Saturday, 20 December 2014

Sci Fi On Film & The World Of 1956

We ended our Sci-Fi film journey through 1955 with an alien threat to Earth in the blockbuster, This Island Earth. We also saw our planet being threatened by alien menaces in The Beast with a Million Eyes and The Quatermass Xperiment.

As we saw, such fears did not stop us from venturing out into space and facing the perils of the final frontier in the ground-breaking film, Conquest of Space.

Threats to our survival came not only from outer space but also from that other little known frontier, the seas and oceans of the world in such films as, It Came from Beneath the Sea and Revenge of the Creature.

Of course, there were also threats to our survival that were largely of our own making such as in Creature with the Atom Brain, Day the World Ended and Tarantula.

We’ll be beginning our journey through Sci-Fi on film for the year 1956 in much the same way as we ended our look at the previous year. We’ll start off with an alien threat to Earth in the classic, Earth vs The Flying Saucers. Other films from 1956 that will be featured include;

First, let’s see what was going on back in 1956......


The yearly Inflation rate in the USA was 1.52% while in the UK it was 4.7%. On average, buying a house might set you back $11.700.00 while you might be earning $4.450.00 per year. A gallon of gas was 22 cents which would run a new car you might’ve bought for $2,050.00. 

Along with an increase in living standards there was an increase in college education with 1 in 3 high school graduates going to college. On TV you’d probably be watching "As The World Turns" and "The Price is Right" along with the Ed Sullivan show which even featured a certain Elvis Presley who entered the music charts for the first time with his hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." By his third and final appearance on the Sullivan show, Elvis was filmed from only the waist-up. due to complaints about his suggestive hip-swivelling gyrations! Oh, and Hallelujah for disposable diapers and tefal non-stick frying pans!

Then & Now

Events, conflicts, advancements in science and technology and the way we live today have their genesis in the time period which is the focus of this blog.

Then as now, countries try to extend their power and influence by means of direct interference in the affairs of other nations, leaving future generations with a mighty mess to clean up.

Since the fifties the conflicts in the Middle East have proven to be intractable. Tensions between the Muslim world and the Western world have been strained.

Palestinians are still trying to obtain their own state and reclaim basic dignity and human rights by breaking out of the apartheid-like system they have been forced to endure.

Deranged criminal acts of terrorism are still being perpetrated resulting in the deaths of children who simply attend school to get an education or in the deaths of civilians who are merely enjoying a coffee at a café or watching a marathon running race

Racial conflict and inequality is still being grappled with in the US and elsewhere with incidents involving the death of unarmed black civilians at the hands of law enforcement officers providing the trigger for the release of pent up feelings of injustice and discrimination.

We still like to build more and more roads that attract more and more cars requiring the construction of even more roads!

Oh, by the way, at the time of writing, the failed 55 year old US policy of embargo on Cuba appears to be on the verge of being revoked.

And did I mention that we still have the capacity to destroy the world several times over with the nuclear weapons we have at our disposal?

Distrust of government and authorities? Surely not! In 1956 the CIA engaged in a secret program called MK-ULTRA that included dosing hundreds of unsuspecting subjects (people) with LSD and other hallucinogens! We can trust ‘em now, right? right?

Let’s see what was happening back in 1956 and the kind of legacy that was left to future generations…….

International Events

Dwight Eisenhower is re-elected President of USA.

Soviet leader Khrushchev publicly denounces Stalin, ushering in the process of "de-Stalinization."

Egyptian President Nasser pledged to reconquer Palestine. His government made Islam the state religion.

Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal to provide revenue for the construction of the high Aswan dam. His speech in Alexandria, which included the code word “De Lesseps,” triggered the army to start the seizure of the canal. Egypt seized the Suez Canal and then Britain and France responded with force.

Britain and France had announced economic pressure on Egypt to accept international control over the Suez Canal. This was followed by British, French, US agreement to establish an association to operate the Suez. Nasser viewed this as an attempt to provoke war.

An Israeli delegation presented France with a fabricated reason for war in Egypt. Israel proposed to invade Egypt and then let France and Britain come in as peacekeepers and occupy the Suez Canal.

British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had agreed with the French that once fighting began, they would send in paratroopers under the pretext of separating the fighting factions, but would actually support Israel, seize the canal and undermine Nasser.

Israel invades Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Paratroopers under Ariel Sharon dropped into Sinai to open the Straits of Tiran. The Sinai Campaign, also known as Operation Kadesh, lasted eight days.

At Kafr Kassem village 49 Palestinians were massacred by Israeli border guards enforcing a curfew.

Gaza was occupied by the Israeli army and evacuated in March 1957.

Britain and France land troops in Egypt during fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces around the Suez Canal. A cease-fire was declared two days later.

The UN created an emergency force (UNEF) to supervise a cease fire.

Britain surrendered to American demands and stopped British operations in Egypt’s Canal Zone.

Soviet troops suppress a popular uprising against the communist regime in Hungary. Russian troops and tanks attacked Budapest and crushed the Hungarian revolt. Martial law was proclaimed and mass arrests followed. 25,000 people were killed. 

Fidel Castro begins a revolution in Cuba. He and 81 rebel exiles departed Mexico to liberate Cuba from the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

Pakistan became an independent republic within the British Commonwealth. Pakistan (Islamic Republic of Pakistan) became the first Islamic republic. 

