First Spaceship on Venus

First Spaceship on Venus. 1960. Dir. Kurt Maetzig. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

0:20 A rocket takes off. It looks like the Alessi juicer we used to have. It was hopeless as a juicer but looked good on the windowsill. I hope this doesn’t apply to the rocket.

0.37 Loving the film so far. Half a minute in and we’re already zooming through speckly space, which these days you’d worry was space junk.

0:50 The credits fly in like in Star Wars. I wonder if that’s where George Lucas got it from? Everyone steals from everyone else. Sorry – influences. Juicers, credits…

1:19 Voiceovers. Hmm. Why not issue leaflets as the audience comes in?

1:28 Very satisfying lab here. Walter White would love it. A technician with an impressive quiff carefully transfers a sample of rock to a test tube. With his quiff.

1:51 Meanwhile the voiceover talks about an explosion in Siberia back in 1908. We see scientists slogging up a mountain with a weather balloon. A grumpy scientist with an enormous camera round his neck shrugs and waves for everyone to keep going. Maybe he forgot to put film in it. I think he topples into a gully. The other scientists ignore him.

2:19 ‘Shortly afterwards, under the auspices….’ the voiceover says. I lose the thread of it, distracted by the word auspices. Is it cockney? We watch as a scientist makes a tricky calculation on a blackboard, watched by a lot of other scientists. Who knew there’d be so many scientists in the future? Still using chalk.

2:37 Professor Harringway dusts the chalk from his hands and says ‘our calculations indicate….’ I’m distracted by his hair, another brilliantined quiff. He should have a quiff-off with the scientist from the lab earlier. Prof H says that they’ve figured out the explosion in Siberia wasn’t a meteorite but a spaceship. The other thing I’m distracted by is the fact he’s dubbed. Somehow it makes his quiff seem bigger.

2:55 ‘This hypothesis stimulated thought throughout the scientific world…’ says the Voiceover, whilst we watch scientists in pairs gossiping casually about anything other than explosions, flirting with the camera crew or sitting on the stage reading a newspaper.

3:02 Actually – they’re reporters waiting to hear what Professor Orloff has to say.

3:19 Professor Orloff is dressed like a mobster. He tells the reporter that the aliens no doubt recorded important stuff on a ‘spool’ – the rock they found in Siberia. He says they’ll work on the spool. And if you got anythin’ to say about dat he’ll break ya Venoosen legs…

3:40 Another professor works a desk covered in fancy dials and lights so big it MUST be important. It makes a noise like the old dial-up computers as it decodes the spool. One of the professors is not only good with computers, he also specialises in transforming inorganic material into food – which is probably where we get Quorn.

4:15 Actually, the professor working the desk is world famous maths Professor Sikarna. Honestly – I’m lost already. You’d think if they could afford rockets they stretch to name tags.

4:50 Prof Herringbone or whatever (maybe I’ll remember his name by picturing a big fish on his head instead of a quiff) – tells all the scientists in the lecture theatre that the spaceship can only have come from Venus. He points to a dangerous looking display of Venus with moons rotating round it. He’s in danger of knocking it over with his quiff – but I suppose you’d get used to it, like driving a car with a big bonnet.

5:00 We get some scary music and a close-up of the spool, which looks like one of those cola chews you try for a bit because there’s nothing else and you need the sugar hit, but spit out because it tastes like something you’d put down for rats.

5:13 Prof Sikarna says ‘Listen!’ He plays back the spool – which sounds to this untrained ear like a phone recording from a Rammstein gig.

6:20 Prof Sikarna has a tedious monologue to deliver. He sighs and steps out from behind the desk. He tells us how they’ll need to ‘renovate’ the spool to get as much information out of it as possible. We’re going to need a bigger spool.

7:00 First though, we have to train all our radio telescopes on Venus to communicate with the creatures there. So we get a montage of that, with morse code and trombones, which apparently the Venusians might like, being quite techno.

7:28 Next thing, we’re on the moon base (it was mentioned earlier but I was too distracted by he quiffs). They do a lot of monitoring. Which is pretty much all there is to do on the moon, once the crazy golf has lost its novelty.

7:53 Prof H is marching across a plaza with the other scientists around him. They meet some journalists in front of a scanner, which Prof H. keeps batting away with his hair. He tells the journalists they’re preparing a spaceship called the Cosmic Castrator or something (might be wrong about that). He says it’s not going to Mars anymore, it’s going to Venus. ‘Oh that’s great news!’ says a female journalist, thinking of the fun she’ll have with the headlines.

8:44 Prof H introduces the rest of the crew: Professor Sikarna, Professor Durand… and so on. Average age ninety. All male. One of them smoking.

8:50 This is better! Back to the rocket, just about to blast off. It looks like it’s standing on giant blocks of duplo. Which should mean they won’t blow over easily.

9:05 Actually – they were just testing the boosters. Prof H takes his glasses off and turns round. His hair is blasted back by the force of the test. I thought quiffs would be more aerodynamic.

9:42 A Marilyn Monroe impersonator says she has an important announcement to make. I lose track of what she says because she says it so smoothly, like she’s introducing a variety bill from Radio City. ‘Ah! Here come members of the crew!’ she pouts – thrilled to see a bunch of elderly guys shuffling towards the booth bitching about their prostates.

10:12 She spots Professor Durand, the chief engineer. She describes his expertise in robots whilst we watch him flip up his sunglasses and frown at a guy dressed like Super Mario. The guy has a big letter M on his chest. NOTE: If he can have a big letter M on his chest, why can’t the professors? It’d make this commentary SO much easier.

10:28 A guy jogs over from Section A. He has a big letter A on his chest. See what I mean?

10:58 A jet arrives with another hero, I don’t know. (Dr Brinkmann, actually). He asks Prof D about his robots. Prof D. calls one of them over – a ridiculous-looking thing like a mower with an expression on its face like it just cut the lawn and all he flowers, too. You know it’s supposed to be full of character because piccolos are playing. I hope it fries.

11:14 Turns out, the robot is called Omega and is a kind of bullshit Alexa on treads. He asks Omega for a weather report. Omega replies clippily there’ll be a rise in millibars. Great. Thanks, Omega. You’re definitely coming to Venus. We’ll need something to shove under the wheels if we get stuck.

11:45 Back in the glamorous announcer booth, the commentator says that some of the crew managed to reach Urania. Her equally glamorous assistant frowns at her. That’s not how you say Uranus – but I suppose it is a way of avoiding a tedious and unnecessary joke.

11:53 Turns out there’ll be a woman going to Venus with the old guys. She’s the physician of the expedition (very satisfying to say that fast). ‘She’s already spent 2 years on lunar 3’ says the announcer. But got paroled, presumably.

12:13 Dr Brinkmann speaks to the doctor. There’s a frisson between them (naturally). He remembers she used to have hair down to her waist. But he may have her confused with that day he went to Crufts. A guy with the letter M on his chest runs up – hands Dr Brinkmann his lunch. ‘You forgot this!’ says the guy, with such cheerfulness I really hope he comes along too. To make up the numbers. Or letters. And they leave Omega behind instead. ‘Robert Brinkmann! The man who’s always forgetting something!’ says the doctor. So… not the kind of guy you’d want on a space mission, then.

12:25: Violins play. ‘I have a reputation for that,’ smoulders Brinkmann. ‘But there are things I’ll never forget,’ he says. Like hair.

12:37 Dr Sumiko Ogimura is her name. I’m really being tested on the cast list.

12:40 ‘Thirty hours left’ says the Marilyn Monroe impersonator, but they could easily have overdubbed any line from Some Like it Hot.

13:40 The crew are all on trolleys being put down like kids in a nursery for the afternoon. They’ve got a busy flight ahead of ‘em. Brinkmann sits up and gets creepy with Sumiko. She tells him not to speak of it. I wish he wouldn’t speak of it, too. Maybe we could drop him off with Omega.

15:02 Marilyn Monroe says the launch is almost ready. We’re just waiting for the crew – ‘and here they are!’ she says, trying not to sound disappointed. Honestly, it’s like a day out from a Care Home, where they’ve dressed up the residents in comedy incontinence suits.

15:14 All the staff with big letters on their chests wave them off as they get in a jeep and go off to the rocket, which sits in the distance as thrillingly as the Disneyland castle.

15:46 The crew strap themselves into the rocket. In close-up their suits look like monkey onesies, which is a nice touch. ‘Relax’ says Dr Sumiko. ‘Try not to tense up’. (I wonder what her medical speciality is?) There’s a countdown. When it gets to 4, one of the professors (no idea which) says ‘Stand by!’ – completely unnecessarily. It’s a countdown, for God’s sake! We’re at 4. He’d be annoying on a long trip.

17:00 The cosmic castrator is being monitored from earth by big telescopes and from moon base 3 and manufacturers of hair oil.

17:40 Prof D (I think) takes off his belt and floats around. We get an unnecessary shot of his crotch – emphasised by the chaps he seems to be wearing. It gets a big laugh. They all join in. Like I said – long voyage.

19:00 They fly past the moon (sorry – I skipped some frames accidentally and can’t be bothered to go back). ‘That’s the Sinus Roarus crater’ says Prof S, obviously making it up. ‘Yeah – and that’s the Sea Yarlater crater’ etcetera.

19:18 Dr Sumiko looks distressed when they fly over moon base. ‘That’s where her husband fell’ says Prof H. ‘I brought him back to the camp but he was already dead. We were friends. You know – Sumiko is a wonderful woman…’ (This is a creepy crew to be shacked up with on a flight to Venus).

20:17 Lunar 3 issues a meteorite warning. Is it just me, or does every rocket adventure in the fifties and sixties get whacked by meteorites? When they cost out the special effects, it must be: ‘how much for the meteorites…how much for the polystyrene rubble… and so on’

20:23 Prof O pilots the rocket using an old cash register. He desperately punches in pounds, shillings and pence to avoid the meteorites.

21:00 Brinkmann dictates his log and we get a little tour of the craft. I must say it looks pretty crafty. Apparently pilots itself – everyone else can go off and play golf or watch Columbo reruns or something. It’s not going to take long to get to Venus – about 48 days, which is pretty good. I just Googled it and the best so far is 109 days – but this film is set in the future, so maybe they know a shortcut.

21:30 Dr Sumiko keeps an eye on the health of the crew, giving them blood pressure meds, prostate meds, that kind of thing. They drink liquid food, which is niche but the crew seem to like it. The mechanic works on fixing a washing machine or something (they’ll need it after 48 days of vegetable smoothies).

22:05 Meanwhile, two of the profs (don’t ask me which) are still trying to decipher the spool. We get a close up of their space slippers, which seem comfy enough.

22:35 Prof H checks the map. A map? In space?

23:05 Prof O plays Omega at chess. The robot seems to have a robo-stroke, but still wins. ‘That’s the tenth match I’ve lost,’ says Prof O. ‘I should give up I guess.’ Yes. You should. Then put Omega in the waste compactor.

24:19 Suddenly the rocket lurches and everyone gets thrown about. Meteorites! They struggle to switch on the emergency giro. (NOTE: they were warned about the meteorites. I’d have sat someone by the emergency giro at all times. I mean – there’s plenty of profs to go round.) Brinkmann actually has to break the glass to operate it. Seems unnecessary. But what do I know about rocket design? It works though. They stabilise, and make it back to their seats with their quiffs only slightly bent.

25:29 Dr Sumiko sticks a plaster on Talua’s head. Talua is the comms guy, easily the chillest of the crew, which is probs why he’s the comms guy. Sumiko doesn’t do a good job, but head wounds are tricky.

25:50 Brinkmann askes Prof O how much course deviation. O taps away on the cash register. ‘Eleven pounds and ten pence’.

26:40 They need to decelerate but one of the engines is out. Someone has to go outside and fix it. Awkward silence. The crew watch as Prof D reluctantly goes out on a weird grabby thing. It flies up to the holed engine and begins respraying it or something. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew buckle-up as the main meteorite shower approaches. They start the engines to brake the ship as soon as the repair is done (not seeming to check whether that’s okay with Prof D, banging around by the thrusters in the grabby thing. But maybe they thought they had so many profs on board, one more or less wouldn’t matter).

28:49 Venus is just ten days away. Despite the ship’s immense speed, the stars seem to hang motionless. Same.

29:23 Meanwhile, Prof D is making a heart for Omega. What it really needs is a conscience – then when it got plugged in it would do the decent thing and self-destruct.

30:00 Dr Sumiko is doing the rounds promoting her smoothies. No one seems that bothered. Too busy decyphering alien spools (THAT old excuse).

31:34 They decipher the last part of the spool. Turns out the Venusians were preparing an attack on Earth – softening it up with radiation first, then going in with fast food joints & Friends reruns.

33:42 Prof S says if they can meet the inhabitants of Venus they’ll be able to convince them it’d be folly to start a war. They all agree to carry on, but only because it’s easier than going back and trying to explain everything.

35:05 ‘After only 31 days of flight we’ve almost reached our destination…’ So a new record, then. If it hadn’t been for those damned meteorites…

36:00 In orbit round Venus. Brinkman volunteers to go on ahead in the frolic copter (sounds like). Typical Brinkmann.

36:09 CRAWLER COPTER! But it’s too late for Brinkmann to back out.

37:01 Brinkmann buckles-up in the crawler copter, ready to get dropped down to the surface. They have trouble talking to him because of ‘heavy electrical disturbance’ – which is also typical Brinkmann.

38:12 We watch as he descends through smoke and confetti. He sees weird shapes on the surface. Decides to land anyway. Gets out in his bucket helmet spacesuit and starts walking. He’s got Omega with him, at least. So if they meet any chess playing aliens they’ll be fine.

40:32 The structures are elongated with bad mosaics and stuff. A bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but more welcoming. Omega says Danger! ‘Go on Omega…’ says Brinkman. You can see his plan.

41:09 It’s a radioactive, vitrified forest, apparently. Brinkmann still can’t talk to the ship. He does talk to Omega, though – like a dog. ‘Go on! Keep going!’ No wonder Omega has an attitude.

41:23 The Crawler Copter explodes! ‘They’re attacking us!’ says Brinkmann.

42:00 Back on the ship they interpret the flash as typical Brinkmann. ‘We’d better land’ says Prof H, a little reluctantly it sounds to me. You notice he didn’t volunteer to fix the engine, either.

42:18 Brinkmann falls through the crust and lands on a shiny inner surface. Like an M&M, but in reverse. He’s immediately surrounded by little flying coat hangers that make wibbly noises and may or may not indicate Brinkmann is losing his mind. He grabs one of the creatures and puts it in his pocket – to smoke later – then starts climbing out of the hole.

42:56 The ship lands, blowing Brinkmann back down his hole. Typical Brinkmann.

43:10 They look around. See the Copter Crawler wreckage and assume Brinkmann was killed. But then Omega comes bouncing along! Good boy! What are you trying to tell us, Lassie? Brinkmann fell down a hole? Good work Lassie! Here’s a plutonium grenade…

44:30 Actually, Brinkmann follows Omega and tells them he’s okay himself. He shows them one of the boingy things. They think it might be an inhabitant – so maybe not such an interplanetary threat after all. They decide to explore some more, to see where a power line leads, maybe a Venusian attraction or something, because they didn’t come all this way for a vitrified forest and some coat hanger flies.

45:46 ‘There’s something very strange here!’ says Prof O. ‘Something that looks like an immense golf ball…’ The camera zooms in on an immense golf ball. Omega runs straight up to it. Good boy, Omega! Snack on this power line…!

48:00 Where are the Venusians, though? The profs have dissected the boingy thing and decided it’s really just a fancy smartphone or something. Incredible.

48:40 They explore the petrified forest some more. I take back what I said about the Sagrada Familia. It looks more like they’ve somehow entered a painting by Dali.

49:39 ‘The long Venusian night is always preceded by a violent storm….’ NOTE: I had thought we’d be further along meeting the aliens by now. It’s turning into a geography field trip.

50:02 ‘Do you think this vitrified forest is a biological formation?’
Who cares? Gimme the scares! (This is fundamentally why I’m not cut out for a space mission – that, and a hatred of cute robots).

50:43 They figure out that a terrible catastrophe devastated the planet (how contemporary). They decide to do some more exploring to get some answers, particularly in the golf ball, which could be a Venusian visitor’s centre.

52:00 Some of them go for a drive, following the power lines. The environment does look quite blasted. Lots of melted cheese structures. Well I don’t KNOW they’re cheese. It’s just that it’s gone five and I’m hungry.

55:07 The power lines disappear down a big hole. ‘This must be the entrance,’ says Brinkmann, who has experiences with holes.

