Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on June 2, 1950
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Written by Kurt Neumann, Orville Hampton, and Dalton Trumbo
Cast: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr, Hugh O’Brian, Morris Ankrum, Patrick Aherne, Sherry Moreland, John Dutra, Katherine Marlowe, Bert Stevens, James Conaty, Cosmo Sardo
The first manned spaceship to leave Earth, called Rocketship Expedition Moon, blasts off from White Sands proving grounds in New Mexico with a four-man, one-woman crew: the pilot, the navigator, a doctor of chemistry, an engineer, and the ship’s designer and crew leader. Their plan is to research the feasibility of interplanetary travel, and someday establish a base on the moon that will ‘control world peace’. But after escaping a meteoroid storm, the ship’s engines go out, and after losing consciousness, the crew wakes up to discover they’ve somehow bypassed the moon, and are instead closing in on a particular red-hued planet. One where they’ll make an unexpected—and for some, fatal—discovery.
This was the first film to seriously delve into the possibility of space travel and exploration, beating Destination Moon to theaters by three weeks, and I must say, as entertainment, it wasn’t all that bad. Granted, the filmmakers’ thoughts on the subject were laughable at times, but you had to cut them some slack; the concept was still in its infancy, so a lot of this was merely guesswork. The crew’s lack of spacesuits and helmets, and an absence of weightlessness aboard ship, were the most obvious inaccuracies; adding to the fun was their visit to Mars, where the landing party wore clothes that looked stolen from the Chinese Red Army, and treated their predicament as if they were lost in the Grand Canyon.
But there were some positives here, too. Some of the science—using the Earth’s rotation to sling the rocket into space, and the booster section of the rocket being jettisoned—was accurate, and the X-M design was based on drawings found in a 1949 issue of Life magazine. And credit must be given for what was accomplished with a small budget and a rushed production schedule; director Kurt Neumann kept everything moving, while delivering some nicely-composed shots and offering something new and captivating at every turn. As silly as it was, the sequences on the Mars surface were also rather compelling, and for me offered a few moments that were not only tense, but at one point quite unnerving.
And a show of hands: how many of you knew that the ‘S’ in NASA stood for ‘sexist’? Good lord, it was borderline hilarious how poorly Osa Massen’s character, a top scientist in her field, was treated by the rest of the crew; I was surprised there wasn’t a kitchen on the ship so she could cook the men dinner! At one point, her math skills were questioned by the expedition leader concerning the ship’s fuel mixture; for chrissake, she’s the one who invented the fuel! A veritable pioneer in that regard, and her so-called ‘faulty’ calculations were dismissed…a narrow-minded decision that would have disastrous consequences later.
Rocketship X-M was a quaint but interesting look at space travel, as seen from the dawn of the atomic age, when such an endeavor held promise and excitement, yet was still a far-away dream. Depending on your level of cynicism, this will either be a hit or a miss, but I had a decent time with it all, and could easily watch it again, if only to enjoy its comical take on the future and absurdly high level of cheese. And heads-up for that downbeat ending, which no doubt had starry-eyed kids screaming in their seats back in 1950. (6/10)