Khrushchev announced that the USSR would produce an H-bomb guided missile. He also told Western diplomats "We will bury you." (Also translated as “be present at the funeral” of the West.)

The Sino-Soviet ideological rift developed. (These days we tend to snuggle up to China due to its influence and economic clout despite it being a one party dictatorship with questionable conduct toward those who display dissent or seek independence. We jumped into bed with Russia for a while but they’re once again the bad boy on the block. It would be interesting if Russia and China suddenly discovered a new found love for each other! And so it goes on and on….)

The future dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein joined the Arab Baath Socialist Party. (We know where his career path led….)

After the French withdrew from Vietnam, the US installed and financially supported the political puppet regime of South Viet Nam. South Vietnam was essentially a creation of the US. Later on there were US advisers and support staff and then full-scale involvement. (Sound a bit familiar?)

Economic & Business Developments

US Congress approves the Highway Act, which allows for construction of the U.S. interstate highway system. (Ah, nothing like dependence on oil and the motor car. Love the smell of petrol fumes first thing in the morning!)

Atomic Energy Commission approves development of commercial nuclear power plants.

The US Federal Hourly Minimum Wage was set at $1.00 an hour

Science & Technology

The first transatlantic telephone cable goes into operation

Dr. Albert Sabin develops an oral polio vaccine.

Ampex Corporation demonstrated its first commercial videotape recorder,

The first known airborne US hydrogen bomb was tested over Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. 

The Bell X-2 rocket plane set a world aircraft speed record of 3,050 kph.

IBM’s Model 305 computer was capable of storing 20 megabytes of data.

IBM lab leader Reynold B. Johnson developed a way to store computer data on a metal disk instead of on tape or drum. 

The first commercial disk drive, called RAMAC (random access method of accounting and control) used 50 disk platters, each 2-feet in diameter and held (a whopping!) 5 megabytes of data! It was the start of the disk drive industry and many thanks to them. (I have a compact 1 terabyte storage device next to me that would've made the developers curl up in a foetal position!)

The first all-colour TV station was NBC-TV in Chicago.

The neutrino, an atomic particle with no charge, was produced at the Los Alamos laboratory in the US.

The cosmic-ray neutron intensity monitor collected the first evidence indicating the existence of the heliosphere, the region of space dominated by the Sun. The edge of the heliosphere is a magnetic bubble-like medium and is located far beyond the orbit of recently demoted Pluto. The region is influenced by the sun’s magnetic field.

The computer mouse was invented. The point-and-click graphical interface was introduced by an MIT group working on the Whirlwind computer. The mouse was originally referred to as an "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System." (Not a very furry or friendly term!)

Patent applied for "machine vision device,” now known as bar code scanner technology. (Ding!)

Bell Telephone began to develop the visual telephone.

The newly developed ion microscope made atoms visible.

It was first proposed that “free radicals” caused aging, indicating that antioxidants may slow the process. (And now we have a whole industry based around it!)

Soft contact lenses were invented.

MD Ross and ML Lewis reached 22.8 km in a balloon while Dr Edward Purdy Ney and colleague, John Winckler, built a pyramid-shaped balloon that set a world altitude record of 27 miles. It carried instrumentation for meteorological and cosmic-ray research.

Sporting Events & Achievements

The Olympic Games are held in Melbourne, Australia. The Netherlands and Spain refused to compete in support of Hungary following Russia’s invasion. 45 athletes from Hungary defected during the games. Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq boycotted the games as a protest over British and French involvement in the Suez Canal crisis. China also boycotted the Games in protest at the inclusion of athletes from Taiwan.

Australian swimmer, Murray Rose became an Olympic champion winning the first of his three gold medals at the Melbourne Games in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

Light heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano announced his retirement with a record of 43 knockouts and having won every fight in his professional career.

At age 21, Floyd Patterson became the youngest boxer to win the heavyweight crown when he knocked out Archie Moore.

Entertainment & Popular Culture

Movies included The Ten Commandments, Around the World in 80 Days, The Man with the Golden Arm and The Seventh Seal

Songs included Don’t Be Cruel, Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog and I Could Have Danced All Night. Rock and roll becomes a national phenomenon, in large part due to the popularity of Elvis Presley.

Little Richard released "Tutti Frutti" while Buddy Holly recorded "Blue Days Black Night" in Nashville.

Rockabilly performer, Carl Perkins’ song "Blue Suede Shoes" hit the top of the charts.

The Man In Black, Johnny Cash recorded "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line."

John Lennon formed a British band called the Quarrymen. (We all know what that band morphed into!)

Popular TV Shows included, Danny Thomas Show, Perry Como Show, Ed Sullivan Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and This is Your Life.

My Fair Lady opened in New York amd the beautiful Grace Kelly married Monaco’s Prince Rainier III.

The Arts

Artist Jackson Pollock died in an automobile accident in East Hampton, N.Y.

Eugene O'Neill wrote his play "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

The first edition of "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg is published.

C. Wright Mills’ "The Power Elite," was published in which it was asserted that a small group of powerful decision makers drove national events. (Whoda thunked it?Required reading back in my college days in the 1970s!)

Race Relations

Autherine Lucy arrived at the Tuscaloosa branch of the University of Alabama and became the first black person to enrol there. She had been accepted in 1952 and then was denied because of her race.

