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[April 17, 1962] No Butts! (The film, Journey to the Seventh Planet)

by Gideon Marcus

Those of you deeply in the know are aware that Sid Pink made the Scandinavian answer to Godzilla last year, Reptilicus, and Ib Melchior brought it to the states (where it has had a limited release).  It was, to all accounts, pretty awful. 

The unlikely Danish-American team of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior is back, gracing our drive-ins with the latest American International Pictures extravaganza, Journey to the Seventh Planet.  It is a space exploration flick, as one might guess, and (praising damned faintly) it’s not as bad as it could have been.

The year is 2001, and peace has settled upon our troubled planet.  The United Nations Space Force has dispatched missions as far out as the planet Saturn.  Thus, it is now the turn of Uranus to be probed.  An “international” team of five Northern Europeans is sent out in Explorer Ship #12 with a mission to land on the frozen world.

Once in orbit (and they do a nice job of suggesting that the ship accelerates to the half-way point and decelerates the rest of the way – like a ship should), the crew are put into stasis by a malevolent intelligence based on the planet below.  When they are released, weeks have passed.  The crew, however, are relatively unfazed and proceed with the landing.

The surface of Uranus, at least in the vicinity of the landed vessel, is not at all what they expected.  It is a temperate place with Earth-like forests and a breathable atmosphere.  Very soon, it becomes clear that this is a manufactured setting.  In fact, as the crew think of things they would like to see, they are created out of thin air.  The village the Commander grew up in, complete with his childhood crush, appears before their eyes.

Don’t trust her!

Don’t trust them!

But this paradise is a limited affair – it is encircled by a force field beyond which lies the frozen waste they expected to find.  Exploring this forbidding terrain, the alien projects frightful images of monsters to ward them off.  More than just hallucinations, these projections are as real-seeming as the lovely ladies the crew encountered in the simulated village.

Going eyond the barrier…


Razor-sharp ice crystals.

Uranian vermin

Ultimately, Journey to the Seventh Planet is about fighting fear and temptation to vanquish an implacable foe, one that fights you with your own desires and phobias. 

Don’t trust her!

I told you…

They manage to succeed, but not without casualties of varying kinds.  The film ends on a triumphant though wistful note that I appreciated – it could well have wrapped up with the common “THE END?” scenario.

The monster is made of tripe…

So, what’s right about Journey to the Seventh Planet?  The science is not bad, surprising given it’s a B-movie of AIP provenance.  The producers neatly sidestep the “YOU-ra-nus” vs. “u-RAIN-us” pronunciation conundrum by inventing a new way of describing the planet: “YOU-rah-nus.”  The special effects accompanying the brain-creature’s psychic manifestations, and particularly the stop-motion monster at the film’s midpoint, were nicely done. 

The concept behind the film is a good one.  I found myself genuinely interested in the outcome, and it was nice to see the characters find the strength to overcome obstacles of their own creation.

Well then, what’s wrong with the movie?  It’s about 30% slower-paced than one would hope, for one.  This is not helped by the wooden acting (the dubbers of the Danish actors, who spoke their lines phonetically, were not particularly inspired).  Thus, what could have been a cracking episode of The Twilight Zone ends up being rather dull.

Still, having had a few days to reflect, I can safely say that I enjoyed the flick (not to mention, the popcorn they served at the concession stand was excellent).  2.5 stars.

by Lorelei Marcus

Going to conventions is always a fun experience for a traveler; however it does have its draw backs. Specifically, the many germs that are passed around in the tight space of the dealer halls. These germs can sometimes lead to sickness, and I have contracted a vicious, voice stealing, cold. However, you came to read a review and not hear about my troubles, so I will get on with it. Just expect one somewhat shorter than I usually write.

I pretty much agree with everything my father said about the movie, itself. The acting was very dull, the sets were somewhat interesting, and the effects weren’t half bad. The story itself was much too long, and the ways they decided to fill time were incredibly uncreative. For example, we have many scenes of the spacemen walking around for 5 minutes. However, to draw these scenes out, the men aren’t just walking around, they’re shuffling around slower than a snail! I have certainly seen better science fiction movies.

However, there was one part that I liked very very much. Towards the middle of the movie, the spacemen go out of their terrestrial clearing and encounter the being that is creating the Earth-like habitat that they were living in. They shoot at it, and in defense it creates a rat-like one eyed monster. They did this with shots of claymation that could compete with Harryhausen’s!

I’m giving this movie 2 stars. Not bad, but I’m not going to remember it in a week. Anyway, I’m going to leave now and get some needed rest. I hope you enjoyed this review.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[December 27, 1961] Double and Nothing (The Phantom Planet and Assignment: Outer Space)

by Gideon Marcus

Our effort at the Journey to curate every scrap of science fiction as it is released, in print and on film, leaves us little time for rest.  Even in the normally sleepy month of December (unless you’re battling Christmas shopping crowds, of course), this column’s staff is hard at work, either consuming or writing about said consumption.

I try to write my annual Galactic Stars article as close to the end of the year as possible.  Otherwise, I might miss a great story or movie that had the misfortune to come out in December. 

Fortunately for that report, but unfortunately for us, neither of the films in the double feature we watched last weekend had any chance of winning a Galactic Star.

Both of them were low budget American International Pictures films.  This is the studio best known for making B-movie schlock for the smaller Drive-Ins.  However, they also brought us the surprisingly good Master of the World as well as the atmospheric Corman/Poe movies.  So I’m not inclined to just write them off.  This time, however, we should have. 

The Phantom Planet is a typical first-slot filler movie.  Spaceships launched from the moon keep getting intercepted by a rogue asteroid.  Only one crewmember of the third flight survives, a beefcake of a man who shrinks to just six inches tall when exposed to the asteroid’s atmosphere.  What’s stunning is not the lack of science in this movie, but the assiduous determination to avoid any scientific accuracy in this movie.  However, I the sets are surprisingly nice…and familiar.  They look an awful lot like the sets from the short TV series Men in Space

“Remember when we flew these last year?”

The people of the asteroid (humans, natch) are a paradox of ultra-advanced technology and primitiveness.  They have powerful gravitational devices, operated similarly to the theremin, but they grow food out of rock and spin their own clothes.  There is some typical jive about the softness of civilization and the conscious choice to live the harder, but more pure life.


Beefcake pilot must choose between the two women who asteroid chief throws at him.  The younger, dramatic-looking one is mute, and therefore more readily impressed with a projected personality.  The older one is coveted by the chief’s top adviser, and some drama results from that.  All squabbles are put aside when enemy aliens appear to blast the asteroid with fire.  Beefcake and Jilted Lover work together to defeat them with theremins.  One of the lumpy aliens, a prisoner at the movie’s start, takes the mute girl captive.  She is rescued, and happily for her, the ordeal gives her back her voice.  Sometimes it’s that easy folks.

“You asked to be woken up at 6…”

Jilted Lover wins the love of Older Beauty.  Beefcake takes a gulp of oxygen and returns to normal size.  He returns to the moon with nothing but a pebble to remember the formerly mute girl with whom he shared the love of a lifetime in the course of 25 silent minutes.

