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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Supersonic Saucer

Before launching into sci-fi films of 1972, we'll start the year off with a bit of digression. This week's digression is back to 1956 and a very obscure British sci-fi for the children's film market. Supersonic Saucer (SS) was the last film produced by Gaumont-British Productions. No theatrical poster was readily available, hence the screen capture of the title. GBP was much more active in the 30s and 40s, though in decline in the 50s. The writer of the story was Frank Wells, younger son of H.G. Wells. One of the curious things about SS is how little has been written about it on the internet already. What there is, seems to mostly include one questionable review, picked up and repeated on other sites. More on that below.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A group of students is on a field trip at an observatory. While Rodney is taking his turn looking through the telescope at Venus, he sees a flying saucer spin off towards Earth. No one believes him, of course. Later that day, most all the children depart the boarding school for the holiday break. All, except Sumac and Greta, who haven't the money to travel to their far-away parents. Rodney and his little brother Adolphus, are the sons of the schoolmaster. After all the parents left, the schoolmaster's family are putting all the school's silver trophies back into the safe. The shifty janitor sees this. He goes to tell his boss, #1, about it. Meanwhile, Sumac and Greta play outside. They hear a whirring, and see a little white saucer land in a tree. This morphs into a little white puppet creature with big eyes. They can understand it, telepathically. They take it back to show Rodney. They decide to name it Meba. The girls telepathically "read" more backstory that Meba is a young Venusian who just learned to turn into a flying saucer and flew too high (i.e. to Earth). He wants to learn more about earthlings. The children are hungry so Meba flies off to town and brings a load of sweets from a bakery. The kids say, no, they can't eat what's not theirs, so Meba takes it all back. Rodney wishes they had a proper fire (in the fireplace), so Meba causes the drapes and furniture to burst into flames. No, not like that. Meba puts out the fires. While the girls are chatting in bed, they lament not having a million Pounds to go visit their families. Meba flies off and brings a million Pounds from the bank. In the morning, the kids discover the loot. Meba can't take it back in broad daylight, so they put it in the safe. The janitor sees this too. He tells #1, who then plans a burglary with his gang. That night, Meba takes the money back, but the burglars steal the trophies. The janitor kidnaps Meba as a potentially useful burglary tool. (He got in and out of the bank with a million pounds, after all.) While captive in a box at the gang's hideout, Meba sends out distress thought that the children pick up. They each arrive at the abandoned house. The gang try to capture the kids, but are too inept. Greta frees Meba, who sets a fire to bring the firemen. They come, with a policeman who arrest the inept bad guys. The kids get a hefty reward for capturing the notorious gang. The girls get to go see their parents. Meba is free to return to Venus. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Well, it's a kids' movie. It's supposed to be fun. The little alien, Meba, is so benign and naive, compared to contemporary mid-50s aliens, that it's a refreshing change. The stairway gag is mildly amusing.

Cold War Angle
There is none. The moral of this story is "Be careful what you wish for." and that crime doesn't pay -- especially for bumbling oafs.

Spielberg Rip-off? -- As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, someone had posted they thought Spielberg plagiarized SS to make his 1982 film E.T. That one short review appears to have been copied, translated and recopied across various internet sites. There are some general similarities between E.T. and SS, but almost as many differences. E.T. is not an updated copy of SS. The two films do have a lone alien (who is not menacing), and a group of kids as protagonists. The little alien has some amazing powers. There are a group of adults "after" the alien -- but for different reasons. The original reviewer said that SS had a scene in which the kids take Meba for a bike ride and that this scene was proof of Spielberg's plagiarism. The copy I watched did not have any such scene. Perhaps it was cut. (My copy ran 49 minutes. Imdb says 50 minutes) Did it happen in the "missing" minute? Even if such a scene existed in SS, it was hardly the pivotal plot scene it was in E.T. In the older film, the alien came to earth alone (not left behind) and could leave anytime. The case for plagiarism seems weak.

