Friday, March 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Riders to the Stars (1954)

I'm a fan of both William Lundigan and Richard Carlson, so when I learned they costarred in RIDERS TO THE STARS, I had to see it!

Lundigan and Carlson play scientists recruited by a U.S. government agency headed by Herbert Marshall. The men are wanted for an elite program which will train astronauts to travel to the edge of space and nab a meteor, which is urgently needed for scientific study, and then return to earth in what seems to be an early design of the space shuttle.

The film's opening scenes are quite interesting, as the men are put through a battery of tests reminiscent of the later classic about the origins of the U.S. space program, THE RIGHT STUFF (1983); the film's desert setting also calls to mind the era so carefully recreated in THE RIGHT STUFF. The movies were made nearly three decades apart, but they'd make a great "compare and contrast" double bill.

The film shifts back and forth from science which seems both familiar and prescient to flights of fancy which could only happen in a '50s sci-fi film. Given the huge numbers of people who work at NASA's Mission Control, I was particularly amused at the notion of a tiny group of about four people monitoring and supervising three astronauts in three separate rockets launched simultaneously!

The only part of the film I didn't enjoy very much was the space flights of the last 20 minutes. The film turns unexpectedly dark, and there was a disturbing shot which I found quite gruesome. I'm guessing some little kids who saw this movie in theaters in the '50s later had nightmares!

The movie doesn't appear to have had much of a budget and it may not always be realistic, but it's interesting, and I find that time spent with Lundigan and Carlson is always enjoyable. They may be relatively unappreciated actors today, but they were smart, attractive men who did a lot of good work over long careers. Given their tendency to play straight arrow types on screen, it's also nice to know that in real life each of these gentlemen was married just once, for decades.

RIDERS TO THE STARS was the first film directed by the multi-talented Carlson. He was in the midst of appearing in a remarkable run of science fiction films which also included THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), which was recently released on DVD; IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953); and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954).

In 1957-58 Carlson also starred in Frank Capra's outstanding science films HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957) and THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS (1957); Carlson additionally took over directing duties from Capra for the third film in the series, THE UNCHAINED GODDESS (1958). Carlson also directed an episode of MEN INTO SPACE, a late '50s TV show about the space program which starred none other than William Lundigan.

Producer-editor Herbert L. Strock was the uncredited director of Carlson's acting scenes.

The cast also includes Martha Hyer as a scientist working with Marshall, who provides a somewhat perfunctory love interest for Lundigan. Dawn Addams has a scene as Carlson's model girlfriend. Robert Karnes, Lawrence Dobkin, Dan Riss, Michael Fox, King Donovan, and James Best were also in the cast.

It appears the screenplay by Curt Siodmak was turned into a novel. The cinematography was by Stanley Cortez (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS). Joseph Biroc also did uncredited photography on the film, which runs a well-paced 81 minutes.

RIDERS TO THE STARS is not available on VHS or DVD. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies next month on April 19th and 25th, 2012.

My appreciation to my friend Mel for helping me to see this film!


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

"Riders to the Stars" sounds vaguely familiar, but that's neither here nor there. Come on, April! As you say, time spent with those gentlemen is always a pleasant time.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

One of these days I hope you'll get to see Carlson's amazing second film as a director, the stunning 1954 Western FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER. He plainly had a gift for directing, maybe even more than for acting. I don't know what else to say about this right now--it's just a very important movie to me. It has one of the most beautiful and erotic love scenes ever between Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, never heard of that Western and went straight to IMDb to read up on it - one reviewer quotes you! (Would love to read the referenced piece by you on it. ) it sounds great and is now on my wish list!

Hope you'll enjoy this in April, Caftan Woman!

Best wishes,

12:33 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Hey Laura, how did ya like that title song?!


5:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Brad,

The song was kind of moody and evocative, very different. Worked for me. :)

I'm still trying to forget that creepy shot in the flight sequence, though! Shudder. LOL.

Best wishes,

5:53 PM  

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