56:00 ‘Over here! There’s a shaft!’ says Brinkmann. There are flashing lights at the bottom of it so they decide it’s a nerve centre. ‘But who’s servicing it?’ says Talua, the comms guy, who may or may not submit a tender for the contract.

57:00 Brinkmann stumbles, kicks a rock, and starts a polystyrene boulder collapse. They hurry on, walking round and round a gigantic cheese grater. They get chased round the grater by living gloop or lava or chocolate fondue I’m not sure. Sumiko gets her foot caught, screams and has to be rescued. (Meteorites? Tick. Polystyrene boulders? Tick…. Female needing rescuing?…)

58:29 There’s bubbly sticky gloop everywhere, glooping out of the cheese grater, glooping up right and left. It’s like they’ve landed in the middle of a Venusian sewage treatment works (but after 48 days of Sumiko’s smoothies they’re probably used to it…)

57:49 It’s absolutely disgusting! They’re sliding around all over the place! I’m shocked. I mean – this is Venus, not Uranus.

59: One of the profs shoots the gloop (I know – I just read that back and… well … I can’t think of any other way to put it). The gloop retreats. They run back to their crawlers. The whole planet makes a crazy, angry noise. It obviously doesn’t appreciate being shot in the gloop.

1:00:00 They figure out what happened – the Venusians were ready to direct radiation beams at the Earth to neutralise it (but I thought they’d figured that out ages ago…?). Back on the ship one of the profs (honestly – does it matter?) says that the golf ball is glowing red because it’s getting ready to reverse the polarity, which even I know is bad.

1:02:19 The explorer team jump in their crawlers to hurry back to the ship. There’s lightning cracking overhead. Lots of fog, spits and spots of gloop. I keep expecting a big ass alien to chase them but maybe the gloop was it. As aliens go, it’s quite meh. It’s like being terrified when you see a road being resurfaced, instead of just being mildly inconvenienced.

1:02:45 They notice shadows thrown on the walls – created when the Venusians were killed by an atomic explosion. They had three fingers and a thumb, very long legs, and a startled expression.

1:05:30 Back on the ship, the profs realise that shooting the gloop may have started a chain reaction. Even though the Venusians were killed by their own technology, what remains of it has been reactivated and is trying to complete the mission (I could TOTALLY be a professor).

1:06:00 Omega goes crazy and runs over one of the profs. (I told you not to trust that machine – and that’s why I will NEVER have an Alexa)

1:07:50 They can’t take off because the increased gravity or whatever has rendered the ship useless. Two of them have to go back out and neutralise the nerve centre. Meanwhile, Dr Sumiko gets ready to operate on Prof H. His quiff is flacid so it looks serious.

1:11:14 Talua and Prof S get ready at the shaft that leads to the nerve centre. Talua has to lower Prof S down on a rope. Unfortunately Talua’s suit gets torn and he collapses from the shock to his coolness.

1:11:18 Back on the ship, there’s a big number 68 that stays illuminated at the top of the screen. I don’t know what it means. It’s been like that for a while now, so it can’t be a countdown. Maybe it’s a log of how many professors there are on board. If it clicks to 67, that’s bad news.

1:11:54 Brinkmann sets off on the little rocket car to rescue Talua & Prof S.

1:12:58 The rocket is being pushed off the planet because of negative gravity or something. They radio Brinkmann to come back. Come back, Brinkmann! Come back! (Like he’s Omega or something). But it’s not looking great for Brinkmann, Talua or Prof S.

1:14:20 Lunar base radios Earth to say that the Cosmic Castrator is returning but they can’t get a reply. Have they picked up Brinkmann and the others? Or were they doomed to stay on Gloopitur / I mean Venus.

1:14:35 A montage of radar antennae spinning round, which spins the film out some.

1:15:18 The ship lands. All the technicians join hands and run out to meet the crew, their chest letters spelling AAAAAAAA. Which is either cute or horrifying, depending on how you’re feeling at this point.

1:15:43 The moment I’ve been dreading arrives. The door opens, and the professors stagger out onto the gantry one by one, so there’s no excuse not knowing their names. I recognise Sumiko, helping another professor out. Then robot guy. Then Prof H. With his arm around another prof. But then that prof slowly closes the door, which is supposed to be a sad moment, but I’m quite glad, because I’m off the hook naming the profs.

1:17:00 Prof H praises the three who didn’t make it. Prof D gives a little speech about a great civilisation that destroyed itself. (NOTE: if that dumb Omega robot makes a cute last appearance and everyone laughs, followed by a close-up of its characterful grin, I’m going to slap this computer shut and throw myself quiff-first into a vat of gloop).

1:18:00 Closing line comes from Prof D – ‘we’ll fly further and further and explore other planets. It’s our destiny’. (If we can avoid destroying ourselves with nuclear weapons and gloop).

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Venus isn’t too bad, especially if you like Barcelona.
  2. Be careful handling atomic energy. It can seriously damage your interplanetary reputation.
  3. Cute robots are no substitute for dogs.
  4. Get a juicer. But give the smoothies to someone else.
  5. Don’t shoot the gloop.

The Creation of the Humanoids

The Creation of the Humanoids. 1962. Dir. Wesley Barry. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Supposedly Andy Warhol’s favourite film, so…

It starts with smokey red then blue screens, people arguing in different languages – which may or may not be an editing mistake – then a nuclear mushroom cloud along with a soprano practising scales in the bathroom or something, and then the title credits in splurgy horror-sci-fi font.

Apparently Don Doolittle is Dr Raven. Can’t wait to meet him.

On the cast list is the actor Dudley Manlove, which I nominate as my favourite name today.

The credits go on for a surprisingly long time, with lots of stock footage of nuclear explosions. It’s strangely relaxing, what with the soprano doing her scales and the funky colour scheme. It has a strangely anaesthetic effect, and may in fact prove to be a cheaper way of putting people under than propofol.

The first thing you get is a disembodied voice describing how mankind tried to avoid a nuclear war but were unsuccessful… no-one’s fault, really…. a nuclear war that was ‘…short…. lasted about 48 hours….’ which is about as long as this monologue, then.

The upshot is that there are so few people left in the world they look to robots to make up the difference. Which mightn’t be so bad if it wasn’t 1962.

Still the monologue goes on. Now it’s describing the first attempt at electronic brains (shows a picture of what looks like a console at a freight depot). Apparently they needed large buildings to house them. And large hats.

A big step was a neuron replicator, the voice says, showing a picture of what is clearly a golf ball.

I beg your pardon. They’re using the golf ball for scale. Awks.

Things go well and they get the first R1 robot. Cut to what looks like a giant silver vibrator with arms and legs. ‘Quite ungainly …. its functions were limited’. Yep. Been there.

‘Refinements came in rapid succession….’ showing a guy dressed in cardboard boxes… looks happy though.

Soon they had the R20 – ‘capable of all the thought processes and functions of a man…’ showing another guy in boxes and giant flower pots turning to the right then the left. Which I’ll admit is pretty much your average guy.

Honestly – you have to see this film just for the robots. They’re adorable.

Finally we get the R21 – a major leap from the R20 – being basically anyone from Kraftwerk.

They’re disparagingly called ‘The Clickers’. Which I’ll admit would be hurtful (if you had the hurtful update downloaded).

Into the action proper. Two clickers – sorry, R21s – are strolling through a futuristic plaza. They get stopped by two guards who want to see their assignment cards. The first R21 looks quite easy about it. Probably happens all the time. Apparently they’re on their way to the temple to get recharged. The guards are mean – say they’ll keep them there till they run out of power. The first R21 says he’ll report them to the police, which convinces them to let them go. Politically quite edgy so far.

Apparently the guards are representatives of the Order of Flesh and Blood – which, going by their sexist and racist attitudes so far, means that post-apocalyptic society is no better than the pre, and cause for more despair.

Inside the temple, a bunch of R21s stand around saying how long all this is going to take, asking about the new R21, where he came from &c – the whole scene hyper-coloured and stilted – which is maybe why Andy Warhol loved it so much.

The extremely robotic acting reminds me of some productions I’ve been in. At school I was Guenelon in Tristan & Isolde. When Tristan jumped out the window I had to go over there and say the line ‘300 feet!’ I think I performed that role pretty much as an R21.

More R21s emerge from some lifted perspex tubes. One of them almost falls over. Which is either great method acting or general klutziness, or both.

An R21 that’s been made up to look like a human is brought in. ‘The structure is excellent!’ says the head R21. I’m glad something is. Honestly – this film is only eight minutes in and I’m already thinking nuclear war mightn’t be such a bad thing.

‘He needs a little more hair,’ says the R21. Ouch.

The way he slowly puts his hand up and says ‘he needs a mole behind the left ear’ is very creepy. But also extremely dull, at the same time. Which is a strange combo, and almost lethal.

I think one of the drawbacks is that they’ve decided robots would speak & move slowly. Which means the film does the same thing. If the technology’s there to make humanoid robots, surely it could cope with a little more action? Just saying.

Apparently the robot who needs more hair and a mole behind his ear is an R34 – with no fear circuits. (Hopefully he got the ‘move & talk a bit quicker’ upgrade, too).

One of the R21s gives a cute little speech about how much the R34 will be giving up, being more human. I don’t know why he’s so arch about it. Anyway, he says once it’s done they’ll have ‘10 males and 6 females’. And the females will get paid less.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not, whatever you do, watch this film. A bunch of robots standing around talking about humans and other robots, who can do this or that, who can’t, pressure groups, blah blah. One of the R21s tucks his ridiculous thumbs into his belt, like he’s going to do some line dancing or something. No such luck. On they blather about the way things are in robot world. It’s like an anti-film. The opposite of drama. Nil interest. No WONDER Warhol went for it.

‘We’re filling key positions with R96s as fast as we get them.’ True story.

‘By the end of the month we will outnumber the humans.’ The big closing line of this interminable scene.

…. and we’re back to people walking pointlessly in the futuristic plaza. I’m SOoooo tempted to skip forwards. My life is worth more than this. AND I’m hungry.

The R21 is walking with the R34. They stop outside a door. The R21 knocks. They step back. The door opens.

‘Yes?’ says a voice.

Honestly – I can’t believe how dreadful this is. I always thought I’d be able to withstand a certain amount of torture. I have cold showers. I can sit in a chair and stare at a wall for literally MINUTES. But THIS? Whatever it is you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ll even make something up. But please God make this stop….

‘Dr Raven?’ says the R21.
‘Yes’ says Dr Raven.

Jesus Christ.

Anyway, we know that Dr Raven is played by Don Doolittle. It’s so tempting to say Dr Doolittle. But it’s not. It’s Dr Raven, played by Don Doolittle. I am now becoming a robot. Observe how I type these comments, and pause as I review the action. I use the alt-tab function to flip between windows. I am efficiently using my time in this way. Thank you.

Hold the phone! Dr Raven looks amaven. I mean, amazing. He looks like a cross between John Malkovich and Patrick Magee. With Christopher Lloyd’s hair. In a dirty lab coat. Fantastic! Worth the price of admission (not).

I particularly like the way Dr Raven (Don Doolittle) comes out of the doorway to show off his costume. He obviously took a while over it in makeup. Great work, Doolittle! Nice.

Dr Raven has a slight limp, which may or may not be part of his character. In the foreground of his laboratory is a human skeleton on a pole, which is totally how I feel right now.

On Dr Raven’s workbench is an arm and a giant stick of celery. The arm is a real arm poked through the worktop. When the R21 tells Dr Raven to reverse the polarity (always worth a shot) the arm moves. They all watch it judder, clench its fist and so on. I’d love it to flip them the bird.

The giant celery turns out to be some green cloth that Dr Raven uses to cover up the arm (for some reason). Dr Raven pays the R21 for bringing the R34 to his lab. 10,000 credits. Which seems cheap, but shrug

Oh – apparently this robot is an R58 (the one paying Dr Raven 10,000 credits). Keep up.

‘….perhaps we should hurry,’ says the R58. Yes. Perhaps we should (my finger poised over the ESC button).

Actually, the R58 pronounces it ‘row-buts’ when he talks about robots. Maybe I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. It’s not important. Nothing is important anymore.

Dr Raven gets the R34 on his bench and starts fiddling with it (less exciting than it sounds – especially as you only have a close-up on his pointy face, frowning and saying he doesn’t like the sight of blood).

I can’t imagine who this film was supposed to appeal to (other than graphic artists on LSD). There is no action WHATSOEVER. The whole thing is dialogue, talking about things – things that aren’t even interesting to begin with. I’m guessing the budget must have been somewhere around ten dollars – four of that for Dr Raven’s prosthetic chin. It’s utterly hopeless. My circuits are imploding. I’m feeling something you humans would call IMPOTENT RAGE. Soon I will burn out, and become as nothing.

‘Men hate what they fear…’ says Dr Raven. Well, that may be true, doc, but they also hate films WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS. The Creation of the Humanoids? More like haemorrhoids.

There’s some pretty zippy dialogue between Dr Raven and the R58.
‘We don’t refer to our father and mother as a brain’
‘Your father and mother’s an electronic computer!’
‘Your parents were machines’
‘You came off a production line’
‘I know who created me. Hollister Evans and Mark 47. You have to accept your creator on faith…’
‘Who created your creator…?’

Honestly, this is gold.

Okay – I HAVE to skip forward. For my mental health. I can only apologise and say it’s beyond my capability as a C59 to assimilate this bunch of crap. I’ll skip five minutes ahead each time and describe the scene. I’m sure Warhol would approve.

22:44 The R34 is strangling Dr Raven whilst there’s angry knocking at the door. Generally I approve of this development. Should’ve happened earlier.

25:07 The main guard is giving some kind of speech (no shit), uplit like someone’s holding a torch under his chin.

29:13 He’s joined on stage by two other people. One of them says that ‘mankind is no more than a state of mind’. As states of mind go, mine just went.

34:39 The main guard is talking to another guard about how expensive something is. I’m guessing the scriptwriter had money on the brain. Maybe if I had the emotional wherewithal to sift through this stuff more carefully, I’d find subliminal messaging about how little scriptwriters get paid, the value of human labour and so on. But the truth is, I don’t care one way or the other.

40:12 An R58 (I think) is serving tiny glasses of wine to the main guard and a woman in a fifties ball gown, sitting on some patio furniture spray-painted to look futuristic.
‘I don’t understand you, Craigus’ says the row-butler.
‘You’re not supposed to’ says Craigus.
Meow.

48:34 (which is more than five minutes, I know, but c’mon – I’m only human). Craigus (as we now know to call him) is drinking more wine on the same shitty furniture, this time with a woman dressed like Tippi Hedren in Vertigo or something. The woman in the ballgown is sitting a little way off now.
‘I understand’ she says.
‘See what I mean?’ says Craigus.

58:39 Craigus is sitting in front of a big potted plant, so that the leaves poke out all around him, which is nice. He’s talking to a woman in a beret (who I recognise from the plaza earlier on in the film, but didn’t mention because I didn’t think it would be this important).
‘From now on, Rule One can no longer exist’ says Craigus.
She sighs and stands up.
‘Are you always so gloomy?’ she says.

Yes. I can say with robotic accuracy – he IS always this gloomy. The only one with even the slightest amount of fun was Dr Raven, and he’s dead. DEAD, I TELL YOU!

1:03:43 Back to the Kraftwerk lineup. One of them presses a button. In walks ….
‘I’m Dr Raven. A younger Dr Raven, as you promised…’

Whaaaaaaaat?

I’m still skipping forward, though. It’s too little, too late, I’m afraid.

1:13 The young Dr Raven is talking to Craigus.
‘You died,’ he says.
‘I….died?’ says Craigus.

I think the scriptwriter was SO pleased with this concept he HAD to use it again.

1:18:16 Close-up of the young Dr Raven. I can’t wait to un-pause the frame and see what he has to say. He looks so dashing, and .. well… fresh.
‘When I perfected this thalamic transplant technique, these clickers knew about it in a day and a half….’

Oh. Okay.

1: 21:15 Craigus has both hands on the shoulders of the woman in the beret, whilst an R whatever looks skyward and Dr Raven looks, well… like Dr Raven.
‘I love him very much,’ says the beret woman.
Who she means I’ll never know. And I’m happy with that.

1:23:41 The closing moments of the film. Dr Raven is pleased (me, too). I wonder what his last words will be?

Craigus is with the beret woman.
‘A pretty sloppy way of doing business,’ says Dr Raven. ‘But it fulfills a certain psychological need.’
‘Paradoxical, isn’t it?’ says Craigus. ‘I spend my life seeking immortality on one hand…. seeking to destroy it on the other.’
‘I love you Craigus’ says the beret woman.
Dr Raven does a direct-to-camera address.
‘Of course, the operation was a success,’ he says. ‘Or you wouldn’t be here…’

Soprano practicing scales in the bathroom.

