Wednesday, 13 February 2013

First Man Into Space (1959)

First Man Into Space1First Man Into Space is, oddly enough given its American setting, a 1959 British science fiction movie. It’s cheesy but it does have some interesting and original ideas.

Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) is a US Navy test pilot. His brother Commander Charles Prescott (Marshall Thompson) is in charge of a project involving rocket-powered experimental aircraft. The aircraft are carried aloft by a B-29 and then released. The objective is to fly into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and eventually beyond the atmosphere into space.

The Y-12 rocket plane reaches a record altitude but then loses control and crashes into a field. Dan Prescott is unhurt but his brother suspects that he made an error of judgment. In fact he suspects that Dan deliberately disobeyed orders. There has always been tension between the two brothers. Charles is the responsible one who always obeys orders while Dan is always pushing the limits of not just his own endurance but of any kind of discipline.

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Despite the accident the Navy wants to go full speed ahead with the project and the Y-13 is ready to go. This time there is no question that Dan disobeys orders. Instead of turning the aircraft and returning to Earth he keeps going and leaves the Earth’s atmosphere, thus fulfilling his dream of being the first man into space. Unfortunately he then loses control and has to eject the nose cone containing the cockpit. The nose cone is found in a field but there is no sign of the pilot. The canopy has been shattered and Charles realises there is no way his brother could have survived.

So far it’s a straightforward science fiction adventure but now it takes a dramatic turning into monster movie territory. The nose cone of the Y-13 is coated in a strange unidentifiable substance. And now a series of gruesome murders takes place in the area where the Y-13 came down.

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Charles Prescott and Doctor van Essen (Carl Jaffe) come up with a theory. If there was life in space it would need protection from cosmic rays. The strange substance coating the nose cone of the aircraft could be such a protective coating. Could Dan have had an encounter with some sort of alien life form that lives in the vacuum of space?

In fact we already know that Dan encountered a strange cloud on his ill-fated mission.

Charles and van Essen also suspect that Dan himself was coated in this substance and that Dan is the monster, a monster that for some reason craves blood.

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If Dan is still alive and has become some sort of monster, how much of his personality still survives? Will it be possible to save him, or to cure him?

This is a sympathetic monster movie with a monster who is a genuinely tragic figure. This was common enough in American monster movies but is more unusual for a British production.

The acting is more than adequate with Marshall Thompson and Bill Edwards being more than just cardboard heroes. Roger Delgado (better known as The Master in Doctor Who) contributes an amusing cameo as a mercenary Mexican politician.

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The monster makeup is quite effective. This movie makes very extensive use of stock footage, but the stock footage is well chosen and used effectively.

Overall this movie is quite a bit more interesting than you might expect with some moments of real horror and some poignant moments. It’s an often overlooked movie and it’s well worth a look.

The Region 4 offers an acceptable print without any extras.

2 comments:

Randall Landers said...

I've not heard of this one! Thanks for the review. Now to find the dad-blamed thing...

dfordoom said...

Randall, it's available as part of Criterion's Monsters and Madmen boxed set, or individually. Either way it's pricey. I rented the Region 4 DVD release but it seems to be now out of print.