Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Flying Saucer, The (1950)

Directed by:
Mikel Conrad

The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World and When Worlds Collide (all released in 1951) are three of the hit films usually credited for kick-starting the sci-fi craze that dominated much of 1950s genre cinema. But beating all of them to cinemas by more than a year was this independently-produced film, which also predates the few other sci-fi offerings of its own year by a number of months (it was filmed back in the summer of 1949). In fact, this is believed to be the very first American feature film ever to involve flying saucers and was clearly made in response to a then-recent surge in reported UFO sightings that were dominating newspaper headlines. It may also be the first of such sci-fi films to infuse elements of the Red Scare into the plot, though unlike later films that hid their true agenda behind metaphor, this one just comes right out and blatantly says it in the very first scene. Unlike most of the later films, it doesn't involve extraterrestrials at all and the saucer featured here is a man-made creation. Aside from being a footnote and reference point for film historians, The Flying Saucer has been mostly forgotten by audiences for good reason: it's flat, cheap, slow-moving, padded with filler and often incredibly boring. Forget about flying saucers, this actually seems more like a travelogue promo for Alaskan tourism.

In Washington D.C., CIA agent Hank Thorn (Russell Hicks) drafts Mike Trent (director Conrad, who also wrote and produced) for a covert mission in Alaska, where there have been recent sightings of flying saucers. The film never really says what qualifications Mike has for such a mission, aside from the fact he's a famous millionaire Playboy and polo player originally from Alaska. Regardless, our government thinks this drunk, chain-smoking, womanizing smart ass is the right man for the job of discovering the secrets of the flying saucers before the Russians do and use them to drop A-Bombs on all of the major American cities. Hank concocts a fake story about Mike suffering from a nervous breakdown to throw off the press, set him up with blonde "nurse" Vee Langley (Pat Garrison), who's actually a secret agent, fly the two of them to Seattle and from there they are off to Alaska on a boat.

Upon arrival, Mike and Vee go to their hunting lodge and meet up with the French caretaker Hans (Hantz von Teuffen). Not one to expose their true intention for being there, Mike immediately asks the stranger, "You seen any Russian spies around here recently?" Things are quiet for awhile as Mike and Vee soak up the scenery, go on hikes, go swimming, go on boat rides, encounter wildlife ("I just saw a bear! They're dangerous, aren't they?") and get better acquainted in a romantic sense, but one evening they are disturbed by strange, loud sounds in the sky. A man truly serious about his work, Mike promptly heads into Juneau, goes on a pub crawl and gets wasted drinking rye. What does this have to do with flying saucers, you ask? Well, absolutely nothing, but it sure does help to eat up the minutes, doesn't it? 

It's eventually revealed that reclusive scientist Dr. Carl Lawton (Roy Engel) has finished his saucer prototype and has it hidden somewhere in the mountain ice caps with plans on selling the invention to the U.S. military for 10 million dollars. His assistant Mr. Turner (Denver Pyle) betrays him and goes to some Russian KGB agents stationed in Alaska led by Colonel Marikoff (Lester Sharpe) and his right hand man Alex Muller (Earle Lyon). The Russians are all played by American actors and none of them even attempt any kind of accent. The Frenchman is also in cahoots with the Russians but all of his attempts to kill Mike and Vee are botched in one way or another. There are a few poorly-choreographed and unexciting action scenes and lots of time is spent on travelogue footage. The utterly predictable finale takes place in some ice caves beneath a glacier.

Aside from decent location filming, some beautiful scenery and perhaps being a first of its type, this isn't a good film. It's dull, the acting is mediocre at best and it's filled with pointless, drawn-out scenes that exist solely to pad out the slim story line. Most disappointing of all is that there are just two scenes of the flying saucers in the air; both of which are over in a matter of seconds.


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