Rocketship X-M (1950) Special Edition (DVD review).

With the recent books I’ve been reading, the film ‘Rocketship X-M’ came up frequently and it’s one of those odd films that I haven’t really gotten around to watching until now with this 2001 DVD release.


The first rocket to the Moon, Rocketship X-M, gets knocked off course when it breaks off from its booster and ends up on Mars instead. That’s one hell of a deviation and fuel expenditure and although the radio works, they can’t communicate with Earth and tell of their problems, going to either place. Good thing that didn’t happen with the latter Apollo missions. There, they discover an ancient disused Martian city. What remains of the civilisation weren’t happy bunnies forcing a quick departure after two of the crew are killed. Things aren’t too good for the remaining crew on the way home but as to their fate, that would be telling.

I’ve kept the synopsis briefer than usual more from disbelief and keeping some surprises for those of you haven’t seen it yet. Instead, I’ll stay with the analysis which is more fun.

I mean, in those days, black and white film was the norm for B movies so it was quite startling for them to change to sepia for Mars which must have surely have been surprising when they changed to the audience there and teaches me to look at the box cover before watching in future. Dennis Murren was involved with having enhanced the special effects sequences but it looks more like a restoration job than adding anything. I mean, would you have just showed the take-off and landings and yet kept the meteor shower only seen from inside the spaceship rather than seeing an exterior shot. In that respect, this was an indication of the tight budget and showing crew reaction instead. Even so, you would have to wonder even with aiming the X-M at where the Moon will be as for landing how it and the Earth could be in opposite portholes at the same time was the first of my incredulous thoughts of impossibility, especially as neither was receding or growing in imagery as they left one and approached the other. Considering the extra acceleration needed to get to Mars, it would have been more apparent in transit.

To be fair, producer/director/writer Kurt Neumann was doing his best with what was known at the time and was trying to mix real science with storytelling and what was considered a ‘real’ Science Fiction tale, he gave it all the right ingredients. A damaged space flight, a trip to Mars instead of the Moon, with a little post-apocalypse for the human-looking Martians. He even built in a slightly developing romance between the pilot (Bridges) and the only female (Massen), although that got cut short at the end.

Had I been alive at the time, I doubt even my kind of scrutiny would have been any better than any of you. I expect what I say now would have been matched with me in the 70s but we making great strides by then and probably why ‘Rocketship X-M’ dated so quickly. Even so, it makes for an interesting curio.

The scientific briefing to the reporters at the beginning is enlightening and in some parts, considering it was produced in 1950, reasonably accurate for its time. It was a bit weird seeing a motors room but no fuel and one has to wonder where the air supply for the five people crew was, let alone whether it and the food supply could last longer than the five days the Moon trip would take. The real puzzle is their announcement that they were carrying twice as much fuel as needed and yet when their rocket goes off course, they have to re-do calculations, all by hand, mind you, none of that computer stuff. It was hardly like they couldn’t afford to be wasteful. Presumably, the food and air supply matched this supply as well, not to mention getting to Mars in a few days than the currently known 18 months in the right distance window. It looked like someone had thought about the possibility of Mars into their equations but no one had thought about having a better than shortwave radio or that they would be out of contact with Earth for much of the trip.

Even considering the increased acceleration, it’s amazing X-M could have stopped at Mars, especially as they continually reminded the viewers of Newton’s laws, at least as far as continual acceleration doesn’t actually stop in space. Any calculations would have needed to take into account deceleration as well, although I doubt any cinema watcher back then would have had the maths background to notice that. As such, ‘Rocketship X-M’ was very much still in the Buck Rogers era of scientific knowledge and only masqueraded at being up-to-date 1950s style by putting in a little window dressing.

Back in the 1050s, it was still thought that Mars had a viable atmosphere, not that it was heavy in carbon dioxide or extremely cold. Even more remarkable that they had the right equipment sans spacesuits to go outside and even weapons. Did they expect to go rabbit hunting on the Moon? It’s hardly like they had the equipment for every eventuality on board just in case. Having a portable oxygen supply for each crew member that could last even more than a few hours would have been the envy of the Apollo mission a decade later. Considering the barren Martian environment, you had to wonder what these humanoid Martians ate or drank.

The discovery of pitchblende aka uranium ore using a Geiger counter that doesn’t click was probably a hint of the fate of the futuristic Martians. Don’t forget, this film predates George Pal’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ in 1953 and ‘Forbidden Planet’ in 1956. Neumann was making strides to what was making Science Fiction films more adult and respectable. These days, we would see ‘Rocketship X-M’ as barely plausible but it must have staggered the imagination of people at the time and might have encouraged some people to make the right career choices to join NASA. One can only hope they got over their disillusionment quickly enough to what they could really do.

If you treat ‘Rocketship X-M’ for what it was, then you have a real touch of what was thought to be out there in 1950 and without it, the two films in the last paragraph wouldn’t have had the boost (sic) they needed to be made.

GF Willmetts

August 2013

(region free: pub: Dark Vision DVD4619. 77 minute black and white/sepia film with extras. Price: about £ 2.00 (UK) if you know where to look)

cast: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Berry Jr. and Hugh O’Brian

One thought on “Rocketship X-M (1950) Special Edition (DVD review).

  • I have this DVD, and saw the movie (actually from 2000 – its 5oth anniversary) when it first came out in 1950 (I was 14). The film was made in 10 days to beat the highly superior Destination Moon to the cinemas, and it succeeded. When I saw it the Martian sequences were puce, rather than sepia. The rocket we saw on takeoff (at night) was in fact a V2, its black-and-white chequered shape obviously different from the design of the spaceship on the launch pad. . . To me, then, one of the most horrific sci-fi moments I’d ever seen was the radiation-scarred back of the Martian woman, and her piercing scream! But I always wondered: why did they take rifles to what was supposed to be the Moon?


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