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from here

I understand that the movie-house biz isn't doing so well. Looking through my trade magazines, I found some pretty alarming statistics. During the War, Americans spent about a quarter of their recreation budget on movies. Now, we spend just 5% in the cinemas. Movie revenues are down a third, from $1.4 billion to $950 million. Only half as many films are coming out this year as did during the War--200 versus 400.

The causes of film's decline aren't too hard to discern. Television is free and constant. More homes have air conditioning. Going to the movies isn't such an event anymore.

Not that the film parlors haven't tried. Cinescope. Cinerama. Aroma-rama! Double features. Drive-in viewing. Nothing's working.

Well, never let it be said that the Journey shirks its civic duty. Thus it was that the Traveller and his family all went to see the Roger Corman double-feature at the local movie palace.

Yes, you heard right. They billed a Corman B-movie with...another Corman B-movie! Boy are we gluttons for punishment. Actually, the experience wasn't so bad. We'd heard that his Little Shop of Horrors was a clever little comedy, and we weren't disappointed.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves, for Shop was the second feature on the billing. Number one was:

The Last Woman on Earth



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Another weekend, another Jack Harris production. Harris has made a name for himself cranking out colorful, enjoyable B-movie fare, and his latest contribution to the cinematic universe, Dinosaurus!, is no exception.



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And sometimes, the cinema astounds me.

Have I got your attention? My faithful readers know that I am an avid movie-goer. At least once a month, my daughter and I will trek out to the local drive-in or parlor and take in a science fiction film. Sometimes we see good A-listers, sometimes we see bad ones. Occasionally we see good B-listers, usually we see bad ones. In general, book adaptations are loose, at best. Journey to the Center of the Earth was one of the better films of 1959, but it bore little resemblance to the source material.

George Pal's The Time Machine knocked my socks off.



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Every week, Rod Serling talks about that "Twilight Zone" between fear and knowledge, science and superstition, light and dark. He might have added sublimity and schlock. Every few weeks or so, my daughter and I plunge into that twilight zone known as the cinema. Sometimes, we find quality in the lowest budget movies. Other times, we leave an A-rater in disappointment.



This time, we found ourselves truly in the middle ground. Beyond the Time Barrier hardly has the luster of a high-budget production, but neither is it the worst of the C-rate sludge.

First, a summary:

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Let's play a name association game. When I say "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle," what comes to mind? Sherlock Holmes, I'll wager. But did you know that, in addition to being a quite accomplished non-fiction writer (his The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct won him a knighthood), Conan Doyle was also a science fiction writer? Contemporary with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan Doyle wrote a series of adventures starring the irascible Professor Challenger.

The first one, The Lost World, involves a trip to a remote South American plateau where dinosaurs still thrive. This was the sort of conceit one could get away with in Edwardian times, back when there were still blank areas on the map where dragons might reside. Burroughs, for instance, placed an entire mini-continent in the Pacific Ocean, also populated with dinosaurs, in his Caspak series.

With giant lizards festooned with costume accoutrements now a fad (e.g. Journey to the Center of the Earth), it is no surprise that Hollywood is looking for vehicles to showcase this new advancement in special effects. Hence, The Lost World has found its way onto the silver screen.

Now, I'd been looking forward to this flick, in large part because I mistakenly thought it was going to be a movie about Burroughs' Pellucidar series (sort of an updated Journey to the Center of the Earth). I don't know where I got that impression. Nevertheless, Lost World is in color, and it's a lovely Cinemascope production, so I kept my cinema tickets and, with little difficulty, enticed my daughter to join me for a night at the movies.

Would that I could turn back time.



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Necessity is the mother of invention. What is a review writer to do when all the literary science fiction material to review has dried up?

Why, it's time to head to the drive-in and sample the visual science fiction material!

Now, I'd been dreading this avenue because the Summer blockbuster line-up hasn't hit the silver screen yet, and all the schlock-houses are filled with, well, schlock. Like 12 to the Moon. Moreover, my daughter is away at camp, so I don't have my usual date for the movies.

Still, I have a duty to provide entertaining reading and listening material for my fans, now that you number over ten. It wouldn't do to take a week hiatus just because my queue is empty. So I scoured the listing in the local paper and found a cinema in Oceanside that still had The Wasp Woman (paired with another film, in which I had no interest) and resigned myself to a lonely, miserable evening with naught but Roger Corman and a bag of popcorn.

Imagine my surprise when my wife, who normally has an allergic aversion to sci-fi drek, offered to come along!

As it turns out, the movie was surpisingly decent (and very short--about an hour), and we never got to emulate our parked neighbors by engaging in a proper bout of necking. Here is what we got for our troubles:



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Sometimes, the Journey goes to the movies; sometimes, we're sorry we did.

If you are a regular reader of this column, or you tune in to KGJ, you've probably read some of my film reviews. An off-script discussion was broadcast recently summing up all the movies my daughter and I have seen since the Journey took off.

We've seen some excellent flicks and some bad flicks, but I don't think we've ever seen anything quite so bad as what we saw last weekend, the newly released...



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With so much schlock crowding out the marquees at our local cinemas, it's nice to get a chance to see a quality production for a change.

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With the Hugo nominations already afoot, I felt I could not advisedly give my vote for Best Science Fiction in Media (1959) without giving last year's post-apocalyptic sleeper, On the Beach a watch. It's just now leaving the theaters, so I caught it in the nick of time. I did not take my daughter with me on this outing, as I felt the material might be a bit subtle for her. Perhaps I don't give her enough credit.

