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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rocketship XM

Rocketship X-M was another science fiction film of 1950, but different from the shallow low-budget The Flying Saucer and the big-budget hit, Destination Moon. Rocketship X-M (RXM for short) was an earnest B-film which tried to tell a heart-felt serious message, using space travel and alien civilizations as its metaphor, but within the B-film budget restrictions. The 50s gave us many of these serious message low-budget films. RXM was one of the first.

Why is this movie fun?
For one, it stars a very young Lloyd Bridges (of Sea Hunt fame) and an equally young Noah Berry (played Jim Rockford's father on the TV show, Rockford Files). It's one of the first movies to use the (later cliche) plot device of a meteor forcing the crew to divert course, from which all adventure begins.  Watch for this in later movies and know it goes back to RXM
.  Also, it's interesting to see that the writers imagined Mars as almost earth-like, the air was just a little too thin. No space suits, just galavanting around in leather flight jackets with oxygen masks.  And cavemen! You have to love a movie that has cavemen on Mars.  Can't go wrong.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A rocket bound for the moon (Rocketship X-ploration M-oon, get it?) is forced off course by a meteor. They wind up at Mars, so they land anyhow. While on Mars the crew find evidence of a once advanced civilization which had apparently destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust.  Only defective cavemen barbarians remain of the once-mighty Martians.  Some of the crew are killed by the cavemen. The remaining crew blast off back to earth, but don't have enough fuel to land.  Before they die, crashing into the earth, they radio what they learned -- the warning message.

Cold War Angle
There's a big morality play here. It's hit pretty hard and several times.  The captain, a Dr. Eckstrom says upon seeing the ruined Martian cities, "What a lesson for OUR world. One blast, and thousands of years of civilization...wiped out!"  A bit later, when dying from caveman-inflicted injuries, Dr. Eckstrom says to the others, "You must get back to earth. Tell them what we found. Maybe this will..." (he slumps over) Lloyd and the female lead do just this, minutes before they hit the earth.  At the end of the movie, the press rushes to interview the program director, suggesting that the crash proves the program was a failure. The project leader (Morris Ankrum) sternly disagrees. "(this mission) has supplied us with information that might well mean the salvation of our own world."  Pretty heavy moral message about the dangers of nuclear war, perhaps the first movie to do so. RXM expresses that Cold War era fear that we were always just one rash move away from the destruction of our world. People who were born after the 1970s probably have a hard time identifying with the almost-paralyzing fear that massive and unstoppable forces would wipe out their world in a flash -- at any moment. RXM gives that mood a voice.

Also interesting in RXM is the suggestion that a divine hand was warning us. When Noah Berry's character comments on the lucky fluke that they came to Mars after flying off course, unconscious, for several days, Dr. Eckstrom corrects him. He figured it was divine intervention. The hand of God sent the meteor to take them off course to Mars because HE wanted them there. Sci-fi flicks with divine intervention are pretty rare. Actually, some sci-fi fans are intensely anti-theistic (not just a-theist), so any mention of a divine hand really burns their toast.RXM is one of those toast burners. :-)


Boggins said...

I just watched this as available on the Internet Archive.
A very enjoyable 77 minutes.

John Drake said...

Howdy Film Fanatics,

This movie was made to be entertainment.

And that it is.

The story line is pretty good.

The acting was excellent, especially with the caliber of actors.

Osa Massen is a doll.

Nuclear devastation on Mars - good premise.

At the end when Morris Ankrum tells the reporters that he will start work on XM-2 is great, especially when he goes off behind the office to grieve.

Well worth watching.

See you at the movies,