The US Montgomery Boycott sparked arrests that included Martin Luther King.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ban on segregation in public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education and also ended race segregation on buses.

Tennessee National Guardsmen halted rioters protesting the admission of 12 African-Americans to schools in Clinton, Tennessee.

In South Africa the government ordered over 100,000 non-whites to leave their homes in Johannesburg within a year, in order to make room for whites.

Nelson Mandela and 156 others were arrested for political activities in South Africa. They were charged with treason for supporting the Freedom Charter, which called for a non-racial and socialist-based economy.


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" 

George Santayana (1863-1952)

You have to know the past to understand the present


©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Friday, 5 December 2014

This Island, Earth (1955)

An enthralling visual feast that takes you on one of the best sci-fi adventure rides of your life!

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Produced by William Alland
Written by Raymond F. Jones, Franklin Coen, Edward G. O'Callaghan
Music by Joseph Gershenson (music supervision), Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Edited by Virgil Vogel
Production company: Universal-International
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Running time: 87 minutes
Box office: $1.7 million (US)


Jeff Morrow: Exeter
Faith Domergue: Ruth Adams
Rex Reason: Dr Cal Meacham
Lance Fuller: Braack
Russell Johnson: Steve Carlson
Duglas Spencer: The Monitor of Metaluna
Robert Nichols: Joe Wilson
Karl Ludwig Lindt: Dr Adolph Engelborg

A quest to save a dying planet!! 

An evil alien scheme to take over the Earth!!

An interplanetary war!!


Warning! Spoilers follow.....

Things In Heaven And Earth

Let us take in a panoramic view of the great seat of human pride and power, the capital city of the United States of America, Washington DC. Here we find a fitting representative of human arrogance and hubris, Dr Cal Meacham as he gives an interview to a handful of reporters, prior to his boarding a Lockheed T-33A jet fighter at Andrews AFB, just outside Washington, DC. He has just attended a conference on atomic energy, and filled to the brim with a sense of his own self-importance, he parcels out tantalizing titbits of information about the possible “industrial application of atomic energy” and the need to “team up atomic energy with electronics” in order to truly realize the push button age. No matter if the reporters and the public they “inform” don’t understand since according to Meacham, “what counts is how I make it work.” Watch now as he boards his plane, that pinnacle of human technological ingenuity and soars off into the wide blue yonder of smug self-assurance.

Fly high and far little fly and gaze down upon the mighty Grand Canyon and the majesty of the Sierra Nevada range from the lofty domain you think you have made your own. Now underscore that achievement with a triumphant buzz over the Ryberg Electronics Company airfield control tower and follow this up with a steep climb that will bring you ever nearer to the sun!

As your plane flames out and before you crash, do you consider the possibility that you have tried to fly too close to the sun once too often? Then again, as your ears are being assailed by a “high frequency howl” did you ever consider the possibility that control would be taken out your hands by someone or something more powerful than could’ve been dreamt of in your philosophy? How does it feel to lose control of one’s own destiny as you descend enveloped in a bright green beam of power to make what would normally have been an impossible perfect landing? Not only had your “plane died up there,” but so had all of your old certainties that provided the foundations for your life and the materials for fashioning a future fantasy foretold by a fool.

And so the master Cal Meacham and his apprentice, Joe Wilson put the incident aside and concentrate on their search for the philosopher’s stone…..

Beware Of “Gods” Bearing Gifts

How easy to hook the human natives with the tantalizing temptation of technological trinkets! During one of their experiments, Cal and Joe have managed to burn out one of their large condensers. Joe had ordered two replacement condensers but their regular supplier had sent them several small beads instead. Surprisingly to these primitives, the new beads (ABC model from "Electronic Section, Unit 16.") can hold over 30,000 volts with no leakage before disintegrating. They are also impervious to your puny diamond drill! How odd is it that the supplier hadn’t had an order from Cal's company for six weeks despite the fact that Joe swears he had definitely placed such an order!

Even more surprising, our human friend has received an unusual order in the form of instructions and parts (more than 2,000 of them) to build a complex communication device called an Interocitor. Shear human curiosity especially of the scientific variety should be enough bait to attract attention in order to reel in and land these knowledge hungry fish. Notice that even though neither Meacham nor Joe know anything about the device, they decide to go ahead and begin construction. As Meacham declares, “I want to know what it is and what it does!”

The assembled Interociter consists of a large cabinet with an inverted triangular-shaped screen on top. They have built a Trojan horse for someone else but all that emerges from it at first is a voice instructing them how to "clear the screen." When they do so, the image of a man called Exeter appears.

Exeter informs Meacham that he has passed an aptitude test. His ability to build the Interocitor demonstrates that he is qualified to "join our team" as part of Exeter's special research project. It is put to him that he is to board a plane that will land, wait for five minutes, and then take off again with or without him in it.

Like so many who are seduced and fooled by span emails, unsolicited marketing phone calls and political spin that play on people’s vanity, needs and desires, Meacham seems not to be able to see beyond the sales pitch to what is actually before his eyes looking down at him. After all, this fellow “scientist” and “colleague” is merely “seeking scientists of exceptional ability.” Right?

How does it feel, Meacham, to be looking up into the eyes of someone or something that views you at best as a gifted primitive who may prove to be of use? If you are not yet convinced then a demonstration of power might reveal how resistance and exposure of the truth would be futile. Even now Exeter orders Cal to set the parts and instruction catalogue on a worktable and disintegrates it by means of three bright red laser-like rays shooting out from the corners of the screen. See now how the Interociter blows up, catches fire, and burns, leaving merely a charred memory of its existence.

