Unknown World was made by two Hollywood special effects men, Jack Rabin and Irving Block, who are two of the film’s three producers. It was directed by Terry O. Morse, who shot the American scene in Godzilla, and written by Millard Kaufman, who also wrote Bad Day at Black Rock and The Klansman.
Victor Kilian, who plays Dr. Jeremiah Morley, lost an eye in a fight scene with John Wayne and was blacklisted for decades due to his political views, which is why he is uncredited in this. He’s invented a big tank that can drill into the center of the world, the Cyclotram, and has taken a crew of scientists through Carlsbad Caverns, Bronson Caves, Nichols Canyon and finally Pismo Beach to find a place where the human race can survive a nuclear war. Sadly, that unknown world makes everyone sterile.
Let me tell you, people were obsessed by the center of the Earth in 1951. The Shaver Mystery was maybe not in Amazing Stories any longer — editor Ray Palmer claimed a conspiracy got them forced out of the pulp magazine — yet still found an audience in Palmer’s newsletter called… The Hidden World.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Novak writes about the Golden Age of Hollywood, infusing her weekly movie reviews with history, gossip, and the glamour of the studio era. You can read her reviews at www.melanienovak.com and follow her on Instagram @novak_melanie or Twitter @MelanieANovak.
Bette Davis needs no introduction, but if she’d lived to write a Twitter bio, it would say something like, “Actress. Hell-raiser. Ten Oscar nominations, two wins…should’ve won a 3rd for “Baby Jane” but Crawford campaigned against me. Did it the hard way.”
She had three great talents: a willingness to make herself hideously ugly if that’s what the role required, an ability to play gleeful villains who reveled in their wickedness, and a personality so forceful she could make even the worst films a rollicking good time.
She puts the second two talents to great use in Another Man’s Poison (1951), directed by Irving Rapper (who directed Davis in Now, Voyager (1942) and The Corn is Green (1945)) and co-starring her new husband Gary Merrill, whom she’d met and fallen in love with while making the classic All About Eve the previous year.
Another Man’s Poison served as a honeymoon of sorts for Davis and Merrill, as it was filmed on location in North Yorkshire, England.
Davis plays Janet Frobisher, a mystery writer who’s been living and writing in a big, drafty house in England. She’s also having an affair with the much younger fiancé of her secretary, though we suspect she’s motivated by vanity more than love. Though she tells the townspeople that her husband is nearly permanently away on business in foreign lands, the truth is that she’s run away from him because he’s a criminal.
When her husband arrives one night on the heels of a bank robbery, threatening her and promising to never grant her a divorce, Janet dispatches the problem as one of the characters in her novels would, by poisoning her husband with a medicine for her horse.
But the real problem arrives with the plot’s first twist—her husband had an accomplice, George Bates (Merrill), who arrives looking for him. When the local veterinarian arrives to check on Janet’s sick horse, he finds George, who pretends to be Janet’s long-lost husband to explain his presence as he knows police are actively looking for him.
And thus, Janet and George are stuck with one another. Janet convinces George to help her dispose of her husband’s body, and now both are complicit in the crime. They have a mirroring cruelty—they both desire and loathe one another.
I’m not going to spoil any of the plot twists—suffice it to say these are two despicable human beings who deserve one another and yet each is increasingly determined to eliminate the other.
Add in a nosy veterinarian, Janet’s young paramour, and you have all the makings of a mess. The plot escalates in ways that are somewhat silly, but all the fun is in watching Davis and Merrill (who would have a ten-year marriage nearly as violent, passionate, and tempestuous as Janet and George’s relationship) go at one another. Their escalating cruelty is apt to make you laugh more than flinch, but Davis’ performance foreshadows many of her post-age-forty roles, where she played maniacal villains who were as funny as they were scary.
And if the ending doesn’t surprise you, well, that would surprise me.
It’ll never make a Bette Davis top ten list, but it’s required viewing for true fans.
Yet again, Dr. Henry Jekyll has decided to try to discover the dark side of man and the nature of evil, but ends up releasing the dark side. This time, however, the movie is made in Argentina, which at least lends it some level of interest.
