Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in August, 1951
Directed by Rudolph Maté
Written by Sydney Boehm, based on the novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie
Cast: Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, John Hoyt, Larry Keating, Judith Ames, Alden Chase, Frank Cady, Hayden Rorke, Stephen Chase, Sandro Giglio, Queenie Smith, Stuart Whitman, Paul Frees (voice)
For a minor 1950s science fiction film that took on some fairly weighty issues, this really wasn’t half bad. Rudolph Maté, who started his career as a cinematographer for several prestigious films of the 1940s, helmed this nifty little ‘end of the world’ picture that may have been short on logic and scientific clarity, but succeeded in delivering quite a few rousing and tension-filled scenes, and offered special effects that looked well beyond their time.
After an ominous opening, where calculations made by an astronomer reveal that a large star is on a collision course with Earth, a group of scientists try to convince the UN that our planet will cease to exist in less than a year; of course, the delegates refuse to believe any part of it, so with the help of private funding (and a selfish, wheelchair-bound industrialist who buys himself a ride), the race is on to build an escape craft in eight months, one that will carry forty lucky passengers—a cadre of scientists, doctors, technicians, animals, a young boy, and twenty hot-to-trot females—to a new world called Zyra.
The movie was broken down into three sections: the discovery of the imminent collision, the construction of the spaceship, and the concluding panic and liftoff, with each offering its share of drama, anxiety, conflict, and in the end, sacrifice. Maté’s direction was smart and the story moved fast; occasionally we’d see an insert shot of a calendar counting down the days remaining, a nice visual device that actually added a bit of foreboding to the whole deal, and kept you wondering if they’d make it in time, or buy the intergalactic farm like everyone else.
For me, the coolest sequences were those involving the construction of the rocket-like spacecraft, sitting on the tail end of a long launch track that ran up the side of a mountain, and the effects shots of the rogue star Bellus and its approach to Earth, which proved to be the most frightening images in the film. Some interesting moral choices were present, too: who gets to stay, who gets left behind, and why do some non-essential persons get a free pass? And more importantly, will Barbara Rush hook up with the all-American pilot, or remain with her boring physician boyfriend?
All in all, a fun apocalyptic sci-fi ride, if you don’t nitpick and study the details too closely…but in the end I had only one question: if the wheelchair-bound industrialist was kicked off the ship because, at age 46, he was deemed too old and useless to the new world order, what does that say about my chances of catching a flight to Zyra? (7/10)