Mutant Testimony

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Sort of a follow-up to the sci-fi themed blogathon action.

We really enjoyed RETURN OF THE FLY (which has the same initials as Rolling On The Floor) some time back, particularly the moment when a telepod accident with a rodent produces a kind of Frankenstein hamster. There was seemingly something in the water at Twentieth Century Fox in the fifties, so that their science fiction output was more demented than most — check out THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE sometime.

The first FLY sequel was directed by one Edward Bernds, whose career fluctuated from goofball space movies (QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE) to Three Stooges comedies, and we resolved to check out more of his marvels sometime. The chance came with WORLD WITHOUT END, a fairly poor film which is not without interest. Sadly, the most ridiculous thing in it is a giant killer bug which springs out at the heroes suspiciously as if drop-kicked into shot by a stagehand. Much of the rest is dull, but the film anticipates other, better movies, in a variety of ways.

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Our heroes are astronauts whose Martian mission is blown wildly off-course — they find themselves accelerating out of control, eventually coming to rest on a wild planet inhabited by scary goofy mutants. When this planet turns out to be Earth in the future after an atomic war, the parallel with PLANET OF THE APES is complete. All that’s missing are the apes.

Instead, the movie posits a humane race divided intwo two breeds — the fey wastrels moping about underground in a science-bunker, and the rampaging uglies on the surface. Thus the movie has inverted the Eloi/Morlocks dichotomy from HG Wells’ The Time Machine. And, delightfully, one of the astronauts is played by Rod Taylor, who would go on to star in George Pal’s lovely adaptation of the Wells novel. He’s pretty good here too, giving the whole thing more conviction and dynamism than it deserves, and almost more than the flimsy set walls can contain just because it would kill him not to.

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Bernds’ self-penned script is otherwise pretty dopey — the heroes remark regularly on the strange fact that the listless subterranean dweebs are blessed with curiously dynamic womenfolk, but no explanation for this is ever offered. And, despite having more vim than the men, the women have not taken over, as they often seem to in dystopian fantasies — they are content to be led by a council of crapulent pantywaists.

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I kind of wish I’d seen this movie as a little kid, because I would have been quite impressed with its minor virtues and overlooked its glaring flaws. But on the other hand, I’m definitely glad I had my mind blown by PLANET OF THE APES and THE TIME MACHINE first.

The other seminal sci-fi movies of my youth, mostly seen in BBC2 seasons, were FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (the ending!), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THEM! (the beginning!), and I guess WESTWORLD and SILENT RUNNING. I was less taken with WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and so-so on THIS ISLAND EARTH. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN seemed cold and slow. Movies that would surely have entered my DNA, but which I didn’t see until I was a bit older, were things like THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, INVADERS FROM MARS (one of the only two copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland I ever owned cautioned that this movie was one of the very few it would NOT recommend for small children, which of course made me very keen to see it) and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

One summer holiday I was playing in the garden when my Dad told me there was something coming on TV I might like, something he’d enjoyed as a boy — the original FLASH GORDON movie serial. Watching it again, he was kind of shocked by its hoakiness, I think, but I was awestruck.

I was devoted to Dr Who, hiding behind the sofa or outside the door when the scary title music played (Delia Derbyshire’s weird sounds), and Star Trek was sometimes scary but always colourful, even on a b&w TV, it seemed.

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Big screen experiences of sci-fi were not so successful for me, until STAR WARS. I was lucky to see the original KING KONG projected, which was a seminal moment, but LOGAN’S RUN freaked me out (I was too young to be seeing it, surely — not sure how that happened) and I have vague memories of a science fictional submarine movie that bored the life out of the whole family. STAR WARS which I was simultaneously obsessed by and a little disappointed in, having built it up in my head first, was followed by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and a re-release of 2001, both of which were a lot less child-friendly but probably did a lot to advance my cinematic thinking, even if I wasn’t ready for where they were leading me yet.

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15 Responses to “Mutant Testimony”

  1. Speaking of King Kong here’s Godard’s remake (a Bill Krohn find)

  2. As for Flash Gordon

  3. But when comes to beating Intergalactic Mutants,no one tops Neil Patrick Harris

  4. Are you familiar with Bill Warren’s giant compendium “Keep Watching the Skies!”, covering all American sci-fi movies from 1950 to 1962? A good resource.

  5. The JLG is a treat! I’m going to assume the Potemkin reference was his own idea.

    I *think* I handled that book but I don’t own a copy and I haven’t seen the 21st century edition — one for my birthday list, I think.

  6. henryholland666 Says:

    I saw “World Without End” years ago, I can’t remember what the plot motivation for having Rod Taylor shirtless is, but bravo screenwriter, bravo!

    Being a Yank, I got in to “Dr. Who” a bit late, near the end of the Tom Baker years. My favorite is the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, though I loved Matt Smith too. Very cool on Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, I laughed when even Scots were complaining that they couldn’t understand what he was saying. All hail Received Pronunciation!

    I saw “Star Wars” the week it was released thanks to my sci-fi geek Dad and thought it was just OK. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet” are more my cup of Earl Grey’s.