This was a dream project of actor/director Mario Soffici, who is the lead. That said, if you’re expecting a movie filled with action, this is not the one you are looking for. It’s mostly talking and even when Mr. Hyde shows up, he just has an odd hairstyle and knocks a kid down. That’s it — nothing much to report of how wild he can be.
That said, how often are you going to get to watch a 1950’s horror movie from Argentina?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Novak writes about the Golden Age of Hollywood, infusing her weekly movie reviews with history, gossip, and the glamour of the studio era. You can read her reviews at www.melanienovak.com and follow her on Instagram @novak_melanie.
You may not be familiar with Father’s Little Dividend, but you certainly know the original. In fact, you can tell a lot about a person by asking them who plays the Father of the Bride. If you say Steve Martin, you’re likely under fifty. If you say Spencer Tracy, you’re either a film buff or have grandchildren—make it great-grandchildren—of your own.
(And if you say Leon Ames, who played Stanley on the 1961-1962 television series, my hat’s off to you. That’s the deepest of deep cuts, my friend.)
A brief recap on the original: In 1950, Spencer Tracy plays Stanley Banks, a middle age father who finds out his young and only daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) is getting married and proceeds to lose his mind in the planning of (and paying for!) her wedding.
In Father’s Little Dividend, MGM brings back the entire cast for a second round of laughs at poor Stanley Banks’ expense when Kay and husband Buckley announce she’s expecting a baby.
After the announcement, everyone is hugging and offering congratulations to the young couple. Everyone except for Stanley, who’s too busy glowering at the proud papa-to-be.
“First he steals my daughter,” Stanley fumes in audience narration, “now he makes a grandpa out of me.”
The prospect of becoming a “grandpa” sends Stanley into a full blown midlife crisis. In my favorite scene, he spends the day at the gym regaining his youthful vitality and ends up throwing out his back the next morning.
Father’s Little Dividend does an excellent job walking the sequel tightrope—holding onto what people loved about the original without serving them reheated leftovers.
It keeps Stanley’s curmudgeonly nature and under-his-breath barbs—he calls the baby shower “highway robbery not punishable by law.” It also maintains the roll-her-eyes tolerance of his wife Ellie, the mutual adoration between Stanley and Kay, and the bottom line truth that for all his grumbling, Stanley is ultimately a marshmallow who wants only to make his wife and daughter happy.
But Dividend also widens the circle to include more time with Kay’s in-laws, who are in a fight to the death with Ellie for the baby’s affection. Both sets of in-laws endlessly interfere in Kay and Buckley’s life—suggesting Kay move in with them, decorating her nursey, and going behind her back to speak with her doctor about his questionable “modern” methods.
And after the baby is born, the you-better-take-this advice never ends.
All but Stanley, of course, who wants nothing to do with any of it. And for a daughter overwhelmed with competing opinions, “no comment” is the sweetest sound of all.
And as to the baby that Stanley wants nothing to do with?
He comes around. Just as we all knew he would.
Dividend is both funny and poignant. But it also brings out something that feels fresh even today—very few films put a man’s feelings about becoming a grandfather at center stage.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis), and co-starring Joan Bennett as Ellie Banks, this holiday season you can’t go wrong with a double helping of the original Banks family in Father of the Bride (1950) and Father’s Little Dividend (1951).
Editor’s Note: We’ll also touch upon another lost, forgotten Ormond historical document, Parisienne Creations, concerned with the vaudeville-inspiring cabaret halls of Paris, within the context of this review.
The many who are quick to denounce this entry on Ron Ormond’s resume, unfortunately, don’t know the man behind the lens.
Ron Ormond directed a series of westerns for Robert L. Lippert Productions* — twelve of them with Lash La Rue, plus one non-western with Lash, Please Don’t Touch Me. Ron was then contracted — in a style similar to his “jukebox musicals” Square Dance Jubilee (1949) and Kentucky Jubilee (1951), his western-musical Forty Acre Feud, and vaudevillian document Varieties on Parade (1951) — to recreate, for the sake of documentation, a 19th century minstrel show to put on drive-in screens.
Born Vittorio Di Naro, anglicized to Vic Narro, Ron got his start in show business as a vaudeville stage magician, “Rahn Ormond,” in tribute to his friend and mentor, magician/hypnotist Ormond McGill. It was on those touring stages where Ron met singer and dancer June Carr, who soon became his long-time wife and co-partner in film, many of which we’ve reviewed at B&S About Movies.
