Monday, 26 May 2014

A Tribute To Faith Domergue





An exotic and sultry cult favourite

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. on June 16, 1924, Faith Marie Domergue (pronounced at her insistence as "Dah-mure") was part Creole, but mostly of Irish and English decent. She was adopted by Adabelle Wemet when she was six weeks old. 






Trailer: Faith Domergue in This Island Earth 







In 1926, when she was 18 months old, Adabelle married Leo Domergue. Both her adoptive parents would never tell Faith that she was not their own. The family moved to California in 1928 where Domergue attended Beverly Hills Catholic School and St. Monica's Convent School.




While still a student at University High School, she was signed to a Warner Brothers contract and had her name shortened to "Faith Dorn." In 1941, she made her first on-screen appearance in Blues in the Night.




After graduating in 1942, Faith Domergue continued to pursue her acting career. However, this had to be put on hold after she suffered a disfiguring injury during a car accident when she was thrown into a windshield, and had to spend 18 months undergoing intensive plastic surgery.   





While recuperating from the accident, she attended a party aboard Howard Hughes's yacht. the Southern Cross, Hughes was 21 years her senior and became infatuated with the teenage Faith. He bought out her contract from Warner Brothers for $50,000, and signed her to a three-picture contract with the studio he owned, RKO Pictures.




At that time Hughes presented Faith with a diamond engagement ring after a gala at the Palm Springs Racquet Club and asked her to keep it secret. After she discovered that Hughes was also seeing Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner, she broke up with Hughes in 1943.





Faith appeared in Young Widow in 1946, with Jane Russell. She also starred in the Hughes expensive $3.2 million film Vendetta which was finally released in 1950 after the firing of three directors in quick succession. This film and the film noir Where Danger Lives (1950) performed indifferently at the box office.





In 1946, Domergue married bandleader Teddy Stauffer. The marriage lasted six months, ending in 1947. That same year, she married director Hugo Fregonese with whom she had two children, Diana Maria and John Anthony. The couple divorced in 1958.




During the early ‘50s Faith began to freelance at other studios, appearing in westerns: The Duel at Silver Creek (1952), with Audie Murphy; The Great Sioux Uprising (1953), with Jeff Chandler; and Santa Fe Passage (1955) with John Payne at Republic.





In 1955 she starred in memorable classic sci-fi films, This Island Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Atomic Man / "Timeslip" and Cult of the Cobra. Her appearance in such science-fiction films from this period enabled Faith to acquire something of a cult following.






She later made films in the United Kingdom and Italy, and a final appearance in a sci-fi film, Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet, in 1965. In the late 1950s and 1960s she also made many appearances on popular television series, such as Sugarfoot, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, and The Rifleman.






By the late 1960s, Faith Domergue had lost interest in acting as a career, and her last acting appearances consisted mostly of low-budget 'B' horror movies. In 1966, she married Paolo Cossa, with whom she remained until his death in 1992. She eventually became an expatriate in Rome, Geneva, Switzerland, and Marbella, Spain, until the death of her husband, Paolo Cossa in 1991. She then moved to Santa Barbara where she continued to live until her death in 1999. from cancer, aged 74.









©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Thursday, 15 May 2014

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)


A rather slow-paced but commendable made-to-formula sci-fi film

Directed by Robert Gordon
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Hal Smith, George Worthing Yates
Music by Mischa Bakeleinikoff
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Editing by Jerome Thoms
Studio: Clover Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 79 min.
Budget: $150,000
Box office: $1.7 million (US)


Cast



Kenneth Tobey: Cmdr. Pete Mathews
Faith Domergue: Prof. Lesley Joyce
Donald Curtis: Dr. John Carter
Ian Keith: Adm. Burns
Dean Maddox Jr.: Adm. Norman
Chuck Griffiths: Lt. Griff, USN
Harry Lauter : Deputy Bill Nash
Richard W. Peterson: Capt. Stacy

It Came From Beneath the Sea was produced by Sam Katzman and Charles Schneer and directed by Robert Gordon for Columbia Pictures, from a script by George Worthing Yates. The film’s most distinguishing feature would have to be the special model-animated effects of Ray Harryhausen. Much of the film was shot at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard with some scenes being shot aboard a submarine. Some of the naval personnel were even given supporting roles in the film.



Trailer



Spoiler Alert!!!! 



(Words and phrases in italics taken from narration and dialogue in the film.)






(Post Day of Reckoning)

Special Report from KNTV


Studio News Presenter: Tonight we have a story that sounds too incredible to be believed, but true it IS ladies and gentlemen. It is a story that fills in the details of the recent catastrophic events that befell our proud city of San Francisco. 

