Why is it that we’ll remember the “bad” science fiction films and forget the, well, they’re not exactly “good,” but the better-made ones? Why do we nostalgically pour our celluloid vinegars over the likes of The Astounding She-Monster, Cat-Women of the Moon, and Fire Maidens from Outer Space, yet forget an imaginative and well-made flick from the Woolner Brothers, like Mutiny in Outer Space?
Maybe it’s because I forever have Mutiny in Outer Space jammed in my mental VCR as result of enjoying it as part of a childhood, Saturday afternoon UHF-TV double bill with Space Probe Taurus (1965) — and that both starred my childhood crush, Lydia Limpit, the sidekick to Batman’s nemesis, The Bookworm: the heart-weeping Francine York.
As for the rest who forgot — or never heard of — this humans-battle-aliens-in-space romp: you know the brothers Lawrence and Bernard oeuvre better than you realize. Like most of the Corman-quickie styled filmmakers of the time, the Woolner’s started out as Drive-In theater owners, and then began financing low-budget B-studios to fill their screens. Of course, the Woolner’s hedged the smart bet and backed the never-lost-a-dime-on-a-movie (well, except for 1974’s Cockfighter) Corman on the films Swamp Women and the teen-juvie romp, Teenage Doll. Junk cinema fans will remember the brothers’ third film, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the best; Italian horror hounds remember Larry and Bernie best for giving U.S. popcorn noshers Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood, the Christopher Lee-starring Castle of the Living Dead, and, the big kahuna of giallo, Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (all 1964). And in the grand tradition of remembering the bad: there’s the film (IMO) that slides in nicely after Fire Maidens from Outer Space in the annals of awful, MST3k-styled sci-fi from the ’50s (and ’60s): The Human Duplicators (1965), a film that gets its wistful positraction from the fact the film’s android-making villain is portrayed by future Bond villain Richard “Jaws” Kiel. If not for ol’ Jaws. . . .
And that brings us to the Woolner’s second foray into the sci-fi genre (their third and last was Antonio Margheriti’s Bond knock off, Operation Goldman, aka Lightning Bolt in the U.S.), which they filmed in six days for $90,000 in March of 1964. Released as an undercard to The Human Duplicators, MiOS was also directed by Hugo Grimaldi. After MiOS, Grimaldi’s only other writing credit is Gigantis, the Fire Monster; he also supervised the U.S. dubs on First Spaceship on Venus, aka Germany’s Der schweigende Stern, and Giorgio Ferroni’s pseudo-Giallo, Mill of the Stone Woman.
While a quickie undercard production, screenwriter Arthur C. Pierce did his research and developed a sci-fi smart script (forgetting, of course, that he cheapjacked the sci-fi classics that are The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Time Machine with the later, not-so-classic The Cosmic Man and Beyond the Time Barrier*, respectively; he also wrote and produced the $140,000 The Human Duplicators) based on the (now inaccurate) science of the time and had his astronauts, while battling an alien fungus (and keeping the romance to a minimum), deal with the prolonged effects of travel and life in space. In addition, leads Dolores Faith (debuted in 1961’s The Phantom Planet and starred in The Human Duplicators), Richard Garland (really steps it up from his past work in 1957’s Attack of the Crab Monster), Francine York (who would later tickle our hormones in Ted V. Mikel’s The Doll Squad), and Harold Lloyd, Jr. (Frankenstein’s Daughter) are, for a B-Movie quickie, very good in their roles.
Now, before you think that’s (furry) octopus tentacles on the one-sheet, it’s actually plant tendrils, in a tale that foreshadows what we’d see in 1968 with the Antonio Margheriti-influenced The Green Slime — which had blood-drinking asteroid slime instead of plants. And the plants, here, don’t transmutate into sentient — and very goofy — red-eyed tentacled humanoids.
At first, the film began as Space Station X (after Space Station SS X-7, the rotating station of the film), then the more sensational Invasion from the Moon (since the plants came from an ice cave on the Moon), but since Grimaldi and Pierce pinched from 1954’s The Caine Mutiny (since the station’s commander cracks under pressure), why not? Voila (or is that “ecco” in Italian), the film hit theaters as Mutiny in Outer Space. And there’s no doubt to the pinching of two of the ’50s biggest alien-versus-human romps: The Thing (1951) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). But there’s an even bigger, obscure pinch: the overly talky, dry and boring Space Master X-7 (1958). That Ed Woodian romp of the Plan 9 variety concerns itself with a fungus unleashed from an Earth-returned space probe — only that alien is metallic “space rust” and not a plant. Or slime. And it gets loose on jet liner — as it would multiple times, some 60 years later in more than a few flicks from The Asylum (that I don’t feel like looking up). Oh, and you know what: the commander in the Kubrick-inspiring Conquest of Space (1955), which, itself, probably pinched from The Caine Mutiny, cracks under the pressure and jeopardizes the station, as well.
