April Movie Thon Day 22: When Worlds Collide (1951)

Oh, ye producing gods Richard D. Zanuck and Jerry Bruckheimer: for when one studio or producer puts a film into production, another will put their own version-of-a-theme into production. And the Byrdian “turn, turn, turn” of those film sprockets were burnin’ the same ol’ sunny bulb down upon the same ol’ celluloid long before the dual gunfights at the O.K Corral with 1993’s Tombstone and 1994’s Wyatt Earp . . . and when Dreamsworks/Paramount and Touchstone/Buena Vista went to battle with their respective, 1998 God-brings-destruction-on-the-world romps Deep Impact (released in May) and Armageddon (July) — which continues to rain upon the Earth with the recent Greenland and its cheapjack Asylum-clones in Asteroid-a-Geddon, Collision Earth, and Meteor Moon, as well as the far superior, The Wandering Earth out of mainland China (and the earlier, 1980 Japan-produced, Earth-disaster epic, Virus). And when 2013 was the year of our battle with the terrorist-attack-on-the-White House epics Olympus Has Fallen vs. White House Down. And, since we are in a sci-fi mood: the Lucasian vs. Glen Larceny slugfest of 1978, with the Battlestar Galactica set adrift in the Akkadese Maelstrom — that’s what you get for trying to make the Kessel Run, Glen, baby.

For this disaster-in-space, “Earth Day Ends Here” epic on the 22nd day in the year of our April Movie Thon, this tale begins with producer George Pal.

The book . . . the film!

Pal purchased the rights to Robert Heinlein’s 1947 short story Rocket Ship Galileo (remembering Heinlein’s work was also behind 1953’s Bechdel test failure, Project Moonbase). With Heinlein serving as one of the film’s three screenwriters: his book was adapted as Destination Moon (1950).

Well, that worked out alright, so Pal decided to head off into space, again, by using Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie’s 1933 novel, When Worlds Collide, as his source material. For his screenwriter and director, Pal chose a couple of film noir stalwarts: Sydney Boehm, who made his mark in the genre with The Big Heat (1953), and Rudolph Maté, who wowed us with the genre-maker, D.O.A (1950) (beautifully remade — to a degree — as the recent, 2022 Australian sci-fi import, Expired).

So, when George Pal announced his end of the world epic, natch, the obvious knock offs went into production: The War of the Worlds (1953), and the more scientifically accurate, but less remembered, Conquest of Space (1955).

Then, there’s the ’50s Asylum Studios-version done by Robert Lippert, whose Lippert Pictures gave us the previously mentioned, failed, chauvinistic “matriarchy in space” romp that would be Project Moonbase. Hey, no way Lippert was letting Pal one-up him. So Lippert rushed — and beat Pal to the theaters — with Rocketship X-M (1950). While not as dry-to-boring as the previous Destination Moon, Lippert’s copy is still talky, rife with scientific boondoggles in its tale of Lloyd Bridges (Oy! It’s Commander Cain from Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack) in command of Earth’s first mission to the moon — that’s driven off course to Mars by an asteroid storm.

Okay, enough with the backstory: let’s unpack this space influencer that its studio, Paramount Pictures, has been trying to remake for years and years, with Tom Cruise and Will Smith, alternately on the marquee.

Needless to say, the ’50s celluloid proceedings — as all films do — detract from its source materials, but still concerns the coming destruction of the Earth by way of a rogue star, Bellus. So — as with Roland Emmerich’s later inversion known as 2012 (2009) — the rush is on to build a space arc, so as to repopulate man on Bellus’ single, Earth-like planet, Zyra.

The clock is ticking: man has only eight months to get their shit together because, as the Bible’s Book of Genesis quoted at the beginning of the film: God is keeping his promise: humanity is toast.

Our heroes, Astronaut David Randall (Richard Deer; Star Trek: TOS, years later: SST: Death Flight) and Dr. Cole Hendon (Larry Keating; of TV’s Mr. Ed!), receive the usual scoffs from the United Nations. Only the vain, fat cat magnate, Sidney Stanton (John Hoyt; Attack of the Puppet People and our April Movie Thon: Day 5 entry: X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes), heeds their warnings.

The usual earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, along with martial law, illegal weapons stockpiling — romantic interludes, because humans need the nookie, even as the end nears — and fixed lotteries to get on the rocket, ensues. Oh, the infamy of the strained acting frolicking amid those cardboard sets and flat-as-a-pancake matte paintings. No, ye Lucasian lads and lassies who bow to the blue screen: you won’t like this one. Well, maybe you will . . . if it brings on those Chilly Billy Cardille WIIC Channel 11 memories.

Now, imagine this all made, not by George Pal — but by Cecil B. DeMille, who wanted to adapt both When Worlds Collide and its novel-sequel, After Worlds Collide, as a pair of films. The guy who made the bible epic The Ten Commandments going up in space? I can see Charlton Heston in the Richard Deer role. . . . But a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was first considered by Pal?

Alas, Pal got his hooks into the material, first, and got Paramount on board — which closed the purse, so Pal didn’t make the “epic” he wanted to make. As for that second novel: why didn’t Pal make the sequel that was planned by DeMille? Uh, Pal deemed the brief “science fiction genre” as dead, as his next space epic, Conquest of Space (1955), failed.

Uh, but Stanley Kubrick did alright clipping that film to make something called 2001: A Space Odyssey. And that one worked out okay. Don’t believe us? Check out this You Tube comparison of the films.

You need more space romps? Then check out our “Movies In Outer Space Week” and “Exploring: (Before “Star Wars”): The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey” features. You need more end of the world mayhem? Then there’s our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” romps of post-apoc films, as well as our two-week “Fucked Up Futures” reviews.

Even more “Kill the Earth” movies with our “A-List Apocalypse Night” to ponder.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies (links to a truncated teaser-listing of his reviews).