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Years ago, I remember seeing this movie on a local syndicated TV station. I had completely forgotten about it until I came across a website writing a review about the movie. I tried to find the video but came up empty. After searching for quite awhile, I eventually found a copy. What I can't figure out is that "War of the Satellites" was a project of Roger Corman, a somewhat well known producer and director of low budget sci fi horror films of the 50's and 60's. This science fiction thriller which probably took 2 weeks to make, has a remarkably effective storyline combined with so-so special effects for that time period. This movie is hard to find and if you do happen to locate it, I would suggest getting it because it's not that bad of a rotten tomato.
In October, 1957, the Soviet Union surprised everyone with the first
successful launch and orbit of a spacecraft, a satellite dubbed
"Sputnik". That name and the term "satellite" was on front pages of
every newspaper in America.
"War of the Satellites" was produced by Roger Corman because he knew he could get a deal (funding) from his distributor by promising a film with the then hot buzz-word, "satellite", on the marquee. His plan worked and the film was rushed together. By then, Corman had a number of capable people he could count on to pull it off. Discount the war-surplus and junkyard props and and the hardly scientific premise and "War of the Satellites" turns out to be fun and a rather credible popcorn epic. It was released on a double bill and the title brought in the expected crowd.
WAR OF THE SATELLITES is too low budget for it's subject matter but is still great fun. First of all, you have the great Dick Miller as the lead, a cool score by Walter Greene and pretty good low-budget special effects by Irving Block, Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt. Basic plot is that aliens take over earthlings in order to sabotage our space program, particularly the satellites. Roger Corman's strength was making something out of nothing and this film is no exception. He pulls off some neat ideas and manages to make us so interested in the film we forget how silly some of it is. I think it only runs a little over an hour so he gets right down to business. The movie is very fast-paced. I wish someone would take all of Corman's films for Allied Artists such as ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS and NOT OF THIS EARTH and this one and release them in a big box set with commentary. Are you listening to this Criterion/Voyager? Not likely but I can dream, can't I? WAR OF THE SATELLITES is hard to find but worth the effort it takes to see it. Recommended for sci-fi fans and Corman/Dick Miller completists.
I believe that I read somewhere that Roger Corman made this film in 4 days. I first saw it on a late Friday night weekly bad movie show from Channel 8 in Cleveland, Ohio, hosted by Ernie Andersen under the moniker "Ghoulardi". You can look him up on IMDb. He had great fun at the expense of this film which he selected as the all-time worst sci-fi film ever shown on his show. He would insert himself into the film and "interact" with the characters and turn the film into an hilarious romp. After commercial breaks, all sorts of hilarious hijinks would ensue that made it worthwhile to stay up late. I found this film on Ebay on DVD and have enjoyed it immensely. Find a copy and view it - you won't be sorry!
For those who enjoy the schlock scifi spectrum of cinema, this Roger
Corman epic will be fun and interesting. And by 1958 Corman standards,
this film is indeed an epic...it has at least 3 different sets as
opposed to the usual 1 or 2, and has hundreds of feet of stock footage
from other films, greatly expanding upon Corman's usual trailer park
scope of action. There are a number of curiosities about this film.
Of particular note is the footage containing matte-paintings of rocketships, and the rocket miniature FX footage...these segments look nothing like typical Corman stuff, being almost barely acceptable. Corman loved to buy foreign movies on the cheap, and the rockets look like the ones from an old Italian pic...I bet you a nickel all the exterior rocket shots are from a foreign film Corman bought.
There's also a strange comedy relief bit in which 2 necking teenagers find a small alien artifact...one of the teens is young Mitzi McCall, whose career occasionally flirted with modest success...anyway, this bit is totally out of tone with the rest of the film...it must have been filmed either before or after the rest of the movie and edited in. This short sequence does provide information and advance the plot, but the rest of the film is so deadly serious that this sequence is bizarre. It does hint at the horror/scifi comedies that were just around the corner for Corman.
The deadly serious and low key tone is effective for an invasion/paranoia story. Richard Devon is very effective in his portrayal of an ambivalent alien invader disguised as an Earth scientist. The loyal and long-suffering Dick Miller does an unusual turn as a square-jawed hero, and although he is noticeably shorter than the villain, his performance does not come up short.
