1910s & 20s * 30s * 40s * Pre-50s * Frankenstein * Atomic Angst * 1950 * 1951 * 1952 * 1953 * 1954 * 1955 * 1956 * 1957 * 1958 * 1959 *
1960 * 1961 * 1962 * 1963 * 1964 * 1965 * 1966 * 1967 * 1968 * 1969 * 1970 * 1971 * 1972 * 1973 * 1974 * 1975 * 1976 * 1977 * 1978 * 1979

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sting of Death

Reader “Robin” suggested that Sting of Death (SoD) might be a good addition to this sci-fi collections. Admittedly, SoD was passed over when this study was viewing through films of the 60s as most sources classified it as horror. Upon deeper examination, SoD does have a hint of sci-fi and turns out to be a fitting follow-up to the two recently reviewed films from the 40s, The Bat (’40) and The Flying Serpent (’46). All three films feature a ‘mad’ scientist using his creation to kill off people he does not like. This similarity does not make SoD a good film. It’s relative obscurity is not undeserved. It does, however, deserve inclusion.

Quick Plot Synopsis

A slimy, rubbery hand of the “monster” sabotages a two-way radio. The monster then pulls under the water, and drowns a blonde sunbather. Under the title and credits, the mostly-hidden monster ferries the dead blonde to an underwater lair. When Dr. Richardson, his adult daughter Karen and Dr. John Hoyt return to their island compound in the everglades, Ruth’s absence is noted, but of much concern. Egon is the slightly disfigured, but otherwise normal assistant to Doc. Egon is smitten with Karen and professionally jealous that the hunky Dr. John replaced him as Doc’s assistant. A boat load of rowdy young adults (classmates/friends of Karen) come to the island to spend spring break helping Doc do his research on sea life and evolution (?). The visitors are rude and insensitive to Egon: teasing, chasing, laughing. The youth proceed to dance around the pool to a peculiar pop tune by Neil Sedaka: “The Jellyfish”. The monster lurks in the pool and attacks Louise (one of the taunters of Egon). She is pulled out, but the monster then attacks the young man who taunted Egon. Both suffer from ‘horrible’ stings, but are not dead. Most of the youth take the injured man to the hospital in Doc’s big boat. The monster damaged the boat, so it stalls and founders. A ‘swarm’(?) of regular jellyfish (plastic bags floating on the water) “attack” the sinking boat. Much panic, flailing and screaming ensues and drags on too long. Eventually, all the youth are dead in the water. Back on the island, the other youth are stalked and killed one by one. Eventually, Egon captures Karen after professing his love for her. She faints. He absconds with her via his airboat. Doc and John pursue in their airboat. A long chase through vast tracts of everglades grasses ensues. Engine trouble for Doc’s boat gives Egon time to get to his underwater entrance to his secret ‘cave’ lab. He takes Karen there and professes his great love for her. She rebuffs his creepy mauling form of love. Perhaps in an effort to persuade Karen of his merits, Egon monologues about his ‘genius’. He was able to grow giant (20”) jellyfish when everyone said he could not. His secret was: seawater, electricity and human blood. Breathing deeply from the fumes thus created, is what turns Egon into the jellyfish-man-creature. He transforms. John appears with an underwater flare. They spar and wrestle and dance around in the cave while Karen looks passive and sick in the background. John drops his flare in the big aquarium tank with the ‘giant’ jellyfish. This somehow throws of the magic of Egon’s “science”, causing the jellyfish monster to swoon and all his sparky electrical equipment to smoke. Sensing an immanent explosion, John tries to get Karen to flee. She’s worried about Egon, who has partially un-transformed. In a last ditch show of humanity, Egon-monster tells John to save Karen from the impending explosion. John and Karen swim away. Once on Doc’s airboat, the undersea cave ‘explodes’ (makes a lot of bubbles). The three ride off into the everglade distance. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
For those who love ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ films, SoD has a lot to offer. The monster costume is bad enough to bring a smile. On the plus side, Grefe and Fink did fill the cast with some pretty young women, if 60s styles don’t bother you.

