19 Movies Returns to 1950s Vintage SF

19 Movies Returns to 1950s Vintage SF

I picked five random SF movies from the 1950’s across the quality spectrum to review this time around but while doing my due diligence research discovered that actually three of them had been directed by Bert I.. Gordon, so, not exactly random. But it’s too late to changer the line up.

Kronos: 1957 (8)

Interesting alien invasion flick, with some rather original concepts for the time. The aliens are energy creatures, though they do the thing many aliens do in these movies: take over human bodies via mind control. Sometimes the enslaved human manages to warn others, but, of course, no one actually listens until it’s almost too late.

This time around, the aliens want our electricity and atomic energy, so they send down this whopping big robot (although no one ever calls it a robot) from their flying saucer (though everyone, including the scientists who discover it, call it an asteroid for some reason) who then gobbles all the energy it can. The always dependable Jeff Morrow plays the astronomer who also has mad skills in nuclear physics or some damn thing, because he comes up with the plan to stop Kronos, despite all the best efforts of his hot girlfriend to get him to think about her for a change.

Anyway, for once the military ACTUALLY LISTENS TO THE SCIENTIST, and Kronos is stopped. The Kronos design is quite good, although how they thought that its three legs, which simply go up and down, could ever move it across the landscape is beyond me.

[Themes: Alien: non-humanoid (energy), first contact, invading, want our energy. Mind-control. Robot, alien. Computer, helpful. Flying saucer. Military, air force (Mexican and US). Atomic missile. Radiation. Murder. Romance, scientist/secretary. Scientists: astronomer, “neural psychologist.” Cast: Morris Ankrum, Jeff Morrow]

Earth vs. the Spider (AKA: The Spider): 1958 (7)

Not as good in most respects – screenplay, acting, or special effects – as Tarantula, the other giant spider movie of the 1950’s, but it has a warm spot in my heart because the spider (for no apparent reason) lairs in a cave which is actually still photographs of Carlsbad Caverns.

One of the co-starring high school kids looks like he’s thirty-two, the male lead is a bit of a whiner, as is the female. The spider screams funny. George Washington Yates, who co-wrote the screenplay, wrote a number of 1950 sf movies, among them Them! and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.

[Themes: Giant animal, spider. Youth culture, high school, rock and roll. Romance, teens. Radiation, mutation causing. Police. Crew: Bert I. Gordon, director and original story. Screenplay: George Washington Yates]

Cyclops, The: 1957 ( 5+)

Pretty much what you’d expect from a Bert I. Gordon epic, a big guy and a plethora of big animals, this time around caused by exposure to uranium. Decent characterization in the script, though Gloria Talbot’s weak female protagonist is overshadowed by Lon Chaney, Jr’s blustery yet cowardly uranium prospector.

The script is weak on action, with a poor climax (they poke the cyclops in the eye with a stick, he conveniently keels over, they fly off). The Cyclops is an uncredited appearance by the Amazing Colossal Man. Filmed largely in Bronson Canyon.

[Themes: Setting: Mexico. Giant animal: man, bird, lizard, mouse, snake, spider. Radiation from uranium. Scientist, bacteriologist. Cast and crew: Lon Chaney, too many genre films to list. Gloria Talbott: The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958), The Leech Woman (1960). Bert I. Gordon: Directed and/or produced and wrote numerous sf movies appearing in the 1950’s: King Dinosaur (1955), Beginning of the End (1957), Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)]

Giant Gila Monster, The: 1959 (4)

Hot rodders vs. giant lizard. Gets points for the concept of a giant Gila Monster, decent acting, and the earnestness of the hero who works in a garage while taking care of his widowed mother and crippled sister and in his copious spare time studies an engineering correspondence course, builds hot rods, and writes and sings rock and roll (of a sort).

Loses points for the so-obvious fact that the Gila Monster is not actually a giant Gila Monster but a regular-sized Mexican Beaded Lizard surrounded by miniatures, and because the songs that our hero writes really suck. Don Sullivan (protagonist and Renaissance Man) also appeared in Teenage Zombies, and the poor-man’s Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Monster of Piedras Blanca.

[Themes: Police. Giant animal, Gila Monster (purported). Youth culture, hot rods, rock and roll.]

King Dinosaur: 1955 (1)

Set in far distant future of 1960, King Dinosaur is one of the worst SF films of the 1950s. Just mentioning its innumerable stupidities would make this the column’s longest review. Let’s do it.

