🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1952

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Continuing with my series on Science Fiction Films of the 1950s, though 1952 seems sparse in comparison to lets say 1956 & 1958, there was definitely a prevailing theme… fear of communist invasion! My favorite picture for this year would have to be watching Hildegarde Knef torment Erich von Stroheim in director Arthur Maria Rabenalt’s ALRAUNE, though Brigitte Helm’s 1928 portrayal of the soulless beauty born of sin is quinteseentially sublime.

WILD WILD UNTAMED WOMEN, POST NUCLEAR TRIBES, SOULLESS TEMPTRESSES CONQUERING PLANETS & STRATIFIED ZOMBIES!

Alraune aka Unnatural aka Vengeance aka Mandragore

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Born outside the laws of God and man!-the fruit of evil!

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Alraune Prologue

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Alraune 1952 Hildegarde

Directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1913. Starring Hildegard Knef as Alraune, Erich von Stroheim as Dr. Jacob ten Brinken, Karlheinz Böhm ( Of  director Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) ) as Frank Braun, Harry Meyen as Count Geroldingen, Rolf Henniger as Wolf Goutram, Harry Halm as Doctor Mohn.

Viennese director Rabenalt is better known for his Nazi propaganda films and for countless operettas, lederhosen and heimatschmalz. Considered a tech-noir film import from outside the U.S.A., included among Spaceways (England 1953) The H-Man (Japan 1958) and Atom Age Vampire (Italy 1961)

The story was first filmed in 1918 and then in 1928 & 1930 with Brigitte Helm which was a beautifully films version. Brigitte Helm among dolls — Alraune 1928 silent- possesses an eroticism

Brigitte Helm among dolls -- Alraune 1928 silent

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Stroheim broods and over-acts in his inimitable way and Hildegarde Knef is exquisite. ten Brinken (von Stroheim) collects a the semen of a hanged murderer at the gallows, and takes this seed and inseminates a prostitute. What he creates is a ‘daughter’ Alraune–who is incapable of feeling ‘love’ or having emotional human connections with voracious sexual appetites, portrayed as almost demonic or like a succubus.

ALRAUNE Expressionist

the Cinematography of Friedl Behn-Grund (Murderers Among Us 1946, Confessions of Felix Krull 1957 and Titantic 1943) paints an expressionist foray into a moralistic fairytale of good & evil love & hate sin and redemption.

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The film is dark and uncanny as Alraune mesmerizes every male she meets, while ten Brinken becomes more and more perversely sexually obsessed with his beautiful but unfeeling archetypal dark-eve.

The film has an awkward atmosphere about it as if it’s trying to be a the threshold of new medical research blended with the profane and taboo science of artificial insemination, Gothic romance fantasy and man’s desire to conquer reproduction. The fetish of creating life, controlling it as if becoming god-like, the question of individuality, morality and the seed of moral instinct and sin–misfire in shocking and dreadful ways.

Alraune and the gorilla in the lab

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Erich von Stroheim—as ten Brinken shows Karlheinz Böhm or Karl Boehm the diary and where Alraune’s mother came from “I made a long search for her in the convent of Hamburg.”

When ten Brinken (von Stroheim) is in the lab and sees Frank out in the garden with Alraune he asks Doctor Moh (Harry Halm) his associate “Did he kiss her”

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Alraune-“ They were all in love with me and they all died and I killed them… You mustn’t stay I bring destruction. “

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Frank-“You can’t believe that there’s something strange and different about you. You’re a human being like anyone else.”

Alraune- “You could never forget that I’m trained from birth. My life began as a horrible crime that I was part of a foolish experiment.”

Frank –“Alraune how can you say that…  no one is all good or all evil. If only the bad were inherited then the world would be a HELL..”

Alraune-“In me there is no good-look where I came from. I was brought into being by the evil thoughts of a depraved man.”

Frank-“The crime was to bring you into the world and then to raise you without love. The plaything of insanity. Who ever is brought up without love is sick. You were never evil, you were sick. I won’t let you stay here. You must go away.”

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At that moment von Stroheim shoots Alraune being carried by Boehm and Alraune begins to die.

ten Brinken (vonStorheim) says-“No one else should have have!”

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ALRAUNE’S last words before he dies– “Now the toy is broken-the crime against nature that God didn’t want.”

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BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA

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BELA LUGOSI FINDS THE PERFECT GOOF TO TURN A GORILLA INTO A HUMAN AND VERSA VISA!

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Directed by William Beaudine who started out doing shorts in pre 1920s and directed several superior police procedural/noir/ dramatic Naked City television episodes in 1958,  (The Living Ghost 1942, The Ape Man 1943, Ghosts on the Loose 1943, Mystery of the 13th Guest 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, Forgotten Women 1949, Billy the Kid vs Dracula 1966)

This is the only film that actually featured Bela Lugosi’s name in the title. It co-stars the comedy team Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who is trying to take off on actor/comedian Jerry Lewis with several more doses of whiny asininery and though he might actually look like him, is not at all funny.

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Duke Mitchell: You know, someday I’m gonna let you fry in your own grease!

Sammy Petrillo: Could you make it chicken fat, maybe?

Unfortunately the team does not nearly come close to touching the brilliant pairing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Petrillo only did a handful of bit part appearances, Shangri-La (1961), The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962) Keyholes are for Peeping (1972) and Out to Lunch (1977)

As Phil Hardy states about the state of Bela Lugosi’s career at the time, “already bedevilled by management, money, marital and drug problems, is the star of this awful piece.”