At that time it was considered to be too early for the world to know what was going on. But now we can lay before you the incident in its shocking entirety.

Our story begins with an atomic submarine designed to be man’s greatest weapon of the seas on patrol manoeuvres in the Pacific Ocean. For the crew on board this maritime marvel of Man’s genius, it must have seemed that in between playing cards, all they had to do was eat and sleep and press a button when there’s any work to be done.




The sub captained by Commander Pete Mathews suddenly came into contact with an object that their sonar indicated was of massive proportions. It was definitely not a whale, nor a ship. Even after several attempts at evasive manoeuvres, the sub was somehow disabled but managed to free itself and proceed to Pearl Harbor.





What was even more disturbing about this incident was that a radiation warning signal was triggered and that it was determined that the radiation was coming from outside the sub. All aboard the sub had good reason to fear the danger posed by the presence of radiation. According to one of the crewmen we interviewed who wished to remain anonymous, “I heard it (radiation) makes it so you can’t have children.”


(Early Encounter)

Excerpt from Commander Pete Mathews’ personal log:

……the next time I arrive in these waters I’m going to have torpedos on board and warheads on them…….. 

Commander Pete Mathews’ official report:

Shakedown cruise completed-x-ray-struck submerged object-x-ray-damage: minor flooding. Putting into Pearl for repairs.




(Post Day of Reckoning)

Special Report from KNTV


Studio News Presenter: Back at Pearl Harbour, it was discovered that a large amount of animal tissue had jammed the sub’s dive planes.  




Beyond this point, for the first time in their lives, three people met: the man-and-woman team of marine biologists, Dr John Carter, Professor Lesley Joyce and Commander Pete Mathews.





Professor Lesley Joyce is head of marine biology at the South East Institute of Oceanography. She is considered to be the most outstanding authority on marine biology alive today.

After 12 days and nights of numerous tests and experiments, nothing was certain, until finally Joyce and Carter managed to identify the tissue as part of a gigantic squid.

Their findings were presented to military authorities at an arranged meeting. Prof Lesley Joyce takes up the story;

“We were faced with scepticism from the authorities and had begun receiving reports of missing bathers, and the unexplained disappearance of a Japanese fishing fleet. In addition, the Siberian seal hunting season had failed due to a lack of animals.







“Dr John Carter and I had come to the conclusion that the giant octopus was in fact from the Mindanao Deep and had been forced out of its natural habitat due to hydrogen bomb testing in that area. The testing caused the giant octopus to become radioactive, and that it was this radioactivity that drove away its usual food supply.”





Journalist: What actual proof did you have to support your theories? 

Prof Lesley Joyce: We later received a report of an attack on a tramp steamer that encountered the squid. The captain had ordered the crew to abandon ship just before it was dragged under the water. The surviving members of the crew were questioned by psychiatrists, but when one of the sailor's description of the attack by a creature with giant tentacles was met with scepticism, his crew mates refused to testify.






Journalist: So how were they persuaded to reveal the truth of what happened?

Prof Lesley Joyce: Let’s just say that I was able to convince the first sailor to repeat his story for the government officials. We now had the evidence to back our theories.”

Studio News Presenter: We now present to you an actual recording we have managed to obtain of part of the interview that was conducted with one of the survivors by the psychiatric team;

“…It grabbed us……came up out of the water…..ship I was on….she went down with all hands…It was a giant octopus!!!”



(Pre- Day of Reckoning)



Extract from the San Francisco Chronicle July ---, 1955

The US government has announced a halt to all sea traffic in the North Pacific. No reason has been given for this course of action, apart from the official statement that the US navy is engaged in secret manoeuvres.

Sea trade between at least three continents has come to a complete standstill.

Rumours are beginning to circulate that what is in fact taking place is the strangest search in history. But for what and why remains…….
 
 


(Post-Day of Reckoning)



Special Report from KNTV

Studio News Presenter: The Navy recently gave permission for Commander Pete Mathews to take part in an exclusive interview with one of our reporters. Here is part of the interview;

Journalist: Can you tell us Commander about the events at Harper’s Cove?




Commander Pete Mathews: The local Sheriff, Bill Nash took Prof Lesley Joyce and I to the site of an attack along the beach where we found a circular imprint in the sand. We then decided to send a request to Dr John Carter to join us. While we were waiting for him, we decided to do some fishing.

Journalist: Fishing?

