I picked this up via a charity shop, and so a weekend of watching ‘classics’ was on the cards.
Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
An escaped lunatic kidnaps various people in a private plane, which crash lands on an unscalable mesa in the Mexican desert, where a mad scientist has a research facility and is crossing human and tarantula DNA to breed dwarf men and ferocious, Amazonian females. Given such a plot summation, it’s surprising that you don’t find the name Ed Wood beside the credit for director. With his engagingly amiable brand of sociopathy, Harmon Stevens as the mad Masterson is the best thing about this, unless you have a fetish for statuesque women with spider powers. Other than that, the whole thing is just ludicrous, with enough plot holes to serve as a colander and science that must have seemed iffy even by the standards of the 1950s. And until I read the cast list on imdb, I’d assumed Jackie Coogan was Tarantella, as the cover on my DVD certainly gives that impression. Oops!
Missile to the Moon (1958)
Another ‘mad’ scientist and another tribe of lost women, only this time around he’s an alien and they are on the Moon. Genius inventor Dirk builds his own private rocket and, before the government can step in and take over, launches it for the Moon, with a crew consisting of two escaped convicts, his fellow scientist Dayton and fiancée June. Dirk dies en route, and on arrival the humans find that not only does the Moon have pockets of oxygen but it’s populated by former Miss World contestants and there are piles of diamonds waiting to be picked up. Dirk was really an alien, sent to Earth to gauge its suitability for habitation by the ladies when the Moon’s oxygen runs out. There are various perils to be negotiated, including rock monsters, the ‘damned beast’ and the psychically enhanced Alpha (alpha-female – geddit?) who has her mind set on marrying Dayton, before our heroes can escape in their rocket ship. Well, yes, this also is incredibly silly, but with slightly better standards of acting, plotting and special effects than the Mesa (emphasis on slightly – the plot is still sieve like and the values espoused are very 1950s). I won’t go so far as to say that I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t completely risible.
Earth vs The Flying Saucers (1956)
Long story short, we kicked alien arse. Okay, I’m a bit concerned that we opened fire on them without provocation, but… Meh! They’re aliens. It wasn’t like they weren’t asking for it. A fleet of flying saucers prepares to invade the Earth, and it’s up to maverick scientist Russell Marvin to invent a weapon that will defeat them, which he succeeds in doing in the nick of time, after an assortment of alarums and excursions to show how advanced and morally deficient the aliens are, and that everything is hopeless. Mind you, I’m not quite sure what happened to the rest of the world, who didn’t have the benefit of American technological knowhow, and for much of the time I wasn’t too thrilled with Prof Marvin, who seems to think he can do whatever he likes, and sod anyone else (the fact that he’s right is a side issue). This was inarguably the best of the four films I watched over the course of the weekend, in part due to a Curt Siodmak screenplay and Ray Harryhausen effects, including creepy aliens and convincing hardware, that stopped it descending into tedium and incredulity. Another fun thing was seeing all the famous landscapes come crashing down in the battle for Washington. I also liked the feisty female lead Joan Taylor, who didn’t have to be saved the once. And she flirted with her husband. Women did stuff like that back in the 1950s? Who’d have thought it? I was alive back then and nobody ever flirted with me. Mind you, I was only two when this film came out (but probably more appealing to women than I am now).
Planet Outlaws (1953)
I used to love the Buck Rogers TV series starring Gil Gerard, and this was a forerunner. It’s a feature cobbled together from the weekly series starring Buster Crabbe they used to run in cinemas back before TV made such things redundant, and frankly I think they missed some parts, as there are serious continuity gaps. Buck and Buddy crash their dirigible back in 1938 and are frozen, to be revived in the world of the 25th century, where they instantly grasp the technology and become leading figures in the Hidden City’s fight against the tyranny of Killer Kane (rather like having Guy Fawkes brought forward into our present day to pilot a Harrier in a bombing run against Dave and his cronies). Apparently Kane is the fault of people in the 20th century, who failed to stamp out racketeering and so laid the foundation stone for his despotism (an observation by Scientist General Dr Huer that I found curiously prescient – just replace ‘racketeers’ with ‘financial speculators’, or ‘greedy arseholes who don’t give a shit about anyone else as long as their snouts are in the trough’ if that terminology works better forya - here endeth Pete’s sermon for today). The main thrust of the story is to do with the people of the Hidden City forging an alliance with the men of Saturn, whose head honcho looks strangely like Vinnie Price, so that together they can defeat the evil Kane, albeit Buck doesn’t shoot the Killer when he has the chance, and the minute they are victorious the good guys resort to the brain buckets they so fervently opposed the use of by their nemesis – poetic justice trumps decency every weekday and twice on a Sunday. Again, this was completely daft, but at the same time all rather quaint and enjoyable. I miss the 25th century reality in which spaceships could jig through the air like erect cocks spewing sparks from their rear ends. Give me back my Gernsback Continuum. And kudos also for a strong, competent, not requiring rescue female lead in Lt Wilma Deering, albeit a bit too prone to defer to the less experienced Buck (but its lurve at first sight). However Constance Moore didn’t bear comparison with the slinky Erin Grey portrayal of the character in the TV series – all my memories are rushing back (wowser! – there really was a time when I found women wrapped in tinfoil attractive).