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The One-Line Summary: When Rocketship MR-1, thought lost, suddenly returns from its mission as the first manned flight to Mars, the surviving crew of Col. Tom O’Bannion (Gerald Mohr), who is incapacitated by an alien fungus on his arm, and Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) a woman so traumatized by the horrors of their experience she has blocked all memory, doctors are left to try and learn a way to cure the infected astronaut and deal with the hysterical woman who has suffered great peril on her journey, though most of it surely stems from the frightening amount of sexism, creepy leering and callous, lascivious flirting by the ship’s manly crew who call her “Doll” and “Irish” (she has “lovely long red hair”) throughout, constantly commenting on her figure and or lack of it in her spacesuit (“What happened to all your lovely curves?”), and at every turn undermining her abilities and highlighting her vulnerabilities, one wonders if it was really any of the beastly monsters and hideous creatures on the hostile planet or the horny men on her flight that have so devastated her mind.
The Two-Line Blurb: Sensibilities have changed, thankfully, and now we can look back at this era in filmmaking with a curious (and often slightly uncomfortable) eye, but still laugh at the absurdity of the way women were portrayed, though that aside the best pasts are the science, or utter absence of, as the producers of this movie appear to have no working knowledge of what spaceflight would remotely be like with not even a mention of gravity, space helmets with no visors, and a literal pantry of canned goods on the ship stocked like it were in a house on Earth among other various oddities like a giant oxygen consumption sign with a green light that reads “normal” and a red one that read “excessive”. Ultra-low budget sets have actors in front of painted murals meant to be landscapes while everything on Mars is filmed in tomato soup-red filters, with paper-mâché rocks and puppet monsters that have only one facial expression.
The Three-Line Set-up: This moment is about the dangers of exploring another planet and begins with the brave crew taking off, reaching escape velocity and heading into space where right away they encounter a red glowing radioactive (animated) meteor that hurls towards them with all the excitement that starting blankly at a monitor can muster, before the crew finally reach the red planet. Next up, they begin explorations and Iris, finally convincing O’Bannion that even though she acts “like a hysterical woman,” she can still do some things alone, heads off by herself and immediately stumbles upon a giant carnivorous plant that is so obviously a giant carnivorous plant it could only really be a giant carnivorous plant so she stands right next to it and by physically holding the giant carnivorous plant’s long tentacle arm, she wraps herself into it like she’s tying a bow and lays down in its mouth while screaming for the men to rescue her in a scene that perhaps ironically, is hysterical. After they save her with a freeze gun that literally fires nothing but a sound effect, they move on and meet the next creature looking to shoo them off their home world.
The Four-Line Moment: While they think they have discovered some strange kind of new tree, Iris investigates and using O’Bannion’s machete (yes, he is wearing a machete like a Medieval knight), hacks off a hunk of it, only to realize they haven’t found a new species of tree at all, but instead, the leg of a creature they most surely should have noticed was a creature but because the camera keeps it out of frame so the audience can’t see it, then they clearly can’t either. The massive spider-like beast with a bat head and ape arms snarls and howls and begins his ever so slow attack on the tiny people who do little but try their best to remain as perilously close to it as they can in order to give the illusion that they are in danger. The actually clever-looking but entirely ineffective monster is a masterpiece of B-movie fare and while it lacks any real threat by today’s standards, and I poke fun at the film as a whole, the monsters and the setting and the acting and the story are top-notch fodder for a cheesy horror/sci-fi adventure that only gets better with each passing year. While special effects, writing and production design have all improved (mostly), the themes and tropes have not, with the same formula made popular back then still driving these stories today and thus looking back is something every fan of the genre should do if for nothing more than to pay respects to the ones that paved the way.
The Five-Word Review: Take this trip to Mars.