But still . . . with all of those plot pinches (and stock footage-set pinches, which we will get into), which I hadn’t a clue of when I was a UHF-weaned kid, Mutiny in Outer Space is still pretty good and a lot of fun.
In the future-verse of 1990: Two astronauts collect geological samples from an ice cave on the moon. Shortly after returning to the station, one of them collapses. It’s discovered he has a fever-inducing welt on his leg that spreads into a fungus across his body — a fungus from the ice caves.
The upside to this Moon romp is that, unlike the other interstellar-matriarchal fails of the ’50s and ’60s that we’ve discussed this week (and during our January 2021 tribute week to those films, such as 1953’s Project Moonbase) Mutiny in Outer Space puts several strong women to the forefront: the two leads with the most screen time being Lt. Connie Engstrom (Pamela Curran; Elvis’s Girl Happy) as the station’s communications chief, and Dr. Faith Montaine as a civilian biochemist who oversees science operations.
Yeah . . . we still have the horny male astronauts, and the ubiquitous flirting, and a scene in the station’s bio-lab with an astronaut flirting with his buddy’s girl; and her fretting about hairdo-fixing for her astro-hunk’s return. (Could you imagine Ripley gaga for Dallas or a Bret-Lambert hook up?) Of course, while these girls are smart and resourceful, they (an absolutely, sci-fi ’50s plot-point must) go all damsel-in-distress hysterical when the plants-hit-the-fan. Oh, and there’s the meteor shower that hits-the-fan. And the shower results in an ice-core splitting open. Now the furry plant tendrils (that would have looked great in color instead of washy-wash black and white) are everywhere. And the station’s commander cracks. And since guns were outlawed in space, the only thing to fight with is good ol’ he-man brawn and hormone-fueled ingenuity. The final solution has to do with creating a shield to cut off the solar heat that feeds the plants. Oy!
See, I told you. It may be pinchy n’ cheap, but wow . . . Mutiny in Outer Space just keep the Murphy Law-antics comin’ at ya, and at a decent pace helped by tight edits and seamless interrogation of its stock footage.
What ultimately stopped Mutiny in Outer Space from achieving classic status: While the top-billed The Human Duplicators was shot in color — as result of the budget in producing the station and plant effects and sets — there were no funds left to shoot in color. Thus, we ended up with a film that has the feel of ’50s space flick (the same folly that befell the equally well-done Space Station Taurus, also released in 1965), when it was actually in production around the same time Stanley Kubrick began pre-production in 1965 on his sci-if game changer: 2001: A Space Odyssey — issued a mere three years later, in 1968. In the end, the Woolner’s boondoggled it, didn’t they? The $140,000 (IMO) wasted on The Human Duplicators should have been budgeted for MiOS, so as to make one solid, indie studio, A-styled picture to be remembered, instead of two forgotten flicks . . . flicks that lead a guy like me to spend a whole day writing a review that, maybe, a dozen people, if I’m lucky, will ultimately end up reading.
And so goes the life of a digital movie critic. Well, at least I got to use “tendrils” in a sentence. I believe that’s a first for my reviews.
It’s reported Mutiny in Outer Space is an Italian-American co-production, which is incorrect. The film was produced, in full, with an all U.S. cast, at Producers Studios on Melrose Avenue, in Los Angeles (the studio has hosted everything, from the 1944 film noir Double Indemnity to 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13). Remembering the Woolner’s worked with Antonio Margheriti on Castle of Blood and Lightning Bolt: there’s your “Italian connection,” which is result of the Woolner’s clipping footage (and possibly costumes, but more likely just astronaut footage; the numerical-letter uniform designations give it away) from Margheriti’s 1960 space romp, Assignment: Outer Space. And if the sets are familiar, that’s because they’re from another 1965 production on the Producers Studios sound stages: Space Probe Taurus. (We could easily do a B&S tribute week to all of the Drive-In and UHF-TV ditties produced at the studio.)
Don’t believe me? Compare the trailers for yourself. Both films even have romance-in-the-botany lab scenes, complete with the male astronauts making dumb plant jokes in a dorky-flirt that’d give Ross Geller pause:
You can watch a nice rip of Mutiny in Outer Space on You Tube. If I had the money and influence of J.J. Abrams, I’d do for MiOS what he did for Phantasm: restore it — in color, natch. It’s a classic. Oh, and since we’re talking about them: You can watch Assignment: Outer Space on You Tube and Space Probe Taurus on You Tube, and compare. Yep, we also found a (muddy) copy of Space Master X-7 on Archive.org and The Human Duplicators on Daily Motion.
* While junk, I’ll always have a warmed-up VCR for Beyond the Time Barrier as result of its UHF-TV double-billing with Creation of the Humanoids, itself a precursor to Blade Runner in the same way Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires foreshadows Alien.