Commander Pete Mathews: That’s right. Having had no luck catching anything made us convinced that the giant creature was probably in the vicinity. After Dr Carter arrived the imprint was identified as having been made by a giant octopus.

Journalist: What did you decide to do then?

Commander Pete Mathews: Well, my immediate concern was for Prof Lesley Joyce. I told her that she should leave the project, which seemed to me to have become far too dangerous for a woman.

Journalist: She obviously didn’t comply with your wishes?

Commander Pete Mathews: Well, let’s just say that Prof Lesley Joyce is part of an all new breed who feel they are just as smart and courageous as men. They don’t like to be pushed around. Ha! Ha! She told me in no uncertain terms that I had underestimated her ability to help in a crisis. She wasn’t wrong there!

Journalist: So what did you do then?

Commander Pete Mathews: Unfortunately Sheriff Bill Nash was attacked along the beach by the creature right in front of us so…….


(Day Of Reckoning)



Extract from the San Francisco Chronicle July__, 1955

Western Coast Of America Made Ready! 

An imminent threat from what is believed to be a giant octopus has resulted in the entire off-shore Pacific coast waters being mined and all shipping taking refuge.

In addition, an electrified safety net has been strung underwater across the entrance to San Francisco Bay to protect the Golden Gate Bridge, which has also been wired.

As part of a project team put together to study and combat this latest threat to our survival, Professor Lesley Joyce demonstrated to a group of reporters a special jet-propelled atomic torpedo, with a warhead patented on a harpoon with which it is hoped to shoot the creature and then drive it out to sea before electrically detonating the device…..



(Day Of Reckoning)



Mobile Radio Unit Report:

Ladies and gentlemen, the military has just reported that an unknown contact is moving towards San Francisco harbor. The explosions you can hear are part of the planned detonation of mine fields in the hope of driving the creature off. (more sounds of explosions)

Oh my….The mines have had absolutely no effect on the marine intruder. We’ve been informed that the second stage of the defence plan is to be put into action involving an electrical current being put through the Golden Gate bridge and into the water.




We have just had it confirmed that the threat is in fact a giant octopus. It has also apparently demolished a net that had been placed across the Bay and is now heading toward San Francisco!

………….. 

We are now standing at the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge and have discovered that the Navy has ordered the bridge to be abandoned. Just a minute! I see Dr John Carter from the team tasked with combating the creature He appears to be agitated and yelling out something about the electric circuit on the bridge being on and needing to shut it off before damage is caused to the bridge itself. He is now driving off through the police cordon apparently to shut the current off.






Oh my God! The giant creature has surfaced and caught sight of the bridge. It has a huge medusa-like bulbous head with snaking tentacles emanating from it and it is now full of rage and is attacking the bridge itself! That moaning sound of agony you hear is the sound of steel girders being rent, ground, twisted and contorted by the pulverizing power of the octopus’ tentacles.





What has become of Dr Carter? He is completely exposed to the enraged creature….Just one moment! Another member of the team, submarine Commander Mathews has now just rushed on to the scene and is driving out to rescue Carter!





It seems that Carter has managed to shut the power down and the beast is slowly slipping beneath the water. Oh no! It is now thrashing the bridge but wait…..Commander Matthews is returning and ….yes! He has managed to rescue Dr Carter. Just in time too as one whole section of the bridge is collapsing right before our eyes!


(Day Of Reckoning)


KGO-FM 103.7

Emergency bulletin read by radio announcer Sam Hayes:

“A marine monster is at large within this vicinity. You are advised to stay in your homes. The ferry boats are not running, so stay away from the ferry boats…..”




(Day Of Reckoning)



Mobile Radio Unit Report:





We have resumed our broadcast to find a city in panic and a mass exodus taking place down the peninsula, The creature has now re-surfaced near the Market Street docks and is now starting its rampage, destroying everything in its path, including the Ferry Building. We can see a group of soldiers armed with flame throwers bravely forcing the creature back into the water foot-by-foot with each lick of fiery death being directed at it…….





(Post-Day of Reckoning)


Special Report from KNTV

Studio News Presenter: We also have for you an interview we recently conducted with Dr John Carter who collaborated with Professor Joyce in the investigation surrounding the gigantic marine intruder to our shores.

Journalist: Dr Carter, can you please tell us how the giant octopus was eventually defeated?

Dr Carter: Well, the Defence Department authorized Commander Matthews to launch his submarine carrying the modified atomic warhead. I joined the commander while Professor Joyce remained at the base.





When the soldiers with the flame throwers succeeded in pushing the creature back into the sea, the commander ordered the torpedo to be fired at the creature. Unfortunately for us the octopus grabbed hold of our submarine and held us fast.

