The fantastic Flight to Mars

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There’s a fantastic moment in Flight to Mars that clearly displays its otherworldly appeal: having landed on the Red Planet and finding an advanced civilisation there living in a subterranean city, the female member of our intrepid crew declares: “What I want to see is the kitchen!” Its so gloriously kitsch it makes struggling through the rest of it worthwhile. Well, that unintentional joke and the incredibly-short skirts that all the Martian women wear (perhaps an inspiration for Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek show?).

fm1Flight to Mars, from 1951, is one of those pre-Space Age artefacts from some other world before the realities of space travel and science properly impinged upon the pulp science fiction fantasies of dime-store magazines. It is light-years from 2001: A Space Odyssey, naturally, both in realistic handling of the mechanisms of space travel but also in ambition and scope. In fact, the comparison is totally unfair: according to accounts, Flight to Mars was shot in as little as five days or as many as eleven; that’s it. At that rate, I wonder if any shots had a take two, never mind takes four or five. Perfection may have been a goal for Kubrick, but for director Lesley Selander, it was all about getting it in the can as quickly and cheaply as possible: its quite a wonder it was even filmed in colour, something that certainly adds to its garish charms.

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The cheapness of the production is clear from its re-use of sets and props from both Rocketship X-M and Destination Moon; I dread to imagine what it might have looked like otherwise (indeed it was likely only made possible thanks to those old sets etc.). When the film abruptly finishes you can’t help but think there was another reel left to shoot but they simply ran out of money, so hey ho, that’s your lot.

It is surprisingly fun, though: its almost cute how it is scientists going on the trip (remember the Apollo missions only ever took one actual scientist to the moon), with a newspaper reporter along for the ride to spread the word, and how they are picked up in a conventional suburban sedan to be whisked off to the launchpad on the morning of the launch, and they don’t ever even bother wearing spacesuits (the film couldn’t afford them?). One does wonder how any of them got cleared for the mission- the engineer gets his hot female assistant on board because she’s experienced with his, er, research, and one of the scientists is so certain its a one-way trip he does a pre-flight interview to ensure his family will have some money after he’s gone. He’s clearly depressive and borderline suicidal, a plot thread ignored for the remainder of the film that possibly should have been developed further by the script (he could have sacrificed himself for the others, or remained behind on Mars, or something?). Alas, this script obviously didn’t demand any such thought or scrutiny, which is a bit of a shame, as it might have added something to the film that would have cost little  As might be expected, there is a perfunctory nod to ‘magnetism’ of some kind to explain gravity on the ship, and there is no explanation of food supplies or how long it takes to get to the Red Planet.

Its daft, and mostly harmless. Fun to see a very young Cameron Mitchell as the reporter- Mitchell is one of those very familiar faces of my youth (having appeared in guest-spots in practically every 1970s tv show that was ever made), and Marguerite Chapman (who plays hottie Martian Alita) would later appear in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch.

One thought on “The fantastic Flight to Mars

  1. Pingback: The 2020 List: April – the ghost of 82

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