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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mutiny in Outer Space

The Woolner brothers, who owned a chain of drive in theaters, helped fund a second film by the team who produced The Human Duplicators: Hugo Grimaldi and Arthur C. Pierce. Where THD was filmed in color, Mutiny in Outer Space (MiOS) was shot in black and white. MiOS had more extensive sets and models, which may not have left funds for color filming. The big-wheel space station, the Bonestell-style rockets, give the production a distinctly 50s feel to it.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A rocket takes off from the moon, on its way to earth. The 2-man crew had collected ice from caves on the moon. En route, they stop over at Space Station X-7. The pilot, Major Gordon Towers, wants to see his love interest, Dr. Faith Montaine (Delores Faith). The other crewman, Dan, is suddenly ill. He has a rapidly growing mass of fungus on his leg. Dan dies quickly, consumed by the fungus. The station's hard-nosed, over-worked commander, Colonel Cromwell refuses to acknowledge the threat. Quarantine would end his career and he dreams of the stars. Towers, Doc and Faith try to convince the captain of the threat. A near miss by a meteor show shakes up the station. This shaking breaks open the moon ice samples. The fungus quickly grows into long furry tendrils. Towers demands to tell earth, but the crew refuse. They fight. Cromwell accuses the three of mutiny. They are confined. In making out his report, Cromwell cites Towers pulling a gun on him. Now Cromwell's aide (and love interest) Connie knows the commander has cracked up. There was no gun. Guns in space have been outlawed for years. General Nolan, hearing this on tape, orders Towers released and Cromwell confined. Towers, et al are released, but Cromwell is hiding, evading capture. He ruined the radio, and they fear his delusion will prompt him to destroy the station. The fungus, meanwhile, has overrun most of the station. Doc gets infected with the fungus. He thinks heat makes it thrive, so they put him in refrigeration chamber. The fungus doesn't consume him. Unable to radio, Towers and Olson turn on and off the station's reactor to send morse code to earth. Authorities send up a rocket to create a gas cloud to shade the station, cutting off solar heat. This chills the SS X-7. The fungus screams as it retreats. Everyone is saved. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Despite being made up of prior plot elements, the story of MiOS is reasonably well told. The big wheel space station and nostalgic 50s feel to the film are fun too.

Cold War Angle
MiOS treats the Cold War topic as backstory only. Connie, referring to her lack of romantic success with Colonel Caldwell says it was like "trying to achieve escape velocity in an old World War 3 jet." There is a subtle optimism to the story, that WWIII happened but is not doom for the planet or mankind.

Space Master Homage -- Perhaps intentional, MiOS, is an homage to the 1958 film Space Master X-7. In that film, a space fungus is unwittingly brought to earth on a rocket probe. It grows, consumes people and threatens to take over everything. In MiOS, the station itself is named the SS X-7. They battle a space fungus which consumes people and threatens to take over everything. In SMX7, the high drama has people trapped on a jet plane with the fungus threatening to bring the jet down. In MiOS, the crew are trapped aboard a station, the fungus threatening to bring the station down. Coincidence or Homage?

Better It? -- MiOS is sometimes compared to It, Terror from Beyond Space ('58) for its killer-in-confinement theme. The moon fungus is more of a deadly contagion (as in SMX7) than a sentient (though brutal) monster. This gives MiOS a slightly less fantastic air. Alien life might simple, but could still be very deadly. Whether MiOS is better than It! depends on one's fondness (or not) for tooth-and-claw monsters.

Cracked Commander -- This is a fairly traditional trope, though a bit uncommon in sci-fi movies to this point. It will show up a few more times in years to come. The big sci-fi example before MiOS George Pal's Conquest of Space ('55) in which the mission commander, General Merritt, loses his grip on sanity, jeopardizing all aboard.

Faith-full -- Delores Faith starred in both Grimaldi productions, MiOS and The Human Duplicators. In the latter, she played Lisa, the blind niece of Professor Dornheimer. In MiOS, she plays lady-scientist Faith Montaine. In both, she played the very pretty and capable woman -- though will a dash of damsel in distress when needed for the heros to act heroic.

Bottom line? MiOS is less well known than its sister film, The Human Duplicators but is a decent enough story, and well enough told for a low-budget production. Cut it some slack for the marginal models and polyester fiber fungus effects. The space drama does not depend on them.


pmc said...

if i described a alien invasion film, do you think you could give me a title?

Nightowl said...

If I've seen, sure. Let's give it a shot. What do you have?

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