🚀 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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The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016! 🚀 “Keep watching the skies!” Science Fiction cinema of the 1950s

History-Project-2016-godzilla

“I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice. Tell the world… Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the Skies! Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott — The Thing From Another World (1951)

Keep watching the Skies!

It’s that time of year once again when Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & One Upon a Screen host a momentous event…. The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016 which will begin August 5th -10th, 2016.

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas. –Wikipedia definition of Science Fiction

Robot Monster rocket

This event always promises to be an epic endeavor as there are so many interesting themes and subjects to cover. I am excited to be participating once again with these fabulous hosts who make it possible for all of us to contribute to a wealth of classic film history goodies to devour. Now listen folks, don’t get frightened off! You cast of exciting unknown readers… This has become a real project for me, a work in progress that will unfold over the next several weeks. For the purpose of The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon 2016, I offer an overview that will be a lead in for the entire decade of 1950s science fiction cinema conquering it year by year in separate articles. As I started delving into this project, it began to grow larger and larger as if Jack Arnold and Bert I. Gordon themselves compelled me to GO BIG!

amazing colossal man vegas

attack_of_the_50_foot_woman_3_by_farzelgaart-d4ubn9h

50 foot woman at the bar

In order to review an entire genre of such an influential decade and do the treatment it so rightly deserves, I realized that I needed to spread it out as a series. Re-visiting these beloved movies that inspired my childhood with wonder and sometimes tapped into my own authentic fears, I fell in love all over again. And though I tend to gravitate towards the classical Gothic horrors that are steeped in mythology, the supernatural and the uncanny, I can’t help but feel my mind expanding by the iconic themes that emerged from 1950s science fiction! So I’ll be publishing each year as individual posts or chapters from 1952 on… over the next several week or so instead of all at once. Talking about all the films I mentioned here and so many more films & things to come!

It’s a collection–a decade of the sci-fi genre, sub-genres and it’s hybrids– some eternally satisfying because of their remarkable ability to continuously shine a light on fascinating & mesmerizing fantasy stories. Well written and adapted as visual narratives and surreal stories by beloved visionaries who set out to reach inward and outward through all of us dreamers and thinkers.

There are also those lovable Sci-fi films that are charming and wonderfully kitsch. And some… are just downright so, so, soooo awful their… awesome!

That’s what makes so many of these diverging films cut through the cross-sections to become cinematic jewels & memorable cult favorites!

Robot Monster 2

There are many films that I’ll cover more in depth, some are the more highly polished masterpieces that have lingered for decades with us as adult children who grew up watching them on a rainy afternoon on televisions with knobs that only had 9 channels and if you were lucky you didn’t snap the knob off every 6 months! Growing up in New York I had Chiller Theater, on local channel 11 or Creature Features on Channel 5, or Fright Night on Channel 9. That’s how I fell in love, and got my fill of the treasures of films & television anthology series that was lurking out there destined to leave long lasting impressions on so many of us!

Chiller Theater

Fright Night WOR

Or back in the day, you went to the Drive-In theater to explore in the back seat of your pop’s Chevy Impala any double feature, and it was an invigorating and entertaining experience and you didn’t even have to get out of your pajamas.

Retro Drive In

You could spend all day in a musty theater festooned with captivating promotional lobby cards and colorful posters. Too bad, I wasn’t of the age to witness William Castle’s ballyhoo he strategically placed at certain theaters for that interactive live experience , EMERGO, PERCEPTO! You could take in a bunch of the latest scary films, sometimes double & triple features, while sitting on sticky red velvet seats that smelled like hot buttered popcorn and week old spilled Pepsi. A box of Milk Duds in hand and the faint wiff of air conditioner freon at your back. You’d enter the movie theater in the bright light of a sunny Saturday afternoon only to exit into the dark of night, tired and filled with wonder, awe and okay maybe looking over your shoulder a few times. Some films were big budget productions, that contained serious acting by studio contract players, terrific writing that blended deep thoughts and simple escapism pulled from some of the best science fiction, fantasy & horror literature and adapted screenplays, scares and witty dialogue besides and cinematography that still captivates us to this day.

3D Audience

Well… sure some were B movies that have now sustained that Cult film charm and cheesiness, and some… are just downright pitiful, laughable guilty pleasures… and a bunch even came with really neat 3D glasses!

SOME ICONIC GEMS FOR THE AGES THAT I’LL BE COVERING!

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Incredle Shrinking Man vs Cat

THEM! (1954)*INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) *DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)*FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) *THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)*EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) *THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) *INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) *WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) * CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) * IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)* IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) *EARTH VS THE SPIDER (1958) *THE CRAWLING EYE (1958) *THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) *IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) *TARANTULA (1955) *FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (1958) *THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957)* THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) * THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)*KRONOS (1957)* THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956)*X-THE UNKNOWN (1956

I’LL ALSO BE TALKING ABOUT SOME GUILTY PLEASURES!

Attack of the Crab Monsters 4

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

not-of-this-earth paul birch

Paul Birch is the alien vampire Paul Johnson in Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth 1957

The Brain from Planet Arous 1957* Attack of the Crab Monsters 1957* The Killer Shrews 1959* The Giant Claw 1957 *Beast From Haunted Cave 1959 *The Monster from Piedras Blancas 1959 *Invasion of the Saucer Men 1957 *The Monster that Challenged the World 1957 *Not of this Earth 1957* The She-Creature 1956* The Man Who Turned to Stone 1958* Invisible Invaders 1959* Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958* The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) * Monster on the Campus 1958* The Unknown Terror 1957* Creature with The Atom Brain 1955 * The Unearthly 1955 * From Hell it Came 1957,

Tabanga and Korey

It’s also important to mention some of the ubiquitous actors who graced both the great & guilty pleasure flicks, you’ll be seeing a lot of in the following chapters like John Carradine * Ed Nelson *Allison Hayes *Paul Birch *John Agar *Hugh Marlowe*Peter Graves *Richard Denning *Richard Carlson *Faith Domergue *Mara Corday *Les Tremayne *Marie Windsor *Morris Ankrum * Arthur Franz *Kenneth Tobey* John Hoyt * Whit Bissell and of course Beverly (kicks-ass!) Garland!

One thing is for certain, each film is relevant and all have a place in the 50s decade of Sci-fi / Horror & Fantasy!

So come back and read a little at a time and get some thrills even while you’re sitting under the hair dryer… Do people still do that today? I need to get out more…

1955 hairdryer wants to be a space-age helmet

This 1955 hair dryer is just begging to be a space-age helmet!

