Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Rocketship X-M (Expedition Moon) is the first of what became many sci-fi flicks of the 1950's to put man into space. This lower-budget affair beat the George Pal movie Destination Moon into the theaters by a few weeks and did quite well financially, somewhat feeding off the advertising of the latter movie. It's a far less serious affair, but unusually grim nonetheless in many respects. The cast is top-notch with Lloyd Bridges in the charismatic lead and John Emery locking down the top scientist role with gravity and polish. Along for the ride are the always cheery Noah Beery Jr. and the handsome Hugh O'Brien. Osa Massen is the ice queen, the obligatory girl, but she adds to the whole quite nicely.
There be Spoilers below.
The movie begins quickly, as we meet the cast while the countdown for launch is literally going on. Within fifteen minutes the crew conduct a news briefing, give interviews, travel to the rocket, and strap themselves in just in the nick. It's no surprise when things begin to go wrong with that kind of planning. Dr.Karl Eckstrom (Emery) is the force behind the rocket along with his partner Dr.Ralph Fleming (Morris Ankrum) and they recruit top chemist Dr.Lisa Van Horn (Massen), top pilot Col.Floyd Graham (Bridges), top astronomer Harry Chamberlain (O'Brien) and top engineer Maj.William Corrigan (Beery) to fly man's first mission to the Moon. The trip quickly goes awry and after a few errors they find themselves unconscious and heading into deep space, but not before they stumble across Mars. They land and find Martian society, both advanced and primitive which proves fatal for many members of the team. The survivors get back to Earth, but it's not a happy landing as the lack of fuel results in a deadly crash for all involved.
The ending is oddly somber for a movie of this type. The loss of life was predictable, but the ending was nonetheless a surprise for me. The trip to Mars was exceedingly well done. The crew travel across a desert landscape which has been sepia toned to perfection giving a neat other-worldly quality in the right places. The message that atomic technology has resulted in the demolition of Martian society seems quite plain and the moral for humanity is quite clear. Like so many movies of this era, the celebration of technology is paired with a romantic fear of its consequences.
Rocketship X-M succeeds largely by the dint of its excellent cast, which while they fall into appropriate cliche roles do not act as such and bring a vigor and intensity to the mix which elevates the whole affair. These are good actors in well-written roles in a story which is pretty hokey, but entertaining nonetheless. I was especially struck by Morris Ankrum, the Earth-bound partner who really has to do some heavy lifting in the acting department, the best job I've ever seen from him.
This is a movie which is pure entertainment, much zippier than the more dour Destination Moon.