Cultural Context
Indie Club — Southern California had a virtual lock on film production, even in the low-B grade films. Cheap and quick as they were, the Poverty Row studios were still in California. That did not stop some people from trying to spark alternate movie industry hubs. William Grefe was a south Florida director/writer who thought Florida could be the new Hollywood. Grefe, along with producer Joseph Fink and a handful of others, created several B films in the mid-60s. They had a crowd of regulars for workers and actors. None of their films even approached the work of Poverty Row, but that did not stop them from trying. They were a group making movies!

Notes
Low B — SoD was born with low expectations. Grefe had written and directed Death Curse of Tartu in 1966. (Fink was the producer). Tartu was a low-B film itself. Grefe and Fink needed to create an even cheaper film so Tartu could be released as a double feature. William Kerwin was a busy third-tier actor and jack-of-all-trades (production manager, sound man, camera man, writer, etc.) Kerwin provided a screenplay (with Al Dempsey another bit actor) for a monster movie that was a mishmash of traditional tropes. Kerwin’s story might have made for a less risible film with a bigger budget (better monster costume) and more time, but SoD was born to be the B film for an already low-B first feature.

Trope Sampler — Some see in SoD, a low-budget knock off of Creature From The Black Lagoon (’54), though the parallels are few. Both were set in “wet” tropical settings. Both featured some underwater footage. There was also an ‘attraction’ between the monster and the “good” girl. But, there are as many differences between SoD and CFBL as there are similarities. SoD has a hint of Dr. Jekyll to it, as Egon’s experiments appear to have inadvertently turned HIM into the monster. There are hints of The Bat in that the mad scientist uses his creation to kill off his enemies. There is also a touch of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the disfigured Egon being in love with the fair Karen, including the abduction. No doubt, other plot parallels can be found too.

Senseless Killings? — Being a low-B horror film, audiences expected random people to be killed for no particularly good reason. SoD delivers the expected, but actually tried to provide a motive for the murders. During his cave monologue, Egon explained that his experiments to grow really big jellyfish required: 1, sea water. (easy, they’re in Florida), 2, electricity (that magic ingredient since Frankenstein) and 3, human blood. That’s why the “missing” fishermen were missing and why the monster drown the sunbather, then swam her body down to his secret cave. He wanted their blood for his jellyfish experiments. This was very poorly developed in the screenplay, but then, the purpose of the film was more simple — gratuitous violence to sell tickets.

Man or Beast? — The costume for the monster was so cheaply done that viewers could be excused for no knowing if the killer was really supposed to be a freakish beast, or just Egon dressing up as a jellyfish. After all, the beast appeared to be just a guy in a black wetsuit with a plastic bubble on his head and some limp ‘tentacles.’ At times, the actor’s ankles showed between wetsuit legs and flippers. At times, the actor’s face/head were fairly visible within the painted plastic bag ‘head’. Was it really a beast, or just Egon? The answer is easily missed, but lies in the poorly done transformation scene. After his monologue in the cave, Egon fires up his sparky machines. The aquarium bubbles and makes dry ice fog. Egon breathes in the fog. Some slimy lumps develop on his face. Then, suddenly, he is fully beast. As a sentient were-jelly, the beast retains Egon’s mind, but now with deadly stinging power.

Sudden Demise — Another spot where the production did not bother, was making it clear just what killed the beast. Grefe spent a lot of time and footage on agonizingly slow stalk attacks and airboat chases, but only a few feet of film on the turning point. Viewers could be excused for missing it. During the standoff “fight” between John and the beast, John drops his underwater flare into the aquarium tank. The flare, apparently kills the big jelly fish Egon had grown. Apparently, the Egon/Beast was an extension of this ‘murderous creature’. So, when the tank jelly died, the Egon/Beast would too. Why all this would make Egon’s equipment short out, was not explained. Nor why said equipment should explode. Details. Grefe had enough film for a second-feature movie, so just needed to wrap it all up quickly. So he did.

Lite Voyeur — A regular feature in Grefe’s mid-60s B films was a segment in which several youth dance (60s dance moves) to some lite pop music. Grefe would then zoom in close to catch the jiggle of the young ladies backsides and upstairs. These dance scenes did not advance the plot so much as it provided the young male movie-goer with some extra-soft voyeurism.