Technically a screwball comedy starring, it still seems to want to fall into the mold of science fiction as it involves a mad scientist and a formula.

Mitchell and Petrillo play night club performers who are entertaining the troops in Guam who fall out of an airplane and land on an a South Sea island. Nona (Charlita) finds them and takes them back to her father, chief Rakos (Al Kukime). Nona convinces her father to spare their lives. The unfunny pair also meet Dr. Zabor played by our lovable yet tired actor by this time without some of the nuanced dialogue he had been given in the 30s & 40s… Bela Lugosi. Zabor is a scientist who is performing clandestine experiments on gorillas trying to transform them into people. He is obsessed with Nona, and when Duke catches her eye, Zabor injects him with the serum and turns him into what else but a gorilla!

Sammy at some point figures out that it’s his friend Duke when the gorilla begins singing “Deed I Do” by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose.

Sammy Petrillo: This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.

Captive Women

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1000 YEARS AFTER THE H-BOMB!

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Directed by Stuart Gilmore (44 editor credits including- Sullivan’s Travels 1941, The Palm Beach Story 1942, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek 1944, Two for the Seesaw 1962, Toys in the Attic 1963, and The Andromeda Strain 1971), stars Robert Clarke as Robert, Margaret Field as Ruth, Gloria Saunders as Catherine, Ron Randall as Ridden, Stuart Randall as Gordon, Robert Bice as Bram Paula Dorety as first Captive, Chili Williams as second Captive, William Schallert as Carver. Once again some of the images are courtesy of matte painter Irving Block (Rocketship X-M 1950, Forbidden Planet 1956, Kronos 1957)

Not to be mistaken with Captive Wild Women (1943) starring John Carradine!

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In a post-apocalyptic New York City, three tribes of mutants (the Norms, the Mutates and the Upriver people) battle each other to survive.

When Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen saw they success they had with The Man from Planet X (1951) (incidentally re-using the cast once again, Margaret Field, Robert Clarke and William Schallert) they decided to try another science fiction story which had a British title originally called 3000 A.D. & 1000 Years from Now which reflect a much more science fiction sensibility that Captive Women which evokes that trend of jungle/adventure pictures. Howard Hughes who was running RKO at the time, decided to use the more sensationalist film title.

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After the world is destroyed by an atomic bomb, the survivors in our story concern three tribes who hunt each other down throughout the desolate ruins of New York City. First there are the Norms who by virtue of their name tell us that they haven’t been effected by the nuclear fall out. The Mutates led by Riddon (Ron Randall) , are ancestors who have been deformed by the passing down of their mutated genes, and go on raids of the subterranean tribe of Norms to conquer their women who are portrayed as beautiful and perfect for procreation which the Mutates would like to cleanse their lineage of the mutation they have suffered and begin to have healthy offspring. Then there is the last tribe, the Upriver People who are an evil bunch who are violent and worship the devil- ruthlessly led by Gordon (Stuart Randall)

When the Upriver People attack, the Norm leaders Riddon and Rob (Robert Clarke) take off, finding the Mutates are willing to help them hide out. One of the Norm women Ruth (Margaret Field) falls in love with Riddon.

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William Schallert plays Carver who has been banished by the Mutate tribe, winds up betraying them and showing Gordon the secret passage under the Hudson River, a tunnel that leads to the Mutate’s camp in New Jersey. In an ironic twist, during a battle between the tribes, the Upriver People are drowned. Though the story is very dark and brooding, there is a tinge of hope that with the budding romance between Riddon and Ruth they may begin a new civilization where all tribes work together.

Early on in the 1950s Rocketship X-M (1951) and Arch Oboler’s Five (1951) both dealt with the consequences of a nuclear holocaust, Captive Women plays out less about the effects of the atomic fallout  weaving the story around the different factions of tribes that are trying to forge their own society in a post-apocalyptic world. People have regressed back to a time of primal necessity (well they aren’t much different today are they), to survive, to procreate to prevail over other threatening tribes… the nuclear warfare has changed the look and function of the world and it’s survivors. Humanity is all about biological need and the misogynistic tribal-warfare narrative drives the story. Man vs man, man needs woman, woman gets dragged off like a piece of property. Some tribes are worse than others…

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The Hollywood Reporter said, “Captive Women was a ‘pretentious, long winded dissertation on the bleak future lying ahead… While the intent is certainly laudable, the pompous, hackneyed dialogue  and the stilted performances make this… a long 64 minutes.” In Daily Variety “Is strictly for the exploitation houses.” 

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In The Monthly Film Bulletin called it an ‘unattractive farrago’ they also said- “preposterous story contrives to be both childish and absurd.”

CAPTIVE WOMEN 1952

Invasion U.S.A

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THEY PUSH A BUTTON AND VAST CITIES VANISH BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES! (1956 re-release)

Producer Albert Zugsmith worked with director Douglas Sirk on a few classics-was at a time the house producer for Universal -International, including Touch of Evil 1955, Written on the Wind 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, The Tarnished Angels 1958,

Invasion U.S.A. is directed by Alfred E. Green (Baby Face 1933, The Jolson Story 1946)

What a cast!!!…Starring Gerald Mohr (Gilda 1946, Detective Story 1951, The Angry Red Planet 1959, Funny Girl 1968) as Vince Potter, Peggy Castle as Carla Sanford, Dan O’Herlihy as Mr. Ohman and Edward G. Robinson as the radio dispatcher. Phyllis Coates as Mrs. Mulfory, Knox Manning as the newscaster.

