The Deadly Mantis
“An equal and opposite reaction” to an Antarctic volcano loosens the monster in the Arctic. The several lines of radar defenses extending up from the 49th parallel into the reaches of Arctic terrain, each set up in adverse conditions, “the largest secret operation since D-Day”, are described. Documentary sequences show the construction of a typical base, and radar stations guarding by land, sea and air.
The film is a pure satire of the whole venture, laid out in perfect seriousness. The deadly, gigantic creature is identified from a broken leg-spur, all exoskeleton and no red corpuscles (like Butley’s Reg, “hard do’s and no bloody metaphors”). It flies south to its typical habitat, devouring men and wrecking their habitations until a fighter plane collides with it over New York City, it’s finally quelled in a river tunnel.
Craig Stevens is the Air Force colonel on the scene, William Hopper a top palæontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, Alix Talton “editor of the museum mag”. Special effects quite beyond compare furnish the creature.
20 Million Miles to Earth
The shock of the images is immediate and lasts through all the film. A gigantic rocketship lands in the sea near fishermen off the coast of Sicily, they enter the floating wreckage and, amid vast control boards and clouds of vapor, remove two injured U.S. Air Force pilots before it sinks.
“Are we children, or are we men of the sea?” One fisherman encourages another with this query.
The men of space are taken to a village hospital, the only doctor is out delivering a baby “or three or four,” a medical student tends them, an American girl traveling with her grandfather, who is a doctor with the Giardino Zoologico in Rome. Behind their car they tow a laboratory trailer.
One pilot survives, the mission to Venus has brought back the egg of a Venusian creature, it thrives in the Earth’s atmosphere and grows from a reptilian homunculus with a tail into a formidable giant.
They study it at the Giardino Zoologico for its adaptation to the harsh conditions of Venus, it breaks loose into one of Harryhausen’s most hallucinatory sequences, a fight with an elephant in the streets of Rome.
The creature disappears into the Tiber and rises fiercely, the true Fellinian moment (before “Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio” and Il Casanova di Federico Fellini), ripping up the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Finally, it is killed in the Colosseum, “not ferocious unless provoked”.
Ironically, the film has not been well received, either. Nevertheless, the pilot and the medical student keep their dinner date.
The decisive influence is certainly on Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes from the opening crash and all that follows.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
The opening credit sequence evokes Persian illuminated manuscripts, to the accompaniment of Herrmann’s adroit score.
The film is an epithalamion on Sinbad’s marriage to the Princess and the evil interference of a wizard in quest of Aladdin’s lamp.
A cyclops has it, on an island. The wizard provides a wedding entertainment by transforming a lady-in-waiting and a cobra into a four-armed snake-tailed dancing girl nearly throttled by her own asp, and is banished. In revenge, he reduces the Princess to the size of a ladyfinger, and obliges Sinbad to take him to the island for an antidote.
Now come the nightmares, of which the cyclops is one, with its huge spiked club and its taste for human flesh roasted on a spit. The water of the island is said by the wizard to be poisoned, a gigantic two-headed bird jealously guards its egg (the broken shell is a key ingredient of the alchemical antidote). These visions of matrimonial terror give way to the wizard’s apparitions, a fighting skeleton with sword and shield, a dragon chained to the wall of a cave. The sailors’ weapon is a giant crossbow.
Harryhausen’s artistry is beyond praise. Juran’s direction is especially remarkable for its sudden accesses of luxuriance in vistas of Persia or a steep island valley, or a set design à la Vincent Korda.
The Princess in her miniature enameled traveling compartment (and in the lamp, with its boy genie) is an immediate source of I Dream of Jeannie, and the storm-tossed sailors tormented by a high-pitched oscillation on their approach to the island are recalled by Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
First Men in the Moon
Cavorite deflects gravitation, things fly from the earth when it is applied as paint. Cavor’s iron sphere rebounds to the moon with himself (Lionel Jeffries) aboard and Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and Bedford’s fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer).
The Eternal Triangle is the title of Bedford’s first work for the London stage of 1899, he has written only the title when Cavor appears, wishing for safety’s sake to buy the cottage Bedford is renting at Dymchurch, on a disused canal.
The moon has gold (Frau im Mond), Bedford sells the cottage to Kate for money to invest, the bailiff arrives. Kate is caught up in the sphere when she tries to remonstrate with Bedford after equipping him with an elephant gun for the voyage.
The Selenites live under the lunar surface in tunnels, their advanced civilization is powered by sunlight captured in large lenses. They are small, green, insect-creatures with folded wings and simple horns, they fear an invasion from the many-peopled earth. Cavor stays behind, he is a scientist, Bedford and Kate return to Earth.
65 years later, which is where the film begins, U.N.1 discovers the small Union Jack planted by Cavor, piercing a claim for Victoria written on the back of the bailiff’s summons in haste. The international crew find only collapsing ruins of the Selenite kingdom, destroyed by the “terrible cold” Cavor took with him as a result of hurriedly exiting his hothouse where the sphere was launched and which had been kept at 123° to prevent the molten cavorite from cooling too quickly. Kate had cautioned him in vain.
They landed off the Zanzibar coast, Arnold and Kate, the sphere sank, no proof remained. The old man in a nursing home is visited by eager press and mystified space agency staff, among them another gentleman with a cold.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times found this “dull”, many critics have dismayed good sense by failing to notice the performers led by Jeffries, the superb work of Ray Harryhausen, Laurie Johnson’s score, the great script by Nigel Kneale and Jan Read.