In any event, just as I was sharpening my quills, I made the acquaintance of a learned and delightful young woman named Rosemary, who was just about to put her own thoughts on the film to paper. I invited her to share them with my readers, and as she was interested in expanding her own audience by some five to ten persons, she graciously obliged my request. Without further ado:




Reaction to On the Beach (1959 film)
-Rosemary Benton

I first heard about Nevil Shute's On the Beach, depicting life in Australia after an atomic apocalypse, within the pages of the March 1958 edition of Galaxy Magazine. Floyd C. Gale's review was glowing. He even went so far as to say that On the Beach, “should be made mandatory reading for all professional diplomats and politicos” (120). Despite such high praise, I didn't take an interest in the title until United Artists announced that they would be releasing a film adaptation just in time for the 1959 Christmas season. Having just seen Stanley Kramer's masterful direction of The Defiant Ones last year in September I was very much looking forward to seeing how Mr. Kramer would do justice to Shute's tale of the acceptance of human failure and mortality in the face of certain, calendared, radioactive doom.

In preparation of seeing the movie I made it a priority to read the novel so I could contrast the two versions. While I did enjoy the cinematography, the musical score, and the acting of Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, my largest problem with this adaptation was the melodrama that was infused into the film. Beginning from the dinner party scene when the scientist and politician argue over who is to blame for the atomic war, and remaining through the highly charged relationship between the self-described town drunk Moira Davidson and the US naval officer Captain Dwight Towers, the emotions of the characters run much higher than in Shute's novel. My impression is that this was done for several reasons. Firstly, to redirect the story's focus from the Australian naval family of Peter, Mary and their baby Jennifer Holmes to the more romantically charged friendship between Moira (played by Ms. Gardner) and Dwight (played by Mr. Peck). Secondly, to add more drama on the fatalistic situation that the characters find themselves in.

While the novel plays more on the angst of lost potential and hope for a better future that the young Australian family must come to grips with, the movie instead plays to the tried and true story of love lost and the inevitable divide between duty, country, and status. It's a shame that there isn't more time given to the lives of the Holmes family. Not only do they symbolize the struggle for new life through the already difficult early stages of marriage and child rearing, but they feel that they must hang on as long as possible despite the deadly radiation and inevitable death being carried into the last bastion of humanity. Moira and Dwight are more symbolic of desperate, grasping hope. As their friendship evolves both characters come to realize that what they want is holding them back and apart. Moira wants a romantic relationship with Dwight, but respects that he can not let go of the deceased family he left in Connecticut. Dwight, with his intense loyalty to his old family's memory and his determination to cling to the slight hope that he and his crew might find other people still alive in the irradiated lands of the Northern Hemisphere, effectively limits his ability to find happiness in his short time remaining.

While I respect Stanley Kramer's ability to engage his audience, I think he played too much to the conventions of Hollywood. Disasters in movies tend to rend communities apart, while in reality they bring local people together. The more disruptive a threat, the more people will band together. Our own civil defense committees that formed across the nation during the Second World War showed a solidarity in small communities that counteracted panic. Even during the Great Flood of 1951, when disaster struck Kansas and ruined thousands of livelihoods, civilians still rushed to help those who were trapped. Shute, I believe, understands this human solidarity in his depiction of the calm equanimity that his characters display. Shute gives his characters addictions, socially awkward encounters, playful banter, and a grace that comes with the characters' acceptance (or flippant dismissal) of the coming extinction of humanity. Having been pushed into a corner through a mass extinction event Shute knows that his cast of players are not as irrational and/or oblivious to their situation as Kramer's movie would have the audience believe.


The starring cast... on the beach

Editor's prologue: Rosemary is far more charitable to the movie than I can be, focusing on a few, quite astute observations. I found the film a dreadful, morose, melodramatic bore. The endless variations of "Waltzing Matilda" (eternally heralding that We Are in Australia) punctuated by needlessly loud blasts of brass during the poignant bits, sent me diving for refuge in my Buddy Holly records. Suffice it to say, this film will not be my recommendation for best science fiction film of the past year.

---

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!







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What is it that separates schlock from the sublime in a science fiction movie? To the nondiscriminating, I suppose they all look the same. The same may go for the discriminating, but for opposite reasons. I know I have very high standards when it comes to my science fiction. This is the price I pay for having read so many excellent stories. Thus, for me the visual medium generally lacks, though there are exceptions.

So why do I keep going out to the drive-in? Well, occasionally there are good films, and if I know what I'm getting into, I can enjoy a bad film. Science fiction movies are generally dreadful, so I am well-prepared for the experience. My daughter, though only 10, is a discerning person, herself, so we always have good conversations about films afterward (and during!)



Last week, 4D Man was on the menu. It was made by the same crew that brought us The Blob. In brief, it involves a fellow who is convinced that, using the powers of his mind and some field-generating doohickey, he can force solid objects through other solid objects. He brings it to the attention of his sober, scientist brother, who eventually masters the art. In the process, the brother becomes a monster, for the application of said art causes rapid aging, and the only way to regain youth is to steal it from others. He becomes a sort of vampire, and his ability to become insubstantial renders him all but invulnerable.


The trick is to push really hard.

Quite an odd duck, this movie. For one thing, the sci-fi twist doesn't really get involved until halfway through. Instead, we are treated to a love triangle between the brothers and the elder brother's colleague/assistant. I say treated because I actually quite enjoyed this part. In particular, I was happy to see that the colleague, played by the talented Lee Merriwether, was intelligent and independent. When the younger brother, whose actor's name escapes me, attempts to nobly decline the lady's attentions in deference to his older sibling, she makes it perfectly clear that she is her own woman, and she chooses who she wants. She is also, ultimately, the hero of the movie, managing to vanquish the monster rather cleverly.


Scientists doing Science.


I think The World, The Flesh, and the Devil taught us how to resolve this situation.

There is a lot to enjoy about the movie. Robert Lansing plays the older brother in a competent, understated manner, and he is a pleasure to watch. As I mentioned upstream, Lee Merriwether's smart scientist character is a breath of fresh air. The younger brother's actor is eager, if nothing else. One might find the incessant jazz soundtrack somewhat off-putting, but I liked it. The special effects are inexpensive but convincing. It's in color, which is still uncommon for sci-fi films.


Big brother masters the art of pushing....


...and uses it predictably.


But is it worth the price?

