1955

The Back of Beyond (1955, Arthur Ripley)

The Back of Beyond has perfectly good production values–it takes place in the West Indies, at a British protectorate island (it’s a Maugham adaptation, where else would it take place)–but director Ripley doesn’t have much going for him.

It’s a play on TV, sure, but he doesn’t know when to use his close-ups and when not to use them. He’s got a fine lead in Alexis Smith as an unfaithful wife (cavorting with her husband’s assistant) and George Macready is great as the husband. Even though Ripley’s direction lacks subtlety, the strange relationship between the couple comes through in the performances.

And Smith does get one rather good monologue towards the end.

Once it becomes clear nothing interesting is going to happen in Beyond, it becomes tiresome. There are all sorts of innuendoes no one ever delivers; Ripley’s not an imaginative director. His actors are good though.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Ripley; teleplay by Frederick Brady, based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Samuel E. Beetley; produced by Warren Lewis.

Starring Alexis Smith (Violet Saffrey), George Macready (Roger Saffrey), Robin Hughes (Tom Clark), John Hamilton (Fraser), Leonard Mudie (Gannon) and Victor Sen Yung (Peng).


The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, Val Guest)

“No character development, please, we’re British.”

There’s nothing to recommend The Quatermass Xperiment. Walter J. Harvey’s black and white photography is fantastic, but it can’t recommend the film. Xperiment is so stupid, it appears screenwriters Richard H. Landau and director Guest don’t even know the definition of experiment.

The titular Quatermass is Brian Donlevy, who’s one of the dumbest scientists in film history. More than being a dumb scientist, he’s an incompetent one. Donlevy just stands around and spouts exposition; there’s no indication he actually knows anything. His lackeys, David King-Wood and some other guy who doesn’t even get a credit, do all the work.

Donlevy’s awful. But he’s not worse than Margia Dean, whose incompetence infects the first half of the picture.

About the only good regular performance is Jack Warner. He brings some humor to his role of police inspector.

The second half of Xperiment is a monster on the loose picture, which means less sustained Donlevy (and no Dean). It helps somewhat, but Guest’s direction is pretty lame and the script’s still inept so the film isn’t better… just less annoyingly bad.

As the monster in question, Richard Wordsworth does all right. Guest gives him some Karloff (from Frankenstein most obviously) moments and Wordsworth, silently and in what must have been oozy makeup, is good.

James Needs’s editing deserves a special callout. Needs is an atrocious editor; every cut seems to jump. He actually makes Guest worse.

I can’t resist… the Xperiment is an abject failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Val Guest; screenplay by Richard H. Landau and Guest, based on a teleplay by Nigel Kneale; director of photography, Walter J. Harvey; edited by James Needs; music by James Bernard; produced by Anthony Hinds and Robert L. Lippert; released by Exclusive Films.

Starring Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police sergeant questioning Rosie) and Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).


Tarantula (1955, Jack Arnold)

Science may make monsters, but the morale of the story–according to Tarantula anyway–is the Air Force will always be there to bomb such monsters back to the Stone Age.

The problem with Tarantula is fairly simple… it’s not a movie about a giant tarantula. Oh, it might have room for one, but to make the finale all about this giant tarantula is a mistake. While the special effects are good, this ending distracts from all the better things about the film.

As for the better things–first and foremost is the relationship between small town doctor John Agar and sheriff Nestor Paiva. It’s implied the characters are friendly, but their scenes together reveal a very complicated relationship.

But there’s also the romance between Agar and Mara Corday. It’s quiet and gradual and it’s too bad Arnold didn’t have more courting scenes.

The acting in the film is all strong. Agar’s more a likable actor than a good one, but he’s still got some great deliveries. Corday’s surprisingly strong, Paiva is outstanding. Ross Elliot and Hank Patterson do well in small roles.

The acting can almost carry the film. Until the half way mark, there’s no giant tarantula, just Agar and Corday courting. But all of the action happens in the last twenty minutes. The film’s rushed, skipping over important details to finish in a timely manner.