The End.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wa…aaaa..alll
  2. Nuclear war must be avoided at all costs otherwise we’ll find ourselves in a world of excruciating inaction
  3. 10,000 credits is about average for a row-but
  4. If you’re having trouble with your row-but, try turning it off and on again. Or reversing the polarity.
  5. For best acoustic effects, why not practice your soprano scales in the bathroom?

Rocketship X-M

Rocketship X-M. 1950. Dir. Kurt Neumann. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Robert L Lippert presents… it says on the opening card, with the kind of loopy signature you practice on your homework book in case you ever get famous. The cast actually has people I’ve heard of. Lloyd Bridges. Noah Beery. Hmm. It’s also got Osa Massen, which is very satisfying to say quickly. The intro music is the usual ‘orchestra going crazy because they think they’ll get paid more if they play hard and fast’ – which may or may not be true. It makes you long for a harp (but this is the ONLY time that happens).

Kurt Neumann is listed as writer, producer AND director. So I’m guessing he’s either brilliant or a tightwad.

The film opens with a big sign: US Government Property. No Trespassing. It’d be great if the end credits played then and we all went away and did something else. I mean – you don’t want to break the law, do you? You do? Shit. Then let’s do it.

There’s a countdown going on. In a science-type room with machines with dials and knobs and men in suits wandering round with clipboards looking worried. One guy getting his blood pressure checked. (Possibly writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann).

There’s a woman getting her blood pressure, too – so I’m guessing this must be the crew. Smug guys zipping themselves into leather flight jackets. We cut back to the first guy. The doctor is still pumping up the cuff. The doctor looks so old and frail you kinda want to do HIS blood pressure instead. First guy looks impatient.

The doc tells him his blood pressure’s high but understandable under the circumstance. Lloyd Bridges nods to the woman and says ‘The weaker sex! The only one whose blood pressure’s normal.’ All the men laugh. For her sake I hope it’s not a long trip.

The guy puts his jacket on and says: ‘Thank you doctor. And goodnight.’ A strangely touching farewell. Off they go to the launchpad. (I originally typed ‘lunch pad’ – which would be more exciting at this point).

They walk off through a long corridor. No lights. You’d think if they can afford a rocket they can afford lights.

They enter a room filled with smoking journos. As in cigarettes, not talent. The tannoy says ‘X minus 16 minutes.’ If I was due to get blasted off in 16 minutes I’d want to be strapped in the chair already, not taking a seat for a press conference. Maybe that’s why I’ve never made it into space. I’m too punctual.

A serious guy in a suit – probably the Flight Director, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann) – gives a long and serious talk to the press that goes on for a serious length of time but that does – eventually – reveal that XM stands for ‘expedition to the moon’. Thanks for that. You wouldn’t think they were due to leave in about five minutes. ‘Forever… man has dreamed of visiting our nearest heavenly bodies…’ He puts his hand in his pocket and leans on the desk. I mean – at this point I’d be out the door and sprinting down the dark corridor to the lunch pad.

He introduces the crew. First, (what sounds like) Dr Karl Excrement (but I think he means Eckstrom). Karl looks like a car salesman but is actually a brilliant physicist, apparently. Lisa Van Horn, doctor of chemistry. Colonel Floyd Graham (which is handy, because that’s Lloyd Bridges, so Floyd / Lloyd – really helpful, thanx); Harry Chamberlain, astronomer; Major William Corrigan, engineer (which is Noah Beery – engineery – thx again). The Flight Director asks Dr Eckstrom to outline the flight plan. I mean honestly – hasn’t anyone got a WATCH??

The tannoy says ‘X minus fourteen minutes’ as Karl stands at the blackboard. I’m guessing the tannoy is more directed at the audience, who – like me – must be getting anxious. We’ve paid to see rockets and aliens. This is like school (although we weren’t allowed to smoke in school, unless we were in detention, in which case we injected).

Jesus Christ. Karl draws a circle. The Earth? The moon? No – it’s the Earth. He draws another circle further away. Then tells us HOW much further away that is. Look – I don’t need to know, professor. I’m guessing you can’t just walk there. Please. I’m begging you. Get your spacesuit on. If you’re in too much of a hurry the zipper might jam.

I have a horrible feeling he’s not drawing the earth and the moon with points of takeoff and whatnot, but a rude picture. This is not the kind of behaviour you expect from an astronaut – and especially not when you’ve got about FIVE MINUTES TILL LIFT OFF.

He slides a panel of the board back to reveal a pre-drawn picture of the rocket, dangerously phallic, of course. This Karl…. he acts all stiff and formal but he’s actually filthy.

The talk goes on. The press corps are all asleep or on fire after falling on their cigarettes.

‘A few more details which might interest you,’ says Karl, pointing to the cabin, which apparently has enough oxygen, although I’m not sure about the press room. ‘Any questions?’ says Karl. Everyone leaves.

A few of the press stay behind, though. One asks the astronomer Harry if he has any family (what do they know about this trip?). ‘No – I’ve been living on mountain tops’ says Harry. Okay. Yep. At T-Minus GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE.

‘Have you ever done any flying?’ says the reporter, holding his notepad ready. ‘Only as a passenger,’ says Harry. I’m guessing he really is only along for the astronomy, then. I’m slightly worried at the direction the reporter is taking. ‘But – you’re the navigator!’ he says. Harry starts to explain why an astronomer is better navigating in space than a REAL navigator, but the camera cuts away to Bill Corrigan, also answering questions. (I used to love Noah Beery in The Rockford Files. I refuse to say anything mean about Noah Beery). He gives a warm and delightful little monologue about his wife and how proud she was when he said to her ‘Honey? I’m going to the moon! She says what for? They ain’t got nothing there we ain’t got plenty of in Texas!’ Bashful. Warm. Filled with charismatic humanity. Classic Beery.

And I won’t say anything snippy about Floyd / Lloyd Bridges, either. The reporters interview him – he gives great, smouldering answers, ‘I’ve flown a hundred missions’ etc. Amazing. I don’t care the rocket’s about to take off without ‘em. I could do this press conference all day. (Which is just as well, the way things are going).

Although… he gestures towards Lisa Van Horn and says ‘this is the hottest crew I’ve ever worked with – especially in the brains department.’ Oof. Although to be fair, he didn’t write the script, and an actor’s gotta eat.

‘Unless you look like a test tube or a chemical formula, you haven’t got a chance,’ says Floyd. Mind you, if he took off his clothes and held his hands straight down by his sides… (maybe he’ll do just that, later. It is Lloyd Bridges, after all).

The Flight Director strides onto the stage again. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – we are pressed for time…’ No shit.

The crew go back down the dark corridor. The WHOLE corridor – sauntering, not striding. I mean – the rocket and all that…? The film is an hour and forty five. So far we’ve had fifteen minutes of blood pressure monitoring, blackboard illustrations and sauntering. I mean – jeez.

They saunter outside and meet with a bunch of guys in white lab coats. There’s a rocket in the background, a bit like an airstream mobile home but upended and the end sharpened. ‘X minus seven minutes,’ says the tannoy. No one seems at all bothered. SEVEN MINUTES!

The lab guys reassure the crew that ‘everything’s in order’ – they’ve checked the oil, made sure there were magazines in the rack &c. ‘I can’t think of anything we’ve overlooked,’ says Karl. I can. YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN ON BOARD YET.

The rocket is right there but for some reason they take a taxi. They’ve got six minutes. I hope they don’t take the freeway. This time a’ night, mac. Sheesh.

Back in the control room. I love the instruments they had back then. Very high spec. One of them looks like a spinning wheel. The reporters are all in there, smoking. The Flight Director runs in to watch through the window. His boots sound enormous, like they’re made of lead. Nobody takes any notice. He’s probably famous for it.

They’ve got less than five minutes before the rocket takes off, and still they find time to admire the view from the gantry.

FINALLY – they climb through the hatch into the rocket control room. It looks pretty fancy. A bit steampunk, like someone was fixing to shoot a chemical works into space. There’s a row of clipboards hanging above one of the consoles. I find them reassuring. Probably tick lists. BURNER check. MAGAZINES check SEXISM check &c

When Floyd comes on deck he takes his jacket off and throws it in a corner. Has anyone told him about weightlessness? That jacket’s comin’ back.

Van Horn gives the guys a quick lesson in fuel technology. It’s like she’s hypnotised. Three minutes to go and no-one’s strapped in. I’m the twitchiest one out of all of them, and this happened seventy years ago.

They all get into bunks and buckle up. For some reason Karl has to help Van Horn do her buckle up. He doesn’t help the guys. I hope Van Horn is more competent with fuel technology than she is with buckles.

A series of tense cuts between the faces of the astronauts lying in their bunks, to the people waiting in the control room, to the dial counting down the seconds – which everyone is FINALLY paying attention to. At zero, you get a close up of a gas burner, like someone’s going to put on some water for pasta.

I can’t believe it! The rocket takes off!

Van Horn gets a headache. Karl licks his moustache. Bill the engineer puts his hands over his ears (Classic Beery).

Everyone in the control room watches it go up. One guy even has a telescope (he must’ve brought it with him). Suddenly the Flight Director says: ‘Now if you’d follow me we’ll try to make radio contact with the ship’. They all do. All journalists are like this, btw. Basically clueless.

Now they’re in space, the crew get out of their bunks. They’re all a little shaken up. ‘I feel like I just tossed off a spooky bronc’ says Bill. They all look at him uneasily. Classic Beery.

They get busy with the clipboards, turning dials &c. The ship makes a sound like the radiators need bleeding, but they don’t seem worried. Van Horn stares out the window, at the Earth disappearing. She calls Harry over. She knows he likes looking at things at distance. It’s his creepy super power. They share a moment, together at the window. ‘Stand by to turn’ says Karl, ominously.

They turn. I REALLY don’t think anyone’s told them about weightlessness. They all lean.

Time passes. They orbit the earth picking up speed to slingshot to the moon. The Flight Director clumps around the increasingly smoky control room in his special boots, more anxious than he was before lift off. They could use those boots in space (although it doesn’t look as if there’s any weightlessness, so…)

Bill turns some dials and gets nostalgic about Texas. I don’t actually think he’s from Texas. I think he’s from Poughkeepsie. He jettisons the tail section by pulling a great big lever. Very satisfying. You don’t get the same kick from buttons.

Seconds later they almost get whacked by the tail section coming back. I’m still worried about Floyd’s jacket, btw.

Back in the control centre, the Flight Director hands out press releases to the journalists. I’m guessing not with any details of the ship almost getting whacked five seconds after jettisoning the tail section.

Back on the ship, they finally get to have some lunch. Some of the most commonly asked questions of astronauts (and I should know; I am one), are: what do you eat? how do you poo? how do you hang up your jackets so they don’t fly around the place and cause a problem? Well – now we know the answer to the first question. They eat ham sandwiches. Bill eats one whilst wandering around the flight deck, one hand in his pocket, reminiscing about Texas.

OMG! Floyd’s jacket starts rising up! They’re becoming weightless! (I KNEW IT) Only it turns out it’s not Floyd’s jacket but Harry’s. Still – close enough.

Floyds starts flirting with Van Horn. I like Lloyd Bridges, but this scene makes you want to slam the laptop shut and throw yourself out the window (even if you are only on the ground floor). They’re ten minutes into a mission to the moon and already he’s saying she should be back in the kitchen bearing children or something. Whilst nibbling his sandwich suggestively. Oof.

The scene is mercifully interrupted by a noise from the engines like a pigeon just flew in a duct. Although – that far in space? Maybe an intergalactic space swan.

Floyd and Bill crawl down into the engine compartment to see what’s wrong. I get the feeling they know about as much about rocket engines as I know about car engines, because they do exactly the same thing, which is aimlessly jiggle things, and look around, and wonder whether it might help emptying the ashtray.

There’s a tense scene where Van Horn is sitting at a desk next to Karl, both of them filling out a customer questionnaire form, or something. Bill takes out a harmonica. It floats around him just exactly as if it was on strings. He plays catch and release with it a while. Then starts to play. ‘If you don’t mind…’ says Karl, tetchily. I’m not convinced Bill was such a good choice for this trip, Beery or no Beery.

Van Horn and Karl argue over some bullshit maths. They get different answers. Van Horn gets upset – but then apologises. ‘For what?’ says Karl. ‘For being a woman?’ Yeech.

Cut to a gigantic knob. Actually it’s a telescope back on earth, turning up to look at the rocket or something. Patriotic brass section on the score. A full half of this movie seems to be stock footage. So writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann didn’t just save money on the cast list, then.

Turns out, the telescope is Mount Palomar Observatory. A professorial type guy in round specs like someone put paint on the view finders calls the Flight Director to say that very little has changed. Thanks, for that. Thanks a lot.

Back on the rocket, Floyd is staring out the window quoting Kipling, which makes complete sense.

Karl has fallen asleep on the very clipboard Van Horn needs. Floyd sneaks the clipboard out from under his arm and gives it to her (after first telling her a long and unnecessary anecdote about one christmas when he knocked over the tree).

They give up on the calculations and both go to the window to look some more at the earth. ‘You know it’s funny,’ says Van Horn. ‘One never thinks of the earth that way, as a dying planet with nothing to give out but reflected light’. Which seems harsh, and maybe why her specialty’s chemistry. But Floyd points to the moon. Apparently he’s done some of his best work by moonlight…’ Yeech.

Van Horn talks about a romantic stroll she once took around Lake Lucerne, comparing most of it to cold coffee with ice cream chips. Floyd smoulders. Says daydreaming’s good for you once in a while. I swear his chest hair is growing out of his shirt. Probably the effect of the moon.

The romantic scene is interrupted by meteorites. They fly by like chocolate breakfast cereal being tipped into a bowl (I’m sounding like Van Horn). After they’ve gone, Harry says he wished one of them had wiped them out. At least it would’ve been quick. I’m with Harry on this one.

Karl and Van Horn figure out the fuel problem and show us what they propose doing on a chart. I don’t care. I just want someone to fly the thing to the moon, or Poughkeepsie, or any damned where.

God help us, but Floyd and Bill go back down to the engine room to rearrange the engines.

Back on the bridge, they pull some levers. Everyone falls about – including Karl onto Floyd, who releases the lever and bad stuff happens. They’re all unconscious now. The orchestra sounds like that bit at the end of A Day in the Life on Sergeant Pepper. The dials go crazy…

Cut to: the Flight Director on the phone to the comedy professor from Mount Palomar – who gives him the bad news. ‘Are you sure?’ says the FD – then slowly puts the phone down and says in his best Boris Karloff voice that the rocket is heading at incredible velocity into limitless space – which doesn’t sound promising (although actually … I don’t know… ).

Back on the rocket, they’re still unconscious. Van Horn is the first to wake up. She reaches down from her bunk to give Floyd a good slap – something she should’ve done a while ago. His nose is bleeding (wow! that WAS a slap). He gets up and turns the oxygen up a bit, which is smart (for him). Van Horn goes over to Karl and gives HIM a slap, too (Go, girl!)

They check all the instruments to figure out where they are in the script. Karl has the bright idea of looking out the window. Mars! That’s why he’s leader!

‘Mars! Well whaddya know!’ says Bill. (Classic Beery)

Floyd still has a bloody nose. Someone should tell him.

They get ready to land on Mars, which means tapping dials with pencils, drawing diagrams and shouting out random numbers.

Another countdown – and no-one’s getting buckled up. I mean, am I just being overly safety conscious?

Floyd is back on the levers, reducing power and everything. After last time…?

They scuff the landing, of course. Despite the gravitas with which Karl delivers his instructions, a lot of thrust and tonnes and whatnot, I’m not convinced he’s got the slightest idea what he’s doing. But still – probably a little more than Bill.

Flashes of lightning outside. A Martian storm! Bill’s excited – not by the storm, but by the prospect of putting on a helmet. (Classic Beery).

However, Karl says they won’t need suits because Mars has atmosphere. (Really, Karl?) ‘We can accomplish so much more, unencumbered’ says Karl. (writer / director / producer Kurt Neumann must have snickered when he wrote that line – and then nodded to his accountant – although, come to think of it, no doubt he did the books, too).

Well. We get a spooky distance shot of the rocket parked on Mars and tiny figures walking out. Theremins play, natch. The crew are dressed in army fatigues and wearing little oxygen masks. Karl is wearing binoculars round his neck and carrying a walking stick. Oh Karl.