It all started with Georges Méliès 1903 fantasy A Trip to the Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902 – Georges Méliès

Le Voyage Dans La Lune 1902

Trip to the Moon 1902

As early as 1920 there was the German expressionist film dealing with the arrival of a menacing alien visitor from the planet Algol giveing actor Emil Jannings a machine that awards him unlimited powers. ALGOL aka POWER 1920 directed by Hans Werckmeister

Emil Jennings in Algol 1920

“That which you believe becomes your world.”
Richard Matheson from ‘What Dreams May Come’

Science Fiction emerged out of the “Age of Reason” literature reflected a merging of myth and historical fact. Stories filled with an imagination that had no boundaries. While Science Fiction is a literary movement that can be a separate study all it’s own, story tellers who grasped the concepts of science fiction who questioned the endless possibilities, the far reaching machinations of brilliant minds, this project if focused on the history of 1950s science fiction cinematic and all it reveals. Science Fiction cinema flirted blatantly with ideas and images of a world that reached beyond the known, and contemplated aloud, fantastic stories as early as the silent era. Consider Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, re-envisioned time and time again.

barrymore 1920 dr jekyll

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-(1920)

John Barrymore lifts the dark conflicting tale of the inward monsters off the pages of Stevenson’s book. Barrymore so fluently moved through the silent stage, reveals that we all just might be harboring in our sub-conscious hidden dark and primal desires. Unleashed by a concoction, a seduction of science creates a fiend! Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

aelita-queen-of-mars-1924

Aelita Queen of Mars (1924)

The odd yet visually stunning Russian spectacle Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) aka Revolt of the Robots.e

There were a few early visions of fantasy, magic & Science Fiction films from all around the world- At 3:25 aka The Crazy Ray (1924)  Directed by Rene Clair-a scientist invents a ray that makes people fall asleep where they stand! The German film Master of the World (1934) (Der Herr der Welt) where a German scientist wants to create an army of Robots to do the dangerous work of laborers so, when he is told it’s too risky he goes mad and it’s too late the machine has a mind of it’s own. It features really cool electronic chambers and more!

And Transatlantic Tunnel (1935) Scientists construct a tunnel under the ocean-stars Richard Dix, Leslie Banks and C. Aubrey Smith.

Metropolis 1927 the dystopian masterpiece by director Fritz Lang was the beginning of the fascination with exploring the fantastic and our unbounded imaginations on film, it’s remarkable set design, imagery and narrative sparked the Science Fiction genre in a big way— spanning decade upon decade, in particular revived in the 1950s!

Metropolis

The first influential science fiction film by Fritz Lang created a dystopian societ in Metropolis 1927. It’s influence has maintained it’s powerful thrust for decades. An inspiration for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner (1982)
Metropolis 1927

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him”-H.G.Wells

Island-of-Lost-Souls 1932

Kathleen Burke Island of Lost Souls

Island of Lost Souls charles_laughton

Island of Lost Souls 1943 The House of Pain

Charles Laughton is superb as H.G. Wells Dr. Moreau a sociopathic sadist/scientist with a god complex whose profane experiments on animals and humans tortures them in the ‘house of pain’ trying to create a hybrid race he can hold sway over on his private island hell! Science has never been more evil! Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Then there was the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Things To Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring Raymond Massey as Oswald Cabal, Ralph Richardson as The Boss, Margaretta Scott as Roxanna/Rowena and Cedric Hardwicke as Theotocopulos.

things-to-come

96h01/huch/2909/08

“What is this progress? Progress is not living. It should only be the preparation for living.”

Flash Gordon and similar serials provided super heroes for generations of young people in the 30s & 40s, planting the seeds for the future that would give us the Star Wars legacy.

Flash Gordon Buster Crabbe and Ming

Audiences between the World Wars preferred horrors of a Gothic nature– James Whale’s Frankenstein 1931 & Bride of Frankenstein 1935, as they helped exercise demons conjured up from the 19th & early 20th century.

James Whales Bride of Frankenstein 1932

The electrical secrets of heaven, the lighting, the elaborate sets designed by genius Kenneth Strickfaden with his lights throbbing gizmos flashing and zapping, the creepy atmosphere of murky tones. The consummate Universal monster movie with iconic scenes introducing a new face, Boris Karloff who would become the great father of terror stories …

colin clive and dwight frye Frankenstein 1931

Frankenstein's hand it's alive

ColinClive it's Alive

What’s on that slab?,It’s Alive, It’s Alive!…” those monumental words that remain ingrained in our consciousness. Colin Clive becomes hysterical as he has creates life from death, but that life would become a whole new ethical, moral and imposing dilemma for Dr.Frankenstein. A horror film with strong science fiction/fantasy tropes. And the laboratory as gorgeous set pieces would become a staple of the science fiction realm.

Bride & Frankenstein's monster

bride_of_frankenstein 1935

The 1950s Science Fiction genre took root with it’s profouns contribution to our collective consciousness AS a genre its vision & breadth possessed quintessential & ever-lasting sociological and psychological metaphors, iconic tropes and striking imagery.

The splitting of the atom, ushering in the atomic age and the collective anxiety most definitely was the catalyst for the many of the movie fantasy stories known as the 1950s Sci-Fi film.

“But no matter what else it might be, what makes a science fiction film science fiction is the fact that it is, in some sense, about science—and not only science but futuristic science. By that I mean that science fiction movies deal with scientific possibilities and technologies that do not exist yet but that might exist someday. Science fiction is the realm of the not-yet.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

Ridley Scott – (Alien 1979, Blade Runner 1982) “When you come to the second World War You’ve got a very specific enemy. You know what that enemy is, It’s there for all the wrong reasons and it should be prevented…. Then you got the next phase which is The Cold War again which is to do with paranoia . But I think real, it’s real. Movies started to dip into that.”

splitting the atom men in white coats

“The Splitting of the atom…. forces that can only be explained to us by these guys in white coats… All of a sudden the guys in white coats became these simultaneously kind of rock stars and the most evil thing you could imagine.”

In a scene from The Atomic City 1952– The mother’s child sitting at the kitchen table with his breakfast “If I grow up do you know what I’m gonna do?” The mother turns to him, leaving her scrambled eggs on the stove and corrects him nervously, “It’s when you grow up, not if…”

The Atomic City 1952

The Atomic City 1952 trailer

Duck & Cover 1951 classic propaganda film

From the short instructional film Duck and Cover “But no matter where they go or what they do they always try to remember what to do if the atom bomb explodes right then!” (the kids suddenly fall into the brick wall. The narrator says ) It’s a bomb DUCK & COVER!

James Cameron – “All of our fate as human beings, our destiny seems bound up in our technology and our technology is frightening. It’s Terrifying!”

Steven Spielberg- “So there was a great deal of anxiety in the air. It was not just fear of being beaten up by the local bully. But the fear was being NUKED!… But we almost pushed a button on each other during The Cuban Missile Crisis…… I was absolutely prepared for Armageddon and these movies from the 1950s and early 60s played on those fears. And these movies were all metaphors for those fears. ”

George Lucas- “I would say that there was a certain amount of anxiety about that I mean I grew up right in the very heat of that. DUCK & COVER drills all the time… We were always hearing about the fall out shelter. About the end of the world, issues that were always going on about how many bombs were being built. The Cold War was always in the media.”