But how was the science, you ask? Well, it's ludicrous, of course. The younger brother attempts to attribute the power of matter phase-through to a fourth-dimensional field that acts as an amplifier for the talented mind; hence, the movie's title.

I think it's hogwash. It's easier to believe that both brothers are mutants, and that the older brother, with his more-disciplined psyche, is able to master the ability. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Lansing's character is able to phase even without the field generator.

From the reviews, it does not appear that 4D Man will beat out The Blob in popularity or box office. I attribute this, in part, to the lack of a catchy theme. It's still a fun 90 minutes if you look at it as a live-action comic book, however, and worth it for Merriwether and Lansing.

By the way, in case you've been under a rock the last few days, Senator Jack Kennedy has tossed his hat into the presidential race for this year. It is encouraging to think that my chronological peer could run for this nation's highest office. On the other hand, my political sympathies tend to be more in line with those of Hubert Humphrey and (the yet undeclared) Stuart Symington. Or Nelson Rockefeller, whose star rose and fell last year.



Just please please don't give us Tricky Dick in November!

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most. I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!







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Some movies are made with a huge budget and are expected to be big blockbusters. Others are made on a shoestring and have much more variable luck. I've taken a chance on a lot of "B-Movies" simply because their subject matter included science fiction and or fantasy topics. I'm happy to announce that the lastest such experience, watching The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, was a completely satisfactory experience.

Sinbad has been in the theaters since last Thanksgiving. Thankfully, movies have reasonably long runs, and Sinbad was such a success that it's no wonder it is still playing. My daughter and I saw it in a real cinema, rather than a drive-in, to get the full experience.

For those who don't know, Sinbad the Sailor is the protagonist of seven tales in 1001 Arabian Nights. He's a bit of an Arab Ulysses, discovering wondrous things on his sea trips. What I first noticed about Sinbad is how pretty it is, with glorious color, and costumes, sets, and monsters designed to take full advantage of it.


Sinbad and Perissa, the heroes of the movie

Sinbad starts right in the action with Sinbad's crew stopping at the island of Colossa to reprovision, only to be assaulted by a one-eyed half-satyr giant referred to as a "Cyclops." It's truly a special effects triumph, thanks to the stop-motion expertise of one Ray Harryhausen. I understand he spent 11 months on the optics in Sinbad, and they are excellent.


The Cyclops

Sinbad rescues the wizard Socura, who loses his magic lamp (complete with genie) in the escape. Socura insists that Sinbad return to Colossa for it, but Sinbad has a more pressing errand to run--to transport his lovely fiancee, Perissa, to Baghdad. Their marriage will preserve peace between the Caliphate and the belligerent realm of Chandra, Perissa's father being the king of the latter, and Sinbad being a prince of the former.


The wicked Socura

Once in Baghdad, Socura makes increasingly insistent demands to be transported back to Colossa, ultimately shrinking Perissa to a few inches in height (though he makes sure to have an alibi so he is not implicated). Socura promises to restore Perissa if he is returned to Colossa, where he has the components to make a restorative potion. Sinbad reluctantly agrees.


Itty Bitty Perissa

I shan't spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that Harryhausen's effects remain the star attraction. He convincingly animates a genie, a two-headed roc, a dragon, more cyclopses, and even a fighting skeleton. The plot is rather childish, as befits a fairy tale, and the dialogue and acting are no great shakes. On the other hand, I greatly appreciated Perissa, who is daring and fun and saves the day several times. She is as much the hero as Sinbad.


The skeleton fight

So head out to the movies and enjoy this film. It has its problems, but there's no arguing that it is a delightful romp and a spectacle second to none.

Next time, I promise, the rest of Astounding, which isn't quite as bad as the first half, despite containing more Randy Garrett.

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I know I promised the dope on the latest Astounding, but it took me several sittings to get through the Garrett. Like children at a Passover, I kept falling asleep. Had I known there would be another Chandler Rim story after the Garrett, I might have persevered more strenuously. Ah well.

Instead, I took my daughter to the flicks yesterday to watch the newest science fiction film. Well, if there are "B" movies, this one was a "C" movie.



In brief, aliens land in the suburbs of Los Angeles planning to use our planet as pasturage for the ferocious but edible Gargons. The youngest of the crew, "Derek," discovers that the planet is inhabited when he stumbles upon the disintegrated corpse of a dog, reduced to a skeleton by the bloodthirsty crewman, Thor. As the boney puppy had a collar, it was clear it had been owned by a sentient being. Derek rebels at the thought of condemning an innocent race to death at the hands of the Gargons and flees. The alien ship leaves to summon a fleet of hundreds.


And already my daughter has decided this is the worst of the recent films. Dog-killing doesn't sit with her.


Derek is horrified. I think. This is his only expression throughout the film.

Derek arrives in town to find a room to rent being let by the quite beautiful (if worryingly thin) Betty and her doddering grandfather. Romance flares, but evil Thor is on his trail. There ensues a wild chase with Thor hot on the trail of Derek and Betty, a trail of skeletal corpses lining his path. Thor is wounded in a shootout at City Hall, but he coerces a doctor into saving him. Luckily, Thor is incapacitated in a car accident (he is not the most skilled of drivers), but the Gargon left behind in a cave kills a man and breaks loose.


A wag in the audience says, "Must be from one of those parochial schools..."


"Zap!"



"It's 2:30! I should be out on the golf course," I said, joining in the fun.

Derek frees Thor from a hospital and brings him back to the site of the first landing. There, he convinces all that he has seen the error of his ways and asks to have the honor of guiding the alien fleet to a safe landing. Predictably, he instead orders them to home in on his ship and accelerate. Derek and the invaders are destroyed in a fiery blast, to the horror of the onlooking Betty.


Obligatory young love.


"Everyone gets to be a hostage in this film," comments another.


"I'm a lobster! I like hugs!" says my daughter.


"You are clear for landing!"


