Thursday, September 15, 2016


Sometime in the near future, spies sneak into a Chinese installation and snap pictures of a doomsday machine which will go off soon and could lead to the destruction of the world (no explanation for why this would happen is offered, so I guess we just have to go with DR. STRANGELOVE to fill in the exposition). U.S. government officials see the pictures and decide to alter the plans for a space mission which is to establish a 2-year colony on Venus. They pull three men from the 7-man crew and replace them with three women. They also move the mission ahead by a few days. Not long after blast-off, the astronauts see the earth blow up thanks to a nuclear chain reaction triggered by the Doomsday Machine, and they realize that they are intended to be four Adams and three Eves once they get to Venus. Of course, tensions galore bloom on the ship: ship doctor Henry Wilcoxon and Russian cosmonaut Mala Powers are generally the voices of reason; studly Denny Miller, the commander, bonds with blond buxom Ruta Lee; the boyish but troubled Grant Williams has unrequited hots for young meteorologist Lorrie Scott; Bobby Van is the chipper comic relief—it would have been interesting if they had made him gay, but I couldn’t even find any suspicious subtext to harness for such a reading. Wilcoxon decides that they have enough power to get to Venus, but he's afraid they’ll all wind up sterile because of exposure to cosmic radiation, so they boost the engines to arrive faster, but that also (in one of the most ludicrous plot developments of all time) means they have to jettison four crew members—something about weight on the ship. But after Williams tries to rape Scott in the airlock and they accidentally open the airlock leading their eyeball-bleeding deaths, Miller decides they can all make it to Venus. Ultimately, Powers and Van decide to sacrifice themselves to go out and repair the craft, but they come across an empty Soviet craft and climb in that. So with all five heading to Venus, there'll be a happy ending in front of a cool Venusian setting, right? Wrong.

This movie feels like three different movies, and in fact, it is (kind of) at least two different movies. The bulk of it, with our seven astronauts, was filmed in 1967. Apparently it was supposed to end on Venus but money ran out and shooting was halted. The last reel was shot in 1972 without the benefit of the original cast; two uncredited actors play the parts of two of the astronauts from behind opaque space helmet visors (in the rest of the film, the helmets are clear), and their ultimate fate does not involve landing on Venus. Actually, the conclusion has weak echoes of 2001, and had the script been stronger, it might have been interesting, but as it stands, it's an unsatisfying cop-out.

The acting is all over the place, with many performances smacking of a made-for-TV effort. Best are old pro Wilcoxon, Ruta Lee and Mala Powers. Denny Miller (the blond Tarzan [12/3/02]) looks the part but puts forth little acting steam. Grant Williams (pictured to the right of Miller) suffers from playing an inconsistent character; at first, he's a bitchy little foot-stamper who you think could be likable if he got himself together, but when his aggressive tendencies emerge, he becomes a stock psycho—with better writing, he could have had a touch of Norman Bates in him. Bobby Van's humor quickly grows stale, but I give him points for trying. Look for Casey Kasem doing a fine job in a small role as a mission control worker. My very favorite thing about this movie, which made it worth watching: the psychedelic pastel lighting throughout the spaceship. [Streaming]

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