Monday, August 09, 2010

“You can't be arbitrary about imposing your will when these people's lives are at stake, don't you realize that?”

Dateline 1950. The Space Race was in its infancy and rocket-propelled B Movies were getting their start. Rocketship X-M was rushed through production to beat Destination Moon as the “FIRST!” of a new breed of space-based ADVENTURE! films. If this sounds like a bad movie, you’re right.

So we’ve got a crew of five scientists preparing for the launch of the Rocketship Expedition Moon, or RXM (DUN DUN DUN!) for short. They hold a press conference, then board the rocket with the Moon as their destination and then things go horribly wrong. Through a rather complicated mishap with the fuel, they go way, WAY off course and end up in orbit around Mars. Deciding to land on Mars since they were in the neighborhood (because clearly they have enough fuel for THAT), they encounter the ruins of a civilization, get attacked by primitive locals before returning to the ship.

Then the survivors get back to Earth but they all die because somebody screwed up the math for the fuel supplies and they crash and die. No. Really.

Colonel Floyd Graham: Lloyd Bridges is the ship’s pilot and not really a scientist at all. He tells lots of very boring stories that are only tangentially related to what’s happening and hits on the one female member of the crew constantly.

Dr. Lisa Van Horn: Danish actress Osa Massen plays the lone female on the crew, and she’s described as a kind of “ice queen” that turns down paramours left and right. Obviously, she and Graham get together at some point.

Dr. Karl Eckstrom: John Emery plays the mission commander and most of what goes wrong is his fault. He’s arbitrary about imposing his will, completely browbeats Dr. Van Horn’s calculations (while his own turn out to be fatally wrong) and he’s pretty condescending about his own figures. Kind of an ass.

Major William Corrigan: Noah Beery Jr. plays the ship’s engineer and he’s from Texas! He won’t hesitate to stress the fact that he’s from Texas and that Texas is wonderful, Texas is large and Texas is the greatest state there is. Look, I realize people like this exist, but this is the best they could do for comic relief. Texas-sized comic relief! From Texas!

Harry Chamberlain: Hugh O’Brian plays an astronomer who serves as the ship’s navigator. He’s my pick for the badass of the film since he doesn’t talk much aside from some fatalistic grumblings and largely keeps to himself.

Dr. Ralph Fleming: Morris Ankrum plays the guy in Mission Control. His job is to look concerned all the time and be worried when the Rocket goes off course.

Directed by Kurt Neumann, the visuals are…quite low budget. We get some meteor shower stuff, some sight gags with random objects floating in not-quite-zero-gravity. Visually, there’s not much going for this movie since the props, sets, locations and so on were all dictated by the low budget. The movie is also quite proud of its effects of having a coat and some other small items "floating in weightlessness."

Written by Kurt Neumann and (uncredited) Dalton Trumbo with “additional dialogue” by Orville Hampton. The writing is the real culprit for badness here. Dialogue isn’t good, characters are poorly developed, the science is atrocious (though space science was still pretty new) and the whole sequence of events is pretty damn contrived. I understand that they wanted to stress how dangerous space travel could be, but the rocket should’ve been named Murphy’s Law for the amount of things that went wrong on the journey. And then the movie has the neurotic stones to have Eckstrom, a man of science say that they were forced off course by supernatural intervention. Yes, supernatural intervention brought them to Mars so they could find the shattered remains of a once-great civilization brought low by nuclear war and then after reestablishing contact with Earth on the trip home, the rocket crashes into Nova Scotia and everybody dies. That’s not ADVENTURE! That’s just bad melodrama.

Original score by Ferde Grofé, the guy who composed “On The Trail” (which appears in a bunch of movies that aren't this one) among other orchestral pieces. He worked on a few movie scores and this was one of them. Well, can’t fault the score for not being quality.

Rocketship X-M is one maudlin piece of cinema. Characters are badly realized and make insanely bad decisions to suit the plot, dialogue is bleh, and the whole plot is so grimly melodramatic about getting to the message that nukes are bad (because they wrecked Mars) that it sucks any possible fun out of the experience. Talk about schlock.

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