Digital Reference Library
Kids Television Shows
Baby Boomer Family
Space Movies of the 50's & 60's
Section will include information on the history, and collectable toy and memorabilia related to each film
Back to Space Story
One of the first screen space adventures was The Flame Barrier, a film by Paul Landres, the story of the first satellite that returned to earth, crash landing in Mexico. When the crew ventures into the jungles in search for the downed satellite all hell breaks loose, as they see outside the craft a strange protoplasm that devours human flesh in April 1958.
Then Roger Corman’s War of the Satellites appeared, and an "unknown force" declares war against planet Earth when the United Nations disobeys warnings to cease and desist in its attempts at assembling the first satellite in the atmosphere.
Nowhere was the tension between the two countries more pronounced than in the exchange between a reporter and a military scientist in Jack Arnold’s The Space Children, released in June, 1958. A glowing brain-like creature arrives on a beach near a rocket test site via a teleportation beam. The alien communicates telepathically with the children of scientists. The kids start doing the alien's bidding as the adults try to find out what's happening to their unruly offspring.
In television, by year’s end, no fewer than eight series of what trade publication Telefilm described as ”sputnikers,” or the new entry of ”the science-fiction adventure, capitalizing, on the space-mindedness of 1958,” were made available to networks and syndications. Included in this group were two titles adapted from motion pictures, Paramount Sunset Productions’ Conquest of Space, developed by Alfred "Rip" Van Ronkel, who had co-scripted George Pal and Irving Pichel’s Destination Moon (1950) and 20th Century-Fox’s On the Threshold of Space.
Science Fiction Theatre, an anthology series produced by Ivan Tors of Flipper fame tried to expand the frontiers of space and technology by dramatizing the "next step" science might take in finding a better tomorrow. It worked to the producer’s advantage when the national mood became consumed with the notion of reaching the moon before the Russians; Ziv Productions was in a position to create and sell to the CBS television network the story of ongoing space exploration highlighted by the continuing competition between the United States and Russia.
Originally titled Moon Probe and later simply Space, CBS premiered Ziv’s Men into Space on Wednesday night, September 30, 1959, nearly two years to the day after the launching of Sputnik I, and more dramatically only 17 days after yet another monumental feat performed by the Soviet Union, the circling of the moon by the Russian space probe, Lunik II.
There is little doubt that the launching of Sputnik served as impetus for the production of Men into Space, and considering the political climate of the times, just such a program was needed to inspire confidence in America’s ability to conquer space. Sputnik had struck a serious blow to the American ego and sense of complacency. Suddenly the country found itself a distant second in a "space race" with a country whose leadership had pledged to "bury" us and had chillingly promised that America’s children would live under communism.
Destination Moon was produced by George Pál, who later brought us When Worlds Collide, The War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine. Pál commissioned the script by James O'Hanlon and Rip Van Ronkel. The film was directed by Irving Pichel, shot in Technicolor, distributed in the United States by Eagle-Lion Classics.
It was the first major science fiction film produced in the United States dealing seriously with the prospect, problems and technology of space travel. It won the Academy Award for Visual Effects for effects director Lee Zavitz. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Ernst Fegte, George Sawley). The eminent science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein contributed significantly to the script and served as a technical adviser. Heinlein also published a novella of the same name based on the screenplay about the same time as the release of the film.Hollywood.
When it came to the fear of aliens from another planet there was only one that represented the countries fears, in Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a film I watched hundreds of times edited on local television. It mirrored the Korean War that had just started the Soviet acquisition of the Atomic bomb; in the minds of many adults it was an all out war between “them” and “us.”
Everyone’s favorite classic Forbidden Planet (1956) featured that god among robots, Robbie the Robot, a 1956 science fiction film in CinemaScope and Metrocolor directed by Fred M. Wilcox and starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen. The characters and setting were inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, and the plots are very similar.
The film features a number of Oscar-nominated special effects, groundbreaking use of an all-electronic music score, and the first screen appearance of both Robby the Robot and the C-57D flying saucer starship.
Take notice that all the rocket designs in these films looked like rebuilt versions of the V2 rocket of Werner Von Braun. At the same time in Destination Moon and Rocketship XM the producers intercut real V2 stock footage into the special effects to show take off. In Journey to the Seventh Planet (1961) they show a lift off from Earth using stock footage of an Atlas rocket and then reverse the footage when landing. Even though they had an Atlas-like rocket landing on the moon, they then used a Thor rocket to launch again. No one cared that it was different only because it was so exciting just to see something like that.
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