Barry Sulivan is a cynical gangster who controls the Neptune Beach waterfront. He runs a numbers racket with the local soda shop owner: the police are in his pocket and the local hoods are on his payroll.
Astronauts (Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery, Jr., and Hugh O'Brien) blast off to explore the moon. Because of craft malfunction and some fuel calculations, they end up landing on Mars. On Mars, evidence of a once powerful civilization is found. The scientists determine that an atomic war destroyed most of the Martians (who surprisingly look like humans). Those that survived reverted to a caveman-like existence. Written by
Matthew Soffen <email@example.com>
Without the Technicolor budget of George Pal and Robert Heinlein's "Destination Moon," "Rocketship X-M" succeeds in becoming a far more meaningful and memorable pre-"2001" science fiction film.
"Destination Moon" attempts a "scientific" preview of man's first lunar visit. Of course, this effort seriously dates the movie (I also smile at the rather whimsical, seat-of-the-pants, "outsider" endeavors of our heros as they manfully put forth, launching their rocket one-step ahead of the narrow-minded "authorities." Okay, so much for that!).
Rocketship X-M had to vie with "D.M." for entertainment bucks at the box office. X-M's b&w budget (with special effects courtesy of White Sands V-2 stock footage and model-making of the string and cardboard variety) didn't allow the producers to throw a lot of "science" at us, however. What they did have going for them, however, were a few excellent character actors doing star-turns for a change of career-pace, a script by Dalton Trumbo, music by Ferde Grofe, and excellent -- and evocative -- sound and camera work...etc.
Granted: The film's overall messages are a bit simplistic -- nuclear war is bad and should be avoided and the human spirit for exploration and discovery cannot be put down by failure and difficulty (I guess they never considered budget shortfalls as a "failure of spirit"). These ideas are, at least, given voice here during what was, after all, a dangerous era in American politics. Remember, Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted!
The science? Okay, it sucks. Who cares!? Science fiction, to my liking, is less about science and numbers than it is about people and life. This has all of that and carries it forward with distinction and class.
When I first saw this movie as a kid, I remember being truly frightened by the bleak view of a post-apocalyptic Mars and shivered in disbelief then terror at the onrushing tragedy of the about-to-crash rocket bearing the two doomed lovers and their sole-surviving crew-mate (a young Hugh O'Brien) to a fiery demise over the Ural Mountains. The producers did a terrific job with what they had and they deserve a great deal of credit.
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