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Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Before the golden era of sci-fi, the 1950s, there were a few early pioneers which helped pave the way. Science, and space travel were still a bit too fanciful to really capture audiences' imaginations. Nonetheless, a few film makers dared look into the future, or to the stars for their fiction. The movie serials of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers belong in this era too.

Aelita: Queen of Mars -- an obscure 1924 Soviet film about a Russian engineer shortly after the revolution, who creates a ship to travel to Mars. There, he finds a monarchy which oppresses its workers. They spark a proletariat revolution on Mars. The sets and costumes for "Mars" are dramatically Constructivist.

Metropolis -- Fritz Lang's 1927 epic about the world of the future in which the elite's party in penthouse gardens while the workers toil in a grim underworld. The sets, lighting and directing are good examples of the German Expressionist style.

Things To Come -- 1936 British film tracing the history of "Everytown" (London) from the 1930s to 2061. Based on HG Wells book, "The Shape of Things to Come," but actually better than the book. Traces the destruction of old world civilization by a devastating World War and the rebirth of a new world order -- and the launch of a moon mission!

Buck Rogers -- serials ran the late 1930s, remade into a feature film in 1953.

Flash Gordon: Looks like I need to review these.


Anonymous said...

There's another obscure sci-fi film of the time you might like to review and add to your pre-1950's list:

The Mysterious Island, starring Lionel Barrymore and released in 1929 as a "semi-talkie" (read the history of this film to see why it's neither silent nor a true talkie).


This film has been broadcast on TCM from time to time, and can obviously be gotten from ostensibly "public domain" sellers online. :-)

Nightowl said...

Great suggestion. I've been collecting some other pre-50s films to add to this category. Mysterious Island fits in well.


Montag said...

Saw the restored "Metropolis" in 2010. Wonderful film. It is perhaps more interesting for what it did not foresee... but who would have forecast WW II and the Holocaust, instead of the happy re-union of Capital and Labor under the aegis of Religion?

VagueRant said...

Hey, you don't have to approve this comment since what I'm asking has nothing to do with the post. I want to tap into your knowledge and see if you can help me figure out what the name of a certain classic Sci-Fi film is.
The thing is that I saw this when I was maybe 4 - I have an awesome memory of certain things. What I remember was a rocket ship, some sandy terrain and a monster in the sand that would climb out of it like a dorsal fin in the water. That's the best description I can give.
Aside from that if this link works it was the best visual I could make up. lol
Thanks if you can help.

Nightowl said...

Hi Vague.
From your scant description, no bells are ringing. Sorry. A couple more clues? Was it in color, or Black and White? Your drawing showed a T-rex head, was that in the movie?

Memories from 4 yrs old can be tough to focus, I realize.

Anonymous said...

Kosmicheskiy reys, SSSR, 1936 - unbelieable!!! spaceship, its interior, spacesuits, weightless, low gravity on moon - all well done!!! Ciolkovski wrote story a watch technical details of this movie that looks like 20 years younger movies

David T. said...

I too am looking for one I enjoyed years ago. It's a color film, as I recall, from my teen years, quite grainy. I don't recall much of the plot but do recall enjoying it. The best details I remember: The hero flew in an unusually shaped spaceship, kind of like the claw of a scorpion. And, the real thing that I recall that sets it apart, during a war of aliens vs. aliens, one of ships on the good guy size was a classic flying saucer. I recall the bad guy captured one of the almost all white aliens from the saucer. He had a habit of taking limbs from those he captured and had a mad doctor that tried to keep them alive so they could endure the emotional pain of seeing thier apendage stolen. This turned bad for the bad guy because the aliens in the saucer had zero tolerance for pain and the victim died. Further, the aliens were able to use telepathy to control the stolen arm and used it to choke the bad guy - who managed to have it cut off before it killed him.

Nightowl said...