Albuert Zugsmith’s cheap exploitation film is a bleak journey laced with doom, scaremongering and feasting off of the vitals of paranoia of the McCarthy era Communist invasion scare, and plays off the worst of our fears back in the 1950s –the film did more as a propaganda piece than a truly insightful science fiction thriller. Using stock footage from World War II army training films.

From Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies–he cites In a letter to the New York Times, Larry Evans said the film seemed to be claiming “that peace is merely a space between wars”

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A largely forgotten film that plays on the fears about communism featuring Dan O’Herlihy as a mysterious stranger who hypnotizes a group of people in a New York City bar and makes them believe that the Cold War is over and Russians have launched an all out atomic attack.

The film opens in a New York City bar littered with a variety of characters, you know the counter-intuitive groups of people who’s sensibilities will no doubt span the spectrum of American taste. They are involved in a heated discussion about the universal draft. Gerald Mohr plays Vince a television reporter interested in controversy and high octane filled conversations that stoke ideas,while Peggy Castle plays Ruth who isn’t too keen on the idea herself. Then there’s the cross section of America, the tractor manufacturer George Sylvester played by Robert Bice who is too pleased with his own success refusing to convert his plant over so the military in order to make weapons. Then there’s the rancher Ed Mulfory played by Erik Blythe who is on the attack against the system. Illinois Congressman Arthur V. Harroway is portrayed by Wade Crosby who goes off on his own rant about tax increases because of all the defense appropriations.

Dan O’Herlihy plays Mr. Ohman who expresses himself very carefully presenting himself as a ‘forecaster’ and tells the group that the future all depends on how we as a people will act presently.

Suddenly the television set in the bar becomes the focus as there is an emergency announcement that enemy troops have invaded Alaska and are now heading toward Washington to attack! The group in the bar scramble to get to where they need to be, the pall of doom hanging over everyone’s certain fate.

Before the various characters involved wake up from their trance they all die horrible deaths, plunging form the top of a skyscraper, drowning etc.

Vince goes back to his television studio to try and report that the enemy troops are invading Oregon, taking over air bases, bombing cities and devastating important landmarks all over the West.

The rancher returns home and he and his family are drowned when Hoover Dam is A-bombed. The manufacturer is shot dead in his office by his window washer who was actually a spy. The enemy is never clearly specified but the idea that they start their invasion with Alaska which is not far from Russia let’s us know who we are truly afraid of in this film.

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Finally enemy troops not only descend upon Washington D.C. where the Congressman is shot to death while giving a speech, they reach Manhattan and set off another A-bomb- a scene which the film boasts as it’s only special effects sequence. Carla who worked for the Red Cross dies, and so does Vince, unfortunately there was no time for their budding romance to bud…

With many fantasy/horror/science fiction type stories that allow second chances or glimpses into the dangerous tomorrows, the scene at the bar shows all slowly awakening as if from a trance. Mr. Ohman has placed them into some sort of illuminatory stasis now giving them back precious time to go into the world and perform good deeds in the name of “Eternal Vigilance”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies “Russian MiGs are shown and some of the stock footage used is printed reversed left to right so that the letters are backward This was to make them look Cryillic and therefore, Russian According to Larry Evans’ letter quoted earlier , The American Mercury, then the self -appointed mouth piece of anti-communism , Anti-Unamerican fanatics is shown in the film. The message in Invasion U.S.A isn’t just that we should consider the possibility that another war and one with the communist nations in particular will take place, but that we should actively prepare for one to the point of providing arms & trained propaganda newscasters actually here fomenting the inevitable conflict.?

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Hedda Hopper allowed her name to be used with the advertising of the film and it’s posters saying- “It will scare the pants off you” Edwin Schallert in the Los Angeles Times quotes the cheap exploitation picture by saying, ‘there is still a modicum of high suspense running through the production, and perhaps even something to cause audiences to think.”

Newscaster: The big mystery now is why have no cities been attacked? Why did the enemy throw away surprise yet fail to drop a single atom bomb? 

Mr. Ohman: I think America wants new leadership.

Vince Potter: What kind of leadership do you suggest?

Mr. Ohman: I suggest a wizard.

Vince Potter: A what?

Mr. Ohman: A wizard, like Merlin, who could kill his enemies by wishing them dead. That’s the way we like to beat Communism now, by wishing it dead.

MONKEY BUSINESS

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Directed by Howard Hawks and notably considered a screwball–madcap-zany comedy starring Cary Grant, there is an element of science fiction that cannot be ignored and that’s why Monkey Business is viewed by some belonging to the Sci-Fi genre even with all it’s zany antics. Hawks having accomplished the more terrifying yet camp filled The Thing from Another World the year before certainly wears a versatile director’s cap. With a screenplay by writers Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I. A. L Diamond.

Referring back once again to Bill Warren’s terrific book Keep Watching the Skies, I could never write as concise and witty as Warren he puts it like this…After Here Comes Mr. Jordan 1941, light fantasy, comedies became popular and a steady Hollywood product. Generally they took the form of fantasies, such as Heaven Only Knows 1947, and You Never Can Tell 1951, but frequently the fantastic elements was actually science fiction…{…} Cary Grant was one of Hawk’s favorite actors- Bringing Up Baby 1938, Only Angels Have Wings 1939, etc–and Grant was often at his best under Hawk’s direction. Hawks seemed to be amused by Grant’s ability to appear stiffly repressed while suggesting banked fires of frivolity. That is the specific subject of Monkey Business.”