  7. I think Capaldi has in some ways suffered from being Moffat’s third doctor (although he inherited the first one) which means she show seems like a Matt Smith vehicle with the wrong actor in it. If a new script editor came in at the same time, he might have had more of a chance. He’s a fantastic actor: The Thick of It is highly recommended.

  8. The Thick of It, and the movie that evolved out of it, In the Loop, are indeed wonderful. Ianucci’s US counterpart, Veep, is hilarious with some brilliant comedy turns, particularly double-act Jonah Ryan and Sam Rchardson, but what’s interesting is how differently flavored it has become now that Ianucci has found the rhythm and approach which American audiences appreciate (much less swearing, incidentally. Why America is so averse to cunt I will never understand.) ;-)

    For years I tried to discover which movie it was that I had seen as a 4 year old, some images from which haunted me as I grew up; one image in particular, of a glowing UFO descending behind – or *into* – a hillside while a boy watched from his bedroom window, gave me dreams – not nightmares – that persisted into adolescence. Then in my 20s I watched Invaders from Mars and my life made a little more sense – and I realized that in 1954, when I was 4 years old, my mother had taken me to my first movie, and it was IFM.

    I have clearer recollections of World Without End, because it was 1956 and I had become a little more, well, individuated although my identification with images onscreen was still complete and uncritical. When the giant spider thingy flopped its rubbery way onto the astrohunks I became so overwrought I threw up, mum hurried me to the bathroom at the back of the cinema and then, having quickly cleaned me up, *took me back into the theater to watch the rest of the film*. Kudos to mother ! What I am fascinated by is the recollection that these excitements took place in the *same* cinema, the Southend Essoldo, and it was there that I also had my first encounter with Forbidden Planet, a movie I have, at a conservative estimate, watched 35-40 times and is my favorite thing in the world, and probably explains why The Tempest is my best-loved Shakespeare.

    Final thought: when World Without End finally appeared on VHS, I wore out the tape forwarding to, running back to, and freeze-framing the sequence in which Rod Taylor gets that shirt off. And is referred to by Hugh Marlowe as “body beautiful”. Enough to keep a lad cranking all night, and still enough to give great joy to a man in his 60s. TMI?

  9. Oddly enough, one of the issues of Famous Monsters I owned included a paragraph saying that, because of its plot, Invaders was one of very few monster flicks the editors would NOT recommend for very small children.

    I didn’t see the movie until later, but had already enjoyed Forbidden Planet, which seemed to combine a lot of very Star Trek type qualities with a more spooky, Dr Who like sensibility. For all its apparent 50s optimism, it’s an unsettling film, maybe because it locates the monster INSIDE.

  10. DBenson Says:

    Was your boring scifi sub perchance “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (with the great theme song I’ve mentioned here before) or “Fantastic Voyage”?

    The latter at least tries, with trippy production design and Raquel Welch. The movie isn’t as compelling as Isaac Asimov’s novelization, which improves not only the science but the storytelling of the source screenplay.

    The former has you wondering if audiences ever took it seriously, with its lack of knowledge or even casual interest about science, the Navy, or common sense (the submarine captain smokes cigars; scientist Peter Lorre keeps a shark in an open tank under a narrow walkway without rails). It’s a perfect match with Irwin Allen’s “The Lost World”, where a poodle is one of the less absurd members of the expedition.

  11. This Island Earth was the sci-fi spectacular that left the greatest impression on little me. What 50’s kid could possibly resist the wonders of “Metaluna” ? Giant mutants with huge exposed brains and pincer hands grappling after Faith Domergue.

  12. And now to sum it all up LET THERE BE LIPS!

  13. This Island Earth seemed to take its time getting to Metaluna, and then returned in too much hurry, but while it was there, wow!

    Definitely never saw Fantastic Voyage on the big screen until a couple years ago at EIFF. There’s a post on it here somewheres.

    Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is possible but it’s likely the film I saw was later, maybe cheaper, duller if possible, and with a lot of stock shots. Come to think of it, it may have been a documentary.

  14. chris schneider Says:

    For some reason, when I was a child, it was Very Important to me that I preferred THIS ISLAND EARTH to FORBIDDEN PLANET. Not entirely sure why. Great monster, it had. Perhaps it was an instinctual preference for Universal-International over MGM, who clearly were not in the science-fiction or “monster movie” business. I was exposed to a lot of U-I — notably IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

    I loved INVADERS FROM MARS from the very beginning. Not so much for the child protagonist as for the sands opening opening up, to the accompaniment of singing voices, and *swallowing* people. I also enjoyed the huge fakey monsters with zippers up their back.

    As for the boring submarine film … Would it be too obvious to suggest THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE? I have virtually no memory of this, though I have seen it, apart apart from a Famous Monsters of Filmland photo of its monster.

    I wasn’t affected by shirtless Rod Taylor, more’s the pity, but I *was* obsessed by IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (see under “U-I”). And then there’s the curious fact that my first “husband,” who was utterly indifferent to science-fiction, heard me mention its title and then asked “Isn’t that a gay movie?” Not a thought that had occurred to me. It was after his question that I remembered about the film’s trail of glitter leading into a closet …

  15. Chris, you’re thinking of I Married a Monster From Outer Space which most definitely IS a gay movie. It stars Tom Tryon as the “monster.”

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