"Ewww. There's tiny bits of Derek everywhere!" says one of the attendees.

The end.

I think this movie would have been completely intolerable had not several of the attendees begun making pointed commentary throughout the film. I usually hate it when people do that, but in this case, they added tremendously. I caught up with them afterward and thanked them. Their names were Joel, Tom, and... Crow, I think it was. Anyway, I hope we'll meet again in the not too distant future.

To be fair, if I think of the movie as a college student's project, which it very much feels like, there is much to commend. The acting is generally terrible, the plot silly, and the special effects quite bad (though the ray gun effect is clever in its simplicity), but there is a plot, and the editing is actually quite inspired. The movie never drags. It's just ludicrous. But I could see Tom Graeffe (writer, director, and producer) helming a decent movie some day. Maybe.

See you in two. Promise.





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I wasn't sure what to expect going in to see The World, The Flesh and the Devil. All I knew was that it was a doomsday flick, and that it starred the incomparable Calypso crooner, Harry Belafonte. Let me tell you, it is one excellent movie.

It's really a three-act piece. In Act 1, Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte), an engineer and all-around great guy, gets caught in a coal mine cave-in while inspecting its telephone connections. After rescue attempts peter out, Ralph excavates himself to safety only to find every person in the world gone. He drives to New York, its streets eerily empty, and there he discovers the truth--some nation had released clouds of radiation with a half life of five days. Virtually everyone and everything was killed; but the world Ralph emerged into is once again inhabitable.





Ralph quickly becomes the King of New York, restoring power to a city block, cavorting with and singing to mannequins, saving works of art and literature. Act 2 quickly follows, with the lovely and spunky Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens) finally introducing herself to Ralph after several days (weeks?) of silent stalking. There is immediate romantic chemistry, culminating in a scene wherein Ralph clumsily tries to cut Sarah's hair. It's clear that Sarah has fallen for Ralph, and Ralph does not deny that he feels the same. But, then Ralph says, "If you're squeamish about facts, I'm colored. And if you face facts I'm a Negro. And if you're a polite Southerner, I'm a "negrah," and I'm a "nigger" if you're not."





Thus, the impasse. Sarah couldn't care less about Ralph's color and says so, but Ralph, conditioned by decades of societal pressure, can't see it working. Oh, over time, Ralph might have overcome his issues in this rebuilt world in which all the old rules had been wiped away, but then...

Act 3--Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer) arrives in a boat, apparently having steamed all the way from South America. Ralph saves his life, but the appearance of even a single white man seems to restore the old order, at least in Ralph's mind. He practically throws Sarah at Benson, all the while being rather passive-aggressive about it. The problem is that Benson, while a likeable fellow, isn't who Sarah loves. Moreover, Sarah is peeved that the last two men on Earth are playing tug-of-war with her and not asking her opinion on the matter.





"I'm sick of you both," she explains to Benson. "He doesn't know what he wants, and you don't think of anything else but what you want."

(At this point, my daughter leaned over to me and told me she didn't like the "triangle" part of the movie as much as the first two acts. I had to agree, but wait. There's a surprise.)

Enraged with the situation, Benson grabs a rifle and begins shooting at Ralph, who arms himself in defense. So begins a quick cat and mouse through the streets. Ralph ends up in front of the United Nations building in front of the quote about beating swords into plowshares. Horrified with himself, Ralph tosses away the gun and confronts Benson, who is also unable to shoot.



Sarah arrives, quite happy to see Ralph alive, and she takes his hand, her expression adoring. Cue the credits? No! She calls Benson over, too, and she takes his hand as well. And they all walk down the street as the final card reads, "The Beginning."



Let me tell you what is so great about this movie. Firstly, it is quite well made, easily the highest in production quality amongst the films I have yet reviewed in this column (though not in color, like The Blob). The bleak cinematography, the sweeping score, the fine acting, the poignant script, these are all points to recommend it.

But it's the sheer progressiveness of the messages in this movie that really impresses me (and perhaps I should not be surprised that my daughter and I were the only attendees of that showing, and the film is on its way to being a financial bust). This is 1959. Jim Crow still rules the roost in much of the country. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is just three years old. A Black leading man, much less a romantic interest for a White woman? Inconceivable! Yet Ralph and Sarah are a couple in everything but name, and by the end, while there's no kissing (give it a few years), their bond is cemented.

The brilliant thing about the movie is that there are no (pardon the phrase) black or white characters. Benton could easily have been played evil. He even starts the movie with a moustache to twirl (along with a beard). Yet Benton is smart and sensitive. At no time does he force himself upon Sarah. In fact, in an amazing scene, he even notes that it would be easy for him to do so, "all the boyscouts having left town," and then he asks if that's what she wants. She makes it clear that it's not, and he backs off. Benton doesn't hurt Ralph, even recognizes him as the better man.

Which is what makes the end so great: Sarah loves Ralph and vice versa. The two are an item, that's clear. Yet they make room for Benton, too, because when there are only three people left in the world, you don't shun one of them just because, before the disaster, he'd be the odd man out. Not only are the rules that kept Black and White apart as dead as the old world, but so are the rules that say a relationship involves just one man and one woman. Benton is a good guy. He deserves to be happy, just like Sarah and Ralph.

What I find so incredible is that all of the people I've talked who've seen this film (about four or five, to be fair), no one drew the same conclusion from the last scene. They thought it a cop-out that Ralph didn't get the girl. My friends are progressive, but not quite progressive enough, I suppose.

So watch it while it's still in the cinema, because it won't be there for long. I'd really like to know what you think.

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What could be better than a trip to the movies? A trip to a good movie, I suppose. Well, beggars can't be choosers.

A few days ago, my daughter and I went out for what has become a routine treat: a night flick at the drive-in. We arrived too late for the main feature, but the "B" movie was Invisible Invaders, a putatively science fiction film. I'm sad to report that this was easily the worst of the films I have had the pleasure to report upon since I started writing this column.