Cary Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton (even his name is delicious!)

Grant plays absent minded professor Barnaby Fulton financed by Oliver Oxly played by Charles Coburn who wants his research to find a way to slow down the aging process. Fulton discovers a youth serum-elixir B-4, but when a chimpanzee sneaks out of his cage and mixes chemicals together, and spikes the water cooler,Fulton accidentally ingests the serum himself. Now listen, implausible you say, I’ve heard said that leave a chimpanzee in a room over the course of years he’d paint the Mona Lisa… true story!

Fulton begins acting like a high spirited college rowdy, buys a hot rod and drives Oxly’s secretary the adorable Marilyn Monroe all over town, and I mean drives her wild!
Problem is Fulton is married to sophisticated Edwina who is shocked by his new behavior, but eventually the serum wears off, but everyone from Edwina, old Oxly and his colleagues start drinking a lot of water! As in the end they revert to childish behavior swinging around the laboratory like chimpanzee’s themselves, they are in contrast with the civilized world, the elixir has caused emotional and moral anarchy and flies in the face of being a responsible adult, the message is quite dire. You not only can’t go home again, you can’t be young at heart again… Gee wiz!

There are no special effects, there are no substitute actors representative of the younger characters, the only signifier of youth is the actors behavior. So science fiction—not so much in terms of technology, but it’s always fun to include a comedy in the mix besides, Abbott & Costello and the bad movies that are unintentionally funny.

With the screwball dialogue and shenanigans the film the story resolves itself at the end with a bittersweet message that youth is for the young and we must accept getting older.

“Youth as presented in Monkey Business seems as much nightmarish as it does anything else”

Monkey Business Cary and Ginger

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Barnaby: Hello, Griffith Park Zoo, Snake Department. Sssshhh!

Oliver Oxley: Hello? Hello? What is this?

Barnaby: What do you want?

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr Oxley.

Barnaby: I’ll see if he’s here.

Oliver Oxley: No, I said *this* is Oxley!

Barnaby: Who is?

Oliver Oxley: I am, speaking!

Barnaby: Oh, you’re Mr. Speaking…

Oliver Oxley: This is Mr. Oxley speaking!

Barnaby: Oxley Speaking? Any relation to Oxley?

Oliver Oxley: Barnaby Fulton is that you?

Barnaby: Who’s calling?

Oliver Oxley: I am, Barnaby!

Barnaby: Oh, no, you’re not Barnaby. I’m Barnaby! I ought to know who I am.

Oliver Oxley: This is Oxley speaking, Barnaby!

Barnaby: No, that’s ridiculous! You can’t be all three. Figure out which one you are and call me back!

 

Lois Laurel: {Marilyn Monroe -at her secretrial desk, responding to Barnaby’s remark that she is at work early} Mr. Oxley’s been complaining about my punctuation, so I’m careful to get here before nine.

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Barnaby: Umph! I’m beginning to wonder if being young is all it’s cracked up to be. We dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters. That’s what youth is.

Radar Men from the Moon

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Directed Fred C. Bannon

A Republic Serial in 12 Chapters!

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Starring George Wallace (224 credits to this omnipresent supporting actor) is Commander Cody, Aline Towne as Joan Gilbert, Roy Barcroft as Retik, William Bakewell as Ted Richards, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg.

George Wallace wearing the special rocket suit from Republic’s earlier King of the Rocket Men (1949), is Captain Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. It’s cheap, really really cheap serial production– Cody must stop the Moon’s dictator the evil Retik from invading the Earth. Most of the action takes place on the Moon. Wallace doesn’t even need a spacesuit, and the lack of gravity doesn’t seem to effect Cody even after Destination Moon two years earlier showed up the problems with weightlessness. In 1966, the serial was condensed into a feature, Retik the Moon Menace.

George Wallace is Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe — that fantabulous flying super-hero scientist is fighting evil forces from the Moon who are destroying Earth’s national defenses using a strange and destructive weapon. Scientists Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne) and Ted Richards (William Bakewell) design both a special rocket powered suit and helmet that enables Commando Cody to fly, and a rocket that can reach the Moon. With the aide of security head Henderson (Don Walters) our hero uncovers a race of Moon Men who are using an atomic ray gun to target the Earth in order to invade the planet. When Cody, Joan and Ted travel to the cratered Moon to try and thwart the menacing Moon Men –in their rocket-ship they are captured by the Moon minions led by Retik (Roy Bancroft). The serial also stars Bob Stevenson as Daly, Clayton Moore as Graber, Peter Brocco as Krog, Tom Steele as Zerg, Dale Van Sickel as Alon, Noel Cravat as Robal, Baynes Barron as Nesor and Paul McGuire as Bream.

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Radar Man from the Moon

"Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe," aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film " Radar Men from the Moon," at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)
“Commando Cody, the Sky Marshal of the Universe,” aka, George Wallace, appears to defy the laws of gravity, for a moment at least, as he lands in the arms of a prop man during production of the film ” Radar Men from the Moon,” at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, 80 miles northeast of Hollywood, Calif., Dec. 12, 1951. Gravity may be defied in some the new movie serials based on the fantasies science fiction, but what goes up still comes down, even if the film wont let you see it. (AP Photo)

Graber: How ’bout a ride to town, mister?