Apart from the red sky, it looks uncannily like the desert we’ve seen in the last few films. There’s a VERY long shot of the crew walking through it. They do a lot of walking, for astronauts

They stop for a while so Karl can admire the incredible mineral deposits through his binoculars. Then they carry on walking.

If this was a cult hit, the audience would walk around the auditorium for about an hour at this point. Stop. Point at nothing at all. Carry on walking.

‘Sand and rock. Rock and sand,’ says Bill. ‘I wonder when we’re going to run across some of these Martians? From what I’ve read, they’ve got pale faces and pinheads and fishy eyes…’ (Definitely Poughkeepsie).

Actually – aside from the movie for a minute – this scene encapsulates what I often think about the prospect of a trip to Mars. You spend two years getting there, hop out, walk around a whole lot of nothing, then get back in and it’s another two years back. It reminds me of the time when I took my girlfriend’s grandma to Stonehenge. It was a three hour car trip, she got out, stood and looked at the stones, said ‘I’ve seen enough’ and got back in the car.

At last! They come across a ruined building. Van Horn takes a picture. ‘I’ve seen enough’ she says. Gets back in the rocket. (I’m kidding).

They find the head of a statue in the sand. Looks kinda grumpy. A bit like how I imagine Kurt Neumann to look when he sees the rushes.

The geiger counter’s going nuts. ‘Radioactivity is at a danger level’ says Karl. He thinks it was war that wiped out life on Mars. Harry thinks they should head back to the rocket – maybe things are getting too close-up for his liking. Karl thinks they should carry on exploring. They’ve got plenty of supplies, he says – although the ham sandwiches will be a bit curly by now.

‘Are there any survivors?’ asks Van Horn. Karl makes a speech about mutations & deformities, so hopefully…

They go to sleep in a cave, with Harry keeping watch (ever the watcher). And thank God for that – because he sees some Martians creeping up. They disappear when he yells at them. The crew wake up. They all go chasing after the Martians.

Bill and Karl go on ahead to see if they can find the Martians. The others stay behind.

One of the Martians trips and falls down the slope. Bill and Karl hurry over. Turns out it’s a starlet on contract, dressed in a primitive skin bathing suit. We get a close up of her face. Her eyebrows are beautifully manicured – but unfortunately she’s blind (we know this becuase she puts her hands out in front of her when she moves, like it only just happened). She screams! Bill and Karl hurry away again. Two lunkish guys in primitive skin swimming trunks come and take her away – for legal advice or acting lessons or something, I’m not sure.

‘Atomic age … to stone age,’ says Karl. I don’t know. I think the tailoring on that bathing suit was pretty impressive.

The Martians hurl boulders at them. They don’t like the implication of his speech.

Bill is killed – presumably. Karl doesn’t hang around long enough to properly check.

Karl fires randomly at the Martians, who wave their sticks in reply. We get a close-up of one Martian’s back, which is horribly made-up. He goes to throw something spiky at Karl.

Karl staggers back to the others. ‘Where’s Bill?’ shouts Floyd. Karl looks confused, then falls forward, the spiky thing in his back (well – just to the side of his backpack, so respect to the accuracy of the Martian, there).

‘They’re crazed, despairing wretches. Pity them,’ says Karl. ‘Get back to Earth. Tell them what we found. Maybe this will…’ then he dies.

The three remaining crew run back to the ship pursued by the Martians. I have to say – for people who have grown up on Mars, the Martians don’t run very confidently about the place. They hobble like me walking barefoot on a pebbly beach.

Floyd trips, then gets squashed by a big ass boulder thrown by a Martian. But the others help him up and they all stagger on to the rocket. It’d take more than a boulder. Although he probably has a nosebleed.

Next thing you know, the rocket is taking off again. We’re back on the flight deck. Actually – turns out it was Harry who got squashed by the rock. It’s hard to tell with those oxygen masks. Anyway – without Harry it’s difficult to navigate, apparently. At least Van Horn has changed into a black polo neck shirt, which sets off her eyes nicely – oh my God – I’m turning into Floyd.

‘I see a woman sweet, gentle and beautiful,’ says Floyd. Turn the ship around, Van Horn! Take your chances with the Martians!

For some reason they’re almost back at Earth. It’s obviously quicker on the way back, probably a tail wind or something. ‘Speeds increasing! Shut off the fuel…’ says Floyd. But Van Horn can see they have no fuel left. They’ll simply crash on reentry. Mournful violins play (although crashing cymbals might be more illustrative).

Floyd calls the control centre to let them know how things stood on Mars before they smash into the Earth at uncontrollable speed and that sort of thing. The Flight Director marches down the corridor in his enormous boots. He has a go on the radio, too. Goes through a range of expressions that make him well worth the fifty dollars he got for the part. And no repeat fees.

Extreme close up on the Flight Director’s face when he learns that Karl didn’t make it. The sweat on his forehead is superb. Honestly, this is Oscar winning stuff (if there was no-one else that year to give it to). The orchestra goes into full scale romantic meltdown. It makes me re-evaluate the relationship between Karl and the Flight Director. It seems to make more sense now. Why they built the rocket in the first place. Why they delayed taking off. He clumps off to a corner of the office. We see only his shadow on the wall. A shadow of his former self. Congrats all round. Honestly – the best.

Back on the rocket, Van Horn looks out the window again. Floyd joins her. ‘Floyd! Hold me! Hold me tight!’ she says. He does. He says some comforting stuff, such as ‘there’s not much difference between the future and the past…’ neglecting to mention the present, which is very much about ploughing into the earth at a thousand miles a second. Van Horn says she’s not afraid. There’s a great wave bearing them up, or something. Then the screen goes white and they crash. Gulp!

Cut to: The Flight Director looking out of HIS window. Someone tells him the news syndicate are waiting. They all come in. One of them says they’ve received reports of a strange craft plummeting into Nova Scotia. Another – presumably a nephew of Kurt Neumann, because he struggles to deliver his single line with anything LIKE normality – says that he’s been hearing the same thing, too.

The Flight Director confirms it. Flight RXM was lost. When the newsmen describe it as a failure, the Flight Director disagrees. ‘It has supplied us with information that may well mean the salvation of our own world.’ He tells them they are to begin construction of RXM 2… and we watch as he walks sadly out to the empty lunch pad. Slowly.

And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. It’s not actually that far to Mars. And you can pretty much walk to the moon.
  2. Throwing boulders is surprisingly effective. And more eco.
  3. Noah Beery is lovely, even in this stinker. Lloyd – not so much. (Although his smoulder is enhanced by a dark polo neck).
  4. It helps to have a little fuel left for the brakes on re-entry.
  5. Don’t get too hung up on countdowns. Three minutes is plenty – so long as there isn’t too much of a queue at the taxi rank.

Missile to the Moon

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Missile to the Moon, 1958, dir. Richard Cunha. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Before we press play: I happen to know this one features a giant spider, web fans, so pucker up. I’m a big fan of big spiders. I loved the spider in The Incredible Shrinking Man. Devastated when it died – spoiler alert – which isn’t actually a spoiler alert, come to think of it – you can’t give a plot twist away and then say ‘spoiler alert’. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Arachnophobia. I love a spider in a movie as much as I love a complicated equation on a blackboard that someone rubs out and writes the answer. But that’s another story.

  1. The film opens with a rocket taking off, then blaring trumpets and twirling violins, the gloopy title Missile to the Moon. So I’m guessing this isn’t a documentary.
  2. The cast list is so anonymous they may as well have printed the ingredients from a packet of cereal – but then the next list is of ‘international beauty contest winners’, so… erm…
  3. After the glaring opening the soundtrack settles down into the usual, vibraphone / theremin spacey-spooky shit that’s the aural equivalent of taking a glass elevator to the stars. At least it gives me a chance to finish my sandwich.
  4. A police car pulls up in the desert and a look-a-like Bob Hope Sheriff gets out and grumpily scans the horizon with his binoculars. He calls Control, with an expression on his face like he’d rather be anything than a Sheriff (which I totally sympathise with). ‘No sign of them’, he says. Shifts uncomfortably, which is either the script or IBS. Gets back in the car. We’re off!
  5. Cut to: An army guy with his left hand in his pocket, some other guy with his right hand in his pocket, both of them interrogating Dirk, a scientist who’s angry about something (rockets, not pockets).
  6. The Sheriff comes in (they take their hands out of their pockets). He’s carrying a torch, for some reason. He says ‘This isn’t exactly a social call’ (which explains the torch). He’s looking for some escaped criminals. He says he ‘didn’t expect them to get prast the prison fence’ – which they maybe didn’t reshoot because it showed how human the Sheriff was, scuffing his lines like that. He’s just a man with a torch, standing in front of other men with their hands back in their pockets).
  7. The guy in the suit, Steve – another scientist it turns out – pulls back the curtains and we see either a huge rocket far off or an MDF rocket close up. The general thinks it’s fantastic. Honestly? It looks like a lava lamp.
  8. Steve says he met Dirk when Dirk wrote to him inviting him to help out on his moon rocket, so I suppose it’s kinda of a fifties science version of Gaydar. The Colonel is scornful but sharpens up when Steve pokes him in the nipple.
  9. Steve’ fiance June Saxton hears her cue, knocks and comes in. The need for introductions allows Steve and The Colonel to describe to the audience who does what in the missile world. June says she saw the Sheriff’s car outside. Steve says he’s looking for two escaped convicts. June seems pretty neutral about it – but I suppose apart from the Colonel now and again they don’t get many visitors to the rocket pad.
  10. Cut to: Dirk and the Sheriff at the electric fence. ‘Don’t touch it till I turn off the current,’ says Dirk. I’m guessing he knows what the Sheriff’s like.
  11. Cut to: the two convicts in the rocket pad locker room. One’s Gary who’s small and punchy looking with the arms of his denim shirt rolled up to display his guns; the other is Lon – tall and thoughtful looking, the arms of his shirt rolled down (because he doesn’t have any guns, presumably).
  12. Turns out, the locker room is ACTUALLY ON THE ROCKET! Who knew rockets had locker rooms? Still – this is the fifties. There was more space back then. The convicts can’t jump out because the Sheriff and Dirk are sneaking about – although, if they knew the Sheriff, they wouldn’t be that worried.
  13. Dirk goes into the ship, sees the convicts, tells the Sheriff there’s no one there. Why? I don’t know. He’s got some plan or other. The convicts look uneasy – especially when they find out he’s locked them in. They don’t want to go to the moon. They were brought up in New Jersey. They know what it’s like.
  14. Dirk goes back to the office. Steve and June are having cocktails. They offer Dirk one but he declines and takes a pistol instead. June says she’s sorry if she said the wrong thing.
  15. Dirk goes to the convicts on the rocket and wins them over with some 7up, fruit, cold chicken and cake. Gary really likes the apple. Dirk says he wants them to come to the moon with him. They’re not sure at first, but when he says they’ll definitely make it back, they say he’s got a deal.
  16. The first thing Dirk wants them to do is ‘change into some clothes from the locker over there’. Gary looks wary. Hey – what kind of moon rocket IS this?
  17. Steve is about to drive June home when the rocket console lights up like a washing machine on spin cycle. Steve wants to investigate the rocket. He gets a gun out of the desk (how many guns do they HAVE?) June goes with him.
  18. Back on the rocket, Gary and Lon have changed into the new clothes which turn out not to be latex but everyday guy clothes and not significantly different to their convict clothes. Dirk may be a rocket scientist, but he seems unconcerned that the two people operating the flight deck are two criminals who get excited by apples and 7up.
