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Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Devils

MGM released the fourth in the Gamma One quadrilogy in early 1967. Snow Devils (SD) is considered the weakest of the four, but perhaps not by much. SD may have gone direct to TV without a theatrical release. Hence the Italian poster. This fourth installment of the Gamma One series re-used some of the characters from the prior films, but was not a sequel in the usual sense. Its plot about alien yeti-men was a stand-alone.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A remote UDSCO weather station in the himalayas monitors strange global warming events. It is attacked by strange beasts. Everyone is killed, but one man missing. General Norton sends Commander Rod Jackson and his trusty sidekick, Captain Pulowski to investigate. Lisa, fiancee of the missing Lt. Harris wants to come along, but Rod says no. Their "helijet" is blown up, so they must trek on foot with porters. Lisa tags along disguised as a porter. Weird noises in the night scare off all the porters. Rod, Frank, Lisa and the odd Sharu press on. They find a cave, which turns out to be the base of the Yeti men. All four are captured. The yeti-men are actually aliens from the planet Aytin. They came over a hundred years ago to build their base. Now operational, they're warming Earth to melt the ice caps. When the earth is flooded, they'll cool the planet to an ice ball just like Aytin -- which is doomed by a cloud of radiation, btw. Rod and crew escape via an air shaft, make homemade ether which knocks out all the yeti-men. The leader yeti shoots up his own equipment trying to get the humans, then he dies. After that, Rod and crew are sent into space to check out Jupiter's moon Calisto. The Aytians have a base there too. A force field surrounds Calisto, so no ships can get near (nor missiles sent in). Rod notices a meteorite strike the moon, so figures that's the key. His fleet gather up asteroids from the asteroid belt, using magnetic 'cables'. They then tow and hurl these at Calisto. The Aytian base is destroyed. Back on earth Rod is free to resume being a shallow playboy. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Alien Yeti-men is quirky enough to hold some interest. There are several recycled tropes (always fun to spot), and a sense of nostalgia for the other three Gamma One movies, since so many actors, props and sets are re-used.

Cold War Angle
There is little of the usual Cold War themes, beyond the by-now customary aliens plotting to invade trope.

Notes
Unexpected Timeliness -- One might doubt that Antonio Margheriti was trying to be prophetic, but he depicted catastrophic global warming, AND had it beginning about a hundred years ago, when the Aytians arrived on earth. Perhaps the yeti-men are unintended metaphors for carbon-dioxide spewing industry?

Cool Music -- Perhaps the best part of SD is the theme music composed by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. He had done the music for the other three Gamma One films, but he was really firing on all four cylinders for SD. The vast, epic-sounding score seems misplaced on SD. It sounds like it should be for an epic western. Little surprise, perhaps. Lavagnino composed scores for many westerns too.

Chaotic Casting -- Anyone who watches the four Gamma One movies in close order, will see some confusing casting switches. Margheriti was using the same stable of actors, but for some reason opted to give them different characters in the different movies. Jack Stuart plays Commander Rod Jackson again, and Enzo Fiermonte plays General Norton, as they both had in Gamma One III. But oddly, Amber Collins, who played Jackson's closet love interest, Lt. Terry Sanchez in Gamma One III, plays Lisa Nielson. (he still gets to kiss her though). In Gamma One IV, there is still a Lt. Terry Sanchez, but she is now played by Halina Zalewska, who played General Norton's daughter Janet -- Jackson's (unloved) fiancee. A very odd swap. Other actors, too, are given new and different rolls. Jeffrey Unger, for instance, plays Capt. Pulaski in Gamma One IV, but he played the doomed Perkinson in Gamma One III. He also played minor roles in the first and second movies too. Why the mix-ups? It scrambles what little continuity the four movies had.

Yetis In Space -- Sci-fi writers are fond of supplying aliens to explain earth's mysteries. But, SD is not the first. The obscure Swedish-American film Invasion of the Animal People ('62) proposed that abominable snowmen were alien monsters, brought to earth in meteors.

Throwing Rocks -- Commander Jackson's epiphany, to lob asteroids at the Aytian base, was also not very new. In This Island Earth ('55) the Zagons were steering meteors to bomb Exeter's home planet of Metaluna.

Prop Watch -- Many of the sets, models, props and costumes are re-used from the prior three movies. Of sentimental interest are the two "Jetson" cars, the white one and the red one. We get to see the white one drive up and then away (in the rain!).

Cold War Scrap -- Watch for stock footage near the end, when Jackson sends a scout ship to investigate Calisto. Stock footage is played of the AGM-28 "Hound Dog" missile. It was an early iteration of the cruise missile idea. Hundreds were built during the 60s and stayed in service into the 70s. They were nuclear, but never fired in earnest. In the Cold War chess game, the soviets had trumped America's tactical nuclear first strike (via nukes in B-52s) by building a ring of anti-aircraft defenses. The answer, was the Hound Dog. Two, carried under the wings of a B-52, would be fired while still scores of miles away from the target. The Hound Dogs would take out a hunk of the soviet anti-aircraft ring, letting the B-52s in. America had its tactical deterrence clout back. Trivia: In order to do any good, the Hound Dogs had to fly at supersonic speeds to get to the target well in advance of the bombers. To do this, the jet engines (same as in the A-6) were tuned to run so hot and fast, that they could only last for six hours. For a cruise missile, that was enough. No market in used cruise missiles.

Bottom line? SD is worth seeing if you liked the other three Gamma One movies. The character shifts can be disorienting, though. As a stand-alone story, it's a bit weak, and it drags at times. The yeti leader exposits for a few minutes to give you the back story. The space "action" is vintage 50s stuff. This late into the 60s, it looks dated.

3 comments:

squonkamatic said...

Excellent writeup!

Randall Landers said...

I FINALLY got a chance to see this one. It's pretty entertaining -- I love Italian sci fi. Definitely a wonderful film.

A couple of notes: 60's Italian sci fi is always going to feel like 50's US sci fi. It's a product of technological development. Now if it had looked like FLASH GORDON, it might be bad. But I love the retro look and feel of the GAMMA series.

Lastly, I do wish they'd used some continuity in the characters and their roles. It would've made for a great night of watching. As it is now, it could be confusing.

Randall Landers said...

Another note: when the commander returns to Gamma One, Teri is dressed in the outfit of a TOS-era Klingon! Kinky!