19 Movies: If It’s the 1950’s, It Must Be Radioactive

19 Movies: If It’s the 1950’s, It Must Be Radioactive


This time around we’re focusing on films containing the most common theme in 1950’s sf films: radiation. This installment contains just a sample of films exploring that theme, so we’ll certainly revisit it at some future time.

Kiss Me Deadly [1955: 9]

Often cited as one of the great noir films, this strange blend of hard-boiled detection and sf chronicles Spillane’s Mike Hammer seeking the “whatsis.” Right from the backward scrolling opening credits you know you’re in for an unusual and unsettling ride as quirky characters move through quirky Los Angeles settings that no longer exist.

Ralph Meeker as Hammer is surrounded by an able supporting cast. He’s clearly not a nice guy, but the reviews labeling him a sadistic maniac are overstated. Truthfully, Kiss Me Deadly skews more to fantasy than sf, with a clear nod to myth at its climax. Spillane purportedly hated the movie, but that’s okay, because the screenwriter hated the novel, and wrenched a story out of it that’s far better than the source material.

Themes: Los Angeles setting, Cold War, Criminals, Police, Murder, Radiation]

H-Man [1958: 9]

The Japanese title is the vastly more evocative Beauty and the Liquid People, and it’s one of a number of ‘50s Japanese movies where radiation plays the role of primary villain as indiscriminate atomic testing creates blob-like entities that consume anyone who touches them.

The plot is a genre mash-up of sf (the professor who solves the mystery of the “H-men”), a police procedural (the lead detective who solves the disappearance of a drug dealer), and a touching and well-done romance between the prof and the criminal’s girlfriend, who is nightclub chanteuse. It’s one of several ‘50s Japanese sf films that have a nightclub setting, complete with musical numbers.

The Japanese release is slightly longer than the American version and, as always, superior.

Cast and Crew (1950’s films only): Director: Ishiro Honda: Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956), The Mysterians (1957), Varan (1958), Battle in Outer Space (1959) Akihiko Hirata: Godzilla (1954), The Mysterians (1957), Varan (1958). Kanji Sahara: Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956), The Mysterians (1957). Yumi Shirakawa: Rodan (1956), The Mysterians (1957).

Themes: Japanese film. Drug Smuggling. Police. Nightclub setting. Radiation.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms [1953: 8]

Precursor to, and possible inspiration for Godzilla, this is the first giant-creature-resurrected-by-radiation movie, but the damage the Beast manages to inflict on New York City is minuscule compared to what its successor does to Tokyo.

The Harryhausen effects are superior though the script provides for only the most sketchy relationships between characters, including a tepid romantic interlude. The always reliable Kenneth Tobey has relatively little to do as the military guy who basically stands around and watches events unfold.

Cast: Kenneth Tobey: The Thing From Another World (1951), It Came From The Ocean Floor (1955), The Vampire (1957)

Themes: Radiation. Arctic setting. Scientist, paleontologist. Military. Dinosaur.]

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman [1958: 7/3}

Quirky movie with feminist sensibilities grafted onto a sf background. Gets a split rating because while it’s poorly done (It’s basically an Ed Wood film lacking some of the master’s outright zaniness but with a vastly greater budget.) it manages to be weirdly entertaining despite its terrible special effects, story-line, and script.

A boozy socialite bumps into a giant alien who’s landed his ping pong ball shaped spaceship near the road she’s driving on. He snatches her diamond pendant that’s the size of a baby’s fist (It seems his vessel is powered by diamonds and his tank is running low) and while doing so he irradiates her, somehow, which, somehow, effects her pituitary gland, causing her, somehow, to grow to the height of fifty feet.

In the meantime, her no-good husband has a floozy (The gorgeous Yvette Vickers who goes on to have a busy 1959 being Playboy’s July playmate and battling giant leeches in Roger Corman’s Attack of the Giant Leeches), stashed in a cheap hotel in town. He’s trying to get his wife incarcerated in an asylum so he can run off with her money and said floozy, but the socialite wants her Harry, for no accountable reason, and eventually does get her man.

Themes: Desert setting. Radiation. Police. Alien, humanoid, visiting. Giant woman. Battle of the sexes. Evil husband.

Monster From the Ocean Floor [1954: 2]

American woman vacationing in Mexico literally bumps into a marine biologist who’s riding around the bay in his one-man sub. He badgers her with lectures about random “facts” concerning the ocean. (Such as: “The Pteranodon went extinct after the Stone Age.”)

He’s an insufferable dork, she isn’t much better, screaming at the sight of a cow and fainting at the first sign of the monster. Locals are disappearing so the villagers decide to sacrifice her to a shark to save themselves (somehow) from the monster, which is a giant mutant amoeba created from exposure to radioactivity.

The Atomic Kid [1954: 1]

Mickey Rooney vehicle which explores the humorous effects of atomic blasts (one of which is that it’ll toast the sandwich you’re eating). A brain dead comedy where feckless uranium prospectors get caught in a test blast while wandering aimlessly around the Nevada desert.

As they approach the test site, their Geiger counter clicks for the first time, proving that they’re near uranium. Rooney’s partner goes to register their claim while Rooney waits in a dummy house a couple hundred feet from the ticking bomb and becomes “highly radioactive“ after the explosion.

He experiences no health issues even though he has a “miniature chain reaction going on inside him” which causes him to glow green in the dark (which he never notices) and makes slot machines hit jackpots when he walks by them. But, hey, it wears off in a couple of months and everything’s swell. He marries his nurse (Rooney’s real-life wife, at the time) only to get caught in another atomic test as they drive through the desert on their honeymoon.

Themes: Comedy, purported. Desert setting. Atomic bomb exploded. Cold War. Military. FBI. Scientist, physicist.

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
19 Movies Looks at More 1950’s SF (Mostly)

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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Miller, John

Let me correct myself here, before some sharp-eyed reader chimes in. The Kenneth Tobey film I referred to as “It Came From The Ocean Floor” is, of course, “It Came From Beneath The Sea.” Somehow I managed to conflate the title with “The Monster From the Ocean Floor” and I’m afraid to correct the error in the body of the column, least I mess up the formatting.

Mario Guslandi

Excellent stuff ! 👏

Miller, John

Thanks. Glad you’re enjoying the column.

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