  19. Steve and June go up the ladder into the rocket moments before it takes off. They have to put on oxygen masks in the locker room because it doesn’t have its own supply. ‘Will we be killed?’ she says. She’s nothing if direct.
  20. Lon flips the levers in order as Dirk tells him to. They blast off, making orgasm faces, especially Dirk, who seems to enjoy it more than anyone.
  21. When they leave the Earth’s orbit they unbuckle their seatbelts and slump in the chairs post-coital. Gary complains he’s got an achy back. Lon says he’s afraid to move. Where were they incarcerated – play school?
  22. Steve takes a while to recover, but June’s okay. She’s already got a clipboard to help Dirk go through all the rocket checks. Gary watches her whilst she settles down in front of a screen to watch for meteorites. The screen just has a black dot in the centre, which is either the moon or a fault. Dirk and Lon leave to check the deck below. Gary assaults June, then Dirk comes back. Dirk and Gary fight. Meanwhile, the screen flashes and beeps: meteorites! Everyone gets shaken up. A loose battery lands on Dirk’s head. Before he dies he gives Steve a medallion and says ‘you’ll need this’ then says ‘Lido! Forgive me, my Lido!’ Then dies. ‘He’s dead’ says Steve. All in all, a shocking scene. Especially the battery.
  23. June hasn’t told anyone about Gary assaulting her, which is odd and quite depressing. It’s like she expected it, being around the Colonel and the Sheriff and whatnot. In outer space as on planet earth, we seemed doomed to suffer this shit. I hope the spider gets him.
  24. The moon comes up on the scanner. ‘Break out the spacesuits’ says Steve.
  25. Lon operates the brakes with some more levers. He seems good with levers. No further comment at this point.
  26. They land. ‘This is the end of the line,’ says Steve. ‘Everybody out.’ Which must have inspired Neil Armstrong, to some extent.
  27. They stand around the ladder of the rocket on the moon, bitching about their spacesuits and making sure you know who’s in what (although a name tag wouldn’t have hurt). ‘These gravity boots work like a charm’ says Gary, marching up and down like the director said.
  28. They go off to explore. Some weird pointy shrubbery, but otherwise a bit like Utah. With theremins.
  29. In fact, I’m sure I recognise that boulder from the last film, Track of the Moon Beast. They must have a permanent editing suite, probably a canteen.
  30. Unbeknownst to them (unbeknownst? is that a word? sounds more like a recipe for cabbage) – unbeknownst to them, a boulder detaches itself from the other boulders, sprouts arms and takes a few steps, looking about as menacing as me in a dressing gown staggering around in the middle of the night. I think you could probably outrun it, gravity boots or no gravity boots. But we’ll see.
  31. Another one comes alive. And another. June screams (of course). The rock creatures waggle their arms, like me when I hear someone say does anyone want a cup of tea. June screams and falls over (like me, when I hear someone in the kitchen say does anyone want a cup of tea).
  32. They try shooting the rock creature, which doesn’t sound like a good idea, and turns out not to be. ‘There’s a cave. Let’s head for it’ says Steve. The rock creatures are too scared to follow them in. ‘Maybe they should try being a little more bolder’ I wish Steve said.
  33. Uh oh. Spider web. But better news, in that there’s a flaming torch. ‘No flame without oxygen’ says Steve, ever the scientist. They take off their mask and suits. Gary can feel eyes watching them. He wants to go back to the ship, but Steve says they’ve got guns, so not to worry (although as Gary points out, they didn’t work so good against the rock monsters). I really hope the spider gets him.
  34. Well – something gets him. He runs on ahead and you hear him say ‘No – keep away from me – what are you doing…. etc, and then screams. I hope it’s the spider. Although you wouldn’t talk to a spider like that unless you were a professional arachnologist, and feeling a bit snippy.
  35. A caped figure in the foreground appears, gasses them all unconscious. I don’t know – rock creatures, caped figures – the moon doesn’t seem all that friendly.
  36. They all wake up on a very cheap set that looks like it was borrowed from a local high school production of Cleopatra. A woman with a chandelier on her head appears, looking like Gloria Swanson fresh out of benzos. ‘I welcome you to Orlanda’ she says. ‘I am Lido’ she says. She says they must rest, and partake of their hospitality (which I’m afraid may well relate to the International Beauty Contest Winners listed in the credits). She pulls an embroidered bell cord. Who’d have thought the moon would’ve been so fancy?
  37. The IBCWs come in with platters of drumsticks. Steve goes straight to the drumsticks.
  38. One of the IBCWs approaches Steve with a pitcher. ‘At last – something to drink,’ he says. The IBCW backs away and goes to consult with Lido. ‘Maybe she didn’t like my face’ says Steve. (Or maybe she realised you’ve got a drink problem and she’s only going to make it worse).
  39. Actually, it’s because she saw the medallion. When it’s given to Lido she’s rapturous. ‘It IS Dirk!’ she says. ‘He has returned.’
  40. ‘Dirk! My Dirk!’ says another one of the IBCWs. She must really like Dirk. It’s suddenly apparent why Dirk took so much trouble building a rocket.
  41. Lido tells Steve why things have gone to shit since he left. They’re running out of food, oxygen, scatter cushions …. ‘Soon this satellite will be barren’ she says. ‘And you haven’t even commented on my blindness.’ Steve grimaces. ‘I was very sorry to see it,’ he says, ironically or otherwise, it’s hard to say. Lido thinks Steve is Dirk. She touches his face. She thinks he’s changed – for the better.
  42. Lido says she’s glad he’s back because he’s due to be married to her daughter Alpha tomorrow. Steve doesn’t look particularly concerned.
  43. Back in the main hall, Gary is sprawled in a fancy chair enjoying all the platters. ‘June – if there weren’t better material around I’d pinch you,’ he says. Jeez – I really hope that spider gets him.
  44. Gary goes off with one of the IBCWs, which is worrying. Mercifully he gets distracted by the diamonds she’s wearing. She says she’ll take him to a cave where you can pick them up.
  45. June thinks the IBCWs are a bit judgy. It’s true – when they’re not striding around with platters they’re sprawled around looking archer than the set.
  46. Steve comes back. He says the planet is doomed. It all started twenty years ago… but we’re spared the details.
  47. Cut to: Lon on an ottoman (which isn’t easy to say) with Zema, a sympathetic IBCW. Lon and Zema have an awkward romantic scene where they talk about oxygen and rock creatures and then kiss.
  48. Lido’s daughter Alpha arrives. She’s even more theatrical than her mum. ‘Come, Dirk!’ she says. He does. June looks cross.
  49. Alpha kisses Steve, who stands inertly (which he’s pretty good at), until June breaks them up. June and Alpha fight. Alpha storms off. ‘She will die’ she says. ‘I guess that did it,’ says Steve, inertly.
  50. Alpha confronts her mother. They have a battle of wills over who should rule Orlanda. Lido wins. Alpha storms off again. All in all you’d have to say she was pretty stormy. A couple of IBCWs stand in the background looking like they regretted ever signing the contract – catering wagon or no catering wagon.
  51. Gary is in the cave with the IBCW who’s bemused about his attraction to a load of old diamonds. Where the hell is the spider? We’re 55 minutes in. Never has a giant spider been more necessary.
  52. Alpha says she’s going to release the dark creatures. ‘Silence! There’s no time to waste!’ she says, and pulls another cord, this one more gothic, with something like a plasterer’s trowel on the end. A webby gate across a disreputable looking cave slides up. Spider time.
  53. Okay – so it’s a puppet spider with an expression of stupefying horror, a bit like Boris Johnson at the dispatch box – but a spider, goddamit, and I love it.
  54. Particularly the way it walks, those cute, hairy legs going up and down like pistons. Curiously – it only has two human eyes, which don’t blink, so I’m worried they might become irritated by the moon dust and whatnot. But having said that, it’s obviously taken many thousands of years of moon evolution – or moonvolution, if you will – to reach this state, so who am I to judge.
  55. The spider hurries off through the caves to find the earthlings. Before I go any further, I bet you fifty pounds June screams, and another fifty she trips and falls.
  56. Well – okay – it’s the IBCW who screams. And gets mauled by the spider. Which is actually less horrifying than getting mauled by Gary.
  57. Alpha gets up close with Steve and uses her mind skills to get him to do her bidding, which is basically to go with her to another planet and start a family. (By the way, her lipstick is interesting. It looks like she did it in the jeep on the way to the set).
  58. Alpha stabs her mum in the back with a letter opener and assumes the throne. She tells the others to make ready for a wedding after they use the extermination chamber, which sounds nice.
  59. The crew get taken to the ceremony. Steve is dressed in a ceremonial kaftan made from milk bottle tops. ‘Steve! I love you! Tell me you love me!’ shouts June. ‘Take the woman to the extermination chamber’ he says, which isn’t like him at all. He’s normally more inert. Once she’s gone, the ceremonies begin, which is a cue for some dancing so dreadful I’d rather take my chances with June.
  60. Cut to: June wrestling with some IBCWs down in the dungeons. There are some skeletons in the background, which isn’t a great look for a dungeon, but I suppose kinda expected. They chain her to a post, which looks spider ready. ‘Don’t’ she says, but they carry on anyway. The IBCWs pull a cord – this one with a spider on the end, which is worrying. Another gate lifts up.
  61. Back at the ceremony, the two convicts sneak out while everyone’s distracted by the terrible dancing. Zema gives Lon the key to the room where they’ve stashed all their spacesuits, and some light bulbs to throw at the rock creatures.
  62. June screams when she sees the spider approaching (fifty quid in the bank). The convicts run over and shoot it dead. Bloody hell! I hope there are more spiders. It didn’t get much of a run. The convicts untie June, who’s fainted but still standing upright. Maybe it’s a gravity thing. Gary runs off to get some more diamonds.
  63. Back at the ceremony the dance is still going on. I can’t believe it and neither can the audience. It’s obviously not just a lack of oxygen that’s killing this particular satellite. The other IBCWs run off to search for the convicts; meanwhile Zema goes mind-to-mind against Lido – and wins! Steve is free to shrug off his appalling kaftan and join the others.
  64. Zema weakens (I sympathise at this point). Lido’s daughter tells Zema to release the gas in the caves. There’s a fancy lever in the wall, with tin foil at the business end. Lon would love it. Zema puts her hand on it. The theremins go wild. But suddenly Zema throws one of her lightbulbs which turns out to be a grenade. The set gets blown to polystyrene.
  65. All the oxygen escapes from the caves. Steve, June & Lon have got their suits on, but Gary is away stocking up on diamonds.
  66. Cut to: Gary loaded up with two shopping bags of diamonds. In his spacesuit at least, so the lack of oxygen won’t bother him (as much as the lack of a spider is bothering me, anyway).
  67. The rock creatures come alive again to stop the crew making it back to the rocket. Steve blows one to bits with a grenade light bulb. A lot more effective than shooting them. Lido’s daughter tries to mind control him at distance, but accidentally falls on her knife, so that works out.
  68. Gary tries to catch up with the others carrying his bags of diamonds. He can’t outrun the rock creatures, though, and ends up blundering into the sunlight, where he combusts down to his skelington. Can’t say I’m upset by that. Although I’d have preferred him to get eaten by the spider. I don’t know why. They were made for each other, I suppose.
  69. They make their way back to the rocket. Before they take off, there’s just one thing June wants to know. ‘Am I prettier than Alpha?’ ‘Honey, there’s only one thing I want to see more and that’s good ol’ mother earth!’ says Steve, then winks over her head at Lon, who winks back and caresses his levers. Then the rocket hurtles upwards in a shower of vomit.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. The moon landings were obviously faked, because I didn’t see one rock creature or one former international beauty contest winner. And flags don’t flutter on the moon.
  2. Boris Johnson is a species of spider.
  3. You can be the most advanced civilization in the world, but if your style is kitsch you’re doomed.
  4. Skeletons can be scary in a dungeon setting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
  5. Turn off the electricity before you touch an electrified fence.

