FIRST MAN INTO SPACE(director: Robert Day; screenwriters: story by Wyott Ordung/John Croydon/John C. Cooper/Lance Z. Hargreaves; cinematographer: Geoffrey Faithfull; editor: Peter Mayhew; cast: Marshall Thompson (Commander Chuck Prescott), Marla Landi (Tia Francesca), Bill Edwards (Lieutenant Dan Prescott), Robert Ayres (Captain Ben Richards), Carl Jaffe (Dr. Paul von Essen), Bill Nagy (Wilson); Runtime: 77; Producer’s Associates; 1959-UK)
“I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi films that didn’t make as much sense as this one does.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s the Y-13 experimental flight for reaching outer space that is Navy test pilot Lieutenant Dan Prescott’s (Edwards) mission. He is the best pilot on the base but he is wild and unreliable, taking too many unauthorized risks according to his brother, Commander Chuck Prescott (Marshall), who heads the project. This B&W sci-fi film benefits from the public’s interest in space travel, whose interest was aroused further by the recent launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite.
On this mission Dan disobeys the order from control to commence his turn and thereby forges his way ahead into unsafe altitude zones, thereby becoming the first man into space by moving 250 miles into the unknown. After running into trouble in outer space, his spacecraft will crash land in New Mexico; but, he can’t be found in the craft when it is located.
There are reported cattle slaughterings in the area of the crash landing, and then some brutal murders are reported. A blood bank is ravaged and a nurse brutally slain, and Commander Prescott begins to suspect that the monster doing this is his brother. With the help of the state police, he finds clues of space dust on all the victims and he discovers near the cattle the oxygen tank straps from his astronaut brother. With the help of Dr. Paul von Essen (Jaffe), who does the lab work and has worked closely with Dan on the project, it is determined that the dust particles found are indeed from outer space and match those found on the crashed spacecraft.
Dan’s scientist girlfriend Tia Francesca (Landi) is concerned about what happened. She berates Chuck by stating “People matter more than machines.” Chuck maintains that his brother knew the risks involved and lived for such dangerous assignments. He also states, “When configuring a new world, dangers have to be faced.”
Dan has returned to Earth as a meteor dust-covered, blood-drinking monster. He needs blood to survive, as his blood supply has been drained and his metabolism severely altered. He is left with no memory–only an instinct to stay alive. The film is done almost documentary-like and it almost seems believable, as the actors are all straight-faced about what is happening.
Dan is tracked down, as the police realize bullets can’t penetrate his outer surface and so they let him head back towards Dr. Paul von Essen’s lab. He wants to return, driven by his instincts to report what he observed in outer space. The doctor talks Dan into going into an atmosphere control machine, where it is hoped that by feeding him rarefied oxygen it could get his system working properly again. But when he can’t operate the controls because of his outer coating, his brother goes into the chamber with him and heroically tries to save him by working the controls.
I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi films that didn’t make as much sense as this one does. That doesn’t mean that I think this B-film made too much sense. But it was bearable and it didn’t try to sensationalize the monster’s killing spree and if you are not too fussy about the banal dialogue and the phony Mexican accents, one might even find this film to be easy to take on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
REVIEWED ON 4/3/2000 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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