Around 20 years ago, I was flipping through channels and came across some old science fiction movie in which, for some reason, there were silhouettes of a guy and a couple puppets who’d be talking over the film. That would be my first exposure to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and admittedly, it didn’t last long. I changed the station again, moved somewhere where I didn’t have cable and had to wait a couple years before I once again saw MST3K. I’ve seen many episodes since then, on TV, cable and DVD, but never saw that first old sci-fi movie again. Until yesterday.
MST3K: Project Moonbase features a clunky science fiction movie written, amazingly enough, by Robert Heinlein. An astronaut is sent off on a mission to orbit the moon. His commanding officer: the beautiful woman who got promoted over him (possible romance? what do you think?). Also aboard: a saboteur, whose attempts at evil force a moon landing, where the saboteur will be foiled and killed and the man and woman will be married, partly out of love, and partly because if a man and woman are to be stranded alone on a distant world in 1950s film, they’d better be married. The special effects are pretty shabby, but this was a Lippert Picture, from a Poverty Row studio that actually produced some decent B-movies, though they were all very low budget. The woman (Donna Martell) looks pretty nice in that early ’50s sort of way; of course, she’s 83 now. I’ll leave it to others to say whether the man (Ross Ford) also looks nice.
Of course, one doesn’t watch an MST3K episode for the movie plot, which is why I have no problem with spoilers. I will also have spoilers for the other movies in this posting, principally because the ends need to be discussed. But before I get to those, I just want to say that this MST3K episode is a good one, though since it’s from the first season, it still has points of unevenness. For the episode (not the movie), I give it a quality rating of 6 and a fun rating of 8. I won’t rate the movie because the version I saw may have been edited.
On to the sci-fi double feature I watched. First up was The Day Time Ended, one of those movies that bring up a question that always bugs me: how can a movie have a guest star? It makes sense for a TV series, where the guest appears in only one episode, but in a movie, aren’t they all guest stars?
The film stars Jim Davis (Jock Ewing from Dallas) as the patriarch of a family with a house out in the middle of the desert. Also staying with him is his wife, his teenage son and his daughter and granddaughter. His son-in-law (Chris Mitchum, Robert’s deservedly less-than-famous son) is out of town on business. A “triple supernova” has caused havoc throughout the world, but especially at their house, where they spend an evening being terrorized by UFOs, dinosaur-like creatures, aliens and earthquakes. As Davis says to his son, more-or-less: “You know what we’re dealing with here, son. A time-space warp.” The granddaughter, meanwhile, seems to have some sort of mental issues, as she talks to inanimate objects (like lights and faucets) as if they were alive. Being a little kid in a sci-fi movie, she has to wander into trouble, which she does repeatedly.
What is going on is never really explained, but somehow the whole family gets reunited though trapped in the far future or another planet. They seem all happy as they wander to some alien city, but I have to wonder, what happens next? If they’re the only folks left, who will the teenage son eventually get together with? His niece? She doesn’t seem very bright to begin with: who knows what her in-bred kids will be like? Here I go again, overthinking a movie where not much thinking went into it in the first place. Quality: 3/10. Fun: 4/10.
The Doomsday Machine may be the title of the other movie, but it really only has a secondary role in the film itself. The title implement is apparently Chairman Mao’s special world-destroying bomb. It’s in a poorly guarded facility somewhere in China in which a spy breaks in easily (with the assistance of a cat). She takes a few pictures of the bomb and then runs off to report to the U.S., where the first manned mission to Venus is about to take place. With the threat of oblivion hanging over the Earth, three of the male astronauts are replaced with women, the intent being that the spaceship will be a Noah’s ark, without the animals. There are four men, but one is old, so it’s obvious he’s not supposed to pair up with a woman. Strictly speaking, if the goal is to restart the human race on Venus, is a one-to-one ratio of men to women really the best? Shouldn’t there be several women to each man? It ain’t monogamous, but we’re talking about the human race! (I guess there’s just more tension in a smaller ratio, or where the men outnumber the women, which is more common in apocalyptic movies.)
Sure enough, the Earth blows up and the seven bicker and cry as they head toward Venus. Adding to their problems, the use of fuel while avoiding Earth chunks has forced them to cull out some of the people to conserve what fuel they have left. Only three can live. Fortunately, Grant Williams (of Incredible Shrinking Man fame) and the girl he’s trying to rape have accidentally ejected themselves out of the airlock. Two more will have to leave the ship to fix it and will be marooned, but in the vastness of space, they happen to find just a few hundred yards away, a derelict space probe which they will enter and restart. As both ships descend, they are confronted with the vast hive intelligence of Venus, which casts them off to the edge of the universe. The end.
The Doomsday Machine, according to my IMDB research is apparently one of those cobbled together movies, which could explain the general badness of it (even the spaceship seems to change form a lot). If the ending seems abrupt, it’s because the producers ran out of money. But hey, they shot the thing, it’d be a shame if no one saw all their hard work. Quality: 2/10. Fun: 5/10.