This German-Italian co-production was originally released with the title 4...3...2...1...Morte! in Italy and Germany in late '67 . The English-dubbed version played in American as Mission Stardust (MS) in November of '68. Based loosely on the Perry Rhodan stories popular in Europe, MS shares the fate of most books (or TV shows) turned into movies. They're too different for hard-core fans to love, and too unusual for the non-initiate to love. MS did make good drive-in fodder, however. There were enough sexual innuendos and hints of voyeurism to appeal to the teenaged drive-in crowd.
Quick Plot Synopsis
A secretive mission to the moon is planned, to check out some unusual metal readings. Major. Perry Rhodan will command, aided by Capt. Mike Bull, Captain Flipper and Dr. Manoli. When they're about to land on the moon, something goes awry and they land far off course. Communications are jammed, so Perry and Mike explore in the Rover. Eventually, they discover a spherical alien craft. A robot ushers them in. They meet two aliens from the planet Arkon -- an old scientist named Crest and the beautiful platinum blonde, Thora. They were on a mission to find a new, young race to interbreed with when they had mechanical trouble. Perry and Thora exchange insults and boasts over superior and inferior beings. Crest is sick with Leukemia. Perry knows an earth doctor with a cure for it. They travel to earth in a miniature version of the sphere ship. They land in east Africa to find Dr. Haggard, but all this is known to a crime boss named Arkin who is arranging to steal the alien ship. Perry and Mike make their way through shady characters to Dr. Haggard and bring him back to the ship. Perry stays behind to stop Arkin's men, but gets captured. All the while, a bombastic army general is obsessed with arresting the aliens, but is prevented by Thora's force field. It turns out that Captain Flipper is one of Arkin's men, so Arkin knows all. Dr. Haggard and his nurses (blonde and shapely, naturally) turn out to be fakes employed by Arkin too. They try to hijack the ship, but Thora releases her robots who zap all the baddies into oblivion. Flipper escapes with Thora as hostage. She is taken to Larkin's secret island base. He threatens her menacingly. Flipper plays with her gadgets, turning on her locator beacon. Perry, Mike and Crest arrive in the pod ship. Mike and Perry burst into Arkin's lair. They free Thora and the real Dr. Haggard. Arkin escapes. Thora blows up the whole island out of angry spite. Arkin, however, somehow followed them aboard and hold them at gunpoint. Perry and Mike move in slowly on Arkin, saying that he can get them all. Arkin gets cowardly in final moments, then falls out an air lock into the cold void of space. The pod is en route to the moon. Back aboard the mother ship, Crest feels all better since the real Dr. Haggard cured his leukemia. Crest would like a treaty between their races, for interbreeding. Mike is keen on being a stud, but Perry and Thora are already making out heavily in the next room. The 'experiment' has already begun. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Spaghetti sci-fi has an off-beat earnestness that is appealing. The special effects and models are classic B sci-fi of the late 50s and early 60s. The plot and action could easily have fit into a secret-agent film, or a western, so it's simple fun. The alien ship models and sets are amusing too.
Cold War Angle
There is little of the Cold War in MS. The plot amounts to a spy-crime-western set in space, with a couple of human "aliens" in the mix.
Based on the Books -- Elements of the plot were borrowed from the Perry Rhodan sci-fi series of novellas popular in Europe in the early and mid-60s. The books ran through thousands of installments, so Rhodan fans had an enormous story base they lived in. No single movie could live up to that. As often happens in feature film versions of much longer sagas, much had to be condensed or left out. New material (such as the stereotype villain) are added to spice up the action. (Cerebral musing over dark matter and parallel universes works in books, but dies on the screen)
Tough Babe -- The character of Thora is about the only one with any depth. The rest are predictably two-dimensional. Thora is, on the one hand, the feminist ideal of the tough-talking, independent, modern woman. On the other hand, she is pretty easily subdued by various men, knocked out with one punch, and most importantly, melts into love-butter in the arms of the "primative" earthly hunk hero, Rhodan. These latter traits are decidedly old-school "woman" and tend to override her tough feminist portrayals.
Kirk's Ilk -- Later, more "enlightened" cultures would prefer their fictional leaders to have less libido. Compare Star Trek's stoic Picard to babe-magnet Kirk. Yet, Kirk was a man of his times -- square jawed, tough, ready with his fists and equally ready to smooch up the pretty space princesses. Perry Rhodan is a commander in the same zeitgeist. Though his character in MS was fairly flat, all the hallmarks of the archetype were there.
Babe Watch -- Also apparent, and goes hand in hand with the Hunk Captain character, is the woman-as-sexiness character. Even the tough-babe Thora is a platinum blonde, young and curvaceous. She does a shadow striptease just to reinforce the point. (side note: If the Arkons had advanced beyond primitive physicality, why did she bother to dress behind a screen?) The fake doctor's two assistants were tall, young, very blond and curvaceous. Of course, movie makers knew that young men were the larger market for movie tickets, so a bit of pandering is not surprising.
Bottom line? MS is not a particularly "deep" movie. All of its characters are predictable standards. The models, sets and special effects are adequate, but not impressive. The visual style has an italian flavor, reminiscent of the Gamma One films. Yet, at it's heart, MS is a crime drama. The alpha-villain schemes to steal the MacGuffin. Hunky hero stops him and melts the heart of icy leading lady. Rhodan fans may be turned off by the trite. Fans of B sci-fi may simply entertained.