Not quite one star, I suppose, but not much above it.  Call it 1.5.

Assignment: Outer Space, the “A” feature, is even worse.  An Italian production, it promised to be the superior of the productions, featuring full color, a wider aspect ratio, and a diverse cast.  Sadly, Assignment, filmed in Italy and dubbed with signal ineptitude, is a hot mess.  The set-up is fine, with an Earth reporter assigned to a space naval vessel to record a routine scientific investigation.  There’s some refreshing nods to weightlessness and some not terrible in-space shots.  The laughable model work is somewhat offset by the serviceable sets.  Yet, between the arbitrary plot (an Earth ship’s “photonic drive” has gone haywire and will destroy the Earth!!!) the fuzzy grasp of distance (Let’s go to Mars!  Now let’s go to Venus!) and the indescribably poor acting, this film is a dud.  And, of course, there is the perfunctory and accelerated romance between our reporter, Ray, and the navy ship’s navigator, Lucy.  It is as engaging as it is nuanced.

“These plants convert hydrogen into oxygen.”  “I love you.”

Another 1.5 star film (the half-star given for the mildly interesting engineer character, who is both Afro-American and the most competent of the ship’s crew).

Of course, as usual, the Junior Traveler came along for the ride.  As might be expected of someone with such maturity, culture, and discernment for her age, her views mirror mine…

by Lorelei Marcus

Today me and my dad decided to hit the theater and see what magical experience it would give us this time. We got a double showing, featuring The Phantom Planet and Assignment Outer Space. I will start with the former movie, to keep things in order. So without further ado, the review:

I think Phantom had to be one of the most low budget, poorly written, B movies we’ve seen so far. However that does not mean it wasn’t enjoyable. In fact it was quite humorous, after we decided to add our own little ongoing commentary. It’s more a movie to be made fun of rather than watched as a respectable feature. I don’t think it’s possible to watch it seriously all the way through.

What really intrigued me, is that it was made by the same studio who made Master of the Sky and the infamous Konga! This baffles me, because as you might know, these movies have a drastic difference in quality. In a way that’s really an understatement considering Konga was literally the worst movie we’ve ever seen. I suppose it isn’t that surprising for the studio to make The Phantom Planet though. It’s about the quality you would expect from a B movie studio.

“I thought cotton shrunk in the dryer…”

In terms of the story, there wasn’t one. Things happened, of course, but there was no ongoing plot, just a bunch of random events being thrown in your face, at random! The effects were cool at times, though mostly they just made me laugh. For example, the rubber alien suits on flaming ships, in space. The science of the movie could not be less accurate. I found myself constantly muttering to myself, “That’s not how it works!” throughout the movie. Still, that did also give more fuel to make fun of the movie and get any scraps of humor we could out of the mess.


I’m going to give this movie 2 stars. Despite being absolutely terrible in every way, the experience around it that I had with my dad was quite enjoyable. I imagine someone going alone would give this movie a lower score than mine, but my experience is going to affect my score – I imagine if I’d gone alone it would probably be a 1 out of 5 stars instead. At least I had fun!

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Assignment Outer Space. We came back from the concession stand with high hopes, after the not-very-good experience we’d just had. Sadly, our hopes were soon crushed into a billion, tiny, disappointed pieces. The worst part is this thing tried to disguise itself as a movie, making the realization that it wasn’t even harsher.

We start off on a space ship where the main characters are waking up from hyperspace. We know this, thanks to the constant expositional narration that describes everything that’s currently going on in every scene. Despite that, we still managed to be confused about what was actually happening nearly the entire movie, which tells you something.

“I dreamed I was in a lousy movie!” “It’s no dream, my son.”

Anyway, we are soon introduced to the main character of the film, Ray, who is actually a reporter, and the narration is the article he writes after the movie. This was a terrible, and I repeat, terrible choice on the script-writer’s part. Not just because it’s completely boring and unnecessary, but it ruins the entire climax of the movie!

For you to understand, I will need to tell you the movie’s plot. Unfortunately this movie does not have one, just a series of events with no context or build up whatsoever. The main conflict of the film, which literally appeared out of nowhere, was an indestructible man-made weapon, intent on destroying Earth. The main crew’s job is to find a way to stop it, and that’s the entire second half of the movie! However we know how it ends from the beginning, we know they save Earth and the main character survives because we know he writes an article that he will share with the world! Plus, its not like the narration was even needed in the first place!

Ray saves the day.  Surprise, surprise.

As you can probably tell, that frustrated me a lot, probably because it felt like the entire movie was a pointless waste of time and I wasn’t going to get anything new out of watching it. I almost walked out of the theater at one point, especially when they killed the one character I was at all fond of (the engineer sacrifices himself to find the photonic barrier’s weakness). But no, I stayed.

“Mustn’t… show… emotion…”

I could go on and on about all the flaws in the pacing and acting and dubbing sync etc., but I already pretty much did that for the other movie. In comparison to Assignment Outer Space, The Phantom Planet actually looks like a decent movie (despite being in black and white). So of course, Assignment Outer Space is going to get a lower score of 0.5 stars. I think this is the lowest score I’ve given a movie so far, and this one deserves it. Konga was incredibly bad, but it had more redeeming qualities than this pile of garbage. I think the only two things I liked about this movie was the style of one of the character’s hair, and a shot where the main character turns towards the camera ridiculously slowly for no reason. That’s it!

Get used to this shot.  You’ll see it a lot.

With a steep ratio of bad to good Science Fiction movies this year, I’m really hoping we’ll get some better quality stuff in 1962. I wish I were a Time Traveler so I could just go and see, but that would spoil the fun. I hope you all have Happy Holidays, and do me a favor: never watch Assignment Outer Space. Thank you.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off. 

[November 21, 1961] Jules Verne on a Budget (Valley of the Dragons)

by Rosemary Benton

Very little deters me from seeking out science fiction films. Even if the venue is a little disreputable I will still venture in. Even when a film is being trashed by critics I’ll still give it a chance. But in the case of Valley of the Dragons I wish I had turned around at the entrance to the seedy theater I found it in. I wish I had heeded the warnings of fellow film reviewers. Valley of the Dragons is this month’s science fiction B-movie and 1961’s third Jules Verne inspired motion picture. It has everything including a story slower than my Greek tortoise, well known bit-role actors and of course copious use of stock footage. But is it still watchable? No.

Set in 1881 Algiers, the motion picture begins with two men facing off in a duel when a comet swipes past Earth, and pulls them to its surface and off into space. Suddenly finding themselves in a new and hostile world, the duelists must put aside their differences in order to outmaneuver a herd of mammoths, roaming giant lizards and bloodthirsty cavemen. Eventually they learn to adapt to their new home and are each adopted by a rival tribe of prehistoric humans. The second half of the film focuses on the emerging romances each man sparks with a cavewoman from his tribe. The script concludes with the tribes learning to come together to better fight for survival on the unforgiving comet. 

