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Monday, September 17, 2018

Corman Cashing In On Sputnik


Ads Make Better Satellite War Than Movie

This was cut-rate fruit of the Sputnik craze. Roger Corman claimed that he got it together within mere weeks of the Russian satellite launch, but release date vs. Sputnik circling indicate months between the two, and besides, there was plentiful product to hook actual events with sci-fi at least roughly on point. Pics that caught Sputnik tailwind included MGM's The Invisible Boy and Enemy From Space from United Artists, both out during Fall 1957 when headlines were hottest, War Of The Satellites arriving well after Sputnik re-entry and burnout (January 1958), but distributing Allied Artists pinned a ripe second feature to Satellites which was Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman, since an object of cult immortality. I'll bet in fact that auction sales of posters for 50 Foot Woman have well surpassed total receipts AA collected back in 1958. Sci-fi combos, nearly always black-and-white, did a grab-and-run with whatever could be scooped over a week stand at hardtops or (predominantly) drive-ins. Posters did a heaviest lift, and this double-bill had doozy art for both elements, even if frankly lying as to content (ray-gun brandishing space walker against rocket-in-flight background, the 50 Foot giantess plucking cars off a freeway). Truest auteur behind much of 50's sci-fi may have been Reynold Brown and other artists who created stunner bally for otherwise impoverished weirdies.




Once out of theatres, War Of The Satellites took lumps from television (so brief at 66 minutes that it was actually padded for tube runs). Roger Corman had charge of the negative and licensed War, plus Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Not Of This Earth for a DVD triple from the Shout! Factory. I cropped War Of The Satellites from full-frame to 1.85 projection and got a nice result. Seeing it like this at least helps the film play better, if not so vivid as under a blanket of 1958 stars or amidst butter corned aroma of a matinee, but that era isn't coming back, so this will do. War Of The Satellites is best enjoyed on basis of what remarkable things Roger Corman did with string-bean budget and clocks ticking mightily against him. Being soft for sci-fi helps, and there's sport of ID'ing sound effects and stock footage cribbed from someone else's older movie. A standout visual, shown over, then over, and so on, has elephantine missiles matted behind full-size buildings, a shot too lavish for Corman and staff to have rigged, so I'm wondering where it came from --- looks like pre-dated British sci-fi to me, but would '58 be too soon to borrow from one of the Quatermass thrillers? War Of The Satellites is worth the watch where one ponders such issue, and not half-bad for a yarn it spins of alien interference with our space program. Dialogue warns against letting rival planets dictate space policy, a pointed reference to Soviets maybe using orbit as a combat staging area.

6 Comments:

Blogger b piper said...

Cut rate special effects auteur Jack Rabin was involved in WAR OF THE SATELLITES from the beginning, so I'm guessing the matte paintings of rockets and such in the movie were probably his.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky would watch it just for Dick Miller!

2:23 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

I was 12 when this came out, so it was too talky and static for me. I think only THE COSMIC MAN found less favor with me around this time.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Love the shout out to Reynold Brown! The man was a god among poster artists, and often the only four star talent associated with the product he promoted! As this particular double feature shows, the guy saw no reason to limit his creativity to the actual content of the films in question (his stuff for GODZILLA VS. THE THING and SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF are masterworks that, happily, have no relationship what-so-ever to their eponymous movies.)

12:28 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer on Susan Cabot:


Star Susan Cabot of the “War of the Satellites” is better known for another Roger Corman production, “The Wasp Woman.” In that one, she played the owner of a cosmetics company who tried to forestall the effects of aging by injecting herself with enzymes taken from the royal jelly of a queen wasp, with dire consequences. This was to lend a bizarre twist years later, when she was bludgeoned to death by her 22 year-old son, Timothy Scott Roman.

Cabot’s career had by that point swirled down the drain of her mental problems, and her relationship with her son was troubled, to say the least. Physical and emotional abuse was part of it, also the possibility of incest. Some of this might have been the result of an experimental pituitary extract he was taking to treat his dwarfism. It was derived from the pituitary glands of cadavers, and one batch had become contaminated, causing a high incidence of Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, more commonly known as “mad cow disease.” Some of the symptoms included extreme changes in personality, dementia, and the loss of memory or the ability to think clearly.

Roman claimed that his mother had attacked him with a barbell and then a scalpel, and that he had only tried to defend himself. The state of her body—a towel had been placed over her head before it was smashed in with repeated blows from the same barbell—seemed to belie that. At trial, his defense attorney built up the theme of a Hollywood has-been who could not face the loss of her fame and had driven herself and her son insane. He introduced the detail that Cabot had been taking the same pituitary extract herself, in the mistaken belief that it would reverse the aging process. Whether the judge deciding the case was aware of this parallel with “The Wasp Woman” or just thought that she was crazy enough to do it, he found the son guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to time already served and three years’ probation.

1:53 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

To Dan Mercer:

Sounds like one helluva movie script, a real bloodfest!

5:48 PM  

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