We're Crazy about 50's Sci-Fi Classics

 

Me and CageTo be completely candid, I don't see much promise in the way of popularity for 1950's sci-fi, beyond the next 20 years. Sort of like the 'Silent Film' era, left to those that are reminiscent or to those that teach.

 

However, thanks to 50's sci-fi, It only took a few decades before the genre was taken seriously. What a great period it was, best described as the golden age of science fiction.

 

The way I see it, if you lived in the 1950's as a typical teenager, you probably rushed off to the drive-in theater at the first wind of a new sci-fi release, that tells me you got to be in your 70's by now. If you're like me, I caught most 50's sci-fi and horror films in the mid nineteen sixties by the second or third theater release at the matinee on Saturday for about $0.35 cents. (No VCR or DVD's releases back then.)

 

Although some science fiction films produced were low budget and were a reflection or sign of the times. Invasion, A-bomb phobea and infiltration were among the most common sci-fi storylines as they all posed various threats to humankind.

 

A strong public interest in science appeared with the advent of the "A" bomb. With the cold war just beginning, people were fretful, it was the perfect setting for contemplating the apocalyptic effects of a nuclear holocaust. Communist paranoia was at an all time high, all of which severed as a catalyst for sci-fi movies of the period.

 

During the 1950's, the 'Race for Space' was a very real goal. When the Soviets lunched 'Sputnik' in December of 1957, it all became too clear who was at the helm. It seemed like ordinary, laid-back people were becoming increasingly paranoid. It probably seemed like everybody was a freakin' spy!

 

Destination MoonThe particular film we're featuring in this article was the widely publicized and successful 'Destination Moon' made in 1950, whereby an American nuclear-powered rocket ship carries four astronauts to the moon against a backdrop of competition with the Soviets. With astronomical sets designed by renowned space artist Chestley Bonestell, the film was a commercial and artistic success, Tinsel town got it right and the genre brought about more studios financing for science fiction films.

 

 

Destination Moon SetThe producer George Pal who also helped in the creation of 'When Worlds Collide', 'The Time Machine', 'The War of the Worlds' and the pseudo-documentary of manned space exploration 'Conquest of Space'. All but the latter won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, which further demonstrated the increased technical excellence for the genre.

 

Alien films as well were big business during the 1950s. Some seem to perpetrate contrived military and political commentary as they continued to churn concepts of the government's UFO involvement, which had already become cemented in the public's conscious after the Kenneth Arnold and Roswell incidents of 1947.

 

In 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', directed by Robert Wise, and 'The Thing from Another World', directed by Howard Hawk, both had contrasting views of first encounters. While the first had a peaceful extra-terrestrial race trying to influence humans to control the use of nuclear weapons, the second, stalked crew members in the Antarctica with a kind of  "Watch the skies!" ending, moral to the story.

 

From a political standpoint, it might be a stretch to tout the whole alien invasions idea as a metaphor, nonetheless, Don Siegel's 1956 film, 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' was considered by some as an indirect way to disparage McCarthyism, or a warning story cautioning brainwashing as a precursor to Communist infiltration.

 

Among some of the other UFO films of the period was 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers', featuring special effects created by 'stop-motion' animation master himself Ray Harryhausen. His work also appeared in such films as '20 Million Miles to Earth', and the 1953 hit film, 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' that features this story-bound "Rhedosaurus", that had thawed out of the arctic ice by atomic testing. The phenomenal success of this film spawns a new wave of sci-fi monster films for the period.

 

Unlike the horror and sci-fi films of the 1930's, the genre was gradually twisting into coping with the anxiety of nuclear technology or the dangers that lurk in outer space.  The movie 'Them!', 'It Came from Beneath the Sea', and 'Tarantula' were all released within a couple of years of 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms', all of which featured some sort of over-sized creature formed by nuclear testing.

 

The film 'It! The Terror from Beyond Space', 'The Blob', 'The Angry Red Planet', and 'Kronos', alternatively had alien monsters. While others, like 'The Fly', 'The Amazing Colossal Man', and 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', focused on human mutation. Few understood the effects of nuclear fall-out at the time, mutation was a common fear among us baby boomers who had to crouch under ours desk at school for the duration of the local air raid siren.

 

Probably the most memorable film of my childhood was the 1954 film 'Godzilla' who took no shit from anyone while attacking Tokyo. This film gained vast popularity and was seed for sequels films like 'Rodan'.

 

The financial sucess of any of these films relied for the most part on attracting a large teenage audience. If you had a drive-in theater date on Saturday night, chances were that your girl would end up in your arms shivering while you both peered through 3D glasses, particularly with movies like 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon' and 'GOG'.

 

Many of these sci-fi films were produced on diminutive budgets, they called them "B-Movies". The thought of low-cost, low-quality films were taken to the extreme by directors like Roger Corman, Coleman Francis and Ed Wood who directed that wonderful piece of crap, 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' , one of the worst films of all time. A must see if not just for laughs!

Just for the record, another Ed Wood film made that same year was 'Night of the Ghouls' . Although it was filmed in 1959 it wasn't released until 1987 because Wood could not afford to pay the fee to process the negatives.

 

Propelled by the steady success of the genre, the second half of the 1950's allowed some studios to make serious films that had rather large budgets. Amongst those were 'On the Beach', and 'Forbidden Planet', both films portraying a post-nuclear war world. The second film included the character "Robby the Robot", and inspired Gene Roddenberry's hit TV series Star Trek.

 

I am just a fan, it seems to me that the lower the IMDB ratings are for these films, the more likely I am to enjoy them. As brilliantly bad as a few of them are, there are some just as brilliantly good. I hope you enjoy these titles as many before you have done.

 

Rick Valero, Space Cadet

 

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