The poster for Valley of the Dragons touted several interesting aspects that I was hoping would be delivered. First and foremost, in bold red lettering the poster said that the film was photographed in “Monstascope.” Would this mean that the movie was in an aspect ratio other than 1.37:1? Yes, the film was definitely not 1.37:1, but neither was it CinemaScope with it’s glorious 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Herein lay the first let down of Valley of the Dragons. If I had to hazard a guess I would say it was closer to a 1.85:1 ratio.

Next, the poster advertises the involvement of director and writer Edward Bernds. Bernds is best known for Return of the Fly (1959) and World Without End (1956), although he has made his mark in exploitative films like High School Hellcats (1958) and even comedies like the Blondie Bumstead franchise. Being well versed in such a wide expanse of genres, I was interested to see what Bernds could cook up with subject material as potent as a Jules Verne novel. But despite my initial interest in the setting and the two protagonists, the plot quickly dissolves into painfully cliché storytelling with little in terms of originality. The former being especially true with the ridiculous amount of footage from other movies that Bernds stuffs in. Bernds relies so heavily on repurposed footage of monster fights and special effects that I felt like I was watching a fan-made reimagining of One Million B.C. rather than an original movie that happened to borrow some of its more memorable scenes.

But I can’t say that Valley of the Dragons is completely without charm. Hector Servadac, the only character retained from the original 1877 Verne novel Off On a Comet, fits well into the role of the more logical and methodical of the two protagonists. His monologue theorizing how they came to their current situation is also characteristically in keeping with Jules Verne’s fantastical science.

“There’s only one explanation that fits all the facts as we know them… A heavenly body, a small planet, or a comet perhaps, collided with the Earth and bore us into space carrying an envelope of the Earth’s atmosphere with us.”

It was also fun, as with almost all B-movies, to see how many different films they used stock footage from. At least I found it fun recognizing the various 40s and 50s films meshed together with original footage. But then again, I’ve seen too many movies. I was able to instantly recognize the alligator and monitor lizard fight, not to mention the woolly mammoths and giant iguana, from the 1940 film One Million B.C. It seems strange to me to use widely recognizable footage from a classic like One Million B.C., a movie that is played repeatedly on television, but not knowing the mind of Edward Bernds I can only assume he thought it looked interesting and would shave precious money from the production budget. In the last half hour of the film there is even some Rodan (1956) and Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) footage.

On the subject of saving money, Valley of the Dragons did include one prop that I was surprised and frankly impressed that Bernds employed. After our protagonists begin exploring the strange comet they find themselves on, they stumble into a cave to escape some roaming giant lizards. In this cave exist giant spiders. Very familiar giant spiders in fact. Since having them built for World Without End, Bernds has said that the mechanics nearly never worked and were a constant source of frustration for himself as well as the actors. Despite this, he has continued to employ these props in nearly every one of his science fiction films. It has become nearly a trademark to see these Labrador-sized furry spiders jumping on scientists, adventurers and heroines in an Edward Bernds movie. 

Ultimately Valley of the Dragons has not won me or the critics with either its Jules Verne appeal or its a giant spiders. This might a passable movie for anyone who has not seen a science fiction film over the last twenty years. Or anyone who doesn’t owns a television set and hasn’t seen over half of this movie via reruns of Rodan, One Million B.C. or Cat-Women of the Moon. But for those who are looking for a competent science fiction movie with fun special effects and originality, I would strongly advise looking elsewhere. Valley of the Dragons has its moments, but I can’t say it was worth the price of admission. Edward Bernds may be a competent enough director and writer, but Valley of the Dragons will not go down as a shining moment in his filmography.

[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)

Now here’s a special treat.  Not long ago, the Junior Traveler began contributing as a co-author.  This time around, she has decided to take center stage.  My little girl is all growed up!  Excuse me.  I have something in my eye…

by Lorelei Marcus

Recently, me and my family thought we should take a break from time traveling (in fiction and movies) and do some real traveling!  We decided to go to Japan!  I was sad because we weren’t going to be able to watch any Twilight Zone or new movies.  Luckily, we were treated to a new Japanese movie called Mothra.  Me and my father had the luxury to see it in theaters, in Japan!  It was a very similar (but intriguingly different) experience to an American movie in various ways.

Mothra, similar to many of the American movies we’ve watched, is a monster movie – in this case, about a giant moth that attacks Tokyo.  I noticed monster movies often start out the same, something or someone dear to the monster is taken from them to a big city, and the monster comes back to rescue it, destroying said city in the process.  It happened in Gorgo; this movie did not break the mold.

We start out with a ship crashing on an island that is being used as a nuclear test site by the Japanese.  A helicopter finds four survivors who were miraculously free of any radiation poisoning or side affects!  A team of scientists, including their sponsor Nelson, explore this mysterious island.  It turns out there have been natives living on this island the whole time!  Among these completely, naturally brown-skinned natives, are two foot-tall Japanese girls who communicate through song.  Nelson steals these girls thinking he can make a profit.  Of course the girls and the natives are distressed, so they call to Mothra for help, who at this point is still an egg.

After a ceremony and dance number, Mothra hatches as a little larvae and starts making her way across the ocean to Japan, where it wreaks havoc.  There was an exciting scene involving a baby and a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat.  I will not tell you how it ends, but I’m a real sucker when it comes to animals and babies in distress.  Anyway, after destroying many buildings, and killing many people, Mothra cocoons herself onto Tokyo Tower!  By this point, Nelson has now escaped to New Kirk City, in his native country of “Roliska.”  There, he is relieved to hear that Mothra has been defeated by Roliskan-provided heat rays. 

Or has she?

The movie goes on for quite a bit longer, but to avoid spoiling you of the ending, I will stop my summary there.  Now for my opinions!  I actually enjoyed the movie a lot; however after seeing so many of this type of movie, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t very bored at some parts.  The special effects were outstanding; it was hard to tell real from fake at some parts.  Though, by the second half they weren’t nearly as good, it was understandable considering it was supposed to be a remake of America, which Japanese would not have much knowledge of its architecture.  The sets of Japan though, those were completely realistic.  Even the tanks — the tanks were so good I couldn’t believe they were fake at first!  There is no doubt the effects in this movie had a high budget.

However, the story and acting at times were lacking.  I think the largest cases of terrible acting were Nelson and the incidental Americans.  Through the entire movie, Nelson’s poor Japanese accent bugged us so much — it was just so annoying!  There were certainly American actors who couldn’t do a proper Japanese accent to save their lives, but Nelson’s halfway-servicable accent was somehow worse.  There’s almost no way to describe how terrible it was! 

In contrast, the American dialogue, particularly that of one of the scientists, was probably the best part of the movie.  The emphasis on certain words was completely unnatural, and the words themselves were completely out of place!  Still it made my dad and I laugh every time one of these odd lines were just thrown into the background, simply for the heck of it!  “I wonder…a blood-sucking plant!”  Still gets me every time.

As I said before, the plot was your typical monster movie story. Though there were certainly exciting moments, with outstanding effects to complement them, I still found myself bored at times.  The story isn’t bad, and certainly isn’t weak, but I still find it lacking in a way that you can’t simply add something to fix.  You would need to re-write the story rather than add something to it to make it better.  The movie is a very specific genre, and I’m starting to get bored of that genre, so adding a twist or different plot all together would likely really help make it interesting.  I knew what I was getting into from the start, and how it was going to end.  I think the movie would’ve been better if it was just a little less predictable at least.