The eponymous invisible invaders are rapacious imperialists. Having conquered the moon and its former inhabitants(!) some 20,000 years ago, they have now turned their sights on Earth. Before destroying us outright, they give humanity an ultimatum to surrender within 24 hours. This is easily the best part of the movie. You see, the aliens, being invisible (not just the creatures, but their spaceships as well), can't actually impress us with their presence; therefore, they must inhabit bodies to communicate. This is revealed when the newly deceased Dr. Carl Noymann visits the moral Dr. Adam Penner, who has recently quit his job as a weapons scientist on principle. Dr. Noymann/invisible alien delivers his threat and lurchingly departs.



Of course, no one believes Dr. Penner, except for his daughter, Phyllis, and her would-be paramour, the wimpy John Lamont. 24 hours later, the aliens start blasting the Earth (after one last warning, broadcast via radio), beginning an impressive string of disaster stock footage, one appearing to go back to the 1871 Chicago Fire!







In desperation, the remaining scientists of the world are ordered into underground bunkers to come up with a way to defeat the aliens. Enter Major Bruce Jay, a pile of beef assigned as military escort. He quickly wins his way into Phyllis' heart (my daughter made gagging noises at this), especially when he cold-bloodedly shoots a nervous farmer just because the farmer asked for a ride. But the farmer gets his revenge by quickly becoming a member of the aliens' walking dead brigade.





In the underground bunker, Major Jay hatches a plan to spray acrylic plastic over one of the corpses to capture it. He ventures out in a beekeeping suit (to ward off radiation--the corpses are radioactive, natch), and secures one of the zombies after a struggle. Fortunately, the folks inside the bunker get to watch the whole thing on television as there are remote cameras that capture the entire scene. You know, the kind of cameras that dramatically edit together events for the remote viewers.



It is quickly determined that certain annoying sounds cause the aliens to give up the ghost, quite literally. Armed with a sound cannon, our heroes drive off into the swarm and defeat them. Victory for humanity!




All of this is linked with an intrusive and redundant narration, the kind that is inserted when it is realized in post-production that not enough film was shot to make a coherent movie.

The closing message of the movie is the idea, driven home by our friend, the narrator, that an alien invasion is sufficient common threat to unite the squabbling countries of Earth, though for how long is an open question. I remember my father telling me long ago that, were he ever elected President, his first action would be to hoax an attack from outer space so as to end war on Earth. Clever fellow, dear ol' dad.

So that's that. Really just an excuse for a bunch of middle-aged fellows to stagger about menacingly. It's a cheap special effect, so I imagine movie-makers will come up with more opportunities to present such spectacles with titles like Day of the Living Dead! or The Dead Walk! Can't wait.

Next week, my little girl and I will be heading back to the movies; until then, I've got plenty of fiction on which to report. And it's a damnsight higher in quality than Invisible Invaders!

Stay tuned!

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Last week afforded my daughter and I another sci-fi movie night, and you, dear readers, get to hear all about it.

The mini-traveler was keen on trying out the new Drive-In, so I took the Chevy to the outskirts of town and pulled in between the screens. To my surprise, it seemed most of the attendees were families--apparently, our new outdoor cinema hasn't had time to turn into a Lover's Lane. To be fair, it also was a school night for most people.



Our first feature was a short--a cartoon about automotive safety in the guise of a portrayal of the future. We got to see cars of the year 2000 A.D. They will apparently have bubble canopies, automated guidance systems, fins, and be able to fly (in a limited fashion). I'm looking forward to those!



The main attraction was a film that came out late last year, the imaginately titled IT!. In a nutshell, because there honestly isn't much to this film, the first Martian mission (landed in 1972) has ended largely in failure. The six-person crew of the Challenger 141 has been reduced to just one: Captain Carruthers, and the Challenger 142 has been dispatched to pick him up--and try him for murder.

I guess the implication is that the Captain, realizing that his ship had been marooned and that there might not be enough food to feed all of the crew until rescue, decided to kill his crew to have the food to himself. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's an excuse for a little tension between Carruthers and the new ship's captain, Van.



But first, a little about the ship. As you can see, it's a typical rocket job, looking something like a V-2, but with rooms inside. Sensibly, the decks are arranged perpendicularly to the engine. Yet there is a throwaway line about "artificial gravity" that suggests anti-gravity has already been invented! I'm not sure why it matters how they lay out the ship then since the thrust of the engine is clearly far under the force exerted by the artificial gravity. Moreover, I'd think their artificial gravity would be a good propulsive element. Maybe it is... but it sure looked like standard fireworks under the ship's nozzle.



Anyway, back to the film. I was happy to see two women on the crew (one of whom gets involved in a love triangle between the Captains), though I noted they tended to be stuck with galley duty. At first I was concerned that they were the ship's maids, but it turned out they were actually the medical staff. And, of course, everybody smoked, even in the cramped space and clearly limited air supply. Welcome to the future!




Oh, you want to know the rest of the plot? In short, the eponymous "It" gets aboard the ship and starts killing the crew one by one, by dessication. The movie takes little time revealing the monster (thus exonerating Carruthers). My daughter noted sagely, "it would have been a lot cooler if they hadn't shown the monster." It's a pretty dopey looking humanoid monster suit. It's also well-nigh indestructible. Bullets and bazookas don't hurt it (and, of course, those are exactly the kinds of weapons I would use inside a small spaceship!), fire and gas only annoy it. It takes until the end of the movie for the bright lads to try venting the air to space and letting hard vacuum kill the Martian.





At this point, my observant daughter cried out, "Where are all these papers coming from?!" And that is one of the joys of the Drive-In: you can be as obnoxious as you wish, and no one is bothered. Living as we do in Southern California, you can't beat the outdoor air-conditioning, either.

And, of course, the movie ends with a triumphant, happy, romantic ending.



Thus ends a very fluffy slightly-more-than-an-hour. My daughter enjoyed the special effects, and the cinematography is reasonably good. I would have expected a bit more meat from writer Jerome Bixby, however. Certainly not up to the standards of his famous story from six years ago, It's a Good Life. Maybe next time.

