Friday, November 21, 2008

Crash of Moons (Official Films, 1954)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I ran a show from his Mystery Science Theatre 3000 back files: Crash of Moons, actually a film assembled from three episodes of the early-1950’s sci-fi TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and looking about like you’d expect an early-1950’s TV show with a title like Rocky Jones: Space Ranger to look. Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) and his “comic” (quotes definitely appropriate!) sidekick Twinky — oops, I mean Winky (Scotty Beckett) — command an interstellar spaceship on a mission to save the motley crew of a space station (that looks like a giant orbiting roulette wheel) from a pair of twinned moons that orbit around each other instead of anything else in space. The gimmick is that the moons have an “atmosphere chain” between them — represented by some far-out graphics that make the two look like a gigantic dog bone in space — and the space station, which wasn’t built to withstand the pressure of an outside atmosphere, will be crushed if it gets between them.

Add to that an indigenous civilization on one of the moons — headed by an avuncular old man and a recently born baby (and of course director Hollingsworth Morse milks the shots of the kids for all the tears he can shake out of our ducts!) — and another planet, ruled by bitchy Queen Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons in by far the best job of acting in this film, even though it’s not clear whether her character name is meant to evoke Cleopatra or something you take for a chronically upset stomach). The gimmick is that one of the twin moons is on a collision course for Cleolanta’s planet and everyone on both worlds is doomed unless Rocky Jones can convince them all to evacuate — which is going to be tough because Cleolanta had earlier threatened Rocky Jones, his entire crew and everyone in the “United Worlds” federation with death if they ever so much as touched foot or set down on her planet again.

The best thing about Crash of Moons is the title; the rest is a typical boys’ sci-fi adventure with plenty of odd names to keep track of (the dramatis personae include Atlasan, Potonda, Bavarro and Atlasan’s wife Trinka — and the place names are just as weird as the people’s!), written by Warren Wilson with an all too obvious debt to When Worlds Collide, and so dull and soporifically paced that it’s the sort of movie during which you can nod off for 20 minutes or so, wake up and find you haven’t missed anything. Despite some pretty good talents behind the camera — including Guy Roe as director of photography and McClure Capps (Sam Goldwyn’s son-in-law) as art director — the production is ultra-cheap, though endearingly so: one eventually comes to love the cardboard cut-outs that serve to represent rocket ships (they’re animated on black velvet backdrops and one scene of the rocket ship landing on a planet is used so often you want to wave to it and say hello), the chintziness of the painted backdrops that represent space vistas and the headquarters of the Space Rangers, a (model) building that the MST3K crew joked that it could have been built with a Lego set — and they were right!

It’s also amusing to watch the overall cheapness of the interiors, including a Republic-like spaceship outfitted with standard office furniture they probably purchased at a remainder store (or else brought over from the studio’s own offices for the occasion!). MST3K prefaced this with a 1950’s episode of General Hospital in which one man overpowers the girlfriend who was trying to get away from him and marry someone else — he comes as close to raping her (in his car!) as 1950’s television would permit — even though the episode doesn’t come anywhere near a hospital!