Tarantula is good fifties science fiction. Arnold’s confident direction and the fine performances make up for the misfired ending (and bad music).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley, based on a story by Arnold and Fresco; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by William Morgan; music by Herman Stein; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Dr. Matt Hastings), Mara Corday (Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton), Leo G. Carroll (Prof. Gerald Deemer), Nestor Paiva (Sheriff Jack Andrews), Ross Elliott (Joe Burch), Edwin Rand (Lt. John Nolan), Raymond Bailey (Townsend), Hank Patterson (Josh), Bert Holland (Barney Russell) and Steve Darrell (Andy Andersen).


Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges)

My reaction to Bad Day at Black Rock is a guarded one. It runs eighty-one minutes and is frequently long when it should be short and short when it should be long. The conclusion, for instance, is something of a misfire. Ironically, after abandoning him for fifteen minutes near the beginning, the film sticks with Spencer Tracy. So the audience misses characters going through huge (and somewhat unlikely) changes.

It’s a strange problem; even though the film has a great supporting cast, it doesn’t have any other principles besides Tracy. Characters become more and less important as the running time progresses. For example, Robert Ryan’s got a lot to do for the first twenty minutes or so, but once his character is clearly defined, he fades into the background a little.

Some of that fading might be Sturges’s fault. While his Cinemascope composition is fantastic–he has this one scene with six people standing around talking and it’s just startling, the figures, dressed brightly even, contrasting the blue, cloudy sky–it’s all very wide. There are almost no close-ups in the film or even medium shots. Sturges is using all of that wide frame and people can get lost.

But the script has its own problems. Mainly Tracy’s character–he keeps changing, as the script keeps unveiling backstory revelations–and with a longer running time, it might work. The film really just needs more time, not just for Tracy, but to make the longish parts seem less plodding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Millard Kaufman, adaptation by Don McGuire, based on a story by Howard Breslin; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Newell P. Kimlin; music by André Previn; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings) and Walter Sande (Sam).


Killer’s Kiss (1955, Stanley Kubrick)

The chase scene in Killer’s Kiss, which occupies almost the entire third act, is a marvel. From the moment Jamie Smith jumps out the window and hits the pavement, the film leaps beyond the potential Kubrick has instilled it with until that point. Before, there’s a lot of great low budget filmmaking, there’s a lot of great edits (I love the way Kubrick sets the viewer up to expect a cut, then holds off for a second–at least one time, he does it by cutting on a sudden noise, then repeating the noise, but not the edit). It’s a beautifully made film. The way Kubrick substitutes environment sound and music for conversation–again filming without sound–it’s an abstract viewing experience.

Kubrick’s able to create a film without much of a script. The writing’s fine, some of the conversations interesting; it’s not about the plot though. Smith’s silent voyeurism–in his apartment full of family pictures, Kubrick introduces a character of almost limitless potential depth. It’s a beautiful move, one mirrored a little by Frank Silvera’s dialogue defining him quickly, but Smith gets that scene riding the subway, before reading the letter from his uncle, and the character’s whole life becomes immediately clear. It isn’t a hard life to discern. Kubrick keeps Killer’s Kiss very, very simple. The story can’t distract.

There’s also–same idea, different execution–the ballet sequence as Irene Kane explains her situation to Smith. Instead of using a flashback or just expository dialogue, Kubrick not only gives the viewer the information, he also produces a whole character–the ballet dancer is, presumably, Kane’s sister. The narration of the dance makes the dancer more sympathetic than Kane by the end. It’s beautiful execution and a great narrative shortcut. It deepens Kane while making space the film didn’t indicate it had for the sister.

Much like the boxing match, the ballet is one of Killer’s Kiss‘s memorable sequences. The end in the mannequin factory, of course, is also a memorable sequence… but these scenes aren’t required for the story to work. They’re Kubrick showing off. The boxing match is maybe the least narratively important, but it’s during the mannequin sequence where–with his cuts to the decapitated heads and hanging hands–Kubrick’s putting his talent on display.

As for the end, which I started with and promptly lost….