Bottom line? SoD is a marginal film that suffers from the usual problems of weak acting, poor effects and numerous plot problems. Even as a “horror” film, it is scant horror. There is barely any sci-fi to it, but diligent viewers will find a little bit of the classic tropes in the final reel. For fans of so-bad-it’s-good films, SoD can be entertaining. For viewers who expect believable effects, good acting and a logical plot, SoD will probably be annoying.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Flying Serpent

The success or failure of B movies produced by Poverty Row studios was not all that closely tracked. One sure sign of a B movie’s success was that it was copied. Producers Releasing Corporation’s 1940 Devil Bat, starring Bela Lugosi, must have been a hit (so far as B movies ever were “hits”) because PRC put out a copy of it in 1946 entitled The Flying Serpent (TFS). This was not a sequel, but a remake. Instead of Bela Lugosi, George Zucco plays the vengeful scientist. Instead of a ‘scientifically’ enlarged bat, there’s a mythical beast — the titular flying serpent. The remake had really no sci- to its -fi, but is included in this study as a follow-up to Devil Bat, a reader request, and a tangental connection to a later sci-fi B movie classic.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Professor Andrew Forbes (Zucco) was an archeologist studying some ancient Aztec ruins near San Juan, New Mexico. The ruins are handily named Azteca. He discovered a vast treasure, hidden there by the wily Montezuma, so the conquistadors would not find it. The treasure is guarded by a winged serpent beast (about the size of a large dog) which was said to be guarding the treasure. The beast is often referred to is Quetzalcoatl (Q, for short). Q is very jealous of it’s fine plumage and will kill anyone who has one of its feathers. Through back story, leaked out in dribs and drabs, viewers learn that Forbes discovered that fact when he gave his wife a feather he found, and the beast killed her. Forbes is angry that a local ornithologist published a story about Forbes’ work because it might bring treasure hunters. He leaves a feather, then opens the roof of the caged cave, releasing the beast. Q kills the man. A big city radio personality, with a fame for solving mysteries, decides to solve the case of the murdered ornithologist. Richard Thorpe and team arrive in San Juan. Forbes conspires to plant a feather on Thorpe, but the local Sheriff gets the feather and is killed. At a coroner’s inquest over the two deaths, the ornithologist Thorpe brought in is killed because he held the feather. Thorpe suspects Forbes and sets up a trap with a fake treasure hunter. Thorpe follows Forbes into the treasure chamber with Q and learns all. When Forbes’ lovely blonde step-daughter, Mary begins to suspect him of being behind the murders, Forbes takes Mary to the cave. Thorpe intervenes just in time to save Mary. Forbes runs outside holding a feather, so naturally, Q swoops down and kills Forbes. Thorpe shoots Q with his pocket .38, so the danger is gone. Thorpe and Mary profess marriage plans. Thorpe’s boss punches a coworker because he did not get a cut of the treasure. Fade to black, The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Seeing a remake of Devil Bat’s story line has some amusement. George Zucco delivers an excellently evil villain role. The matte art for Azteca is actually pretty well done for a Poverty Row film. The foreshadowing of some sci-fi yet-to-come is fun too.

Cultural Connection
TFS lies more in the “lite” horror genre than sci-fi, but in some ways, it foreshadows a couple of Golden Era sci-fi B movies. The “special effect” scenes of Q flying are prescient visuals for the flying rocket man (model) in 1949’s King of the Rocketmen and all the subsequent rocket man serials. The Q model and puppet themselves seem like a foretaste of the much-maligned, yet also much-loved space vulture in 1957’s The Giant Claw. TFS was the inspiration for 1980’s Q which borrowed the notion of a quezalcoatl who took up residence in the Chrysler building and went about killing people.