Again: This film is not a minstrel show committed to film: it is a documentary — presented in a dramatic format — about minstrel shows.
It is important to understand Ron’s work and affections for his vaudeville years, which he paid tribute to with Varieties on Parade (1951), because the precursor to vaudeville, which lasted until the 1930s, was minstrels shows, which dated back to the mid-1800’s. Both entertainment forms included a wide variety of acts consisting of comedians, singers, dancers, acrobats, magicians, ventriloquists, animal acts, and even male and female impersonators — with one exception: minstrel shows mostly featured white performers adorned in black face for the purpose of portraying black people. We say “mostly,” because African-Americans were also part of the casts (as shown in the clip, below). In fact, as the “white” shows toured, there were black-only minstrel shows that also toured the U.S. in the early days of the 19th century.
So, while many express outrage with the mere existence of Yes Sir, Mr. Bones, the film is not a case of Robert L. Lippert “putting on a minstrel show” and capturing it on film. The film is a case of Ron Ormond creating — for the times — a document regarding the earliest beginnings of vaudeville: an art form that gave birth to the iconic, “Borscht Belt” talents of Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Henny Youngman, and George Burns. Even illusionist Harry Houdini developed his skills on vaudeville’s touring stages. The African-American equivalent, the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” gave rise to singers such as James Brown, multi-performers like Sammy Davis, Jr., comedian-impressionist Flip Wilson (who dabbled in female impersonation, long before Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry), and comedian Redd Foxx, who rose to the top of U.S. TV ratings in the early ’70s with his updating of the Amos ‘n’ Andy comedic formula with his series — featuring situations and characters based on his stage act — Sanford & Son.
As with Ron Ormond’s other works in the jukebox musical format we’ve previously reviewed at length, or the jobs where he had to “make a movie” out of stock footage and the pieces-parts of other films (Untamed Mistress), Ron needed to come up with a “plot” to present the material. In the case of Yes Sir, Mr. Bones: a plotline was additionally needed to soften the presentation, so that the production didn’t come across as “putting on a minstrel show” and capturing it on film — which would be, admittedly, offensive.
So Ron came up with story about a young boy visiting an entertainment retirement home occupied by ex-minstrel and vaudeville actors, so as to learn more about the art form that grew out of Parisian Moulin Rouge theaters (which is the whole point of the film: to work as a historical document to preserve a moment in U.S. history that shouldn’t have existed, but did).
Enraptured by the boy’s interest, the residents start to reminisce; the film flashes back to an old riverboat holding an old-fashioned black face minstrel show — one filled with song and dance numbers and various vaudevillian skits. Unlike real-life minstrel shows, the usual, raunchy humor is cleaned up for the drive-in crowd who, until this film, may have heard of or seen photos of minstrels shows from the early 1900 to 1930s, but never seen one, in the ever-changing, maturing times of the 1950s.
If you go into Yes Sir, Mr. Bones as a historical document of a bygone era, and allow the film to work as what it is, a “historical document,” you’ll realize that man, while making grave mistakes, has the fortitude to see their errs — and change. And change Ron Ormond did: in his later life, for the remainder of the ’70s until his death, he created a succession of Christian films (The Second Coming) concerned with his own salvation through Jesus Christ.
In this clip, below, which features Scatman Crothers (The Shining; a longtime friend and associate of Redd Foxx, he came to guest star on Sanford & Son) in his feature film debut, his partner is Flournoy Eakin “E.F” Miller. A later vaudevillian actor, writer, and lyricist, Eakin came to work on Broadway, and then as a writer on CBS-TV’s Amos ‘n’ Andy. While the full-length film is not available, there are several clips in a playlist preserved on You Tube to sample. Those clips come from the authorized, DVD reissue by the VCI imprint, which offers an extensive, contextual commentary track as part of their reissue.
Ugh. Yet another movie trailer is deleted. You can search the film’s title on You Tube to find clips.
We’ve made it our life’s mission to watch and review — sans his twenty-plus westerns as a producer, writer and director — all of Ron Ormond’s secular and Christian films. (The westerns will get done, eventually.) And we’re almost there. We’re left with The Eternal Question (1956), a soft skin-flick of which we have yet to locate a copy — hard or streaming.