Track of the Moon Beast

Track of the Moon Beast, 1976. Dir. Richard Ashe. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. Noted critic John Kenneth Muir – who must be a serious critic as he uses his middle name, too – said the film was ‘a failure in every way’. Which sounds like my kind of film. Plus – at 1 hr 20mins I can write the review and not miss lunch.
  2. The opening shot is of a guy focusing a giant telescope, which you’d think they could have organised before they yelled action, although maybe this guy’s ability – or inability – to focus is some kind of plot point.
  3. There’s something like a flaming Christmas pudding falling through the night sky. Which would certainly be worthy of a look, telescope or otherwise. Cut to some bored looking American Indians chanting and shuffling unconvincingly around a campfire. Although I’m not an expert on that (or anything else).
  4. Next thing you know we’re in the production studio of a news broadcast, watching from behind a producer as a newsreader gives a WHOLE lot of exposition about how a meteor is on a collision course with the moon. Eventually we get the credit sequence – ‘Track of the Moon Beast’ – in green slime writing, with edgy violins and blundering horns to emphasise the sliminess. The cast list includes Chase Cordell, which is my new favourite actor’s name.
  5. This whilst we watch someone on a motorbike ride across the desert – although he’s riding so slowly it might actually be a push bike. With stabilisers.
  6. He eventually pulls up between a boulder and a bush, jamming the front brake so hard he almost goes over the handlebars, but maybe that was the best of a number of takes. He doesn’t seem that comfortable with the bike. Even getting off it and putting it on the stand seems to be a big deal for him. If this is Chase Cordell, we’re in trouble.
  7. Turns out, it IS Chase Cordell, who’s in the character of Paul G Carlson, an anthropologist. Paul’s about as comfortable with a trowel and brush as he is with a bike. After what feels like ten years fussing with a shard of pottery, he’s interrupted by a terrifying male scream off camera, which presumably is the noted critic John Kenneth Muir.
  8. Paul looks up – nothing but rocks. He goes back to his pots. Another scream. He glances up again, and is confronted with a giant mask with earrings and a generally stupefied look, which is exactly like my current expression, only without glasses.
  9. The mask disappears, and in its place we’re looking at a guy by the name of Johnny Longbow. ‘Hi Paul!’ he says. ‘Johnny!’ says Paul. They laugh and shake hands. Then two others come out from behind a rock carrying the mask. It was all a joke. We learn easily and naturally that Paul is indeed an anthropologist, Johnny Longbow is a professor of science and shit, and the other two, Budd Keeler and Janet Price, are his mineralogy students. (Side note: everyone gets introduced with their full name, which is nice. I think everyone needs a formal introduction in a monster movie. You care more.)
  10. We learn more about these people. Budd specialises in screams and bird calls, Caroline seems to be some kind of stand-aid. They chat about this and that. Paul wipes his eyes, method acting the heat and dust, although to be fair it does look hot and dusty. Someone else comes out from behind the rock – the desert looks pretty crowded this time of year. This character is a woman in cut off jeans, who holds a camera about as naturally as Paul rides a motorbike. Johnny Longbow gives her his signature smile, which is a bit like how I imagine crocodiles smile at livestock approaching the waterhole. She ignores Johnny – either because she already knows him or because of the smile, and introduces herself directly to Paul – presumably because he’s the only one with his shirt off. She formally introduces herself as Kathy Miller, and yes, she does know Johnny Longbow. She’s out there doing ethnographic shots of this and that, but decided to capture Paul reacting to the mask. Or anything, really.
  11. Paul explains to Kathy what Johnny Longbow means: ‘warrior’s bow that reaches long to its mark’. Which I think is pretty much what she was worried about.
  12. We’re straight back to the newsreader with important information – although how it’s more important than why Johnny Longbow is called Johnny Longbow is anyone’s guess. The newsreader uses a lot of sciency words like ‘seismograph’, and must have won the audition simply on the way he draws out the word ‘Krakatoa’. It sounds as if the meteor has impacted the moon and knocked chunks off of it which might rain down on earth and cause monstrous complications. Or not.
  13. In a daring cut, the camera pulls back to reveal that Paul, Johnny Longbow and the others are watching this news bulletin on a portable TV, perched on the end of the table where they’re having supper. Although maybe the director used some footage of the crew actually having supper. I’m not sure. It’s all so natural and authentic.
  14. Despite the news announcement going on for some time, the newsreader does a summing up and then closes the bulletin with a statement that this has been a bulletin from the news centre in Albuquerque. (And if you think I typed Albuquerque first go without a spellcheck you’re crazy).
  15. Johnny Longbow gets his big acting moment, one that I think the noted critic John Kenneth Muir most enjoyed. ‘This is a great stew’ says Janet. ‘What’s in it?’ (And I transcribe the response in case any actors out there want to use it in future auditions):
    ‘A whole lotta things… chicken… corn… green peppers…. chili.. onions… (the way he sighs and looks off to the right when he says onions – the pathos in such a simple ingredient). Well! It’s an old recipe round here.’ (Basically chicken stew with a touch of heat, but hey). Kathy says she wants to get some night shots. Paul says he knows a great spot but it’s far away. Kathy nods, and they leave the others to clear up.
  16. Just before they hop on the motorbike to go, Janet gets freaked out by a lizard. Johnny Longbow uses this as an excuse to tell the ancient story of the argument between Lizard and Coyote. The upshot was that Man could have Lizard hands so long as Man was mortal. Which sounds dubious, and may or may not have any bearing on the film.
  17. Out at Santiago Crest, Paul is busy pointing out geographical features to Kathy, including Albuquerque (which I totally copied & pasted, alright?). When he points up at the sky, Kathy grabs his shirt and says ‘Paul? What’s wrong? What is it?’ utterly unable to see anything that Paul hasn’t pointed to first. Especially a blazing meteor shower. Paul gets struck by a meteor and ends up sprawled on top of Kathy, although it could just be a sleazy excuse.
  18. To be fair, he does have a cut on his forehead, which Kathy cleans right off. Paul points out a glowing moon rock by the motorbike. ‘Moon rock! Oh wow!’ says Kathy, more excited about moon rock than Johnny Longbow was about onions. Although it transpires she’s not excited about the rock at all – it just reminded her she’s supposed to go to a NASA exhibition the next day. Hopefully not in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, they decide to go back to Paul’s place for antiseptics and sex.
  19. Back at Paul’s place, he struggles to figure out how to turn off the indicators, which made me more worried for Kathy as pillion than all the moon rocks and meteor showers and moon monsters put together. But hey, they made it back. Kathy seems amazed by Paul’s garage, although to be fair, there’s so little tension in the script you’d look anywhere, even a workbench.
    ‘I gather nobody’s home’ says Kathy. ‘My mother’s in Europe,’ says Paul. ‘She travels a lot.’ I think Kathy was right to be worried about the workbench.
  20. ‘I’d like you to meet a friend of mine’ says Paul. He draws back a curtain to reveal a big lizard called Tye. Short for Tyrannosaurus. Kathy doesn’t like the lizard but they kiss anyway. I mean Paul and Kathy kiss. Not Kathy and the lizard. Although I feel there’s more chemistry there.
  21. Cut to: Paul and Kathy at the NASA exhibition. Paul bends down to take a closer look at a moon rock. Kathy takes a shot of his butt. But at that exact moment, a beam of light zaps out of the rock and hits him in the head. So in forty years THAT shot’ll end up on Instagram.
  22. Paul feels unwell and goes outside for some fresh air. Suddenly we jump cut to a country & western singer on stage in a club singing a song that goes ‘my voice been gettin’ croakeee…’ I think the director is trying to tell us something.
  23. The song carries on, into something that seems more like a musical intermission. The song is called ‘California lady’, so maybe Kathy is from there. She certainly looks a little fried. I’m guessing someone in the band is related to the director, or he owes them money. But no – suddenly we see Johnny Longbow, Paul and the others in the audience, Paul with his head in his hands, but whether that’s the music or the meteor strike it’s hard to say.
  24. On a side note, I feel it’s a bit of a miss on the director’s part that we’re not formally introduced to everyone in the audience. Just saying.
  25. The music carries on playing whilst we see Johnny Longbow back home with Paul, who’s taken his shirt off again (presumably a major factor in his casting, along with his availability & rate).
  26. The music still carries on, whilst Kathy (wearing a babydoll nightie) helps Paul into bed. Gives him a pill and a cup of water.
  27. The music ends. Kathy stands outside Paul’s house talking to Johnny Longbow (it’s not a nightie after all). Johnny delivers a long and wistful speech about how Paul is learning a lot – how to accept help from other people etcetera. The speech is even more wistful than his speech about the onions. Kathy swings her hands like she doesn’t know whether to tear her hair out or slap him. They walk to Johnny’s car. ‘If Paul calls me, I’ll pick you up and take you to him.’ ‘And if he calls me first…?’ says Kathy. They both smile. Kathy rubs her nose. Maybe there’s a subtext to all this I’ve missed, which is entirely likely. I’m still stuck on the onions.
  28. Cut back to Paul, having a restless night, what with the meteor in his head and the terrible music and everything. He pulls his shirt off. (SIDE NOTE: I had exactly this experience a coupla days ago. I made a mushroom risotto, which was completely delicious, except I ate too much and then got convinced a) someone working in the dried mushroom factory had decided to slip in some death caps and b) the rice was expanding in my stomach and would completely suddenly spill out of me like popcorn from a machine when you take the lid off too soon.)
  29. He paces about, looking at the moon. Cellos play. Cellos are the most devastating of the string section. Violins may be psycho, but cellos are 100% evil. Plus they have a spike.
  30. Paul hyperventilates, draws the curtains. Tye the lizard looks anxious. Maybe this is a regular thing.
  31. Cut to: some drunk guy coming back from bowling wearing a jacket with DUKE on the back. He drops his keys. We get an extended shot of his arse as he bends over looking for them. But he can’t find them, so he ends up banging on the door for his wife to open up. She’s on the sofa watching news bulletins, drinking beer and eating cereal from the packet. After absorbing enough of the news bulletin, she says ‘Go to hell, Sid!’ (so his name isn’t Duke / maybe he’s taken the wrong jacket home). She tells him to sleep it off outside, and bolts the door.
  32. Duke / Sid hears something. ‘Who’s there?’ he says. We see his face as the monster bears down on him, grunting horribly – although, at this stage, it might be his wife, come round the back.
  33. But no, because his wife is still inside the house. She listens to the horrible sounds whilst she clutches her belly – although, at this stage, the sounds might be gastric in origin, after all that beer and cereal.
  34. But no, because blood comes in under the door. She slowly unbolts the door. Duke/Sid topples in dead, missing his face. Which isn’t much different from a normal bowling night, to be fair.
  35. For some reason, Johnny Longbow shakes hands with the two cops come to investigate the ‘messy killing’. Turns out, Johnny knows Mac, the lead cop. Mac wants Johnny’s opinion, because he hasn’t seen anything like this before. There are two blanketed bodies on two trolleys back of an ambulance, one large, one small. ‘Ahh – which one is him?’ says Mac to the paramedics. They point to the larger body, even though that can’t possibly be right. ‘The woman had a weak heart, says Mac. ‘But take a look at the man…’ He pulls back the blanket. ‘What kind of thing would cut up someone like that?’ Johnny winces. ‘Coulda been a mountain lion, Mac.’
  36. Mac takes Johnny round the back of the house and shows him an enormous bloody handprint on the wall, a single, giant footprint. (Does it hop?) Mac has made a plastercast. Johnny says they should go to the paleontology department and see if they can get any answers there.
  37. Meanwhile, Kathy goes round to see how Paul’s doing. She’s shocked to see Tye out of his cage. Very suspicious.
  38. Back at the paleontology department, everyone agrees the plaster cast is the left hind foot of ‘some kind of reptile, some very, very large lizard.’ Mac says he can’t believe there are lizards like that running around New Mexico, but at least he doesn’t mention Alburquerque by name ( I totally typed that without help this time – I just kinda threw myself at the keyboard and hoped for the best). The palaeontologist thinks it looks kinda like the foot of a komodo dragon, but one that walks upright, something more like a tyrannosaurus rex. We zoom in on a happy looking t-rex in a picture on the wall.
  39. Mac worries how he’s gonna explain his murder theory to the commissioner: ‘A man was killed last night on his doorstep by some kind of dinosaur’. Although, judging by Mac’s general demeanour and policing skills, I’m sure the commissioner’s heard a lot worse.
  40. Back out in the desert, Johnny gives a demonstration of his archery skills. Paul stands in front of a target, holding a pepperoni sausage in either hand. Johnny shoots one of them – but then Paul comes over all faint – as I’m sure many of us would, standing in front of an archery target holding two pepperoni sausages.
  41. Kathy takes Paul home and says she’ll stay. She settles down on the sofa to read a book. The sun sets. The moon and orchestration come out. Paul is restless again. Takes his shirt off. And something bad must be about to happen because they even start playing a harpsichord or something. Paul staggers around, hyperventilating in a bare-chested kinda way, whilst Kathy snoozes on the sofa. He slams the screen door open (looks like Kathy is a heavy sleeper). The moonlight casts magnificent shadows across his bare torso (Chase Cordell earning every cent of that forty-eight dollar fifty rate).
  42. Cut to: a fantastically improvised scene: a bunch of guys playing poker out in a tent. When they like a line they come up with, they just repeat it. It’s on a par with the stew scene, and that’s saying a LOT. Suddenly, the monster slashes its way into the tent. The monster looks like Duke/Sid’s wife, only without the beer and cereal box, and maybe wearing a spiky costume instead of a dressing gown, although the dressing gown was pretty rough. The monster tears through the guys like so much cereal.
  43. Cut to: Kathy waking Paul who’s lying bare chested and exhausted on a sun lounger. Kathy says men are like big babies, although I think that’s a stretch. More like big lizards. She covers him up and offers him breakfast.
  44. At the police station, Mac is talking to Johnny about the latest murders. He throws down an eight of diamonds card that’s been torn up and then taped back together again. He says there was a survivor. He was in shock, but mentioned a big lizard. ‘A big lizard that walked like a man’. ‘Seems I’ve heard that expression before’ says Johnny, giving us a sudden insight into his dating experiences. ‘Maybe there is a dinosaur, still alive,’ says Mac, looking utterly miserable and leaning back in his chair. ‘Up in the hills.’
  45. Johnny is standing with Kathy, Budd and Janet, who’ve finally made it back from clearing up after the stew supper. They all look sombre when Janet asks about the guys murdered up in the hills last night – but then crack up when Janet shows them the photos Kathy took at the NASA exhibition. (Side note: Johnny’s hair looks amazing in this scene – a stylish Mary Quant bob). Johnny asks about the photo of Paul looking at the moon rock. They talk about his head injury that night. Johnny says something about light concussion they all laugh about. Johnny says he’ll take Paul to the hospital and stop by the photo lab on the way there. They’re happy about that. It saves them a trip into town.
  46. Johnny goes to pick up Paul, who’s putting on his shoes first and then his shirt. They talk about the moon rock Paul has on his table. Paul can’t find anything about it in any of his textbooks, which is odd. It’s also odd that Tye the lizard has gone. ‘Scared by the meteor shower,’ Paul says. Johnny isn’t convinced.
  47. Over at the hospital, Paul is bare-chested in front of an X-ray machine. ‘You can get dressed now’ says the doctor, but Paul’s not in any rush. The doctor says it’ll take about twenty minutes to process the plates – which gives Johnny time to go over the road to the photo lab.
  48. The lab technician is a tall, shy guy in a glasses/moustache combos that will one day be an emoji. He confirms it isn’t an error on the print – and he should know because he’s been doing that job for years. Which must be true because of the glasses and the pen in his pocket.
  49. The doctor at the hospital takes Paul and Johnny into a side room. ‘We don’t usually discuss these things with patients,’ says the doctor, ‘but this is an unusual case.’ He shows them a normal head x-ray first, then Paul’s, which shows a number of fillings and also a fragment of moon rock in his head. The doctor says if it doesn’t ‘clear up’ (as shrapnel often does), they’ll do something about it surgically.
  50. Cut to: Johnny and Mac in a darkened room. Johnny has a slide show that might help with the investigation. The first slide is such a crude drawing of a native american it’s surprising Mac doesn’t snort, but maybe he’s exhausted after all that lizard talk. Turns out, the native american in the picture was hit by lightning or something from the sky. In the next slide you see him turned into a lizard, chasing some other guys. Again, how Mac keeps from laughing out loud is more of a mystery than who killed the poker guys or Duke/Sid.
  51. Johnny and Mac take Paul’s moon rock to the rock museum. It draws a beam of light from one of the other rocks. Johnny thinks it’s some kind of energy beam or something. Mac talks about werewolves. They decide to go back to Paul and give him the good news. He takes it pretty well. Thinks about all the shirtless opportunities.
  52. They take Kathy to see him in a more secure part of the hospital. She breaks down and throws herself on top of him – but whether that’s because she’s never seen him in such dreadful pyjamas or because of the whole lizard thing it’s not too clear. She walks out of the room – eventually – with a weird kind of head-twitch going on, until you’d think she was the one with the shrapnel and not Paul. On the other hand it might just be method-acting code for upset. She declines all offers of lifts home, and decides to wait it out at the hospital.
  53. SIDE NOTE: I wonder if one of the cops guarding the hospital room is actually the photo tech guy from the sop. Sans glasses & pen. Avec cap.
  54. The moon is finally up (after a few cut-aways to a big clock, a harpsichord playing). ‘Something’s happening!’ says Mac, looking through the window. ‘My God!’ The only thing I can see is that Paul has lost his shirt, which is anything BUT surprising. But wait – no – he goes blurry and then kinda lizardy. You hope he’s going to bust out of the hospital and do some shit, but we segue to him normal again (shirtless), strapped to the bed, with Johnny and Mac dozing on a couple of chairs to the side.
  55. The straps give him plenty of opportunity to flex his chesticles. ‘We’ll soon have you back to normal’ says Johnny, unstrapping him. (Normal for Alburquerque).
  56. Cut to: a couple of scientists on a plane bound for Alburquerque. They’re due to land ‘in about twenty minutes’ which seems to be the time frame for most things in this film, including how long it takes Chase to put a motorcycle on its stand or cancel the indicators.
  57. The scientists have been worried about the possibility of mutations ever since the moon landing, apparently.
  58. When they talk to Paul at the hospital the brain surgeon guy says they can pinpoint where the particle is : the left frontal lobe, apparently. So Paul is due for a lobotomy. Paul strokes his chin thoughtfully. The scientists wait for him to say something. He doesn’t.
  59. The scientist explains that the moon ‘a moon rock of gigantic size, if you will’, is having an effect on Paul’s brain fragments and the outlook is bleak. Johnny asks how long has he got and although the scientist hesitates I’d make a guess at twenty minutes. They explain that the energy will become more unstable until the patient explodes – which, unfortunately, the patient overhears.
  60. Paul explains to Kathy that if he’s to die he wants to die looking like a man and not a monster. Preferably shirtless. They kiss. Horribly, awkwardly, completely noiselessly – the most horrific scene in the whole goddamn film. ‘If anyone asks where I am,’ he says, ‘tell ‘em I’m on the roof. That’ll give me enough time to get away.’ They kiss again – but this time there’s a sound like twigs breaking, which is way worse than the silent kissing.
  61. Paul leaves the hospital disguised as a doctor. He steals a motorbike and rides it away like a pro. Stops outside a shop called ‘Coins & Guns’ (Alburquerque, huh?). Goes inside to buy a shotgun and some shells. Maybe some coins. There’s a news report playing on the radio all about a dangerous guy on the loose called Paul. He runs out again. The shop owner calls Mac at the hospital, tells him all about it.
  62. Mac and Johnny talk about all the ways Paul could kill himself. ‘He could crash the motorcycle.’ ‘No. Crashes don’t always work…’ Kathy is sitting to the side looking increasingly uncomfortable.
  63. Mac wishes they had some kind of lead, some way of finding him. Close up on Kathy’s face. She’s remembering what Paul said that time they went out after the stew supper, how he took her to his favourite place on earth (before he got hit in the head by a meteorite there, when it maybe moved down the rankings a bit).
  64. We see Paul fall off his bike on the road leading to Santiago Crest. Next thing, he’s riding a cable car, his vision blurred, a harpsichord playing. Then he throws himself out of the door. But then we cut back to him by his bike, and realise it was just him planning how to kill himself without a shotgun (no doubt a method Mac would approve).
  65. Kathy has made her way up to Santiago Crest. She stops, gets out some binoculars, and sees him collapsed on the mountainside. She hurries up there. Meanwhile, Johnny and Mac race to the scene in a police car whose lights aren’t on because the film crew don’t have a permit.
  66. The sun goes down, the moon comes up. Takes about twenty minutes.
  67. Kathy is in trouble on the mountainside. ‘Paul! Please help me! Paul!’ she cries. ‘My foot is caught!’ But when Paul puts a hand onto a rock to reach her, he starts breathing funny and his hand turns into a claw. Kathy screams, changing her mind about the help. The screams help the cops locate their position, though. Paul looks confused, conflicted between lizard & boyfriend, presumably. The cops being cops open fire indiscriminately. They stop shooting for a bit, because honestly, you could be hitting anything out there. Meanwhile, Paul the lizard is creeping up behind them with his arms outstretched. He kills them with a few ineffectual swipes of his rubberised claws. Then waddles off.
  68. Johnny grabs his bow and arrows. He’s fashioned an arrowhead out of the moon rock. Kathy isn’t happy. Despite Johnny saying that Paul isn’t Paul anymore, she still sees some potential, jumps in her car and drives off, parks down the road – just exactly where Paul the Lizard emerges, waving at her in a friendly fashion or an evil fashion it’s hard to tell. Kathy screams regardless.
  69. Johnny runs up, fires off the arrow, hits Paul right in the sausage. He glows in spots and goes all psychedelic. Mac and the scientist run up and they all stand there watching the show. Mac even licks his lips in a strange way, like he can’t WAIT to tell the commissioner about this.
  70. Mac loads Kathy in the cop car and they all drive off, leaving Johnny propped up on his bow, wondering what just happened, and how to incorporate it in his next slide show.

That’s it!
So what’ve I learned?

  1. The moon is actually a big lump of moon rock. Like – the biggest.
  2. Albuquerque is impossible to spell and very hot.
  3. In New Mexico, everything takes twenty minutes.
  4. It’s very important to get used to a motorbike’s controls before you take it off into the desert.
  5. Chili is very good in stews. But don’t stint on the onions.

