Editor’s Note: We previously reviewed Mission Stardust as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion 50-film pack — the set also includes its even weirder, 1966 cousin, Mission Hydra, which we also re-reviewed with a new take, earlier today at 9 am.
Known in Italy as 4…3…2…1…Morte (aka, “Death”), this Primo Zeglio-directed science fiction movie is based on the German book series Perry Rhodan by K.H. Scheer and Walter Ernsting. Hugely successful throughout Europe and the Soviet Union, but relatively unknown in the U.S., the pulpy Rhodan paperbacks have been produced since 1961; as of 2021, 3000-plus, 66-page booklets and 850-plus spinoff novels have been produced. George Lucas named-dropped the books, saying that the American translations served as one of his inspirations alongside Flash Gordon (which he wanted to adapt, but couldn’t get the rights) in creating the adventures of Luke Skywalker and influenced the design of his verse’s spaceships.
As for Primo Zeglio, his directing career was not as successful — certainly not an Italian filmmaker we name drop in the B&S About Movies offices often; in fact, this is the only film of his that we’ve watched and reviewed — even after our month-long “Spaghetti Westerns Week” blowout. However, Zeglio is certainly a competent filmmaker and revered in his homeland for his spaghetti westerns, of which he made four: The Man of the Cursed Valley (1964) with Ty Hardin (another American TV hopeful from ABC-TV’s western Bronco, hoping for some Eastwood-buzz), Two Violent Men, with Spain’s George Martin (1964), The Relentless Four (1965; no not Kinski’s The Ruthless Four; different flick) with Adam West (again, no Eastwood upwind there for Batman), and Killer Adios (aka Killer Goodbye, aka Winchester) with Spain’s Peter Lee Lawrence (1968) (he was in Eastwood’s ’65 spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More); the film ended his 18- directing credit and 20-writing credit career. During those spaghetti romps, Zeglio produced his fair share of pirate and sword and sandal romps, the most notable being Revenge of the Pirates (1951), Captain Phantom, (1954), Morgan the Pirate (1960), and Sword of the Conqueror (1961).
In need of radioactive material that can be more powerful than uranium, Major Perry Rhodan (American-Canadian actor Lang Jeffries, whose career started with the ’50s American rock ‘n’ roll flick, Don’t Knock the Twist, and transition into a wealth of Italian sword and sandal, spaghetti westerns, and war movies) leads the four-man crew of the Stardust for the Earth’s first moon mission — and come to discover its populated, led by the platinum blonde-wigged Commander Thora of a crashed Arkonide spaceship (Swedish actress Essy Persson from the Vincent Price-starrer Cry of the Banshee, released by AIP in 1970) and her robot crew. Rhodan and his crew team with the Arkonides to rescue Crest (John Karlsen, later of Michele Soavi’s The Church) dying from leukemia, for which there is a cure on Earth. When our intrepid space travelers shuttle to Earth with Crest, Rhodan deals with a crewman’s betrayal in helping an international crime lord steal, not only the newly discovered radioactive material, but obtaining Arkonide technology by kidnapping Thora.
The caveats are afoot, as we’re only on the moon for little than half of the film; the remainder of the film is spent on Earth in the African desert (like it’s from a completely different film) with the evil Earthlings and the Arkonides in battle. The very pop-artish, dinky-but-effective effects were created, in part, by Antonino Margheriti, who designed the spaceships; the metal-octopus-cum-jelly fish alien ship (more like diving bell with octo-legs) is impressive (they are, in fact, original to the film and not cut in from any Russian space flicks, as some believe; and not as far as I can tell); Margheriti, of course, had his own series of Italian space operas beginning with Assignment Outer Space and his “Gamma One” series.
Fans of the Perry Rhodan book series, in their reviews of Mission Stardust, say it has very little to do with the first three Rhodan novels it purports to adapt. If you’re a fan of Star Trek: TOS and other ’60s-mod Italian sci-fi romps, there’s something here for you to nostalgia nosh your little VHS-cum-UHF lovin’ heart on; however, those weened in a post 2001: A Space Odyssey world, with the “realism” of films such as Silent Running, will have some MST3k-styled commentary fun with your friends as this moon romp unfolds.
Zeglio’s lone space romp is out there in a few different formats — and Mill Creek carries the shortest, U.S. version at 79-minutes. The original Euro-theatrical runs 94 minutes, there are also international 92 and 86 minutes prints that edit out the racer (e.g., sexual innuendos and suggestive) scenes. And while this was released in 1967 overseas, it came to be release in 1968 in the U.S. By that point, 20th Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes and MGM’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were released, along with Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures’ technically accurate “first men on the moon” dramas Countdown and Marooned. The days of Margheriti’s “Gamma One” quartet and The Green Slime, also released in 1968, along with the Darren McGavin and Nick Adams-starring Mission Mars, were dated before they even hit the theaters.
There’s numerous uploads of Mission Stardust, but give this You Tube version a spin. Sadly, the U.S. public domain versions are missing the “futuristic” opening credits theme music. So don’t be duped by the uploaders who embedded their own, jokey music to the film. You can rent a cleaner, commercial-free version at Amazon Prime, which runs the 94-minute print, dubbed. Oh, and if you need to see another crazy, ’60s mod Italian space flick with Earthlings helping stranded aliens, then check out 2+5 Mission Hydra. We implore you: Watch the weird cousin to Mission Stardust that is 2+5 Mission Hydra, please. It’ll change your life.
Hey, You Tube comes through! Here’s the missing theme song, “Seli,” composed by Marcello Giombini:
You can go deeper into the Italian pasta bots with Italian space operas in the Medium article, “In Space No One Can Hear the Pasta Boil: Alfonso Brescia and the ’80s Italian Spacesploitation Invasion.”