Overall I’d say this movie was solid, if unsurprising.  Similar to Gorgo, it did exactly what it was trying to do: be a disaster monster movie.  Clever characters as well as hyper realistic special effects and an adorable giant moth managed to keep me watching, despite the mediocre story and bad acting that made me (for lack of a better word) cringe at times, really tied it all together.  With all of these factors in mind, I’d give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Now rather than me signing off, I’ll I have my father do the footer for a change!  Here are his thoughts on Mothra:

by Gideon Marcus

I don’t have much to add to Lorelei’s excellent report.  A few things elevated this movie above Gorgo for me, despite having a similar plot.  Firstly, I appreciated that the movie’s protagonist, “Zen-Chan” the journalist, was atypical.  A chubby, comedic type, his performance might have simply been played for laughs.  Instead, we got a competent, plucky fellow to root for.  Similarly, his colleague, the photographer Michi Hanamura, was not a love interest or an appendage.  Rather, she was a strong character with agency. 

The production values were exceptional, easily the match of a high budget American production like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In particular, the aerial scenes when the beautifully organic Mothra larvae wriggles across the Japanese countryside are just exquisite.  The scenes with the little Mothra maidens were well done and as convincing as the miniature scenes in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So all in all, I think this was a better movie than Gorgo and thus deserves a higher score.  Three and a half stars from me.

[November 10, 1961] EARTH ON FIRE (UK Sci-fi Report)

By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month, I wrote about the shocking explosion of the world’s largest atomic bomb.  Now, I plan to entertain and delight you all with a review of the film The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which will be on general release in Great Britain from the 23rd of November.  Its subject matter is serendipitous, if not unnaturally timely, cast in the light of recent events.  This can’t hurt its chances of doing well at the box office, and if you’ll pardon the levity, it’s surely guaranteed to become a blockbuster.  This early review has been made possible by influence of the Traveller, who has gone to great lengths in assisting me with gaining the credentials to see a pre-release screening of the film. 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire stars Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro and starts in a most striking manner with Judd’s character walking in sweltering heat through the deserted streets of London.  The story then flashes back to how it all began when both the Americans and Russian simultaneously exploded atomic bombs at the Earth’s poles.  This caused both the axial tilt to change and also shifted our planet in its orbit around the Sun.

The effects of the axial tilt mean disruption to the regular weather: torrential rain and floods for example.  It’s only later we find out that the Earth has also been pushed closer to the Sun, which means the planet will soon become too hot for human life.  Unlike other nuclear horror stories, the emphasis here is on the hero discovering what is happening by putting together the bits of the puzzle, using his skill as a Fleet Street journalist to tell the story.  The way the film is shot has an almost cinéma-vérité feel to it, and arguably, the story pacing has produced a very British end of the world as we know it.

I was very much reminded of the Hollywood adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach as both stories deal with the anxiety generated by the existence of atomic bombs in the world.  However, while the former ends with the impending death of mankind, The Day the Earth Caught Fire has a more ambiguous ending, leaving us with the news of the detonation of bombs set to reset the Earth’s orbit, but without telling us whether the plan succeeded or not.

My understanding is that the film will be released in the United States in May of next year.  Also, for those readers who are concerned about atomic bombs knocking the Earth out of orbit, I have it on good authority that the energy required would be far greater than is currently achievable with our technology.

Now, last time I also promised to finish my summary of A for Andromeda.  We left-off waiting for what would happen to Fleming, Dawnay and Professor Reinhart in the next episode called, The Murderer. This episode gripped viewers around the country as the series premise of alien’s sending us the means to create life, and what that would mean for humanity, chilled people to the bone.

Christine, the character played by Julie Christie (who died in the previous episode) is re-created when the computer give the scientists the code for creating the next alien life form, which produces a clone of her called Andromeda.  The performance by Christie in her new role as the computer’s cat’s paw is compelling, and I expect she will go on to star in other things.  Now that the alien intelligence is embodied in Andromeda, the original cyclops creature host is killed by the computer.

In episode six, called The Face of the Tiger, Andromeda is put to work on developing an orbital missile defence program for the British government.  Further developments also include the producing an enzyme that will aid in healing injuries.  But it soon becomes clear that humanity is in peril of coming under the influence and control of the computer, which is using Andromeda to further its own agenda.  The computer reveals itself when opposed by Fleming by making Dawney, the biologist working on the project, sick.

In the final episode, called The Last Mystery, the story is moved forward into the year 1972, when the signal from the Andromeda Galaxy has stopped.  The military are now in full control of the project, and the computer having failed to kill the other scientists, tries to kill Fleming by using Andromeda.  This plan fails, and Andromeda is revealed to be a slave of the computer; the scientist agree that it must be stopped, otherwise the world will fall under the alien computer’s control.

Fleming is able to release Andromeda from the computer control by destroying it with an axe, and Andromeda burns the plans for the machine.  The pair try to make their escape, but Andromeda falls into a pool and dies, while Fleming is captured by the military.  As endings go, this is great for mankind, but a bit of a downer for the hero.  Still, there’s always the possibility of a sequel, because, after all, this is science fiction…

[September 11, 1961] Newest Child of The Bomb (The Flight that Disappeared)

by Gideon Marcus

The Bomb.  Since its creation and use in 1945, it has overshadowed our world.  For the first time since we descended from the trees a million years ago, humanity had the means to destroy itself in one blow.  It can’t help but influence our culture, our politics, our nightmares.  It is no surprise that atomic holocaust has figured prominently in our visual and printed media.

Last weekend, at a pre-premiere in Los Angeles, my daughter and I watched The Flight that Disappeared, the latest film to draw inspiration from the universal fear that is nuclear annihilation. 

In brief: Trans-Coastal Flight 60, an elderly prop-driven DC-6, takes off from Los Angeles Airport heading for Washington D.C.  Onboard are three pivotal characters summoned to the nation’s capitol for a top secret meeting.  One is Dr. Carl Morris, who has developed the next inevitable phase in nuclear weaponry — a device that singly can destroy an entire country.  His colleague, mathematician Marcia Paxton, is also on the flight.  Completing the trio is Tom Endicott, a rocket propulsions engineer with a design for a super-ICBM.

Hours out from LAX, after the sun has set, the plane begins an inexorable climb.  The controls do not respond, and soon, Flight 60 is ten miles up.  Its passengers collapse one-by-one from oxygen starvation, the propellers stop turning, yet still the plane rises.  It disappears from ground radar, all radio contact cut.  A massive search uncovers no trace of the missing aircraft.

Endicott awakens to find the plane in daylight, the engines silent.  All of the passengers are in a state of suspended animation save for Paxton and Dr. Morris.  Their watches have stopped…as have their hearts.  As they ponder this new situation, wondering if they are dead, a mysterious figure beckons them out of the plane.  He represents the foreman of a jury, a jury of people who do not yet exist.  They inhabit the intersection of the present and the future made possible by the vast importance of the meeting of the three key passengers.