If anyone has actually SEEN this Meba-on-bike scene, (not just read about it) feel free to let me know via the Comments feature.

No Growing Up -- All four child actors in SS did only a few movies as child actors, but none of them went on to adult acting careers.

Cheap Puppet Success -- As befitting a kids movie, the alien is very obviously a simple puppet with movable eyes. No serious attempt was made for "realism" (whatever that might mean for an alien) Even in the mid-50s, no adult movie could get away with such a cheap puppet. (The Giant Claw as an example of such failure) The Meba puppet has no mouth, does not speak and does not move except for a bit of turning left or right, or hunkering down to turn into a cheaply animated flying saucer-critter. The kids tote Meba about like a doll. While adult viewers could not stretch their imaginations to allow such a puppet to "be" an alien from Venus, kids obviously could. Puppets in kids shows were common. (Howdy Doody, anyone?) Kids had little trouble letting their imaginations allow puppets to "live." The work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, in such programs as Stingray and The Thunderbirds was probably on the tail end of this age of innocence. By the late 60s, puppets just couldn't cut it anymore.

GB's Quiet End -- Gaumont-British Pictures Corporation was a big name in British cinema in the 30s. It started as a subsidiary of the French Gaumont company, but by 1927 was wholly independent. GB produced some famous early Alfred Hitchcock films, such as The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It also produced pre-nuclear sci-fi films: The Tunnel and The Man Who Lived Again (starring Boris Karloff). Through the early 40s, war and spy films were common. After the war, GB shifted quietly into purely educational or documentary films. Supersonic Saucer appears to be one of the last films in their list before GB was acquired by the Rank Corporation.

Bottom line? While quite obscure, there are a few movie sites on the internet which will sell copies of SS. Whether the price is worth it, depends on the viewer. As a kids film, it is predictable and repetitive for adults. Still, the film has nostalgic innocent-age entertainment value.


Randall Landers said...

Sadly, I've never seen this film, bu after taking a look at some on-line photos of Meba, I'm not sure I could. It's even more primitive than the puppets from FIREBALL XL-5. I don't think I could get past it.

Unknown said...

I saw this twice at Saturday morning pictures and would love to again, 45ish years later. I remembered the name 'Meba' and the tray of cakes. Really pleased to read your synopsis. I see I can rent it on-line and will do so very soon.
Thank you.

Nightowl said...

Glad you liked the review, Sara. SS is a cute movie for its low-budget innocence -- an interesting flip-side to the usual deadly monster aliens.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this. I've been looking for the Meba-on-a-bicycle scene, after reading about it numerous places -- including Wikipedia, I think. I watched the version on Youtube and saw no sign of it. Interesting case of everyone repeating inflammatory "facts" without actually verifying them.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Meba on bike scene,although not shown, the janitor must have taken Meba on his bike to the other crooks. His bike had a basket at the front similar to the E.T. bike, which is perhaps what the earlier reviewer is referring to. When I first saw Mega, I was immediately reminded of the Halloween scene in E.T.

Unknown said...

Supersonic Saucer was shown on a new TV channel called 'Talking Pictures TV' in the UK. It's on Freeview 81 or Sky 343.
I'd never heard of the film before but was astonished to see the similarities between this and ET.
Watch this channel for more obscure 50s B movies and more - great stuff. Didn't know there was so many films that had got lost in time.
One of my favourites is 'Hell Drivers' a b/w movie about truck drivers trying to race each other whilst delivering gravel.
It features an immense list of top stars to go on to be much famous: Stanley Baker, Patrick Mcgohan, William Hartnell (first Dr Who), Gordon Jackson (The Professionals), Alfie Bass and Sean Connery (Mr 007) playing just a bit part to the leading stars. Who ever would have thought he would go on and top them all. Watch it, its a great story and lovely the way they have speeded up the trucks to make it look like they are going round bends like F1 cars. Bless. Lets get back to great stuff like this.