Using an aqualung, Commander Matthews bravely swam out to the octopus and placed explosive charges on it. It seemed like he almost had a personal vendetta against the creature. As it turned out, he was knocked out by the creature's flailing tentacles.

Journalist: What happened then? Obviously you couldn’t detonate the warhead with the commander still in the water and the sub being pinned down so close. How did you manage to do this while still being able to save the Commander and the sub?







Dr Carter: Well, I took it upon myself to don scuba gear and swim out and shoot the octopus in the eye, forcing it to release its grip on the ship. The most vulnerable part of the octopus is its brain, you see. Fortunately I was also able to bring Commander Matthews back to safety.

As the creature made its way toward open sea, the torpedo was detonated, destroying it.

Journalist: Thank you so much for your account, Dr Carter. We now take you back to the studio.

Studio News Presenter: As you can see from tonight’s special report, the recent events tell a story that shakes the very foundations of our complacent belief in our technological supremacy over nature, whereby all Man’s knowledge has increased so that any upheaval in nature would be beyond his belief.







Prior to this it seems that not even last year’s events involving the creature Godzilla’s rampage in Japan, nor even the Rhedosaurus’ wreaking havoc in New York City in ’53 had fully shaken us out of our complacency. With the new disaster having been visited upon us, we now know that the mind of man had thought of everything…..except that which was beyond his comprehension.





Could such a calamity befall us yet again? Will our children and grandchildren again…say… in about another 50 or 60 years’ time have to face another giant octopus, another Rhedosaurus or even another……Godzilla!?


Good night and thank you….




Points of interest


Kenneth Tobey also starred in 'The Thing from Another World' (1951) and 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms' (1953), both featured in this blog.

To keep shooting costs low, scenes were shot inside an actual submarine, above and under water, using handheld cameras.

A Pacific coastline scene was created by dumping several truckloads of sand onto a soundstage at Columbia Studios backed with a rear screen projection.






The principle feature of It Came From Beneath The Sea, are the octopus effects by Ray Harryhausen. Due to budget constraints Harryhausen was only provided with enough money to animate six of the octopus' arms. Two tentacles were cut off.

The octopus is quite impressive through Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation magic and its integration into various scenes where we are treated to seeing it seemingly climb on the Golden Gate Bridge, grabbing hold of a submarine and squashing fleeing citizens with its tentacles in the San Francisco harbour. Here was Hollywood’s answer to the increasing popularity of television in American homes.

The monster octopus is merely a creature whose habitat man has been disturbed by Man and is driven by the instinct to survive. Atomic testing caused it to become radioactive and it could no longer hunt because its usual prey could somehow sense its presence. It had to come to the surface in search of food. On this basis we can feel sympathy for the creature but as a monster character it is devoid of the personality of Harryhausen's other creatures. Also unlike Godzilla and Co. our marine monster is limited to a largely aquatic environment. No rampaging through cities or going on inland excursions for him!




The octopus originated the Mindinao Deep, the deepest part of our ocean's bottoms. What else lurks within the unexplored parts of our oceans?




Faith Domergue’s character, Professor Lesley Joyce provided for the time an interesting feminist point of view. Unfortunately it was somewhat spoiled by the love triangle and romantic scenes. As Matthews constantly kept grabbing Joyce, throwing her around, invading her space and physically cutting off her escape routes, I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if he tried that these days. Harassment law suits? Painful assault to his groin area? And what is it with Carter being so damn nice about some guy moving in on his girlfriend? Not even a good old ménage-a-trois arrangement happening here! I also couldn’t help wondering why can’t Joyce make up her damn mind about who and what she wants? Well….. (Note: In the interests of avoiding potential painful assaults to my groin area, I am making no references about “women!” at this point.)













©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Conquest of Space (1955)



Ambitious, serious action-packed sci-fi adventure


Directed by Byron Haskin
Produced by George Pal
Screenplay by James O'Hanlon
Music by Nathan Van Cleave
Editing by Everett Douglas
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Running time: 81 min.
Box office: $1 million (US)


Cast


Walter Brooke: Gen. Samuel T. Merritt
Eric Fleming: Capt. Barney Merritt
Mickey Shaughnessy: Sgt. Mahoney
Phil Foster: Jackie Siegle
William Redfield: Roy Cooper
William Hopper: Dr. George Fenton
Benson Fong: Imoto
Ross Martin: Andre Fodor
Vito Scotti: Sanella
John Dennis: Donkersgoed
Michael Fox: Elsbach
Joan Shawlee: Rosie McCann
Iphigenie Castiglioni: Mrs. Heinz Fodor






Trailer



(This post contains spoilers)


The film, Conquest of Space we are told is a “story of tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.” It opens with a dramatic narration and a music score where we are shown a view of a space station and a space craft under construction. We are told that the station is used both as an observation post and as a place where space ships can be constructed for future missions.