It is presented that the marriage of Morris and Paxton’s creations will inevitably lead to a life-ending catastrophe, leaving Earth a shattered, barren land.  It matters not that the weapon is yet undeveloped or that the scientist trio will not directly build it.  Once it is conceived, it will someday be built, and our race must die.  The jury determine that the scientists are all guilty of genocide, and that they must remain in their weird timeless void forever so that the future might be saved.

Reprieve comes in the form of one of the jurors’ dissent.  It is no one’s place, he argues, to render such a judgment, even with the stakes so high.  The accused must be allowed to return, even if the consequences be destruction in the ultimate. 

We next see Endicott waking up once more.  It is night again, and the plane is not only running, but on schedule.  None of the passengers nor the flight crew remember anything out of the ordinary.  Only the trio remember.  Upon landing, they learn that their plane was missing for 24 hours beyond the anticipated flight time.  Convinced of the sincerity of the message delivered by the unborn future, Dr. Morris tears up his notes.

Little more than an overlong episode of The Twilight Zone, I can’t imagine Flight will be a big hit.  While the story is reasonably sound, if utterly predictable from the beginning, it is padded to the point of being ponderous, even for a short movie.  Had this been an hour-long TV special (with commercials), it probably would have been more effective.

That said, I did find the movie somehow compelling.  The idea that certain junctures of history are so crucial that they weaken the fabric of space-time is an interesting one.  And while the jury sequence is a bit histrionic, there is merit to pondering whether humanity should be allowed to stumble along blindly when the risk be great, like a child lighting a match in a gunpowder factory (the simile cited in the movie).  Wouldn’t it be nice if a guardian angel could tell us which line constituted a step too far in the march toward extinction. 

So I didn’t dislike Flight, nor was I particularly bored.  Perhaps a more skilled writer might recycle this premise into something truly memorable.  As is, it’s a two-star movie. 

Which is still better than a lot of the films we watch!

by Lorelei Marcus

This week we watched The Flight That Disappeared, and, unlike Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was exactly what it promised.  The movie wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t anything special.  The acting was good, but nothing outstanding, the set was pretty much just an airplane the whole movie, and the plot was predictable from the start.

Something interesting about the movie itself however, was that it was in black and white.  It kept fading into what could’ve been a commercial break, which leads me to believe it was made to be aired on TV.  I have to give the film credit, it did well despite being on a small budget, though you can tell they really liked using the fog machine (to simulate being in the air, I guess).

Though the acting was nothing stupendous,there was one actor that stood out to me.  One of the three main characters, Endicott, reminded me a great deal of William Shatner, whom I saw in a previous episode of The Twilight Zone.

Anyway, that’s all I really have to say about it.  Me and my father predicted the entire movie pretty much from the start, so it was really just a matter of waiting it out.  I would give this movie a 2 out of 5. You may see it if you wish, but I highly recommend watching The Twilight Zone instead.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[August 20, 1961] Sub-mediocre (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)

by Gideon Marcus

“Wake me when it’s over, willya?”

In this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov describes the dread he felt when his children suggested they all go see a “science fiction” film.  The kids thought the mention of that term would sway him positively, seeing how sf is Asimov’s bread and butter.  Asimov knew better, though.  Sci-fi films generally aren’t very good, replete with scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo, giant monsters, and nonsensical plots. 

Of course, in service to my readers, I make sure to see them all.  Every so often, a gem slips through.  Witness The Time Machine and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  They may not be scientifically rigorous, but they are worth watching.

Galactic Journey’s latest cinematic outing, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is neither scientifically rigorous nor worth watching. 

(Actual voyages to the bottom of the sea not included)

From the trailer, I’d expected a madcap romp across the ocean, a sort of modern-day cross between Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Certainly, the snippet showing off Barbara Eden’s jiggling hips and Frankie Avalon’s trumpet, not to mention the giant octopus on the movie poster, suggested as much. 

This is what we got instead:

The nuclear submarine Seaview surfaces at the North Pole, a moment billed as momentous (even though the real-life sub Nautilus accomplished this feat in 1958).  Almost immediately thereafter, the Van Allen Belts catch fire, dramatically heating the Earth, and the ship is recalled home. 

Yes, you read that right.  The Van Allen Belts caught fire.  Never mind that despite the hellish radiation resulting from all those charged particles whizzing around up there (which I described in my recent article on Explorer 12), the space up there is essentially a vacuum.  What matter exists in the Belts comprises just free nuclear particles — neutrons, protons, and electrons.  There’s virtually nothing up there to burn.  Certainly not in the literal sense, i.e. rapid oxidation. 

Never mind that.  I can hand-wave an improbable premise if it results in a good flick.  Sadly, this one does not.  Quite the opposite.

Upon arrival in New York, Admiral Nelson, the sub’s creator and flag commander, announces before an emergency session of the United Nations that he can stop the heightening catastrophe before the Earth is burned lifeless.  At odds with every other scientist in the world, Nelson believes that, by firing a nuclear missile at the proper trajectory into the Belts, upon detonation, the Belts will be saturated with radiation and poof out of existence.  I’m not sure how the Admiral is qualified to make this deduction given his specialty is nuclear submarines, not geophysics. 

A scientist named Zuko declares that he is “diametrically opposed” to the Admiral’s plan, that it will prove disastrous to the Earth, and that, by his calculations, the Van Allen fire will burn itself out before the Earth reaches the critical, point of no return, absolutely scientifically based, life-destroying temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.  The UN votes, and Zuko’s admonitions are heeded.  Nelson is not to proceed with his mad plan.

So, of course, Nelson does.  The renegade Seaview, Nelson in command, takes off for the Marianas region of the Pacific.  Three weeks hence, at a specific short window of time, he will fire his missile and save the Earth.

To the Marianas! (but not the bottom of the sea)

At this point, the movie has only committed a few sins: The science has been laughable, the protagonist has been portrayed as unquestioningly correct (despite no justification; well, we did see Nelson fondle a slide-rule at one point, so math was apparently involved), and despite the magnitude of the portrayed disaster, it’s been a dull film.  Come on, fellas — if you’re going to present an Earth-ending event, at least let us see some of it. 

Over the next hour, however, Voyage only sinks further into the depths of its badness.  We get a few “exciting” set-pieces.  When crew of the Seaview leave the ship to tap into a telephone cable (the radios having been silenced by all that Van Allen burning), they end up in a pitched battle with some kind of tentacle monster.  Later, the sub runs into an old minefield and has to clear its way through.  Directed as flatly as a plane, all drama is leached from scenes that could have been interesting.

Fighting killer seaweed!  Oh wait… that’s Diver Dan.  Which is better.

There is one mildly compelling thread in Voyage.  Throughout the film, Admiral Nelson becomes increasingly irascible and monomaniacal.  The ship’s psychiatrist is certain that he’s cracking up.  Captain Crane, the Seaview’s skipper, becomes concerned with Nelson’s irrationality, opposing him at every turn.  The crew seethes toward mutiny, and incidents of sabotage occur. 

