Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

CONQUEST OF SPACE

effects of acceleration on astronaut Andre (Ross Martin)
CONQUEST OF SPACE (1955). Director: Byron Haskin. Produced by George Pal.

A giant space wheel has been erected above earth whose purpose is twofold -- as an observation post and as a platform to launch a ship to the moon. However, General Samuel Merritt (Walter Brooke) is informed by his superiors that there will be no test flight to the moon, but a direct trip to Mars where it is hoped they will find a way to replenish the earth's diminishing resources and find more land for a growing population. Merritt leads the expedition with his son, Barney (Eric Fleming), as second-in-command. The others on board include Andre (Ross Martin); the crude technical expert Sgt. Siegle (Phil Foster); the Japanese Sgt. Imoto (Benson Fong); and a stowaway, Sgt. Mahoney (Mickey Shaughnessy), who was told he was too old to go along. Trouble begins when the elder Merritt starts wondering if Man has any right to "invade" space, which, in his opinion, is the province of God. Conquest of Space is a more "serious" science fiction film with character-based melodrama substituting for sexy space-babes, giant spiders, and other far-out elements of fifties outer space epics. Although the human drama is not always convincing in this, it does make the picture more entertaining than it might have been. The special effects are quite good considering this was made in a pre-CGI time period, and the science itself, while far from perfect, is more reasonable than in the more outlandish sci fi flicks made around the same time. There are some good actors in this even if it has what might be called a C level cast. Walter Brooke is fine as the general; he was actually only ten years older than Eric Fleming [Queen of Outer Space], who plays his son. As the dead-common Siegle, Phil Foster isn't terrible, but his character and style of acting make him less comedy relief than extreme irritant. Fong and Shaughnessy are pretty much the same as always, and Ross Martin [The Twilight Zone: "Death Ship"], always a very good actor, isn't given enough to do. The best scenes have to do with a humongous asteroid that almost smashes into the spaceship, and the grim sequence when a dead astronaut's body, still attached to the end of its lifeline, floats outside the porthole. Filmed in technicolor,  the Martian landscape is striking. This ambitious picture led the way to the better -- and more macabre -- Forbidden Planet the following year.

Verdict: Highly interesting and well-done early science fiction film. ***.

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