Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

There are so many bad science fiction films at the Internet Archive that I am sure I could easily fill a year’s worth of blog posts with them alone. Just a few examples at random: Assignment: Outer Space; The Wizard of Mars; Unknown World; The Phantom Planet; War of the Planets; Cat Women of the Moon. The list could go on.

There is no reason to write in detail about all of them, but watching one every once in a while, just for fun, will do no harm. I have therefore chosen my favourite of the lot, Teenangers from Outer Space. A thoroughly bad movie in every imaginable way.

Harvey B. Dunn and Bryan Grant in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

And yet, there is something enjoyable and charming about this turkey. It is hard to put a finger on it, but behind the corny plot about a renegade alien who tries to rescue humanity, behind the bad dialogue and worse acting, behind all the absurd props and the worst special effects I have ever seen, behind all that there is something genuinely warm and endearing about it. And of course, it is vastly entertaining. Mostly because it is so unspeakably bad, but partly because, for some reason, you actually care about the characters.

The film is about an alien called Derek, who speaks and reads perfect English even though he had no idea that humans existed on earth before he escaped from his kindred who came to wipe out earthly life in order to use our planet as pasture for monster crabs that can grow to gigantic proportions. Oh, and of course there is the girl that he falls in love with. And some absolutely wonderful pieces of 1950s small-town America. And Thor, his companion who is sent out to bring him back to justice.

You can see the communist fear that drives the plot of the film. The fear that someone cold and calculating, someone utterly alien, would come along and take away all the middle-class houses and home baked pies. But also the hope that some of the invaders would be human and turn against their comrades.

On top of all the other rot, the title is one of the most ridiculous I have ever encountered. I doubt if there is a single genuine teenager in the entire film.

This film is best enjoyed late at night with snacks, drinks and the company of good friends.

Dawn Anderson and David Love in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

Teenagers from Outer Space
Download link
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Director: Tom Graeff
Stars: There are no stars in this film
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

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Radar Men from the Moon (1952)

Star Wars has reclaimed the position as the hottest franchise in the movie business, and fans will endlessly debate who is the best character or the pros and cons of various plotlines. Somewhat in the shadow of all the hype, you will sometimes find some discussion about George Lucas’ sources of inspiration.

A handful of Lucas’ sources can be found at the Internet Archive; I have previously written about the serials The Phantom Empire (1935) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). A third serial which inspired him was Radar Men from the Moon (chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), as can be seen in the character Commander Cody (Star Wars Episode III), from the serial’s hero Commando Cody.

George Wallace as Commando Cody (aka the Rocketman) in Radar Men from the Moon (1952)

Cody in the serial, who was also one of the inspirations for the 1980s movie and comic hero The Rocketeer, constructed his own backpack rocket and helmet, which help him fly, so that he can better fight the bad guys. In this particular serial (Cody was to appear in one more), he learns that moon men plan to invade earth, so he goes there to fight them. Most of the serial, however, is set on earth where Cody and his associates do battle against the infiltrators from the moon.

Radar Men from the Moon was produced one or two decades after the other serials I have reviewed here, and in some ways it shows. In the 1950s, the serials had passed their peak, both in terms of popularity and quality. There is still plenty of action, excitement and adventure, but beyond the first episode, which has some interesting points, the story feels a bit tired.

Like most serials after the early 1930s, Radar Men from the Moon is stuck in some rather stale gender roles. Take the matter of women on board spaceships, for instance. “You will be very glad to have someone on board who can cook your meals,” is just too typical a comment. This delivered by the woman in question, incidentally.

This serial is best enjoyed by Star Wars fans who want to explore George Lucas’ sources of inspiration. For serial fans, or those who want an introduction to serials, there are several better options, such as the eleven years older Adventures of Captain Marvel.

George Wallace as Commando Cody (aka the Rocketman) fighting a moon man in Radar Men from the Moon (1952)

Radar Men from the Moon
Downlad links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12
Year: 1952
Running time: 2 h 47 min
Director: Fred C. Brannon
Stars: George Wallace
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2

Quatermass II (1955)

In my review of Quatermass and the Pit, I wrote about the scientist Professor Quatermass, who was the hero of a trilogy of excellent British made-for-TV science fiction series. Professor Q. is a very well developed character, and if you are only slightly interested in well-written sci-fi, you should not miss the two preserved series (only two episodes of the original series, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), still exist, though all episodes were remade in 2005). In addition, Hammer films remade the entire trilogy a few years after the originals in good but somewhat different movie renditions.

