Timeslip

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

(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

Advertisements

Journey to the Beginning of Time

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

(7/10) In 1955 ”the Georges Méliès of Czechoslovakia” directed an imaginative ”lost world” film in colour. With stop-motion puppetry and cutout animation, split screen techniques, mechanical puppets, suits and forced perspective shots, Karel Zeman gave life to the wonders of the prehistoric world. Although more ”edutainment” than drama, the film about four boys travelling backwards in time still manages to captivate its viewers with its innovative special effects, its naive and warm approach and the great performances by the young actors. Some special effects do feel a bit creaky.

1955-journey-to-the-beginning-of-time-041

Vladimir Bejval and Zdenek Hustak inspecting a dead Stegosaurus.

Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955, Czechoslovakia). Directed by Karel Zeman. Written by Karel Zeman, J.A. Novotný. Starring: Vladimir Bejval, Petr Herrman, Zdenek Hustak, Josef Lukás. Produced for Ceskoslovenský Státni Film & Filmové Studio Gottwaldov.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

In 1955 American audiences were being wowed by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation in films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, review). But Europe had their own Harryhausen, who was much less known to American audiences, partly because he worked behind the iron curtain, and partly because the one film he made that got a wide release in the US, Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do praveku), downplayed his contribution when studios tacked on a newly filmed American beginning and end when it was released overseas in 1966. This was Czechoslovak director Karel Zeman, one of the most brilliant, artistic and inventive animators in the history of cinema. Continue reading

The Twonky

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

(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.

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

Tales of Tomorrow

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(6/10) In a nutshell: Tales of Tomorrow aired on ABC in the US from 1951 to 1953 and was the first exclusive science fiction anthology series. Adult, intelligent and genuinly unsettling scripts are intermingled with more staple mystery and sci-fi fare. The live broadcast sets limits for direction, but genius camera work and editing sometimes surpass these limits. Leslie Nielsen dominates the cast, and watch out for the masterclass in method acting between Rod Steiger and James Dean.

Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953). Created by Mort Abrahams and Theodore Sturgeon. Directed by Don Medford, Charles Rubin, et. al. Written by Man Rubin, Mel Goldberg, Frank de Felitta, Alvin Sapinsley, David E. Durston, Max Ehrlich, Gail Ingram, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, et. al. Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Prud’Homme, Walter Abel, Edgar Stehli, Theo Goetz, Olive Deering, Edith Fellows, Bruce Cabot, Rod Steiger, Gene Lockhart, Una O’Connor, Boris Karloff, Eva Gabor, Veronica Lake, Joanne Woodward, James Dean, Lon Chaney Jr, James Doohan, Paul Newman, et. al.  Produced by George F. Foley Jr, Mort Abrahams, Richard Gordon for George F. Foley, distributed by ABC. IMDb score: 7.4

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of television lately: there was the first televised sci-fi series, Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949, review), the first anthology series featuring science fiction, Lights Out (1949, review), but now we get to the third one, and the last one I’ll be reviewing in a while: Tales of Tomorrow, which ran on ABC from 1951 to 1953. This has the distinction of being the first television anthology series to feature exclusively science fiction, foreshadowing legendary TV shows like The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963-1964). Continue reading

Lights Out

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(5/10) In a nutshell: Arguably the first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Broadcast live with a varying degree of quality, very light on sci-fi and quite heavy on traditional ghost stories. Lights Out sported an impressive roster of actors, but the direction and originality never quite reached the same quality as rivalling shows that popped up in the early fifties, like Out There or Tales of Tomorrow.

