Sunday, 4 March 2012


Well now, I bought this because of one these films -World Without End (1956) - which I'd seen as a kid in the 50's and have never seen since, though I have brief memories of it and just wanted to see it again. Having Them (1954) and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) in one set was an added bonus. Satellite In The Sky (1956), however was completely new to me and sounded like creaky low-budget crap.

Beast was stop-motion animation giant Ray Harryhausen's first full length movie and for a small studio. Made for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, the producer accepted Warner Bros offer of twice the budget for all the rights and went on to tear his hair out when it proceeded to make millions at the box office. Harryhausen was still learning his craft and had to do a lot on a small budget so what we get is brief glimpses of the monster throughout the movie until it attacks New York in the last 15 minutes. 

Of course it's creaky by today's standards though that is hardly a fair criticism as it couldn't be anything else. What it does have is an honoured place in the history of Science Fiction and monster movies. As does-
The opening sequences of Them are quite eerie with its desert scenes, moaning of the wind, and obscuring wind-blown sand. There's the mute, blank-faced, doll-clutching little girl wandering in from the desert and the contorted body  of the elderly shop-keeping in the basement remains of his store. All this builds well to the first shot of a giant ant looming above our heroine. The pace keeps up well until the ants nest is destroyed and we get a long period while the two escaped queens are searched for before the final climax in the Los Angeles storm drains which doesn't match up to the first part of the film. 

Unlike the rhedosaurus of Beast, the ants are (often large) animated models which inevitably means they tend to be rather slow moving and, this being the 50's, never bite anyone in half with their large powerful pincers. According to the jacket there are supposed to be extras about making the movie but I couldn't find any. A shame as I was interested in how the ants were done.

As I said, I remember actually going to the cinema to watch this one when I was a kid and remember the following things about it: the spaceship going through a timewarp; landing in the snow; attack of a giant caterpillar in a tunnel; attacked by big hairy men; rescued by underground dwelling civilised humans; a happy end of hairy people and undergrounders getting together to live in peace on the surface.

Actually, as it turns out, that's just about pretty much the entire movie. Not bad for something I haven't seen in around 55 years or more, so it obviously made an impression. Now, the differences. It wasn't a caterpillar it was a very fake giant spider thrown at a member of the cast by the movie's crew. The hairy men were mutants with only one eye and other facial disfigurements. Our heroes spent a lot of time talking with the undergrounders (a bunch of wimps) and falling for their feisty women. Then they go outside for a fight with the cyclopses, kill their leader and let the nicer non-cyclopses (the majority) learn to become civilised.

So basically I remembered the good bits.
I wasn't going to watch this one at all until this afternoon, a wet and windy Sunday one with the cats and Susan all sound asleep, when I thought I'd give it a go and was glad I did. Far from the low budget b/w American cheapie I was expecting, I got a widescreen in colour with a decent budget and decent actors British film. Just look at the main cast: leading man Keiron Moore, vivacious Lois Maxwell (before her Miss Moneypenny days), Brian Forbes (before he started directing), Jimmy Hanley, Donald Wolfit, and several others I recognised from tv appearances. It's a very English film of the period which is quite fun for those fond of nostalgia. Needless to say, everyone (as in all the others except World without End) smokes like chimneys.

The plot is simple, the title misleading. It's the first journey into space. The big secret is that it only got the funding so that a super-duper dangerous bomb could be tested in space without endangering the earth. Needless to say things go wrong and they can't get the bomb away from the spaceship (which has become magnetised to it) because the bomb's propulsion system is faulty. And it's not just the engineering that's a pile of crap. The security is worse as Lois Maxwell, whose cranky anti-space flight journalist, sneaks on board and this is at a supposedly secure installation. But it's all good stiff upper lip British entertainment.

Given that, in my time, I considered myself somewhat of an expert on science fiction and science fiction movies, I'm just puzzled as to how I didn't know that this was a British sf film, especially when one of the three scriptwriters was, now long forgotten, British SF writer J T McIntosh.

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