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

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“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)

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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

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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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Mad Monster Party? (1967) “You’re different”

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The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon of Cheer hosted by Fritzi of the spectacular Movies Silently

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So the whole idea is to feel good right? Well I think  a lot of us would agree that any Rankin/Bass production is going to put a smile on your face… I couldn’t resist revisiting the children’s & adult animated feature that embraces Boris Karloff as an animagic puppet and a lot of campy inside cheeky humor, that’s not just for the kiddies, as the New York Times review from 1967 says it’s for ‘The monsters in all of us!”

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“When I was nine, I played the demon king in “Cinderella” and it launched me on a long and happy life of being a monster.”- Boris Karloff

RANKIN-BASS-BRIDE_OF_FRANKENSTEIN_POSTER copy

MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)

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Presented by Executive Producer Joseph E. Levine and Directed by Jules Bass (Return to Oz 1964, Rudolph, the Red -Nosed Reindeer 1964, The Daydreamer 1966, Frosty the Snowman 1969, produced The Last Unicorn 1982, The Sins of Dorian Gray 1983, The Wind in the Willows 1987)

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baron and felix music

Mad Monster Party? (1967) is a wonderfully cheeky animagic feature filmed in Eastman color, was released on March 8th, 1967. This puppet comic horror gem stars the voices of Boris Karloff as Baron Boris von Frankenstein, Allen Swift  lends his voice to these hairy scary characters Felix Flankin (Swift does a very obvious take off on actor James Stewart) / Peter Lorre character ‘Yetch’ / Dracula / the Invisible Man / Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde / Chef Machiavelli / the Captain / First Mate / Mr. Kronkite / Mail Man / The Monster and a skeleton band called the Little Tibias and the Phibbians who are wearing those groovy Beatle wigs.

Baron meets Dr. Jekyll

the mummy and hunchback

the bone band

Gale Garnett is the voice of the Baron’s lovely assistant, the fiery red-headed temptress Francesca, Phyllis Diller is not called the Bride, she is referred to as The Monster’s Mate!

the mummy the mate and baron

Music by Maury Laws, with cinematography by Tadahito Mochinaga and animation/puppet department by Jack Davis, an illustrator for EC comics in the 1950s, a fellow contributor to Mad Magazine and During the 1970s, he did concept art and storyboards for television commercials (‘Lectric Shave, Utica Club, Cask Mt. Wine, Unispin, Gillette, Sominex, Dodge Boys) animated by the Phil Kimmelman and Associates animation house. He was also the poster artist for the brilliant “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1964)

It, baron in plane

Plus uncredited Art Direction by mind blowing artist, music albums, poster art and graphic comic books Frank Frazetta.

Mad Monster Party? (1967) is an offbeat  stop-motion animation feature made by Rankin/Bass Productions.  It’s a parody of classic monster movies more aimed at adults than children though it was badly marketed to the wrong audience, the weekend matinee for kids. It blends the art of slapstick with the nostalgia of Universal & RKO monster greats. Harvey Kurtzman, who wrote the script, was a co-creator of Mad Magazine. The characters were designed by Jack Davis, one of the illustrators of Mad Magazine. It explains the element of racy, campy, quirky and delightfully droll humor, and why it has remained a cult classic, since the days of Saturday afternoon programs like Creature Features! Oh those were the days…

the monster and his mate

frankensteins monster and Diller

“Certainly, I was typed. But what is typing? It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing.”-Boris Karloff

The film is a feature length ‘animagic’ gem but because they could not get the licensing to homage the actual classy trademarked monsters, they resorted to a parody of the characters using similar names instead. The Bride of Frankenstein is called “the Monster’s Mate” and is brought to life by the superb impersonation of the batty and biting Phyllis Diller rather than the surreal & sensual Elsa Lanchester. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is called “Creature.” And King Kong is referred to as “IT.”

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Boris Karloff himself did the voice for Baron Boris von Frankenstein. Karloff recorded his dialogue in England at the sound stage, which was a much more comfortable job for Boris Karloff made easier on his body, by that time he was suffering from debilitating arthritis and trouble with his lungs.

boris action figure
I know what I’m getting for my birthday this year!

