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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Omegans

Billy Wilder's less-famous brother W. Lee, brought us some solid B-grade sci-fi in the 50s. The Omegans was his last project. The lack of a theater poster suggests this film was shot for television. Since W. Lee Wilder gave us some memorable sci-fi in the 50s, The Omegans is included in this collection. Additionally, the film shows up on some lists as a sci-fi, but the connection is tenuous. It is more of a drama (melodrama) and horror film. There is some mention of radiation in the river waters, and something one of the scientists calls "Omega Rays," but this is more of a prop to support what is essentially a story about a jilted husband scheming to dispatch his adulterous wife and her lover before they dispatch him.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Chuck, the hunky jungle guide, lets a large poisonous snake out of a cage. It writhes towards Valdemar who is painting a picture. Val wife Linda, modeling, alerts him. He's saved. Close call. Linda and Chuck are trying to kill Val for the insurance money. Linda chickened out, but rationalizes that she wants Val to sell a few more paintings first. Later, Chuck, Linda and Val meet two scientists, Mac and Salani. They want an expedition up to the Black River to check out native legends. Could be valuable minerals. Everyone agrees to a joint trip. Them to sample, Val to paint. (Insert much jungle travel footage.) At the camp, Mac and Salani detect radiation. Take some samples of the water. They also get fleeting glimpses of some albino natives. Chuck and Linda swim in the river. A glowing shape in the water kills the lead porter,Tumba, one night. Everyone goes back to town. The scientists discover that the water makes things glow, and the test mouse becomes increasingly thirsty when it drinks the water. (Insert scenes of adulterous intrigue and jealous husband). The scientists show Val the the mouse eventually died of old age. It glowed, sizzled, smoked and then disappeared. The radioactivity caused it to "self-cremate." Later, Val shakes hands with Chuck and notices a glowing residue. He also notices glowing handprints on Linda's back. Deciding enough is enough, Val follows Linda to Chuck's hotel. He buys a small handgun and lurks in the stairway. Linda and Chuck come out talking of their plan to kill off Val and get the insurance money soon. Remembering the sizzling dead mouse, Val hatches a different plan. He has everyone go back up to Black River so he can paint another painting. They all go. Val has Linda and Chuck swim in the river many times. Val also dumps out the group's water supply so the two of them have to drink river water. They get more and more thirsty. One night, Linda waits for a rendezvous with Chuck, but a glowing albino surprises her. She faints. People eventually find her. One evening, Val and Oki see a glowing shape in the river. Oki shoots it. It bubbles and sizzles, then fades out. Val sends Chuck back to town for supplies. Meanwhile, Val has Linda swim a lot. She gets incrementally more and more "age" makeup. That night, Oki s In town, Chuck notices that he's aging too. He drives back to the camp. At camp, Linda finally sees herself and her age makeup. Chuck arrives with his gun drawn. Oki (the new lead porter) shoots Chuck to stop him. Before he dies, Chuck shoots at Val, but hits Linda. She falls. Both lie on the grass glowing. They sizzle, smoke and phase through double exposures of skeletons. Oki and the porters look on, horrified at the curse. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is a nostalgic familiarity in "radiation" playing its 50s role of mysterious boogey man. There is also a strong flavor of 40s jungle movies too.

Cold War Angle
As with many 50s B grade sci-fi, radiation is the vague villain. Radiation kills.

Late Blooming 50s -- William Lee Wilder produced and directed some of the mid-50s "best" bland B grade sci-fi. He gave us Phantom From Space in '53. He followed that with Killers From Space in 54 -- perhaps his best-known film. He dabbled in Yeti sci-fi with The Snow Creature in 54. He resurrected Nostradamus (or at least his head) in Man Without a Body in '57. Most of his movies play out as crime dramas with not-very-ambitious directing.

Dangling White Thread -- The glowing albino natives (the "Omegans"?) are a poorly interwoven story thread. Other than causing Linda to faint, they had little to do. Her fainting derailed their rendezvous, but many other things could have done that in lieu of a glowing albino. Apparently, the glowing albinos swam underwater. When Oki shot the second glowing shape in the water, it sizzled and smoked -- the mode of death for glowing things in the film. With this connection, the glowing albino probably caused Tumba to drown, but there's no explanation for why the glowing albinos attack people.

Role Reversal -- Others have pointed out the interesting reversal between The Omegans and Hammer's Countess Dracula. In the first film, actress Ingrid Pitt plays a young women bathes and gets more and more age makeup. In the latter film, she plays and old woman who bathes (in the blood of virgins) then gets less and less age makeup.

Colored Noir -- As a crime drama, The Omegans is essentially a film noir story of a wife and her lover planning to bump off hubby for the money. His preemptive revenge could well have been achieved without radiation and mysterious glowing albinos. If the story had been shot in black and white, and some other form of slow death employed, the film would have made a fine film noir movie. However, Waldon Weeland's story included a radioactive river, so the net result is a B-grade sci-fi noir.

Bottom line? The Omegans is only marginally a sci-fi film. The acting is marginal and usually flat. Fans of low quality 50s films will find more of the same to enjoy. Viewers expecting tight drama or action, will probably be bored. Fans of W. Lee Wilder's work will want to catch his last film.

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