“He was right about one thing. I’m going to be on that plane.” Oh, it was all too easy! Cal has agreed to board the flight.

Today is the day of the flight and see how the twin-engine Douglas DC-3 Dakota automatically lands in a pea-soup fog worthy of the ending to a Humphrey Bogart film. The plane’s cockpit windows are painted over, and there are no side windows. Inside the cockpit stands an Interociter through which Exeter's voice instructs Cal to take up position in the single central seat. As he is doing so, Joe pleads with him, “This whole thing smells to high heaven. Cal, I beg of you, don’t go!”

As is often the case in human affairs, the danger is recognized when it is too late. The plane takes off into the unknown leaving Joe enveloped and consumed by a thick fog of foreboding.

False face must hide what the false heart doth know

Cal lands and is met by Dr Ruth Adams whom he remembers from a conference and a midnight swim some five years previously. However, she insists that he is mistaken.

Ruth now drives him to "The Club" where all necessary comforts and facilities are provided. Here she introduces Cal to Dr Steve Carlson and Dr Adolf Engelborg, both famous scientists.

Finally Cal gets to meet Exeter face-to-face and is informed that he represents a group of scientists who are developing technological achievements such as limitless amounts of nuclear energy that will one day “put an end to war.”

Ah, to be made to feel special, with a sense of belonging to a privileged community of individuals working as part of a team! Will the enticement of the prospect of collaborating with esteemed colleagues for a noble global humanitarian cause prove to be too irresistible to our friend? We human beings are capable of blatant lying and subterfuge in order to get what we want. Just ask the indigenous peoples of many countries throughout history who have been invaded and lied to by technologically advanced civilisations! Why would we expect anything different from intelligent beings we might encounter?

Lo and behold! Right in the middle of Exeter giving Cal a virtual tour of the facilities, the Interociter indicates an incoming call is being received. Alone, Exeter is told that The Monitor is displeased that he is not moving fast enough. Despite Exeter’s protests, The Monitor instructs him to “carry on with Plan A as instructed.”

And The Truth Is Plain To See

Exeter and his erstwhile but unnerving and rather uptight assistant, Braack are at this moment hosting a formal dinner for all the members of The Club: In the background you can hear Mozart's "A Little Night Music" playing. Listen now as Cal turns to Exeter and asks him what he thinks of Mozart. Exeter replies with, "I don't know the gent...Ah. My mind must have been wandering. Your composer, of course." Oops! Hear how Cal retorts, "'Our composer? He belongs to the world!" BINGO!

Outside, under the pretext of taking in some fresh air, Cal observes to Ruth and Steve that all of the scientists are involved “in the production of atomic energy” and that there is a lack of representation of any other scientific discipline such as biochemistry.

Now in his laboratory Cal positions a thick lead plate in front of his Interociter in an attempt to obtain some privacy. He observes that Ruth and Steve “are walking around as if you’re scared of your own shadows.” Ruth now confesses that she did indeed take a midnight swim with him back in Vermont, but had to be sure that she could trust him. Take away people’s sense of privacy and trust by increasing surveillance and monitoring and the way is left open for control and manipulation by those who possess and exercise power. Add to that a good measure of fear as a powerful motivator for compliance and obedience. As is pointed out by Ruth and Steve, Exeter has a "sun lamp" type of device that is called a “Transformer” whose effects are “similar to a lobotomy” whereby areas of the brain governing willpower are targeted rendering the victim compliant.

It looks like Exeter has failed in his attempt to use the Interociter to spy on Cal, Ruth, and Steve (foiled by a cat named Neutron). So, what does he do? He decides to set up a demonstration for Cal of his power by using the Interociter’s neutrino ray (“missing link between energy and matter”) to cut a hole in the protective lead plate. His implied message is one familiar to all power-wielding authoritarian dictatorships: comply and obey, or else! How subtle!

Bid For Freedom

Abuse of power, threats and intimidation in the end only serve to generate opposition and resistance. See how in a final meeting Steve, Ruth and Cal share what information they possess: sketches of the Interociter and how it might function; sketches of Exeter and Braack highlighting their shared physical characteristics such as indentations in the forehead, and a sketch of a hillside, not far from the compound, which appears to be hollowed out and covered.

As our three plucky intrepid scientists make their escape bid from the house and compound, Exeter and Braack receive a call from The Monitor: emergency Plan B is now in effect involving a full evacuation, and destruction of the house and its occupants with the exception of Cal and Ruth. It appears that Exeter’s home planet’s ionisation layer is failing.

Braack with typical security and military mentality uses the Interociter to fire neutrino beams at the car which Steve, Cal and Ruth are using to escape in. As Steve tries to draw the fire of the Interociter away from Ruth and Cal he is killed, along with Adolf Engelborg, as he attempts to communicate with the two scientists.

Keep running Cal and Ruth until you get to the airstrip where you will find and board a tiny single-engine1949 Aeronca 11 Chief plane. As you take off what do you see? Yes! An actual flying saucer of the kind you’ve been hearing many reports about. You’ll be seeing plenty of those around Washington DC next year! What is it doing? Hovering and firing a ray which has destroyed the house! So, what they can’t possess and control, they destroy. Sound familiar?