Composer Maury Laws said of the great Karloff, “Boris Karloff was the perfect gentleman.” Producer Arthur Rankin Jr. said “He was suffering from an illness at the time, but he gave us a great performance in Mad Monster Party? (1967) and The Daydreamer (1966) as well!”

Boris as the Rat in Rankin?Bass The Daydreamer 1966
Boris Karloff plays the voice of The Rat in Rankin/Bass’ The Daydreamer (1966) stories by Hans Christian Anderson

And let us not forget that Boris Karloff played the voice of The Narrator & Grinch in director Chuck Jone’s adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story How The Grinch Stole Christmas tv movie (1966)

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones
Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), Boris Karloff and Chuck Jones

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The party guests also include The Wolf Man, Quasimodo, various zombies that appear to pay homage to the dreaded flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and a deranged chef named Mafia Machiavelli.

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Allen Swift does a great take on Peter Lorre who pines after Francesca… Yetch- “It’s me, Your Don Juan” Francesca, “I Don Juan to look at you!”, and if it’s not my imagination, I could swear that what remains to be seen of the Invisible Man looks and sounds like Sydney Greenstreet’s fez wearing character Signor Ferrari in Casablanca (1942) a coincidence… I think not! And I could swear that monocle wearing version of Dracula bears a striking resemblance to pioneering live show of the ’50s Your Show of Shows, brilliant comedian Sid Caesar.

Dracula

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In the movie, Baron Frankenstein who is equip with a laboratory that would make Kenneth Strickfaden proud, invites his noodle headed, perpetual throat spraying annoyingly allergic nephew Felix Flanken who dreams of being a pharmacist, to take his place as the head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters to be run at his tropic hide away The Isle of Evil.’

Baron & Strickfaden

Fran in the lab strickfaden

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There his uncle will be bestowing on Felix his last great creation, a secret formula capable of destroying all matter. When the Baron announces this to the organization of his new successor, the monstrous guests plot to get rid of the nerdy Felix so they can take over the organization and grab Dr. Frankenstein’s secret formula. The Baron’s assistant, Francesca, falls in love with Felix, and is kidnapped by the monsters. Boris gets Francesca away from those greedy ghouls, and Felix and Francesca are able to leave the island, rowing away in their tiny row boat, with perhaps a delicious twist ending in store for you!

Baron and Francesca

felix and francesca

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Singer Garnett creates the voice of the curvy red head Francesca that adds a wonderful spark to the character who radiates Ann Margret & Ann Francis with Mamie Van Doren’s twists & boobs!

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Although the film came out in 1967, the distributor Embassy Pictures relegated it to kiddie matinees, instead of reaching older audiences that would’ve appreciated the human and references. The film got virtually no attention until 1969’s (read here )☞ New York Times review.

Howard Thompson writes, “In this peppery and contagiously droll little color package, a collection of animated puppets scamper across some clever miniature sets, exchanging sass and barbs and occasionally warbling some sprightly tunes.”

Rankin/Bass Productions (who brought us those memorable claymation Christmas feel-goods) in affiliation with Avco Embassy found the intended audience for the film in the 1970s and early 1980s by showing it on the small screen. They also made a 1972 prequel called Mad Mad Mad Monsters.

Mad Monster Party’s soundtrack includes 60s songstress Gale Garnett who sang the catchy hit pop song “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” 

The film also includes songs the opening song rendered by jazz great Ethel Ennis with- “Mad Monster Party”, “One Step Ahead” (sung by Boris Karloff) Our Time to Shine & Never Was a Love Like Ours (sung by Gale Garnett) music and lyrics by Maury Laws and Jules Bass, also lets not forget, “You’re Different” sung by Phyllis Diller

Mad Monster Party? (1967) The making of a classic

“My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He’s my best friend.”- Boris Karloff

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Here’s the link to Boris Karloff’s Sherry infused Guacamole recipe

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It’s been a Mad Mad Mad Mad Party here at The Last Drive In… Hope you had a Groovin’ Ghoulish time! –Your EverLovin MonsterGirl!