Motorist: Sure. Hop in.

Graber: There’s a man in a flying suit chasing us. Step on it.

Motorist: Huh?

 

[Commando Cody, Ted, and Joan are about to board ship for the moon]

Commando Cody: I still think this is no trip for a woman.

Joan Gilbert: Now don’t start that again. You’ll be very glad to have someone along who can cook your meals.

Red Planet Mars

Red Planet Mars

Directed by Harry Horner (Beware, My Lovely 1952, Vicki 1953, The Wild Party 1956, production designer on The Hustler 1961)

Written for the screen by John L. Balderston, Anthony Veiller based on the play by John L. Balderston and John Hoare. John L. Balderston had also written the screenplays for Dracula 1931, Frankenstein 1931, Mad Love 1935, Bride of Frankenstein 1935 and Gaslight 1944. Veiller having written the screenplays for The Killers 1946, and  The Stranger 1946.

Stars Peter Graves stars as astronomer Chris Cronyn, Andrea King as his wife Lynda Cronyn, Herbert Berghof as Franz Calder, Walter Sande as Admiral Bill Carey, Marvin Miller as Arjenian, Willis Bouchey as the President, and Morris Ankrum as Secretary of State Sparks.

Based on screenwriter Balderston’s play Red Planet, the film is overtly focused on the fear of invasion and the insidious spread of Communism in the American consciousness in the 1950s.

Martyrs,Miracles,and Martians
Religion and Cold War Cinematic Propaganda in
the 1950s by Tony Shaw

Introduction

Consider this script: Chris, a Californian scientist (played by Peter Graves), has established radio contact with Mars, thanks to the invention of a former Nazi scientist, Calder (Herbert Berghof), now serving Lucifer with Soviet money in the Andes. Consequently, the United States learns that Mars has attained a high level of “civilization,” has developed nuclear power, and has dispensed with coal and oil. The news causes pandemonium on Earth, stock markets crash, depression reigns, and Moscow gloats over the threatened collapse of Western society. On the brink of chaos, the world learns that Mars is also a Christian society, ruled by a “Supreme Authority” whose teachings parallel those of the Sermon on the Mount. This prompts a religious revival on Earth and a revolution in Russia, where a group of pious peasants inspired by Voice of America broadcasts throw out the Communists and crown an elderly patriarch as their new ruler. The story ends on a bittersweet note: Chris, his wife, and Calder are all killed in a laboratory explosion, leaving the U.S. president (Willis Bouchey) to announce that the faith of the world has been saved and that peace now reigns. Few films capture the personal and political paranoia so often associated with “McCarthyite” Hollywood better than Harry Horner’s
Red Planet Mars, described by one critic at the time of its opening in 1952 as “a grotesque, almost insane fantasy, told in deadly earnest.–Even fewer films threw all their Cold War eggs—anti-Communism, an ambivalence toward science.”

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Graves plays a California scientist trying to establish contact with Mars, soon into the film he and scientists at the observatory discover that the Martians have melted the ice caps in order to irrigate their planet. Graves as Dr. Chris Cronyn surmises that Martians are a superior race. His wife Andrea King who plays Lynda feels worried about the findings believing that her husbands research is like “sitting on a volcano.”

Peter Graves whose specialty is radio waves and King play a husband and wife team of research scientists/astronomers who pick up a television transmission from Mars. The message describes the planet as being a utopian society with a god-like higher power in charge. Here on Earth, this news spreads panic among both Western governments and the Russian Communist government. In Russia, the peasants revolt and place a priest like monarchy in rule.

 

Narrator opens “This is a story not yet told….”

Observatory is high on a mountain in Southern California the giant telescope… “Searches the heavens for the secrets there contained…”

Red Planet Mars Observatory

Dr. Cronyn (Peter Graves) is the radio man— Dr. Boulting – Mitchell’s Assistant (House Peters Jr.)  is the guy with the spy glass…

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“Do you seriously think that you’ve established contact with Mars…?”—Dr. Boulting (Peters)
“Well you take pictures of it, why shouldn’t I talk to it?”—Dr. Cronyn (Graves)

Red Planet Mars the team meets

Photos of the canals of Mars that traverse the entire planet–Lynda asks if Dr Mitchell has had his telescope for years –why is he getting these pictures just now. Mitchell explains that Mars’ journey around the sun is an elliptical curve.

After the next batch of photos are taken… it shows the mountains are gone and the poles are level.

Dr. Cronyn- “You can’t wipe out mountains taller than the Rockies in the space of a week!”

Dr. Mitchell the astronomer asks Boulting to look at the canals with his magnifying glass. Lynda says “They’re different now they reflect light like mirrors.” Dr Mitchell (Lewis Martin) ‘Water reflects light”

Cronyn asks “Are you saying you think those pole formations are ice… and in a week these Martians have melted ice caps thousands of feet high and use the water to irrigate the planet?” “Isn’t that what the picture says?”-asks Dr Mitchell

Red Planet Mars "are you saying you think those pole formations are ice?"

Cronyn would love to ask the Martians who they figured out that amazing way to irrigate the planet…
“It’s Mars I’m getting my signal from, but how do I give that signal meaning… how do I find a means of communication.”