Into The Whale’s Belly

Wait a minute! What is the saucer doing now? Oh no! It’s hovering over your pathetic little plane, and bathing it in a green light. Even though there’s still another decade until Star Trek, it appears that your plane is now being locked on and being drawn into the saucer by a tractor beam!

On board the ship Cal and Ruth see its commander, Exeter and his crew who all look like him. And of course, there’s Braack being all security chiefy and such. In Cal’s eyes they have committed "mass murder" to which Exeter retorts that he could have done nothing else, and that he is neither a “devil or saint.” Cal and Ruth are now destined to fly to Exeter's home world, Metaluna which lies “far beyond your solar system.” Exeter even attempts to appeal to the humans to “try to have more sympathy” when they come to better understand the plight of his people.

A Space Oddity

Strap yourselves in because you’re now passing through a "thermal barrier" and it’s getting hot, hot hot! It looks like Cal and Ruth will need to undergo a "conversion" process so they can survive in an atmosphere with a pressure akin to being far submerged under Earth's oceans.

Just when you think it safe here come the Zahgons who appear to be bent on spoiling your jaunt through space by attacking you with guided meteors (yes, I said meteors!) Who are these Zahgons I hear you ask? Well, (apart from sounding like characters from a Douglas Adam’s novel) they are the interplanetary enemies of Metaluna who they currently are at war with.

After dispatching several Zahgon attack craft, you manage to pass through the "ionization layer," toward the desolate and barren surface of Metaluna. You discover that the remaining Metalunans have had to retreat underground and that they are facing imminent defeat. According to Exeter, it is the “beginning of the end of our world.” You can see now the reason behind the urgency of Exeter's project: Metaluna needs vast amounts of uranium to prevent the loss their last shield.

You now know that the Metalunans came to Earth seeking uranium deposits as well as scientists to help them defend their planet in a war against the Zahgons. Will you now take a second to contemplate the possibility that a technologically advanced civilisation may wish to establish contact not for any altruistic motive such as warning us about our own planet’s destructive path or wishing to share the fruits of their technological development in a spirit of universal love and galactic kumbaya? Instead, they may be governed by an at best “what’s in it for us?” mentality or at worst by a need to subjugate and exploit.

And of course, we naturally assume that a technologically advanced civilisation elsewhere in the universe would be soooo much more spiritually advanced than we are. No war! Peace & harmony! Meaning of life, the universe and everything discovered! Tea and cucumber sandwiches with God! Of course they couldn’t possibly be engaged in flexing their technological muscles with a galactic neighbour over something like real estate, ideology, religion, politics, ethnicity or something equally petty. Nor would they stoop so low as to kick sand in the face of 90 pound weaklings inhabiting a speck of dust orbiting a little yellow sun in a minor system located on the fringe of a single galaxy consisting of millions and billions of stars in just one universe consisting of millions and billions of galaxies happily expanding until eventually all the lights go out……..Surely they wouldn’t!

Well, Cal and Ruth, enjoy your ride and take in the sights of the once mighty Metaluna: a Dante’s inferno with the charred remains of destroyed universities and ruined cultural centres, and a single building, the centre of Metaluna’s government, surrounded by the refuse of war. Why do you not tremble and bow before The Monitor, as he struggles to maintain the ionization layer and issues edicts concerning the scant remnants of his once mighty Metalunan empire needing to travel to Earth for refuge, a “peaceful relocation?” And still you don’t bow to your future superiors? Then off to the "thought transference chamber" you go!

The Thought Transference Chamber will be used to supress your free will so that you cannot defy the will of The Monitor: the worthy aim of all good totalitarian and authoritarian regimes! How kind of Exeter to point out its basic immorality, especially since such a process would interfere with your ability to assist the Metalunans! What’s that I hear you say Ruth? “My mind is my own and nobody is going to change it!”


So you refuse to enter the chamber and even attempt to escape! Like all regimes bent on control there is always a force of mindless mutant insect-like goons programmed to enforce the will of those in authority. Well, here comes a Mu-tant about to do what he has been bred to do-force you to cooperate.

That’s it Cal, fight back and take any opportunity that’s afforded to you. Down goes Exeter after being introduced to your fist. Down goes the Mutant after a Zahgon meteor bomb strikes the building bringing down a pile of rubble on top of it.

Wait! Help has come from an unlikely source in the form of Exeter. He is willing to help you both get off Metaluna whose ruler, The Monitor has since been killed. (Has he come to his senses at last or does he fear being alone, the last of his kind who now only has the company of two beings in the whole universe who know and may understand him?)

As Exeter drives you to the ship you soon discover the way is blocked by another Mutant standing guard at the ship. Exeter, your authority has crumbled along with your planet. See how the Mutant ignores your orders to stand aside and instead attacks and injures you. Thank goodness for Cal’s quick thinking by striking the Mutant over the head with a fire extinguisher, and helping you aboard the saucer. (Are they displaying the so-called human quality of mercy or merely practicality, knowing that only you can fly the ship?) By the way, has anyone noticed the Mutant climbing aboard just as the hatch is closing?

The Way Home

Never mind the Mutant now. You’ve got more pressing issues to contend with such as dodging Zahgon guided meteors and watching helplessly as hundreds of guided meteors bombard Metaluna, causing it to ignite and turn into a star, “giving light to those who may need it.” Throughout the universe the endless cycle plays itself out where from out of the darkness of destruction shines a new light of hope to light the path for life to find its way.