Kubrick shoots with an unbelievable deep focus. The endless, empty streets, a visual reference to Smith’s earlier dream, quiet the film. It should be loud, but there’s nothing around to make a sound except Smith’s running feet. The chase across the roof is seeing the bridge in the background or watching Smith run the perimeter of the frame. By the time Smith gets into the mannequin factory, it doesn’t seem like Kubrick could top it. Of course he does, almost immediately, with Smith and Frank Silvera’s intense fight scene. Killer’s Kiss excels.

So it’s almost inevitable–after framing a narrative with awkward, present tense narration–Kubrick can’t close it right. Killer’s Kiss is one of his most traditional plots and the end confirms it. It either ends too soon or goes on too long, depending on the viewer’s mood. But it’s an astoundingly well made film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Edited, photographed, written and directed by Stanley Kubrick; music by Gerald Fried; produced by Morris Bousel and Kubrick; released by United Artists.

Starring Frank Silvera (Vincent Rapallo), Jamie Smith (Davey Gordon), Irene Kane (Gloria Price), Jerry Jarrett (Albert) and Ruth Sobotka (the ballerina).


The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, Otto Preminger)

There are a few problems with The Man with the Golden Arm. It’s hard to think of the film actually having any defects, since it’s such a brilliantly made motion picture. It was one of the first Preminger films I saw and was I ever surprised when they all weren’t so beautifully put together. The film’s shot on this magnificent set–it’s a block and a quarter maybe (shades of Eyes Wide Shut in terms of the control Preminger could get from it)–and Preminger’s camera floats around it; it’s impossible to think the camera’s on a pre-laid track. Then there’s the music–Elmer Bernstein’s score is always fantastic, always right on, whether he’s dealing with addiction, human regard or suspense. Or the script–there’s amazing dialogue throughout the entire film.

I think this viewing must have been my third of the film and, again, I had the sensation at the open–it had to be better than I remembered, just look at that opening shot. But as the running time passes, the problems become clear. It’s unbelievable Frank Sinatra’s character would marry Eleanor Parker’s because he crippled her in a car accident. It’s not unbelievable he would have been torn up about it, but the film directly says he only married her because he felt responsible. The character doesn’t play that way–not with him becoming a heroin addict and flushing everything but that responsibility away. It could play–he’s escaping into the heroin–but the script doesn’t set it up. It’s almost implied in some dialogue (the film opens after Sinatra’s clean following six months of rehab); it’s not enough.

Second big problem–Kim Novak’s a together young woman who can’t find a better job than being a friendly, paid patron at a burlesque parlor. Or whatever the women who have drinks with and smile at the men are called. There’s got to be a word for it. It simply does not work. She’s too obviously a function, too obviously a cog in the eventual dramatic wheel. It’s possible her character in the source novel had a less censor-friendly profession, but it doesn’t work in the film. She’s practically a saint (she only completes one miracle in the film).

The acting is fantastic–Parker’s amazing as the manipulating, wheelchair-bound wife. Novak’s great. Darren McGavin and Robert Strauss are excellent villains. McGavin would give the film’s most astounding performance–of pure, friendly evil–if it weren’t for Sinatra. Everything Sinatra does in the film, down to chewing on a cheese sandwich, is magnificent. Arnold Stang makes a great sidekick for him too.

The biggest problem with The Man with the Golden Arm is its cleanliness. It’s a long film–the set makes it feel like a stage play, as do the lengthy conversations; time passes sort of just passes, a day here, a week there. It invites the viewer to think about what Sinatra’s doing during these stretches, but then it goes and makes it impossible (he and Parker can’t have a single calm moment together). There’s so much discussion about upcoming, scheduled events, it’s hard to remember they haven’t already happened. Preminger needed to apply some of his directorial discipline on the script. By the time it reaches the inevitable–from the third or fourth scene–conclusion, it’s hard to remember the film isn’t already over.

But Sinatra’s simply amazing. I mean, it’s got a lot of other great acting–Parker, Novak, and McGavin–but it’s inconceivable Sinatra’s not better regarded for his acting skills.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Walter Newman and Lewis Meltzer, based on the novel by Nelson Algren; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Joseph C. Wright; released by United Artists.