That wraps up this article, but I've got plenty more to say in upcoming installments. Tell me--what subjects hold the most interest for you? Reviews of digests? Book reviews? Movie critiques? Columns on the Space Race? Observations on life in general? Travelogues? I always like to keep my audience riveted.



And, by the by, I wish to give a public hello to my new friend, Bruce, with whom I conversed most intelligently at the local diner. A hep cat if I ever saw one. Dig those far out threads.

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Remember how I went to the flicks to see a double feature of science-fiction horror the other day? The follow-up to The Blob was I Married a Monster from Outer Space. You would think that, with a title like that, this was the B-movie stinker of the bunch.

As it turns out, while definitely comparatively low budget, in some ways, it is a more chilling and thoughtful film.



In the small town of Morrisville (or Morristown or Morrisburg... something like that), getting hitched is a chore, tantamount to a death sentence. At least, it is to hear the guys tell it. Every night, the fellas go to the local boozery to drown their sorrows and commiserate.



Except for Bill. He's getting married the next day, and he wants to see his lovely bride-to-be.

But then...



An ugly space alien smothers Bill in a cloud, and when next we see him, Bill is a changed man. Faltering, more brutal, his fiancee, Marge, marries him anyway. One year later, an abortive letter from Marge to her mother indicates that she's aware of the change in Bill. Not only is he remote, but animals instinctively dislike him (in one chilling scene, Bill snaps the neck of a dog Marge had given him as an anniversary present). At this point in the film, we're still not sure if Bill has been possessed, if the alien has taken his form, or if Bill is still in there, just a bit altered.

One by one, the men in town are taken. Bill's friends. The local law enforcement.



Bills friend, Sam, adapts to human life with the most gusto, marrying his fiancee, being smarmily sadistic, and otherwise enjoying all of the pleasures existence on Earth has to offer. Except booze. The aliens can't stomach the stuff.

Or, apparently, oxygen. When alien-Sam falls off a rowboat at a park outing, he succumbs when the local doctor gives him pure oxygen to revive him.



Now, through all of this, Marge is the viewpoint character, and this is where the movie is really poignant. She catches on pretty quickly that something is wrong with Bill, and she has a run-in with an undisguised alien fairly early-on. The problem is that no one will believe her. No matter where she turns, whether to the lushes in the bar or her good friend, the chief of police, she is told not to worry her pretty little head. When she tries to phone the FBI, all the lines are down. When she tries to wire the capital, the telegrapher surreptitiously tears up the telegram. In a man's world, when all the men are aliens, who is there for a woman to run to?

Well, I'd sort of hoped that Marge might team up with the other women of the town. After all, the aliens only go after men. Sadly, this never happens, in part because Marge can't get any of the lady-folk to believe her either.



In a very good scene, Marge confronts Alien-Bill, telling him she knows he's an alien. Alien-Bill does not deny it. In fact, Alien-Bill explains the plot: his race fled from a dying world, but all of the females were killed in the flight. They need to inhabit human bodies to mate with human females to make more aliens. Except alien-inhabited people are incapable of mating with human females. Thus, they are trying to genetically modify the the females of Morristown/burg/ville to be compatible with the alien males.



What makes this scene so interesting is Alien-Bill's confession that although his motives are selfish, and before he inhabited Bill's body, he had no emotions, Alien-Bill has come to understand and appreciate human feelings. He does not regret his actions, exactly, but he has fallen in love with Marge, and he does not seem to be enjoying is current role. The acting is good enough that Alien-Bill becomes a sympathetic character (despite being rather a bastard).

Ultimately, Marge convinces the town doctor of the truth, and he rounds up a few of the unaffected men to break the alien spaceship. The aliens have ray guns, but the humans have dogs... dogs apparently beat aliens with ray guns.



Once inside the ship, the men discover that all of the possessed males are actually still alive, their bodies in some kind of stasis. They disconnect the apparatus, whereupon the aliens turn into applesauce and die. Happy ending.



Taken as a commentary on the plight of the modern woman, this movie really packs a wallop. How many women have felt trapped and helpless in a marriage with a man who turned out to be a jerk? How often have women's reports of abuse been ignored with a dismissive chuckle? The aliens aren't really so alien, are they?

P.S. Fair warning: Work has been a bear, and my hands can only take so much. I don't want to go to a every-three-days schedule because I have too much to say. Just be aware it may not always be every other day. Thanks for your understanding and your patronage!

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Hello, again, dear readers.

As you know, I had planned to write an article for this column yesterday, but I was unable to do so because I'd misplaced my wrist braces. Manual typewriters are have very stiff keys, and composition is difficult without braces (shall I take up a collection for a lovely electric?)

Adversity always proves to be advantage, however. I took the opportunity to catch a double feature at the local dive cinema where last autumn's The Blob is still playing along with I Married a Monster from Outer Space. I must say, I got my eight bits worth!


This led me to believe radiation might be involved. It wasn't.

I'll talk about the latter film later--right now, I want to talk about The Killer Jello-Mold!...er... The Blob. The film starts on an odd note for a sci-fi/horror--with a catchy tune by "The Five Blobs," which I note has gotten a lot of airplay lately. It was a smart move; while the movie is not awful, where it falters, it can be excused because you were all ready for something camp.


Our heroes.

Meet Steve Andrews and Jane Martin, a pair of...ahem... teenagers who, while making out on Lover's Lane, spot a falling star. But this is no ordinary meteor. It is, in fact, an egg. Prodded by an old farmer, it hatches a little translucent blob that adheres to the man's hand and begins to digest it. Panicked, the farmer runs across our two heroes, who obligingly take him to the town doctor.


Don't touch that!

This is one of the more unsettling bits, watching the parasite eat the hapless old man alive. After the teens leave to check out the spot where the meteorite landed, the doctor and his nurse are eaten. Steve returns to the doctor's house just in time to see the doc digested.