This Island Earth

This Island Earth, 1955. Dir. Joseph Newman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. The title sequence starts with blaring trumpets and trombones. It’s not an easy sound, but at least it shuts the audience up, or wakes them up, depending. To be fair, it does segue pretty quickly into a kind of thin, nervy organ sound to accompany the shots of space, and that lurch from blaring to nervy is pretty unsettling, especially if you’re wearing a hat.
  2. One of the actors is called Rex Reason, which is my new favourite actor’s name, after Red Buttons and Timothy Olyphant.
  3. The first scene is an aerial shot of Washington, with even blarier trumpets. Next thing you know, a bunch of reporters with HUGE flashbulbs are clustered round Dr Cal Meacham, a nuclear scientist-pilot-adventurer-national hero hybrid, draped seductively on the wing of a fighter plane, parked back of the White House. They don’t want to keep him long. Dr Meacham laughs (they ALL laugh) and then he puts a flying suit over his business suit. Nobody thinks that at all strange. But maybe that’s because all male children in the US back in the 50s were born in a business suit. And when the nurse delivered them, she tied the umbilical cord in a windsor knot.
  4. Turns out, Dr Meacham is played by Rex Reason. He sounds exactly as you might expect a 1950s hero to talk, which is essentially Zapp Brannigan on steroids. I’m going to call this character Rex from now on, because it’s quicker to type.
  5. Rex flies off in an airfix model of a jet fighter, blowing the reporters’ hats off. Next thing you know he’s buzzing a control tower in the desert. Would it be too much just to land, Rex? I suppose it shows his recklessness, sense of adventure, love of all things phallic.
  6. Turns out, Rex has fucked the plane up with his daring aerobatics (why they ever lent him the plane, I don’t know. I’m guessing he’s probably done this before). Rex is about to crash – but he’s saved by a mysterious green light that takes control of his ship, flashing on and off and waggling his joystick. Rex stares at his lap. He can’t believe his luck.
  7. Turns out the station is a nuclear research facility. Rex isn’t just a pilot, he’s a nuclear scientist. He shucks off his flying suit and gets straight to work, lowering a hunk of lead into a cylinder with one of those grabby claws you see at the fair. SIDE NOTE: I’m obsessed with Rex’ hair. It’s so thickly gelled he must brush it with a trowel.
  8. There’s a nuclear meltdown. Explosion and fire. Rex and his assistant Joe don’t seem that bothered, though. Joe shows him the reactor core that burned out the day before. They don’t have to go far. It’s sitting on his desk. Rex strokes it lovingly. Don’t worry, says Joe. I ordered another one. This is Three Mile Island all over again.
  9. More hokey science shit. It’s quarter of an hour into the film and the only sign of an alien is a green light and a vibrating joystick. I’d be throwing popcorn. We waste another five minutes watching Joe sign for an Amazon delivery he didn’t order. SIDE NOTE: Rex’s suit is not the same one he had on under his flying suit. When did that happen? Maybe he had to change it after the nuclear meltdown – although there wasn’t any splashback, so why would he need to?
  10. Spooky music (oboes, the only blowy instrument that doesn’t suck). Turns out, the Amazon package is a manual printed on metal paper, with impressive electronic instructions. Joe reads it over Rex’ shoulder. ‘Here’s something my wife could use in the house’ he says. ‘An interociter incorporating an electron sorter’. Rex smiles and replies: ‘Yes, Joe, but she’d gain twenty pounds while it did all the work.’ So they should rename the film This Sexist Fucker Island Earth.
  11. Based on the manual they order a shit-load more stuff from Amazon. Turns out it’s flatpack, self-assembly. 2,486 parts says Rex, checking the document, no mention of an allen key. (Or alien key – pause for laughter). Rex takes his jacket off, rolls his sleeves up. This is where we get to see how much of a hero he REALLY is.
  12. Montage. You gotta love a good montage. And this is a great one. With xylophones. Despite this, my favourite montage is still Ashley Judd getting in shape for her escape and revenge in the hit movie Double Jeopardy.
  13. Basically what they end up with is a twin tub with a nuclear symbol on the front. ‘Plug it in Joe and see what happens,’ says Rex, as flip with his gadgets as he is with his jet aircraft. However, you can’t help but notice Rex is holding a spare part in his hands. That’s never a good sign with flatpack. You should never have anything left over except an allen key. And maybe a large measure of self-loathing.
  14. The twin tub starts flashing and talking to them in a patronising way (it’ll fit right in on Earth). ‘Use the intensifier disc,’ says the voice. ‘The one in your hand’ it says. I’m guessing the alien has been around the galaxy a few too many times and it’s running out of patience with lower life forms. Even ones as perfect as Rex.
  15. Rex inserts the disc, turns it 18 degrees to the left, as per. The screen lights up (turns out the whole thing was just a primitive flat screen TV). At last! An alien – which turns out, disappointingly, also to be wearing a suit. It also has an unearthly tan and ludicrous hair, so prefiguring Trump by a good few years. The alien congratulates Rex on completing the task. The alien says he’s a scientist, just like Rex. He’s called Exeter. (Maybe they’re all named after the cities and towns of Devon & Cornwall, for some reason. Maybe later on we’ll meet his sister, Paignton.)
  16. This whole twin tub thing was a kind of interview, to see if Rex was good enough to be given a job. He passed, so Exeter says to meet the plane they’ll be sending Wednesday at 9. Then he disintegrates the manual and blows up the twin tub. Which is a great way to end any interview.
  17. Cut to: Rex and some guy in a hat driving in the fog in a jeep with the shonkiest looking windscreen wipers ever to appear on film. Is Rex working them with his foot? I’m guessing it’s nine o’clock or thereabouts, because where’s the value in seeing what Rex and Joe did to fill the time between the twin tub blowing up and Exeter landing the plane. Although actually I can think of a whole film that might satisfy that. The point is, it’s foggy. Which adds to the mystery (and eases the special effects bill).
  18. The plane lands despite the fog. Rex looks inside. A bare interior with a simple chair. No frills. A bit like EasyJet. There’s no pilot, either, just a nuclear symbol on the dash and a Robbie the Robot air freshener. Rex makes himself comfortable, manspreading to his heart’s content.
  19. The plane lands at a backwoods strip in Georgia. He’s met by Ruth Adams, a doctor, who says Exeter asked her to meet him. Rex is happier to see her than Ruth is to see him, for some reason. She mentions a conference they both went to a few years ago – thermo problems in nuclear reactors – but the way she says it sounds more like she’s talking about something else entirely. ‘Boston, wasn’t it?’ she says. ‘Vermont!’ says Rex, sounding angry. They’re definitely talking about another kind of problem.
  20. On the drive to meet Exeter, Ruth tells Rex all about the club that Exeter has set up for their work. It’s all beginning to sound a little culty, but Rex doesn’t mind. He still can’t get over the fact that Ruth thought it was Boston when it was obviously Vermont.
  21. Ruth shows him around the club house. The is the hallway. This is the living room. This is the lift down to the laboratory and slave quarters.
  22. After a bunch of international scientists stroll by to say hello, a guy who looks exactly like Exeter goes to the lab lift and gives Rex a meaningful look, a bit like Joe but not as wholesome. ‘Who’s that?’ says Rex, straightening his tie. ‘That’s Brack’ says Ruth. ‘One of Exeter’s assistants.’ Honestly, they look exactly alike. The least they could do is wear t-shirts or name badges.
  23. Exeter calls them into his office. They sit whilst he explains the mission – to end war, with the help of scientists. Rex strokes his chin. He’s interested but not convinced. Ruth gives him a sideways look. She’s remembering what he was like back in Boston.
  24. Actually, Exeter sounds a lot like Kelsey Grammar. Which would be a great casting choice for the remake.
  25. Exeter takes them on a virtual tour of the club using another one of the twin tub flat screens. He shows Rex the lab he’ll be using – ‘Still under construction,’ says Exeter, which is a classic estate agent ruse, and not to be trusted. They catch Brack in there, fiddling about. ‘Everything in order?’ says Exeter. ‘Yes,’ says Brack. Actually, I take it back about Brack. He looks like Tom Hiddleston made up to look like Donald Trump. Which is another casting suggestion for the remake.
  26. Everyone dresses for a formal dinner. Afterwards, Ruth and her friend Steve (er hem) takes Rex to look at the underground labs. Ruth has a cat in her lab. It’s called Neutron. ‘We call him that because he’s so positive.’ And as all the trivia forums are at pains to point out: NEUTRONS HAVE NO CHARGE. Which I have to say is still true for most cats, most of the time.
  27. Another casting suggestion for the remake: Eddie the dog from Frasier could totally nail the part of Neutron.
  28. Rex admires the lab – particularly the big lead slab hanging from chains. ‘That’s the same size lead I use in my lab,’ he says, flicking it suggestively with his finger. Steve looks uneasy.
  29. Exeter and Brack have a scene together (but not in that way). In some fine alien exposition we learn that they need all these scientists to help them find more energy (for some reason – aren’t they more advanced than us?). Brack is more hawkish. He wants to electronically lobotomise the subjects so they’ll be more submissive; Exeter thinks that’ll make them less able to hold a test tube, although they’ll be savings on the entertainments bill. Exeter and Brack are interrupted by an important message from Orson or someone – their superior, anyway. Their planet is in immediate danger from a failing layer of hokey science business. There’s no more time. They must fly back home and bring the scientists with them. Brack is thrilled; Exeter, less so.
  30. Ruth, Steve and Rex sneak out in a dreadful old car, escaping to the airport or something. They’re bombarded with neutron beams (nothing to do with the cat), that entirely miss every time until Ruth and Rex bail into a river so that Rex’ competition can be safely incinerated. Another scientist waves from the bank. He’s also zapped. So from this we can only assume it’s easier for a neutron beam to hit a scientist than a dreadful old car. Maybe the scientists have higher densities of chalk.
  31. Finally! A flying saucer. VERY much like a hubcap. Satisfying in the way only hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers can be. Cheap, but unaccountably satisfying. A bit like the whole film.
  32. The way Ruth runs. Honestly. She has to fling her arms about and stagger endlessly, looking distressed and tearful, while Rex plods with his suit and chin and comfortable shoes. It’s not easy being a female scientist, then or now.
  33. Rex and Ruth hotwire a small plane and take off. But the saucer pulls them up into its hatch with a tractor beam. Even though they’re a small plane and not a tractor (pause for laughter). ‘They’re pulling us up!’ says Rex, helpfully. Ruth looks like she’s going to scream, although I’m guessing that’s less to do with the beam and more to do with Rex.
  34. They jump out of the plane and stare in awe at the throbbing interior. Rex runs his hand up and down the wing stanchion. Maybe the Director wanted some action to suggest that here is a man who appreciates impressive machinery, but it also back-references nicely the incident with the joystick. An alien even more miserable than Brack with something horribly like a condom stretched on his head waves them to follow him. He reminds me of the people working in the Covid Testing centres.
  35. They end up on a flight deck that looks just as ‘under construction’ as Rex’ lab. Still, Exeter welcomes them aboard. Apologises for having to blow up the rest of the scientists. ‘We’re not all masters of our destiny’ he says. ‘I learned that on earth.’ Rex is pretty cross about it. Exeter appeals to Ruth. ‘Surely as a woman you’re curious about our destination,’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’ says Ruth. (She must have really loved this script).
  36. Apparently they’re going to a planet called Metaluna, which sounds more like an 90s rave duo, but they didn’t know that then. The hubcap zings away into space. They pass through the thermal barrier, and things get hot. ‘What’s to stop us all bouncing around like a lot of balloons when we leave Earth’s gravity?’ asks top scientist Dr Ruth. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Exeter. ‘We make our own gravity.’ (Why they ever had to come to Earth for any kind of advice is beyond me).
  37. There’s a procedure they have to go through to avoid being crushed to death on Metaluna. It involves being put in a tube and bathed in fog. The lunks that Exeter releases from the tube aren’t all that reassuring, though. When the tubes are fully up they all have mini-fits and stagger off looking sick. Exeter asks Brack to prepare Rex n’Ruth for the tubes. They’ll also have to change into the unflattering overalls that Exeter reassures them are vital to life on Metaluna.
  38. When Rex goes into the tube for conditioning, the camera focuses on his groin. Actually, it’s supposed to be his hands grabbing the handrails, but still, a bet’s a bet. When the tube comes down and fog rises around him, Rex says he ‘feels like a new toothbrush,’ which is brave, if a little weird. They both get x-rayed, we see all their internal organs, except for Rex’ brain, which is too small even for alien technologies. Exeter shows them the problems his people are having back on Metaluna, aside from the dreadful fashion. Apparently ‘the Zygon meteors are beginning to get through the ionised layer’ – which isn’t a good thing and nobody wants.
  39. Coming into land, Rex n’Ruth look at the screen as horrified as two people who booked a weekend away in an Airbnb and find out it doesn’t have WiFi. Exeter leads them outside to the monitor, stopping to point out the lovely view, if you ignore the apocalyptic destruction, flaming meteors etc, etc.
  40. They get introduced to Orson. He explains they needed them to come because all their own scientists are dead, their laboratories destroyed, Zygon will invade soon and there ain’t a thing they can do about it. Their intention is to relocate to Earth – as our superiors, naturally. He scorns humans, saying they’re like children looking through a magnifying glass thinking that’s their true size (although I’ve never met a child who did that). ‘Our true size is the size of our God,’ says Rex, folding his arms – which is an even weirder thing to say than the toothbrush jibe. Orson orders Exeter to take Ruth n’Rex to the Thought Transference Chamber. Which by this stage I’m thinking pretty much everyone needs.
  41. On the way there Ruth says her mind’s her own and no-one’s going to change it, which is signs of recovery. She goes to run – but is stopped by a creature so horrific I can barely describe it. The best I can do is to ask you imagine a traffic warden with a comedy brain cycle helmet, welding goggles and lobster gauntlets. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Exeter. ‘I had hoped to prepare you somewhat beforehand. This is a mute-ant. We’ve been breeding them here for ages to do menial work’. Ruth cannot look. (My reaction would be to speak to the thing and ask if it’s in a union, because really – this is unacceptable).
  42. Rex punches Exeter. The mute-ant shuffles hopelessly towards them in response, but unluckily for the mute-ant (and I’m guessing nothing much that’s lucky has EVER really happened to this mute-ant, number one being cast in this film), one of the meteors hits the building and it gets buried beneath a half pound of polystyrene rubble. Rex and Ruth run on.
  43. Exeter catches them up, forgives Rex for all the punching, offers to help them get back to the spaceship before the planet and the whole cinema goes up. They fly off together, just escaping the Zygon attacks (which look like meteors on wires). They watch Metaluna get transformed into a sun, then get in the tubes ready for the journey back to Earth. But whilst the tubes gas-up, the door opens and the poor mute-ant staggers in. Ruth screams. Rex asks if the tubes are strong enough to keep him out. ‘Possibly,’ says Exeter. ‘He’s badly injured. The pressure should crush him soon…’
  44. Despite this, Ruth raises her tube up, immediately putting herself at risk from both the mute-ant and / or crushing. But hey – it’s done. ‘Run, Ruth. Run!’ says Rex. She does, screaming. The mute-ant staggers after her. She could definitely outrun this thing. There’s probably even time to cook a sit-down lunch, clear up afterwards, and still escape it. But no – she trips, the mute-ant shuffles over, she ends up twisting and screaming helplessly in its gauntlets. Rex jumps out of the tube to do some more punching, but he needn’t have bothered. The poor mute-ant collapses and disintegrates from a basic lack of understanding or proper care.
  45. When they’ve reached Earth again, Exeter says he’ll drop them off and then go exploring the universe. ‘You’re a liar,’ says Rex. ‘You’ve run out of power.’ Exeter doesn’t deny it, and even shifts uncomfortably onto his left side, as if all this punching and planetary disintegration has given him gas. Rex n’Ruth run down to the little plane, Exeter drops them out of the hatch, then hurtles off over the ocean where he bursts into flames, ending the film in much the same way he liked to end job interviews.

So what have I learned from watching This Island Earth? Other than what a curse it can be to have too much time on your hands and no project to work on. Well – a few things:

  1. Neutrons have no charge
  2. You can make gravity if you really want to
  3. To avoid getting zapped by alien beams, jump in a river. Or eat some chalk.
  4. Science is cool
  5. Trump is an alien.

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps, 1935. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

1.  The credits are all at the beginning. Which seems like a chore, until you think that nowadays you have to wade through a half dozen production company logo animations – and then the same production names in simple black and white – even before you get to the main actors and whatnot, and then the obligatory looking-down-from-a-drone-on-New-York-at-night, even if it’s a film about turtles or whatever. So all in all, I think The 39 Steps wins on that. 

2.  Maybe they put the credits at the beginning because people were still in the lobby buying cigarettes. When it’s over, they wouldn’t wait for the credits, because they’d be rushing out to buy more cigarettes. In the film, EVERYONE smokes. EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a baby toss a rattle out of the pram and reach a hand out for someone to pass it a Woodbine. Maybe that could’ve been an early Hitchcock cameo. He’d be a shoe-in for the role of: ‘sinister smoking baby in pram’. 

3.  The production crew is pretty limited, given today’s enormous list. Back in 1935 they made a film with about ten people, including wardrobe, lighting, sound and fish handler (there’s a lot of fish in The 39 Steps). 

4.  I read a little about the film before I saw it. Apparently they blew most of the budget on Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, so that explains a lot of the shade and fog, stock footage of trains, people pretending to be sheep &c.  

5.  The film starts in a music hall. Hannay goes in to watch the show in an enormous great coat. He’s GOT to be hot in that, but he doesn’t seem bothered. I’d want to roll it up and stuff it under my seat, whether or not it got covered in ash. No doubt people then were used to things being covered in ash. No doubt at the end of an evening out you’d have to beat yourself off with a carpet brush before you went in the house. Which sounds more fun than it probably was.

6.   Everyone in the film talks either RP or cockney. It’s a handy device. You can tell immediately what class they are. The middle class detectives try to talk proper but no-one’s fooled. They talk poshney, which is basically cockney, but with your chin up.  

7.   Almost immediately the MC comes on the stage with Mr Memory. They’re both dressed and move like robot butlers with worrying, clip-on moustaches. The MC has some banter with the audience, who are rowdy in a beery, knees-up, cor blimey kinda way. 

8.  There’s some chippy shit about whether Mr Memory has prodigious feet, or whether he is capable of prodigious feats of memory. (It’s the latter).

9.  The questions are all pretty low class, about football and horse racing and whatnot. One elderly guy wants to know what causes pip in poultry (I think that’s what he says – I don’t know anything about chickens). His wife digs him in the ribs because she doesn’t want to look common. Too late. They smoke.

10.  Every time Mr Memory answers a question he does a little shoulder-duck, finger-pointy thing and says ‘Am I right, sir?’, which is quite cute and v quotable. You can use a catchphrase too much, of course, although shooting to death is probably an over-reaction.

11.  The gig ends with someone firing a gun and everyone scrambling for the exit. There’s a fight, too. ‘Gentlemen, please! You’re not at home…’ says the MC. Says more about him, I think.

12.  Out in the street, Hannay is just about to light up (because it’s been at least five minutes and he’s gasping; I’m guessing his great coat is stuffed full of cigarettes; he’s like a walking kiosk). He’s grabbed by a Dietrich wannabe who’s mysteriously direct: 
‘May I come home with you?’ she says.
‘What’s the idea?’ says Hannay. 
‘Well – I’d like to’ she says.
‘It’s your funeral’ says Hannay.
They jump on a bus that takes him straight to his front door.

13.  The Mysterious Woman doesn’t like the fact that there are no curtains in Hannay’s flat. I’m guessing he’s decorating, although maybe he’s just an exhibitionist (which might explain the coat). 

14.  ‘Would you think me very troublesome if I asked for something to eat? I’ve had nothing all day.’ says the Mysterious Woman. Hannay gets out a haddock and a loaf of bread. Starts frying the haddock, standing over the pan with a fag on. (Again – they were probably all used to a quantity of ash in their food back then; they didn’t have much in the way of seasoning). 

