Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Solar System on $5 a Day (Pt. 2)

This is my second entry in the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

For three days, from April 13th -15th. we are going to take a tour of the solar system.  American International Pictures is our main guide to this tour. We will be visiting many of the planets in our solar system along with a brief jaunt to Earth's moon.  We hope you enjoy this respite from your daily humdrum life.

(If you haven't read the first installment of this series it is highly suggested that you do so as this is a continuation of it.  See it here.)

Welcome back to the tour.  We have come a long way since the start of our tour, but we have only touched the surface.  The tour of Venus and our Earth's Moon are but a start of just the vast space contained within our solar system.  We will bypass The Phantom Planet that exists between the Earth and Mars.  For those of you curious about that one check back later this month for an entry in the 1961 Blogathon.

The next planet on our tour is Mars.  Mars was the second most intriguing sight (after the Sun and the Moon) for our ancient ancestors.  Both invasions by Martians (The War of the Worlds) and trips to the red planet are in our history.  The Russian classic Aelita, Queen of Mars was one of the first visits to our nearest neighbor, but it didn't stop there.  The Rocketship X-M was scheduled to go to the moon ("X-M" stood for Expedition-Moon) but ended up going to Mars.  There was also the story of  a man who got stranded on Mars, Robinson Crusoe on Mars  (as well as another more recent case, The Martian).  And Martians once kidnapped Santa Claus in an effort to bring Christmas to Mars (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians)

The Angry Red Planet (1959):

In this movie, a spaceship on it's return from Mars is stranded.  No contact can be made with the ship so the brass uses a remote control to bring the ship in safely.  On board they find two of the original four members.  One, the commander, Colonel Tom O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr), has some kind of green growth on his arm that is gradually spreading, consuming him.  The second crew member, Dr. Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden), is catatonic.

All the tapes of the trip seem to have been erased, so the scientists are unable to determine exactly what happened to the crew.  Meanwhile, Tom is comatose and essentially dying from his growth and Iris has been unresponsive.

When the scientists finally get Iris awake they try to quiz her on what happened to the rest of the crew and the trip to Mars, but she is suffering from some kind of forced amnesia and can't remember anything.  So they use a sort of drug-hypnosis combination and Iris reveals what happened (told in flashback).

The ship, which also included Professor Gettell (Les Tremayne) and Officer Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen) was launched to investigate Mars.  There's not much that happens on the trip to Mars, except for the obligatory love subplot in which Iris and Tom flirt with each other, and Sam tries to horn in good-naturedly, but unsuccessfully.

The real story begins after the crew lands.  And here is where some of the issues with this movie come into play.  For one thing apparently the special effects budget ran dry.  Mars' special effects are essentially done by Cinemagic (prominently touted in the credits).  It is essentially some very poorly drawn matte paintings.  ("magic" my wet patootie.)  Even the monsters encountered in the film are just animated cartoons.

On their first investigation tour Iris is almost eaten by a giant Venus flytrap.  On their second outing they encounter a stand of "trees", which turns out to be the legs of this giant rat-spider creature, which of course gets annoyed when they try to saw off a sample of it's leg.  Back on the ship Iris sees a grotesque looking face peeping in the porthole and faints.

On their last outing the crew try to cross a lake but encounter a giant amoeba which pursues them and devours Sam.  It then tries to digest the ship.  The crew can't seem to use it's rockets to escape and have to devise some other means to get away from the amoeba.  After this is finally revealed, the scientists have a clue how to save Tom. 

If you can get past the special effects fiasco, this is really not all that bad a film.  It was directed by Ib Melchior, who also directed the previously reviewed The Time Travelers.  But he is more well known in sci-fi circles as a screenwriter and author.  He was co-screenwriter for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, as well as one of tomorrow's reviews Journey to the Seventh Planet.  He is memorable also for writing the short story on which the Roger Corman / Paul Bartel classic Death Race 2000 was based.