The title of this film is often discussed. IMO, the idea of calling the film 'War of the Satellites', besides capitalizing on the newly popular term, also evokes the Cold War. In 1957, the USA considered the Soviet satellite Sputnik as a veiled threat...and the frantic haste of the USA to launch its own satellite was in fact a counter-move in the Cold War. Therefore, at the time of this film's production, a real War of the Satellites had already begun...on Earth.
It is not unusual for Corman's films to contain a degree of thinly-veiled political commentary.
Here is a great quote, spoken by one of the astronauts, after the evil alien invader has offered him a chance to join the aliens: 'You can go to Hell! I was born a human and I'll die one before I join a race that kills innocent people for abstract ideas!'
Of course, that line is highly ironic...human beings kill innocent people all the time over abstract ideas, such as capitalism, communism, democracy, fascism, Christianity, Islam, etc.
"War of the Satellites" is a better than average science fiction flick;
which, just means, it is not achingly awful. Roger Corman did some
genuine stylish and engrossing Edgar Allen Poe films and the cult
classic "Little Shop of Horrors," an amazing film, especially when you
realize it was shot over a weekend. However, except for this and
"Attack of the Crab Monsters," virtually ever other Corman sci-fi is
garbage,largely because of the incredibly kitschy special effects. Here
the special effects are passable and the set decoration is fairly good.
However, what really distinguishes "War of the Satellites" is actor
Richard Devon's mostly dignified performance, mindful of Michael Rennie
in "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Even more fascinating about Devon's
performance is the subtle bisexuality of his character. Watching Devon
is far more interesting than anything else going on around him.
Not to say Dick Miller and Susan Cabot do not contribute a lot. Miller, a stalwartly reliable character actor who worked a lot, has his moments and Susan Cabot, a fine, beautiful actress who never got her due, keep the film moving nicely. I am not certain of the of the young actor who first accuses Devon, but he is effective in a very small role. Actually, the acting and fast pacing are what keep "War of the Satellites" from being a total dud. That and the very good black and white photography.
All and all, a pretty entertaining movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An unknown alien force declares war against Earth when the United Nations disobeys warnings to cease and desist in its attempts at assembling the first satellite in space. The aliens take possession of the body of determined scientist Dr. Paul Van Ponder (well played by Richard Devon) in order to sabotage the mission. Director Roger Corman, working from a tight, if slightly talky script by Lawrence L. Goldman, maintains a brisk pace throughout and stages the thrilling last reel action with a good degree of skill and brio. The sound acting from a bang-up B-movie cast helps a lot, with stand-out contributions from the always dependable Dick Miller as stalwart hero Dave Boyer, Susan Cabot as Van Ponder's loyal assistant Sybil Carrington, Jered Barclay as ill-fated engineer John Compo, Robert Shayne as the gruff Cole Hotchkiss, and Bruno Ve Sota as the gloomy Mr. LeMoine. Corman has a cool cameo as a ground control guy. The lovably rinky dink (not so) special effects possess a certain chintzy charm. Floyd Crosby's crisp black and white cinematography makes good occasional use of artful dissolves. Walter Greene's spirited score hits the stirring spot. A fun flick.
Roger Corman directed this forgotten(and forgettable) science fiction story about Earth satellites being mysteriously destroyed, only to have it revealed that unknown aliens(who refuse to reveal themselves) are responsible, and that they warn the United Nations to stop launching them, or face destruction. Of course they refuse, leading to infiltration and sabotage on the next manned mission to continue the launches. Perennial second-billed Dick Miller(Roger Corman favorite) is given the heroic lead here, and isn't too bad; it's just a pity it comes in this lifeless and drab film, with little credibility or imagination.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes, a Roger Corman Space Epic! With all that implies.
And despite a plot which makes little or no sense on several levels, which borrows bits and pieces from Kronos and The Day the Earth Stood Still and half a dozen other sf films, this is actually a fun little movie. The team of Block, DeWitt and Rabin once again delivers some sparse but (mostly) well-executed effects, such as the giant multistage cargo rockets which could have come straight out of a Chesley Bonestell illustration.
Corman regular Dick Miller for once gets the lead role as the protagonist, Dave Boyer, playing opposite a couple of other Corman alumni: beautiful Susan Cabot as the romantic interest, Sybil Carrington, and reliably sinister Richard Devon as Dr. Pol van Ponder, sooper-genius and head of the space program.