15.  The Mysterious Haddock-Eating Woman tells him her story, all about spies and stolen secrets, professors with missing digits and whatnot. She says there are some spies down in the street if Hannay doesn’t believe her. He goes back into the lounge to check. There are – a couple of them – standing under a streetlamp, which is like Chapter 1 in the basic handbook for spies. Hannay is smoking (of course). When he comes back into the kitchen to see how The Mysterious Woman is doing with the haddock, and does she need another loaf, he puts the lit fag in his pocket. No joke. I replayed it a couple of times. So of course the rest of that scene I’m waiting for him to burst into flames.

16.  This is a plot point I don’t get. Later that night The Mysterious Woman ends up staggering into Hannay’s bedroom with a knife in her back. Hannay spends the next few scenes wondering how to leave the flat without being caught by the spies. But they’ve already been in the flat! They killed The Mysterious Woman! Why didn’t they get him then?

17.  Hannay has to think quickly. He grabs a milkman down in the lobby (ouch), and tells him the truth – there are spies after him, a woman has been murdered, he’s completely out of haddock. The milkman doesn’t believe him (especially about the haddock – it’s 1935 after all). Hannay changes tack. Says he’s been seeing a married woman and her husband and brother are waiting outside. ‘Why dincha say so!’ says the milkman, giving Hannay his hat and coat. ‘Leave the pony round the corner…’

18.  Hannay makes it to the train station. He’s sitting in a carriage halfway to Scotland (The Mysterious Woman had given him a map with Scotland circled). The other people in the carriage are underwear salesmen, so there’s some gratuitous flashing of bras and corsets for a minute or two, to lighten the tone. Hannay couldn’t act more suspiciously if he was wearing a huge badge on his lapel that says: Looking for a Murderer? Stop me and I’ll Confess. He borrows the salesmen’s newspaper to read about himself, then stares anxiously over the top at them. They stare back. One of them smokes a pipe, which is different. 

19.  About a hundred police and a couple of detectives get on at Edinburgh. They go from carriage to carriage, looking for Hannay. In desperation he climbs out of one carriage and into another where he tries to persuade a glamorous blonde woman that he’s not a murderer by kissing her. Of course, she shops him to the cops. Someone pulls the emergency stop and the train screeches to a halt on the Forth Bridge. Hannay hides behind a girder. The train and the plot moves on. 

20.  Hannay walks about a hundred miles whistling annoyingly till he comes to a crofter’s place. The Crofter, (is Crofter a word? What’s a Crofter? I’ve said it too much now. It’s lost all its meaning). The Crofter is a crazy looking geezer with lowering brows who rolls his eyes suspiciously at everything – especially the croft – but despite that seems quite happy to take a stranger in off the moor at night, no questions asked, all in for 1 and 6. 

21.  The Crofter is married to Peggy Ashcroft, who tells him all about Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, and how full of life it is there, and how she’d like to know if London women paint their toenails, as she gets out a pan the size of a small paddling pool ready to cook some herring. 

22.  Before they tuck in, The Crofter says Grace like a warlock casting a death spell. Then he goes outside to peer at them through the window.

23.  Hannay tells Peggy Ashcroft everything (in mime). The Forth Bridge is tricky, but he improves with a coat hanger. 

24.  Peggy Ashcroft wakes Hannay up in the night. The police are coming and he has to go. She gives him The Crofter’s coat, because she knew as soon as she saw him that here was a man who appreciates a really big coat. 

25.  About a hundred cops and two detectives chase Hannay across the moors. Mostly in silhouette, mostly speeded-up. Some of the cops fall into streams, some into bogs. It’s fair to say they’re not at their best in the country. No doubt if they were chasing Hannay through Piccadilly they’d be on him in a second. 

26.  Hannay knocks on the door of an isolated mansion. There’s a cocktail party going on where all the women have names beginning with H. It’s quite niche. Maybe a country thing, who knows. 

27.  Hannay talks to The Professor, a sly, slow-talking man who is missing a digit – exactly as The Mysterious Woman had said. Hannay suddenly has the same expression on his face as he had on the train. Think constipated llama. With a tache.

28.  The Professor produces a teeny tiny gun that looks about as threatening as a cigarette lighter, shoots Hannay in the chest, and Hannay falls down dead. Which seems to throw the film off a bit. I mean – what?  

29.  Next thing you know, we’re back in The Crofter’s croft. He’s furious because he can’t find his bible. The bible was in the breast pocket of his jacket. His jacket isn’t on the hook. Peggy Ashcroft admits she gave it to Hannay when he ran away. The Crofter’s eyes pretty much roll out of his head and off down the street. 

30.   Cut to: Hannay in an office saying how the crofter’s bible stopped the bullet. Apparently, after Hannay was shot, The Professor dragged him into another room and left him there whilst he went away to attend to something or other. I don’t know what. I’m guessing The Professor isn’t a Professor of anything medical, because it turns out Hannay was only stunned like a …. like a herring. He came to, jumped in a car and drove to Edinburgh? Glasgow? I’m not sure. The thing is, he went straight to the authorities – which was a bad move, as they immediately called the police. About a hundred cops come through the door with two grumpy detectives. 

31.  Hannay jumps through the window. The next thing you know he’s giving an impromptu political speech at the town hall, which goes down well with everyone but the police. For some reason the blonde from the train – whose name is Pamela – is there, too. Hannay appeals to her to ring the Consulate and warn them about all the spy stuff, but she says no. She’s probably come all the way to Scotland in the hope she might run into him again so she can say No. The police take them both away for questioning in Stranraer (I think – can’t be bothered to check). 

32.  The two cops who take them both away aren’t cops at all but spies. One of them punches Hannay in the mouth for being smart, which confirms his suspicions, although of course normal police will do that, too. When the car gets stopped on a bridge by some sheep – although what the sheep are doing out on a bridge at night in the fog is anyone’s guess. The spies handcuff Pamela & Hannay together. So naturally, as soon as the spies have got out of the car to confront the sheep, the two of them haul it out of there. 
‘Where the devil could they have gone?’ says one of the spies, looking over the side of the bridge. In the dark. In the fog. Surrounded by sheep. 

33.  Pamela and Hannay check into a hotel as Mr & Mrs Henry Hopkinson of The Hollyhocks, Hammersmith. More H’s. Maybe this is a Hitchcockian thing. Haddock. Herring. All these are probably clues but really I’ve no idea. 

34.  After eating an enormous sandwich and drinking some milk and whisky, and after a long and chippy monologue about how Hannay is related to pirates and how he’ll end up in Madame Tussaud’s and whatnot (where’s the punchy spy when you need him?) Pamela ends up totally believing his story. They have to get to London to stop the plan from working! Although I still don’t get how they know to go there. I was never good on plot. Or fish. But in my own defence, I’m not as dumb as The Professor, who shoots a guy then doesn’t bother to check if he’s wearing kevlar, or a bible, or both. 

35.  Back at The London Palladium. Somehow, the police know that Hannay will try something (see no. 34). They’ve flooded the place with about a hundred cops, some of them lounging in the expensive boxes, laughing at the comedy dancers, generally oblivious to the fact that Hannay is sitting in the stalls wearing the giant badge that says: Looking for a Murderer? Stop me and I’ll Confess. With a spotlight on him. Pamela, who’s only just come into the theatre, sees him straight away. So I take back what I said in point no. 25

36.  Mr Memory is brought back onstage – to the tune Hannay has been whistling all this time! Hannay borrows someone’s opera glasses to look up at the top box. He sees a hand on the balcony with a missing digit! The Professor!

37.  Just before the cops arrest Hannay, he shouts out ‘Where are the 39 Steps?’. Mr Memory glazes over (which I totally sympathise with) and starts saying something about secrets, whereupon The Professor shoots him (not that we think he’s any good at THAT), then leaps down onto the stage, where he’s surrounded by about a hundred cops, who finally and miraculously get their man.

38.  Instead of giving poor Mr Memory any kind of first aid, he’s dragged backstage, where Hannay asks him again about the 39 Steps. Mr Memory reveals that he memorised a bunch of plans about a new kind of jet engine, says Am I right, sir? then dies. 

39.  The last scene is a close-up of the handcuff hanging from Hannay’s wrist. I’m expecting Pamela to grab his hand fondly, but she doesn’t. I guess she’s not that fond of haddock after all. 

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World, 1951. Dir. Christian Nyby. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Last night we watched the 1951 film The Thing from Another World. We’d all seen the remakes, but not the thing itself, er-hem. And a drama about a bunch of people under lockdown running around with axes felt about right.

So we settled in, and all in all liked it a lot, with a few caveats. Here’s a point by point response (in no particular order, because I must admit I became a little deranged, and had nightmares, and at this point who cares):

1: The Title. The Thing from Another World. I think the remakes were right to drop the subtitle. It’s clunky. You may as well call it The Thing (It’s Not From Round Here). Like the producers were scared you wouldn’t watch it if you thought there was a chance it was just the kind of Thing you’d see in a MAGA hat buying duck tape at the thrift store. To cut them some slack, though, and put it in context, I think UFOs were an expanding market in the 50s, what with the Russians and everything, so maybe it was just a marketing ruse that hasn’t aged well. We’ve had so many aliens since you can’t move for them. I could name fifty right off, and that’s not even touching the box sets

2: It’s mostly guys. Guys in big coats, guys in big trousers. Guys in flying hats and cute leather jackets. Guys holding guns, axes, Geiger counters, hands of cards. Guys smoking or talking very very very quickly with no punctuation or pauses for intonation or inflection and talking over each other too because there doesn’t seem to be time for anything other than guys saying guy things and giving and receiving orders and taking care of business. Or talking about wild nights in Singapore. Or blowing shit up.

3: Even the alien turns out to be a guy. Except he’s the logical extension of ‘guy’, being 100% vegetable – but not in a wholesome, Vegan way – and only able to communicate through irritable grunts. How Grumpy Alien Guy ever got round to building a sophisticated space ship and making the trip in the first place we never get to know. You just have to imagine back on his planet everyone’s like that, 100% vegetable and just enough brains to run when they’re attacked by dogs or on fire. Mind you, it’s clear he landed the flying saucer with very little finesse, ploughing it bonnet-first into the North Pole so only the fin sticks out of the ice when the guys get there. I can imagine Grumpy Alien Guy, legs up on the console, flicking through a potato magazine, bored out of his gourd, watching the gauges after a five millenia commute, then grunting fuck it that’ll do.

4: The set-up is pretty clear. Some kind of army base in Alaska. A reporter goes there looking for a story – although you’d have to think he must be desperate, choosing such a remote location. Maybe he specialises in snow. Maybe he had relatives in the area so was combining the trip. Anyway, almost as soon as he gets there Hero Captain – an actor with such deeply heroic grooves down the side of his face you could lie him on the ground and park your bike – Hero Captain and his band of guys are ordered to fly to the North Pole to help with a plane that went down, or something. So they fly off in a plane with snowboards for wheels, and end up in another godforsaken snowy outpost, where everyone shouts ‘Shut the door’ as soon as you walk in. You get to meet the people there – a guy who looks like a rockabilly DJ, someone tall with a small voice who looks like Lurch from the Addams Family, an old guy chuffing on a bendy pipe, a bunch of interchangeable characters with no dialogue who are there to make up numbers and maintain body heat, and a Professor type in a sinister smoking jacket and white roll-neck jumper and hair and goatee made of Italian meringue who takes every opportunity to make a portentous speech – the human race… rah rah … evolution rah rah …. with everyone gathered round, one hand in his pocket (to be clear, it’s the professor who has one hand in his pocket – not everyone else – the professor doesn’t have a pocket big enough for that, and anyway, it’d be difficult to choreograph).

5: There are two women in the film. One is a secretary at the first outpost, with weaponised breasts and an arch manner with a pencil, who has some kind of history with Hero Captain, only he’s got a drink problem and doesn’t remember. Singapore? Anyway, when they fly to the second post they need a secretary, and she soon realises her value by making coffee. Twice. Although Hero Captain doesn’t take her up on the offer, presumably because it doesn’t involve alcohol. The other woman is a scientist at the outpost. You can tell because she has plaits.

6: When Hero Captain and his guys make it out to the crash site they realise they’ve got a bonafide flying saucer on their hands. Stuck in the ice, fin-up. They decide the best way to proceed is to blow the shit out of it with ‘thermite’, which I think went on to be used in the manufacture of gloves. Anyway, surprise surprise, it doesn’t work that well, accidentally completely destroying the ship. Although – weirdly – what happens is that Grumpy Alien Guy is blown out of the ship, then instantly refrozen in the ice. (Which doesn’t improve his mood). To be fair, Hero Captain learns from his mistakes. They won’t use thermite again. This time they’ll chip him out with picks, and load him onto the plane in a block of ice like so much tuna.

7: Back at the outpost, they put iced GAG (Grumpy Alien Guy – it takes too long to type) in a storeroom. The Professor wants to defrost GAG immediately, but Hero Captain says no, the military authorities have to say it’s okay, and for now the radios are out, so they’ll have to wait. Instead they post a guard to keep watch over frozen GAG, breaking a window to keep the place cold (although why they couldn’t just open the window I don’t know). They give the guard an electric blanket to keep him warm, which is nice. But the guard is spooked by the way GAG is sneering at him through the ice, so he puts the blanket over the ice so he doesn’t have to put up with so much attitude. (In retrospect, not the brightest guard to sit there in the first place). Turns out the electric blanket is very effective at defrosting aliens, not shorting out in all that water, because no-one’s having any luck at all in any of this, especially not the alien. When GAG climbs out the guard shoots him six times and runs away. GAG doesn’t follow him, quite sensibly, I think. The signs aren’t good he’ll be well received. GAG runs out into the snowy storm and immediately gets set on by the huskies. He fights them, killing a few and only losing an arm. Then he runs off into the night.

8: The guys (plus The Secretary and Plait Woman) realise that GAG is dangerously grumpy and is bound to come back for his arm. They stand around as The Professor dissects it (presumably there’s a blooper reel – the actor under the table making some unscheduled gestures). The Professor is very impressed by the level of vegetableness. He makes another portentous speech about venus fly traps and carrots and things. There starts to be a measure of disagreement between The Professor and Hero Captain. The Professor wants to learn from our strange, highly-intelligent visitor; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of it

9: They all split up to search for GAG. The Professor and his team go to the laboratory, which is basically a fancy greenhouse. They find the bloodless corpse of a husky in a storage bin and guess that GAG put it there, for some reason . The Professor asks two guys from his team to hang around whilst he goes off to do some other shit. Fairly soon after, they’re hung upside down by GAG and have all their blood drained, too, which is a shame. The Professor is pretty sanguine, though. He’s prepared to give GAG the benefit of the doubt, especially as GAG’s new to all this, and probably jet-lagged.

10: Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary, and Plait Woman) get ready for GAG’s next attack by hiding in another room, nailing posts against a door that opens the other way, so that’s not great. They know you can’t shoot a carrot with any degree of effectiveness, so maybe they should burn it instead, like they did with the thermite, and how well that ended. Plus, they’re in a wooden building, so… Anyway, they go ahead with this plan. When GAG breaks in, the idea is one person chucks a bucket of kerosene over it while another tosses a cigarette or a pipe or something. The Secretary offers round coffee, then hides behind a mattress. GAG runs in, rah, rah, rah, fire, flames, terrible…. runs out again… Hero Captain and the guys put out the fire and wonder what to do next, and reminisce about Singapore.

11: Turns out, GAG isn’t so stupid after all . He’s disabled the outpost’s heating system, so they’ll all freeze to death, especially The Secretary, as she only has a light summer jacket and a pair of driving gloves. They decide to rig up a trap and electrocute him.

12: Meanwhile, they find out The Professor has been growing some GAG pods, a bit like pulsating alien cannabis, except with blood plasma instead of hydroponics. The Lurch character listens to the pods with a stethoscope and weirds everyone out by saying they sound like mewling children, which is an insight into his parenting experience. The Professor wants to grow lots of these pods; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of them. The Secretary is worried GAG has only come to Earth to make more of itself and take over the world, treating us all like so many cabbages. The Professor shrugs. It’s a risk he’s prepared to take.

13: They’re all standing in the corridor. GAG one end, holding a piece of wood, Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary – I’ve lost track of The Plait) holding axes and guns at the other. Just before GAG rushes them, the Professor breaks through and stands in front of the monster to make a speech, appealing to his better nature, which is a brave move, considering. GAG shows his appreciation by knocking him halfway through a wall. Then he rushes the team, and immediately gets flash-fried. Although they overdo it with the heat and he ends up completely inedible.


14: The film ends with the reporter on the radio to somewhere else, everyone gathered round to listen except for Hero Captain and The Secretary, who are canoodling on a bench in the background. ‘Watch the skies!’ says the Reporter. ‘Keep watching the skies!’ Which is good advice, although you might want to glance down now and again, for health & safety reasons.