Ah! The horror is not over because just as you three are about to undergo the "conversion" treatment our mindlessly persistent friend, the Mutant sets his compound eyes on Ruth. Our damsel in distress finds herself having to run from the Mutant while trying to shake the effects of the conversion treatment. Luckily the differential pressures have put paid to the Mutant’s evil intentions as it topples over and disintegrates.

The three of you have managed to sail through space and steer a course back to this island, Earth and are now over the Californian coast. Exeter intends to drop the both of you in your little plane into the air but he has no intention of landing himself. He will lie to them by telling you that “our universe is vast” and that he will explore the galaxy for another Metaluna despite the fact that the ship is almost out of power. It’s no use pleading with Exeter to come with you, Cal and Ruth. He’ll only tell you that his wounds are fatal.

Both of you cling together in your little plane, glad to be home at last and thanking God that it is “still here.” After all, this little island in a vast universe is the only home you have to come back to.

And what of Exeter? In appearance, different yet very similar to us. His character and nature was quite flawed but instantly and uncomfortably recognizable to us. We saw reflected in Exeter and his alien civilization some of the worst characteristics of human beings who inhabit our little “island” in space. As Exeter’s ship descends into the sea in a ball of flame, let’s hope that this does not serve as an omen for the fate of……..

“This Island, Earth”

Points Of Interest

This island Earth is based on the novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones which was originally published as three novelettes in the magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories: "The Alien Machine" (June 1949), "The Shroud of Secrecy" (December 1949), and "The Greater Conflict" (February 1950)

The special effects were very well done for the time. The films sets are also impressive, along with the art direction and costume design. Consider for instance the depiction of the war-ravaged Metaluna and the battle between the Metalunans and Zahgons all of which holds up well even today.

The technical aspects of the film are quite amazing for the period. We have the notion of the flexible metallic paper of the manual that Cal received together with the "Interociter": a futuristic two-way 3D video communication device that even incorporates a deadly neutrino ray.

All the elements of the film combine to produce something akin to a vividly colourful and visually beautiful live action comic book complete with mutant monsters and interplanetary warfare.

There is a Tribute To Faith Domergue post in this blog. In This island, Earth she gives a competent performance as Ruth Adams. She also appeared in the science fiction films, It Came from Beneath the Sea and The Atomic Man.

Another familiar face is Russell Johnson (the professor from Gilligan's Island) who plays Steve Carlson. He also appeared in It Came From Outer Space where he had the role of George, one of the two line technicians who were possessed by the alien entity.

The standout character is the Metalunan, Exeter played by Jeff Morrow. Just watch any politician taking on TV and then watch and listen to Exeter with his smooth talking, slick coolness, neatly coiffured hair, conventional suit and tie, false sincerity and mountains of spin! Exeter does however blur the lines between good and evil and there are occasions when we can almost understand his point of view. But isn’t that what politicians often try to get us to do, even if it is against our interests?

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

The Creeping Unknown (US title)

An effective combination of action, suspense, horror and alien-possession sci- fi

Directed by Val Guest 
Produced by Anthony Hinds
Screenplay by Richard Landau, Val Guest
Based on The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale
Music by James Bernard
Cinematography: Walter J. Harvey
Edited by James Needs
Production company: Hammer Film Productions
Distributed by Exclusive Films (UK), United Artists (USA)
Running time: 82 minutes
Budget: £42,000


Brian Donlevy as Prof Bernard Quatermass
Jack Warner as Insp. Lomax
Margia Dean as Mrs. Judith Carroon
Thora Hird as Rosemary 'Rosie' Elizabeth Wrigley
Gordon Jackson as BBC TV producer
David King-Wood as Dr Gordon Briscoe
Harold Lang as Christie
Lionel Jeffries as Blake
Sam Kydd as Police sergeant questioning Rosie
Richard Wordsworth as Victor Carroon 


Summary Of findings By The Royal Commission of Inquiry Into The Manned Rocket Mission Headed By Professor Bernard Quatermass, Also Known As 
"The Quatermass Xperiment." 


L. Lippert (Chair); S Skouras; B Lovell 


On 26 August 1955, a manned missile, launched by the team led by Prof Quatermass, landed in the English countryside, One mile south of the village of Bray, Berkshire. Of the three members of the crew aboard the craft, two were found to have mysteriously disappeared. The surviving crew member, Mr Victor Carroon was recovered barely alive and subsequently underwent a horrific physical metamorphosis. The surviving crew member managed to break out of medical confinement and, while being pursued by investigating Scotland Yard inspector Lomax, embarked on a killing spree using humans and animals to feed his transformation, It was later determined that this was the method which an alien life form was to use in order to invade our planet.

Summary Of Known Events

(Based upon numerous scientific and professional reports, submissions and expert witness testimonies to this Inquiry) 

Professor Bernard Quatermass was in charge of the manned rocket mission that crash landed in a farmer's field in the English countryside.
Quatermass’ team (British-American Rocket Group) had lost contact with the spaceship and had no indication as to how far into space it may have travelled. According to Prof Quatermass’ testimony, “We lost it for 57 hours.”

