Thursday, July 24, 2008

Film Nostalgia? Space Film.

The Valley Theatre, Alameda Blvd, El Paso, Texas - - some time in 1954. High anticipation. The previous week, I’d seen the preview of the newly released science fiction feature, “Riders to the Stars.”

The trailer was full of swoopy rockets, dauntless men in space suits, a beautiful woman, futuristic electronics gear in a lab, all kinds of nifty stuff. For a ten or 11-year-old kid all agog with the newly discovered wonders of sci fi, it was like a dream come true.

The taglines:
SEE! the breathtaking sight of earth as seen from outer space!
SEE! the fantastic 'meteor attack' as rocket and meteor crash head-on in a space-splitting collision!
Hurtle toward the far reaches of the universe with the space vikings of the future!
SEE! men and equipment float in air, trapped where there is no gravity - no up or down!

I can’t be sure of exactly when I saw the movie. The date of release shows January 1954, but I met my pal David Glenn in the fifth grade, and that wasn’t until Fall of ‘54. Doesn’t matter now, though.

On Saturday, I rode the bus from home and met Dave at the theatre for the matinee. Our normal routine was to see a movie, ride the bus downtown, eat a hamburger at a stand on the north side of the San Jacinto Plaza, hit the public library for new books --anything in aviation, war, or science fiction - -, wander around downtown, and ride the bus back to Dave’s home. Total cash expenditure, under a buck apiece.

That particular Saturday, the movie was different. Not the usual western or adventure stuff, but a real, Technicolor, SPACE MOVIE. Yes, we saw it. I’d like to say that big parts of the film were clear in my memory, but I can’t. At this late date, I recalled the general plot, but only a couple of specific scenes. Unlike so many other old flicks, I’d never seen it on re-release, on TV, or seen it offered for rental.

Flash forward several decades. This morning, flipping through the cable TV menu, I encountered the title. It had already been running for about an hour, but I eagerly switched channels. Thomas Wolf wrote, “You can’t go home again.” So true. No, I didn’t expect to recapture the juvenile excitement of those long ago days. I did think to enjoy the nostalgia of it, though. Too bad.

The premise: Scientists needed to capture a chunk of rock from a meteor shower before it went through entry into the earth’s atmosphere. The government was sending up three rocket drivers to scoop up the space debris and bring it back safely. I missed the early preparations for the mission. I tuned in while the Crusty Chief Scientist (father of one of the space pilots) was giving the mission briefing. His visual aids? A medium size white board and an early Marks-a-Lot. Main assistant to CCS was a female physicist who was also sweetheart of main rocket driver.

The film makers kinda skimped on the props. All the rockets and peripherals were simply stock footage of captured German V2 gear, filmed at (then) White Sands Proving Grounds. The trailers, cranes, guys in army uniforms - - all US Govt gear and personnel on stock film, with the New Mexico mountains in the background. The rocket cockpit interiors were huge. Each pilot had ONE guy to help him don space helmet and strap onto an acceleration couch (an aluminum lawn lounge with extra padding?)

The preparations for the big mission reached a hasty, if not fevered pitch. The love interest told everyone ot hurry up, and the next announcements were, “Two minutes to firing . . . One minute . . . Thirty seconds,” and then a whole five-second countdown. Three rockets in formation, like 50 feet apart at 18,000 miles per hour. Yeah, I expected some rather primitive special effects, but there had been pretty good animation around for a couple of decades. Too expensive, I guess. You can see the models sway on their threads.

Intercepting the meteor shower, one rocket collides with a rock and disintegrates. We see a close up of a pressure suit floating in space with a skull inside the helmet. A second pilot freaks out and the rocket is last seen departing for the outer galaxy at full acceleration. Naturally, our hee-roe completes the mission and he and physi-chick live happily ever-cetera.

Well, at least I didn’t pay money to rent the film. Hey - - You weren’t REALLY expecting this to be a reprise of Peter’s Weekend Wings series, were you?



Ted said...

*Great* story.

One of the cable channels runs old westerns and WWII shows from when I was a kid ("12 O'Clock High" and that sort). It was painful to watch, and I *loved* those shows when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...


I saw that one too, when I was a kid. Only part I remember was that skull in the space helmet. Always wondered, in later life, what the title of the flick was. Thanks!

Assrot said...

I've never seen this one and I am a truly fanatical scifi fan. I don't know how I missed it.

That comment about "You can never go home." is so true. I have tried a few times and always with a less than satisfactory outcome.

Age, education and life experience seems to change me in ways where what I thought was "Home" no longer seems like home anymore. I do miss the good old days but I think to truly experience them again, you'd need a working time machine and a reliable means of wiping your memories.

I still love the old scifi shows and stay glued to the TV when they have a marathon of the old "Twilight Zone", "Outer Limits", "Time Tunnel" or the original "Star Trek" series.

For some reason, even though these shows are old, black & white, cheesy B shows to hear my grandkids say it, I still love to watch them and the old Westerns and old Cop shows. Left alone to watch these in peace and solitude, I do find that I experience some deja vu during a particular show now and then.

Good post.


Old NFO said...

Some of the old classics we grew up with do look pretty bad in light of today's technology, but I do remember wasting more than one afternoon at the movies... :-)

Thanks for the trip back in time!