Notes
Compare and Contrast — John T. Neville was the screenwriter for Devil Bat, which was based on “an original story by” George Bricker. For TFS, Neville was both writer and screenwriter. He clearly took the first script and reworked it to make a “new” story. Neville kept many elements, but tweaked others. The most obvious is swapping electronically enlarged bats for a fanciful legendary beast. Handily, though, the new beast was about the same size as the enlarged bats. In TFS, the ‘scientist’ (now an archeologist) does not have to resort to sparky equipment to create a monster. Q simply exists. The villain scientist still plants markers on his victims, which the beast then kills. The hero is still a journalist, but in TFS he’s a radio personality instead of a newspaper reporter. Said journalist still has a comic-relief sidekick. “Jonesy” instead of “One Shot”. The evil scientist still has a beautiful blonde adult daughter, who for some bizarre reason is still not married yet. How handy. Of course, the journalist (also handily unattached) and the daughter find romance at the fade-to-black. In TDB, Lugosi parted ways with his victims uttering a solemn “Goodbye”. Neville kept one of of these lines in TFS when Forbes drops off Thorpe to look around the crime scene (with a feather), he says gravely, “Goodbye, Mr. Thorpe.” As in TDB, the villain is killed by his own creature. In TFS, it is a bit more contrived in that Forbes runs out of the cavern, always hanging onto the feather he plucked. Even when Q is swooping down to attack, he keeps holding the feather. At least in TDB, the sprayed-on aftershave was not so easily cast aside.

Automotive Anachronism — A slightly curious feature to TFS is that the cars used in the film were rather old for a 1946 film. Forbes drove a big ’39 Lincoln Zephyr. The Sheriff drove a ’39 Plymouth coupe. Even with the dormancy of war era automotive ‘advancement’, styles looked quite different by 1945 and ’46, such that the pre-war cars look noticeably older. Since they’re older, but in very good shape, one might wonder if TFS was actually filmed much sooner, but released later in 1946.

Pocket .38 — Like the hero journalist in TDB, the hero journalist in TFS apparently had a .38 snub nose revolver in his suit jacket pocket as standard male journalist fashion equipment. As in TDB, there is no foreshadowing like “I’d better take this along, just in case.” When the hero journalist sees the killer beast, he simply pulls out his gun and starts shooting — as if guns in pockets were quite routine. The hero is still a remarkably good shot with such a low-accuracy weapon. He can fire several stabbing shots from the hip and bring down a flying beast dozens of yards away.

Not Much Hope — The actress who plays Mary was Hope Kramer. Aside from her role in TFS, she played in one other film, a lesser role in I Was a Communist for the FBI (’51). Unquestionably pretty enough for films, Hope may not have had a wide enough range as an actress. The script in TFS did not give her a chance to do much beside look pretty, a bit naive and vulnerable. As such, viewers did not see much of Hope.

Bottom line? TFS is far from cinematic high art. There really is no science in the fiction. As a ‘horror’ film, there is little horror. It is a low-budget B film by a low-budget B studio. Watch it with that in mind and TFS can be entertaining — just not go-out-of-your-way entertaining.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Devil Bat

Bela Lugosi starred in a low-B grade film in 1940 titled The Devil Bat (TDB). Given his cultural association with Dracula, it was a title and marquee. Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) was one of the more notable Poverty Row studios. Most of what they turned out (very quickly and cheaply) were westerns (Billy the Kid series) or crime dramas. TDB was, at a nominal level, a crime story with a hint of sci-fi.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Carruthers (Lugosi) was the disgruntled chemist for a cosmetics company. His discoveries had made the owners of Heath Enterprises very rich. Carruthers felt the two partners, Martin Heath and Henry Morton, had bamboozled him out of his fair share of the wealth. To extract his revenge, Carruthers developed a fragrance which a species of bats hate. He then experimented with ways to grow little bats into big eagle-sized bats. He gives Roy Heath a new aftershave he had been working on, then releases his giant bat. The bat kills Roy. The police are stumped. The death draw media attention. Reporter Johnny Layton and his photographer, “One Shot” are sent to investigate. Martin’s other son, Tommy, also gets a sample of aftershave and is likewise killed. Don Morton succumbs to the Devil Bat too. Johnny begins a romantic attraction to the lovely daughter, Mary Heath. Henry Morton begins to suspect that Doc is behind the killings, but on his way to the Heath mansion, is attacked by the bat and dies. Later, Mary wonders why her going-to-bed perfume smells different, but dismisses it. That night, the big bat tried to get into her room. Doc is called to tend to the pretending-to-be-upset Mary, while Johnny searches Doc’s house. He finds the lab, the aftershave and the attic full of bats. Johnny slips away, returns, and convinces Doc to watch for the bat. Doc agreed because Johnny put on some of the aftershave. While they watch, the bat screeches as it attacks. Johnny throws some aftershave on Doc, who is then attacked by the bat. With the mad scientist and his bat dead, Mary can rest her head on tall Johnny’s shoulder. Fade to black, The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Bela’s animated acting makes this film. Without him, TDB would be quite forgettable. Still, with Bela keeping things lively, TDB has a certain super-cheap B-movie charm. The room full of sparky things in which Carruthers ‘grows’ his bats, is classic old world charm.