The spaceship in Quatermass II (1955)

The second series was aptly named Quatermass II (episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and was originally broadcast exactly 60 years ago (the final episode was televised sixty years ago this Thursday). The title was the first time the number two was appended to the title of a sequel, though the roman numeral refers not to the series as such, but to the spaceship Quatermass II, which is an important plot object. It has been suggested that it inspired others to use similar numbering for sequels in later film series. It has even been suggested that the spaceship name was just made up as an excuse to smack the “II” label on the title, though that explanation feels a bit far-fetched.

In Quatermass II, Professor Q. battles invading aliens who are jettisoned from an asteroid orbiting earth, and upon landing take control of human bodies. This idea was not new in literature. See for example The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, available (parts 1, 2, 3) from the Internet Archive. But as far as I know, it had not previously been used on screen. The following year, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released, which is one of the most famous examples in the movies.

This film is best enjoyed for the story (brilliant throughout) and actors (uneven, but mostly very good). Frankly, though, other aspects of the production, such as sets, special effects and camera work, feel very cheap and sometimes amateurish by modern standards. Even so, the positive aspects weigh so heavily that I can only recommend watching it.

John Robinson in Quatermass II (1955)

Quatermass II
Download links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Year: 1955
Running time: 3 h 6 min
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Stars: John Robinson
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack

The Crystal Egg (1951)

Normally, I do not include films that are considerably less than 40 minutes in length, but I am going to make an exception for The Crystal Egg. Partly, I do this because it is the only screen adaptation I have seen of a very good story by H.G. Wells (Wikipedia says that it was also adapted for a 2001 TV series, but I suspect that one may be hard to find), but also because it is an example of what American sci-fi fans could watch on television in the early 1950s.

Thomas Mitchell and Edgar Stehli in Tales of Tomorrow: The Crystal Egg (1951) by H.G. Wells

Specifically, it is an episode from the first season (out of two) of the anthology series Tales of Tomorrow. Tales of Tomorrow was all science fiction, usually based on literary sources. Famous examples include Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (not available at the Internet Archive) and Frankenstein. Like most early television, it was broadcast live.

The Crystal Egg is the story about an antique shop owner who asks his friend to help him examine a strange crystal egg. The egg turns out to produce strange images that can only come from the planet Mars. In the episode (but not in the original story) there is also a mysterious stranger who wants the egg for himself. The TV episode makes a number of changes to Wells’ story, but in my opinion these are tastefully executed in order to make the story suited for the short TV format.

Tales of Tomorrow is notorious because of the uneven quality of its actors. The Crystal Egg illustrates this well. Thomas Mitchell is good as Professor Vaneck (Mr. Wace in the original story), whereas Sally Gracie as his girlfriend can barely remember her few lines. Little problems like this shine through very clearly in a live broadcast, but today it must be considered part of the charm of old-time television.

Another problem is image quality. Old television shows with good images are practically non-existent. This is because video technology had not yet been invented, so episodes had to be filmed from a television screen, when they were preserved at all.

Wells’ story is good enough to be interesting in itself, but also because there is a neverending debate among fans and scholars as to whether Wells intended it as a “prequel” to his famous novel The War of the Worlds. We shall never know whether he did, but it is always fun to speculate.

This episode is best enjoyed as an introduction to Tales of Tomorrow. If you like it, a few dozen more episodes, including radio shows, are available. Many actors appear that either were famous already (e.g. Boris Karloff), or were to become famous (e.g. Paul Newman).

Saturn seen from Mars in Tales of Tomorrow: The Crystal Egg (1951) by H.G. Wells

The Crystal Egg
Download link
Year: 1951
Running time: 24 min
Director: Charles S. Dubin
Stars: Thomas Mitchell
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (620×480; not counting black border)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (432 M)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

The term “Mars curse” originally referred to a large number of failed Mars space missions, but has lately come to be more associated with a line of box office crashes for movies connected with the red planet. In reality, of course, the “curse” is just Hollywood’s lame excuse for a combination of bad movies and bad marketing. In any event, Ridley Scott’s The Martian now seems to have lifted the “curse”, so perhaps this opens the gates for more Mars films in the future?

The past has certainly seen its share, and the Internet Archive has a number of interesting movies with a Mars connection. I have written about several of them in the past, and will doubtlessly have reason to come back to others in the future. One of them happens to be a film which is thematically very closely related to The Martian, namely Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Paul Mantee in Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

In this film, Paul Mantee plays the astronaut Cristopher Draper, who is stranded on Mars after a near collision with an asteroid forces him to abandon his spaceship. His only companion on the planet is the monkey Mona.

Scientifically, Robinson Crusoe on Mars was not terribly accurate even when it was made. This incarnation of the planet has the Martian version of aurora borealis, even though Mars has no magnetic field to produce such a phenomenon, and considerable volcanic activity. I find this easy to oversee with, as also with the nationalistic and religious fervour which sometimes shines through.

