Riders to the Stars

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(5/10) In a nutshell: In his second OSI film producer Ivan Tors teams up with writer Curt Siodmak and director/actor Richard Carlson to to train a group of unwitting volunteers to become USA:s first astronauts. Although the film is presented in a refreshingly sober and scientific manner, the basic scientific premise of it is pure hogwash. The documentary feel lends it a nice calm, and although Carlson directs his actors well, he doesn’t quite have the chops for the climactic action sequence. Enjoyable, but no classic.

Riders to the Stars (USA, 1954). Directed by Richard Carlson and Herbert L. Strock. Written by Curt Siodmak and Ivan Tors. Starring: William Lundigan, Herbert Marshall, Richard Carlson, Martha Hyer, Dawn Addams, Robert Karnes. Produced by Ivan Tors for Ivan Tors Productions. IMDb rating: 5.6/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

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With its January 14 US release, Riders to the Stars was the first science fiction film of the brave new year of 1954. The film was the second in producer Ivan Tors’ trilogy about the Office of Scientific Investigation – a sort of FBI for nerds. The previous one was the charming The Magnetic Monster (1953, review), which made good use of special effects shots from the German 1934 film Gold (review). The last one is perhaps the best known; Gog, which was released in 1954 as well (review). The two latter films were filmed in colour. Continue reading

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Donovan’s Brain

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Based on The Wolf Man creator Curt Siodmak’s influential novel, this is the first real sentient-brain-in-a-vat film. It’s hampered by a rather dull tax fraud subplot and the generic mad scientist storyline, which was quite passé in 1953 – even though the scientist, played by Lew Ayres, isn’t mad at all. On the plus side, the direction feels modern and grounded and the acting is primarily good. Holes in logic abound, and the ending is a cop-out. Stars future First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Donovan’s Brain (1953). Directed by Felix E. Feist. Written by Hugh Brooke & Felix E. Feist. Based on the novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak. Starring: Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Reagan, Steve Brodie. Produced by Tom Gries for Dowling Productions. Tomatometer: 50 %. IMDb score: 6.0/10.

The original brain in a vat.

The original brain in a vat.

There are tropes in science fiction that have become so commonplace today, that they are reduced to clichés. The time machine, the UFO, the mad scientist, the lunar landing, the killer robot, the invisibility serum, and of course the disembodied brain. The ”brain in a vat” has become a staple villain of sci-fi comics, the best known are probably Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Brain in DC Comics. The disembodied brain has also turned up in a number of TV series and films, and the basic concept has been drawn upon for cyborgs like Robocop. But the one film that people keep referring to as the essential brain-in-a-vat film is the independently produced Donovan’s Brain, made in 1953, based on Curt Siodmak’s novel of the same name. Continue reading

King Kong

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(8/10) In a nutshell: Whether actually sci-fi or not, King Kong still had a huge influence on the genre. The amazing stop motion photography, the models and the merging of live action and special effects, combined with the wonderful imagination of director/producer Merian C. Cooper make this one of the true Hollywood greats. This is rounded up by the groundbreaking musical score by Max Steiner. Unfortunately the dialogue is appalling, the script contrived and the acting wooden. The only actor to hold a candle to Kong himself is the immortalized scream queen Fay Wray.

King Kong. 1933, USA. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Written by James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, Leon Gordon (uncredited). Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Fay Wray, Frank Reicher, Noble Johnson. Produced by Cooper, Schoedsack & David O. Selznick for RKO. Tomatometer: 98 %. IMDb score: 8.0

Is this the most widely recognized movie scene in history?

Is this the most widely recognized movie scene in history?

We all know the story of King Kong by heart, even if we have never seen the film. Filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) sweeps up a girl who is down on her luck, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and takes her on a journey on a ship, to appear in one of his films. The trip takes them to an uncharted island, where Denham hopes to film the mysterious Kong – a creature terrorizing the natives. On the island they find that the black natives have built a huge wall to keep out Kong – and they happen to interrupt a sacrificial rite when they arrive. The natives kidnap the golden-haired Darrow and present her to Kong, prompting Denham and his crew to go on a rescue mission, where they first encounter King Kong, the giant gorilla.  Continue reading