Monday, August 11, 2008

WORLD WITHOUT END / SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956) is the exclusive double feature DVD available (for the time being) only at Best Buy. Here we have two 50's science fiction movies which are probably as little known as RIDERS TO THE STARS or THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE; both of which I have already inflicted on my erstwhile readers. Hey, what is this blog becoming??? Skiffy Films???? Well, of course, I had to pick this dvd up as well. Who could resist?!? Though both films are from the same year, the former is an American production while the latter is British through and through. British except however for the strange inclusion of the American pronunciation of the word "schedule" which confused me a little coming from British actors.
WORLD WITHOUT END was directed by Edward Bernds: not only the maker of similar 50's fave QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and countless Three Stooges and Blondie movies, but also the sainted director of the greatest film ever made: HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS! So, we've GOTTA have a winner here, right? Well, it's certainly dopey enough. The cast includes heavyweight science fiction stalwarts Hugh Marlowe (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) and Rod Taylor (yes, THAT Rod Taylor . . . star of THE BIRDS and THE TIME MACHINE and current member of the alt.Magnificent 7!). Only this time, Rod is still sporting an odd accent that alternates between his native Australian and something of a cod-English accent. Ole Rod was much more successful with his American accent than his English one. And ole Hugh Marlowe is as stiff as ever -- which may make him popular with the nubile space chicks he encounters but for we audience members he still comes across as Richard Carlson-Lite. Having said that, Hugh is quite adequate in the role he's given to play -- and that is, stodgy Hugh Marlowe type.
But what does the cast have to do? Well, they's a group of 4 astronauts (also including Nelson Leigh and Christopher Dark to round out the quartet) who blast off in their Mickey Mouse rocket to Mars. Not to LAND on Mars, you understand. Just to look at it and then go back home. Well, something happens which causes the aforementioned Mickey Mouse rocket to freak out and speed up to unheard of speeds. The four astrostuds wake up to find themselves on another strange planet. They land on the polar ice caps and trek about 12 miles (!) to warmer, shrub-covered regions. They (but not we the viewer) are shocked to find that they have in fact landed on Earth about 500 years in the future. They are attacked by one-eyed Cyclops cavemen (they call them "mutates") as well as the silliest, dopeyest, cockamaimee giant spider you've ever seen. I mean seriously, it makes the one in CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON look like it was made by WETA. Truly, it looks like a throw pillow shaped like a spider that someone throws on Rod Taylor from behind a cave wall. It's the greatest thing I've ever seen! And Rod Taylor is such an actor that he even manages to convey fear and threat!
Our four astronauts eventually meet the surviving members of the human race who have gone underground in a series of tunnels and consequently have become weak and docile. Any of this sounding familiar?!? It REALLY must have sounded familiar when Rod Taylor starred in THE TIME MACHINE a couple years later! There is also quite a feel of THE MOLE PEOPLE as well; what with the pale fellas living underground. All the males look "bloodless" and elderly while all the women are young and nubile (this movie wasn't directed by a female obviously). The women are quite in the "Kiss? What's kiss?" category but they're not that far behind; they immediately fall for the he-men astronauts from the past (especially after seeing Rod Taylor with his shirt off). But hey, even Hugh Marlowe looks hunky to them! A lot of other stuff happens involving the astronauts trying to get their guns back (yep they tote handguns any cowboy or gangster movie would use instead of ray guns) and trying to start their own camp on the surface. It doesn't really matter. You know what's going to happen anyway. Having said all that, and dopey as it is, I'd say WORLD WITHOUT END still manages to be kinda watchable . . . if you've got nothing else to do.
SATELLITE IN THE SKY surprised me by being slightly better than WORLD WITHOUT END. I said slightly. While the first movie on the dvd double feature was fanciful, this one at least tries to be scientifically factual (a la RIDERS TO THE STARS). Naturally, the film doesn't quite make it. Welsh director Paul Dickson helms this one and the only thing else he's done I know is one episode of THE AVENGERS. The goal of this movie is not even to go to Mars or the Moon but merely to orbit the planet earth. And the British are going to be the ones to do it! Kieron Moore (of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and DR. BLOOD'S COFFIN) is manly commander Michael Haydon who is going to pilot the first orbital rocket into orbit. Along with the crew is Bryan Forbes (yes, THAT Bryan Forbes who would go on to become a noted director) here appearing one year before he would get zapped by alien meteorite pods in QUATERMASS 2. While the orbital flight is supposed to be for scientific purposes, at the last minute it is revealed that the military (from whom most of the budget for the rocket was gotten) are insisting on placing an experimental bomb on board -- the most destructive bomb ever created by man -- in order to blow it up in space and watch the boom. This impels the last minute addition of another crew member Professor Merrity (lupine Donald Wolfit of BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE fame). After the spaceship blasts off, our group discovers that reporter Kim Hamilton (played by Miss Moneypenny herself Lois Maxwell) has stowed away on board the ship Lois Lane-like to get a scoop! She has obviously not given any thought at all to delicate weight ratios that could have been calculated to the smallest gram. A nice touch is having Kieron Moore tell her off for PRECISELY this reason; although he prefaces it all by saying that thankfully the weight restrictions were not that severe on this flight. I guess they weren't because all the coffee and sandwiches Lois Maxwell serves during the flight would've used up a lot of the weight restrictions.
Of course, when it comes time to test the bomb, it becomes magnetically attracted to the ship's hull and sticks fast to the side. AFTER the bomb is primed!!! Well done! This prompts the major crisis of the film which our heroes must overcome and, I have to say, it does come across as rather exciting. Although we ALL know what's gotta happen to get the crew back safely, don't we?!? For those fans of slambang action, be warned that the first half of the film could probably be called "SOAP OPERA IN THE SKY" since it concerns mostly the interpersonal relationships of the astronauts with their wives and girlfriends. If you are not too impatient, this stretch is actually not too bad and helps bring more of a personality and backstory to the astronauts who will soon be launched into space.
Both science fiction movies on this disc are in colour as well as Cinemascope and come from really wonderful looking prints. They really look great. And for all those fans of 50's science fiction, this dvd will probably be worth getting. I'm certainly not sorry I shelled out for it. Although the price of the dvd might seem a little high at first, when you think about getting two movies on one disc each film costs you about 8 bucks -- so if you were to both both separately on bargain dvds that's about what they'd cost you. The direction of both films is competent if unspectacular while the terrific casts go a long way toward carrying the films.


Weaverman said...

Never seen either of these, perhaps (dare I say it? Yes, I will, of course I will!)because YOU ARE EXPLORING THE DEPTHS OF SPACE.

Cerpts said...

Ha! Depths!!!