Cultural Connection
Good, Cheap, Fun — Despite the growing war in Europe, or perhaps because of it, there was an eager market for movie entertainment. With the ‘double bill’ formula for distributing films, there was a strong demand for quick, cheap B movies. While this B movie market thrived, margins were thin. To be profitable, a Poverty Row studio had to crank out a feature film in a matter of days, with little set, costume or talent costs. As such, the bread and butter of these studios were westerns and crime dramas. Sci-fi, typically, required more money for special effects or props. Movie audiences in the late 30s, 40s and early 50s, had more forgiving expectations for their entertainment. Cheap sets and no-name actors were okay, as long as there was some fighting, some shooting and a few women’s screams.

Notes
Bela’s Decline — Bela Lugosi never was able to rise above his big famous role as Dracula in 1931. He played the mad scientists or villains in a string of medium-grade films for the rest of the 1930s. Treatment an old war wound (manifest as sciatica) led to him becoming addicted to opiates. While Lugosi remained popular with audiences, his desirability to the studios was limited. Appearing Poverty Row films was a descent he was never able to rise above.

That’s Science! — The thin connection TDB has to sci-fi appears in the opening minutes of the film. The first, and weakest connection, is Doc’s work as a chemist to have brewed up his aftershave potion that dives bats to kill. That’s something. The more classic sci-fi, is Doc using sparky electrical things to grow his giant bats from ordinary bats. Perhaps it was a slightly flubbed line, which as a Poverty Row film, was not worth correcting, but Doc tells his bat that he has mastered “glandular stimulation through electric improcess.” This has, at least a hint of Frankenstein to it. The rest of the story is a more pedestrian crime drama.

Why aim? — An amusing bit of Hollywood-ism is how freely Johnny Layton brandishes and uses his snub-nosed .38 revolver. When the bat appears, he fires several shots at the fleeing bat, from the hip! Now, a snub-nosed .38 is not a particularly accurate gun in the first place, but aiming helps. Nonetheless, hero Johnny is able to hit the fast flying bat with his third shot. Heroes are good that way.

Milking the Turnip — PRC cranked out dozens of films in the 40s. In 1946 they sought to wring just a few more bucks from The Devil Bat by producing a sequel. This might suggest that TDB actually did fairly well for a cheap B film. The sequel: Devil Bat's Daughter had no sci-fi element to it all, but was a plain crime drama. While DBD purported to be a continuation, even using some TDB footage as flashback nightmares for Doc’s daughter, the plot continuity was highly flawed. This suggests that PRC had a draft script for a mediocre crime drama. (Sinister psychologist convinces sick woman that she’s a killer, in order to cover the murder of his wife.) With a little rewriting and inserting old footage, the script could almost work as a sequel to TDB. Almost. Yet, the sequel lacked any of the gravitas that Lugosi brought.

Bottom line? Viewers with a fondness for old B-movies, or Bela Lugosi, will find TDB mildly entertaining. Viewers with high standards or fussy tastes in films, will likely find TDB boring or dumb. TDB isn’t high art, by any means, but with a forgiving attitude, it can be good cheap fun.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy in the Golden Era

It was sad news to hear of the passing of Leonard Nimoy. His character, Spock, had become such a cultural icon that Nimoy could play him for decades. Gene Rodenberry created the character Spock  the mid 1960s. Nimoy, then in his mid-30s, got the part. Prior that landing the role of Spock, Nimoy had played many bit parts in many westerns during the 50s and 60s. Of course, westerns were big then, so that's where the work was. Nonetheless, Nimoy did have small parts in three 50s sci-fi films.