Throughout the first hour we follow Draper’s struggle for survival through a combination of luck and inventiveness (and a dose of divine providence). In spite of very slow pacing, this was the part I liked best about the film. Even though we know today that no-one could walk around on Mars in a t-shirt, taking the occasional sip from his oxygen tank, it is nevertheless fascinating to see how the protagonist manages to overcome what initially appears to be insurmountable obstacles. After that first hour the plot takes a sudden twist, unfortunately somewhat for the worse. The last part remains enjoyable, but is somewhat more taxing on the willingness to suspend disbelief.

This film is best enjoyed for the good camerawork and for several very nice matte paintings, combining to create a fascinating and partly alien Martian landscape.

The twin moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, in Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars
Download link
Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 50 min
Director: Byron Haskins
Stars: Paul Mantee
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Low (720×306; not counting black border)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (1.6 G)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

In a recent poll about the worst ever Christmas movie, the Swedish film site Filmtipset nominated Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as one of the candidates. It is not the first time the film has been mentioned as one of the worst Christmas movies ever, or indeed one of the worst movies ever, period. Among many other accolades, the film currently holds 87th place on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.

And, well, yeah, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a bad film and a true turkey. But is it really that bad? Read on and find out!

John Call, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Bill McCutcheon and Leila Martin in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

The story is, it must be admitted, pretty inane. Martian kids are far too serious and just watch a lot of Earth television. After consulting a wise man, some Martians decide to kidnap Santa Claus from Earth, and they happen to bring a couple of Earth kids along as well. Santa agrees to help build a workshop for making Martian Christmas presents, but some of the Martians think that this is a bad idea, and want to close down Santa’s business.

So, if the story is that bad, and the special effects and sets are on par, then how come lots of people enjoy the film? The truth of the matter is that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is an enjoyable film to watch not mainly because of its faults. After all, many films have been made that are infinitely worse than this one, and in most cases watching them is just painful. But Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, in spite of its many faults, also rests on a solid foundation of good. The pacing is adequate, and the actors do the best job possible with the material they have to work with (even though John Call as Santa Claus is a terrible case of bad casting). It is this foundation which makes it possible to enjoy the spectacularly bad qualities of the film rather than choke on them.

This film is best enjoyed with good company. Some nice chatting and commenting will not spoil this one. Quite to the contrary.

John Call in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Download link
Year: 1964
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Nicholas Webster
Stars: John Call
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Windows Media (917 M)

Flight to Mars (1951)

Tomorrow, Mars reaches opposition to the sun, as seen from the earth. It does so about once every two years, and this is the time when it can most easily be observed by the human eye and amateur telescopes. In the mid 20th century, many still thought that Mars was capable of harbouring advanced life, and Mars and the Martians often appeared in films in the 1950s and 60s. Producers of movies such as Flight to Mars also mistakenly believed that an opposition was the perfect time to send a spaceship to Mars.

Flight to Mars is one of the many science fiction movies that were produced in the wake of Rocketship X-M. An amusing detail is that it even reused much of the spacecraft interiors from the 1950 film. If you look closely you can see that the rightmost panel in the image below is the same as the leftmost one in the first screen shot I used in my Rocketship X-M review.

Richard Gaines, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston and John Litel in Flight to Mars (1951)

The first half of he film is very simple in terms of story. A rocketship is going to Mars, and a team has been put together to pilot it. We get some early glimpses of the different personalities and their varying reasons for wanting to make the journey.

In movies, as well as in literature, a template seems to exist for the archetypal exploration story. Whether it is about exploring a hidden jungle (as in the 1925 adaptation of The Lost World), going into the interior of the earth (Unknown World from the same year as the subject of this post) or travelling into outer space, there is always a team of about half a dozen people, one of whom is the scientist who came up with the idea. There is usually also a newspaper reporter and there is exactly one woman, so that there can be a romantic interest for the hero.

Flight to Mars is no exception to this. After the initial half hour’s trip to Mars, however, the film goes off in new directions and becomes much more interesting after the ship’s arrival to the red planet. This part is probably inspired by the Russian film Aelita (1924), which will doubtlessly appear on this blog sooner or later.

This film is best enjoyed if you are interested in corny sci-fi architecture and fashion. Both clothes and buildings seem awfully impractical (“We find these [clothes] very comfortable.”), but they certainly are evocative. Also, the men’s leather jackets produce a never-ending stream of farting noises that are rather amusing.

Arthur Franz and Marguerite Chapman in Flight to Mars (1951)

Flight to Mars
Download link
Year: 1951
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Lesley Selander
Stars: Cameron Mitchell, Marguerite Chapman
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×481)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (2.1 G)