Initial reports of the rocket’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 9.15 pm on 26 August, 1955 suggested that it might have been a “jet” or that it was “probably a meteor.”

The general public were warned to stay away from the area, to return to their homes and not to hamper operations at the crash site.

Upon gaining entry to the rocket, it was found that only one of the three occupants, Victor Carroon, was on board while the other two crew members, Reichenheim and Green seem simply to have had vanished. All that was found were just two empty space suits.

Carroon, the surviving astronaut, soon began to display signs of an inexplicable physical transformation. The only known comment from Carroon was made in an ambulance just prior to his being taken away for treatment when according to Dr Gordon Briscoe, he uttered the words, “Help me….. Help me.”

Newspaper headlines such as “Man Masters Space” and “Quatermass Says No To Police Investigation” soon began to appear. The media reporting of the mystery led to involvement by the police, headed by Inspector Lomax of Scotland Yard with the reluctant cooperation of Professor Quatermass.

Inspector Lomax later pointed out that the fingerprints that were taken from Carroon in the ambulance were totally different from those provided by Professor Quatermass. In his testimony, Quatermass indicated that the prints were “not human!”

According to Professor Quatermass, he began to realize that Carroon may have been infected by an alien entity while out in space.

The effects of the transformation on Carroon according to Dr Gordon Briscoe were that his skin made one feel that you were “shaking hands with ice.” In addition, his skin was taking on a swollen appearance and his bone structure was undergoing dramatic changes.

It soon became apparent that Carroon could no longer be looked after where he was and therefore he was eventually transferred to a hospital in order to be closely monitored and cared for.

Soon after receiving treatment at the hospital, Carroon managed to escape with the help of his wife, Mrs. Judith Carroon and another male who appears to have been a private investigator whose body was found by a nurse. It was found that his skull had been caved in and his body was drained of blood and as stated before this Inquiry, it was “as though the life (had) been drawn right out of him.”

It was later determined that Carroon had come into contact with a cactus plant at the hospital and that this produced a grotesque transformation in his hand; a form of plant and animal biological fusion within Carroon.

The police soon put out an APB for Carroon after he had run off leaving his terror-stricken wife.

All members of this Royal Commission of Inquiry have attended a viewing of the film from the space ship. Although rather grainy in quality and lacking any audio, it is obvious that something had infiltrated and disabled the craft, and then killed two of the crew members, while leaving Carroon alive. There was also a fantastic drop in temperature evident at the time.

The subsequent murder of a pharmacist at a chemists shop and the slaughter of a number of animals at London Zoo, pointed to Carroon as the one being responsible.

From the numerous scientific and professional reports, submissions and expert witness testimonies to the Inquiry, a consensus had begun to emerge as to the probable nature of the alien entity.

1. As the creature mutated, it began to leave a trail like a snail.

2. A fragment of the creature discovered at the zoo indicated that it was self- sufficient and could develop in its own right.

3. The entity was a form of life in space that was “just drifting” when the rocket encountered it.

4. A union between plant and animal life was beginning to take place.

5. In order for the creature to live, it had to have food.

6. The danger was that the creature could self-procreate and multiply, and that within just a 24 hour time period London would have been overwhelmed by a multitude of slithering life-draining alien beings.

The police sergeant who had questioned a bag lady by the name of Rosemary 'Rosie' Elizabeth Wrigley at his local police station, repeated the information she had volunteered to him concerning the creature. She described it as being “shocking,” “enormous,” “kinda’ crawlin,’” and definitely not in her words a “gin goblin!”

All members of this Royal Commission of Inquiry have also attended a viewing of the tapes from the BBC Outside Broadcasting unit that had been set up to give a live broadcast on the restoration work that was then being undertaken at Westminster Abbey. At first, vision of a man’s body lying lifeless on the ground could be seen. It was apparent that he had been killed before he fell. Next we witnessed the creature itself atop the workmen’s scaffolding. Little remained of Carroon. All that could be seen on the by then 20 foot slithering mass were scales, an eye, and thorns apparently adapted from the cactus plant.

It was eventually decided that the best way to eliminate the creature without the threat of releasing spores across London was to route the entire electricity grid to Westminster Abbey straight to a cable attached to the scaffolding on which the creature was situated.

The measures taken to terminate the threat posed to our planet by the creature proved to be successful. However, contrary to Professor Quatermass’ stated goal of wanting to “start again,” the Inquiry would like to draw attention to its assessments and conclusions pertaining to The Manned Rocket Mission Headed By Professor Bernard Quatermass, Also Known As The Quatermass Xperiment and its aftermath.

Assessments & Conclusions

Based upon the numerous scientific and professional reports, submissions and expert witness testimonies to the Inquiry, it has been determined that Professor Quatermass did deliberately and recklessly launch the rocket without official sanction, as pointed out to the current Royal Commission of Inquiry by a Ministry of Defence official. By so doing, he endangered the national security of Great Britain, the very existence of the British Empire and the survival of the entire human race.

Quatermass’ oft repeated comment that, “They’ll (the astronauts) fire the imagination” indicates that his only concern was for the mission and its supposed symbolic value to humanity for which he would presumably derive full credit.

His testimony where he stated the following; “I launched it (the rocket) and I brought it back!” along with “I am the best qualified” (to conduct a scientific investigation) as well as the testimony of other witnesses who reported him as telling them “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” and “Don’t argue with me, I know what I’m doing!” indicate a preoccupation with his own ego and sense of self-worth as well as his belief in his own personal infallibility.

