From the DVD case: Four men and a girl blast-off on mankind’s first expedition to the moon, but due to a cataclysmic cosmic event are sent hurtling out of control to Mars. Once on the red planet, the crew discover an atomic war-ravaged world inhabited by mutants! (1950, b&w)
Mark says: Rocketship X-M was rushed into production after George Pal announced his production of Destination Moon. The idea was to capitalize on Pal’s announcement and beat him to the box office. This little bit of underhandedness has earned Rocketship X-M the distinction of being “the first space exploration film of the Atomic Age.”
In terms of production and science, Destination Moon beats Rocketship X-M hands down. But R-XM ultimately proves to be the more interesting film because of its focus on the human element.
Rocketship X-M is as much a drama as it is a sci-fi adventure. Osa Massen (Cry of the Werewolf) as Dr. Lisa Van Horn and Lloyd Bridges (yeah, the same guy from Sea Hunt) as Col. Floyd Graham play the romantic leads. Lisa is a scientist who thinks only of her research, and Floyd is a pilot who thinks only of turning Lisa into a “woman.” This film is littered with male chauvinist pigs, which is part of the fun.
Speaking of romance, there is a scene just before the blast-off between Morris Ankrum (Beginning of the End, Earth vs the Flying Saucers) and John Emery (Kronos) where they get so sentimental you think they might kiss. Luckily, this movie isn’t that far ahead of its time.
From the benefit of a modern perspective, the science in Rocketship X-M is laughable. Their space suits are not much more than leather jackets and ties, but what is more amusing is how long the astronauts wait before boarding the rocketship. Fifteen minutes before lift-off and they are holding a press conference! When they finally do get into the ship, they act surprised to find they barely have three minutes to get prepared. Great fun.
The sequences on Mars are shot in “sepia color,” which simply means they have a red tint to them. I found the Mars segment to be unsatisfying and a little boring, despite its overall importance to the story. Mars was apparently a great civilization, but because of a nuclear apocalypse the inhabitants were reduced to mutant cave creatures. This may have been the first movie to warn of the ghastly consequences of atomic war.
Rocketship X-M has a surprisingly tragic ending. I remember being a little shocked the first time I viewed it. It’s certainly not your typical 1950s sci-fi/adventure finale, and gets a few extra points for this boldness.
The message the movie imparts to us is clear: Despite setback and tragedy, progress must go on!
Directed by Kurt Neumann (She Devil, Kronos).
Scene to watch for: Floyd and Dr. Van Horn wax poetic about moonlight.
Line to listen for: “They are completely off their course, moving at incredible velocity…out to limitless space.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.