“This is a story of tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, when men have built a station in space, constructed in the form of a great wheel, and set a thousand miles out from the Earth, fixed by gravity, and turning about the world every two hours, serving a double purpose: an observation post in the heavens, and a place where a spaceship can be assembled, and then launched to explore other planets, and the vast universe itself, in the last and greatest adventure of mankind, the plunge toward the...





The film’s opening sentiments reflect the kind of attitude that has pervaded much of human history. It is an attitude based on the belief that everything on the earth and in the cosmos exists for the sole purpose of being tamed and conquered by human beings. Instead of being viewed as a realm ripe for “conquest,” space should be seen as being a new frontier which will allow us conquer our petty divisions and all of the constraints that bind us to our speck of rock in a collective spirit of human exploration and a desire to better understand our place in the universe. More than ever we need such a collective human endeavour to drag our eyes away from our on-line lives to gaze upward, outward and onward into a realm where there are more things that have or will ever be dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy!

The Wheel




“The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the colour of beryl, and all four had the same likeness. The appearance of their workings was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they moved, they went toward any one of four directions; they did not turn aside when they went. As for their rims, they were so high they were awesome; and their rims were full of eyes, all around the four of them…..” [Ezekiel 1]

On board the space station, Captain Barney Merritt complains to his father, Colonel (soon to be General) Merritt that he has been married for 3 ½ months but that he has also been on board the station (the Wheel) for a year without any leave. For him, he feels more like a “ghost” instead of a soldier. His request to return to Earth on the next transport is denied after his father says to him, “you belong here, Barney: space is your heritage.”

Human exploration of space will require extended periods away from family and loved ones which will be one of the many complicating factors that will need to be dealt with. Considering Colonel / General Merritt’s later breakdown and his views about humanity’s presence in space, it is ironic that he tells his son that he belongs in space as a part of his heritage.




On the rocket being constructed, Roy Cooper confides that he is afraid of going to the moon but he is also “afraid of being left behind.” Sgt Jackie Siegle asks, “Who’s gonna guarantee we’ll ever get back?” Suddenly an accident occurs when Roy Cooper becomes paralysed while working with high tension cabling. After he is taken back to “The Wheel” and checked out by the doctor, it is determined that he is suffering from “somatic dysphasia” or “space fatigue,” and needs to be returned to Earth. The doctor points out that “man has never before lived in space” while Roy tells his crewmates, “you fellas know how tough it’s (crew selection process) been.” 


Living and working in space and exploring space is, has always been and will always be a dangerous endeavour. A thin barrier of technology is all that separates existence from oblivion. People will continue to die in space despite all of the precautions we take. What effect would such an unnatural and alien manner of existence have on the human psyche as days stretch into weeks and then into months and potentially into years? How tough and rigorous must the training be to prepare people to deal with such stresses?

The six crewmen who made it through the selection process go to the mess hall. Immediately their unique status is apparent as everyone else stands to attention until Sgt Mahoney and his “six little lambs” take their places at their own table. Their meal consists of a special diet of various flavoured tablets and water: “all the nourishment you need, no waste.”




The provision of sufficient food and water for long duration space flights and planetary missions may prove to be a logistical nightmare until recycling and methods of achieving self-sufficiency have been perfected. At least obtaining nourishment for astronauts has come a long way from notions of diets consisting solely of pills or bland slop sucked from tubes!

The dangerous environment of space is suddenly and shockingly made apparent when the wheel is struck by meteors with the concussive force of Thor’s hammer. In an unnerving scene, the men in the mess hall are hurled and sprawled all over tables and end up wearing the contents of their dinners. Under Col / Gen Merritt’s direction the wheel is eventually stabilized and damage control crews manage to seal the hull leaks.







Micro-meteorites and man-made space junk pose a real and dangerous threat to modern space craft and the International Space Station.



Every bit of space junk orbiting the Earth!





