Sunday, December 5, 2010

Manhunt in Space (Roland Reed Productions, 1956)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 presentation of something called Manhunt in Space, which turned out to be a 1956 release of several episodes of the early TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger edited together to form something more or less resembling a feature film — though the resemblance was purely in length, not continuity. The central characters are four nice-looking young people who get sent off to space — Space Ranger Rocky Jones (Richard Crane), his sort-of girlfriend Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield), a prepubescent boy whose relation to the other characters isn’t explained (or if it was, I missed it) but who’s named Bobby and played by child actor Robert Lyden; and comic-relief character Winky (Scotty Beckett), who in the utter low point of the show even sings a song on-screen in a nerdy little voice hovering between countertenor and tenor — apparently to investigate nefarious doings in and around a planet called Cassa-7.

The nefarious doings are apparently those of a couple of renegade Earthmen, one of them named Rinkman (Henry Brandon), who have invented some sort of tractor beam that pulls spacecraft from open space and puts them in orbit around Cassa-7, whereupon Rinkman and a group of space pirates he heads rob them of their cargoes. Needless to say, the mission of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger is to stop this and recover the cargo stolen from Vena’s ship when it got the treatment — and they eventually do, though it seems to take them forever. Even the MST3K crew couldn’t make this horrible movie anything more than a snooze-fest — maybe in half-hour (less commercials) increments the Rocky Jones episodes might have been entertaining, at least to the boys Bobby’s age who were pretty clearly the show’s target audience, but as an entire feature film the appeal quickly palled.

The MST3K crew actually did a better job with the show’s curtain-raiser, a clip from a kinescope of a 1950’s episode of the long-running soap opera General Hospital which seemed to suggest that doctors and nurses had nothing better to do all day than have, or at least contemplate, sex with each other; the show was campy enough in itself and the interjections just made it that much more delicious. I should have been warned off Manhunt in Space by the identity of its screenwriter, Arthur Hoerl (who wrote Reefer Madness and made the demi-monde in that movie seem too boring to be worth bothering with), though there were some interestingly talented folks involved in the film, including art director McClure Capps, Sam Goldwyn’s son-in-law; the director has the cool name “Hollingsworth Morse” but his grasp of filmmaking is considerably less interesting than his moniker.