From The Twilight Zone “The Shelter” season 3 episode 3

Twilght Zone 'The Shelter' s3e3

1950s Sci-Fi films represented a conservatism or ‘reactionary wing’ that seems consumed by a motive to emphasize the values of 1950s America post WWII, in the midst of a McCarthy era witch hunt that prevailed fueling our fears that seeped into many of the Sci-Fi narratives on screen and in literature. Reflecting the growing internal struggles within American society and the developing mistrust about Soviet aggression and anyone and anything perceived as subversive.

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?”

Some films that reflected the paranoia of the period were well regaled by a Hollywood studio system that was itself at the center of the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeting screenwriters and actors as ‘communist sympathizers’ and no one could be trusted. -Just like Invaders from Mars 1953, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, X the Unknown 1956, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957, and I Married a Monster From Outer Space 1958.

X The Unknown

Invaders from Mars

In 1947, in Roswell New Mexico the military reports that they have a UFO in their possession. The phenomena of sightings of UFOs would continue throughout the 1950s, though agencies were fully prepared to explain away the reports. Yet the public had a hunger to and fascination with the possibility of extra-terrestrials.

As Phil Hardy’s insightful take on the genre, all this manifested in a way that the Science Fiction films of the 1950s ‘supplanted horror as the genre that dealt with fear and paranoia.” The films expressed a very realistic look at science within the atomic age, and shed the shadows and expressionism of the earlier Gothic horrors and while not all scientific fact, tried to embrace a world of possibility.

The Flying Saucer 1950 begins the momentum for the decade of Science Fiction cinema’s love affair with unidentified objects and begins to round the edges of space crafts from other worlds that aren’t our American sharp and phallus shaped rockets!

The Flying Saucer -ship

The flying_saucer 1950

DESTINATION MOON 1950 was featured in COLOR BY TECHNICOLOR. Being hailed the 2001, Space Odyssey of it’s time, it attempts to portray a realism trip to the moon. Phil Hardy calls Destination Moon 1950a sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space that dominated the decade.’

destination moon rocket

destination-moon-space matters

Destination Moon did attempt to accurately portray a trip to the moon given the technology and knowledge that was stuck in 1950.

Then we shot past the moon in cinema and went straight to the red planet with Flight to Mars 1951!

Flight to Mars

Themes and metaphors that emerged from anxiety about the atom bomb, radiation fallout, the advent of modernity, the space race and the wanderlust to conquer outer space, interplanetary warfare, military vs. science hubris, science meddling with nature, fear of science and technology, invasion anxiety, continued fear of otherness, deviant (in terms of counter-culture not exclusively moral judgement) subversion and xenophobic nightmares.

Sometimes we were even married to a monster from outer space and didn’t even notice much of a difference except for the lack of small talk! Here’s Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott in I Married a Monster from Outer Space 1958.

I Married-a-Monster-from-Outer-Space Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott

I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Director Howard Hawk and screenplay by Charles Lederer, created a striking science fiction masterpiece of film noir ambience with it’s chilling back lit set pieces- The Thing From Another World 1951, adapted from John W. Campbell’s story ‘Who Goes There?’, other films that followed the path of paranoia — Invaders from Mars 1953, War of the Worlds 1953, It Came from Outer Space 1953, It Conquered the World 1956 & Invasion of the body snatchers 1956.

Xenomorph

bodysnatchers 1956 review

The Thing it's round like a spaceship

The Thing at the door

the thing shadow play

There were also science fiction films that rang the warning bell about cosmic calamity and catastrophic world coming to an end, annihilation fantasies like When Worlds Collide 1951.

War of the Worlds 1953 and When Worlds Collide 1951 had as Phil Hardy states, ‘religious dimensions’ that accused us of bringing about catastrophic punishment because of our misdeeds and transgressions.

War of the Worlds Valley of Shadows

When Worlds Collide 6

H.G. Well’s view of Martian invaders created for the public consciousness the idea of destructive beings from another world. It was a great reflexive move for those science fiction films to portray aliens that were sympathetic, yet non-humanoid in appearance. Most Sci-Fi films show aliens as menacing, not only destructive but dangerous because they also wanted to keep us as captives, zap our resources and colonize our planet, sometimes even take our women, oh god no unhand Faith Domergue you pants wearing Mutant!

This Island Earth Metaluna mutant

invaders from mars b&w

Is that a fireball or something

“Is that a fireball or something?”

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INVADERS FROM MARTS MUTANTS WITH ZIPPERS

InvadersFromMars

invaders-from-mars-

Hollywood saw a trend later on in the 50s with Destination Moon 1950 when they came upon a story written by Harry Bates called The Return of the Master this became Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 which has remained one of the best regarded science fiction films of all time. This is one of the rare occasions when the alien Klaatu played beautifully like an intricate clock by the chiseled face, tranquil speaking Michael Rennie is benevolent, bringing with him a sincere and dire warning about earth people’s course and the future of their civilization if they don’t relent about the proliferation of atomic weapons. There were several well intended alien visitors who were met with hostilities as with, Klaatu (Michael Rennie ) in Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, and The Man From Planet X 1951.

The Man from Planet X

the-day-the-earth-stood-still

Day the Earht STood Still Klaatu solves the board 2

Day the Earth Stood Still Patricia Neal and GORT1951-

GORT

Many films, even the low budget excursions dealt with our primal fears of alienation, estrangement & loss of identity i.e.,(communism at it’s core, the ramifications of otherness) nothing hits home more than Invaders from Mars 1953, and the quintessential loss of self and individualism in Don Siegels’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

they would have changed into people who hate you

“They would change into people who hate you!”

Steven Spielberg talks about the impact of Invaders from Mars 1953, “It certainly touched a nerve among all the young kids like myself who saw that movie at a very young age. That you would come home and that you would not recognize your mom and dad they would have changed into people who hate you!”

I can attest to the persuasion these films could have over the burgeoning imagination of a child, especially one like me who felt very much like an outsider as a kid. One night, as sure as my name is MonsterGirl, I went home, looked at my parents, decided they had been switched by aliens and ran out of the house, walking around the block for at least an hour before I convinced myself that I was being ridiculous. Or was I? These themes did have a not so subtle impact on a young impressionable mind who could easily question the world around them. Who could you trust? Would would believe you anyway?

There is the outsider narrative, diminishing human forms as in Bert I. Gordon’s Attack of the Puppet People 1958 where obsessed and lonely puppet maker John Hoyt loses his marbles. Although mad -bad science has shrunk down people before the 1950s in The Devil Doll 1936 and in the hands of crazed Albert Dekker in Dr. Cyclops 1940.

Attack of the Puppet People John Hoyt and Agar

dr cyclops 1940

There is the quintessential existential crisis, the beautifully thought provoking film by director Jack Arnold starring the eternally transcending man Grant Williams in, The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

the-incredible-shrinking-man-1957-

And of course there is the matter of GIGANTISM!

