Tuesday, June 2, 2015


When I was a kid (and yes, this is yet another blog entry that starts with those hallowed words), there were monster trading cards. I bought as many of these packages of delight as I could find and afford. They usually cost a nickel or a dime at best and contained several cards printed with black & white images from classic horror, science fiction and fantasy films. Most of these contained some type of humorous caption. Oh, and there was a stick of gum that appeared to be manufactured from the same card stock material used for the cards.

One of the lines of monster trading cards was the Monster Laffs Midgees issued by Topps in 1963. The actual cards were slightly smaller than regular monster cards and they came on a 3-card, perforated panel. They looked like this:

The images on these cards came almost entirely from films either produced or distributed by American International Pictures. The cards contained several images from a weird looking science fiction  film. These images aptured by imagination. I had no idea what the title of the film was, only that it looked like something that I just had to see.
I didn't discover the identity of this mystery science fiction film until a few years later when Forry Ackerman ran some of those same stills in an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS and identified the movie. I now had a name to go with those images: JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET. Still, that's all I knew about the film for many, many years. I finally got a chance to see the movie a few years ago when it was released on DVD. My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched it one afternoon. I watched it again yesterday, and now, after two viewings, I can safely say that any of my remaining curiosity regarding this film has been extinguished.
Made in 1961, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET is an American/Danish co-production. American actor John Agar is the star and all of the other actors (male and female) are Danish with bad English language dubbing. The story takes place in the year 2001 when the United Nations has established a benevolent one-world government. A spaceship is sent to explore the seventh planet in our solar system. Waiting for them on the planet, is an immense alien brain who has the ability to probe the five crew members subconscious and materialize their darkest fears and deepest desires. These include a variety of fake looking monsters (including a cyclopean rat-demon that is brought to life via crude stop-motion animation) and a bevy of hot Danish babes.
The idea of a planetary consciousness would later be explored in Stanislaw Lem's novel SOLARIS, which was first published in 1961. Who knows, maybe Lem was inspired by JOURNEY. SOLARIS has been filmed twice, the first time in Russia in 1972 and again by Steven Soderbergh in the U.S. in 2002.
It's an imaginative concept but unfortunately, director Sid Pink and screenwriter Ib Melchior (who collaborated, with roles reversed, on THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)) do nothing to develop the idea to its' fullest extent. It's never explained exactly what the giant, one-eyed brain is or how it came to be on the planet but it does reveal (through one of the female constructs), that it wants to return to earth and conquer our planet. The sets look like they're made of Styrofoam with lots of multi-colored gel lights providing "atmospheric" illumination. The animated rat monster is bad but to make matters worse, when the crewmen are supposed to be encountering another monster of some kind, the producers splice in blue-tinted footage of a tarantula, footage which is lifted directly from Bert I. Gordon's EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958). The actual monster that was constructed for this sequence is glimpsed only briefly but I recall that it was featured on one of those trading cards, along with a still of an astronaut whose lower legs have been somehow dissolved down to the bone. That scene does not occur in the film but it's an image that has stayed with me for all of these years.
The astronauts have cool looking spacesuits (except for the rubber gloves which make them look like dishwashers). They all carry ray guns but again, the budget was so low that instead of inserting an optical effect for the ray blasts, the producers simply scratched the film, leaving a white streak to stand in for the blasts. This is a film making special effect that my buddy Blake Brown and I used when we were making our own movies back in high school. It's simple, effective and cheap (free). But it is time consuming. Still, it's the best two no-budget filmmakers could do at the time. I expect something better from a motion picture that I'm asked to pay money to see.
The women are also a problem. The crewmen know that they are created by the brain but they react to them and interact with them (kissing, hugging and lord knows what else), as if they're real flesh and blood women. One of them even comes on board as the ship blasts off at the climax but she quickly fades into nothingness since the brain has been destroyed. Oh, and how many science fiction films have a love song sung over the closing credits? JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET does, and it's an absolutely dreadful ditty written by Jerry Capehart and Mitchell Tableporter and sung by Otto Brandenburg. You have to hear it to believe it. Or not.
Despite all of it's many flaws, I derived a fair amount of nostalgic comfort while watching JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET again yesterday. Yeah it's a bad movie but it took me back to the days when monster trading cards contained mysteries and secrets that I still have yet to entirely unlock.
Oh, and for those counting planets at home, the seventh planet in our solar system is Uranus which makes the film's alternate title, well, you know. You may thank me for going this long before making that obvious joke.
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET can't be recommended but it's worth seeing at least once if you're a hard-core 1950s (and 1960s) science fiction film fan.  

No comments:

Post a Comment