Boulting says, “One man who takes pictures, one man who believes he can talk over 35 million miles… it’s like having a grand stand seat to the creation of the world…”

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Red Planet Mars magnifies the canals

Red Planet Mars
Red Planet Mars prof shows the orbit of mars

There is also an ex-Nazi scientist Franz Calder (Herbert Berghof) who has invented a ‘hydrogen tube’ that he brings with him after the fall of Nazi Berlin. Cronyn (Peter Graves) uses this ‘hydrogen tube’ to contact Mars. The Soviets have planted the former Nazi spy  in order to make contact with Mars. “At this point the Christianization of the film begins.” – Bernard F. Dick

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Franz Calder who has believed to been dead since the war, has actually been living in a cabin in the Andes, living in the  ironic and ghostly eclipse of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. He taunts his Soviet compatriots —“You can find me only through finding Christ.”

Calder claims that the messages from Mars are actually fakes, telling everyone that he is the one who has been sending them –his plan– to bring about the downfall of capitalism. Calder is being supported by the Russians led by Arjenian (Marvin Miller) urging him to contact Mars before Cronyn in order to help wipe out democracy and bring about the fall of the Western civilization entirely.

Mars is the promised land, powered by cosmic energy. Its inhabitants have a three-hundred year lifespan and enjoy such an abundance of food that rationing is unnecessary. The realization that Mars is the new Eden and Earth is a garden gone to seed results in global chaos  as coalminers and steel mills close and banks default, believing that humankind had suffered enough, delivers an ultimatum: LOVE GOODNESS AND HATE EVIL… {…} Forget the galaxy and the follow the star of Bethlehem. The voice emanating from Mars is none of than God’s, the man of Nazareth and the man of Mars being the same. Suddenly, church attendance rises, and miracles are seen. The Soviet Union which ‘denied God’s word and worshipped false gods” abjures communism, and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church becomes head of the provisional government. – Bernard F. Dick

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RedPlanetMars (46)

Eventually Cronyn does receive messages from Mars saying that there has been incredible scientific advancements, this he deciphers from what looks like bar codes on the television screen. Cronyn has photos showing the ice caps on Mars described as mountainous peaks of ice thousands of feet thick, that are now melting at a faster rate, virtually overnight.

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When Cronyn releases his findings he is persecuted and blamed for the economic collapse in the West. Secretary of Defense Sparks (Morris Ankrum) tries to stop the flow of information in order to avert the disaster saying, “Our civilization is collapsing around our ears like a deck of cards… I can hear the laughter in Moscow now!”

red-planet-mars

In Moscow they are celebrating–“We will build our world on the ruins.”

red planet mars peasants revolt

This is pretty harsh straight forward propaganda that utilizes the elements of science fiction to push the fear and anxiety Americans felt during 1952. The President begs Cronyn not to release the information about the messages from Mars, pleading “You’ve shattered the economy of the free world” in which the scientist who is only interested in revealing the truth about his research and the secrets of the universe tells hims “I’m not interested in economics” as he continues to receive messages from the Martians. Another example of science vs –us against them etc.

Admiral Bill Carey (Walter Sande) responds ‘Science has made the volcano we’re sitting on… you’ll be the next to advance science–and maybe us–right into oblivion.”

Admiral Carey Walter Sande trying to convince Dr. Cronyn not to contact Mars nor refer to it as the more advanced civilization Cronyn tells him,  “Me talking to Mars won’t affect Vesuvius.”

Cronyn learns through their coded messages that the Martians have created their utopian society by following a supreme power much like our Christ figure. “Seven lifetimes ago we were told… to love goodness and hate evil.”

Calder shows up at the observatory claiming that he has been the one all along to be fabricating these transmissions from Mars in order to goad the naive into following them, he has sent them himself in order to sabotage the world. Calder assumes that Dr. Cronyn was responsible for the religious themed messages and that those pious missives never would have occurred to him at all since he only recognizes Milton’s version of a Satan who would rather reign as a king in Hell than follow God in a Heaven. He threatens to divulge his lie saying it’s all been a hoax at a press conference but Dr. Cronyn cannot risk that disaster from happening and so sacrifices himself and his wife to save the world.

Red-Planet-Mars God Speaks

“That’s my god-Satan!” he shouts. “I’ll have beaten God!” when he reveals all to the world. Then he quotes Milton’s Satan.

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“As when of old some Orator renound
In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence
Flourishd, since mute, to some great cause addrest,
Stood in himself collected, while each part,
Motion, each act won audience ere the tongue
Sometimes in highth began, as no delay
Of Preface brooking through his Zeal of Right.
So standing, moving, or to highth upgrown
The Tempter all impassiond thus began”-Milton’s Paradise Lost

In the end, Cronyn and Calder fight as proof –a final ‘real’message from the Martians comes through the television screen saying that the supreme being on Mars is God himself.

Red Planet Mars - Lobby Card
Red Planet Mars – Lobby Card

Dr. Cronyn and his wife have secretly released hydrogen into the observatory room in order to blow the place up, preserving the message from the Martians and keeping Calder’s lies from getting out and wrecking the progress of the new world order. Lynda asks for a cigarette and begins to light it –Calder is standing there while another message from Mars comes in just to show that these communications are not fabricated by the evil Calder and the Cronyn’s are now vindicated. Calder pulls his gun out and fires at the monitor, the cigarette already ignites the hydrogen and blows the the three and the laboratory to bits.