Earth vs the Spider

EarthVsTheSpider

THEM!

Monster_Challenged

The Black Scorpion

Giant insects, sea creatures and people who ran around half crazed and scantily dressed were a by-product of the atomic age!

50 ft Woman

The Amazing Colossal Man

George Lucas —“Out of that fear came I think a lot the monsters which you mess around with stuff and you’re gonna unleash this unknown monster!… it’s making tangible the unknown… A lot of that has to do with the mystery of this silent death that comes along with it that nobody knows exactly what it is or where it came from or can’t see it, can’t touch it. Well let’s make it easier to deal with by making it a giant monster.”

War of the Colossal Beast

Some films show the ascension from violence & hyper-masculinity, Women as professionals & bold heroines who didn’t shrink as hysterical victims. Female dominated civilizations (Cat- Women of the Moon 1953, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Missile to the Moon 1958, Fire Maidens from Outer Space 1956, that threatened to maniacally seduce & subsume male voyagers, dressed by 5th avenue they are outré chic. Wanton warriors & nubile space maidens who often never saw the male species before or wanted to destroy them altogether!

Fire Maidens of Outer Space

missile-to-the-moon-1958 directed by richard-e-cunha

A tagline reads “SEE-Astounding she-beasts of Venus!”

Queen of Outer Space

In Queen of Outer Space 1958 the masked disfigured Queen Yilana (Zsa Zsa Gabor) imprisons the men who crash land on her planet, intending to annihilate the earth with her beta disintegrator, though her beautiful subjects revolt in the name of love.

Mark Hamill –“We sometimes imagined other planets as paradises…. with girls!!! they looked more Hollywood starlets than space aliens, anyway they were eager to please. Their dancing their music their leotards were so Moderne! like Greenwich Village in outer space.” referring to Cat-Women of the Moon 1953.

Cat Women on the Moon May we serve you earth men?

“May we serve you earth men?”

Missile to the Moon-You're the first man I've ever seen.

“You’re the first man I’ve ever seen!” Carol Brewster as Alpha is mesmerized

missile to the moon

Step on it and don't spare the atoms! planets as paradise with GIRLS!!!

“Step on it, and don’t spare the atoms!” from Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953)

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“Their dance, their music, their leotards were so Moderne!”

KT Stevens as The Lido in Missile To The Moon

Missile To The Moon- Hollwood chorus girls

Missile to the Moon 1958

Missile to the Moon spider maiden

Missile to the Moon 1958

There’s nothing worse than a space Queen–The Lido (K.T. Stevens ) and one of her maidens in distress…

Mark Hamill who narrates the wonderful documentary written and directed by Richard Schickel Watch the Skies! Sci-Fi , the 1950s and Us presented by Turner Classic Movies also reminds us that “50s science fiction may have shot at the stars but the dialogue often remained earth bound tied up with the battle of the sexes.” Many prevailing sub-texts were also love stories, soap operas involving relationships between men and women.They would create love stories in space!

project moonbase 1953

Project Moonbase 1953 Donna Martell as Colonel Briteis (bright eyes?)

they would create love stories in space Lloyd and Osa in Rocketship X-M doomed to crash

Rocketship X-M (1950) starring Lloyd Bridges and Ossa Massen

Osa's character in Rocketship XM is brave in the end not hysterical-she sees her death as a new beginning

Cameron Mitchell plays Steve Abbott in Flight to Mars 1953, who tells Marguerite Chapman as Alita a fellow scientist/astronaut, “I think you’re a prize package and very feminine.”

Flight To Mars 1951

There is always time for romance in outer space!

flight-to-mars with scientist Margaritte Chapman

There were menaces from without, menaces from within. The ordinary world transformed into the monstrous. There were warnings from benevolent aliens and aggressive attacks by aliens who wanted to colonize our planet.

Sometimes the warnings or threats came from disembodied heads and brains, like Donovan’s Brain 1953, Fiend Without a Face 1958 and The Brain from Planet Arous 1957.

Donovan's Brain 1953

fiend WITHOUT A FACE

Gor from Planet Arous

The indie filmmakers introducing teenagers as both heroes & monsters. Many films were horror/sci-fi hybridizations. And by the end of the decade we were left a legacy of impressive productions that remain timeless masterpieces, the cult grade- B Sci-Fi picture with their indelible charm and kitsch emblems, and the true stinkers that are so bad there too good not to appreciate. Sublime, thrilling, provocative & yes campy!

Teenagers from Outer Space

I-Was-a-Teenage-Werewolf

There were collections of stylized works by Jack Arnold, Bert I. Gordon, Edward L. Cahn and one indie auteur who showed us how to make a memorable movie on a shoe string budget who also launched many a career, the inimitable and grand Roger Corman. And of course those guys at American International Pictures (AIP)

Within the 50s decade shedding the Gothic themes of the 30s & 40s, the poetic shadow plays of Val Lewton,1950s Sci-Fi films had a pre-occupation with the modern world and mostly all the central menaces were transformed into non-human threats that we not only couldn’t empathize with but were revolted against as dangerous, vicious, insidious and potentially nihilistic in vision, they were seen as only a threat to our humanity and ultimately would lead to our destruction.

It came from outer space Xenomorph close up

Within Sci-Fi there are so many films which are complex hybridizations of horror/science fiction /fantasy and have become too insurmountable to dissect or decipher all the nuances between the various free-floating genres. Writer critic historian Robin Wood in his Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.—wagers that “the horror film’s radical potential lies in the fact that ‘the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses’ Jancovich states that the monster “must therefor be seen as a profoundly ambiguous figures which challenges social norms and so reveals society’s repressive monstrosity.”

Killers from Space

Killers from Space 1954

This theme is attached to McCarthyism that showed up as coded narratives in the more highly produced Sci-Fi films- “the myth of Communism as total dehumanization—accounts for the prevalence of this kind of monster in that period” -Mark Jancovich -Rational Fears- American Horror in the 1950s.

We can’t forget contributions made by the maestros in the visual effects department, direction, art direction and cinematography from George Pal, William Cameron Menzies and Ray Harryhausen.

Ymir4

20-million-miles-to-earth-creature-ymir and elephant-in-rome

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from Venus

it-came from beneath the sea

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) Ray Harryhausen’s The Kraken

Cinematographers who brought these visual narratives & landscapes to life- just to name a few!

