Science Fiction film recommendations
from the 20th century
3: The Space Age (1960-69)
With cinema now over a century old, present-day
genre enthusiasts can easily forget what came before
and what inspired science fiction fans of yore.
Tony Chester identifies these early offerings and
SF2 Concatenation provides links to the films' trailers.
This is the third of a series of articles that charts SF film
through the 20th century.
In case you missed it click below for the series' earlier article
1: Before the Golden Age (1895-1949)
2: The Golden Age (1950-59)
This article's quick links
The subsequent articles in this series will follow shortly.
While there were some excellent science fiction films produced in the sixties, especially toward the end of the decade, the period on the whole was actually a bit limp. If we take a brief look at the factors in play we might find some compelling reasons for this.
As far as cinema itself goes, science fiction was up against a resurgence in interest in horror, which had been fighting back since the late fifties. Horror hit the ground running in 1960 with both Psycho and Peeping Tom, and Roger Corman turned his attention to his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, beginning with (The Fall of) The House of Usher. Robert Aldrich contributed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in 1962 and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964. Around that time many portmanteau films of the likes of AIP and Amicus started with Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), and Herschell Gordon Lewis launched 'gore' with Blood Feast (1963). Meanwhile the talents of Ray Harryhausen turned to fantasy subjects, such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963). And there were loads of other good films around. Sergio Leone gave us the Spaghetti Westerns, launching Clint Eastwood to mega-stardom; James Bond got going in 1962 with Dr. No, launching the superspy sub-genre, including spoof spies like Derek Flint (James Coburn) in Our Man Flint (1966) and not so super spies like Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) in The Ipcress File (also 1965). Batman popped up in 1966, starring Adam West, and there were also tons of monster films out there, arguably enjoyed because of their mayhem content, rather than their science fictional (SFnal) content. Godzilla was joined by the likes of Gorgo and Mothraand Reptilicus in 1961, Gamera in 1965 and Gappa in 1967 (the Big 'G' himself was involved in the dust-up King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962).
As if taking a beating at the box office were not trouble enough for the science fiction (SF) film, remember that the sixties was the first decade where TV sets were truly ubiquitous devices in homes albeit in Britain for much of the decade with a choice of just two channels. In the US, The Twilight Zone (opening credits) had already started in 1959 and it lasted until '64, overlapping with the likes of The Outer Limits (1963-'65) (opening credits), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-'68) ( opening credits), and The Man from UNCLE (1964-'68) (opening credits). Lost in Space (1965-'68) (short 50th anniversary tribute) was swiftly joined by The Wild, Wild West (1965-'69) (opening credits), The Time Tunnel (1966-'67) (opening credits), The Invaders (1967-'68) (opening credits) and Land of the Giants (1968-'70) (opening credits). Oh, and an obscure little space opera got started in 1966; I think it was called something like Star Trek (opening credits) if memory serves. All of these made it to British TV screens, but we were by no means idle ourselves.
Home-grown Brit offerings included the series A for Andromeda (1961) (opening credits) and Andromeda Breakthrough (1962) ('Gale Warning' episode), while brilliant, were a throwback to fifties TV sci-fi, but we launched our own superstar in 1963, Dr.Who (original opening credits), who has recently enjoyed his fiftieth anniversary. The Avengers (1961-'69) (opening credits) began in 1961, featuring British agent John Steed and a bevy of beautiful companions over the years, not unlike a certain Doctor… Gerry Anderson hijacked many a fertile imagination with shows throughout the decade, such as Supercar (1961-'62) (opening credits), Stingray (1964-'65) (opening credits), Thunderbirds (1965-'66) (opening credits) and Captain Scarlet (1967-8) (opening credits). The Brit response to the likes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits was the superb Out of the Unknown (1965-'71) (DVD trailer), which featured stories from such as John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, William Tenn, John Brunner, J. G. Ballard and E. M. Forster. Not content with all that Patrick McGoohan, following the success of Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US) (variation of theme with clips) , gave us the incredible series The Prisoner (1967-'68) (opening credits) whose seventeen episodes baffled people long before David Lynch's Twin Peaks (opening credits) was the proverbial twinkle in someone's eye.