 

The Electrical Secrets of Kenneth Strickfaden: or as Harry Goldman’s book calls him -“Dr Frankenstein’s Electrician”

Kenneth Strickfaden-(1896–1984)

I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

— Mary Shelley

Colin Clive -Frankenstein 1930

When I think of Kenneth Strickfaden I visualize the mad scientist grabbing the master switch in his clandestine laboratory. Suddenly the machinery hums and glows, glass tubes boil with liquids, electrical currents charge through the coiled tubes and conductance. Lighting leaps across the sky and finds its way into the diving spot in the lab. The crackle, snapping hiss and sparks of ozone. The well orchestrated machinery of mad science that now act as futuristic hardware. The electrical odor that would still permeate the air for years to come as he shaped the way we perceived the mad scientist labs and mysterious scientific exploration!

early days Strickfaden assembling a mad scientist apparatus
early days Strickfaden assembling a mad scientist apparatus

Kenneth Strickfaden was an expert in high voltage electricity, film set designer, and electrical special effects master. Using his skills as a carnival electrician, he created the science fiction apparatus that can be seen in more than 100 films and television programs, showcasing Strickfaden’s technical phantasmagoria of light and sound!

I often wonder how many of these films centered around mad science and the laboratory environment utilized some of Strickfaden’s machines and electrical effects without giving him credit.

The Devil Commands
Boris Karloff in The Devil Commands
Karloff, Boris (Man They Could Not Hang, The)
Boris Karloff in The Man They Could Not Hang
man made monster
Man Made Monster

I can see influences in Edward Dymtryk’s  The Devil Commands 1941 with Boris Karloff. With art direction by Lionel Banks and props by Franz, Oscar and Paul Dallons. The Man They Could Not Hang 1939  & Man Made Monster 1941  Set direction by Russell A Gausman and John P Fulton who had worked with Strickfaden before. I believe Strickfaden did the special effects and used part of his equipment for. Doctor X (1932) , The Invisible Man 1933, The Man Who Lived Again and more!

Dr X mad science
Dr X (1932)
The Man Who Lived Again
The Man Who Lived Again
The Invisible Man set
The Invisible Man 1933

Strickfaden’s first contribution was to Just Imagine 1930. Today it has become something of a “lost” film and nearly impossible to see on the big screen. “While the beautiful art deco sets, enormous miniatures, and remarkable projection effects still amaze,” says Production Designer John Muto, Founder of the ADG Film Series, “the music, comedy, and love story are derived from vaudeville and must have seemed very dated as cinematic musicals exploded in the 1930s. I suspect that may be why the film faded from view. Our audience will discover a very surprising film!”
“Today, most films set in the future portray a bleak, dystopian, even apocalyptic world.” Besides the beautiful art design Just Imagine featured a stunning laboratory filled with electrical equipment  by Ken Strickfaden.

Just Imagine Lab
Just Imagine 1930
The Clutching Hand Strickfaden
The Clutching Hand (1936

But it was his work for James Whale’s 1931 masterpiece Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein that struck like lightening! Stock footage of the lightning bolt generated by Strickfaden’s equipment.can be seen in so many films and television shows. John P Fulton head of the special effects department at Universal Studios was responsible for the special photographic effects-

Jame’s Whale had wanted a lab that was reminiscent of the one in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis 1927 Lang’s art deparment/set designers Otto Hunte, Erich Kettlehut, Walter Schulze-Mittendorf & Karl Vollbrecht. Special effects by Ernst Kunstmann, Konstantin Irmen-Tschet and Erich Kettelhut. Visual effects Eugen Schufftan , Willy Muller, Hugo O Schulze and an uncredited Edgar G. Ulmer.

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Metropolis 1927
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Fritz Lang’s Metropolis 1927
Oz orb
This orb of Kenneth Strickfaden’s has made it through Fu Manchu’s clutches to the Wicked Witch of the West’s long bony fingers

You can see Strickfaden’s wonderful creations in  The Wizard of Oz , The Mask of Fu Manchu to television’s The Munsters, and his final work, Young Frankenstein. Strickfaden recycled a number of the pieces that he kept maintained like his “Cosmic Ray Diffuser” that he used in the original Frankenstein.

Kenneth Strickfaden was born in 1896-by the time he was in high school he was using a camera and setting up shots of amusement parks, battle scenes, and visualizing and creating his own laboratory apparatus and equipment.