Clifford Stine (It Came from Outer Space 1953,This Island Earth 1955, Imitation of Life 1959,Spartacus 1960) Sidney Hickox (Them! 1954, The Big Sleep 1946,Dark Passage 1947,White Heat 1949), John F. Seitz (Invaders from Mars 1953, Sullivan’s Travel’s 1941m Double Indemnity 1944, Sunset Boulevard 1950), Russell Harlan ( The Thing from Another World 1951, Red River 1948, Witness for the Prosecution 1959 To Kill a Mockingbird 1962) George Barnes (War of the Worlds 1953, Rebecca 1940, Spellbound 1945) Leo Tover (The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, Hold Back the Dawn 1941,The Snake Pit 1948, The Woman on the Beach 1947,The Heiress 1949, Journey to the Center of the Earth 1959) Ellsworth Fredericks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Hold Back the Night 1956,The Stripper 1963, Mister Buddwing 1966)

And just as key to the atmosphere and attitude of the films were the musical contributions which defined that certain feel of chills and excitement, screwball antics and off-beat perscussion that filled up your head with pulsing visions of laser beams and other-worldly noises that ran up your spine like a finely coiled wire resonating the confluent sounds of the cosmos! Geesh that was a mouthful!

Invasion of Saucer Men bug eyes

There were composers who masterfully underscored some of the BEST films and even the worst!, Dimitri Tiomkin * Bronislau Kaper * Bernard Herrmann *Hans J. Salter and Henry Mancini to name a few.

Instrumentalist Clara Rockmore mastered the Theremin which had a cosmic, universal vibe that was, well out of this world!

The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument created by Russian inventor , Léon Theremin controlled by the performing thereminist who makes the dulcet eerie tones by manipulating the two metal antennas that respond to the hand movements which influence the oscillations or frequency with one hand and effecting the volume with the other hand.

Popular were the films that dealt with the hubris of science that ultimately manifested monsters. There were even pants monsters, yes! pants monsters…! The burning sun turned him into a hideous fiend, but he still had time to put on those Haggars casual men’s trousers!

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959
THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959

There was a running sentiment —the notion of us against them, and even at times when not working together to fight a common enemy- you’d see the military vs science… And sometimes, though almost always male hero driven, there emerged some anti-damsels, all-powerful women who broke the cliched mold of the helpless hysterical female and arose as smart, intellectual (a socially constructed gendered male quality), mindful and fearlessly driven woman with guts and composure even if it was to hold off from laughing at Paul Blaisdell inside that cucumber monster from Venus.

it conquered the world cucumber close up

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956) The Venusian cucumber

Beverly Garland anti damsel It conquered the world

Just look at Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954, Joan Weldon as Dr. Patricia Medford in Them! 1954, Beverly Garland as Dr. Andrea Romar in Curucu, Beast of the Amazon 1956 & and her gutsy Clair Anderson in It Conquered the World 1956, Tina Carver as Dr. Terry Mason in From Hell It Came 1957 and Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams in This Island Earth 1955 & Prof. Lesley Joyce in It Came from Beneath the Sea 1955, and Lola Albright as Cathy Barrett in The Monolith Monsters 1957 .

Some sci-fi films were visually surreal landscapes or existential masterpiece such as William Cameron Menzies Invaders From Mars 1953 or Ib Melchior’s The Angry Red Planet 1959 and Jack Arnold’s magnificent adaptation of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

angry red planet rat bat spider

The Angry Red Planet (1959) The Rat Bat Spider puppet monster!

Incredible Shrinking Man Grant Williams in the atomic cloud

Grant Williams sails into the radioactive mist in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

Invaders from Mars awake from a dream

Invaders from Mars (1953) Jimmy Hunt awakens to a UFO crashing into the sand dunes

“To sleep perchance to dream”-Hamlet-William Shakespeare

This dream-scape is a visual masterpiece, with the appearance of the sublimely brilliant Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, ( I happen to get permission from The National Museum of Finland to use Simberg’s ‘At The Crossroads’ as the cover of my album Fools & Orphans) thanks to the art design by visionary William Cameron Menzies!

the surreal art design looks like a Hugo Simberg painting

A scene from Invaders from Mars (1953)

It is absolutely true about one thing— that it’s wholly complex to begin dissecting what makes a film solely and definitively Science Fiction and what constitutes it being a hybridization of horror & fantasy. There are way too many that fall right on the gray line that either exists in the middle or transects both themes at once.

The Tingler Vincent Price I"m stuck on you

Vincent Price can’t get that pesky Tingler off his arm in William Castle’s terrific horror/sci-fi extravaganza equip with buzzing chairs-The Tingler (1959)

For example, I am covering William Castle’s The Tingler 1959, because, while the central terror surrounds a monstrous ‘horror movie themed monster’ a creeping fiend that lives inside us all and grips our spines the moment we are in abject fear, it is discovered by scientific and medical research. One could say the film is also a crime drama. There are too many nuances and parameters that intersect. James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1931 is called a Monster movie by Universal and by fans of all generations. But it falls into the deep well of hybridization as so much of it focuses on the very philosophical questions around scientific hubris, the creation of human life and the question of god, ownership of one’s identity, and what is monstrous?

Boris Karloff as The monster

“A lot of science fiction films are also horror films in which monsters are spawned by scientific experiments, but not all horror films are science fiction, because science fiction does not deal in the supernatural. Science fiction takes place in the realm of the not-yet; supernatural horror films operate in the realm of the impossible.” — “Cult Science Fiction Films” by Welch Everman

The enormous influence that Science Fiction cinema had long-lasting effects on the advent of television. Just look at Rod Serling’s Fantasy/Sci-Fi anthology series which aired on CBS from 1959-1964. The show came in on the end of the decade. Stories that were infused by the themes of the 50s and set the tone for future decades to come. The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking and thought-provoking, dealing with issues of war, class, race, it was a socially conscious program that constantly tried to remind us of our humanity. The decade of 1950s Science Fiction also bled into the mindfulness of my favorite early 60s science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits.

Twilight Zone mr dingle martians

The Zanti Misfits

The Zanti Misfits-one of the many fabulous Outer Limits monsters!

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Orwellian Control Voice from The Outer Limits anthology television series aired from 1963-1965.

Mark Jancovich writes “Again and again, the threats which distinguish 1950s horror
do not come from the past or even from the actions of a lone individual , but are associated with the processes of social development and modernization. In this period, it is the process of rationalization which is the threat, and in this way horror texts were at least as concerned with developments within American society as they were with threats from without… Here rationalization is understood as the process through which scientific – technical rationality is applied to the management of social, economic and cultural life…

… this new system of organization was seen by many as inherently totalitarian system which both created conformity and repressed dissent.”

the last man_on earth zombies

Vincent Price fights off zombies from a plague that wiped out most of the human race in Richard Matheson’s adapted screenplay from his story I Am Legen- The Last Man on Earth (1964)

The outsider narratives– were illustrated as contrasting and conflicting to accepted norms, we see this with Richard Matheson’s writing (I Am Legend which became Vincent Price’s agonizing journey as The Last Man on Earth 1964, and later The Omega Man 1971 and Jack Arnold’s films involving “the reoccurring preoccupation with alienation, isolation and estrangement” -Jancovich- seen in Creature From the Black Lagoon 1954 and The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957.