The third most significant factor affecting the SF film was a real life, honest-to-goodness space race. A rash promise to put a man on the Moon before the decade was out was, miraculously, achieved! Not bad for a life-form that, until relatively recently, was banging rocks together for fun. The downside of this magnificent feat was the proliferation of nuclear weapons as their 'delivery systems' got better and better. All a bit distracting, I am sure you will agree. Of course, it could have gone the other way, so to speak; the space race, some might argue, should have stimulated an interest in SF, not depressed it. And I am sure that the cross-fertilisation between real world science and SFdid occur here and there, but I think that the politicisation (and the implicit militarisation) of scientific achievements took quite a lot of the wonder out of the equation, and so the association of science and SF (in this context) did not happen as it might have done.
I may be wrong, but I think the above three factors are all contributing elements to the relative decline of SF films, compared to the previous decade. I think there was also a lack of any coherent direction in film makers' imaginations, or perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the possibilities. At least in the fifties you knew where you stood: the film(s) would be an invasion, a radioactive monster, or a drama surrounding the practical challenges of space exploration. But the first part of this decade was a kind of enthusiastic hangover from the exuberance of the fifties, which petered out around 1963; the next four years staggered about all over the place while Europeans made 'intelligent' SF, and the decade stumbled along in the same confused vein to the very end. So the sixties may, for some, be a bit disappointing, with very few true high points of SF cinema, but it is also true that the enthusiastic and curious SF fan can still find plenty of films of interest. Here are a few of them…
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) dir. Roger Corman. This is now a legendary film – made in just two days to take advantage of a standing set that Corman had seen. Jonathan Haze plays Seymour Krelborn who raises an unusual plant, so unusual that it eats human flesh! Jackie Joseph is fellow shop assistant, and object of Seymour’s desire, in the florist’s shop run by Mr. Mushnik (Mel Welles). Also starring Dick Miller as a customer who is always hanging around eating the plants, and Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient. Following the cult success of the film it was turned into a musical play, and so successful was it that in 1986 Muppet man Frank Oz filmed a musical version (see Part Five).
The Time Machine (1960) dir. George Pal. George Wells (Rod Taylor) takes his time machine to the far future where the human race has evolved divergently into two races, the troglodyte Morlocks and the effete Eloi. The former, with blue skin and white fur, enslave and eat the latter, though they also serve them, in the manner that a farmer serves livestock, so their relationship is, essentially, symbiotic. Wells falls for an Eloi woman, Weena (Yvette Mimieux), and rouses them to fight against their predators. The lack of logic to this seems to disturb nobody, but then most of the meat of H. G. Wells’ story on which this was based has been lost and replaced with Hollywood heroics. Still an entertaining film, and one which won a special effects Oscar for Gene Warren and Tim Baar (deservedly so, not least for the time travel sequence and the speeded up decay of a Morlock), but disappointing for lovers of Wells’ 1895 novel. There was a film called The Time Machine made in 2002 but, aside from some superficial resemblances, it has even less to do with the book. It was directed by Simon Wells (H.G.’s grandson) and starred Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba and Jeremy Irons.
Village of the Damned (1960) dir. Wolf Rilla; Children of the Damned (1964) dir. Anton M. Leader. Based on The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham. The inhabitants of an English village all fall asleep for 24 hours and an impenetrable barrier surrounds the town. When everyone wakes, apparently unharmed, it is discovered that women of child-bearing age have all fallen pregnant, including a husband's ( George Sanders) wife ( Barbara Shelley). She gives birth to a boy (Martin Stephens) but all the children are strangely similar in appearance, with vivid blond hair and haunting eyes. They grow more rapidly than normal, have hypnotic, even telepathic powers and seem to share a group mind. Their control of adults is total and they are not afraid to use deadly force to defend themselves. Sanders realises that they are, in effect, an alien invasion force and kills them with a bomb, shielding his thoughts with the image of a wall. In the 1963 follow-up the action shifts to an urban setting. More children have been born under similar circumstances to the first batch, though the aliens have embraced ethnic diversity with the new batch, and there are further groups around the world. This time the children are more sympathetically portrayed, but the eventual outcome is the same. The Children of the Damned virtual remake stars Ian Hendry, Alan Badel and Barbara Ferris. John Carpenter’s actual remake in 1995, also called Village of the Damned, is as faithful to the original material as the first two films. It stars, among others, Mark Hamill Christopher Reeve and, in a slight twist, Kirstie Alley as a government agent who uncovers the children’s alien origins. Hoping to exploit their powers, she is one of the first to die. Most colour remakes of black & white classics are a waste of time (e.g. I Married a Monster from Outer Space and the remake of Charly (see below), Flowers for Algernon), but Carpenter’s updating of Village of the Damned classic really stands on its own in upping the chill factor – his children are really creepy (sadistic too) – and he works in elements of the second film and brings the plot even closer to the feel of John Wyndham’s book.