The two most recent, Ormond non-western secular flicks we’ve watched are the films headlined on this review. We spoke of Ron Ormond’s work in the jukebox musical format with Square Dance Jubilee (1949) and Kentucky Jubilee (1951), each which thread a dramatic-cum-comedy plot through the film’s many musical acts. While Varieties on Parade and Forty Acre Feud both end up on some critics’ jukebox musical lists, these two works are less plot-driven and more about capturing a variety stage show in its entirety.
Remember, at the time of the release of each of these films, the new, technical advancement of television was not as integrated into our lives as it is today. Not everyone owned a television to watch the variety show styling of Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan. So, films, such as these Ormond productions, brought the show to the silver screens in outdoor, rural America.
Forty Acre Feud
Back in the day, country music concerts incorporated comedy into their sets, and this jukeboxer is filled with a gaggle of country singers (each doing two songs), including George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, Ray Price, Del Reeves, and Roy Drusky (each lip-sync their hit songs, but doing it so well, you can’t tell), while Minnie Pearl and Ferlin Husky bring on the comedy. Shot at Bradley’s Barn in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, the “plot,” of what little there is to keep the acts hitting the stage with some semblance of rhyme and reason, concerns local election shenanigans.
Ferlin Husky went on to star in two films Sam the Bossman and I really love: The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), and its sequel, Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967). Both are, in fact, jukebox musicals themselves, with plots about organized crime and an inherited casino, and a mad scientists hiding out in a haunted house.
By the close the decade, as televisions became more prevalent in homes, the jukebox musical format of the silver screen was rendered obsolete by the premier of CBS-TV’s “Kornfield Kounty” series Hee-Haw in 1969.
Varieties on Parade
The whole purpose of this film is to give you “60s minutes of Star-Studded Entertainment” by bringing a big-city, vaudeville stage show to the drive-in screens of rural America. Unlike Ron Ormond’s other jukebox musicals — outside of the film’s opening POV shot, as you walk up to the box office and get a ticket, then are taken to your seat by an usher — there’s no plot to speak of to thread the acts.
This time capsule gets right down to it with an endless stream of singers, dancers, and magicians. There’s a mother-daughter bicycle stunt team and a brother juggling act, while former kid actor Jackie Coogan spoofs a routine with fellow comedian and the evening’s emcee, Eddie Garr. Are you in the mood for two comedians coming out on stage dressed as a horse? A three-woman trampoline act? An aerobics routine along with slapstick interludes? Then buy a ticket for the show!
You can get both of these films — and other Ron Ormond jukebox musicals (Yes Sir, Mr. Bones) — as part of VCI Entertainment’s “Showtime USA” DVD series. The restores on both are excellent and they also offer bonus commentary tracks with in-depth examinations on all of the films in the series.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Bruce Eder, in the liner notes of the 1989 The Criterion Collection reissue of A Hard Day’s Night, reminds us that, in a 1964 review of that classic Beatles’ film, critic Andrew Sarris described it as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals.”
Since then, the term “jukebox musical” has, in my opinion, gone a wee-bit off the critical rails. I don’t see music-oriented biographies, such as the recent (each a barely one-watch-and-done abysmal) Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019), and the Aretha Franklin bio, Respect (2021), as part of the genre. My opinion carries over to, speaking of the Beatles, Across the Universe (2007) and Yesterday (2019) centered on their catalog. Is the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968) a jukebox musical, as well? Is Harry Nilsson’s Son of Dracula (1974) a jukebox musical or a visualized rock opera, like the Who’s Tommy (1975), which no one considers a jukebox musical?
For me: when you say “jukebox musical,” I reminisce having to watch a singing-and-dancing James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) while babysat by my Aunt Martha. For me, a jukebox musical means my enjoying Billy Haley and the Comets and the Platters in Rock Around the Clock (1956), the first rock n’ roll musical — of which famed DJ Alan Freed made five*. Then, there’s one of Kentucky Jubilee‘s offspring with the low-budget, major studio cash-in by MGM to jump on the folk music bandwagon with Hootenanny Hoot (1963). And who can forget — oh, how we try — when accordionist Dick Contino graced our screens as a hipster, Elvis-styled leading man in the likes of Daddy-O (1958) and Girls Town (1959) alongside Paul Anka and the Platters. And there’s no way to forget “The King of Swing,” jazz trumpeter Louie Prima (?!), jumpin’ on the jukebox bandwagon with Twist All Night (1961).