A cargo rocket arrives and transfers Dr George Fenton who has some critical news for Col / Gen Merritt and adds a complicating factor to the story. Juxtaposed to this is the apparent emotional and mental unravelling of Merritt. In an ironic response to Dr George Fenton’s query, he states that he is as “fit as a fiddle.” We have already had lingering shots of Merritt in his quarters undergoing some kind of inner turmoil; almost losing his balance on his way to his quarters; displaying almost Captain Queeg-like utterances when severely reprimanding members of his crew: “One second can be the difference between life and death!” and chastising those who talk about food when there are those on board who can’t share their diet. We know that Merritt is not a well man.

Merritt questions the construction and purpose of the space craft being assembled. It has been brought into space and assembled piece by piece as part of an international combined effort. He is under the impression that the ship is destined to go to the Moon, but can’t understand why it has wings.

Fenton soon informs Merritt via a letter from the Supreme International Space Authority that the true destination of the ship is in fact Mars. The newly promoted general Merritt almost blows a gasket over this new development as he has all along been preparing to go to the Moon as a test run of the ship’s systems. “No word, no warning; just take off and leave!” Although he considers the mission to be “stupid and callous” he accepts the command and his son also requests his transfer be stopped as he too wants to go on the mission to Mars with his father. Along with Merritt and his son, the crew after the calling for volunteers will consist of Siegle, Imoto and Andre Fodor, each possessing a necessary speciality.

Unlike film fiction where destinations in space can be changed on a whim, real-life missions take years of meticulous planning. We have, however moved a long way from selecting crews based solely on fly boys and test pilots possessing the right stuff. From the days of Gemini and Apollo, emphasis has been placed on crew members being mission specialists, (geologists, physicists, etc.,) We have also witnessed many examples of international cooperation in space since the 1970s culminating in the construction of the ISS and various joint missions to it. The space station itself was brought into space and assembled module by module over time.

In agreeing to go on the mission to Mars, Imoto gives an impassioned speech about the Earth’s need to find more resources. He uses his native Japan’s experience as an example of a country embarking on a “terrible war” having no other resources apart from paper for constructing houses and wood for chop sticks. Without such a mission as the one he has volunteered for, “Japan’s yesterday will be the world’s tomorrow.”

Although criticism has been made about such sentiments being little more than a apologetic justification for Japan’s aggression during the Second World War, there is an important element of truth in the character Imoto’s words.

Human conflict and warfare can never be seen in simple superficial black and white, good vs bad or right and wrong terms. The reasons for and causes of conflict are often complex and multifaceted. The actions of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and a host of military acts of aggression since cannot be condoned or justified. However, a combination of political, social and economic elements can come together to impel a nation’s people to adopt a violent course of action in order to seek redress and find a solution to perceived problems and threats to its survival.

Could a similar planet-wide catastrophe threatening the very survival of the human species be extrapolated from such a scenario? Imoto thinks so and for him missions like the one he has volunteered to take part in offers the best chance of guaranteeing humanity’s long-term survival.






Merritt’s long time friend Sgt Mahoney volunteers to go on the mission but he is rejected on the grounds of being too old. Helping an old friend or the usual case of ageism? Later on in a recreation lounge, the crew watch a tv broadcast from Trans World Communication on Earth when suddenly a special bulletin interrupts the crew’s entertainment to announce the official launch of the ship to Mars. This is then followed by a heart-rending private message from Fodor’s mother and an amusing one from Sgt Seigle’s “two-timin’ tomata’” of a girlfriend, Rosie

Spaceship 1: Mission To Mars




The ship with the ‘highly original’ name! “Spaceship 1” launches on its long voyage to Mars. Imagine being stuck that long in a tin can with such an annoying character like Seigle. That would be enough to push anyone over the edge, never mind having to grapple with the moral and religious implications of one’s presence in God’s domain!

You would think that Mahoney’s stowing away aboard the ship just might call into question mission security procedures, not to mention throwing the presumed pre-calculated weight to fuel ratios necessary for the mission’s success completely out of whack!

During the course of the voyage, Gen Merritt is in evident anguish over his doubts about man’s role and presence in space. For him man’s every move is recorded in the bible, “except for this one.” He questions whether we are “explorers or invaders” and concludes that they are committing “an act of blasphemy” by their very presence in “the sacred domain of God.” By comparison, even a certain Captain Queeg from Caine Mutiny fame would come across as being sane and rational!

Merritt’s son in his discussion with his father suggests that with the Earth’s diminishing resources, the timing was too perfect to be accidental and that the “universe was put here for man to conquer.” And this argument is supposed to help placate someone who is emotionally, spiritually and mentally unbalanced!

