fi film. The 1920 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (review) is a close rival, but ultimately it is more horror than sci-fi. Even the next all-out sci-fi film made in the US, Just Imagine (review) from 1930, was a musical comedy. If this shows anything, it must be the low esteem that science fiction held in North America, as opposed to Europe, where celebrated directors made serious and expensive sci-fi films that often reflected the turmoil on the continent, stuck as it was between two devastating world wars, with communism and fascism on the rise.

Oh the silliness.

Oh the silliness.

Well according to what I have found out from the sparse information on the World Wide Web, this film is loosely – and I say very, very loosely – based on Mary Shelley’s (of Frankenstein fame) book The Last Man, published in 1826. The Last Man – a beautifully written book, by the way, I highly recommend it – is a very gloomy prophesy of mankind (or should we say ”humankind”) being wiped out by a mysterious plague. It is partly a metaphor for Shelley’s own huge losses – she lost her father at a young age, later her mother, a child and many friends prematurely – and partly a philosophical criticism of her dead friends’ romantic political ideas. It is a cynical view of a world where romantics are and idealists, despite their best efforts, are ultimately doomed to failure, as well as Shelley’s own feelings of loneliness and isolation, both in a social and intellectual sense. Continue reading

The End of the World

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Danish moral story and apocalypse film about the coming of a comet, The End of the World (1916), has stunning special effects and some interesting drama, but is bogged down by too many subplots and unexplored themes. 

The End of the World (Verdens Undergang), 1916, Denmark. Written by Otto Rung. Based on the novel La Fin du Monde by Camille Flammarion (uncredited). Directed by August Blom. Starring: Olaf Fønss, Ebba Thomsen, Johanne Fritz-Petersen, Frederik Jacobsen. IMDb score: 6.3

The Maiden and the Church at the End of the World. Yes, he is waving to Adam. Seriously.

The Maiden and the Church at the End of the World. Yes, he is waving to Adam. Seriously.

Danish August Blom is unfortunately one of those early film pioneers that don’t get much recognition these days. If remembered, it is chiefly for Atlantis, his ambitious film about the sinking of a large passenger ship – released in 1913, just a year after Titanic had gone down. Among film buffs he has a reputation for developing the genre of the erotic melodrama, and for being an early pioneer for cross-cutting of scenes for dramatic effect. Among fans of sci-fi, though, he is remembered for making the first post-apocalyptic science fiction film, Verdens Undergang, or The End of the World, made in 1916.

If Atlantis can be faulted for something, it’s that we never get a shot of the actual sinking of the ship, or even decks filling with water. One moment she is floating perfectly straight while people climb into life boats, in the next shot only the stern protrudes above the water line. Blom did not make the same mistake in The End of the World, depicting a comet brushing the Earth. Here we get superbly exciting scenes of burning meteorites scorching the landscape, houses on fire, explosions and water flooding buildings with people inside. With this film, Blom has captured an apocalyptic event on a truly epic scale, and the films deserves at least as good a reputation as Atlantis. Continue reading