Sure, there was a little bit o’ plot n’ action in the frames (e.g., mobsters muscling-in on the club; Louie Prima throws a punch between trumpet blows), but the celluloid raison d’être was to market music (yes, even the outdated Louis Prima). Back in the day, not everyone owned a television set. Not as many people saw Elvis and the Beatles for the first time on television as you think: their first visual experience of both was in a movie theater. Today, going to a concert — now major industry unto itself — is a common place event in our lives, but not back in the day. In fact, to hear my dad tell it: he went to one concert in his entire life: the tragic Buddy Holly tour in 1959 at the Syria Mosque in Squirrel Hill, east of Pittsburgh.
So, the best way for record labels and promoters to expose their artists to the masses: take the acts to the people — by way of a movie. And in most cases, the movie wasn’t so much a “movie” with a plot, but a loosely connected series of pre-recorded “pop clips” of bands inserted into the film (e.g., kids would be sitting in a living room, they’d turn on a television; the Platters would play their latest hit). Unlike a Beatles or Elvis flick, the songs were not original to the film itself, just the latest tune from an artist’s catalog.
Remember us calling out the cinematically-challenged Dick Contino and Louis Prima? Well, not only were unfashionable accordion and trumpet players squeezing out their last moments of relevancy via films: even bug-eyed, mustachioed Ritz Brothers knockoffs like the Vaudvillian-bred Jerry Collona (a Bob Hope associate; appeared in 1940’s Road to Singapore) just gotta try. He stars, here, as a music festival emcee involved in — like just about every jukebox musical before or after — a crime caper. Which is even more ludicrous than Louis Prima “getting the drop” — in full comic effect — on the bad guys.
While this was shot-in-Florida with a gaggle of that state’s regional talents, this all takes place in Hickory, Kentucky. (Why not title the film Hickory Dickory Rock? Well, when one of the acts is a one-man band playing oil funnels and a banjo, it’s not rockin’.) And — like just every jukebox musical before or after — a big time, Hollywood director comes to town to find musical acts to make ern’ of dem dere movin’ picktures. This time, instead of having a corner on the jukebox racket, our mobster (Russell Hicks, a Phil Silvers associate; also in the 1950 jukeboxer, Square Dance Kathy) has control of the town’s lone club and its annual jubilee — and he can’t have any big city outsider musclin’ in on the territory.
Of course, the director (the equally-hammy Fritz Feld, later of The Phynx and Hello, Dolly!, also Professor Greenleaf in TV’s Batman) and Jerry Colonna, are kidnapped. Why not have the cute blonde, Jean Porter (who made it to the MGM lot by way of winning a Texas talent show), be a damsel-in-distress to spice it all up? Doh!
So, a cub-reporter (Jimmie Ellison) sent to cover the shindig, and the members of the fifteen we-never-heard-of-before-or-heard-from-again acts (also finding time to curse us with 25 songs, along with corn-bred comics, contortionists, a whip-act, and vaudeville bits) join forces to save the day. If you know your Ron Ormond westerns, you’ll notice Jimmie “Shamrock” Ellison and Raymond Hatton starred in six Robert L. Lippert westerns directed by Ron Ormond. So, yeah . . . bad jokes, not-so-wise cracks, Colonna sportin’ a turbin and reading a crystal ball, and puddy-faced camera mugging that would give Joe Piscapo pause, ensues.
Hey, scoff if you will, but movies like Kentucky Jubilee were more convenient and cheaper than going to an actually hootenanny or jubilee. And Ron Ormond incorporated all of his well-honed western skills to string together one of the better-plotted jukebox musicals.
Yes, this once, long-lost Ron Ormond film has been digitized (a stellar restore that keeps you watching) for your enjoyment at the Internet Archive.