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Thesinger and Clive in The Bride of Frankenstein

When I was just a little tiny wide eyed MonsterGirl I would day dream plenty on rainy days and spend hours down in the basement assembling pieces of metal and plastic doohickeys having taken apart various appliances around the house, trying to create my very own little mad scientist lab. I’d get large pieces of wood and paint the control panels. I could literally spend hours down there pretending to be Dr. Pretorious. I was fascinated by science fiction technology and the secrets of life and death, and the fantastical story telling Universal Monsters had to offer.

Frankenstein near the slab

Boris as Frankenstein on the set

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Backstage on the set of Frankenstein

My pop would continually ask me where I put his hammer, though it was true most of the time, I did take his tools to aide in my small scale construction of a basement laboratory. I was constructing panels with knobs and meters, I didn’t always have his hammer. And by no means did I have the eye or the technical brain to develop such intricate machinery that could spark and crackle streams of white heat, the suggestion of the life force arching in splendor. It just felt so good to be living my own fantasies without being told that I should go play with dolls. That’s also partly how I got to be known as MonsterGirl by the neighborhood bullies. Anyway… back to the genius of Frankenstein’s electrician.

Paul Walter assistant holds the switch box that controlls Strickfaden's Magnalux invention for lighting simulating flashes
Paul Walter assistant holds the switch box that controlls Strickfaden’s Magnalux invention for lighting simulating flashes-Image from Goldman’s book

arcs of electicity

Strickfaden had, the sort of fascination for creating a milieu of science realism , working on our sense of wonder and the possibilities of the creations these machines would aide in either creating life or destroying it, was always a draw for me. His special electrical designs and effects were visually groundbreaking for American film audiences, far-fetched perhaps but divine. He used junk yard electrical parts from the 1930s, fake wiring,high voltage jacob’s ladders (An electric current then flows until the path of ionized gas is broken or it as it rises will pull the arc apart and so extinguish it.) and spark gaps and the occasional Tesla Coil. “Ribbed ceramic insulators are a must… as are the slate front panels and wooden cabinetry that were standard of scientific and medical devices of the day”

And that’s why I wanted to do this little feature tribute to a man who’s responsible for shaping the look of so many classic horror and sci-fi fantasy film milieus over the years. The sets and laboratory apparatus that contributed to the Gothic science mood of the story, came to life because of the innovation Strickfaden used in creating with his fantastical yet plausible designs. As key to the plot structure as the players themselves.

"Megavolt Senior" Tesla coil
image of Strickfaden’s “Megavolt Senior” from Goldman’s Book

Appendix A sparks of light

During the grand days of classic horror between the decades of 1930’s and 1940s, the landscape might have looked entirely different if Kenneth Strickfaden hadn’t been so fascinated with creating apparatus and contraptions that flashed and sparked with high voltage, meters keeping track, tubes and coils and large equipment that paid true homage the science fiction writings he was trying to breath life into himself a technician like Pretorious and Dr. Frankenstein. The appearance of these industrial gadgets and machines, and the look of the laboratory brought such a sense of realism to an already Gothic stunner, and Mary Shelley’s story, too which was ahead for it’s day. As Harry Goldman refers to in his book title, Strickfaden was the right electrician for the job.

Strickfaden high voltage

clive with the bride 'Nebularium"
Colin Clive with Elsa Lanchester as The Bride- notice The Nebularium! Image from Goldman’s Strickfaden-Frankenstein’s Electrician
Famous Monsters of Filmland #21 1963
on the set of Frankenstein-from Famous Monsters of Filmland #21 1963

Though his fascination started in high school by the early 1920s film makers saw the potential in his inventive apparatus. He was given work at many Hollywood studios, in which he offered them a slew of amazing special electrical effects.

From Goldman’s, Kenneth Strickfaden, Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician, Strickfaden’s work was not easy, “Apparatus constantly failed due to overheating,” he once revealed to writer Scott MacQueen. “Most effects did not photograph as expected, or they were eliminated due to electrical failures.”

Despite these unusual, and expected, setbacks, the onscreen results were phenomenal, and far more convincing than any simulations. Strickfaden made much use of the inventions of Nikola Tesla, which had been perfected more than thirty years before the first Universal Studios “Frankenstein” movie. But, unlike Tesla, he was also concerned with the theatrical “look” of his fanciful contraptions, which had to appear to be futuristic and capable of untold wonders. The names he gave the machines were often equally marvelous, such as: “the retrogressive wave charger,”DXL Accumulator,” and High Amperage Pyrogeyser.”