Gerald Mohr's name will be familiar to old radio show lovers.  Among others he spent a few years playing Phillip Marlowe on the radio.  Jack Kruschen was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Apartment and had a pretty good career as a guest star on TV shows. 

The next stop on our tour is Jupiter.  Jupiter has been ignored all too often, at least the planet itself, but it's moons have been colonized or explored on occasion.  2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Make Contact both explored to Jovian moon Io.  And Io was also the location of a mining outpost in Outland.  With the exception of a couple of films (like A Trip to Jupiter) , however, the planet itself has been rarely seen up close. But even the moons of Jupiter can be attractive as we shall see.

Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956):  

Fire Maidens from Outer Space is on the list as being one of the worst movies ever made.  And I guess I have to admit that it's just about the worst piece of crap I ever watched. It even surpasses Teenage Zombies as the worst movie ever, in my book.  You know, I sometimes say that a really bad movie would not have been entirely as bad if some of the female cast members had appeared topless.  I'm not even sure that would have helped this movie.  Despite the fact that most of the females are Playboy centerfold quality women.

The goal at the outset of the film is a trip to investigate the 13th moon of Jupiter.  It doesn't even have a name, it is only called the "13th moon"... (A historical side note:  In 1956 there were only 12 known moons of Jupiter, so a hitherto unknown moon would have been a big deal.  As of now astronomers have designated many more "moons" orbiting Jupiter.)

The five man crew head to the 13th moon where they encounter a voice telling them to land in a certain area.  Unable to hold on out of curiosity, they disembark the rocket (via an old-fashioned step ladder for God's sake!)  They hear a screaming and rescue an attractive girl from a hideous monster (actually just some guy with a fright mask, but it's SUPPOSED to be a monster in the context of the movie).

The girl takes the men to a hidden garden.  The two leaders tell the other three to wait.  The two leaders are taken to the head of the hidden fortress and guess what?  This is what remains of the fabled city of Atlantis, a race so advanced they could build a rocket to take their civilization to a distant planet, but couldn't figure out how to save their city from sinking beneath the oceans on Earth.  (Or for that matter, how to adapt to living underwater...)

It turns out that the leader, Prassus is the only man on the entire moon.  The rest of the populace of this so-called "New Atlantis" is comprised of eligible nubile young women, whom Prassus calls his "daughters".  (Must've been one hell of a stud in his prime, if you ask me.)

Well, surprise, surprise.  Prassus wants the men to stay on New Atlantis and help repopulate the moon.  But they still have quaint ideas of marriage, as well as the idea that the oldest daughter will be allowed to be the first to be married.  Except that our prime hero has the hots for the second daughter instead.  So the first daughter decides the only solution is to sacrifice the second daughter to the gods.

Confused?  Watching the movie won't help much.  In fact I recommend you watch a version of it that is  on youtube with this one guy translating everything into Russian (and all with the same voice.)  It won't make any more sense, unfortunately, but it will give you a couple of laughs.

Time to get some rest for the final leg of our journey.  Rest well, folks.  Come back tomorrow for the conclusion.



  1. I'm glad you watched Fire Maidens... so I don't have to. I'm just heartsick about a fungus devouring Gerald Mohr. He's too good looking for that sort of thing.

    PS: All hail Jack Kruschen!

    1. According to IMDb Nora Hayden didn't think too much of Mohr. I liked the character Jack Kruschen plays. He does a good job, but for some reason I kept imagining William Bendix in his place. Thanks for reading.

  2. I've watched Fire Maidens a few years ago. It was certainly bad, plot-wise, but I still think Robot Monster is worse... Whatever, cheap sci-fi always gives us a good laugh or two, even if it's unintentional.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. I happen to like Robot Monster on the right occasion.My review of it on this blog was done tongue-in-cheek, which may not come across very favorable, but I will watch it again. On the othe hand "Fire Maidens" could be used to torture me, much like they did to Alex in A Clockwork Orange... Thanks for reading.


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