Killers from Space

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(2/10) In a nutshell: The second sci-fi film by Billy Wilder’s less talented brother Willie mashes up a cold war spy yarn with an alien abduction story and nuclear fright. The underlying story is a sound one, but it gets messed up by a thin script and a shoestring budget that relies on stock footage for filling time and has some of the most profoundly silly-looking aliens in film history. Future TV star Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible fame lends the film some dignity in the leading role, but it doesn’t help to save this ineptly produced and directed oddity. A must for lovers of bad B-movies, though.

Killers from Space (1954, USA). Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by Myles Wilder and William Raymond. Starring: Peter Graves, James Seay, Steve Pendleton, Frank Gerstle, John Frederick, Barbara Bestar, Shepard Menken. Produced by W. Lee Wilder for Planet Filmplays. IMDb: 3.1/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A. 

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

This here is something of a cult classic with lovers of bad movies – mainly because of the hilarious look of the aliens. Once seen, they can never be unseen. First of all, there’s the ridiculous jumpsuits. But most of all, what we remember are the eyes – the wonderfully wacky ping pong ball eyes. This 1954 film was supposed to be serious – and the aliens were supposed to be frightening. And then they stuck ping pong balls on their eyes. It’s wonderful! Well, in fact, they are not ping pong balls at all. Director Willie Wilder had suggested ping pong balls, but makeup artist Harry Thomas thought that wouldn’t really look realistic, so he went to an actual optical shop to ask for glass eyes, that he could cut in half. But they cost 900 dollars apiece, which was probably more than Thomas’ entire makeup budget. John Johnson’s book Cheap Tricks and Class Acts quotes an article in Filmfax, where Thomas is interviewed. Thomas describes how after being turned down at the opticians’, he stayed up all night wrestling with the problem of the aliens’ eyes, and how to make them realistic, so he wouldn’t have to settle for Wilder’s idea with the ping pong balls: ”I was almost completely discouraged when I opened up the refrigerator to get something to drink, and there was my answer: a white plastic egg tray.” So there you have it. In your face, haters, those are not ping pong balls, they are very realistic egg tray bottoms. Good on you, Harry Thomas! Continue reading

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Project Moon Base

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(3/10) In a nutshell: This rather inventive and surprisingly scientifically ambitious film was a TV pilot halfway through filming. Unfortunately the TV budget shows. A Communist saboteur infiltrates a 1970 reccie flight for the first American moon base, and the two pilots are more interested in settling the fifties war of the sexes than actually doing their jobs. A thin and silly script with a mixed but ultimately stuffy gender message. Crude but fun special effects save the film.

Project Moon Base (1953). Directed by Richard Talmadge. Written by Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Seaman. Starring: Donna Martell, Ross Ford, Hayden Rorke, Larry Johns, Herb Jacobs. Produced by Jack Seaman for Galaxy Pictures. IMDb score: 2.8

Modelwork by Jacques Fresco on Project Moon Base.

Modelwork by Jacques Fresco on Project Moon Base.

I have just finished my review of Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), in which I bemoaned the turgid sexism of that particular fifties turkey, only to be thrown into a film that is, if possible, even worse in that department, although it tackles it from a slightly different perspective. Continue reading

The Neanderthal Man

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(3/10) In a nutshell: Dynamic producer duo Pollexfen & Wisberg bring you this independet low-budget riff on Jekyll and Hyde or The Wolfman, directed by former star director E.A. Dupont. A mad scientist develops a serum which turns his cats into sabre-tooth tigers and decides to turn himself into a Neanderthal man just to prove his theory that the Neanderthal was just as smart as his descendant, homo sapiens. Decent acting and flourishes of directorial style can’t hide the low budget, bad props and make-up and a derivative script with some of the worst science in movie history.

The Neanderthal Man (1953). Written by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg. Directed by E.A. Dupont. Starring: Robert Shayne, Joyce Terry, Richard Crane, Doris Merrick, Beverly Garland, Robert Long, Tandra Quinn. Produced by Jack Pollexfen & Aubrey Wisberg for Global Productions & Wisberg-Pollexfen Productions. IMDb score: 4.5/10

Intro credits of The Neanderthal Man, 1953.

Intro credits of The Neanderthal Man, 1953.

It is interesting how some careers in the film industry can derail completely. German Ewald André Dupont was once one of the most celebrated directors in Europe. Lauded as an expert camera handler and one of the pioneers of sound cinema, with two or three internationally successful German and British films under his belt, he took on Hollywood in 1933, along with the boatloads of other Central European filmmakers fleeing the rise of the Nazis in Germany. But where directors like Fritz Lang or F.W. Murnau became stars in Tinseltown, Dupont went from disappointment to disappointment, at one point even dropping out of direction altogether, and ended his career in a haze of booze with Z-grade schlockers like The Neanderthal Man. Continue reading

Invasion U.S.A.

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(1/10) In a nutshell: One of the true bottom-feeders of the cold war propaganda films, this movie depicts five people who oppose the universal draft seeing USA invaded by the Soviet Union. Despite good talent both behind and in front of the camera, this startlingly dumb movie is singularly boring and consists to a large part of military stock footage and five people talking in a bar. Worth watching perhaps only because of Dan O’Herlihy of Robocop fame and the fact that it features two Lois Lanes.

Invasion U.S.A. (1952). Directed by Alfred E. Green. Written by Robert Smith & Franz Shulz. Starring: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Bice, Tom Kennedy, Wade Crosby, Phyllis Coates, William Schallert. Produced by Robert Smith & Albert Zugsmith for American Pictures. IMDb score: 2.5

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant is one of the most brilliant film critics on the internet. But sometimes I am completely flabbergasted by his judgement – like when he uses words like ”well-handled”, ”neatly structured”, ”clever” and ”excitingly assembled” about a film that the rest of humanity agrees is a big giant pile of turds. This film is Invasion U.S.A. To Erickson’s defense, he also calls it ”one of the weirdest political films ever made”, writes that it reaches ”the heights of camp hilarity” and that it is hard ”to be sillier than this movie”. Continue reading

Superman and the Mole-Men

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(4/10) In a nutshell: George Reeves parades through this first full-length Superman film in clearly visible shoulder and chest pads, which says just about everything about the production values of the B effort, made as it was as a pilot for the successful TV series Adventures of Superman. The script is confusing and thin, but very sympathetic and sincere, and Reeves saves the day through his innate charm.

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951). Directed by Lee Sholem. Written by Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth. Based of characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Starring: George Reeves, Phyllis Coates. Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald, John T. Bambury, Billy Curtis, Produced by Barney A. Sarecky for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 6.0

Superman and the Mole Men poster.

Superman and the Mole Men poster.

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951) was the first full-length Superman film brought to American audiences. This low-budget production was, in fact, not so much a film that was intended to stand on its own legs, as it was a pilot for a planned Superman TV series. The 58 minutes long movie was produced by Lippert Picturs, the company behind the low-budget surprise hit of 1950, Rocketship X-M (review), the first serious US film to feature a space adventure. The TV series was picked up by ABC, and started airing 1952, and to the surprise of everyone involved, became a major hit show, turning Superman actor George Reeves into a national celebrity. Continue reading