Starring Frank Sinatra (Frankie Machine), Eleanor Parker (Zosch Machine), Kim Novak (Molly), Arnold Stang (Sparrow), Darren McGavin (Louie), Robert Strauss (Schwiefka), John Conte (Drunky), Doro Merande (Vi), George E. Stone (Sam Markette), George Mathews (Williams), Leonid Kinskey (Dominiwski) and Emile Meyer (Detective Bednar).


Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray)

For a film with pioneering use of widescreen composition–the shot with the cars moving past Natalie Wood–and one of the better film performances (James Dean), Rebel Without a Cause is a curious failure. It’s loaded with content–there’s the stuff with Dean and his parents, the stuff with Wood and her father, the gang, Sal Mineo, the police, the stuff with Dean and Wood, Dean and Mineo, Mineo and his home life. It goes on and on until it finally gets to the ludicrous conclusion. The film’s entirely nuance-free. It’s probably the finest example of “Technicolor filmmaking.” Even if it was shot in Warner Color.

There are countless problems with the film’s details–like Corey Allen’s affable gang leader, Wood going from amoral sociopath (cheering on the bullies, something she never shows any regret for–her actions towards Dean, yes, but not the ones she supported). Then there’s the film’s almost unimaginable lack of subtext. There’s a frequent and rather misogynistic conflict between Dean’s parents, Jim Backus and Ann Doran. Dean’s constantly suggesting Backus needs to assert himself more and it leads to Backus sitting on the couch in a flowered apron trying to defend him. It’s like the film’s parodying itself (but it is not).

For every second he’s on screen–which is thankfully most of them–James Dean commands the film in a perfect performance. He’s in the first shot and from there on in, I don’t think there’s a single scene where Dean doesn’t do something amazing with his performance. The script occasionally gives him great material–the early scene with Edward Platt, some of the scenes with parents Backus and Doran (Backus’s browbeaten husband gets to be a bit much very quickly), and most of the scenes with him and Wood. Wood’s got a story arc all her own–the film drops it after a while, which is a bad move; the fast forward romance between her and Dean is well-acted by both, but it comes off false. The film opens with Dean, Wood and Mineo at the police station, all three with some definite problems–as the story progresses, it forgets about Dean and Wood’s problems and concentrates solely on Mineo’s, given their Cinemascope potential. The conclusion for Dean and Wood comes off goofy, but Rebel‘s been goofy for almost an hour and a half so it’s not exactly a surprise, but it is a disappointment….

The film has two conceptual failings–first, it’s a teen gang movie where we’re supposed to believe Allen’s a scary tough guy (not to mention gang fights happen at scenic spots, cheered on by a dozen middle class kids); second, it’s a continual present action. The film takes place over a day and a half. There’s the whirlwind friendship between Dean and Mineo, the whirlwind romance between Dean and Wood–both of those can get a pass (it’s a movie, after all), but the film forgets these people have been up for thirty hours. Stern’s script, so strong in the first act, kills off a kid in front of twenty other kids, none of whom freak out–no crying, not even from the kid’s girlfriend. It’s an abject oversight–Rebel Without a Cause would have been a much better film if it’d taken responsibility for that plot development and dealt with it, instead of ignoring it for the Mineo emphasis.

The story problems do bring down the film, but they can’t really vandalize Dean’s performance (or Wood’s to some degree). Like I said before, Dean’s enthralling. But Ray doesn’t keep him on screen enough, talking enough, to camouflage the plot deficiencies (the frequent, poor scenes with the teen gang on the loose jar). But Ray does a great job directing Rebel Without a Cause and that achievement–significant as it may be–doesn’t overcome the writing. Maybe because the film came from Ray’s story, so he’s embracing all the shortcomings.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Ray; screenplay by Stewart Stern, based on an adaptation by Irving Shulman of a story by Ray; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by William H. Ziegler; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Malcolm C. Bert; produced by David Weisbart; released by Warner Bros.

Starring James Dean (Jim Stark), Natalie Wood (Judy), Sal Mineo (Plato), Jim Backus (Frank Stark), Ann Doran (Mrs. Carol Stark), Corey Allen (Buzz Gunderson), William Hopper (Judy’s Father), Rochelle Hudson (Judy’s Mother), Dennis Hopper (Goon), Edward Platt (Ray Fremick), Steffi Sidney (Mil), Marietta Canty (Crawford family maid) and Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Stark, Jim’s grandmother).


