‘Every baptism has its mystery, even out here in space.’
A reporter is sent to get a story on the men and women exploring deep space in the 21st Century. At first it all seems routine enough but he gets more than he bargained for when a crash landing on the planet Mars puts the Earth in the path of certain destruction.
Italian Science Fiction drama filmed for both the international and domestic markets. Brilliantly named star Rick Van Nutter (Felix Leiter in ‘Thunderball’ (1965)) plays reporter Ray Peterson; sent spacewards in a model rocket to cover the investigation of ‘fluctuating radiation in Galaxy M12’. Leaving the model, he goes floating off to space station Zulu Xtra 34 with no means of propulsion or safety line. He arrives ok but is not welcome. His mixture of arrogance and idealism bringing him into immediate conflict with the hard nosed Commander.
This poorly dubbed space drama is an attempt at a serious story sunk by weak special effects and some less than original plotting. The obligatory wandering meteorite makes its inevitable appearance, causing a space accident that is an inept mixture of tight facial close-ups and more poor model work. Our hero meets the female member of the crew as she tends plants in the hydroponic garden but, just as we’re about to groan about a ‘woman’s place’, we discover that she’s actually the station’s navigator. On the other hand, a mention of Christmas Day brings a fanfare of festive trumpets on the less than subtle music track. Dramatically, it’s a little on the dull side but acceptable if you’re in a forgiving mood.
The director was Antonio Margheriti, who normally hid under the more stateside friendly name of Anthony M Dawson (although it was Antony Daisies here!). This turned out to be his first step on a decades long path of cult cinema, which found him delivering intergalactic adventures such as ‘Battle of The Worlds’ (1961) (with Hollywood star Claude Rains!), and a loose trio of films about the adventures of Space Station Gamma 1, which include the borderline-insanity of ‘Wild Wild Planet’ (1966). There were also some horror projects starring Barbara Steele, most memorably ‘The Long Hair of Death (1965) and cult movie classic ‘Yor, Then Hunter From The Future’ (1983).
However, the film does have one great virtue that sets it apart from other movies of the era. This is space exploration depicted as a job. Instead of shiny surfaces, spacecraft interiors are mechanistic and functional and the uniforms are zippered overalls rather than silver foil suits. This crew is made up of working stiffs simply doing a job; focused, emotionless, even robotic. There is no humour in their interactions with each other because they know that one lapse in concentration can be fatal.
So, although there is little in the way of the camaraderie to be found in the ‘Nostromo’ from ‘Alien’ (1979), the attitudes and look on display do pre-date aspects of that Ridley Scott’s classic.
But, yeah, they do communicate with Earth via a teletype machine. And when the spacecraft crashes on Mars, we do see a glimpse of what looks suspiciously like a building and the rear end of a car behind the explosion. Oh, well, you can’t have everything…
Ursus, the Terror of the Kirghiz/Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi/Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (1964) – Mark David Welsh