Essentially a pilot for what CBS envisioned as a TV series, Destination Space (DS) is a B grade mash-up of new material and footage from Paramount's Conquest of Space (1955). As a stand-alone movie, DS lacks meat on its bones. Of course, it's job as a pilot to a series was to set the stage and develop some characters. This, it does, at the expense of action and plot. Nonetheless, the integration of the older Conquest footage is fairly well done. There was enough other Conquest footage of rockets and the big wheel space station that did not get used, so the mash-up might have worked over a season's episodes. However, CBS opted not to produce the series, so only this pilot remains.
Quick Plot Synopsis
Men aboard an orbiting wheel space station count down to the launch of a rocket whose crew are to orbit the moon. Before the launch can occur, a rogue meteor zooms in and damages the space station. Amid smoke, sparks and being tossed about in the unstable and wobbly space station, the crew manage to regain control. The damage, however, is severe enough to delay the moon mission. The commander, Jim Benedict, is called down to Washington DC to face a senate hearing on the expenses and delays. He also socializes with his girlfriend and other friends and colleagues. A demagogue senator Royce tries to make a big case out of the delays but Jim gives a rousing speech about naysayers being the biggest roadblock to exploring strange new worlds. Royce insists that a Dr. Easton be among the crew to report on progress. All agree. After a month's repairs, the rocket is again in countdown mode. This time, however, a stuck servo causes the nuclear reactor to begin going critical. With time running out, astronaut Dave manages to loosen the frozen servo. The reactor cools and all are save. The trouble will cause another month's delay, but Dr. Easton promises to report on the issue honestly. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
There are several familiar faces among the cast. John Agar plays Colonel Mathews. Several others cast members were regular TV stars in the 60s. It is also fun to see how the director and editors integrated the original Conquest of Space footage.
Cold War Angle
This is subtle as part of the space race. At one point, however, Mathews makes it blatant. In griping about Senator Royce, he says, "He and people like him couldn't help the enemy more if they were paid agents." The Enemy. It was simply understood as part of the fabric of Cold War life.
Serious Sci-fi -- The decade opened with a big-budget example of "real" science fiction: Destination Moon. The story was not about aliens, monsters or saucers. It was what real men would or could do with credibly fictional technology. This sub-genre had its fans, but wasn't as popular as more fantastic sci-fi (aliens, monsters, etc.) Conquest of Space was another big-budget example from mid-decade and a source for most of the "space" footage in this movie. By late in the 50s, real space programs were gearing up. Non-fantistic sci-fi had less draw. This may be part of why CBS opted not to produce the TV series.
Pre-JFK -- An element of realism in DS is that it wasn't malicious aliens or a lack of technology which kept man from the moon. It was bureaucratic meddling. The immediate villain of the tale is Senator Royce who lobbies to cut the program's funding. To combat this political foe, Jim Benedict gives a rousing speech about the need for decisiveness. "Let us make up our minds if we want a space program or not....Let us go forward in the American way....to a new frontier..." President Kennedy would give a similarly rousing speech before congress in 1961 to kick off America's race to the moon.
Dead-End Triangle -- Much of DS's run time was devoted to character development for the series' episodes. One such bit of development which came to nothing in the pilot, was the ever-popular love triangle. Jim, the leader, and Dave the pilot are friends. Dave's wife Kim has a no-longer-secret crush on Jim. Jim, however, is engaged (or almost) to June. Nothing is made of this in the pilot. It was fodder for first season tensions -- which never came.
Bottom line? DS is obscure and not easy to find. Unless you're devoted to watching all 50s sci-fi movies, or a big fan of Conquest of Space (or perhaps a John Agar fan), there may not be enough reason to get this movie. If you can find it free, or running on late night TV, it might be interesting to see what how far TV sci-fi had progressed since the days of Video Ranger and Rocky Jones.