A new planet wanders into the solar system and slips into orbit right next to the Earth. The US (via barely applicable stock footage that runs twelve minutes) whips up a space program in a few months and sends four astronauts to visit. They land in a forest identical to any number of forests on Earth which is inhabited by creatures native to Earth (as shown by more stock footage) except for the dog-sized cricket, or whatever the hell that bug was, and the forest alligators, one of which, though obviously stuffed, attacks the astronauts. Both female scientists scream continuously at the drop of a hat.

At one point one of the women ask what time it is and one of the men replies, about three o’clock on Earth, we have three or four hours of light left. The female geologist insists on visiting a nearby island for no good reason where they discover three “dinosaurs” that are actually an iguana, a skink, and a baby alligator. Every time they see a big animal the men shoot it (including the giant armadillo, but not the mammoth, which they can’t because it’s stock footage from One Million Years B.C.). The zoologist takes a photo of the iguana and declares, “It looks just like a Tyrannosaurus!” which, of course, it doesn’t. Although he uses a regular camera, the female scientist grabs the suddenly developed photo, rips it up, and screams, “They’ll never believe us!” (Well, NOW they won’t.).

The others come to their rescue, declaring, “This is a good time to use the atom bomb we bought along!” Which is always what scientists do when they discover an island inhabited by interesting creatures. They set it to go off in thirty minutes, run away, paddle their rubber rafts across the lake, dive behind a three foot high sand dune, and look up and watch the fireball blossom into a mushroom cloud, having deserted Joe, the loveable kinkajou (which the zoologist calls a lemur) they’d adopted, leaving him behind when they fled the island.

Bert I. Gordon’s first movie, which he directed over a period of seven wasted days.

[Themes: Interplanetary travel to fictitious wandering planet. Giant animals, dinosaurs (purported), bug, mammoth. Scientists: zoologist and geologist. Atomic bomb, exploded. Cast and Crew: Bert I. Gordon (see above for additional 1950’s credits]

Previous 19 movies columns include:

19 1950’s SF Movies To Help Get You Through the Next Few Weeks
Son of 19 Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird Edition
19 Movies Visits the Land of the Rising Sun
19 Movies Goes to the Movies with Perry Rhodan
19 Movies Looks at Mexican Horror Films of the 1950’s-1960’s
19 Movies Presents 13 Lucky Movies for Halloween Viewing
19 Movies Presents A Welcome To 2021 Mini-Concert For Your Listening Pleasure


John Jos. Miller’s latest publication is: “An Annotated Long Night at the Palmer House.”  Next up: “A Ghost of a Smile” in Best of Dream Forge and Space and Time Magazines. April, 2021. Uproar Books, e-pub and TPB. See: www.facebook.com/john.j.miller.9883

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Thomas Parker

Kronos has always been one of my favorites. I think it would be better remembered if they had had more money to spend on the effects.

John ONeill

I see I still have a lot of 50s films to explore.

John Miller

Hard to say exactly what will grab the public’s imagination and remain a well-remembered film. I was recently among a somewhat general audience viewing FORBIDDEN PLANET and it became immediately clear that many if not most had never seen that movie before.

John Miller

Approximately 212 films, John. I equivocate because I don’t agree completely with my primary source book (Bill Warren’s KEEP WATCHNG THE SKY) as to what defines a 1950’s SF movie, and even if I did, believe it or not, a couple of these movies are already apparently lost and will likely never see the light of day again.

Thomas Parker

Keep Watching the Skies is a great book that sits on the shelf under my television, ready for instant consultation. It’s worth reading and rereading, even if Warren is completely wrong about The Mole People, which he criminally underrates but which is actually one of the greatest movies ever made.

John Miller

Yeah, SKIES, not SKY. Sorry about that. I literally cannot imagine how much research went into that book. I have quibbles with some of his opinions, but don’t think I ever caught a factual error, though some must have crept in.

thingmaker

I love all of these films but Kronos is the only one I love for its good qualities. One of may favorite films of all time is King Dinosaur, which I never saw in the ’60s or 70s when I was a kid. I didn’t see it till the 21st century… And it is one of the most thoroughly awful SF films ever made (for the nadir, see Fire Maidens of Outer Space)–For which I love it. The hero is a complete jerk, the plot makes no sense and the poor iguana harnessed to stand on its hind legs as a T-Rex is utterly flabbergasting.

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