19 Movies Looks At More 1950s SF (Mostly)

19 Movies Looks At More 1950s SF (Mostly)

Them (1954: 10)

The Citizen Kane of Big-Bug Movies. The first and probably the best, it set the template for all the rest. Superior script, superior acting by James Whitmore and James Arness, who actually gets to speak this time around. Keep your eyes out for a very young Leonard Nimoy.

Cast: James Arness: The Thing From Another World (1951).

Themes: Law Enforcement, New Mexico State Police, FBI. Military, Army. Scientist, entomologist. Settings, New Mexico desert. Los Angeles sewer system. Radiation, mutant causing. Giant Animal, ants.

Tingler, The (1959: 5)

Vincent Price vehicle that starts with a vastly original (if kooky) premise, but is hindered by its ponderous development (nothing much in the way of excitement in the first forty or so minutes), a plot that descends into utter illogic to get a few thrills, and a weak ending that sees a major subplot (the relationship between Price and his unfaithful and murderous wife) totally unresolved.

Price is pretty good as the mad scientist who does show some morals (as far as the plot allows). Segments of the plot are effective (the terrorizing of the mute wife of the theatre owner), but mainly, as in many William Castle production, some gimmick overrides the plot. In this case it’s the actual wiring of theater seats to frighten the audience. Also, one of the earliest uses of LSD as a plot point in a movie.

Cast: Vincent Price: (1950s, only): The Fly (1958), Return of the Fly (1959)

Themes: Battle of the sexes. Medical experiment. Murder. Drug use, LSD. Scientist, mad but good intentioned. Socialite, feckless.

Matinee (1993: 10)

And speaking of William Castle. The best 1950s SF movie not made in the 1950s. It’s director Joe Dante’s (best known for Gremlins, 1984) love-letter to ‘50’s genre movies, set a bit ahead in time (October 1962) to take advantage of the political turmoil that was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

John Goodman plays Lawrence Woolsey (a clear stand in for William Castle), a free-wheeling movie impressario seeking to publicize his latest offering, Mant!(Half man, half ant, all terror!) with an advance screening in Key West, Florida. There are tons of funny secondary characters (keep an eye out for the duo of Dick Miller and the great John Sayles) and side plots concerning Cold War angst, various iterations of young love, and monster movie call-outs.

Along the way we get to view large snippets of Mant! (starring veteran actor Robert Cornthwaite, who played the lead scientist in the classic Thing From Another World) and the gimmicks Woolsey uses to promote it, among them Rumble Rama, which literally brings the house down.

If you love 50’s SF movies, you must see this.

Satellite in the Sky (1956: 4)

Nice production values but ultimately boring story about the crack British space program of the 1950s (not the one led by Quatermass) which produces the first orbital spacecraft, but mucks it up because at the last minute they tell the crew they have to test a horrific new atomic bomb in the stratosphere in order to end all war, forever.

Of course, the bomb fails to properly deploy. It follows the spaceship like a lost puppy, until (after hours of deliberation) two crew members go outside and push it away. The bomb explodes and the movie ends just like THAT.

Curiously inappropriate score, lush strings throughout (not only during the soap opera stuff), except the Sousa-like patriotic music during the scene where they’re testing the fuel, which swells to such an over-bearing crescendo that you expect to see the Queen come out of the plane’s cockpit, waving. By the way, there are no satellites in this movie. There is a young Miss Moneypenny, though.

Themes: British film. UK setting. Earth orbit. Atomic bomb, exploded in space. Battle of the sexes. Cold War.

Previous articles in this series 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
19 Movies Returns to 1950s Vintage SF
19 Movies Presents A Selection of Not Entirely Random 1950’s SF Movie Reviews
19 Movies: More 1950’s SF

John Jos. Miller’s latest publication is: “Fatal Error” with Victor Milan in Joker Moon July, 2021 Tor Books. Next up: Death Draws Five. Tor Books, November, 2021 www.facebook.com/john.j.miller .9883


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Knut Jørgen

It’s a shame that for Hollywood in the 1950s SF was the same as giant monsters. They were like 25 years behind the SF magazines with their plots, and the movies may also have given SF a bad name helping cause the “death of Science Fiction” around 1960.

Knut Jørgen

BTW, I liked M and rated it 4/5 when I saw it a few years ago.
Despite a silly premise I thought it was a surprisingly good movie.

Knut Jørgen

I meant “Them”, not “M” (that’s a movie with a very different “monster”).

Miller, John

Thanks for the comments. I wouldn’t blame Hollywood too much. For one thing, considering the genre was barely out of its teenaged years when the 1950s started, there was still a lot of growing to do. Also (I get this figure from Warren’s KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES, though I have some minor quibbles with his count — which also does vary by edition), there were some 214 SF films shown in US theaters during the 1950s. Some, alas are already lost, some are very hard to find). I’ve seen the vast majority, but not all. There is a fairly wide variety of subject matter, but needless to say some themes/subjects are more popular than others. I would say the distribution as to quality is what you might expect. Some are really good, some are really bad. Most are somewhere in the middle of the scale. I’m not particularly a harsh critic (usually) and I look for things to like in any given movie. I probably have more of a soft spot in my heart for some of these films than I should, Compared to today’s films virtually none have the technical proficiency, but then it is unfair to judge them from that perspective. And technical proficiency isn’t everything. (EG, take the Twilight saga. Please. Take it far, far away.)

Joe H.

I actually just watched Matinee for the first time last week and was more than entertained.

Miller, John

Glad you liked it. Thumbs up.

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