Friday, 29 March 2013

Flight To Mars (1951)



A moderately interesting film

  • Director: Lesley Selander
  • Producer: Walter Mirisch
  • Written by Arthur Strawn
  • Music: Marlin Skiles
  • Cinematography: Harry Neumann
  • Editing: Richard V. Heermance
  • Distributor: Monogram Pictures
  • Release date: November 11, 1951
  • Running time: 72 minutes


Cast


  • Marguerite Chapman as Alita 
  • Cameron Mitchell as Steve Abbott 
  • Arthur Franz as Dr. Jim Barker 
  • Virginia Huston as Carol Stafford 
  • John Litel as Dr. Lane 
  • Morris Ankrum as Ikron 
  • Richard Gaines as Prof. Jackson 
  • Lucille Barkley as Terris 
  • Robert Barrat as Tillamar 
  • Wilbur Back as Councilman 
  • William Bailey as Councilman 
  • Trevor Bardette as Alzar 
  • Stanley Blystone as Councilman 
  • David Bond as Ramay 
  • Raymond Bond as Astronomer No.2


Trailer






Spoilers follow......

Synopsis

Pre-Mission

The first mission to Mars, will be manned by Dr. Lane (physicist and project leader); Jim Barker (engineer); Carol Stadwick (Jim’s assistant); Professor Jackson, and Steve (newspaper columnist covering the expedition).

The mission itself is described as being “terrifying” and that there is probably “an outside chance of getting there,” not to mention metaphorical references to climbing a mountain and trying to get back down. The realisation that there is a negligible chance of returning to Earth is exemplified by Jackson wanting to do a television interview, the profits from which he intends to leave to his ailing wife and two grandchildren, in the event that he does not return.


In Space


After forty-eight hours in space the moon's gravitational pull requires the crew to change course. Contact with Earth is eventually lost causing some concern.



A sombre mood descends on the crew as Jackson believes he will never see his family again. In fact, he believes that “this rocket is (his) coffin.” Meanwhile, Carol longs both for Jim's attention and for a family (“wife, home, grandchildren”) of her own. Steve (the cad!) then takes the opportunity to flirt with Carol.



The Mars mission’s rationale becomes apparent when Lane reminds the crew that their “Flight  to Mars” is essential to humanity's understanding of the universe and their place in it.  There is a great deal of talk concerning the theory of endless universes extending both outward and beyond as well as inward and within. In addition, after a (noisy, inevitable and required!) meteor storm damages their landing gear, the crew must then decide whether to crash-land on Mars or turn back. Jackson is for continuing and fulfilling their primary mission of data collection. The decision is made to crash-land on Mars.



Surface of Mars


On on the surface of Mars, they discover that there exists an advanced underground Martian civilization populated by human-like beings who have learned Earth languages from studying Earth's radio broadcasts. Their own attempts to contact Earth have only been registered as "faint signals coming from Mars." 









The wonders of the Martian civilisation become apparent when the crew learn that the Martians life-support and other systems rely on a mineral called corium and that they possess automated systems for preparing and delivering meals which are made from hydroponically grown food. (This begs the question of why they are unable to adequately transmit signals to Earth as well as develop interplanetary space flight!)



Deception

Soon the crew seek the help of the council to salvage and repair their ship. However, as the Martians have almost exhausted their supply of corium, the planetary leader Ikron suggests that they help the human crew repair the ship, seize them before take-off and construct a fleet of duplicate ships to evacuate their own people to Earth. Even though such an invasion plan will require warfare with Earth, the council votes in favour of Ikron's devious scheme. As we have already learned, the inhabitants of the red planet represent a dying civilization of Martians.

Counter-Deception


A crew of workmen is assigned to the humans to “assist” with repairs to the ship. Unknown to them they are also being monitored and reported on to the council by Terris who is assigned to spy on their progress.

After discovering the deception, the humans (together with Alita who was earlier assigned to assist them) concoct a plan to rig an explosion inside the ship. This is designed to create the impression that the take-off will have to be postponed. In actual fact, they plan to take off much sooner than the Martian’s have been led to believe! An important outcome of the counter-deception plan is for Tillamar to transmit a series of radio broadcasts from Earth calling on the Martians to overthrow Ikron.

The Outcome?

