War Of The Satellites (1958) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper).
Shortly after the Soviets put in space the world’s first man-made satellite, Sputnik I, Roger Corman produced and directed a very low-budget SF film to exploit the recent real-world launch. Aliens have put up an invisible barrier to prevent humans from advancing into space. The acting and writing are inconsistent but perhaps just because it is a 1950s Science Fiction film, it does have fun for the right sort of audience.
Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union put into orbit Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite. Not surprisingly, it made headlines all around the world. Up to this time, few United States citizens knew even what a ‘satellite’ was. Suddenly, it was a word on everybody’s lips. There were still many people who did not know what the thing was, but they knew it was important and science-fictional. They may have thought it was some kind of spaceship. Roger Corman saw the advantage of making a SF movie, however weak, with which to exploit the public’s interest in ‘satellites’. Jack Rabin and Irving Block, who frequently worked together on Science Fiction films, provided the story.
A message from the aliens is sent to the United Nations. Two comic teen-agers who seem like a holdover from the Jazz Age, find the message etched on a rocket. The kids do not fit into the film’s style. Did 1950s teen-agers really borrow ‘ring-a-ding-ding’ from Frank Sinatra?
As humans push their way into space, there is some unknown interplanetary space presence determined to keep us earthbound. After some debate, the United Nations decides it will send up one more space mission to take on the aliens. Its Captain will be Dr. Pol Van Ponder (played by Richard Devon). What the humans do not know is that the aliens have captured Von Ponder and made him their slave. What is more they can create an identical copy of the captain, who is also their slave. The battle for space will be fought in space, but maybe it will be fought with clones of humans.
Some of the science is suspect, to say the least. In one scene, a satellite stops dead in space, ignoring momentum. There is reference to possible beings ‘from a distant nebula’. Spoiler: The final words of the film are ‘we are passing through Andromeda at the speed of light.’ So much for Einstein!! The story shows no evidence that Rabin and Block knew much about satellites orbiting the Earth but the basic idea is that aliens might be sabotaging our space programme, actually the United Nations’ space programme, by destroying our satellites.
Several of the actors are familiar from later Corman films. That includes Susan Cabot (‘Wasp Woman’), Dick Miller (later to be Walter Paisley in several films) and Corman himself as one of the Mission Control team. If Corman uses the same actors in other films, it has been claimed that Corman reuses everything. There are a few other actors who are just familiar, like Robert Shayne who was in TV’s ‘The Adventures Of Superman’ as Inspector Henderson. Michael Fox appeared multiple times on ‘The Rifleman’.
Corman saves some expenses by borrowing footage and sound effects from films like ‘War Of The Worlds’ and ‘Godzilla’ and a stormy sea scene is borrowed from ‘Godzilla vs. The Thing’. Much of the action of the film is following characters up and down wide, empty corridors of the Earth satellite which is about as big as the International Space Station with much wasted space.
Probably the best aspect of this film is the poster art. It is rumoured that the first thing Corman does when producing a film is pick a sexy title. The second thing he does is to organise a competition at a local art school and have the students compete to create the best poster that fits the title. ‘War Of The Satellites’ is not a very good piece of Science Fiction and not a good film, but 1950s Science Fiction needs to be cut some slack. Ring-a-ding- ding!
© Mark Leeper 2018