Creature Black Lagoon

Grant Williams protagonist Scott Carey becomes engulfed in a glittery mist of atomic dust particles in The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 the film exudes anxiety of his diminishing masculinity by not only losing his literal size, his physical height but he loses his maleness as a husband and as a regular man. This estrangement become a journey of his eternal soul and it’s place in the vast unknown other-world.

grant small in the chair

Grant Williams is feeling ‘literally’ like such a small man.

shrinking sublime transcendance

There would be films that embrace the dystopia narratives, and curiosity with technical advancements like robots!

metropolis

Fritz Lang’s iconic robot in Metropolis (1927)

Forbidden Planet Robby Robot

Robby the Robot and Walter Pidgeon as Morbius in George Pal’s take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Forbidden Planet 1956

These Science Fiction/Fantasy films have left a deep and abiding impression on so many of us. Whether you grew up actually seeing them for the very first time, or becoming a new fan who is excited to embrace the heart and soul of a genre that made you think beyond what if? Either way, Science Fiction is an exploration of our imaginations, both glorious and often terrifying but it’s a genre that is here to stay, and the 1950s in particular truly rang the alarm bell that is still reverberating today!

Added to the mix in many of these film favorites was the essential mechanism of ‘not being believed’ added to the fear and paranoia of the moment!

The Face of Paranoia

THE FACE OF PANIC_PARANOIA BODY SNATCHERS

Invasion Anxiety

tv3QQht

FEAR OF THE ATOMIC BOMB! The Atomic City 1952 trailer

I see you with my million eyes!

fly

Hey big fella got a light!

Godzilla King of the Monsters

The theremin ‘the dulcet tones’ that wavered throughout sci-fi and beyond!

clara rockmore theremin

‘The modern world’

1952

It’s intermission time! Head out to the snack bar for some 50s refreshments!

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LOST WORLDS AND SPACE TRAVEL

Destination Moon

destination_moon_poster_06

DestinationMoonLobbyCard

Directed by Irving Pichel and producer George Pal along with a screenplay by Robert Heinlein took a very documentary approach to the narrative and the landscapes. The film stars John Archer as Jim Barnes, Warner Anderson as Dr. Charles Cargraves, with Tom Powers and Dick Wesson. The film was a critical success an revived the Sci-Fi genre.

Destination Moon 1950 was an attempt to show a serious technical side to space travel. based on what science actually knew at the time. Actually it was in response to a spread that ran in Collier’s Magazine of series of paintings done by artist Chesley Bonastell of gleaming space craft.

Steven Spielberg had said of the picture, “DESTINATION MOON is a scientific attempt to create suspense based on no bad guys no villains and no aliens.

Similar to almost Apollo 13 (1995) or Marooned 1969)

George Lucas says “At the time it was a very provocative idea because nobody had ever seen anyone go to the moon.” 

Though it’s been called the precursor to 2001 Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick never admitted to having seen the movie. Which is highly possible, and given his genius we’ll take his word for it.
Destination Moon on the surface

In the midst of the Cold War, the film reflects America’s desire to conquer, and according to the generals in Destination Moon, the moon would be the ideal location for a strategic military base of operations. And thus the race for America to get there first. There’s also a conflict seen as there were those who would embrace the new technologies and those who saw the impending modernity as a threat or a ‘bad thing’.

Pichel and Pal wanted to situate this film farther away from the fantastical science fiction ‘soap opera’ serials of the 1930s. Physicists and astronomers were consulted in order to stay true to the realistic view Heinlein, Pichel and Pal desired as their vision of the future. They also used striking paintings by Chesley Bonestell to imagine the gorgeous lunar landscapes along with designer Ernest Fegte who create the realistic cratered look of the Moon.

destination-moon-1950--chesley-bonestell

Destination Moon gear

The film features the first lunar landing that was envisioned as realistic and not melodramatic or surreal. The crew led by actor John Archer manage to land on the Moon but they run out of fuel, that they seem doomed to be stranded. They lose all the excess weight in order to get the ship space worthy again, but till they are over the weight limit. In a noble act of courage and sacrifice Dick Wesson (Tom Powers) figures that he can remove his cumbersome pressure suit and re-enter the ship a lighter and better man in order to save the rest of the crew…

destination-moon

Dr. Charles Cargraves: You can’t buck public opinion; I’ve tried. Have you seen this?
[Newspaper headline: MASS MEETING PROTESTS RADIOACTIVE ROCKET]
General Thayer: That isn’t public opinion – it’s a job of propaganda!
Jim Barnes: You’re almighty right it is. Manufactured and organized – with money and brains. Somebody’s out to get us.

The Flying Saucer

the flying saucer

The FLying Saucer 1950 saucer

Directed by Mikel Conrad, stars Mikel Conrad as Mike Trent, Pat Garrison as Vee Langley, Hantz von Teuffen as Hans, Lester Sharpeas Col. Marikoff Roy Engel as Dr. Carl Lawton and Denver Pile as Turner! Because we feared the Russians in the early 1950s much of the paranoia around UFO sightings were connected to those pesky Reds! When CIA secret agent Mike Trent tracks a flying saucer to Alaska he finds out that it is a ship built by scientist Dr. Carl Lawton who hopes to sell it to the Americans!

The Flying Saucer screaming woman 1

The Flying Saucer 1950

1950-flying-saucer-pat-garrison-mikel-conrad

the flying-saucer-1950--pat-garrison-mikel-conrad

Pat Garrison and Mikel Conrad-50s cool!

Col. Marikoff: Mr. Trent, you’re giving us a great deal of trouble. Why didn’t you stay in New York with your drunken friends of the night club?

Mike Trent: I sobered up.

Prehistoric Women

prehistoric_women_1950_poster_02

Laurette Luez

Laurette Luez as Tigri

prehistoric_women_1966_Martine Beswick

Prehistoric Women would find a resurgence in the 60s! Here’s British actress Martine Beswick in the 1966 movie with the same title!

Prehistoric Women (1950) Directed by Gregg C. Tallas Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn (bending over), Judy Landon
Prehistoric Women (1950)
Directed by Gregg C. Tallas
Shown from left: Jo Carroll Dennison, Joan Shawlee, Laurette Luez, Kerry Vaughn, Mara Lynn
(bending over), Judy Landon

Directed by Gregg  C. Tallas, (Siren of Atlantas 1949) offers an adventure sci-fi fantasy film. Prehistoric Women stars Laurette Luez as Tigri, Allan Nixon as (Mesa of Lost Women 1953, Pickup 1951) Engor, Joan Shawlee as Lotee, Judy Landon as Eras, Mary Lynn as Arva, Jo Carroll Dennison as Nika, Kerry Vaughn as Tulie, Tony Devlin as Rulg, James Summers as Adh, Jeanne Sorel as Tana, and Janet Scott as Wise Old Lady.

As Bill Warren puts it in his wonderful series Keep Watching the Skies published by the awesome McFarland Press-Prehistoric Women “Were this picture not so naive, it would seem more sleazy than it does. It’s not good in any way, but has a certain daffy charm because of it’s unsophisticated unbelieveability.”