When, in the late 1940s, real-life scientific marvels turned out to be subtler than Strickfaden’s machines, his work apparently went out of fashion and was little seen in Hollywood until the ’60s, when it was used extensively in The Munsters TV show and in commercials.

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Before his death in 1984, he spent much time touring with his “Kenstric Space Age Science Show,” educationally demonstrating spectacular electrical phenomena.

Standing fearlessly before a high voltage arc.His reliable switchboard can be seen in the foreground while the famous "Meg Senoir" Tesla coil appears in the background
Standing fearlessly before a high voltage arc.His reliable switchboard can be seen in the foreground while the famous “Meg Senoir” Tesla coil appears in the background

the firescope

The Cosmic Ray Diffuser
The Cosmic Ray Diffuser-Image from Goldman’s Book

A few highlights of Strickfaden’s career include:

Frankenstein (1931) the equipment brought the Mary Shelley’s monster to life.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)  Strickfaden created a dazzling electrical death ray even doubling for Boris Karloff, who played Fu Manchu when the evil mastermind spreads his hands and the powerful lightning dances between his long sinister fingernails.

Murders in the Rue Morgue 1932 Bela Lugosi is Dr Mirakle- Ken Strickfaden lends his electrical gadgets to Mirakle’s laboratory.

Chandu the Magician -Strickfaden’s machines came from FRANKENSTEIN now they equip (Bela Lugosi) Roxor’s lab- His death ray, a giant ray gun that sends pulsating death beams aimed at the major cities of the world!

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)Strickfaden configured  the electrical displays for the Bride creation sequence.

James Whale and his crew film Ernest Thesiger and Dwight Frye amidst Kenneth Strickfaden's electrical equipment in The Bride of Frankenstein.©1935 Universal Pictures.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) He created the effect of the Wicked Witch of the West trying to remove Dorothy’s ruby slippers and receiving an electrical shock. The orb she uses to scry was a Strickfaden design.

The giant crystal ball that Margaret Hamilton uses as the Wicked Witch was actually uncovered in a junk yard found amidst the remnants of other discarded Hollywood memorabilia from a now defunct prop house. The enormous hand blown glass, with high voltage Tesla coils had a new owner who spotted it in Goldman’s book Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician. It had been used by Bela as Roxor in Chandu the Magician.  It was a great prop for Boris Karloff in Mask of Fu Manchu, but once he placed it up for auction the new ownder learned that it had actually been the crystal ball used in The Wizard of OZ.

Fighting Devil Dogs (circa 1941)“Manifested projectiles of something like ball lightning.”

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)He simulated an unusually realistic lightning strike.”

Young Frankenstein (1974) Strickfaden recreated some of his best work from the original Frankenstein.

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Karloff as Fu Manchu

Karloff Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu Boris Karloff

Bela in Chandu the Magician
Bela in Chandu the Magician with the death ray
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Boris as the absent minded scientist in The Boogeyman Will Get You

lorre and boris boogeyman will get you

Colin Clive Ernest Thesiger The Bride of Frankestein
Ernest Thesiger and Colin Clive in The Bride of Frankenstein

Phantom Creeps set design

The Phantom Creeps K Strickfaden

He was born in Montana in 1896, Kenneth Strickfaden’s was an imaginative and adventurous guy who worked at amusement parks, taking myriads of photos. He traveled overseas serving in World War One. He was also an airplane mechanic so he was very handy technically, having built and tuned Tesla coils and X-Ray machines. A Tesla coil is an electrical resonant transformer circuit invented by Nikola Tesla around 1891. It is used to produce high-voltage, low-current, high frequency Eventually he found himself in Hollywood working as a studio electrician in the late twenties.

