2/10 In a nutshell: Surely one of the most inept productions ever to get a theatrical release, this Poverty Row film from bad movie giants Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin steals its sets and props from other movies and throws science and logic out the window as it presents the first Amazons-in-space film. If you can forgive its ineptitude and fifties sexism, it’s a highly enjoyable so-bad-it’s-good movie. And there’s giant moon spiders.
Cat-Women of the Moon (1953, USA). Directed by Arthur Hilton. Written by Roy Hamilton, Al Zimbalist & Jack Rabin. Starring: Sonny Tufts, Marie Windsor, Victor Jory, William Phipps, Douglas Fowley, Carol Brewster, Susan Morrow. Prodcuced by Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin for Z-M Productions. IMDb score: 3.6/10
The Cat-Women of the Moon.
In the fifties American manhood was threatened. When the men were off fighting WWII, women were called in to factories, retailers and institutions to take their place, and thus keep the wheels of society turning. In the process, many of them found that having a salary of their own greatly improved their freedom and made them independent of a male provider, which had been the norm up until then. As the men returned home, many women refused to let things slip back to the way it was before the war, and were backed up by a growing feminist movement. Suddenly women’s’ liberation was thing again, and companies that could hire women for a lesser salary than men, didn’t necessarily protest. But a lot of men felt threatened by the loosening of their control over women, and a lot of men dominated the media, the entertainment and the advertising industry, and this created a backlash, resulting in what we today loosely refer to as ”fifties values”, where great emphasis was laid on ”traditional” family values, Christianity, which stated that the man was the head of the family, chastity and female obedience. This was one of the driving forces in Hollywood behind an onslaught of ”Amazon Women” films, of which Cat-Women of the Moon is one of the best known examples. Continue reading
(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.
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
(6/10) In a nutshell: This Hugo-nominated 1953 film by William Cameron Menzies is delightfully whimsy and disturbingly surreal, balancing between pure camp and serious psychological questions about adolescence. In a dreamlike reality (or a realistic dream) 10-year old David’s parents and friends are body-snatched by Martians who have landed in his backyard. It’s a race to see if David and his confidantes can blow up the UFO before the aliens have infiltrated the whole town.
Invaders from Mars (1953). Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written by Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle, Arthur Gardner. Starring: Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Jimmy Hunt, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brook, Morris Ankrum. Produced by Edward L. Alperson for Edward L. Alperson Productions. Tomatometer: 82 %. IMDb score: 6.5
Publicity poster for Invaders from Mars, Luz Potter as “Martian Intelligence”.
1953 was the year when the floodgates finally opened for what we would call ”fifties camp” in science fiction – only three films into the year, I have already reviewed Robot Monster, and now we get to another cult classic: Invaders from Mars. While the former is an entity in and of itself, the latter also has some claim to uniqueness: it was the first alien film in colour. Rushed into theatres in April to beat the premiere of George Pal’s Magnum Opus The War of the Worlds (review), the movie is one of the more bizarre, and beloved, entries in fifties science fiction canon. Continue reading
(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.
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
(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.
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
(4/10) In a nutshell: The first actual hollow Earth film made in Hollywood, this 1951 cheapo produced by visual effects wizards Jack Rabin and Irving Block is almost a good picture, but stumbles in basically all departments. Pretentious, illogical, naive, chauvinistic, shakily directed and badly acted, but it does move along at a decent pace, is filmed in stunning cave locations and has occasional glimpses of profundity and brilliance. Loosely based on Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Unknown World (1951). Directed by Terry O. Morse. Written by Millard Kaufman. Inspired (uncredited) by A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Starring: Bruce Kellogg, Marilyn Nash, Victor Killian, Otto Waldis. Produced by Jack Rabin & Irving Block for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 3.9
Some guy (seriously, I can’t tell the apart!), Marilyn Nash and Bruce Kellogg in Unknown World.
Released two years earlier, Unknown World might have become a minor cult classic, so novel was its idea in Hollywood at the time. But released in late 1951, the movie faced such stiff opposition from other science fiction films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still (review), Superman and the Mole-Men (review), When Worlds Collide (review) and Flight to Mars (review), that it was a bit overlooked. And unfortunately it hasn’t received the same sort of delayed love as other cult classics by later generations, either. The main reason being that it is neither very good nor campy enough to be loved by the so-bad-it’s-good fans. But for any completist sci-fi fan it is definately a must-watch, since it is the first full-length feature film to tackle the hollow Earth genre. Continue reading
(5/10) In a nutshell: Poverty Row studio Monogram jumped the bandwagon on space films in 1951 with this colour movie filmed in five days. The design and effects are not bad for a film of its budget, although much of it is scraped together from found objects, but all suspense evaporates as the space crew settles on Mars and the movie settles into a boring chamber drama with talking heads.