Lights Out (1949-1952). Directed by William Corrigan, Laurence Schwab Jr, Kingman T. Moore, Grey Lockwood, Fred Coe, et. al. Written by: A.J. Russell, George Lefferts, Fred Coe, Ernest Kinoy, Douglas Parkhurst, Wyllis Cooper, Arch Oboler, et. al. Starring: Frank Gallop, Jack La Rue, Mercer McLeod, Leslie Nielsen, Gregory Morton, John Newland, Peter Capell, Alfreda Wallace, Richard Derr, Ross Martin, John Forsythe, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Vaughn Taylor, Grace Kelly, George Reeves, Veronica Lake, Basil Rathbone, Anne Bancroft, Anne Francis, Boris Karloff, Anthony Quinn, Melvyn Douglas, Vincent Price, Produced by Herbert B. Swope, Fred Coe for NBC. IMDb rating: 7.3

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Not really a science fiction show per se, Lights Out can still be credited as the first anthology show to bring sci-fi to the small screen. You could debate whether it was in fact the first science fiction show or not, but I’m going with the latter, and I’ll explain why below. Continue reading

Time Flies

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(4/10) In a nutshell: In this breezy 1944 musical comedy from Britain, four friends accidentally travel to 16th century London where they meet William Shakespeare and try to sell America to Queen Elizabeth. Petite American jazz singer Evelyn Dall is the real star of this B movie, since radio comedian Tommy Handley’s horrific puns get old even before they get going. Good production values, the lighthearted tone and nice musical numbers make it worth a watch. Not, however, as often claimed, the first film featuring a time machine. 

Time Flies (1944). Directed by Walter Forde. Written by Ted Kavanagh, J.O.C. Horton, Howard Irving Young. Starring: Tommy Handley, Evelyn Dall, George Moon, Felix Aylmer. Produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures. IMDb score: 5.4

Tommy and Bill fleeing the police into the time machine in the musical comedy Time Flies fron 1944.

Tommy and Bill fleeing the police into the time machine in the musical comedy Time Flies from 1944.

Filmmakers in the United Kingdom were certainly not too hot about science fiction in the thirties and the forties. Most British sci-fi in the thirties was co-produced with either Germany or France, other films just slightly dipped their toes in sci-fi matter. Science fiction guru H.G. Wells momentarily awakened the British film industry’s interest in the genre with his extremely expensive Things to Come in 1936 (review), directed by William Carlos Menzies. Although it was the most lavish sci-fi production in the world since Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis (review), audiences and critics panned the sluggish and moralistic script and the partly wooden acting brought on by the bombastic, long-winded dialogue. The film nearly bankrupted the studio and made the British industry shun sci-fi for one and a half decade. Continue reading

Sziriusz

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(6/10) In a nutshell: This Hungarian sci-fi turned romantic costume and swashbuckler drama is a forgotten little gem. It is based on a time machine short story predating H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine by one year, and is the first feature film in movie history to feature an actual time machine. It is also Hungary’s first all-out science fiction film, and stars one of the country’s most talked-about movie stars of the era.

Sziriusz. 1942, Hungary. Directed by Deszö Ákos Hamza. Written by Péter Rákószi. Based on the play Sziriusz by Imre Földes, in turn based on the novel Sziriusz by Ferenc Herczeg. Starring: Katalin Karády, Lásló Szilassy, Elemér Baló, Lajos Rajczy. Produced for Magyar Irok Filmje. IMDb score: 5.7

Hungarian superstar Katalin Karády in a modestly risqué scene in the world's first time machine film, Sziriusz.

Hungarian superstar Katalin Karády in a modestly risqué scene in the world’s first time machine film, Sziriusz.

When looking at the Hungarian invasion of Hollywood during the first 60 years of cinema, one might think that all of Hungary’s filmmakers had emigrated to the United States. Among the notables we find people like the founder of Fox Studios, William Fox, as well as the founder of Paramount, Adolf Zukor. Others worthy of mention are directors Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca), George Cukor (My Fair Lady), George Pal (The Time Machine) and the three Korda brothers (The Jungle Book, The Four Feathers, The Thief of Baghdad), although they were primarily based in Britain. Of the movie stars everyone of course knows Bela Lugosi, but there were also Peter Lorre, Tony Curtis, Johnny Weissmuller, Ilona Massey, Harry Houdini, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Eva Gabor, Leslie Howard and Paul Lukas. And one shouldn’t forget composer Miklos Roza, and there were many, many others. But Hungary also had a thriving film scene at home, as evidenced by the country’s third ever science fiction feature film, Sziriusz, that was nominated for the main prize at the Venice film festival in 1942, and featured the country’s biggest film star, the beautiful Katalin Karády. Continue reading