Prehistoric Women 1950 Engor and Tigir

Prehistoric Women Engor discovers fire

The Commentator:And Engor called it Firee, which was his word for Fire.”

The film is narrated documentary style because the cast are primitives who Amazonian cave-women and had little to no dialogue, it just adds to the laughable style and god awful Cinecolor production. I’d like to know how they got a turkey vulture to wear a mask poor thing, the film is so blurring it’s hard to tell what the hell is flying up in the prehistoric blue sky… scourge of the skies indeed! Still, prehistoric films, though considered mostly adventure stories seems to be included in books on the Sci-Fi genre. Though it could also easily be branded as a very cheap sexist exploitation romp!

Prehistoric Women 1950 the scourge of the skies

Look it’s a flying dragon the scourge of the skies!

Bill Warren cites a review from the Monthly Film Bulletin: “They assert feminine superiority ruthlessly, setting their captives to hard labour, clubbing them intermittently and cutting off their escape… {Engor-} (the intelligent troglodyte who invents fire) uses a flaming torch to destroy a giant winged dragon (a disguised turkey vulture they must have tortured off set by putting fake ears and beak on it) that threatens their encampment {and}the girls are stunned with fear and admiration and surrender unconditionally.”

Tigri and her clan hate men but realize that they are sort of needed for some things, so they capture a bunch of fellas and try to force them to become their mates. But when Engor, escapes and discovers fire gets re-captured and not only slays the “flying dragon the scourge of the skies” but uses the fire to fight off the ugly brute who threatens their lives Tigri has a change of heart and all is right with the primitive world again. The women start running around panicked and screaming hysterically and the men are once again in charge… it’s ludicrous.

This giant is a real 9 foot giant… named Guadi in the film is Johann Petursson The Viking Giant was the Tallest Man From Iceland and traveled with Ringling Bros. Circus!

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Prehistoric Women 1950

The Commentator: “Strangely enough, the swan dive was invented before the swan.

Rocketship-X-M

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GASP AT THE DARING COURAGE… AS THEY THUNDER BETWEEN PLANETS ON A RUNAWAY ROCKET!

Directed by science fiction story aficionado Kurt Neumann ( Secret of the Blue Room 1933, Half a Sinner 1934, Island of Lost Men 1939, a slew of Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan pictures, She Devil 1957, the outstanding Kronos 1957, and The Fly 1958 ) Rocketship X-M stars Lloyd Bridges as Col. Floyd Graham, Osa Massen as Dr. Lisa Van Horn, John Emory as Dr. Karl Eckstrom, Noah Beery Jr. as Maj. William Corrigan, Hugh O’ Brian as Harry Chamberlain, Morris Ankrum as Dr. Ralph Fleming, and Sherry Morland as the Martian girl.

Cinematographer Karl Struss   (Sunrise 1927, The Great Dictator, 1940, Limelight 1952, The Fly 1958) and art direction by Theobold Holsopple create at times a sublime and beautifully desolate landscape using matte paintings, miniatures among the technical effects. For all the scenes on Mars, the film is tinted a pinkish sepia tone (filmed partly in The Mojave desert). Struss lenses an landscape that is eerie and atmospheric.

Rocketship X-M was a B picture designed to beat DESTINATION MOON in the movie theaters, and even with it’s grim ending, it actually did better at the box office. Director James Cameron called it an ‘Anodyne answer to Destination Moon 1950.’ It was a cautionary tale about how we will not be able to control this new technology. It’s a warning about too much hubris surrounding this powerful technology that sometimes ‘precedes a tragic fall’-Mark Hamill.

The crew finds the remnants of a Martian Civilization that was destroyed by it’s own technology much like the revelation in Ridley Scott’s Alien 1979.

The film though with it’s bleak message is quite a surprisingly interesting science fiction tale about a trip to the moon, by way of Mars that is interesting because of it’s earnestness and visual style. And to be honest a lot more interesting and characters more full of life than with it’s predecessor in 1950 Destination Moon.

Rocketship XM Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr. You heard this year's Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.
Rocketship XM
Staffing Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr.
You heard this year’s Oscar Winner for Best Actor credit his father for his acting career. Well here he is folks. Third from the left: Lloyd Bridges.

Rocketship XM Osa and Lloyd and deep thoughts

Rocketship XM the crew inside their ship

rocketship-x-m on Mars

Rocketship XM the crew investigates the landcape

Rocketship X-M sepia exploring

Rocketship X-M

German director Neumann came to Hollywood in 1925 and became best known for his work on The Fly. (1958) Rocketship X-M is a sober and beautifully filmed piece of science fiction realism blended with romance and crisis. Like Destination Moon ,it features the first manned rocket-ship to the Moon that winds up knocked off course winding up on Mars, stranded on the bleak landscape where the crew led by Dr. Karl Eckstrom stumble upon a dome-shaped structure and an odd metallic mask. They deduce from all the radioactivity that there must have been a superior race of intelligent beings who had once inhabited the planet but fell victim to some kind of atomic catastrophe, leaving only a few mutant savages to forage the bones of the now desolate planet.

Rocketship XM the surving race

These crazy looking bald Martians sort of remind me of Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes 1977

Rocketship XM attacked by the Martian savages

The crew is eventually besieged upon by the remains of that once thriving Martian race, which in a shocking reveal shows Sherry Moreland the Martian girl to have a lifeless stare as she is blind. The Martian trogldyte attackers kill Dr.Eckstrom, and Maj. Corrigan, wounding Chamberlain. Col. Floyd Graham and Dr. Lisa Van Horn make it back to the ship, but don’t have enough fuel to get back home. In a very intense and poignant scene as the two hold each other and embrace their inevitable fate with a transcendent fatalistic sense of hope, much like Grant Williams at the end of The Incredible Shrinking Man, the lovers watch through the view finder as they plunge toward Earth to their deaths, in a darker film ending– as they crash. Rocketship X-M seems to have brought the warning not to earth in the form of Klaatu the benevolent, but has placed us on a hostile planet much like Planet of the Apes that gravely warns us that our future could very well wind up the same way if we pursue atomic weapons.

Rocketship XM the Crash landing

Lloyd Bridges holds Osa Massen It ends badly for everyone. As they look out the porthole “it’s only seconds now, try not to be afraid” She clings to him-Suddenly she is not afraid anymore. She feels like something is lifting them up and holding them right before they crash…

Osa Massen sees her tragic end as a new beginning she sheds her fears and finds a courageous way to embrace their impending death. It’s a rather poetic scene when they hold each other and look out at the view finder and watch as life rapidly escapes them. It’s a very dark ending.

Doomed to crash and burn Floyd and Lisa cannot control the technology. There is a conflict with the machines and mechanisms we build that can either annihilate  us or set us free to explore and thrive.

‘Their last desperate hope is for transcendence”

ROCKETSHIP X-M — Director John Cameron calls it a ‘dualistic dance’ with technology -referring to the end being so nihilistic potentially– then the head of the program says they’ll start construction tomorrow.

