Conquest of Space (1955)
Having previously directed the box office hit War of the Worlds for Paramount Studios in 1953, Byron Haskin proved the logical choice for the studios’ newest venture into outer space with Mars as it’s destination for movie going audiences of 1955.
In a Star Trek like populace, a space station is the initial setting under the special effects mastery of John P. Fulton. The crew are made up of an assortment of racial backgrounds giving one the impression that man has conquered his demons on Earth and the world is at peace. Like Roddenberry’s world, there’s still some hope for all of us.
Now in your best Criswell (Plan 9 From Outer Space) imitation, let’s open with Conquest’s narration. A staple of fifties cinema.
“This is a story of tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, when men have built a station in space, constructed in the form of a great wheel, and set a thousand miles out from the Earth, fixed by gravity, and turning about the world every two hours, serving a double purpose: an observation post in the heavens, and a place where a spaceship can be assembled, and then launched to explore other planets, and the vast universe itself, in the last and greatest adventure of mankind, the plunge toward the… conquest of space! “
Now purely for fun let’s add in this little Criswell quote that seems to fit, “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”
Once we get past that tired narration we’ll see that Walter Brooke is the station commander and his own son, Eric Fleming is one of his leading officers. The loyal Sarge with an Irish accent is none other than a young Mickey Shaunghnessy who reserves his loyalty for his commander who he has fought alongside through the not so distant wars of the past on Earth.
For crew members like a young William Redfield, space fatigue is beginning to set in and he’ll not be chosen when Brooke gathers a crew to headline the first manned mission to Mars. Along with Shaughnessy and Fleming, Phil Foster, Ross Martin and Benson Fong will make the journey. It’s Fong who will get the center stage for a speech on world peace and just what man can do if he joins forces with his brother gaining him a spot on Brooke’s team.
Of note here in a mostly male dominated cast is a clip of Rosemary Clooney singing in the film Here Come the Girls as the all male crew attend a theater showing to boost morale. For a bit of comedy relief Foster will get to talk to his girl back on earth who is obviously “two timing him.” Foster immediately drew me back to my younger days watching Laverne and Shirley reruns on TV. He played Penny Marshall’s father on the hit sitcom. Also turning up on the space station before the men begin their journey into the unknown is William Hopper as the company doctor. Hopper is another recognizable actor with plenty of screen credits including 50’s fun like The Deadly Mantis and 20 Million Miles to Earth. Then of course there is his long run on television as Paul Drake in Perry Mason.
At a blast off of 20,000 miles per hour the crew are glued to their seats till the ship is under way. Along the path to Mars, the men will have to contend with a meteor shower and a commander who may be slightly more than fatigued as they make their way to the red planet. When biblical quotes are constantly coming from Commander Brooke, the crew are beginning to doubt his sanity which is only confirmed once the crew land on the red planet. A planet that looks as if it’s had red dirt flown in from Canada’s own Prince Edward Island for the stage bound production.
Can the crew overcome their own fatigue and a commander on the verge of insanity let alone make it back to Earth in this George Pal produced sci-fi effort? I’ll never tell but I will say the quote “print the legend” came to mind at the film’s conclusion. Producer Pal had a strong resume over the course of his career serving as producer on space opera titles like War of Worlds and When Worlds Collide as well as directing the classic 1960 Rod Taylor favorite, The Time Machine.
Along with the other cast members I spotted Vito Scotti among the space station’s crew. Scotti was a long time character player in countless features and television shows doing some of his best work in the field of comedy.
Impressive for it’s time, this proved to be a fun retro look back into the days before space travel became a reality with a cast of actors playing it straight, never once winking at the camera. Full marks to Fulton and his team of F/X experts once again for a great looking space adventure. Looking for a copy? It’s available on DVD through Paramount if you can locate a one.