Would humanity’s presence in space and colonisation of planets constitute an act of exploration or invasion? In Merritts’ mangled mental and spiritually suffering condition there can only be one answer. However, life is never that black and white. It depends from whose or what point of view you’re seeing things. Our very presence in space and on other planets, along with our interactions with such alien environments would cause them to be affected and altered even in the minutest sense, no matter what our intentions may be.

What if we come across some form of life whether it be deemed by us to be intelligent or not? If “intelligent,” they may have a definite point of view about our presence in their domain. Also the sheer immensity of space itself makes the idea of the universe being entirely at humanity’s disposal laughable. We are after all located on a pimple on the end of the bum at the arse-end of the universe!

As if there is in fact a deity intent on expressing its displeasure at puny humanity’s efforts to trespass on its realm, an external camera suddenly malfunctions resulting in Siegle and Fodor having to go perform an EVA and make repairs.





While they are making repairs on the camera, a huge asteroid hurtles toward the ship. After Merritt performs an emergency manoeuvre to save the ship, it seems as if the danger is over.





As Seigle and Fodor continue their work, a swarm of micro meteors strafes the ship and Fodor is struck by one. He is dead and attached to the ship by a tether: an unnerving drifting admonishment and reminder to the rest of the crew of their own mortality, something no-one wants to reminded of least of all Seigle who cries out at the sight of Fodor’s drifting body, “Get lost, will ya’!”





General Merritt eventually decides to go outside the ship and conduct a space burial for Fodor. The passage he has selected seems to be from Psalm 38;

“{A Psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.} O LORD, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease: and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart …………..For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin………..Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.”

Merritt in his anguished mental state has hit upon a passage from the bible that for him seems to reflect the kind of grief he feels and how he believes that his own sins are the cause of what he is going through and which has provoked God to act against him and his crew for daring to do what they have done. He has now confessed his sins against God and asks for His help to save him.

As the voyage progresses General Merritt’s mental and emotional state further unravels. As he watches the planet Mars loom closer, he declares it to be both “the planet and the blasphemy.” During a routine report to Earth he rants about their mission being either to “Mars or hell.” He even declares that he would blow the ship up rather than complete the mission.

It is a wonder how at this stage the General’s condition can be reported as being the product of suffering very bad headaches and lack of sleep. Worse still, he is left in command of the mission! To make matters worse, Mahoney makes the ominous observation that as they near Mars the planet appears to be “all red-faced and pouting, like she’s angry with us.”


Mars




As the ship begins its decent, we have a quite realistic view of the jettisoning of its booster rockets which brings to mind the Space Shuttle’s own jettisoning of its rockets after take-off from Earth.





In one of numerous dramatic scenes that punctuate and drive the film’s plot, the General as he is piloting the ship suddenly has a vision and attempts to crash the spaceship being convinced that their mission violates the laws of God. His son, however is able to overpower him and completes the landing.





After the crew explores their surroundings on the surface of the planet, Imoto grabs a handful of soil and declares it to be good for growing things. He intends to plant some flower seeds in the Martian soil. Suddenly they hear and see a gushing stream of water pouring down from the rocket.





The leak is the result of sabotage caused by General Merritt, who in his deranged state shoots at his son with a .45 automatic. As father and son struggle the pistol discharges, killing General Merritt. Sgt Mahoney, witnesses only the tail-end of the struggle and thinks Capt Merritt shot his father intentionally. He wants to have Barney brought to trial or court martialled and sentenced to death hoping, “it will be slow so I can watch you kick.” Until that can happen back on Earth, Barney is still the ranking officer and therefore now in command of the mission.




Facing an inhospitable Martian environment and having to ration their limited water supply, the crew will need to be able to survive for a year until the Earth reaches the exact orbital position needed for their return trip.





In the face of such a bleak prospect and during the act of burying General Merritt, Imoto plants a single seed in the Martian soil. This symbolic act highlights the prospect that out of the ashes of despair and death, hope and life can find a way to grow and flourish. 

After months slowly pass by the crew celebrates Christmas on Mars. However, their morale is very low due to a lack of water and no contact with Earth, besides having to put up with Siegle’s annoying presence for so long! Mahoney now begins to believe the General was right all along and that they are all cursed. Just as Siegle declares that “only God can make a tree” and asks, “Where’s the water?” a snowstorm suddenly blows-up thereby solving the water supply problem.

When July arrives, it is time for the crew to make preparations for their departure. With the approach of their launch window, the seed Imoto had earlier planted sprouts into a tiny flower proving that life is possible and that Mars can be agriculturally productive.

