We’re going to do something a bit different this time and focus on a single movie, 1968’s (US release), Mission Stardust, starring sf’s longest continually published fictional character, Perry Rhodan.
I just discovered this film quite recently. It’s not like I’ve seen every movie ever made, or even every sf movie, but the fact that there was a Perry Rhodan movie in the 1960’s totally surprised me. First, though, a bit of a disclaimer. Detailed knowledge of the Perry Rhodan phenomenon entirely escaped me. I’ve never read any of the 126 books or so Rhodan books published in the U.S. Don’t know why, actually – it’s not like I was boycotting them, I just missed them. Part of the reason is that a good portion of the time they were on the bookshelves here (1969-1978) I was in college and grad school, and my sf reading was probably at the lowest point in my entire literate lifetime.
For those of you who might be unaware (and I was astonished by these figures when I wiki-pediaed them), Perry Rhodan is a German sf series that has been published weekly between September 1961 and February 2019 (when the wiki article was written) for over 3000 issues. Now, these are “booklet novels” usually sixty-six pages apiece, but still. This publication history makes my brain cramp. And that doesn’t even take into account the 850 spin-off novels of the “sister-series” Atlan or the 400 paperbacks and 200 hardcovers releases which I gather from the wiki article were in addition to the weekly series.
So, you’d think that a 1967 Perry Rhodan film called Mission Stardust (though I like the original title …4 ..3 ..2 ..1… Morte better) would be a pretty big thing. You’d think, but apparently most Rhodan fans pretend it doesn’t exist. Although an astronaut named Major Perry Rhodan leads the titular mission, there’s virtually no character back story and the film basically ignores the Rhodan milieu, which, actually I didn’t much miss since I don’t know any of it anyway.
Considered on its own, Mission Stardust is an entertaining mid-60’s Eurotrash film, if you like that sort of thing, which I do, if not as a regular diet. It took the combined effort of four countries – Italy, West Germany, Spain, and Monaco (though, granted, Monaco is pretty small) — to make it. The Italian director, Primo Zeglio, also co-wrote the screenplay. (He also happened to write and direct one of my favorite Steve Reeves films, Morgan the Pirate.) It stars Canadian Lang Jeffries as Perry Rhodan and Swedish Essy Persson as Thora, the easy on the eyes alien who’s Perry’s foil and love interest.
Jeffries appeared in a number of Eurotrash films of various genres throughout the 1960’s. Persson’s career was rather shorter. She’s best known for starring in the 1965 Danish film, I, a Woman, but among other roles she also appeared opposite Vincent Price in Cry of the Banshee (1970). Special effects, which (for the most part) are quite effective for the time, were handled by Antonio Margheriti, who also directed one of my favorite 1960s Italian sf films, The Wild, Wild Planet, which was mentioned in a previous 19 Movies post.
The plot doesn’t entirely make sense. Part of the issue with Mission Stardust is that its original running time was 95 minutes, but the version currently available is a cut-down 79 minutes, which does lead to a certain amount of jumpy plot syndrome. Basically, Rhodan is leading a mission to the moon to find some kind of super-radioactive material, but instead finds a broken-down alien starship crewed by the beautiful but grumpy Thora and an older scientist who’s suffering from an unknown illness, which Perry’s team is able to diagnose as leukemia. Not to worry, because a doctor in Africa who can cure it, so Perry decides to take the old guy to see him.
Somehow, a crime lord (you can tell is a 1960’s super villain by the way he dresses and the fact that he carries a cute puppy along for the first couple scenes until it disappears through a hole in the plot) gets wind of this, and hijinks ensue. Nothing Perry can’t handle, though. Best not to analyze the plot too deeply, but just sit back and enjoy the action, along with the swinging ‘60s soundtrack.