Strickfaden holding Melodyne musical disc The large lens appeared in Son of Frankenstain 1939
Image of Strickfaden holding the Melodyne musical disc and large lens that appears in Son of Frankenstein from Goldman’s book Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician

In 1931, Kenneth Strickfaden was hired to set up the equipment for Frankenstein’s tower laboratory. He was to furnish it with a ‘powerful engine.Strickfaden assembled various machines. One which was used for the lightening powered scene that would help resurrect Boris Karloff’s monster back from the dead to life on the slab. He combined his knowledge of electrical science engineering and part of his love of creating side show electrical pageantry in order to transform Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory into a place of unorthodox alchemy within a modern science dominion.

Kenneth Strickfaden Bride of Frankenstein control panel
Kenneth Strickfaden Bride of Frankenstein control panel-Image from Goldman’s book

At first the designs were to be more streamline and modern in their look, but Strickfaden had managed to construct a place of Gothic dread within the medieval structure of the setting and seamlessly adapt the apparatus of modern science with the stone walls. The juxtaposition of the two worlds adds to the feeling of Dr Frankenstein’s heretical, rebellious and clandestine primacy as his secrets lay hidden away.

Strickfaden’s apparatus quivered, sparked, crackled and shrieked. The imposing levers were pulled in harmony with the dialogue, like an orchestrated scientific waltz. White hot arcs of electrical tendrils reached out and thrust wildly like serpent’s tongues. Beautifully glistening glass vials and tubes sat amidst copper spheres that wound themselves around like industrial jewels. Needles indicated where the force of energy was heading on the dials, and disks whirled like fun-house wheels. It was all so mesmerizing in Frankenstein’s laboratory with it’s arcane machinery that sung the songs of the universe, and the secrets of immortality and life from death, the sounds of voltage that pushed the machinery to its limits.

The Space Beacon

lab device bride notes
The Nebularium device from The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 Image from Goldman’s book
Creating "Nebularium" for House of Dracula '45
Strickfaden creating a Nebularium for House of Dracula ’45. Image from Goldman’s book Dr.Frankenstein’s Electrician

From then on 1931 James Whale’s Frankenstein with its elaborately detailed laboratory up on the mountain tops set the tone for all mad scientist laboratories to follow. Kenneth Strickfaden would utilize and reconfigure his glorious apparatus over and over again in the Frankenstein films that followed, like Bride of Frankenstein.

You can see his fantastical machines like his “Megavolt Tesla Coil” & the Nebularium” in Flash Gordon serials and so many other horror and sci-fi features over the decades. Even in one of the most memorable episodes of The Munsters in the 60s, where Grandpa transfigures Herman into Fred Gwynn, losing his square headed, neck bolted Frankensteinian charm! The episode is called “Just Another Pretty Face.”

And Mel Brooks truly paid homage to the Universal cycle of Frankenstein pictures with his Young Frankenstein in 1974. Co-starring with Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn doing her Mae Clarke bit as Elizabeth and Marty Feldman as Igor to Dwight Frye’s Fritz.

Set used on Young Frankenstein
Strickfaden’s machines and apparatus were re-used in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein

The Gothic laboratory that Gene Wilder plays Doctor, waxes campy and raises Peter Boyle back to life using a lighting storm and complex equipment that sparks and radiates arcs of light was the very same set of scientific apparatus used from Whale’s masterpiece in 1931 film when Kenneth Strickfaden first configured it all for the set of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.

Strickfaden died in 1984, and up until that time, he traveled the country with all machines and apparatus, and gave lectures in schools and auditoriums, also creating music with electrical instruments that he designed. He would demonstrate his lighting effects with ultraviolet light on radioactive materials, and shock and amaze students with something he called hi “gravity nuetralizer” He did these programs from 1933 til his death.

Ghost of Frankenstein
The Ghost of Frankestein Basil Rathbone, Bela and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster
phantom creeps
Bela Lugosi in The Phantom Creeps

Strickfaden would step in at times as a stunt double in the films, for instance, he played Karloff’s monster for a scene that didn’t make it into the film. When Karloff didn’t want to use the “QUCH” machine fearing it was too dangerous as Fu Manchu, Strickfaden stood in for him. He held  a large wand that generated a streaming arc of lightening which called for a million-volt sparks to dance over his body. in Mask of Fu Manchu, Strickfaden was thrown across the set when he wasn’t grounded properly and received a jolt of electricity.

