Monday, February 28, 2011

Flying Disc Man From Mars!


Flying Disc Man from Mars is one of the last serials made by Republic and a sequel of sorts to The Purple Monster which I reviewed here. This 1950 serial has a somewhat bad reputation, so I didn't expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is a quite a bit of inventiveness in the first few chapters, though admittedly the story falls into a rut after that for many chapters.

The premise is exceedingly simple. The martian Mota comes to Earth, is shot down by a high-flying security man, and soon hooks up with Dr.Bryant (James Craven) a scientist who just happens to have been a former secret Nazi. After scaring up a few thugs for the heavy lifting, they begin to plot the downfall of liberty and seek to establish an intergalactic dictatorship so that Earth will not become too troublesome with its new-found atomic power.

The hero in this one is Kent Fowler (Walter Reed) who along with his sidekick Steve and his secretary Helen form a security outfit who offer plane-based protection to their clients. They also do more mundane security work, and that's good because during the course of the serial they crash what appears to all four of their planes.


The story is a fast-paced one, with Mota building a "semi-disc plane" which he uses to support the operation which mostly consists of stealing uranium and other needed materials for world conquest. The visuals of the movie are kicked up a notch when Mota successfully builds a cave-hangar for his disc inside a volcano. The ship rising in and out of the volcano is pretty keen and gives this story some needed sparkle.

There is a tiny cast in this story, as even the police are absent despite several dead bodies and tons of mostly-ineffectual gun play. Actually the gun fights are rather funny as often happens in these action fests, there is a bunch of point-blank shooting but rarely does anyone get hit. And never once in this serial does holding anyone at gunpoint work since they always knock the gun down and a furious fight ensues. You'd think just once they'd learn to stand back just a bit. But that's typical for these shows.

Mota (Gregory Gay) wears the same outfit as the Purple Monster and his arrival on the planet is practically identical, even using some of the same footage. This time though the alien merely joins forces with a scientist and doesn't assume his identity. That saves on many a tedious transformation scene.

This is a fairly typical serial, not too good and not too bad. It's got tons of action, though the fights by Republic standards do seem a wee bit tame. There were some very unconvincing closeups of the fights. There are props and scenes borrowed from other shows, but that's par for the course on these things.

Some of the cliffhangers are pretty hilarious. My favorite is how Fowler survives one of his many plane crashes by simply jumping out of the crashing plane at an opportune time and seemingly bouncing safely into a tree. He doesn't even seem to muss up his ubiquitous suit too much.

All in all I enjoyed it, though I did find I was talking to the screen quite a bit as the hapless heroes made the same mistakes over and over again.

Good fun. It's mildly recommended.

Here's a peek at the first few minutes.



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2 comments:

  1. Yeah, this was near the end of the serial era, and, even though the stuntwork isn't up to the usual high Republic standards, it's still better than the stuff at Columbia (who were still doing serials based on DC Comics like Blackhawk) and Universal, who had the highest budgets and best production design.
    As you point out, the fun at this point is figuring out what previous serials or features the stock footage comes from, or looking to see future stars in supporting roles, like Clayton (Lone Ranger) Moore as the lead henchman in Radar Men from the Moon or Leonard Nimoy as a Martian in Zombies of the Stratopshere.

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  2. The transition from serial to television is very evident in these later ones too. A lot of the actors I see in these 50's serials show up all the time in 50's and 60's TV shows.

    I'm watching another serial right now which I'll review later and Noel Neill was in it, much to my surprise and delight.

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