Square Dance Jubilee
Prior to Ron Ormond writing and directing Kentucky Jubilee — of the seven films he directed that year — he earned his “jukebox musical” stripes writing and producing this “musical western” starring 250-plus credits strong, gruff n’ tough-as-nails western/cop actor Don “Red” Barry (’60s TV’s The Virginian and Surfside 6) and redhead-to-platinum blonde, 20th Century Fox/Universal/MGM B-Movie contract player Mary Beth Hughes. On the musical front, we have the-then-hip fiddler Spade Cooley and his western-swing band. (Laugh, but there’s some serious, Hendrix-styled theatrics with fiddles and upright basses goin’ on up in this ‘ere jubilee.)
As with the later Kentucky Jubilee, the story is the same: In the earliest days of some new-fangled contraption called tele-ee-vish-un**, two talent scouts for a New York-based country music TV show called “Square Dance Jubilee” (hosted by Spade Cooley), are sent out West to find authentic western singing acts for the show. In addition to finding acts, they find themselves mixed in up in cattle rustling and a murder mystery.
If you’re familiar with, and didn’t mind, Rock Around the Clock being retooled as Twist Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Rock returning as Don’t Knock the Twist, then you have fun as Don “Red” Barry plays the straight man to another, fading vaudevillian in the form of a camera-mugging Wally Vernon (in the Jerry Colonna role) taking care of the crime drama. The Cowboy Copas and Claude Casey handle the tunes. Of course, variety acts also show up, this time with ventriloquist Max Terhune. In a twist: Red Barry croons a tune, “Girl in the Mink Blue Jeans,” and Wally Vernon’s goofy-rubbery soft-shoe must be seen to be believed.
So, what’s not to likey, here? We’ve got Ron Ormond scripting, Robert L. Lippert producing, and a western-driven crime drama threaded by the way of music, vaudeville bits, and comic relief.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes . . . Spade Cooley had a contentious marriage with Ella May Evans, a singer in his band; she’d go on to have an affair with . . . TV and film cowboy Roy Rogers . . . and Cooley was eventually convicted of murdering Ella May. His biggest hits during his ’40s heyday were the #1 “Shame on You,” the #2 “Detour,” and the groundbreaking-influence on popularizing the use of the steel pedal guitar, “Steel Guitar Rag.”
Meanwhile, behind the scenes . . . the twice divorced Don “Red” Barry had an affair with Susan Hayward in the mid-’50s . . . who got in cat fight with another woman visiting his apartment. In July 1980, Barry shot himself in the head, shortly after a domestic dispute with his estranged, third wife, Barbara.
Yeah, sometimes reality, aka truth, is stranger than fiction. And the reality of Don “Red” Barry and Spade Cooley are sad, graphic tales.
Anyway, you can enjoy a very nice, restored rip of Square Dance Jubilee on You Tube.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” — Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:9
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” — French critic, journalist and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
Whoa, ye Richard D. Zanuck and Jerry Bruckheimer: for both ye were begat by Solomon and Karr. For when one studio or producer puts a film into production, another will put their own Ecclesiastian version 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 clone Asteroid-a-Geddon) . . . 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.
Karr was right: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
And the familiar tale of this production by veteran B-Movie and “poverty row” purveyor Monogram Pictures — The Asylum studios of the 1950s, if you will — starring Cameron Mitchell (who went from this to, ironically, the Battlestar Galactica-clone Space Mutiny), begins with producer George Pal.
Pal purchased the rights to Robert Heinlein’s 1947 short story Rocket Ship Galileo (Heinlein’s work was also behind 1953’s Project Moonbase). With Heinlein serving as one of the film’s three screenwriters, it was turned into Destination Moon (1950). Pal’s first foray into sci-fi was the better remembered and more influential When World’s Collide (1951) (Paramount’s been trying to remake it for years), H.G Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1953), (remade, twice: Tom Cruise and The Asylum, natch), and the more scientifically accurate, but less remembered, Conquest of Space (1955) (that has no remake plans) (and you’re darn tootin’ Stanley Kubrick watched Conquest of Space; watch this You Tube comparison).
Well, studio chief Robert Lippert — whose Lippert Pictures would give us the failed, chauvinistic “matriarchy in space” romp that would be Project Moonbase (again, from a Heinlein book/script) — wasn’t letting George Pal one-up him. So Lippert rushed his own “first men on the moon” picture into production — and, as planned, beat Pal into theaters with Rocketship X-M (1950). While not as dry-to-boring as Destination Moon, Lippert’s copy is still talky and 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.