Given the peremptory manner in which the Admiral hatched his plan, as well as the news that the navies of the world have begun a hunt for the Seaview to prevent it from launching its missiles, I started to think that perhaps we weren’t supposed to sympathize with Nelson.  That Voyage was a morality play about the danger of self-righteous action in the face of contrary evidence.  This thread climaxes with Crane’s relieving of Nelson just as an American attack submarine appears to do battle with the Seaview.

For a moment, Voyage teetered on the edge of watchability.  Could Allen salvage an hour of badness?

Well, no.  You see, it turns out that Zuko was wrong.  The Belt doesn’t burn itself out, evidence of which comes just before the launch window (even though the whole drama of the film depends on Nelson not believing he’ll get this information until a full day after).  So the Admiral was right all along.  After a few minutes of tacked on drama involving a giant octopus and a couple of civilians who lacked proper faith in the infallible Admiral, the missile is fired at the last minute.  The Van Allen Belts explode outward, and the day is saved. 

In short, in just 5 minutes, Irwin Allen sabotages his own movie, sacrificing an actual story for some cheap (and I do mean cheap action). 

It’s films like Voyage that rightly make Asimov trepidatious about going to the movies.  And in this case, it was the father who dragged the child unwillingly to the theater.  I feel terrible.  Almost as terrible as Irwin Allen should feel for making this flick.

One star.

But don’t just take my word for it…

by Lorelei Marcus

Today we watched Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. I’m sorry to say that this movie was more of a journey to the exposition sea, than anything else.  Almost everything was told to us in radio or TV announcements.  The sets consisted of three colors, gray, red, and grayish blue. The acting was mediocre, the dialogue almost nothing but exposition, and the costumes all a bland uniform beige.  By the end of the movie I couldn’t tell anyone apart!

Tell us more, magic box!

Who’s who again?

There was a plot to the movie, but filled with too many holes to count, and the entire movie was conveyed through static speeches or random (speechless) visuals.  God forbid you have both at the same time though!  That would mean the movie might start to make sense!

Ten minutes of silent diving footage?  Sure, I’ll wait.

All joking aside, the movie was bland, boring, and predictable.  I guessed events long before they happened.  There wasn’t even any journeying to the bottom of the sea as the title suggested. If I had to choose, I’d have to say the best parts of the movie were the cook’s parrot, the dog (carried aboard by a rescued civilian), and one of the crew member’s accents.  That should tell you how hard it was to find a good part to this movie.

Gertrude lives!

Oh the ending, the ending was the worst.  Basically the movie kept putting out a certain message.  Conveying it through actions and behaviors.  Though it was kind of obvious it was also pretty clever, for this movie at least.  The ending, however, threw that all away and did the opposite of what THE ENTIRE MOVIE had been building up to.

“Ha ha!  I was right all along.”

Overall this movie was one of the worst I’ve seen with my dad.  I’d give it a 1 out of 5.  I do not recommend you see this movie.  It’s the worst kind of bad, where it’s not even ironically good.  I was tempted to walk out of the theater it was so bad.  They tried really hard to make a movie, and didn’t.  So please, spare yourself from this, and be glad we watched it so you don’t have to.

This is the young traveler, signing off.

[July 30, 1961] 20,000 Leagues in a Balloon (Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island)

by Gideon Marcus

Jules Verne, the father of scientific adventure, has probably inspired more movie spectacles than any other writer.  Verne’s characters have conquered all areas of the globe, from the center of the Earth, to the heights of the clouds, to the bottom of the ocean. 

Perhaps the most famous of Verne’s protagonists is Captain Nemo, skipper of the magnificent submarine, the Nautilus.  In 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, adapted to film in 1953, Nemo led a one-man crusade against war, sinking the world’s warships in the cause of pacifism.

My daughter and I just came back from the premiere of Mysterious Island, the latest translation of a Verne novel.  It is a sequel of sorts to 20,000 Leagues, though this is not immediately apparent from the beginning.  The initial setting is the siege of Richmond at the end of the American Civil War.  Four Yankee prisoners make a daring escape in a balloon along with an initially wary, but ultimately game, Confederate prisoner.  The film begins with no indication of where it’s going other than the title (and the mention of Nemo in the cast list – an unfortunate spoiler).

This first act sets the pace for most of the movie – fast and exciting.  It continues for a good twenty minutes before the balloon crash-lands onto the movie’s namesake, a volcanic spot of land in the South Pacific.  In this span, we get a good feel for the characters, all of whom are interesting and likable.  We have Captain Harding, a brusque, efficient sort who has little trouble commanding authority.  Neb is his aide-de-camp and good friend, a Negro soldier who’s clearly served with Harding a long time.  Young Herbert is another of Harding’s men, an ashamed coward who wishes he could be a better man (and gets the opportunity!).  The captured Rebel, Sergeant Branson, is an amiable sort.  After some initial mistrust, he falls in line with Harding.  The last of the adventurers is Gideon Spillet, a cynical and jaunty war reporter.  It is, perhaps, no surprise that the middle-aged journalist named Gideon is my favorite character…

Once upon the island, the band discovers a host of extraordinary features.  The volcano is ominously active.  Many of the flora and fauna of the island are unnaturally large.  Yet, despite these dangers, the castaways seem to have a guardian angel, always providing aid at the brink of catastrophe.

The oversized critters are beautifully brought to life by the master of stop-motion effects, Ray Harryhausen.  We’ve seen his work before in films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and this may well be his most impressive outing.  Not only does he do a wonderful job of rendering a giant crab, a Diatryma, and a swarm of outsized bees, but their interactions with living actors are convincing. 

Not long after my daughter lamented the lack of women in the movie, two were thoughtfully provided.  The shipwrecked duo are the Lady Mary Fairchild, and her niece, Elena.  I greatly appreciated that the newcomers were treated, as characters, with dignity.  They quickly become members of the team, the noble Mary proving to be quite resourceful, indeed. 

Island maintains its tempo and excitement for a good 75 of its 101 minutes, prematurely climaxing with the introduction of the party’s benefactor, Captain Nemo.  The final act, depicting Nemo’s plan to leave the island in a captured brigands’ vessel (the Nautilus having been crippled in the last movie), is somewhat inconsistent and expositional.  We lose a bit of the character interaction that made Island so entertaining. 

Nevertheless, there’s no question that Island, despite its simple, linear plot and its uneven ending, is a delight.  It’s a lovely film with a fine cast, yet another success in the long line of Vernian films.  Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about the movie, aside from the diverse cast, was its lack of an opponent.  So many films involve some degree of treachery or antagonism, an enemy to overcome or a traitorous party member.  I find that rather tedious.  In Island, all of the cast are basically good, and they work together to master their situation.  The setting, itself, provides enough drama to hold interest.

Moreover, the only animals we see killed and eaten are ones that attacked the party.  No goats or Gertrudes lose their lives in this film.

3.5 stars.

by Lorelei Marcus

Today we watched Mysterious Island, which was a pretty good movie, I would say.  Like most of the Verne movies we’ve watched, it has an exciting setup.  The special effects were amazing, as to be expected from Ray Harryhausen.  I loved seeing all of the creatures they’d come up with and seeing them turned into giant forms. The stop motion was meshed so well with the actual footage, it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t!  I can’t pick a favorite creature — they were all so good.