  • Will Jim and Alita’s relationship blossom into something more? 
  • Will Carol (“what I want to see is the kitchen!”) realise that she is just wasting time on Jim?
  • Will Carol (“No dishwashing! I love Mars!”) stop crying long enough for Steve one day to eventually “collaborate?” with her? 
  • Will Terris uncover the humans’ plan and report to Ikron, thereby preventing the take-off? 
  • Will the take-off plan actually succeed? 
  • Will Tillamar and Alita be able to join them? 

Points of Interest


First we went to the moon with Destination Moon. Then we side-stepped the moon and inadvertently wound up on Mars in Rocket ship X-M. And now we are deliberately setting our sights on the red planet Mars with “Flight To Mars.”  (Yes, I know about the eventual order!)



Recycling was obviously a concept popular way back in the early 1950s as you might have noticed that “Flight To Mars” reuses much of the rocket ship cabin interior from Rocketship X-M. The rocket itself was reused in at least three other 1950s movies: `Queen of Outer Space', `World Without End', and `It ! The Terror from Outer Space'.  And haven’t we seen the spacesuits / costumes from Rocketsahip X-M  and Destination Moon?



Unlike Rocketship X-M, with its regressed primitive and barbaric civilisation being a result of an ancient global nuclear holocaust, this film depicts a Martian civilization which is superior (and a menace) to human civilisation.



You can’t help but love the outfits worn by the female Martians. Lashings of gorgeous long legs cascading out of micro-mini skirts rivaled even the original Star Trek series! They certainly helped to take attention away from the more ordinary and banal aspects of the film. But I digress….







Amazingly Flight To Mars was shot in just a few days which in other circumstances could have led to the production of a totally dreadful film. The end result was a comic- book style fantasy film shot using the Cinecolor process and was the first color film featuring a mission to Mars. It must be remembered that a film like this in the context of the times was instrumental at taking audiences from the world of Flash Gordon serials and movies and introducing them to the brave new world of film SCIENCE FICTION.

Morris Ankrum (from `Rocketship X-M') plays a Martian leader who comes up with the plan to invade the Earth. We know him from his frequent roles as a general defending Earth’s interests in many 1950s sci-fi films that will be featured in this blog.

Space travel is depicted as being a run-of-mill quaint affair as seen from the way the crew saunters on to the rocket before lift-off with a “good-bye” and “good luck” to send them off. I love their casual work wear with their hats and jackets and skirt for Carol. The equipment is comforting with big dials to read, switches to flick and knobs to turn accompanied by determined clunking sounds. You can almost hear the vacuum tubes humming and buzzing! All very far removed from the whiz-bang gadgetry we are familiar with in modern science fiction. But we do have the grand solution to the absence of gravity: A device to “equalise gravitational pull!” Take that Rocketship X-M!

Earth is depicted a being a dirty brown ball in space which is far removed from the precious blue jewel we are familiar with. Mars is shown as being covered in snow and as being a planet that one can get around on just by wearing an oxygen mask and pilot gear. A lot different to the radiation-bombarded red planet with the ultra-thin carbon dioxide atmosphere we have discovered it to be. However, the idea of Mars having cooled off and losing much of its atmosphere is essentially correct. Also correct is the prospect of failure discouraging future flights to Mars. This indeed almost happened in relation to Mars with the frequent mission failures as well as with the slim prospects of finding evidence of life on the red planet that seemed to be the case from early Mariner orbital flybys and the Viking landers. By the way, those robotic explorers which have failed, presumably by crashing into the planet obviously didn’t fare as well as the rocket ship in the film which crash-landed on Mars by smacking into the side of a mountain, causing an avalanche! And the crew survived! Thank goodness this didn’t happen to Spirit, Opportunity or Curiosity!

Parallel universes, alternate realities, String Theory and so on. Such theories have become the staple of modern Science Fiction. The crew in the film Flight To Mars, devote some time discussing the possibility of endless universes which on the surface seems to diminish the significance of what they are trying to achieve and of all human endeavours. Whatever one might believe or however much one’s head tends to hurt contemplating such things, one thing we can be sure of: they are worth contemplating with a view to finding some of the answers to the questions they raise and hopefully by doing so, finding out something about ourselves and our place in the scheme of things.

Overall, “Flight To Mars” is a moderately interesting story that tends to lack real originality, with rather ordinary action sequences and few characters for audiences to really identify with. Cartoon animations, matte work and a model pulled by strings in front of matte shots and transparencies comprise the bulk of visual effects, and it looks like it too! Worth a look, but don’t get too distracted by the legs!







©Chris Christopoulos 2013