The Cobweb (1955, Vincente Minnelli)

A more appropriate title might be The Trouble with the Drapes, but even with the misleading moniker, The Cobweb is a good Cinemascope drama. Cinemascope dramas went out some time in the mid-1960s. Vincente Minnelli is great at them. In The Cobweb, he turns a little story (I can’t believe it’s from a novel–it must have had a lot more on the characters, since the present action is incredibly limited) into a big movie. Richard Widmark doesn’t hurt. Even as a caring psychiatrist, Widmark amplifies the film. Nothing he does–except for one scene, his performance is understated–but something about his presence. His and Lauren Bacall’s. They signal big Cinemascope drama. So does Leonard Rosenman’s score. Rosenman brings the music up for all the characters’ emotions and, since some of the characters do a lot solo, there’s quite a bit of the music. Only once does it get a little too much, when Gloria Grahame (as Widmark’s wife; Bacall’s the nurse he likes too much) is freaking out. Oddly, the dialogue plays against the omnipresent music. The Cobweb has very delicate–and very good–dialogue. It’s one of the reasons the film succeeds: good dialogue performed by good actors makes even the most banal story involving. Of course, it doesn’t hurt The Cobweb pulls itself out from its third act spiral.

There’s not much going on in the film–it really is all about the fallout of buying new drapes for a psychiatric clinic–and it’s the characters keeping it moving. At the end, there needs to be a resolution and so–I assume it’s from the book, but it’s funny enough it might be a filmic innovation–things get resolved. Cinemascope dramas always resolve nicely at the end, part of the genre requirements. But The Cobweb‘s resolution is too easy. It’s too abbreviated. But at the last moment, in a very nicely timed scene, it pulls off a great close.

John Houseman produced the film, which might account for Mercury Theatre member Paul Stewart’s too small role, and maybe Houseman’s involvement accounts for some of the gentleness in the picture. The scenes with Widmark and his son playing chess or talking are some of the film’s most effective, because they’re–for the majority of the running time–the only real insight we get in to Widmark’s feelings. The rest of the time, until he and Bacall get inappropriate, he’s too busy worrying about his patients. Grahame’s really good in a difficult, unlikable role, and managing to keep the character sympathetic by the end of the film is a real achievement on Grahame’s part. Bacall’s good tog, but her character gets reduced into an “other woman” role (but she has a great exit). Other exceptional performances (they’re all good) are Charles Boyer and Lillian Gish. Boyer has a slightly more difficult role, but Gish is more impressive, maybe just because I’m unfamiliar with her work.

There’s a little bit too much going on in The Cobweb. There’s easily material for three films in here–Widmark and Grahame, Bacall’s character needs a whole picture, and John Kerr and Susan Strasberg’s mental patient romance deserves one too (Kerr’s real impressive and it’s he and Grahame who get the film off to its good start). It’s an imperfect Cinemascope drama, though a great example of one, but still a satisfying experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by John Paxton, from a novel by William Gibson; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by John Houseman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Richard Widmark (Dr. McIver), Lauren Bacall (Meg Rinehart), Gloria Grahame (Karen McIver), Charles Boyer (Dr. Devanal), Lillian Gish (Victoria Inch), John Kerr (Steven Holte), Susan Strasberg (Sue Brett), Oscar Levant (Mr. Capp), Tommy Rettig (Mark), Paul Stewart (Dr. Wolff), Jarma Lewis (Lois Demuth), Adele Jergens (Miss Cobb), Edgar Stehli (Mr. Holcomb), Bert Freed (Ave Irwin) and Fay Wray (Edna Devanal).


