Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Even though today's viewers will chuckle at the science promulgated here, and despite some pretty bad FX, this is generally a rather charming relic from fairly early in Hollywood's Space Age era when movies were being made that tried to take a realistic look at space travel, rather than recycle the Flash Gordon antics of the 30's and 40's. American scientists (led by Herbert Marshall) are trying to figure out why meteorites resist the gamma rays that would destroy their spacecraft. A computerized nationwide hunt is conducted (seemingly only among white men) for possible astronauts and most of the first half of the film shows how a group of twelve gets winnowed down, through a series of physical and psychological tests, to three, including electronics researcher William Lundigan (who happens to be Marshall's son) and science professor Richard Carlson. The point is made that the men chosen can't be married, though Carlson is dating a model (Dawn Addams) and Lundigan flirts with one of the space scientists (Martha Hyer). All three men are launched in separate rockets and each one is supposed to snare a meteorite to be studied back on earth. Robert Karnes is the first to die, in a particularly gruesome scene--fried by cosmic rays into a skeleton inside his space suit. Of the other two, one freaks out and one returns to earth with a meteorite, to the arms of his loving woman. The film's middle section is a little slow moving, but it builds to a tense climax that is quite good, given the era and the low budget (though the shots of the meteorites flying at the rockets seem painfully amateurish now). The two leading men are fine, though I think they should have switched roles; Lundigan is a little too laid back and the more dynamic Carlson feels restrained here (though since Carlson also directed, I'm guessing he got the effect he wanted). James Best, known primarily as Sheriff Roscoe in "The Dukes of Hazzard," makes a handsome would-be astronaut. The print shown on Turner Classic had a few ragged spots but strong color. I've save the best for last: though the film's serious tone still holds up, the title song is a fabulous camp moment (and I wish I could find it on iTunes). The lush cocktail-lounge theme music recurs here and there and always took me out of the action for a giggly moment. Sample lyric: "Riders to the stars / That is what we are / Every time we kiss in the night / Jupiter and Mars / Aren't very far / Any time you're holding me tight / Your embrace / Changed time and place / Hurled in space are we..." Once again, I love you, Turner Classic Movies!! [TCM]

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