The movie opens with yet another failed attempt by one of van Ponder's spacecraft to break through a mysterious invisible barrier beyond the Moon, resulting in the complete destruction of ship and crew. After this latest disaster (the tenth, actually -- these guys are either very dedicated or very slow learners) the higher-ups are ready to shut down the program, but, putting his life on the line, van Ponder persuades them to authorize one more mission, with himself in command.
A short time later, a message written in Latin arrives from outer space by rocket mail (no, I'm not kidding) addressed to the U.N. Translated, it's an ultimatum, informing Earthlings that our planet's been quarantined to prevent the "contamination" of primitive humans from spreading into the galaxy, and demanding we abandon any further attempts at space exploration. Some dismiss it as a hoax, but the U.S. Ambassador pledges it won't keep van Ponder from proceeding.
A few weeks later, though, van Ponder's critics are on the verge of persuading the U.N. to halt the project. As he's speeding on his way to personally urge them not to capitulate, the aliens take control of van Ponder's car and cause a fatal wreck.
But just as the news of his untimely death is being announced to the General Assembly, in walks van Ponder -- and his hair isn't even mussed. His sudden appearance, on the heels of the news of his tragic demise, sways the Assembly into voting to defy the aliens' demand and continue the project.
Van Ponder is, of course, no longer quite himself, rather, he's an alien masquerading as the good doctor, and his mission is to sabotage the project. And this is what I mean about the plot not making much sense. Up to this point it was fairly straightforward, but since upon hearing of van Ponder's death not one but two characters opine that the program couldn't possibly continue without him, why bother with the substitution? Considering the result, it seems as though the aliens kind of shot themselves in the pseudopod with that move.
Plus, you have to admit it's a pretty feeble galactic civilization, if they have to destroy the primitive Earthlings' space program by covert means. Especially in light of their ability to cause volcanoes, tidal waves, earthquakes and numerous other kinds of stock-footage havoc. If nothing else, you'd think they could have just nuked the site from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.)
Yeah, yeah, I know: this is, when all is said and done, a Roger Corman flick. But regardless of my nit-picking, it's at times imaginative, and consistently entertaining. The spaceship (which assembles itself in orbit) is certainly an unusual design, and the interior sets aren't too bad -- for the time, anyway. Devon makes a convincing alien doppelganger; Corman comes up with some interesting bits to underscore his otherness, including one nifty sequence involving a carelessly placed blowtorch.
It never fails to amaze me, what Corman and his associates could do with a mere $70,000.
War of the Satellites (1958)
** (out of 4)
American scientists are trying to send a satellite into outer space but they keep running into some sort of force shield that causes the satellite to explode. After the tenth failed attempt the aliens from space grow tired so they kill the scientist (Richard Devon) and take over his body so that they can sabotage any future attempts. It's up to Dave (Dick Miller) and Sybil (Susan Cabot) to try and bring down the alien as well as the deadly satellite shield. I love Roger Corman. I love the films he directed and produced no matter if they were higher quality stuff like the Price-Poe flicks or lower trash like this film here. There's no question that this film belongs in the "so bad it's good" category and I must admit that I'm rather shocked that this film doesn't get called out more than it does. Perhaps because until recently it was hard to see many fans haven't given it the badly made label because if you watch this thing and then watch something from Ed Wood you're going to notice a lot of things in common. As with most of Wood's features, this here features a large amount of stock footage and more often than not it doesn't match up with the "new" footage. Take for example the scene where the aliens try to teach the world a lesson by doing various bad things. We're greeted with all sorts of stock footage with stuff taken from previous movies and it appears one scene showing a full moon was borrowed from one of the Universal werewolf pictures. Another funny bit is when a couple are making out when something crashes and explodes. When we see the explosion it's far away from the kids but the boyfriend goes to look for the item and finds it a few feet from where they were. One, this doesn't match up with what we've seen and if it really was that close then the explosion would have killed the kids. Other funny moments include some really over-the-top performances including one hilarious sequence where the alien/scientist burns himself and the young scientist starts freaking out. The expression on his face as he tries to convince someone else of what he saw is priceless. Dick Miller fans will be happy to see him playing the hero here and it's always nice to see Cabot. WAR OF THE SATELLITES is one of many rips of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Most of the rips are poorly made and boring. This one here doesn't have much quality to it but the thing is never boring and fans of bad cinema should have a good time with it.
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