The Damned (1962) dir. Joseph Losey. Based on The Children of Light (1960) by H. L. Lawrence and a.k.a. These Are the Damned. The leader ( Oliver Reed) of a gang of bikers whose sister ( Macdonald Carey) accidentally discover that a bunch of children are being irradiated by a scientist, ( Alexander Knox) in order to survive an ‘inevitable’ nuclear war. These they set free, only to become irradiated themselves, floating out to sea on a small boat to die. This early Hammer SF offering scripted by Evan Jones is considered a classic of British SF cinema, though more for its images, including sculptures by Elizabeth Frink, than for its story. The film’s distributors, Colombia, were so dismayed by it that they delayed its release by two years and butchered it from 96 to 77 mins.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) dir. Val Guest. Twin H-bomb blasts send the Earth orbiting closer to the Sun. Temperatures rise and the river Thames dries up. Only further bombs, properly placed, can return the planet to a stable orbit. Filmed in an almost documentary style, much of the film is set in the real life newspaper offices of the Daily Express (with former editor Arthur Christiansen playing himself). Edward Judd is the drunken reporter following the story, the excellent Leo McKern is a crusading science editor, and Janet Munro the love interest.
Master of the World (1961) dir. William Witney. Based exceedingly loosely on Jules Verne’s Robur le Conquerant (1886) and Maitre du Monde (1904). This film is basically just Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea transposed to the air. Robur (Vincent Price) is a scientist/inventor with a huge flying ship which he uses to bombard opposing sides in a war as a prelude to blackmailing all nations into giving up war entirely (Nemo targeted ships carrying weapons). He kidnaps a US government agent (Charles Bronson), an arms manufacturer (Henry Hull), his daughter (Mary Webster) and her betrothed (David Frankham) to be witnesses to his power. The megalomaniac is finally defeated by Bronson who destroys the ship.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) dir. Irwin Allen. When the Van Allen radiation belt is set alight by meteors the resulting heat starts to melt the icecaps. The Captain ( Walter Pidgeon) and the crew of the submarine Seaview, after facing a giant octopus and a saboteur, must fire a nuke into the belt to put the fire out. This peculiar nonsense, which also starred Robert Sterling, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Eden, Peter Lorre and Frankie Avalon, eventually gave rise to a TV series (1964-8) which featured similarly preposterous plots and starred Richard Basehart as the sub’s captain and David Hedison as his right-hand man.
The Day of the Triffids (1962) dir. Steve Sekely. This is generally agreed to be a poor adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1951 novel. A meteor shower blinds nearly everyone on Earth and also brings alien spores of mobile, stinging plants to the planet. The largely sightless population are no match for the triffids, until their weakness (they dissolve in seawater) is discovered. A few sighted protagonists wander around (cast including Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott and Janina Faye) talking too much and having romantic interludes, but never engaging the viewer. The 1981 BBC television adaptation, directed by Ken Hannam, is much better, starring John Duttine and Emma Relph.
La Jetee (1962) dir. Chris Marker. This short (29min) film is cited as being the major influence behind Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995, see Part Six). Told in a series of still images (but for a brief moment of a girl winking), this is the story of H (Davos Hanich) who lives in a post-nuke Paris where time is breaking down and all there is is an eternal present without cause or effect. But his ‘memory’ of a face of a woman on the pier (jetee) at Orly airport brings him to the attention of a scientist (Jacques Ledoux) who thinks he can ‘reconnect’ with time. The woman is in fact witnessing H’s violent death in the future. Jean Negroni speaks the voice-over narration as the images spill past. This strange film was the B-picture for Godard’s Alphaville (see below) and was once very popular at SF conventions, but modern viewers may be unenthusiastic. Or not.
X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963) dir. Roger Corman. Dr.Xavier (Ray Milland) is trying to develop a drug that will allow surgeons to see inside their patients before cutting them open. Frustrated at the threatened withdrawal of funds due to lack of results, Xavier experiments on himself and succeeds. At first the results are pleasant, like being able to see through girls’ clothes at parties, but soon he starts to see more than he bargained for. After accidentally killing his boss Xavier goes on the run, ending up in a sideshow carnival as a faith healer, ‘managed’ by a man called Crane (Don Rickles), but still the effects of his eye drops increases and Xavier is addicted to them, wanting to see more than any other person has before. He starts to lose his mind as he begins to see ‘all the way to the centre of the universe’, and in the climax plucks out his own eyes. This is Corman’s masterpiece.
Dr.Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) dir. Stanley Kubrick. This iconic black comedy was originally planned to be serious (as straight as the novel on which it is based, Two Hours to Doom (1958) by Peter Bryant/George). Col. Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) launches a nuclear attack on Russia without Presidential authority, and Maj. King Kong (Slim Pickens) is the bomber pilot determined to deliver his payload. Peter Sellers plays three roles (as he had done in 1959’s The Mouse That Roared), President Muffey, Capt. Mandrake and Dr.Strangelove, an ex-Nazi scientist who can see the good side, as can Gen. Turgidson (George C. Scott), of a nuclear confrontation. The absurdities of ‘mutually assured destruction’ (with its telling acronym) are writ large in the impressive war room set, especially when a fight is stopped because, "Gentlemen, we can’t have fighting in the War Room." The same year saw the release of the serious, and less successful, Fail Safe which featured an ‘accidental’ attack on Russia.
First Men in the Moon (1964) dir. Nathan Juran. Based on the 1901 story by H. G. Wells (and filmed as early as 1902 by George Melies as Le Voyage dans la Lune) this is a hugely enjoyable comedy. Americans land on the Moon only to discover the British have been there decades before them. They track one of the Brits, Kate Callender (Martha Hyer) down to an old people’s home where she relates the story. Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) invents cavorite, a substance which can block gravity. With Kate and Arnold Bedford (Martha and Edward Judd) they all journey to the Moon and encounter the insectoid Selenites. After much running around they return to Earth, but not before accidentally leaving behind the germs which will kill the insects. The Ray Harryhausen effects are what make the film, but the cast are good too.
The Last Man On Earth (1964) dir. Ubaldo Ragona. Based on Richard Matheson’s I am Legend (1954). A plague has wiped out most of mankind and those it has not have turned into something like vampires. Vincent Price plays the last human who kills the mutants by day and fights off attacks on his abode by night, until he is overwhelmed and dies. Matheson originally scripted this for Hammer in 1957 but, after it was sold and rewritten by William F. Leicester (much to its detriment), he used his pseudonym Logan Swanson. Other adaptations include 1971’s The Omega Man (see Part Four), with Charlton Heston, and 2007’s I Am Legend, with Will Smith, not forgetting I am Omega (also 2007), starring Mark Dacascos.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) dir. Byron Haskin. A spaceship crashlands on Mars killing one of the pilots (Adam West) and stranding the other (Paul Mantee) with just a small monkey for company. He learns to make oxygen by heating rocks, but the loneliness starts to drive him mad. Alien ships then arrive and Mantee frees one of their slaves to become his Man Friday (Vic Lundin) and the usual running around ensues. This film probably owes more to Rex Gordon’s novel No Man Friday (1956) (though this is uncredited) than it does to Daniel Defoe’s novel (1719), but either way this is an enjoyable film.
The Time Travelers (sic) (1964) dir. Ib Melchior. Scientists in 1964 (including Preston Foster, Merry Anders and Phil Carey) accidentally create a time portal which transports them 107 years into the future. The Earth has been devastated by nuclear war and all that remains above ground are man-eating mutants. However, below ground the remnants of humanity with their android servants are building a spaceship to take them to Alpha Centauri. The underground dwellers have all kinds of SF devices, such as matter-transfer machines, hydroponics gardens, lasers, access to orbiting satellites, etc. The scientists are able to get back to 1964 briefly but are unable to alter events and find themselves caught in a time loop, moving endlessly between 1964 and 2071. This film has a cameo from Forrest J Ackerman and was remade (unnecessarily) in 1967 as Journey to the Centre of Time, directed by David Hewitt. This film should not be confused with the awful made-for-TV movie The Time Travelers (sic) (1976) directed by Alex Singer.
Alphaville (1965) dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), a ‘hard-boiled’ detective and hero of many novels by Peter Cheyney, drives to Alphaville through intersidereal space to confront Dr. von Braun (Howard Vernon) and his creation Alpha 60, a computer who forces conformity on the residents. Alphaville is a barely disguised stand in for Paris of the 1960s, while Lemmy Caution is more in the 40’s mould of noir-ish detectives, yet it is his illogical, poetic answers to Alpha 60’s questions that proves the computer’s undoing. All the themes and allusions are fairly easy to spot and follow, from comics and pulp SF to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the whole provides little more than a backdrop to several philosophical discussions which, of course, can keep Godard fans talking endlessly. Alphaville won the Best Film Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Die Monster Die (1965) (a.k.a. Monster of Terror). dir. Daniel Haller. Very loosely based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story ‘ The Colour Out of Space’ Nick Adams plays a brash young man come to visit his fiancée (Suzan Farmer) who is the daughter of a scientist (Boris Karloff). But a radioactive meteor is causing a sick mutation in plants, making them grow to enormous size, and affecting people with deformities (Freda Jackson keeps her face hidden behind a veil). The doctor, Patrick Magee, cannot explain what is going on and Karloff is actively hostile. This was Haller’s debut feature and established his stylish but low-key directorial style. He would direct from a Lovecraft story again, The Dunwich Horror (1970), and would also go on to direct Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the pilot for the 1979 TV series.
Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965); Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD (1966) both dir. Gordon Flemyng. These mediocre films take on a popular BBC TV character of Doctor Who both have Peter Cushing as the Doctor. In the first his granddaughter Susan is played by Roberta Tovey and school teacher Barbara by Jennie Linden, with a bumbling sidekick Ian (Roy Castle); in the second the female adult companion is Louise is played by Jill Curzon and the comic relief sidekick is policeman Tom (Bernard Cribbins) . The first film is set on Skaro where the evil Daleks are fighting the Thals, the second on Earth where the Daleks plan to hollow out the planet and use it as a spaceship. In both the bad guys get their metal butts kicked by the polite Doctor. The Doctor has long-since become an international 'star' and, as mentioned above, has recently (22/11/2013) had his fiftieth anniversary.
The War Game (1965) dir. Peter Watkins. This drama documentary made for the BBC was banned by them for 22 years because the 'drama' was ‘too realistic’ and might upset audiences. The 48min film depicts a nuclear strike and its aftermath in a Kent village. The strike footage is culled from actual nuclear test site film, the aftermath is pure filmmaking. It shows firestorms, the hideous burns and disfigurement of people, the slow death of radiation poisoning, civil disorder and looting, with British ‘Bobbies’ forming firing squads, mass cremations and buckets of wedding rings taken from the dead. Narrated by Michael Aspel and Dick Graham, this is a very disturbing film (and rightly so) which won an Oscar for Best Documentary and has since enjoyed extensive cinema release around the world prior to its eventual TV airing in 1987. Not to be viewed lightly.
Cyborg 2087 (1966) dir. Franklin Adreon. In the film's 'present', the sixties, Professor Marx (Eduard Franz) perfects a method of controlling human minds. By 2087 this development has led to a dystopian dictatorial state, policed by cyborgs. One such, Cyborg Garth (Michael Rennie), slips his programming and escapes into his past in order to convince Marx not to publicise his discovery, thereby aborting that future. It is easy, with 20:20 hindsight, to see this as a forerunner to The Terminator (see Part Five), but the fact is that this basic structure to a time travel story has been present since the beginnings of SF cinema, and will probably continue long into the future.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966) dir. Francois Truffaut. Based on the 1953 novel by Ray Bradbury. Oskar Werner plays a fireman called Guy Montag: firemen burn books in this dystopia where all literature is banned (451°F being the supposed temperature at which paper ignites). One day he falls for Clarisse (Julie Christie), rebels against his boss (Cyril Cusack) and joins a community that memorises books while wandering around like zombies in the wilderness. This is a so-so adaptation of a good book, too slow, with characters their own mothers couldn’t care about. It does look good, thanks largely to the cinematography of Nicolas Roeg (later to direct The Man Who Fell to Earth, see Part Four). In the original cinema release of the film the credits are spoken (as if by one of the human ‘books’) rather than captioned. A better film on the same subject came out in 2002, Equilibrium dir. Kurt Wimmer, starring Christian Bale.
Fantastic Voyage (1966) dir. Richard Fleischer. Based on a story by Otto Clement and Jerome Bixby, later novelised by Isaac Asimov. A defector from a foreign power has a blood clot in his brain. A submarine crew (played by Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien and Donald Pleasance) are shrunk to the size of a microbe and injected into the patient’s bloodstream. They must overcome the obstacles of the body, reach the clot and burn it out with a laser, and get back out before the miniaturization process wears off. There are tons of physics holes in the plot, but the sets recreating the biology are first rate. The film won two Oscars, one for Art Cruickshank’s Special Visual Effects, and one for Art Direction/Set Direction. A similar ‘shrunken sub in a body’ idea is used in InnerSpace (1987).
Queen of Blood (1966) dir. Curtis Harrington. Using footage cannibalised from the 1963 Russian film A Dream Come True dir. Mikhail Karyukov. In Queen of Blood three astronauts (played by John Saxon, Judi Meredith and Dennis Hopper) pick up an alien (Florence Marley), who sets about picking off the crew of the ship. Though defeated by the time the ship reaches Earth, she has left behind a bunch of eggs… This is yet another film that can claim to be a forerunner of Alien (1979, see Part Four), not unlike 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space but, as with Cyborg 2087 above, this is actually a very common idea. Lovely to look at though!.
Seconds (1966) dir. John Frankenheimer. A middle-aged business executive (played by John Randolph) who pays a secret organisation to fake his death and give him cosmetic surgery and a complete new identity (played in turn by Rock Hudson). At first, everything is fine but he soon tires of his new life and young immature friends and wants to go back to the way he was. The organisation is not willing to do this and, when Hudson makes a nuisance of himself and threatens to expose them, they kill him and recycle his body parts. The moral is be careful what you wish for, which is interesting in light of our current culture’s obsession with youth and cosmetic surgery which can, of course, go wrong.
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) dir. Curtis Harrington; Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) dir. Peter Bogdanovich (as Derek Thomas). Both of these Corman-produced films cannibalize footage from the superior Russian film Storm Planet (1962) dir. Pavel Klushantsev. In Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet Harrington directs Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue in additional scenes which, naturally, sees them on sets they never leave. The plot is basically the same as for Storm Planet. In the second film Bogdanovich directs Mamie Van Doren and a cast of cuties as telepathic Venusians who transport the Earthmen off their planet when their god (a pterodactyl) is killed. Storm Planet itself is difficult to get hold of, but these two bastard offspring are easily enough found. Worth it for the Russian footage.
Barbarella (1967) dir. Roger Vadim. This psychedelic eye-candy is based on an early sixties’ Barbarella comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest and stars Vadim’s then wife Jane Fonda in the title role. As a 40th century secret agent Barbarella must capture renegade scientist Duran Duran (Milo O’Shea) from the planet Sogo and its decadent, lesbian queen (Anita Pallenberg), before he can deploy his positronic ray. The eight scriptwriters include Vadim, Forest, Terry Southern and Tudor Gates, among others; the sumptuous production design and art direction, quite faithful to the comic, are by Mario Garbuglia and Enrico Fea respectively; and the whole is lovingly shot by Claude Renoir. The Italian-French co-production features all kinds of weirdness including biting dolls, a blind angel (Phillip Law), Duran’s demented pleasure machine, an inept revolutionary (David Hemmings) and a pill one takes in place of physical sex. This is very much ‘of its time’, but still quite funny for all that, and the feminist criticisms of the sixties are all but forgotten four decades later.
Night of the Big Heat (1967) dir. Terence Fisher. Based on the 1959 novel by John Lymington. This is the last, though not necessarily the least, of the three films Fisher did for Planet (the other two being The Earth Dies Screaming and Island of Terror). In Night of the Big Heat energy-starved protoplasmic aliens burn humans during an unseasonal heatwave on an island off the British coast. Dr. Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing) and Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) are among the survivors when the heat-drenched atmosphere lets go a deluge of rain which dissolves the aliens.
The Power (1968) dir. Byron Haskin. Based on the 1956 novel by Frank M. Robinson. This George Pal production had a script by John Gay which was very faithful to the excellent novel. Prof. Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) leads a research group of scientists who come to suspect that one of their number is an advanced human with psi-powers. Each of the group is in turn killed and Tanner is clearly targeted for removal himself. While trying to discover the mutant’s origins, Hamilton finds his own existence being erased as thoroughly as the mastermind has erased evidence of his own. Eventually there is a showdown (and a twist). This features: Earl Holliman, Suzanne Pleshette, Aldo Ray, Michael Rennie, Richard Carlson and Yvonne de Carlo. This is a very good film indeed.
Privilege (1967) dir. Peter Watkins. Brilliant satire of the near future in which a pop star, Shorter (played by real life bluesman Paul Jones), is co-opted by the state (and church) to control the young. At first he plays along, but at the urging of his girlfriend (Jean Shrimpton) finally rebels, only to be murdered by his fans. In these days of pop stars in No.10 Downing Street and rock stars on the roof of Buckingham Palace, this film can be seen as extremely prescient indeed. The film suggests at one point that the two major British political parties, the Conservatives and Labour (now New Labour), have joined together because there is nothing that distinguishes them from each other anymore; over forty-five years later one can still make that point!
Charly (1968) dir. Ralph Nelson. Based on Daniel Keyes’ short story Flowers for Algernon (1959, and later a novel, 1966), Cliff Robertson plays Charly, a retarded man who sweeps the floor at a bakery. He is given the chance by two scientists (played by Leon Janney and Lilia Skala) to undergo an operation to raise his I.Q. This initially goes well and Charly's intellect is soon outstripping the pair. He goes on to form a relationship with his former teacher (Claire Bloom), but it eventually becomes clear that he will in time lose his new faculties. Robertson played the role on TV in 1961 and later formed the production company that made the film. All the effort was worthwhile when he picked up the Oscar for Best Actor. There was a Broadway musical in 1980 and a made-for-TV movie under the title Flowers for Algernon (2000) that added nothing to the original, instead it increased the sentimentality.
The Illustrated Man (1969) dir. Jack Smight. Based on three short stories from the Ray Bradbury collection The Illustrated Man (1951). A man (played by Rod Steiger) is covered from head to foot in tattoos (this is the longest make-up job on a single actor ever recorded – it took 9 people 10 hours to do the torso alone, and another full day was spent on the lower body and limbs!), Claire Bloom plays the illustrator, and Robert Drivas the wanderer who is given strange visions by the living body art. The stories are all about, to some extent, betrayal and the same actors play characters in each, Steiger being a ‘loser’ each time. In 'The Long Rains' astronauts are trapped in a seemingly endless monsoon on Venus; 'The Veldt' has kids that bring to life the lions in their virtual-reality playroom to eat their parents; and 'The Last Night of the World' has a family giving their children euthanasia pills because the world is about to end, except that the calculations prove to be wrong and the world will survive after all. The film is very downbeat and sacrifices much of what makes Bradbury’s stories tick, but it is still quite good for its time.
Planet of the Apes (1968) dir. Franklin J. Schaffner; Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) dir. Ted Post; Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) dir. Don Taylor. Based on La Planete des Singes (1963) by Pierre Boulle. Some astronauts led by Taylor (Charlton Heston) crash land on a planet where mankind is mute and the world is ruled by intelligent, speaking apes. The only female crewmember dies in stasis and, of the three surviving males, one is killed and one lobotomised leaving Taylor effectively alone. Himself wounded in the throat he is, initially, unable to speak but nonetheless attracts the attention of two chimpanzee scientists, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall). When he finally regains the power of speech he is condemned as an abomination and sentenced to death by the orangutan Dr.Zaius (Maurice Evans). Accompanied by the chimps Taylor escapes to the ‘forbidden zone’ with a mute woman he names Nova (Linda Harrison), but is followed by Zaius and gorilla soldiers. There he proves that man once ruled the world before escaping deeper into the zone. Zaius covers up the evidence. Then Taylor discovers the half-buried and melted Statue of Liberty and realises that he is on Earth after all. John Chambers won an Oscar Honorary Award for Best Make-up; the principal actors took five hours each to do, and the total make-up budget for the film was $1 million (about 17% of the whole cost of the film), employing a team of 78 make-up artists. (Editor: Apparently the reason the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey – see below – win a make-up Oscar was that they thought Kubrick used real apes!) In the first sequel, Beneath…, astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) follows Taylor from the past and has a similarly hard time before making it into the forbidden zone. There he discovers a race of telepathic human mutants who worship a doomsday bomb. He also discovers Taylor and Nova. When the apes lead an expedition into the zone they too discover the humans and attack. Sick of the continued conflict Heston sets off the bomb. In the second sequel, Escape…, Zira and Cornelius with the help of another chimp recover Taylor’s craft and fly back through time to the ‘present’. Though befriended by two scientists (Bradford Dillman and Natalie Trundy) another, Dr.Hasslein (Eric Braeden), discovers what is to become of the Earth and that Zira (Hunter) is pregnant. Fearing that it is her offspring that will come to dominate Man, Hasslein recommends that the pregnancy be terminated and the couple sterilised. They are helped to escape by the sympathetic scientists (Dillman and Trundy), have their child and entrust it to a circus owner (Ricardo Montalban) before they are killed with a substitute chimp baby. There were two further sequels, both dir. J. Lee Thompson, completing a kind of timeloop: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), in which the chimp offspring, Caesar (the now grown child chimp from Escape from the Planet of the Apes and also played by Roddy McDowell), leads an ape revolution that does indeed unseat man, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), in which Caesar is challenged for leadership by a gorilla, Aldo, and apes and humans are eventually reconciled – the idea being that when Taylor arrives from the past this time he will find a harmonious society and so have no reason to destroy it. The films gave rise to a live-action TV series (1974) which starred McDowall, and an animated TV series (1975). In 2001 director Tim Burton made a film called Planet of the Apes, starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter, which was quite the worst thing he has ever done though did bring back the ending of the original Boulle novel. A further re-boot saw (at the time of writing in 2017) three films: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), proved that the franchise still had legs, but lost the time-loop element, though the CGI effects were well done.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick. Scripted by Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke, based loosely on Clarke’s short story 'The Sentinel' (1951). The film opens with proto-hominids gaining tool-using skills under the guidance of a black monolith. This segues to the balletic docking sequence of a shuttle-like craft with a space station while Strauss’s waltz The Blue Danube plays. Dr. Hayward Floyd (William Sylvester) travels to the Moon where a monolith has been found under the surface near the crater Tycho. When uncovered it beams a signal towards Jupiter. The spacecraft Discovery is sent to investigate with astronauts Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and David Bowman (Keir Dullea), three frozen scientists and a computer, HAL9000. During the journey HAL malfunctions and kills all the crew save for Bowman. In Jupiter space he discovers yet another monolith, a star gate, and travels through it. Arriving at a habitat for humans (a suite of palatial rooms), he lives through his remaining years at an accelerated rate, only to be reborn as a ‘starchild’ who returns back through the gate to contemplate, or perhaps be watchful over, the future of Earth. This film, despite (or perhaps because of) the debates surrounding it, is still considered to be the best SF film ever made (and including second-best by SF fans and pros in SF² Concatenation's poll of Britain's 1987 national SF convention). It won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, though it also had nominations in the Best Director, Writing and Art Direction categories. Sadly the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984, dir. Peter Hyams), based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel, did not live up to the promise of the original, but it was always going to be a tough act to follow. In it a joint US-Russian mission to the abandoned Discovery takes place against a backdrop of increasing international tensions on Earth (remember, this was still a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall). What they discover in Jupiter space is that the giant planet is being ‘eaten’ (in fact compressed) by hordes of the monoliths. The crews must co-operate to escape the area before Jupiter ignites, becoming a second ‘Sun’, using the Discovery as a booster for the Russian ship. A very good cast included Roy Scheider (as Heyward Floyd), John Lithgow and Bob Balaban as Americans and Helen Mirren as the Russian mission commander, and Dullea returns as Bowman/the Star Child. The new Sun is intended as a gift to Earth, but there is also an injunction against landing on the Jovian moon, Europa. It seems the monolith has plans for the life there…
There was plenty more about in the sixties. Those who are interested in dinosaurs, for instance (as opposed to irradiated lizards), could enjoy One Million Years BC (1966) a virtual remake of Hal Roach's 1940 film One Million BC (a.k.a. The Cave Dwellers) – not surprisingly, Hal Roach assisted in bringing One Million BC to the big screen. There were also fantasies and medical thrillers galore. Though not treated extensively here, it should be noted that there were also many, many films from Europe, Japan and elsewhere that, bit by bit, helped to erode interest in sixties Hollywood SF films and the industry in the west did not make a major investment in a single film, as it did with 2001 until the latter part of the next decade.
To come next: Part Four, The Plastic Age (1970-79).
This article builds on the previous:-
1: Before the Golden Age (1895-1949).
2: The Golden Age (1850-1959).
Tony Chester was one of the Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation's founding co-editors. Though he retired from the editorial team
in 2009, he still occasionally contributes the odd piece.
News of current and forthcoming SF, fantasy and related horror films can be found in the 'films' sub-section linked in the index to our seasonal (spring, summer
and autumn) sci-fi news page.
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