Many Rivers to Cross (1955, Roy Rowland)

If there’s some lost Frontier genre–not a Western, because there aren’t horses or cowboy hats–but a Frontier genre, with trappers and woods and… I don’t know, some other stuff, Many Rivers to Cross is probably not the ideal example of its potential. I realize now, mentioning it, Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans is probably the ideal. Regardless, Many Rivers to Cross is unfortunately not the ideal of much anything. Any film co-starring Alan Hale Jr. and Russell Johnson long before “Gilligan’s Island” ought to offer some comedic value along absurd lines, but this one doesn’t. Many Rivers to Cross is a comedy, however. It’s just not a funny one. Everything in the film–with the exception of a dying baby–is for a laugh. Given the story, with Eleanor Parker’s frontier-woman (the film is dedicated the frontier-women no less) chasing Robert Taylor’s bachelor trapper, it’s a lot like a Road Runner cartoon–except one with really offensive portrayals of American Indians.

The Indian thing bugged me a little bit because it was played so much for laughs. Hollywood had known since, what, 1939, playing Indians as villains was lame and Many Rivers is from 1955. It was so lame, the first mohawked Indian I saw, I thought it was all a joke, like Taylor had this Indian running cons with him or something. I was rather disappointed it turned out to be otherwise; not just because it would have been less offensive, but because it might have been interesting.

The movie’s short–ninety-five or so–and it’s split evenly in two parts. One part has Victor McLaglen as Parker’s father, the other part has Taylor mostly alone (though James Arness shows up for a bit). Both McLaglen and Arness are good. Both Parker and Taylor are good. The film’s just not any good. Without the Indian element, I’d call it inoffensive fare (and I doubt it was intended to be anything more). A programmer, actually–yep, it’s a programmer.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Rowland; screenplay by Harry Brown and Guy Trosper, from a story by Steve Frazee; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Ben Lewis; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Bushrod Gentry), Eleanor Parker (Mary Stuart Cherne), Victor McLaglen (Cadmus Cherne), Jeff Richards (Fremont Cherne), Russ Tamblyn (Shields Cherne), James Arness (Esau Hamilton), Alan Hale Jr. (Luke Radford), John Hudson (Hugh Cherne), Sig Ruman (Spectacle Man) and Russell Johnson (Banks Cherne).


Conquest of Space (1955, Byron Haskin)

I rented Conquest of Space because–according to IMDb, Kubrick credited it as a 2001 influence. There are a handful of visual elements I noticed, one as obvious as the rotating space station, one I might be making up (repairing of the antenna tower). Besides looking for these visuals, there’s not much else to engage with. Conquest of Space is ludicrously bad for most of the film. Until William Hopper showed up, there was no one in the cast I recognized. While director Byron Haskin has done good work, he doesn’t have a good way of placing people amid Conquest’s technological surroundings. The sets seem confining, but the shots are wide open. There a number of terrible, distracting edits in the film, all to and from close-up, and I don’t know if it’s Haskin’s fault for not shooting right or the editor’s fault for not being any good.

The writing, however, eventually makes Conquest mildly interesting, at least as a historical document, which is what my greatest hopes were for it once the terrible narration began after the Paramount logo. It’s pre-Space Age, so there’s the space station before there’s a moon landing. There’s not even a moon landing, because they go straight to Mars. The film actually has some sophisticated ideas working–it doesn’t do much with them of any interest. For example, if God makes a tree and Mars is treeless, God stops at Earth while man continues on. I’ve actually never heard it laid out as such and it gives the feeling Conquest wasn’t a completely doomed idea. When the astronauts are stranded on Mars, played right, it could have been good.

The special effects, which must have been cutting edge back in 1955, aren’t good. There’s one good shot of the spaceship approaching Mars, otherwise, the model work is too two dimensional and the matte work, marrying the actors to the models, is too. No perspective in these moments. Some of the miniature work is nice though, but I was expecting more from the special effects. They just added to the film’s rushed feeling… but if it weren’t for the writing, directing, and acting, Conquest of Space might be all right.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Byron Haskin; screenplay by James O’Hanlon, based on a book by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley, adaptation by Philip Yordan, Barre Lyndon and George Worthington Yates; director of photography, Lionel London; edited by Everett Douglas; music by Van Cleave; produced by George Pal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Walter Brooke (Samuel Merritt), Eric Fleming (Barney Merritt), Mickey Shaughnessy (Mahoney), Phil Foster (Siegle), Benson Fong (Imoto) and William Hopper (Fenton).


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