Humanity’s ability to colonize other planets will be determined by our ability to transform those worlds by terraforming them, as well as to utilize the resources of those worlds to produce water and oxygen. Even our own seemingly sterile moon has the essential elements for producing fuel, oxygen and water for future lunar colonies and missions to other planets. The prospect also of mineral exploitation of other planets, our moon and asteroids by nations and private corporations also appears to be looming ever closer and may prove to be a critical option as our own planet’s finite resources become depleted.

A Marsquake suddenly rocks the landing site, throwing their launch plans into jeopardy. The ship which is now tilted at the wrong angle, needs to be straightened. Barney comes up with a plan to fire the engines in order to shift the sand from under the ship and have it oriented correctly. At the last minute before take off the plan succeeds and the ship gradually rises from the Martian surface.






Homeward Bound


Once in space, Mahoney who is impressed with Barney's heroic actions and leadership skills decides not to press charges against him upon their return to Earth. Rather than tarnish General Merrit’s impeccable reputation and career through court-martial proceedings, it is decided that “for the man who conquered space” it would be better that it was made known that he died in the performance of his duty and had sacrificed himself to save his crew.



Points Of Interest

Production & Background


Director, Byron Haskin was involved with other sci fi film classics that have been and will be featured in this blog. He worked with George Pal on The War of the Worlds (1953) and there was his work on From the Earth to the Moon (1958) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964).

The film Conquest of Space is based on a 1949 non-fiction book of the same title illustrated by Chesley Bonestell and written by German Rocket Society member Willy Ley. Bonestell known for his photo-realistic paintings of outer space vistas, worked on the space matte paintings used in the film. Material from Wernher von Braun's 1952 book The Mars Project was also incorporated in the making of the film.

Originally George Pal had the idea of making a movie involving a trilogy of stories featuring a giant revolving space station in orbit around the Earth from which missions to the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter would be launched. Paramount studios wasn’t keen on the idea of a lengthy space epic, which was deemed to be too expensive. What we were eventually left with was a scaled-down version involving only the one mission to Mars, together with a complicated father-son relationship and the mission commander suffering a mental and emotional breakdown as well as religious / spiritual delusions and jeopardizing the mission with acts of sabotage.


Special Effects & Music




The special effects and the visuals (many taken from Chesley Bonestell’s paintings) together with the impressive sets and props by art directors Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson still make an impact on us today as we witness beautiful star fields, rockets approaching from earth as viewed from the space wheel, the looming fiery meteor / asteroid, meteor fragments bombarding the space ship and striking Fodor through to the ship landing on Mars. All of this and without the benefit of CGI!





Van Cleave who was responsible for the music in Conquest of Space also made music for other sci fi films that will feature in this blog,`The Space Children' & `The Colossus of New York.'

Realistic Portrayal





Conquest of Space at least within the context of the mid 1950s made a worthy attempt at a realistic portrayal of space exploration. Take for instance the “Space Wheel" which is almost a precursor to the current International Space Station. The Wheel like our own ISS has an international cooperative basis behind its construction and function. In the case of the Wheel in the film the crew consists of US and former WWII enemies in the form of Japanese and Austrian / German representatives. However, there don’t seem to be any 1950s Cold War characters from the former Soviet Union or Communist China!





Consider also the the movement of the astronauts through the vacuum of space and the scenes of weightlessness inside the space ship. Such depictions appear to be far more impressive than many other similar film portrayals at the time and later.

Detracting Features


There are certain unbelievable and unrealistic elements of the film that detract from its overall impact as quality film sc-fi. For instance, how is it that General Merritt, the commander of the space station could be responsible for assembling a spacecraft to be used on the Moon / Mars mission and then raise questions about its design and purpose only after it has been completed? Then suddenly the mission’s destination is changed and Merritt and his crew are to leave for Mars and not the moon the very next day!






Apart from his function as comic relief, the character Jackie Siegle adds to his annoying presence by constantly asking dumb questions and making stupid statements about basic principles of space flight that one might presume any astronaut with the most basic of training would be familiar with. Of course this device serves as a means of informing the audience about the unusual aspects of space flight. Still, we can only hope and pray that the laws of physics would change long enough so that if Siegle went outside the ship moving at 20,000 mph he'd be swept off and be left behind! Astronaut Siegle apparently can’t even get his head around the fact that they wont be able to take off from Mars for a year which will be the next time the earth aligns with Mars. And yes, cointainly, they are stuck with him for a whole year! Forget about it!

Conclusion


When all things are considered, what you are left with is a very ambitious and action-packed film that still stands the test of time as being a piece of wonderful sci-fi film adventure that seriously deals with aspects religion and human emotion.











©Chris Christopoulos 2014