‘As we imagined, the gorilla throws messy bangs.’
A race of humanoid aliens carry out acts of sabotage on planet Earth prior to a full scale invasion. A heroic scientist infiltrates their covert forces, and finds himself en route via rocketship to the alien homeworld. Can he and his companions possibly stop their dastardly plan?
Dreary black and white Mexican space opera from director Alfredo B Crevenna that roughly follows the story template of the original ‘Flash Gordon’ (1936) with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe. Yes, Earth is being threatened by an extra-terrestrial dictator, yes, an eccentric old scientist has built a starship in his back yard, and yes, our square-jawed hero takes it to the stars to fight the aliens on their home turf. So far so good, but the outlandish qualities of that movie serial are notable by their absence here. As is the fun.
Top science bloke Daniel Wolf (Guillermo Murray) is a worried man. A series of flying saucer sightings seem to be linked with the mysterious deaths of esteemed colleagues and disasters at important installations. It’s so bad that he advises some people at some meeting or other that they need to consult with renegade egghead Professor Walter (Mario Orea). This does not meet with general approval; Orea’s claims that he’s been in communication with the ‘planet of eternal night’ for many years have made him an inappropriate guest at many a scientific conference and ritzy dinner party.
Nevertheless Murray and secretary/love interest Silvia (Adriana Roel) seek him out, and not only find that he can prove his claims but that he has designed detailed plans for an interplanetary rockstship! The aliens want this technology, however, and, in the blink of a rather large ray gun, Orea is reduced to a puff of smoke.
At Roel’s suggestion, Murray reinvents himself as a feckless playboy, hoping to entice the aliens to recruit him as an inside man. It’s such a brilliant plan that Murray is approached by off world femme fatale Mara (Jacqueline Fellay) the first time he steps into a nightclub! Told you it was brilliant! Murray agrees to hand over the rocketship plans for a wedge of cash, but the exchange goes terribly wrong when the alien’s envoy ends up getting fried in a bathtub. Ooops.
It’s then we find out that Orea didn’t just have the blueprints for a rocketship, he’d actually built it! How a discredited scientist managed to do this is not really addressed. So it’s up to Murray to go off planet to deal with evil potentate The Guardian (José Gálvez). It shouldn’t be too difficult, except his crack, trained crew of astronauts comprises girlfriend Roel (who has stowed away in the most predictable plot development ever) and heavyweight boxing champion Marcos Godoy (Rogelio Guerra) and his manager Taquito Rey (José Ángel Espinosa ‘Ferrusquilla’) who have replaced the original crew by mistake in a plot twist that is visible from several light years away.
And here’s where the film starts to have real problems. Up until the point that the mismatched quartet leave the Earth, it’s been pretty underwhelming stuff. Not noticeably bad, but not very interesting either. However, when the spaceflight begins, everything grinds to a halt. Guerra and Espinosa provide some lame comedy (which sets alarm bells ringing), Murray has to go on a spacewalk to repair some technical do-berry thing on the outside of the ship and the audience begins to start thinking about putting the dinner on and walking the dog.
It’s not much better when they reach the alien world. Our heroes needn’t have bothered with spacesuit helmets as they just pop the visors as soon as they step outside without even making a pretence of testing the atmosphere. Every time they need to disguise themselves as one of the aliens the uniforms fit perfectly, and there’s no problem in dealing with these pesky beings anyway, as all they’re armed with is short swords! Yes, they all wear togas too, and the planet seems to have been designed by someone with an obsession for Doric Columns. Couldn’t be leftover sets from some historical Greek or Roman drama, could it?
Gálvez is no Ming the Merciless either; cheerfully sharing his plans with our heroes and showing them his big ray gun so they can use it against him later on. One good aspect is that Guerra and Espinosa don’t turn out to be the usual comic buffoons we expect them to be (the former actually gets to do a lot of the heroic stuff) but saying that a film is not quite as bad as it might have been is not really all that much of a complement.
Crevenna had a long and active career in Mexican cinema, handling lots of different genres while running up a truly amazing 151 directorial credits! There were romantic dramas (‘Forbidden Fruit’ (1953)), other science fiction projects (‘Invisible Man In Mexico’ (1958) and ‘Adventure at the Centre of the Earth’ (1965)), and horrors (‘Bring Me The Vampire’ (1963) and ‘The Whip Against Satan’ (1979)). He also seems to have specialised in wrestling films, sitting in the canvas chair for half a dozen of Santo’s cinematic adventures, including ‘Santo El Enmascarado De Plata Vs. ‘La lnvasion De Los Marcianos’/ Santo Vs The Martians’ (1967) and the masked man’s final film ‘The Fist of Death’ (1982). He’d already cut his teeth on several similar outings back in the 1960s that featured one of the iconic grappler’s main rivals in ‘Neutron vs. The Maniac’ (1964) and the brilliantly-titled ‘Neutron Battles The Karate Assassins’ (1965).
Despite its shortcomings, the film must have met with some level of success as it got a quick sequel. Murray, Roel, Guerra and Espinosa all repeated their roles in the similarly themed ‘Planet of The Female Invaders’ (1966), again for director Crevenna. This was a far more interesting production, although in some respects it was just a rehash of this film. But the wonderful Lorena Velásquez’s alien queen made a far more deadly antagonist than the blustering Gálvez and both action and plot were far livelier.
‘Another flying saucer in Patagonia!’ screams a newspaper headline at one point. If only the film were half as interesting as that sounds. A dull slog.
El pueblo fantasma (Ghost Town) (1965) – Mark David Welsh