The acting was also very good, and there was a lot of attention to detail on the actors.  I particularly liked the strong relationship between the Captain and Neb.  I’m not surprised that neither of them got involved with the castaway women as they had each other. 

My favorite thing is seeing people surviving and rebuilding, and this movie really scratched that itch. They came up with a lot of creative ways to create modern implements in the wild, from the goat pen to the shell bowls.

Overall the pacing was very good, until around the end where it slowed down a bit, but otherwise it was a fun movie.  It’s hard to describe a plot because there wasn’t much of one. They escaped from prison, they found an island, they built on the island, they escaped the island, The End.  Despite this though, I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  The sets were all very beautiful, and it was edited very well.

I think I would give this movie a 3.5 out of 5.  It was very good, but kind of lost me at the end. Still, I highly recommend you go see it yourself, if not for the story, then for the amazing special effects.

This is the young traveler, signing off.

[July 17, 1961] Bridging two worlds (The animation, Alakazam the Great)

And here is Ms. Rosemary Benton with her monthly report, this time on a subject near and dear to my heart: Japan…

July 14th was a red letter day for me.  Not only did I receive word that my uncle was marrying his long time Japanese girlfriend, Mika, but Alakazam The Great was released in theaters across America.  This film is a beautiful piece of animation from Toei Animation Company Ltd. 

Released in Japan in August last year under the title Journey to the West, the story of Alakazam the Great is actually a retelling of a very old and popular tale from China known as Saiyuuki.  Scholars of this 16th century morality epic will recognize Sun Wukong in our protagonist, Alakazam, as well as his dealings with the Buddha, named King Amo in the film.  There are far fewer acts in the film than there are in the original story of Sun Wukong, but the writers did do an impressive job of compacting the four main arcs of the epic into an 88 minute movie. 

Our story begins shortly after Alakazam has earned the title of king of the animal kingdom.  But as our narrator descibes, Alakazam is a conceited ruler obsessed with becoming more powerful than any human magician.  After tricking Merlin (yes, that Merlin; more on this later) into teaching him his craft, Alakazam believes that he can take on anything, even the entire magical population of the heavenly land of Majutsu.  Following a humiliating defeat, the king of Majutsu, King Amo, sends him on a pilgrimage to learn wisdom, humility and mercy so that he may once again rule the animals as a wise and compassionate leader.  Meeting many interesting companions along the way, Alakazam eventually learns to utilize his magic for good and justice.  He saves the prince of heaven, returns to his love, and lives happily ever after. 

I was very excited to see this film for two major reasons, as well as many many lesser reasons.  First and foremost the credited director of the film is Osamu Tezuka, one of modern Japan’s most prolific “manga” (Japanese comics) creators.  I am an appreciator of the comic book medium, so Tezuka is hardly an unknown name to me.  Thanks to my soon-to-be-aunt I’ve been able to obtain translations of numerous works of his, all of which are exceptional with whimsical storytelling ferrying intense characters into entrancing conflicts.  To date he has created numerous adaptations of western classics like Faust (1950) and Crime and Punishment (1953), and has created hugely popular works for Japanese young adults including the science fiction action story Astro Boy and the coming of age title Jungle Emperor.  Upon looking into the production of the film, however, it is unclear how much direct involvement he had.  Still, I like to think that he had a part in not only the style, but the script — both of which bear a striking similarity to Tezuka’s situational humor and Disney-inspired art style. 

Second, and perhaps most importantly, this is a film that beautifully showcases the changing relationship that America has with Japan and her citizens.  The very fact that this film made it to our shores at all suggests that there are English speaking audiences out there who are interested in the much larger world of Japanese cinema rather than the limited diet of Japanese culture (samurai, bonsai trees, tea…and Godzilla) normally encountered in America.  I would like to believe that there are even those high up in the entertainment industry who see this film not only a way to make money, but to introduce Americans to other noteworthy Japanese cinema besides the thrilling giant radioactive monsters we’ve seen so far. 

As avid consumers of film, Americans both young and old, literate or illiterate, have been exposed to Japan and her citizens for many years.  Until recently, these depictions were one-sided affairs, universally from the White perspective.  Observing film history chronologically, one can see a positive and dramatic change since World War II regarding the portrayal of Japan and the Japanese in American cinema. 

Live action documentary propaganda films created by the United States government in the 1940s were, predictably, focused on explaining the relocation of Japanese-American citizens to internment camps.  These 20-30 minute shorts were stark in their description of the camps, but also tried to show that civility and nationalism could work hand in hand during this time of crisis.  In 1942 a film from the U.S.  Office of War Information titled Japanese Relocation depicted Japanese-Americans as being humanely and voluntarily evacuated to orderly camps.  The reason being that there was a possibility that the West Coast of the U.S.  could become the site of a Japanese invasion, and in order to avoid conflict over who was loyal to Japan versus the U.S., precautionary relocation needed to occur.  The 1944 film A Challenge to Democracy, produced by the War Relocation Authority, also characterized the relocation as a voluntary choice made by patriotic Japanese-American citizens who could be released if they displayed unquestionable loyalty to the war effort.  In both of these movies the Japanese are shown as compliant, obedient and content with their situation.  These notions were partly reinforced in the silent film Topaz, a 1945 amateur film by internee Dave Tatsuno.  In the film one can see smiling faces despite the sorrow Tatsuno said they experienced.  Regardless, those who were shown in the camp were still experiencing play, family, community and civil responsibility.

As the war progressed, animated shorts emerged with far more harsh portrayals of the Japanese.  Stereotypical depictions of “Tojo” were common such as in Paramount Pictures’ Private Snafu, UPA studios’ Commando Duck (1944).  In each of these examples the supposed evil nature of the Japanese took precedence over the portrayal of any moral grey areas.  The Japanese were dehumanized and shown as cowardly; animated films played to the wider fear and anxiety of Japan generated by the grueling brutality of the war. 

In the 1950s, our view of the Japanese began to shift.  An early anomaly during the time when Japanese-Americans were still largely ignored in film (if not outright demonized), Go for Broke! (1951), featured not only Japanese-American actors, but told the story of Japanese-Americans fighting for America in Italy and France while their families waited for them at internment camps.  Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) continued the portrayal of Japanese-Americans along a similar vein – honorable and possessing good attributes.  By 1957 the Japanese were beginning to regain some of their humanity in American cinema despite still being the common villains.  Bridge on the River Kwai depicts the brutality of the Japanese POW camps, its prisoners forced to construct bridges for the Japanese army, yet there are laudable aspects to the enemy.  The Japanese are not all portrayed as irredeemable monsters.  And then, in 1958, there was Geisha Boy – a romantic comedy that stressed the importance of the United States’ alliance with Japan against communism and even explored the possibility of a blossoming romance between the protagonist, Jerry Lewis, and his character’s Japanese interpreter. 

Enter Alakazam, one of the first real glimpses of Japan as seen by Japan.  Well, not quite.  According to Mika, who’d happened to see the original film in Japan but was still willing to rewatch it with me in America, the original Japanese and the English language scripts are significantly different from one another on the surface.  In translating the script to better suit a Western audience, iconic figures from both West and East mythologies exist along side one another. 