Flight to Mars (1951). Directed by Lesley Selander. Written bu Arthur Strawn. Starring: Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum, Richard Gaines, Lucille Barkley, Robert Barrat, Trevor Bardette, Tristam Coffin, Music: Marlin Skiles. Cinematography: Harry Neumann. Editing: Richard V. Heermance. Production design: Ted Haworth. Art direction: Dave Milton. Production management: Allen K. Wood. Sound recordist: John K. Kean. Visual effects: Jack Cosgrove, Jack Rabin, Irving Block. Produced by Walter Mirisch for Monogram Pictures. IMDb score: 5.2
Production still and PR poster from Flight to Mars.
1951 was a tremendous year for science fiction films in Hollywood, especially for films concerning space travel and aliens, subgenres that had only found their way into full-length cinema the previous year. In 1950 producer George Pal had tried to depict a scientifically accurate flight to the moon in Destination Moon (review), and Lippert Pictures had jumped on the wagon with a voyage to Mars in Rocketship X-M (review). In the first two thirds of 1951 spacemen came to Earth, first in The Man from Planet X (review), then in The Thing from Another World (review) and later in The Day the Earth Stood Still (review). Continue reading
(6/10) In a nutshell: Director Edgar G. Ulmer turns this low-budget movie about an alien visitor to a small village into a visually atmospheric, retro-tinged, intelligent expressionist moral tale. Hollywood brings the first alien invasion film to the big screen with a borrowed castle set and lots of mist and obvious matte paintings. Good acting from sci-fi stalwarts Robert Clarke and William Schallert, but unfortunately the low budget, six-day shooting schedule, a mediocre script and expositional dialogue hamper the end product.
The Man from Planet X (1951). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, Written by Audrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. Starring: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, William Schallert, Roy Engel, Pat Goldin, Tom Daly, Harold Gould. Produced by Audrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen for Mid Century Films. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 5.7
Margaret Field and Pat Goldin meet up by the space pod.
The Man from Planet X is to 1951 what Rocketship X-M (review) was to 1950 – the low-budget quickie that beat the big budget innovators to the finish line. In 1950 George Pal’s costly space adventure Destination Moon (review) was supposed to be the first serious American space film, but Kurt Neumann took advantage of the film’s lengthy production period and massive marketing, and slapped together the surprisingly good Rocketship X-M in 18 days and beat the bigger brother to cinemas by a month. At the end of 1950 The Day the Earth Stood Still (review) was in pre-production, and the producers of The Thing from Another World were all ready to start filming, but were waiting for the much needed snow to fall. Sensing that alien invasions were going to be all the rage in 1951, the producer/writer duo of Jack Pollexfen and Audrey Wisberg quickly cobbled together the production company Mid Century Productions, whipped up a script and hired cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, who shot The Man from Planet X in six days, which was released in late April 1951, a month before The Thing from Another World and nearly half a year prior to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Continue reading
(6/10) In a nutshell: First serious American motion picture to go where no man has gone before. This 1950 Poverty Row movie was rushed into production to beat the lavish Destination Moon to cinemas and take advantage of the media buzz surrounding it. However, in some regards the cheap ripoff actually surpasses the ”original”, thanks to an Oscar-winning screenwriter, one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematographers, good acting and a movie with a good deal of heart and soul.
Rocketship X-M (1950). Directed by Kurt Neumann. Written by Dalton Trumbo, Kurt Neumann, Orville H. Hampton. Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr, Hugh O’Brian, Morris Ankrum, Judd Holdren, Barry Norton. Produced by Kurt Neumann, Murray Lerner for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 4.9
Osa Massen, John Emery, Hugh O’Brian and Lloyd Bridges in Rocketship X-M.
After the abysmal sci-fi decade that was the forties, fans of the genre finally got to look forward to well-made, original, lavish, high-quality – actual – science fiction films. The spark that ignited the explosion of A-list science fiction films about space travel in the early eighties was a costly gamble of 600 000 dollars, in lavish colour, co-written by author Robert A. Heinlein, that won an Oscar for special effects and was nominated for another for art direction – the first American moon landing film that strived for scientific accuracy. Except that was not this movie. That movie was George Pal’s Destination Moon (review). This film is the low-budget, black-and-white quickie produced by Poverty Row studio Lippert Pictures about a rocketship that accidentally end up on Mars instead of the moon and meet the family from The Hills Have Eyes. Continue reading