His lack of empathy and lack of regard for the consequences of his actions is best revealed by his overwhelming need to unlock the mind of the unfortunate Carroon and the fact that he felt he was in his own words, “on the very verge of some great discovery.” This aspect of Quatermass’ character is also evident from Mrs Carroon’s testimony when she related that she once told Quatermass that she thought he had “destroyed him (her husband) like you destroy everything you touch.”
The film from the space craft on its own has convinced this Royal Commission of Inquiry of the essential truth behind Professor Quatermass’ words that we were indeed dealing with “something beyond our understanding.” It is with these words in mind that this Inquiry puts forward the following recommendations;

1. All future manned space flights (government, private and commercial) must adhere to a strict set of guidelines in terms of safety, quality control and conduct of mission procedures.

2. A body must be established to oversee and enforce adherence to such guidelines.

3. A set of protocols must be set that deal with contact with alien life forms and any potential threats to national and global security that may arise from such contacts.

4. That Her Majesty’s Government work with other nations’ governments in order to arrive at a consensus for achieving the above measures and that this be formally presented and agreed to at a special meeting of the United Nations to be called for by the end of the current decade.

5. Finally, based on the evidence put forward to this Inquiry, that Professor Quatermass be held accountable for what appears to be criminally negligent conduct in the matter of the manned rocket mission which he headed by requiring him to stand trial in a court of law should it be found by the Attorney General that legal grounds exist for the prosecution of Professor Quatermass. 

Points Of Interest

The Quatermass Xperiment was based on the six-part 1953 BBC Television serial The Quatermass Experiment written by Nigel Kneale.

In the television serial version’s climax, Quatermass appeals to what remains of the creature's humanity and convinces it to commit suicide in order to save the world. In the film version, Quatermass terminates the creature by electrocution.

The Quatermass Xperiment premièred on 26 August 1955 at the London Pavilion on Piccadilly Circus.

The film was shot on location in London, Windsor and Bray and at Hammer's Bray Studios.

The film was marketed by Hammer in the U K by dropping the "E" from "Experiment" in the title to emphasise the adults-only 'X' Certificate (restricting admission to persons over the age of sixteen) given to the film by the British Board of Film Censors.

It was the first Hammer production to attract the attention of a major distributor in the US where United Artists distributed the film under the title, The Creeping Unknown. 

The Quatermass Xperiment was the first of these "Hammer Horrors" and spawned two sequels, Quatermass 2 (1957) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967). 

With an American audience in mind, Irish American actor Brian Donlevy was picked to play the title role of Quatermass. He specialised in tough guy roles. At about this time his career was in decline and he was reportedly suffering from alcoholism. Donlevy's brusque no-nonsense portrayal of Quatermass is in contrast to Nigel Kneale's original sensitive and thoughtful British scientist character. 

The surname of Quatermass was chosen out of a phone book while the Christian name, Bernard, was named in honour of Bernard Lovell, the creator of Jodrell Bank (The Jodrell Bank Observatory, once the Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, then the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories from 1966 to 1999.) 

Richard Wordsworth (stage actor and great-great grandson of the poet William Wordsworth) was cast as Victor Carroon mainly because he had the right kind of features for the part. His role in the film consisted predominantly of mime by which he effectively conveyed the kind of anguish and torment experienced by his character. Note his internal struggle at the docks where we can see that Carroon is obviously aware of what would happen if the young girl made contact with him. 

Makeup artist Phil Leakey worked with cinematographer Walter J. Harvey to emphasize the shadows around Wordworth's face to give him a skeletal appearance. The make-up job was made easier by Wordsworth's natural high cheekbones and hollow temples. It was agreed that the makeup should make the Carroon character appear pitiful rather than repulsive or grotesque.

Director, Val Guest decided to try and make an unbelievable story more believable by creating a science fact film, something like a BBC factual documentary style of film. Adding to the pace and realism of the story, Guest employed the use of the hand-held camera, as well as rapid-fire overlapping dialogue. Guest used a wide-angle lens for shots of the rocket crash site to create a sense of vastness to the scene. 

Les Bowie who provided the special effects for the film, constructed a monster for the climactic scenes at Westminster Abbey using tripe and rubber and photographed it against a model of the Abbey. Sparks and fireworks were used for the shots featuring the electrocution of the creature. An eye was added to the model of the monster and a human scream added to the soundtrack to impart a sense of humanity to the creature in its final moments. 

James Bernard’s music score for the film employs the use of atonal strings to effectively create a sense of unnerving menace, a technique later used by Bernard Herrmann's score for Hitchcock’s film, Psycho (1960). 

The film’s effectiveness centers around the creation of an unsettling atmosphere and what it suggests in terms of horror and terror rather than what would today be explicitly shown. Many of the shock and horror sequences take place off screen while the camera cuts away and use is made of reaction shots. 

Although human progress has always been and always will be driven by individuals who possess resources, vision and imagination, we should be wary of the type of person with the kind of obsessive drive as was displayed by Donlevy's Professor Quatermass. The quest for scientific achievement must not be confused with or motivated primarily by the quest for satisfying an individual’s ego. Nor must it be undertaken without regard to the potential consequences of that quest to both those involved and to the rest of humanity.

©Chris Christopoulos 2014