Already on Earth they are planning another mission called Rocketship X-M2!

Rocketship XM no gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2

PROGRESS MARCHES ON-“No gentlemen the X-M was not a failure tomorrow we start on the construction of the X-M2”

 

Floyd: I’ve been wondering, how did a girl like you get mixed up in a thing like this in the first place.

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: I suppose you think that women should only cook and sew and bear children.

Floyd: Isn’t that enough?

[Floyd and Lisa comfort Eckstrom, who was mortally wounded by a Martian’s axe]

Floyd: Murdering savages!

Dr. Eckstrom: No Floyd. Poor fear-crazed despairing wretches. Pity them. Pity them!

STAY TUNED FOR MORE-coming up! 🚀 The Year is:

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Hyper-Masculinity/Hidden Frailty: The Robert Ryan Aesthetic in Film Noir

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Robert Ryan’s death July 11, 1973 with a special nod to Karen & The Dark Pages for their spectacular tribute to this incredibly real man!

robert ryan

“Ryan was unfailingly powerful, investing his tormented characters with a brooding intensity that suggests coiled depth. Cut off from the world by the strength of their ‘feelings’ his characters seem to be in the grip of torrential inner forces. They are true loners. Ryan’s work has none of the masked, stylized aura of much noir acting. He performs with emotional fullness that creates substantial, complex characters rather than icons.”Foster Hirsch-FILM NOIR: The Darker Side of the Screen

Clearly Robert Ryan’s infinite presence in film and his numerous complex characters manifest an embracing universal ‘internal conflict’ of masculinity. I tribute certain roles the actor inhabited during his striking career. Though he was cast more often in the part as the imposing heavy, the depth and breadth of Ryan’s skill with his rough-hewn good looks should have landed him more roles as a lead male capable of such penetrating levels of emotion. He had a depth that suggests a scarcely hidden intensity smoldering at the surface.

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Robert Ryan as Montgomery in Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire 1947
Act of Violence Ryan
Robert Ryan in Act of Violence ’48

A critic for the New York Times reviewing Act of Violence (1948) wrote about Robert Ryan’s persona as the madly driven veteran bent on revenge, Joe Parkson calling him “infernally taut.”

Frank Krutnik discusses ‘Masculinity and it’s discontents’ in his book In A Lonely Street, “In order to make the representation of masculinity in the noir thriller, there follows a schematic run-through of Freudian work on the determination of masculine identity.” Claiming Freud’s work can be co-opted into film with an emphasis of it’s relevance to analysis of the cultural machinery of patriarchy.” He discusses patriarchal culture which relies heavily on the maintenance of a gender-structured ‘disequilibrium’ with it’s roots in the myth of the Oedipal Complex. Involving not only the power-based hierarchy of male service to masculine power but the established normative gender values which inform both the male and female figure.

act of violence ryan and leigh
Act of Violence Robert Ryan as Joe Parkson co-starring Janet Leigh

Many of the characters in Ryan’s noir world are informed by a cultural ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness and strips the limits of desire as an obligation to masculine identity. Patriarchal power structure predetermines a fixed and limited role that creates a destiny of submission and impotence in Ryan’s characters. But within the framework of these extreme male figures lies an intricate conflict of varying degrees of vulnerability and fragility.

Ryan manifests this duality within hyper-masculine characters. Outwardly physical, confrontational, and hostile, Ryan is a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth. He was never just a dark noir brute or anti-hero but a complex man actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. His performances suggest a friction of subjugated masculinity bubbling within.

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Ryan as Earl Pfeiffer and Barbara Stanwyck in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night

The trajectory of the male through the Oedipus Complex encompasses the male subjectivity which is a principle issue in the noir ‘tough-thriller.’ The ‘existential thematic’ link to the Oedipus myth concerns questions of male desire and identity as they relate to the overarching law of existing patriarchal culture substituted for the original fearsome ‘divinity.’ This element is one of the driving psychological themes underlying in any good classic film noir.

In this post I put my focus primarily on Ryan’s characters within the framework of each film and while I discuss the relationship between him and the central players I do not go as in depth as I usually do discussing his co-stars or plot design.

I apply this thematic representation to much of the roles engendered in the films of Robert Ryans‘ that I’ve chosen to discuss here. A patriarchal power structure establishes the tragedy of man’s destiny, a fixed and limited role in the character’s own destiny as there is a predominant power that threatens them into submission and sheds light on their own impotence. So many of the noir characters in a Robert Ryan noir world are shaped by a cultural authority structured through ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness in the male identity that strips away the limits of desire, as an obligation to ‘masculine identity.’

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Ryan’s stoic boxer Stoker in Robert Wise’s The Set Up

I’m focusing on particular Ryan’s roles within a noir context that depict archetypal hyper-masculine tropes and the problematic strife within those characters. Whether Ryan is playing the deeply flawed hero or the tormented noir misfit, his characters are afflicted with an inherent duality of virility and vulnerability, an inner turmoil, alienation, persecution and masochism. It’s a territorial burden that Robert Ryan so effortlessly explores.

These films show Ryan’s trajectory through forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Within a noir landscape, the schism of stark virility and tenuous masculinity exposes the complexity of alienation, masochism and frailty. Robert Ryan’s performances are a uniquely fierce and formidable power.

I’m discussing: The Woman On the Beach (1947) haunted & emasculated coastguardsman Lt. Scott Burnett, Caught (1949) neurotic millionaire Smith Ohlrig, The Set- Up (1949) noble over- the-hill boxer Bill ‘Stoker’ Thompson, Born To Be Bad (1950) misanthropic & masochistic novelist Nick Bradley, Clash by Night (1952) cynical misogynist projectionist Earl Pfeiffer, Beware, My Lovely (1952) morose psychotic vagrant handyman Howard Wilton,On Dangerous Ground (1952) unstable, alienated violent cop Jim Wilson, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) racist persecuted ex-con Earle Slater.

Within the framework of these ‘extreme’ male figures lies an intricate conflict with varying degrees of vulnerability & fragility within the male psyche. The narratives don’t necessarily flesh out this conflict plainly, but Ryan’s performances certainly suggest and inform us about the friction of this subjugated theme bubbling to the surface as he manifests the duality within his hyper-masculine characters. Robert Ryan was a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth.

Robert Ryan

Ryan is never just a dark noir ‘brute’ or anti-hero but moreover a complex male who is actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. A complexity of stark virility and ‘tenuous maleness’ as the narrative witnesses Ryan’s trajectory transforming him through various dynamic forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Outwardly physical, confrontational, hostile and ultimately masculine, and the schism that is inwardly emotional, alienated, self deprecating, masochistic and fragile within the film noir landscape. Robert Ryan’s performances still maintain a uniquely fierce and formidable aesthetic of the ‘suffering-marginalized man.’

Continue reading “Hyper-Masculinity/Hidden Frailty: The Robert Ryan Aesthetic in Film Noir”