The final word from Mars being “Matthew 25:23 “Ye hath done well, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” 

It is an act of Martyrdom and self-immolation The wife boasts to Calder that she possesses free will and she proves it by reducing three of them to charred bones. The article states cite again—“Of course one could argue that the lighting of a match is morally neutral but the laboratory setting makes the act at least morally questionable. Was she merely trying to frighten Calder, who panicked when he saw the match? Did the tactic backfire, literally? The biblical text approves her action elevating it to a sacrificial act. Since Calder identified with the Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, preferring to reign in hell than serve in heaven, his wish was granted.” – Bernard F. Dick

 

ANCIENT ASTRONAUTS: JESUS WAS AN ALIEN?

Jesus was an alien

Painting “Vintage Contact” by Lawrence Jones

The film bring out an interesting argument that became a cultural fad in the 60s & 70s that pertaining to Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this hypothesis in the late …. In Chapter 4 of Chariots of the Gods?, entitled “Was God an Astronaut? … claiming that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, citing John 8:23

The young sons of the scientist Stewart or Roger (Orley Lingren -Bayard Veiller) are later told that their parents were snatched up in a chariot of fire.

After this final message, the people of Moscow dig up old vestments and place their new religious leader in charge toppling the Communist government, a new religious revival arises in Russia taking back their country from the Communists and they place one of the peasants who had been a priest as the new spiritual leader as head of state.

Cronyn now vindicated and becomes a hero with followers who gather around the observatory to applaud and worship him. Then he is reviled as a traitor. By the end he is somewhat of a Christ figure himself being sacrificed, while Calder’s house is destroyed by an avalanche.

During the fight where Calder fires his weapon at the transmitter causing the hydrogen explosion killing Cronyn his wife Lynda and Nazi Franz Calder, Cronyn becomes Christ-like.

The film has an epilogue where the American President (Willis Bouchey) gives credit to Cronyn for delivering the word about the new world order.

The President is making a speech. He says that that final message coming from Mars was “Ye have done well my good and faithful servants.” The rest was silence. We are told the whole Earth is their sepulchre.

During the early 1950s while these anti-communist science fiction narratives were being rolled out, there were religious crusades and sub-texts that bear a trace of what Phil Hardy referred to as ‘religiosity’ lead by high profile preachers like Billy Graham–and politicians like Senator McCarthy who exploited the fear of the spread of communism. This sentiment could be seen in films like Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

From The Screen is Red: Hollywood Communism, and the Cold War by Bernard F. Dick, he writes that Red Planet Mars 1952 is one of the few science fiction films of the fifties featuring Soviets as characters sharing America’s determination to communicate with Mars.

redplanet

red planet mars1952

The final title rolls  “The Beginning” Instead of ray guns, monsters from Mars and rocket ships as Bill Warrens says–“it was sermons and a trip to church…”

From Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies-“The writers concur with this the technological advances on Mars, though Bogus almost demolish Earth’s society through simple shame. When Cronyn’s wife expresses doubts and goes back to the house (probably to make coffee) Cronyn sucks on his pipe and sighs indulgently “Poor Lynda, with all her silly fears” The lab scenery is pretty good for the early 1950s. Calder’s hut is covered with ritual masks, which he occasionally talks to. The director tries to make the astronomer’s family important to him, little homey touches.” Warren calls all the Russians esp. Marvin Miller’s character Franz Calder ‘a swinish boor…. he adds The religious messages those woven into the film are monumentally patronizing… (LOVE and HATE )… bored those who didn’t care about the message, embarrassed those who believed in the message and turned off the rest.”

 

Admiral Bill Carey: I wonder what kind of world we’re opening the door on!

Linda Cronyn: [to Chris] We’ve lived on the edge of a volcano all our lives. One day it’ll boil over.

Franz Calder: He who follows the tyrant’s banner shall wear the tyrant’s chains. He who carries God’s banner shall know everlasting life!

Arjenian: You expect me to to tell them that?

Franz Calder: What you tell them is no concern of mine.

Untamed Women

untamed_women_poster_02

They Feared No Monster – Yet Fell Before the Touch of Man!

Directed by W. Merle Connell, starts Mikel Conrad as Steve Holloway, Doris Merrick as Sondra. Richard Monahan, Robert Lowell, Morgan Jones, Midge Ware as Myra, Judy Brubaker as Valdra, Carol Brewster as Tennus, Autumn Russell as Cleo and Lyle Talbot as Col.Loring.

Untamed Women cast

Untamed Women -director W. Merle Connell used clips from One Million B.C (1940)–Untamed Women was shot in under a week.

The story- a World War II bomber pilot Steve Holloway Mikel Conrad (The Flying Saucer) crashes and is rescued from a raft, given truth serum better known as sodium pentothal tells doctor Lyle Talbot the strange story of where he’s been. He and three members of his crew had washed up on an Island inhabited by beautiful women, dinosaurs and a nasty man eating plant. Did I mention the beautiful women?

Untamed-Women-1952

Untamed Women the plant that eats

The dinosaurs courtesy of One Million B.C —The half naked gals, costumes designed by E. Anderson responsible for the scantily clad UNTAM-ERY with their make up by Harry Gillette, not sure who tackled the 50s hair styles… very not- untamed. The women are supposedly descendants of Druids, how they wound up on this Island who knows, it’s just simply—by ancient druid magic one would suppose.