In the original Chinese story, and in the film, the concept of the supreme heaven is ruled by Taoist deities.  No one would expect Hercules and Merlin to be classified as sages and to reside in this version of heaven, and yet they appear as such in the English story.  Merlin is a mountain hermit who teaches Alakazam all he knows of magic.  Hercules challenges Alakazam when he attempts to infiltrate Majutsu Land (The Heavens).  Western concepts are also substituted for more Japanese ones.  Such is the case when Alakazam first meets King Amo.  In the Japanese version the scene sets up a contest of strength between the two.  Alakazam claims that he can transform into any creature and leap, “108,000 li”, in a single bound.  His hubris is his overestimation of his abilities and his conviction that his skill is greater than anyone’s. 

In the English version Alakazam says that he has come to challenge heaven because, “You old guys should make room for the younger generation”.  His hubris is that he can challenge those more experienced than himself and still retain superiority.  Despite what is lost in the translation of people and places, little appears to be lacking from the message of the film be it in English or in Japanese.  The moral still rings consistently true – Alakazam must learn how to rule for his people rather than for himself. 

Paralleling the relationship between the U.S.  and Japan, little is different between us despite our superficial cultural differences.  We both see ourselves as Alakazam did, but like him we must both grow to be better leaders.  I believe that we will continue to find our common goal as more and more films make their way from Japan to our shores.  It’s too early to tell what the reception of American audiences will be to Alakazam the Great, but one can hope that it will not only herald more cross-cultural exchange, but more understanding between our peoples. 

[June 20, 1961] The bright side of the Moon (Nude on the Moon)

Rosemary Benton, as you know, is one of our regular columnists.  Imagine my surprise when she suggested the following subject for her article this month.  I’m just glad I didn’t have to propose it to her

Nude on the Moon is a surprising piece of science fiction cinema directed by Raymond Phelan and Doris Wishman under the pseudonym Anthony Brooks.  Like so many adult oriented films this one was a passion project.  Phelan and Wishman co-directed, produced and wrote the script and made excellent use of their surrounding area – southern Florida. Residents of Homestead, Florida will immediately recognize the set of the moon colony as the famous Coral Castle.  Although the production budget is obviously small, Phelan and Wishman managed to make a rather intriguing movie. 

[WARNING: Those planning to watch Nude might wish to skip the following paragraph!]

The film follows the exploits of two rocket scientists, Professor Nichols (William Mayer) and Dr. Jeff Huntley (Lester Brown), who fund and execute a scientific mission to the moon.  The premise beyond that is pretty predictable.  They make it to the moon, but to their disbelief it’s not the volcanic wasteland that they and the rest of the world expected.  Instead they find a peaceful kingdom of nudists ruled by a benevolent black haired beauty who is played by an actress simply credited as “Marietta”. Before they run out of oxygen Professor Nichols and Dr. Huntley must gather evidence of their discovery in order to fund further trips.  Tragically, Dr. Huntley and the Moon Queen fall in love but are forced to part so that the two men can return to Earth.  In a somewhat romantic turn Dr. Huntley finally notices the duo’s long time secretary, Cathy (also played by “Marietta”), when he realizes that she bears a striking resemblance to the Moon Queen.  The film ends with them gazing into each other’s eyes as they dissolve into the same moon landscape painting used for the beginning of the film.

The effort that is made to sound scientific, combined with the fantastical image of the moon, results in a rather simple but charming movie.  The first half of the film is dedicated to Dr. Huntley and Professor Nichols planning how they will use Dr. Huntley’s inheritance of 3 million dollars to fund the expedition, extended shots of them tinkering in their labs, the two of them discussing the issues of metal contraction and expansion, and pondering how their trip will go.  We see Dr. Huntley and Professor Nichols develop as characters, and even get a surprise reference to Doris Wishman’s 1960 nudist colony film Hideout in the Sun.  The science part of this piece of fiction melts away pretty quickly once they leave the Earth’s atmosphere.  After their ship separates and they land we enter the Buck Rogers realm of hockey space suits, gold nuggets just lying around on the ground, and of course a moon’s surface that looks strangely like a popular roadside attraction.

It’s surprising how fleshed out the two main characters of Nude on the Moon really are.  Dr. Huntley is portrayed as a man obsessed with his career and intellectual pursuits, but is naive and almost blindingly optimistic.  He’s consistently shortsighted too, which is showcased in how quickly he falls in love with the Moon Queen. Not to mention his logic of rejecting government funding in favor of using his own money because, “Money is only good when you’re doing something good with it.”  Professor Nichols is the guiding influence in Dr. Huntley’s world.  He’s the realist and far more money conscious than his partner. Scientific pursuit is extremely important, but not to the exclusion of ladies and film as we see when he flirts with Cathy and expresses his appreciation for Hideout in the Sun.

For a film that’s basically an excuse to show topless women there’s a lot of setup.  The plot even circles around to explain why this mission to the moon isn’t known all over the world.  By not telling the press, not accepting funding from the US government, and forgetting their camera and samples on the moon they have no proof that their mission even happened.  They themselves aren’t even sure that they went to the moon since they were passed out during the landing, and even by their own admission what happened to them went far beyond any current conception of the moon’s surface.

Given that I could only find this film playing at a grindhouse theater two towns over, plus the clarity of the title, that Nude on the Moon bears the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) label of “Suggested for Mature Audiences” is unsurprising.  Roughly half of the running time for Nude on the Moon is dedicated to the tropical paradise nudist kingdom on the moon.  Topless perky ladies (and two gentlemen) all lounging, dancing, frolicking before the scientific gaze of the visiting Earth research team.  It’s purely voyeuristic eye candy, but is still arguably part of a major shift in cinema.  Last year the Hays Code (also known as the Production Code) was significantly overhauled to better suite current trends in America’s disposition with cinema.  Prohibitions on portrayals of drug use, abortion, miscegenation, prostitution, abortion and nudity were all reframed. At the same time blasphemy and ridiculing of the clergy were expressly prohibited.  Nude on the Moon still has run into trouble with the censors.  New York state banned the film because of its portrayal of nudity outside of an “official” nudist colony context.  Phelan and Wishman’s explanation that it was a moon nudist colony did not sway their decision.

Nude on the Moon is, and it feels weird to say this, but a rather cute, charming movie.  It also can’t be overstated how refreshing it was to see a woman director taking to the science fiction genre in film.  I am probably not the audience that Doris Wishman or Raymond Phelan expected, but I have to commend them on producing a decently made and written schlock film.  It’s not often I wander into a grindhouse theater in the pursuit of science fiction, and since The Beast of Yucca Flats was the last grindhouse production I saw I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It certainly wasn’t something of quality.  The miniatures used to show the rocket’s launch, travel through space, and the landing on the moon were decently done, and the music plays well with the hokeyness of the premise.  The plot nicely ties itself up at the end, and most importantly it didn’t seem to bore the audience.  They are not just at a nudist camp sunbathing, lounging and having a generally relaxing day, they are aliens too!  It succeeds very well at what it sets out to do, which is to be a rather adorable twist on the nudist camp genre of films.