Director Ed Wood has often been credited with making the worst movie ever.


For the kind of sci-fi that sticks to your frontal lobe for a lifetime, you must look to something a lot less classy than George Lucas’ New Age Wookiee-fest.

You’re talking the 1950s.

The production of that single decade is astounding. There are hundreds of them, really cheesy space monster movies, made with the collective budget of a middle-size Levittown, N.Y., household. During Lent.

Those films, from “Rocketship X-M” in 1950 to “Teenagers From Outer Space” in 1959, outlined a genre. Even today’s most up-to-the-state-of-the-art FXtravaganza will manage to pay homage to those cheese-athons of yore.

You know the drill: An elderly scientist with a beautiful daughter discovers a new planet or an underground civilization that will destroy the world, or at least a small out-of-the-way English coastal village. All the best World War II stock footage of tanks and cannon cannot gun down the menace until our hero invents a new ray or oxygen destroyer that manages to vaporize the menace or at least cause it to doze off, meanwhile winning the daughter, whose name, by the way, is always a transgender name like Chris or Pat. (The hero has to be surprised at the beginning that the elderly scientist’s assistant is a “girl.”)


And at the end she hugs her man, who is usually dressed in a leather flight jacket, and they stare off into the empty ocean and she asks him if the danger is over, if the flying saucer/interplanetary dinosaur/giant centipede will ever come back, and he looks pensive and says: “Keep watching the skies.”


And the acting in these low-budget classics is sometimes mind-blowing. Hollywood didn’t put its Gary Coopers and Cary Grants in cheap genre flicks. No, it drew from the shallow end of the pool of talent that included such luminaries as William Lundigan and Lyle Talbot. Most of them made Al Gore look as animated as Roger Rabbit.

I mean, let’s face it: Mark Hamill may be a lousy actor, but he’s no Sonny Tufts.

What is so surprising about those awful films is just how much affection we feel for them when they show up on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” or during a baseball rain delay.

Actually, there are two types of affection we feel for them. For there are two different ways they stand out.


“Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1958) is the archetype for this. Director Ed Wood has often been credited with making the worst movie ever. But this is calumny. There is something naively loopy about “Plan 9” that makes us cherish its every goofy blunder. Like when the scene shifts from day to night and back again, with no continuity. Like when its star Bela Lugosi died and Wood replaced him midproduction with his wife’s chiropractor, a head and a half taller than Lugosi.

And the dialogue: “Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”

And: “Explode the sunlight here, gentlemen, and you explode the universe.”

Audiences howl with laughter all the way through the movie. Nobody could have made anything so cheesy on purpose.

But Ed Wood wasn’t alone. There are plenty of bad movies, with plywood sets, paper-plate flying saucers and cardboard acting.

But there is another sort of film that we love, too. In those, a miserable script and lumpy acting are somehow saved by either a director who makes more of it all than you have any right to expect, or by an idea or image that sticks in the mind like a dream.

What alien is more inexpressibly other than the glass-helmeted homunculus from “The Man From Planet X” (1951)? And what planet is more memorably odd than the partly solarized, red-colored landscape from “Angry Red Planet” (1959)?

And there is a subgenre in this, in which such moviemakers as Ivan Tors tried naively but sincerely to show what space travel or robots would be like. “Destination Moon” (1950), or “Gog” (1954), for instance.

The movies are not actually good, but they have good hearts.

The ’50s had its share of larger budget sci-fi, too. Some of them are classics, such as “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (1951). They transcended their genre.

Some people consider “Forbidden Planet” 1956 to be a minor masterpiece.

But it is those benighted films such as “Robot Monster” (1953), with its man in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet, or “The Cape Canaveral Monsters” (1960), by the same director, with its out-of-shape zombies dressed in spandex with fried eggs for eyes, that truly deserve worship.


In any case, the sci-fi films fascinated from the 1950s those authors and the text he writes. Thank you. 

R. Nilsen .AR


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