David T. Your movie isn't ringing any bells. It may be an early 70s film, as it doesn't sound Star Wars influenced. But, I've not seen one like you describe (yet).

Sorry I couldn't help.

Anonymous said...

VagueRant: I believe the "movie" your thinking of is a story from the old black and white 'Twilight Zone'. I don't know which one but I do remember a episode like that.

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a ol movie where a man is given the powers of the gods. Its very ol (1920's)black and white movie and I believe it was british

Albert M. said...

This movie was black and white.
It was about a man and wife who had
build and used a "hydrogen valve" to make a super high frequency radio. They sent out questions and information then began to receive transmissions on the same frequency.

They were told aliens wanted to communicate. The world went religous at the news. Then the inventor, thought to be dead, turned up and told the couple he was the "aliens" who had sent them the messages.

He was going to tell the world that
there were no aliens and he would profit, somehow, from the return to war. The couple released the hydrogen in their machine and ignited it suiciding and killing the interloper.

The movie showed one, last transmission being received as the
flame began, proving the interloper was not the 'real'

I believe it was from the 50s and was starring Peter Graves. I may be wrong.

Do you know of such a film?

Nightowl said...

The movie you're seeking is Red Planet Mars, 1952. You described it pretty well. It does indeed star Peter Graves.

My review for it is here:

Bob Drake said...

Nightowl, VagueRant:
It sounds to me like you are describing the Outer Limits episode "The Invisible Enemy". Scroll down on this page and you'll see your monster!


Nightowl said...

Thanks Bob, Sounds like you've identified his sand shark movie. Hope VaugeRant comes back to read your reply.

KaBluie said...

David T.'s movie is Battle Beyond The Stars (1980)

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a ol movie where a man is given the powers of the gods. Its very ol (1920's)black and white movie and I believe it was british

That would be "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" (1936-British) starring Roland Young and Ernest Thesiger. Very good movie.

Greg said...

Acquaintanc of mine asking about this one - no idea here - so asking the experts!!

"I vaguely remember seeing when I was about 5-6 years old, a very old black and white sci fi movie/serial in which a nasty-looking robot is in the aisle of an old 1930s airliner and soldiers in World War I helmets are shooting at it.....although it's been so long, the details are probably inaccurate."

Anyone got any clue on this?

Darci said...

Another early film you might want to add to your list is Majestic's 1933 "The Vampire Bat".

Anonymous said...

Another movie to include in the 1930's slot is: The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) written by H.G. Wells himself.

Anonymous said...

"What I remember was a rocket ship, some sandy terrain and a monster in the sand that would climb out of it like a dorsal fin in the water. That's the best description I can give. "

Outer Limits (original) episode with Adam West.

Chris N said...

If you're still looking for suggestions for other pre-1950 fare, I consider the biggest omissions to be--

A Trip to the Moon (Mellies, 1902)
Woman in the Moon (Lang, 1929)
Island of Lost Souls (Kenton, 1932)
Invisible Man (Whale, 1933)

Other films of note are--
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Paton, 1916)
The Lost World (Menasco, Hoyt, 1925)

Other possibilities that I haven't yet seen, but seem significant and are on my to-watch list--
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1907)
The Master Mystery (1919)
Just Imagine (1930)
Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Dr. Cyclops (1940)
The Lady and the Monster (1944)
Superman (1948)

Your post-1950 lists are great and have added a lot to my own watchlist, but I found this half-century section a bit barren.

Nightowl said...


Thanks for the list. There are a few on your list that I've not done yet. Several, however, I have. They just did not get on this index page. Have to fix that. Search the site for the tag "preatomic" and you'll see some on your list and several you didn't list, but might like. The pre-50s sci-fi genre had some fascinating films.

-- Nightowl

Robert M Blevins said...

VagueRant's question about the spaceship, sand, monsters with fins sounds a lot like the Outer Limits episode, 'The Invisible Enemy'. See Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invisible_Enemy_(The_Outer_Limits)