Imaginative, but ultimately undone by its cash-in cheapness to ripoff Rocketship X-M (which, again, hit the big screens first and ripped off Destination Moon), Monogram’s Flight to Mars concerns Mitchell’s philandering commander-in-charge of the Earth’s first (five-manned; four men and one woman) mission to Mars. Ol’ Cam’s the kind of leader that, sensing tension between the husband and wife engineering team on the trip, makes a command decision that flirting with the wife — in front of her man — is the right course of action. Batten down the hatches, this trip is gonna be a bumpy ride.
On Mars, our quintet meets the war-torn Martians forced to live in vast, underground cities (courtesy of pretty decent matte paintings; not Lucasian-stellar, but nice), who, regardless of their superior technology, need to steal our rocket design (because they’re tapped out of “Corium”), so as to launch an invasion to escape their dying world. And, in the grand tradition of ’50s sci-fi films — and the ’60s, such as the Italian romps 2+5 Mission Hydra and Mission Stardust — Earthmen and alien chicks (and vise versa) must have an interstellar romance. So, Marquerite Chapman’s Alita (her most notable roles were in 1952’s Bloodhounds of Broadway and, with Marilyn Monroe, in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch), a Martian babe who heads the resistance underground, betrays her people when she falls for Mitchell’s Col. Steve Abbott. No, wait. Col. Steve is hookin’ up with Carol the Engineer; Alita’s hookin’ up with Carol’s soon-to-be-ex (if Mitchell gets his wish), Dr. Jim Barker.
Okay . . . let’s put the flight recorder on hold for a moment, Flash. Let’s review the “romance,” i.e., the philandering, and cosmic chauvinism.
Flight to Mars is the type of film where:
Although a woman is intelligent enough to engineer a rocket and is the only one qualified to monitor its systems, when she gets to Mars, her first question to her Martian hosts is “Where’s the kitchen?” and express amazement that “Mars is a woman’s paradise” because all food preparation is done in a lab and dish washing is done by machine. “Mars, I love you,” says the female rocket scientist.
Women are still objects of another crew member’s ogling and flirting, even though her husband/fiancée is also on board — and the woman reciprocates the pass because, even though the man is a pig, the woman is still a Jezebel that tempted the man to be a pig in the first place.
A woman, while sorta-kinda of cheating on her husband in the lab with another crew member, gets jealous when her husband tries to hook up with a Martian chick because, women are Rachel Green-styled emotional basketcases who love to instigate love triangles, only to leave tables and rooms in a huff.
Oh, and when women board a rocket, no flight suit or pressure suit is required: but they do need to wear a below-the-knee skirt, stockings, and heels. Just strap in, forget the helmet, freshen the lipstick, and hit ignition. Per aspera ad astra, sweet cheeks; for a kitchen awaits you on the angry red planet.
Now, if you’re keeping track of your classic sci-fi: Martian women falling for Earthmen dates back to Alexei Tolystoy’s novel Aelita (Ah, okay, you removed the “e,” eh, Monogram?), which was silent-film adapted in 1924 by Yakov Protazanov as Aelita, Queen of Mars (one the earliest, full-length science fiction films regarding space travel), and concerns a totalitarian Mars overthrown by Queen Aelita and her Earth-man lover. In fact, the true source material behind Monogram’s space opera isn’t Rocketship X-M or Destination Moon: the source is the English-dubbed and edited version known as Aelita: Revolt of the Robots, released in 1929. Yes, the ill-remembered Flight to Mars is a remake . . . and a ripoff . . . in one fell spin of the celluloid sprocket. And you thought The Asylum invented the Glen Larceny business model, first, huh?
So, that’s three films Monogram’s clipped . . . and 2+5 Mission Hydra and Mission Stardust, in turn, clipped them. And the women — both terrestrial and celestial — and as in The Angry Red Planet (the ultimate in creepy astronaut-leering adventure), Gog, King Dinosaur, and the aforementioned Project Moonbase — are Bechdel-tested into interstellar dust in all of them. At least Mission Mars (released in the Year of our Kubrick, 1968) had the good sense to keep the woe-is-me women on Earth and give us the good ol’ (goofy) non-human monster-aliens. (Dishwashers on Mars? Women are free from cooking and cleaning? Obviously, screenwriter Arthur Strawn — of 1935’s The Black Room starring Boris Karloff — from had matriarchal issues.)
