This obscure movie ran as the B half of a double feature with 20th Century Fox's bigger budget (and color) "A" film,The Fly. X7 starts out as a fairly typical 50s sci-fi tale, with rockets, satellites and alien life forms -- a protein-eating fungus. About a third of the way through, it shifts into a detective drama. The killer fungus pops up from time to time, keeping up a faint sci-fi flavor. Overall, it's a fairly entertaining mix. The writers were no strangers to sci-fi. George Worthing Yates had a hand in many including Them! ('54), Conquest of Space ('55) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers ('56). His fondness for the narrative "Dragnet" style is evident.
Quick Plot Synopsis
An earnest-looking narrator purports to tell a "true" story of a satellite mission (XN-712) returns to earth. A biologist examines "samples of outer space." In his home lab, he is confronted by a former lover who wants custody of their son. He studies the rusty red spores which reproduce quickly. He calls it "blood rust," and theorizes that it is what makes Mars red. In a short while, he's grown several large blobs in jars. He is tape recording his notes. The man and former lover fight, and she leaves in a cab. Later, he calls the research center, near death. John Hand and Private Rattigen drive out to investigate. The lab is covered in oozing fungus blobs. The doctor is dead. They get his tape, then burn the house down. Listening to the tape, they hear the woman's voice. An unknown carrier of the fungus is loose. Hand finds the cab driver who reluctantly tells all he knows. She's traveling by train to LA. Laura reads of the doctor's death and thinks she's wanted for murder. She evades the police and hides out. The train baggage car was overrun with blood rust. She changes her appearance in a hotel and boards a flight to Honolulu. Rattigen follows, investigating the three women matching the APB. Laura confesses. The plane's cargo hold fills with blood rust. They turn back, but must belly land as the fungus damaged the gear. Everyone gets off safely and heads for decontamination. The world is safe. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
The pacing is fairly brisk. The writers and director avoided long talky scenes. Nor did they rely too heavily on stock footage, (except for the beginning). It's fun to see Paul Frees in an acting role, however brief. His sonorous narrator's voice was featured in many sci-fi movies. You can't miss Moe Howard in a non-stooge role as Mr. Retlinger, the cab driver.
Cold War Angle
This is tale more about the dangers of space than communism. The Cold War environment, however, is not too far away. Hand (and thereby Private Rattigen) are 'agents' with the "Office of Internal Security" who are able to do just about anything (trump local police, order just about anything burned, get free airfare, etc.) in the name of national security.
Terror for Today -- A central feature in Space master is the danger of contagion. This is a more timeless plot element than the usual Cold War angst. The near-panic over SARS in early 2003 makes the plot salient for today. In fact, the tracking down of Laura, including the airline jaunt, was played out in the headlines of 2007 when federal authorities sought an airline passenger infected with a rare form of TB.
Fungal Villain -- The "blood rust" from space is an alien fungus which more than thrives on protein-rich earth. It becomes a sort of proto-Blob thing as it grows. Fungi must have been a morbid fascination in the 50s. The space creature in The Quatermass Xperiment ('55) was a fungus-like thing. In Unknown Terror ('57) the evil doctor was experimenting with a rare jungle fungus. Toho Studios would put out Matango in 1962, in which people eat special mushrooms and then turn into Mushroom People!
Plane Crazy -- Note the rare stock footage of a DC-7 coming in for a belly landing. This may be newsreel footage from October 31, 1957. A United Airlines DC-7 had to belly land at Los Angeles International Airport. If you're quick on the pause button, you may be able to make out the United Airlines paint scheme. Definitely not your typical stock footage. For period flavor, there is a nice taste of "old fashioned" air travel before the modern airport design evolved. People walked out of a building, across the tarmac and up the stairs into the plane. 21st century air travelers rarely get this legacy experience. There is also a brief glimpse of a McDonnell F-101 fighter-bomber -- a fairly new Air Force jet in 1958.
Curious Gap -- One shouldn't be too demanding of B sci-fi movies. Plot gaps happen. Still, it was a curiously easy happy ending when the plane landed and all the passengers were bussed away for decontamination. What happened to all the fungus that had been creeping over the outside of the plane? When it landed, there was none. Had it blown off, strewn over land and sea? Wouldn't that be a bigger problem than the passengers? What about all those hotel people and train passengers?
Bottom line? Space Master X-7 may be a little difficult to locate, but for the fan of 50s sci-fi, it's worth the search. It's a nice mix of sci-fi and detective drama. It also gives a hint of the fear people felt about the mysteries (and dangers) of man's venturing into space.