The Zombie Dialogues

“I realize that your work has usually been in the interplanetary zone.”

Nicholas Ray took the view that every line of dialogue should be said as if for the first or last time, unless one character is quoting another ironically or something. I would say that the above quote from ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE ticks that box, as does the title ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE itself, a set of words nobody had though to combine into a phrase until screenwriter Ronald Davidson came along with his wooden fingers and typewriter. People passing his office door thought he was playing the xylophone but he was writing wooden dialogue for wooden actors. Normal dialogue of flesh is fatal to such dendritic thespians.

True, the actors also have to say things like “Prepare for landing,” which have doubtless been said before, and better, many times. With such lines crammed into their protesting mouths, the actors playing the zombies definitely have the best of it. Perhaps everything a zombie says is for the last time, or, arguably, AFTER the last time. But the beauty is that the zombie doesn’t know or care. They can throw away their lines or, better, let them drop on the ground at their feet. It’s the living characters who have to put some effort in, poor devils.

I’m three minutes into ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE and there is SO MUCH TO SAY.

5 Responses to “The Zombie Dialogues”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Ray’s remark about dialogue is one of the reasons he was the ideal director for “King of kings” which is about a Zombie.

  2. In principle a biblical movie where the dialogue sounds new-minted is promising, but he wasn’t entirely able to pull it off. Some of the cast are terrific, and then there’s Jeffrey Hunter who Ray should have already known had his limitations.

    I got King of Kings along with Barabbas and will watch it again, I think.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Jefffrey Hunter’s Surfer Dude Jesus is unintentionally hilarious. The actual Jesus (a figure of folk legend somewhere between Robin Hood and “The Shadow”) had he actually existed would have looked a lot closer to Chadwick Boseman or Lil Nas X.

  4. bensondonald Says:

    I commend to your attention “The Rocketeer”, both the comic book and the movie adaptation. Clearly inspired by this and the other Rocket Man serials, but the movie is a superior popcorn flick.

    It features an Errol Flynn bad guy (Timothy Dalton), a Rondo Hatton lookalike, a suave and sane Howard Hughes, a Nazi zeppelin over Hollywood, far more persuasive flying effects, and Jennifer Connelly replacing the comic book’s Betty Page clone. It wasn’t the hit Disney expected, but the director was brought back for similar WWII fun with “Captain America: The First Avenger”.

  5. I like Rocketeer but King of the Rocketmen/Zombies of the Stratosphere have pretty good flying effects and no matte lines!

    The movie serial Captain Marvel I also find a more persuasive flier than the 70s Superman.

    Jeffrey Hunter would have made a good superhero (and he was the first captain of the Enterprise, a decent consolation prize). I can only assume Nick Ray was won over by his beauty — but he shouldn’t have been persuaded — twice!

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