Rocket scientists of the good ole U. S. of A. are trying to come up with successful rockets but they keep getting splorfed (splorfed is a word I just invented meaning bashed up beyond all recognition -- say, wouldn't that be BUBAR instead?!?!) Anyway. The head cheese in the science brigade is Dr. Donald Stanton (Herbert Marshall looking quite a bit less debonair than he did in Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE) and his assistant Dr. Jane Flynn (Martha Hyer) come up with the bright idea of coating their rockets with whatever it is that meteors are made of. You know, because meteors fly through space all the time and don't get bashed apart by cosmic rays. I know, didn't make much sense to me either but in 1954 I guess it made sense to them. So it is decided to rustle up a list of 12 astronaut candidates and run them through a battery of space flight tests. This will whittle the list down to three astronauts who can then be shot into space in rockets equipped with frontal scoops that will scoop up a meteor and bring it back to earth to be analyzed. And then they can coat their rockets with the meteor stuff. Yes, I know. While RIDERS TO THE STARS tries to be scientifically accurate it doesn't quite manage to be as correct as DESTINATION MOON was. I don't know about you but the more I look at it the more it appears RIDERS TO THE STARS is playing pretty fast and loose with scientific truisms.
One of those computers the size of a city block spits out the names of 12 candidates for astronaut college and among them naturally is Dr. Stanton's own son Dr. Richard Stanton (William Lundigan). Also in the group is well-known 50's monster-fighter Richard Carlson as Jerry Lockwood; not only has Carlson fought everything from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the IT that came from outer space but he also manages to direct this here film! At least he PARTIALLY directs it; apparently schlockmeister Herbert L. Strock helped him without screen credit. Anywho, another of the 12 candidates is James Best (best known for having battled the KILLER SHREWS as well as later becoming Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane for Hazzard County). Unfortunately for us, James Best freaks out when they merely lock the door on the waiting room for a couple hours! I guess he wouldn't do to well sealed in a rocket, huh? So he's gone pretty early. However, Lundigan and Carlson (along with Robert Karnes as Walter Gordon) are the three selected to become astronauts after being subjected to "the rigors of space flight" endurance tests. I gotta tell ya, as low key as RIDERS might be, it's STILL a lot more interesting than that yawnfest called THE RIGHT STUFF!
However, don't get too complacent yet, my friends. So far, things have been rather sedate and technical. That's only until our three astronauts rocket off into space. Then, so abruptly it will take your breath away, the movie itself rockets off into Silly Land! Astronaut Gordon attempts to scoop a meteor that's too large for his rocket and gets atomized! We are then treated to the absolutely OUTRAGEOUS site of Gordon's corpse floating in space looking like the missing link from HORROR EXPRESS with a broken space helmet! Lockwood (who had earlier had his proposal of marriage rejected -- TWICE -- by his main squeeze) promptly goes into barking hysterics and starts ripping off his helmet, bumping into random control switches while thrashing about in zero G repeating his name over and over and over. This is made even more comical because "Lockwood" endlessly repeated sounds like Carlson is saying "knock wood" -- and I don't think that's gonna help you, buddy. Lockwood is even floating upside down weightless in his cabin while bellowing the most unconvincing and embarrassing scream since Darth Vader brought a close to that last STAR WARS movie. The knucklehead astronaut, in his abject terror and cowardice, bumps some switches which send him rocketing off (in the silliest model effect you've ever seen) into distant space.
Now, I know this is all pretty hard to top. And the movie doesn't. Lundigren naturally scoops up a meteor and, with quite a bit of discomfort, makes it back to earth. The scientists take a gander at the meteor and decide it's made of diamonds. If that's true, why the hell aren't we rushing up there right now with a bunch of scoops?!?!? We'd make quite a haul! But does all this really matter? The payoff of all this silliness -- after about an hour of the most serious and sedate goings-on -- makes it all worthwhile.