Nurse Kate's brave assault was to no avail.

Most of the rest of the movie is devoted to Steve and Jane's attempts to warn the police and, when this is not immediately fruitful, the town as a whole, of the danger.


Listen to him! He knows!

Their efforts prove to be rather superfluous. The blob, increasingly red with the blood of its victims, and ever expanding in size with each meal (though, I was pleased to note, the blob did not seem to violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics; it merely assimilated its food with remarkable efficiency), eventually becomes big enough to be unignorable. It eats 50 movie-goers at the cinema and then turns its gooey pseudopods on our heroes, who become trapped under its now-enormous bulk in a diner.


Oozing out of the theater and looking surprisingly tasty.

As had been hinted at earlier, the blob hates cold. It is ultimately subdued, but not destroyed, by an onslaught of fire extinguishers. The Air Force thdn airlifts the beast to the Arctic, where I'm sure we'll never hear from it again...


Dig this Carbon Dioxide! Blob, schmlob!

Sounds pretty dumb, right? Well, sure. But there's also a lot to like. For one, the movie is aware that a pile of tinted gelatin is not a particularly scary sight. You don't see the blob very much. It's just this menacing presence that you know is eating people right and left just off camera. There is real tension in the film, though the pacing is a bit strange. There are lots of long, pointless scenes that are fun in a character sense, but have little to do with the plot. Life is like that, though.

I particularly liked the character of Lt. Dave, the head policeman. No matter how fanastic Steve's story is, and despite the chidings of his police sergeant, Dave gives Steve respect and credence. If there's any subtext to the movie, it's that kids aren't all bad, despite what you've seen at the pictures lately.


Kids ain't so bad. Especially ones in their late 20s!

I also thought it a nice touch when Jane's father, a prim, socially conscious school principal, reluctantly but with grim determination smashes the door to his school to retrieve a score of fire extinguishers. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The acting is no great shakes, though I thought Steve McQueen (Steve Andrews) did a decent job. I don't know if this film will make or break him, but I wouldn't mind seeing him lead in future movies.

The film was shot in some kind of widescreen Technicolor, and it's very pretty. Black and White is increasingly a thing of the past, and I'm enjoying the transition.

Now, I know I have a reputation for being a Fantasy & Science Fiction snob, but The Blob is worth a look. It is genuinely suspenseful and interesting. Moreover, it leaves room for speculation. What is the blob? Is it a weapon? A planetary sterilizer? It has some interesting traits. It doesn't like to break into smaller units (which would have made it truly unbeatable) though it will partially disassemble to get through grates and windows. It only eats living creatures, and we only ever see it attack people. That kind of menace seems a bit too tailored to be an accident. I bet it heralds an alien invasion.

Or how's this for a wild thought--what if the blob doesn't kill its prey but merely assimilates them into a collective? Maybe the blob is a peaceful being trying to unite all of humanity in a red, gelatinous mass? And now all those poor souls are trapped in a frozen ball at the North Pole. Brrrr...

Maybe I'm just thinking too much. You be the judge!

See you tomorrow...

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Seeing how the moon has been front and center in the headlines and in this column for the past week, I thought it a good idea to round out things with a movie about a trip to Earth's celestial neighbor.

As my faithful reader(s) know, I spare no expense when it comes to securing only the finest entertainment to review. I see your eyes gleam: will it be Fritz Lang's Frau im mond? Or perhaps George Pal's adaptation of Robert Heinlein's Destination Moon?

Nay, my fans. What would be the point of revisiting old classics? The key to this column is its currency. Hence, for your reading pleasure, here are my thoughts upon viewing:



Some nitpickers will note that this epic actually came out almost a year ago. For some reason, one of our town's less reputable theaters still had this three-reeler running as a companion to an old gangster movie. How fortunate for us.

Missile is a tale of interplanetary derring-do capitalizing on the new fad, the Space Race. Of course, the film was made solely to spotlight the amazing technology that will one day take us to the moon. Well, and these:



I noted in an earlier article how space travel stories always focus on the pilots, and a journey through the great beyond is little more exciting or involved than a drive down Highway 80. In Missile, an eager scientist with an unplaceable accent has built his own rocket ship in his backyard. He then shanghais two escaped prisoners (one with a heart of gold, the other desirous of gold) and takes off for the moon. This is, perhaps, the movie's best sequence. To be fair, given the film's reported budget of $65,000, the cinematography is not bad.



The scientist's partner and the partner's wife accidentally stow away on board the rocketship before it turns into stock footage of a V-2 rocket and blasts off toward the moon. The scientist dies along the way, leaving his partner in charge. Of course, the rocket has limitless fuel and blasts away at one gee the entire way to the moon, making for a very short trip).



Once on the moon, our heroes (well, two heroes, one heroine, one scoundrel, and one corpse) discover that, though the moon has no air, the sky scatters the sun's rays in a decidedly Terran fashion. Standing in the sun is instantly fatal due to the intense heat (much like one encounters driving down Highway 80). We do not get to see the effects of the moon's lesser gravity on the travelers, as they have special "gravity boots" on. I suppose I should be grateful that they even made a nod to the issue. Thankfully, they astronauts all have space suits, though they seem less than adequate in the neck area.

More importantly, they discover that the moon is inhabited by several species of inimical creatures including



and



But most importantly, they discover this colony of female space people, the last of a dying race.



Ah, there are our pageant winners.

Of course, I would not wish to further spoil the plot of this (rather short) masterpiece. Suffice it to say that the ending is bittersweet. Which is to say that it is sweet that it ends at all, and bitter than the ending does not come closer to the beginning. I look forward to many more films like this one, at least until the novelty of Space wears off for the under-21 crowd.

Next up: a wrap-up of the January 1959 F&SF--then, on to the new stuff! Thanks for reading (and replying).