Morgan Jones and Carol Brewster. Jones is NOT a hairy man from the sea!

untamed women Morgan-Jones-and-Carol-Brewster

They fear being savaged again by the ‘hairy men’ from the sea. Doris Merrick who plays Sondra believes in the beginning that Steve and his men are also the hairy men because they haven’t shaven for days. She and her untamed women banish them to the valley of the stock footage dinosaurs in order to put them through a trial by fire, then they pair off with these nice American fellas until the hairy men do actually return. These wooly savages kill some of the untamed women, one of the good guys and then of course a volcano erupts and everyone dies but Steve who has been given a token of Sondra’s love, a medallion that he is found clutching.

Untamed Women Doris-Merrick-1952

untamed women Mikel-Conrad-and-Doris-Merrick

Doris Merrick as Sondra who wears the ancient amulet around her neck.

Bill Warren adds wonderful vintage reviews at the end of each film he covers. Here’s another particularly hilarious summary from The Monthly Film Bulletin called it “remarkable rigmarole”

Untamed-Women

Zombies of the Stratosphere

ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE

Invasion From A Mystery Planet!–the Rocket Man Battle the “Robot from Outer Space”!

BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES YOU’LL SEE…ROCKET SHIPS IN STRATO-FLIGHT!…STRANGE CREATURES FROM ANOTHER WORLD! ROCKET MEN FIGHTING ROBOTS! DEADLY MACHINES AND WEAPONS IN ACTION!

Radar Men From The Moon 1952 (Robot)

A REPUBLIC SERIAL IN 12 CHAPTERS!

Directed by Fred C. Bannon, starring Judd Holdren as Larry Martin, Aline Towne as Sue Davis, Wilson Wood as Bob Wilson, Lane Bradford as Marex, Stanley Waxman as Dr. Harding, John Crawford as Roth, and Leonard Nimoy as Narab.

Zombies of the Stratosphere

Lost in Space jetpack

NOW!! that’s a jet pack… Guy Williams as Professor John Robinson — Lost in Space (1965-1968)

This time out it’s Holdren who wears the mask and flying suit. He plays a sort of star ranger. who uncovers and foils the plot of the Martians to blow up the Earth with an H-bomb and then shift Mars into Earth’s orbit. Bradford is the villain Nimoy is a zombie-like henchman and Waxman the treacherous scientist who helps them. The script by Davidson who single-handed wrote the last 13 Republic serials is crude as is Brannon’s direction. A year later Holdren took over the role of Commando Cody first layed out by George Wallace in Radar Men. but the serial was a false culled from episodes of Republic’s Commando Cody teleseries. In 1958 an edited down version of this serial was re-issued as Satan’s Satellites.

Judd Holdren plays Larry Martin a secret agent who can fly wearing his campy rocket suit with a kitschy control panel on his chest with buttons marked up & down (teehee), and not quite as fantastical ala Commando Cody. Martin is on the trail of a Martian spaceship that has been making secret trips to Earth. Seems the invaders working with a villainous atomic scientist with a grudge and they are looking to take over our galaxy by blasting Earth out of it’s orbit!

Zombies of the Strat here's Narab leonard-nimoy1952

Yes that Leonard Nimoy!

Shatner and Nimoy

STAY TUNED FOR

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Coming up…
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Cat-Women of the Moon
Donovan’s Brain
Four Sided Triangle
Invaders from Mars
It Came from Outer Space
The Lost Planet
The Magnetic Monster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Neanderthal Man
Phantom from Space
Port Sinister
Project Moonbase
Robot Monster
The Twonky
The War of the Worlds

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6 thoughts on “🚀 Keep Watching the Skies! Science Fiction Cinema of the 1950s: The Year is 1952

  1. To paraphrase a certain TV show theme song: “Who can take a lousy year, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?” Wow. 1952 wasn’t so great at all for SF flicks, but this read was fascinating as usual.

    Too bad you had to sit though that sad Lugosi flick with the not funny at all impostors. That film haunted me as a kid because even back then I knew it was awful. That said, I now have two more films to track down from reading your work, so thanks as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well it’s you guy and you should know it! Ha I love any Mary Tyler Moore reference. It really is such a sparse year– and it’s agony watching Bela struggle – i have an affection for the man. I’m not sure why 1952 was such a dry year for let’s say ‘monsters’ and science gone awry but see the trend of anti-communist paranoia. The Christianity angle of Red Planet Mars just makes me want to re-visit von Daniken’s theory. Though I know I’ll piss off some readers if I say I have often wondered if we had been visited before by what were thought to be no less ANGELS but possibly alien in origin. Perhaps not Mars.. but how can we know? right. It’s no wonder the Lugosi film haunted you as a kid. There’s a lot of films that got under my skin and I’m only figuring out why as I revisit these films. So glad you’re enjoying the series and as always it’s awesome when ever I see you here at The Last Drive In. Hope you enjoyed the Bugs cartoon too!. That’s all folks! for now… cheers Joey

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Bugs is going to ALWAYS be an automatic fave. I actually got a big laugh because I could see a WB cartoon short of Unnatural with Bugs doing the Hildegarde Neff part, but you didn’t hear me say that (you just read it!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Did you say something about 1952 being a little thin when it came to science fiction? I don’t think so! ;)

    Some more new-to-me titles here, but the one that shot to the top of my radar is Radar Men from the Moon. What a fabulous title and a great premise, too! I’ll be thanking you when I see this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops! I’d forgotten that some readers would indeed be *NEW!* to some or all of these oldies but goodies. Sorry about that. That’s what happens when one sees a few things too many times but only through one set of eyeballs :D

      Liked by 1 person

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