1952: Zombies of the Stratosphere was Nimoy's first sci-fi role. Presaging Spock, Narab was an alien -- a martian. The Narab character was a very minor role, akin to Thug #2 or Henchman #3. But, Nimoy did get a couple of speaking lines and a few precious seconds close up on the screen near the end of the film. The sinister martian leader's rocket is shot down by the hero rocket man. The wounded Narab tells Larry where the nuclear bomb is hidden and how to disarm it, thereby saving Earth. Yay!






1954: Them! saw Nimoy in such a small role, he was not credited. He played the role of a sergeant in an army intelligence office. Still, he did get a couple of lines there too.










1958: The Brain Eaters saw Nimoy in a bit more substantial role. Again with a bit of presaging, the character of Professor Cole becomes a sort of hybrid -- half human, half alien -- when he is infected with the aliens. He gets a few speaking lines in which he speaks for the aliens. Regardless of the aliens' professed intentions of bringing a semi-benovolent tyranny to improve mankind's lot. The heroes are understandably unimpressed and proceed to electrocute the aliens.


Nimoy stayed busy in the late 50s, early 60s, with bit parts in westerns, such as Bonanza and Rawhide, or small parts in crime dramas.


That is, until 1966, when he played the character of Mr. Spock in the pilot for Rodenberry's proposed TV series, Star Trek. That pilot "The Cage" failed to turn into the series. A second pilot was shot, this time with William Shatner as the brash captain of the Starship Enterprise. Nimoy was the only member of the first cast (for The Cage) that carried over to the second pilot, still as Mr. Spock.

Over the next 40 years, Nimoy would continue to play Spock in one variation or another. It is amusing to remember that such a monumental legend as Spock started out as the humble Narab in a minor role in Republic serial in 1952. Rest in Peace, Mr. Nimoy. You've served sci-fi very well.



Friday, October 24, 2014

The Time Machine ('78)

The second film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel was a made-for-television movie that appeared as part of ABC’s “Classics Illustrated” series. Normally, television movies are outside of the scope of this study, but this TM makes a handy bridge between the George Pal film of 1960 and the 2002 version. John Beck stars as the Time Traveler, this time named Neil Perry. Priscilla Barns plays Weena. As with the other film adaptations, there were some liberties were taken, some contemporary spin applied and yet some faithfulness to Wells’ original.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A Russian satellite malfunctions and begins to fall to the earth. Mega Corporation’s untried anti-missile missile is ordered deployed to intercept the radioactive satellite before it hit’s LA. Dashing, liesure-suited Neil Perry rushes in with his pocket calculator to correct the missile’s course. LA is saved. Mega Corp is happy, but wants to know what Neil spent 20 million dollars on. He shows them his time machine prototype. The Mega Corp brass are unimpressed and cancel his project, come Monday. Since it’s Friday, Neil decides to test his machine to give them proof. He goes back in the past to 1692 and his accused of being a witch in Salem. He escapes to the American west in the middle 1800s. He is pursued as a claim-jumping criminal. Returning to 1978, a coworkers shows him how mankind is doomed soon, due to atomic mismanagement. Neil travels forward in time to learn what happens, but goes too far. He sees nuclear explosions and a barren landscape. Then he sees trees regrow. He stops. Behind him are big bronze doors. He encounters the Eloi and meets Weena, all of whom speak 20th century American english. Weena shows him their museum, which has “old” weapons on display, including the Death Ray pistol which Mega Corp wanted him to develop. He plays some video tapes to learn the fate of mankind and nuclear armageddon. That night, the Morlocks break into the Eloi building and capture several, including Weena’s brother Ariel. Neil ventures into the Morlock underworld to rescue the captives. He finds them, and they all escape. Neil gets the idea to use some C4, on display in the museum, to seal up the Morlock tunnels. He mounts an expedition to plant the explosives. This eventually works, with the Eloi escaping and Neil finding his machine. He narrowly escapes the angry Morlocks by returning to 1978. The Mega Corp Chairman wants to exploit the Time Machine for financial gain. Neil escapes in his machine, to return to Weena. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Wells’ novel is fascinating, so adaptations of it are bound to inherit at least a little of that fascination. The deviations from the book are amusing as windows into the late 70s mind. Priscilla Barns makes a very desirable Weena. Less vacuous than TM60’s Weena and less noble-savage than TM2002’s “Mara”.