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Greetings from Nagoya, Japan! This industrial city emerged from the Second World War a drab and gray place with little of the charm of the new Tokyo. Still, it is not without its attractions. For instance, Nagoya castle is a national treasure dating back to the warring fiefs period of Japan; it is the legendary birthplace of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the 16th century warlords who tried to unify Japan. It's all very picturesque what with the brilliant fall colors accenting everything.

But you didn't tune in to read about my travels. You tuned in to hear about my encounters with giant sea monsters. Dear readers, I shall not disappoint.

“Giant sea monsters?” you ask. Yes, the use of the plural was deliberate. The Japanese film industry has determined that, if one sea monster is thrilling, then two will be twice as much so (or more). And thus, we have a movie about the recently-deceased Gojira and his intense rivalry with the Ankylosaurus, Anguirus.



The film's title translates as “Gojira's counter-attack,” and I am not certain whether or not it will reach American shores, though it came out three years ago (1955). It is a decidedly inferior film to the first one, though Shimura Takashi does gamely reprise his role as Dr. Yamane (if you're wondering where you have seen Shimura-san before, he was the lead samurai in the now-classic The Seven Samurai).

The city that enjoys urban renewal this time around is Japan's #2 metropolis, Osaka. There is a good deal of interminable fighting between Gojira and Anguirus with the attendant collateral damage. Gojira is ultimately the victor, biting the neck of the Ankylosaur and tossing him onto picturesque Osaka castle, or at least an unconvincing model thereof. It is determined that Gojira cannot be stopped with conventional weapons, and they have lost the formula to the anti-oxygen concoction that (seemed to have) killed Gojira last time.

Gojira is thus not killed but simply stopped when the air force leads it away to the side of a frozen mountain, which is then blasted by missiles causing an avalanche that buries the giant dinosaur. I remember this scene most distinctly from the movie as I had doubts it would ever end. Perhaps they simply cut the same footage of a model plane doing spins around Gojira and spliced several copies into a ten-minute sequence. That was the impression I was left with.

Were I an optimist, I would say that the film marked the death knell for Japanese monster movies given the sharp decline in quality from the original. More have come and are coming out, however, including the turgid Rodan and the not-terrible Mysterians. And so a genre is born.

I think the most significant difference between the movies is the attitude toward the atomic bomb. In both movies, it is H-bomb testing in the Pacific that awakens the beasts and mutates them to their improbable sizes and gives them their incredible powers. In the first movie, significant parallels were drawn between the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by American bombers and the devastation of Tokyo at the hands of Gojira--in essence, another atomic event. Gojira was a cautionary tale: should we believe ourselves masters of these monstrous forces, we shall become victims of the monster. A bit heavy-handed, but certainly legitimate, especially given the national source.

By this second movie, the moralizing is virtually absent. Instead, the atomic bomb is merely a vehicle for creating giant monsters that knock down model cities and eat miniature trains. The TOEI monster franchise has clearly shifted its demographic target. It is now a series for children, the ones for whom World War II is a now-distant memory.

That said, I am but a human; my inner child did delight in watching two actors in rubber suits locked in mortal overcranked combat amidst a miniature cardboard city. If that's all you want from a movie, by all means, find this film when it is translated into your language and enjoy. Just don't expect anything as well-made or thoughtful as the original.

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Greetings from the Orient! More specifically, hello from the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, Japan.



It is hard to believe that, just thirteen years ago, the ward that is now Shinjuku had been virtually destroyed by American bombs. Shinjuku today is a bustling commercial and transport hub with a giant train station and every imaginable kind of shop.



These days, if the movies coming out of Japan are any indication, Tokyo's biggest threat comes not from the skies, but from the sea. In 1954, Japan began what appears will be a long-running series of motion pictures featuring a giant dinosaur from the deep ravaging the countryside of this archipelago. The Japanese call him (her?) Gojira, which is a punning combination of Gorilla and Kujira, the Japanese word for whale. This name is meant to convey Gojira's immense size.



You may not have heard of Gojira, but you certainly know its renamed alter-ego--in 1956, a largely similar cut of the film was released in the United States, dubbed in English, and with linking scenes featuring Raymond Burr. In this version, the monster was named Godzilla, and it looks like it will keep this name when the sequels come to America.

The phrase “Japanese product” generally connotes a cheaply made, mass-produced good. When I watched this film back in '54, this is what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised. The premise is simple: Godzilla is a several-hundred foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex that can shoot fire from its mouth. He comes out of the sea, attacks Tokyo, is repelled at first by an enormous, hastily erected electric fence, but he quickly recovers and demolishes the city. He is repelled at last through the use of a pseudo-scientific substance that strips an area of all of its oxygen thus removing the flesh of all creatures within the affected zone.



That does sound awfully silly at first blush. What redeems the film is its style. It is shot in a very effective moody style, almost film-noir. The characters are nicely developed, especially Hirata Akihiko, who plays the erratic, noble scientist who develops the anti-oxygen substance; the famous Shimura Takashi, playing the elder scientist, Dr. Yamane Kyouhei; and the lovely Kochi Momoko, who plays Dr. Yamane's daughter, Emiko. Takarada Akira, who plays the movie's protagonist, Hideto, is handsome enough, but he failed to impress as strongly.

What's particularly affecting, and this was highly controversial with the Japanese public, are the scenes of widespread destruction. Japan's war wounds, self-inflicted though they ultimately may have been, are but half healed. The burnt wastelands shown in the film can't help but evoke landscapes that were widespread a short decade ago. For many, it was gratuitous and exploitative. I'm sure many moviegoers walked out.

On the other hand, the movie scratches the same itch as knocking over sand castles. Let's face it--most people have an inner child that likes seeing things go boom, and Gojira/Godzilla does this very satisfyingly. Moreover, it manages to do so while maintaining high production values, good acting (at least in the original Japanese), and even some decent moralizing. If you get a chance to see the original film with subtitles, I recommend it. It is a more serious film, I think.

As for the sequels... well...

Stay tuned for the next article!

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