Friday, 24 July 2009

Assignment Outer Space (1960)

I must confess to a considerable fondness for Italian science fiction movies of the 60s and 70s, and one of my favourites is Wild, Wild Planet, directed by Antonio Margheriti. So I had fairly high hopes for Assignment Outer Space (1960) (AKA Space Men), also directed by Margheriti. Assignment Outer Space is a much earlier effort, one of Margheriti’s first directing jobs and also quite possibly the first of the Italian space operas. It lacks the full-blown camp weirdness of movies like Wild, Wild Planet and is closer on feel to the American sci-fi movies of the 50s.

It does however have some of the most outrageously amateurish model work you’ll ever see, and really bad model shots are always a joy. I suspect that the spaceships are actually plastic model kits bought from the local hobby shop! But they’re great fun. The budget for the entire film must have been virtually nothing, but in those happy days that wasn’t going to stop someone from making a science fiction movie dealing with interplanetary space travel and the potential destruction of the whole of human civilisation!

Rik van Nutter (yes, that’s the actor’s name) is Ray Peterson, a blond hunk reporter in the 2nd century who has managed to get permission to accompany the latest space mission. On the whole the crew of space vessel BZ88 aren’t impressed, although the one female crew member, Lucy, is very impressed. It’s that blond California surfer boy look. It would turn any girl’s head. Since she’s having an affair with the commander of the spaceship there is some potential here for conflict. Ray’s tendency to ignore orders to get good film footage ratchets up the tension even more. But none of that that really matters any more when a space station goes out of control and starts heading towards the Earth. The photonic generators have created a deadly photonic field that will destroy all life on the planet! Can a handful of cosmonauts (they’re always referred to as cosmonauts in the English dubbed version) and a hunky reporter save civilisation?

The acting, fortunately, is terrible and the English dubbing is outrageously over-the-top. This provides a good deal of the entertainment. The special effects might be laughable but Margheriti keeps the action moving along. There’s a lot of delightfully absurd pseudoscience, and the movie trues desperately hard to engender an air of breathless excitement. An unusual feature (for a 1960 movie) is that the spaceship crew includes both a woman and a black man and both are portrayed as efficient professionals.

If you’re prepared to accept this one for what it is, a pure popcorn movie, then it’s a good deal of rather silly fun.

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