QUCH MACHINE
Kenneth Strickfaden’s QUCH machine-up for auction

He became the most trusted man around high-voltage trickery, yet Strickfaden admits very plainly that there’s no mystery to what he is able to do and that producing high voltage or amperage is rather simple.

One of the key apparatus that Strickfaden uses is his million-volt generator, which produces the large sparks, and fat blue flames that which can actually reach a height of 6 feet into the air. It’s his most intricately designed piece of equipment. The multi-distributor consists of a motor driven set of whirling electrodes that can throw sparks. Strickfaden does say that a shock from the circuits could actually prove fatal.

Another device  Strickfaden used was called a ‘lightening screen’ This is another high voltage generator which throws sparks across a large disk with a radioactive backing. Used with a darkened stage, the radioactive material continues to glow along the path of each spark even once the current has been shut off.

The Tesla Coil in Frankenstein and Mask of Fu Manchu

A note about Nikola Tesla-THE GENIUS WHO LIT THE WORLD- Young Nikola Tesla came to the United States in 1884 with an introduction letter from Charles Batchelor to Thomas Edison:   Nikola Tesla developed polyphase alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers and held 40 basic U.S. patents on the system, which George Westinghouse bought, determined to supply America with the Tesla system.

In February 1882, Tesla discovered the rotating magnetic field, a fundamental principle in physics and the basis of nearly all devices that use alternating current.  Tesla brilliantly adapted the principle of rotating magnetic field for the construction of alternating current induction motor and the polyphase system for the generation, transmission, distribution and use of electrical power. Tesla’s A.C.induction motor is widely used throughout the world in industry and household appliances. It started the industrial revolution at the turn of the century. Electricity today is generated transmitted and converted to mechanical power by means of his inventions. Tesla’s greatest achievement is his polyphase alternating current system which lights is used throughout the world

NOTABLE KENNETH STRICKFADEN-FILMOGRAPHY-CAMERA ART & ELECTRICAL DEPARTMENT

  • JUST IMAGINE 1930
  • FRANKENSTEIN 1931
  • THE MASK OF FU MANCHU 1932
  • MURDER AT DAWN 1932
  • DR. X (1932)
  • THE INVISIBLE MAN 1933
  • THE VANISHING SHADOW 1934
  • THE LOST CITY 1935
  • THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN 1935
  • FLASH GORDON serial 1936
  • THE AMAZING EXPLOITS OF THE CLUTCHING HAND
  • GHOST PATROL 1936
  • THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
  • THE PHANTOM CREEPS 1939
  • THE SHADOW 1940
  • FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS 1941
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH 1943
  • THE BOOGEYMAN WILL GET YOU 1943
  • HOUSE OF DRACULA 1945
  • MONSTROSITY 1963
  • THE MUNSTERS 1966
  • GAMES 1967 Curtis Harrington directs
  • DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN 1971
  • BLACKENSTEIN 1973
  • YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN 1974

SOLD AT AUCTION

DEATH RAY- apparatus -strickfaden auction
Kenneth Strickfaden’s DEATH RAY- apparatus -at auction

device at Auction

electronic effects switchboard-Nebular Device used in both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein

From the set of Frankenstein being sold at auction

Strickfaden device at Auction

Kenneth Strickfadens Digital Disputer Laboratory Device

junk store terminal 2

SOURCE MATERIAL FROM-

Kenneth-Strickfaden-Dr-Frankenstein-s-Electrician-

DR. FRANKENSTEIN’S ELECTRICIAN BY HARRY GOLDMAN 2005

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #21 1963

Memorabilia Heritage Auction Galleries

Photos from the Academy of Motion Pictures homage to Strickfaden.-A selection of surviving gadgets from Strickfaden’s movie laboratories.

IMDb Kenneth Strickfaden Filmography

Modern Mechanix scan of a Popular Mechanics article from September 1949-by Eugene M Hanson.

1. Scott MacQueen, “Kenneth Strickfaden: Strange Revelations of the Man Who Lives in the House that Frankenstein Built,” Gore Creatures, no. 24, October 1975, pp. 24-26.

2. William Ludington, “Mister Electricity: The Multi-Volted Career of Kenneth Strickfaden,” American Classic Screen, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan./Feb. 1983, pp. 26-29.

This has been electrifying -your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl