Binging B-grade Sci-Fi Flicks from the 50s & 60s

or Down the Recommendations rabbit-hole…

For each movie on Amazon Prime, they suggest movies for you based on “Customers who watched this item also watched…” And if you click on one of those titles, you see another set of other movies. By the third chained title, you’re usually deep in the vaults of old black-and-white movies.

That’s the rabbit-hole that sucked me in.

How did my plunge into b-grade sci-fi flicks start? How do these things ever start? I saw one interesting title, something weird listed below and down the rabbit hole I fell, discovering a startling number of old sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s. I quickly marked a bunch of these sci-fi “classics” for late night viewing. They’re mostly between an hour to 90 minutes long, so I’ve been, not so much straight-through binging, as topping each evening with a dose of these absurdities.

And there’s no time like the weekend to watch a few trashy sci-fi films. Here’s a few trailers for some of these with brief comments, including some background trivia from each movie’s IMDB listing.

Things to Come (1936)

Based on H. G. Wells‘ 1933 story, The Shape of Things to Come, and considered Britain’s firs major science fiction movie, this production by Alexander Korda (later knighted) was not at all a “b-grade movie” when it came out. Both Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson (also later knighted) were already marquee names and would remain so for years to come. Wells himself was alive at the time of the film’s production and reportedly acted as the director at first, but handed the reins over ot renowned director, William Cameron Menzies.

The film takes place in four different eras: 1940, 1966, 1970 and 2036. The fact that war did indeed break out in 1940 as forecast in the film, prompted a re-release and added to its respected status. Among predicted future technologies, the film foreshadows Jumbotron screens in public places, personal transportation devices similar to today’s Segways, and a tunneling machine not unlike the one used years later to dig the Chunnel connecting Britain to France.

Another film version of the H.G. Wells story, The Shape of Things to Come, came out much later, in 1979, so I’m saving that one for later viewing.

Project Moon Base (1953)

Sporting a screenplay by Robert Heinlein, the so-called “Dean of Science Fiction” and my favorite sci-fi author as I grew up, this one was a must-see for me. Remarkably tame compared to the other offerings here, this film sought to realistically show how an eventual first spaceflight to the moon might play out. Heinlein’s insistence on attempting some level of scientific accuracy ensured they avoided the unbelievably fantastic. With the Cold War backdrop, our heroes must overcome the sabotage attempts of a spy on board intent on making the flight fail, not space monsters.

Originally intended as pilot for a TV series, it was turned into a feature film when the producer shot additional scenes. Heinlein was not consulted on these changes and he disowned the final result.

The whole film was shot in 10 days and overlapped production with the next film on this list.

Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)

Originally released in 3D, this film used the same rocket control cabin and some of the same spacesuits from Project Moon Base, and was released on the day.

This one features a common 50’s sci-fi trope — voluptuous women discovered far from Earth but remarkably human. Speaking English. This theme became quite popular and runs through a lot of sci-fi flicks from the 50s and 60s.

Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956)

Continuing the trend of babes in space, here we watch our heroes fly to the 13th moon of Jupiter, only to discover the survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis — most of whom are beautiful young women. As is so often the case in these stories, they desperately need men to help repopulate their race and capture our heroes.

Fortunately, however, the men from Earth escape from the Fire Maidens intent on holding them captive. In so doing, they also destroy the Beast, some sort of local monster threatening the survivors.

Of course there’s a happy ending. Our hero takes one Fire Maiden back to Earth and they promise to send plenty of men back to help the Atlantean race carry on.

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

By 1960, human space travel was possible but had not been achieved yet. Obviously, this opens up a number of possibilities. In this tale, a test pilot flies to the edge of outer space — and somehow slips into a time warp of sorts, landing his craft in the distant future of — 2024.

Yes, I have been granted a preview of what we face in a mere 3 years from now. Nothing quite like a retroactive look at futures these films forecast. Another common Cold War-era theme was the various threats posed by atomic bombs and atomic energy. After all, that’s how Godzilla sprang into our consciousness demolishing Tokyo Japan.

Well, this time, the threat arrives in the atmospheric effect of the new nuclear age. The world of 2024 is still reeling from the horrible plague(s) that began back in 1970 when the build-up of radioactive particles released by bomb tests stripped away Earth’s protection from cosmic rays. The rays rendered all surviving humans sterile, so the arrival of a virile pre-plague male causes the rulers to play matchmaker with the ruler’s mute & deaf — but stunningly beautiful & nubile —daughter. After all, the future of mankind depends on quickly getting to work propagating the species, so he’s expected to start making babies ASAP. Meanwhile, he just wants to return to 1960 and warn the world to change its wicked ways.

Robert Clark, star of the film, co-produced it with Edgar Ulmer. Similar to the paired production of Project Moon Base and Cave-Women of Mars, this feature was shot in a hurry back-to-back with another project of Ulmer’s, The Amazing Transparent Man. Unfortunately, the distribution company involved went broke and both films were picked up from the film lab on the cheap by another distributor, American International Pictures. While both films did get released, producer-star Clark only received two weeks’ pay for his acting, losing the rest of his investment.

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

While a lot of these sci-fi flicks from the 50s and 60s focused on the not yet breached “final frontier” of space (the original Star Trek still being 6 years away), the related genre of man-made monsters still held its own in the land of b-grade movies.

As described above, this was produced in tandem with Beyond the Time Barrier. This film did get an “abbreviated release” before AIP bought it. This has resulted in at least 3 different versions being distributed at different times, with variations as detailed in the IMDB entry.

Like several of the films listed above, this one has been skewered on the marvelous Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fans of MST3000 may find several of these films familiar.

Well, that oughta be enough to get you started down the rabbit-hole I’ve been tumbling down all week. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.

Meanwhile, enjoy these “classics”!

About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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