Cold War Angle
While the Cold War as motivator for contemporaneous sci-fi, had fallen out of fashion, it was evident (in spades) in TM78. Repeating the Cold War moralizing of TM60, it is nuclear holocaust that wipes out mankind as we know it. The fear-filled notion of super bombs lives on in the dreaded Anti-Matter Bomb which Mega Corp wanted Neil to develop and which the recordings blame for the global devastation. TM78 lays the blame squarely on the steps of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Notes
Deviations from the Book — None of the three english-speaking adaptations follow Wells’ book faithfully. Detailed deviations would be too tediously long. Brieflh: TM60 and TM2002 add intermediate stops in the future before reading Weena’s time. TM78 added a couple stops in the past too. All three deviate in Hollywood fashion in making Weena more of a love interest and allowing happy endings where the traveler and Weena are reunited. In the book, she dies.

Hall of Knowledge — Wells’ novel had a Palace of Green Porcelain, which was a derelict museum. It told no particular backstory, but did supply the Traveler with additional matches and a club for a weapon. TM60 has a museum, but added the “talking rings” as a plot device to tell backstory. TM78 repeated the hall of knowledge, but upgraded the audio to video tape to fill in the backstory on what happened to mankind. TM2002 took the Hall of Knowledge video notion from TM78, and expanded it in the form of a snarky virtual librarian.

Fashionably Pacifist — One of the very 70s features of TM78, is the flagrantly anti-war message in the Hall of Knowledge. On display are weapons of war, over which Neil can opine: “Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to preserve the weapons of history. Perhaps as a tragic reminder of how Our history has a way of repeating itself. As always, there are the innocent victims, like Weena.” Neil gets a personal guilt trip for finding that his Death Ray is among the weapons. Bad military-industrial-scientist, Bad. Undermining the moralizing, is how Neil uses the museum’s explosives to save Eloi from the evil Morlocks. That would be the very sorts of reasons weapons have always existed — to save ‘good people’ from the ‘bad people.’

Smug Modernism — An amusing (or infuriating, depending on one’s demeanor) is how TM78 uses trite historical stereotypes to (a) pad out the run time and (b) that modern people are smarter/better. The first is the witch trial scene. This is a favorite of smug modernists. The real history is smaller and less tyrannical. Ah, but that doesn’t sell. The "gold rush" western scene perpetuates the handy stereotype that in the crude “olden days” everyone was armed with 30-30 Winchesters or Six-guns and regularly shot each other up for the slightest of provocations (if any). Of course, recycling old costumes and sets was a way to stretch the run time on a budget.

Time And Distance — Where TM60 and TM2002 were careful to keep Wells’ notion of traveling through time, not space, TM78 is not careful at all. Neil leaves his military-industrial-lab in Los Angeles, but appears in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. He then appears in the west (the Dakotas?) in the 1800s. Neil’s machine was, apparently, able to home in on a place (his lab) as well as a time.

Car Nuts — Fans of obscure automotive trivia will be delighted at seeing a CitiCar on display in the Hall of Knowledge. This all-electric mini-car was a response to the gas crisis of the mid-70s. A glorified golf-cart, the CitiCar was nevertheless America’s most mass-produced (modern) electric car until Tesla came on the scene. Weak performance and the easing of the gas crisis doomed CitiCar to obscurity. Nowadays, it is a museum item.

Similar Endings — All three TMs end with the time traveler’s friend, musing with the time traveler’s female worker. In TM60, she’s the housekeeper. In TM78, she’s his secretary. In TM2002, she’s a housekeeper again. In all three, the friend gets to sign off with some time-related witticism. in TM78, the friend says, “Time is on his side.”

Bottom line? TM78 is obscure, but exists in YouTube form. Fans of TM60 may be amused at the 70s remake in 70s flavors (Burnt Orange and Avacado Green). TM78 is a neat bridge between TM60 and TM2002. A fun night (for ardent TM fans) would be a triple feature of the three. TM78 isn’t amazing or better than TM60 or TM2002. It is the poorer cousin, if anything. Still, it has its amusements.