We’re not in a spec of original space anymore, Toto! Wait, Auntie Em? This all looks familiar . . . beyond the script . . . wait, it is the same!
As with Roger Corman laying down the big bucks to produce his Star Wars cash-in, Battle Beyond the Stars, then reusing that film’s sets (and footage) in Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror, and Space Raiders, Robert L. Lippert maximized his bucks; he rented out the sets, props, and sound effects from Rocketship X-M to Monogram. While it’s not a “green movie” as Cat-Women of the Moon, these Mars proceedings are definitely a hue of bluish-green (or yellowish green?). Sure, Monogram redressed things a bit to make us think it’s all different, but it’s not. Well, outside of the fact that Rocketship X-M was shot in black-and-white and starts off to the moon and ends up on Mars, while Flight to Mars is shot in color and went to Mars as planned.
The UHF-TV highlights of director Lesley Selander’s 40-year and 145-plus film career include — for you ol’ black-and-white horror hounds, The Vampire’s Ghost (1945), War Paint (1955; with Robert “Unsolved Mysteries” Stack), and Fort Yuma (1955; with Peter “Mission: Impossible” Graves”; he went to the Red Planet himself with 1952’s Red Planet Mars).
You can watch Flight to Mars on YouTube while your woman heads to the kitchen to make you a sandwich. And be sure to pour a Dr. Pepper, babe.
Umberto Scalli (Timothy Farrell, Test Tube Babies, Glen or Glenda) is in charge of women’s wrestling shows, which covers up his crime life, which includes racketeering, bookmaking and prostitution. Yet now, the police and the mob are both after him.
Real pro wrestlers Peaches Page, Rita Martinez and Clara Mortensen all play themselves in this. So does famous ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Sr.
Director Robert C. Dertano knew the subject of bad girls well, as he made Gun Girls, Girl Gang and this movie, directing, writing and editing most of his films. He was also the assistant director on Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead. He shot this in the exact same place that Wood made Plan 9 from Outer Space at, Quality Studios at 5628½ Santa Monica Boulevard.
Also known as The Blonde Pick-Up and Pin Down Girls, you can watch the Mystery Science Theater riff of this on Tubi.
Maj. Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero, the only Joker never to shave), Lt. Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler) and Sgt. William Tatlow (Sid Melton, Alf Monroe from Green Acres) and three scientists — Stanley Briggs (Whit Bissell, the undertaker in The Magnificent Seven), Robert Phillips (Hugh Beaumont from Leave It to Beaver) and Russian Michael Rostov (John Hoyt, Flesh Gordon) — are headed out to find an atomic rocket that has crashed in the South Pacific.
Spoiler: they find dinosaurs.
Yes, if you want to see a movie where dinosaurs wipe out a team of smart men and military guys, by all means, Lost Continent is the movie for you.
You’ve got Ward Cleaver being brutalized by a brontosaurus and a triceratops goring one of the team members, who eventually get back at the dinos by shooting a pterosaur for food. If this was an Italian movie, that would have been a real pterodactyl and we would have watched one of the natives hack at it with a dull machete.
Also, if you like rock climbing and tinting a black and white film green so that it doesn’t seem dated or uncool, then you’re also going to love this.
Director Sam Newfield has 277 directorial credits on his IMDB page, among them Radar Secret Service and I Accuse My Parents. In fact, he made so many movies that he also used the names Peter Stewart and Sherman Scott to hide the sheer amount of films that he directed. He’s considered to be the most prolific film director in the history of American film and some believe that his final number of movies could be well over three hundred projects thanks to his industrial promotional one-reelers, training films, comedy shorts, TV series episodes, full-length features and the very same TV series episodes that were padded into full-length features.
Sadly, all of this work came from the fact that Sam suffered from a serious gambling addiction, making him poor for most of his life and even breaking up his marriage. After thirty years of directing, he was so broke that his brother Sigmund, the head of PRC Pictures, paid off all his debts and gave him a place to live for the last six years of his life. After all, he’d only paid him $500 a movie for years, so it was the least that he could do.