METEOR is a Crashing Bore (AIP 1979)

meteor1

American-International Pictures had gotten pretty fancy-schmancy by the late 70’s. The studio was leaving their exploitation roots behind and branching out to bigger budgeted films like FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE, LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, with bigger name stars for marquee allure. Toward the end of 1979 they released METEOR, a $16 million dollar, star-studded, special-effects laden, sci-fi/ disaster film spectacle that bombed at the box-office and contributed to the company’s demise.

meteor2

Coming at the tail end of the disaster cycle, METEOR is formulaic as hell. Take a group of well-known stars (Sean Connery, Natalie Wood Karl Malden Brian Keith , Martin Landau, Henry Fonda ), give them a disastrous menace to combat (in this case a five-mile wide meteor hurtling toward Earth), add some conflict (US/USSR Cold War relations), and some scenes of destruction, and voila! instant disaster movie! Unfortunately, by 1979 audiences had already grown tired of the formula and its various permutations, leaving METEOR to crumble like so much space dust.

meteor3

A brief summary: former NASA scientist Paul Bradley (Connery), creator of America’s secret nuclear missile defense satellite Hercules, is plucked from his yacht race and brought back into service by ex-boss Harry Sherwood (Malden). A wayward comet has struck the asteroid belt, and now the aforementioned five-mile-wide meteor (nicknamed Orpheus) threatens good ol’ Mother Earth. The President (Fonda) holds a televised speech admitting they have the nuclear satellite, and asks for Russia’s cooperation, knowing they too have one (code name Peter The Great). The Ruskies send scientist Dr. Dubov (Keith) and his astrophysicist interpreter Tatiana (Wood) to help, much to the chagrin of commie-hating General Adlan (Landau). Now that the two superpowers have joined together, can they put aside their differences and turn their respective missiles at Orpheus instead of each other in time to avert a global catastrophe?

meteor4

It’s not exciting as it may sound. Connery looks bored, Malden and Landau overact, and Fonda’s obviously only there for the paycheck. Only Keith and Wood seem engaged in the material, though Trevor Howard does okay in his tiny role as a British astronomer. Besides the big names, there are other, lesser Familiar Faces in lesser roles: Joseph Campanella, Richard Dysart, Bibi Besch, Sybil Danning, Gregory Gaye, Clyde Kusatsu, newscaster Clete Roberts, and Uncle Walt’s nephew Roy Disney (wait… how’d he get in here??). They even got THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE’s Ronald Neame to direct, hoping to capture some of that movie’s popularity. Didn’t work- the new film was nowhere near that early disaster classic in terms of character development, script, or excitement.

meteor5

The special effects scenes are good, not great. There’s a tsunami in Hong Kong, an avalanche in the Swiss Alps, and a meteor fragment that destroys a large swath of New York City. There are some unintentionally funny moments, like watching Connery and Malden slog through a muddy flood in a subway tunnel, Malden’s comb-over flopping down his shoulder. We get ominous music every time Orpheus appears onscreen, kind of like when “Bruce” shows up in JAWS. It’s all silly and overwrought, and by the next year AIP founder Samuel Arkoff, his big-budget gambles all gone sour, sold the company to Filmways, which was later bought out by Orion, which in turn was sold to MGM, who now own the rights to the AIP catalog. Old Sam should’ve stuck with beach parties and monster movies.

The Roots of STAR WARS (20th Century Fox 1977)

starwars1

It had to happen sooner or later so, with the new ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY being released tomorrow, I figure now is a good time to take a look at one of the biggest films of the 1970’s, STAR WARS (retitled A NEW HOPE for you revisionists, but to me it’s still just STAR WARS). I’m pretty sure everyone reading this post is familiar with the story, so rather than rehash the plot, I’m just going to dive right into some points of interest for classic film fans.

starwars2

First off, the movie was originally imagined as a loving homage to serials like FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS. Writer/director George Lucas originally intended to remake FLASH, but couldn’t obtain the rights, so he created his own space opera universe, cobbling bits and pieces from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Joseph Campbell, The Bible, and other sources, including the movies he grew up with and admired. There’s a definite John Ford feel to much of STAR WARS, especially THE LOST PATROL  (the droids trekking across Tattoonie) and THE SEARCHERS (Luke discovering the fate of his aunt and uncle). I’d swear Ford himself was calling some of the shots, the composition is that close. Being a huge Ford fan myself, I’m always pleased when someone decides to “borrow” from the old master!

starwars3

Sergio Leone  also gets some love, during some of the action scenes and use of close-ups. Another Italian director who doesn’t get mentioned when STAR WARS influences are cited is Antonio Margheretti, whose 60’s low-budget sci-fi lunacies sprang to mind as I rewatched the movie. And everyone should be aware of the influence Japanese director Akira Kurosawa has on this film. I do know the scene where a man’s arm is cut off by light sabre, and again where Han Solo is offered “Two thousand now, plus fifteen when we reach Alderaan” are direct references to Kurosawa’s classic YOJIMBO.

starwars4

I’ve not seen Kurosawa’s THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, so I can’t comment on the correlation between the characters in that film and the banter between CP3O and R2D2. I can say with some certainty the two loveable droids have a direct lineage to classic comedy duo Laurel and Hardy , with a dash of Abbott and Costello for good measure. CP is obviously modeled after Rotwang’s creation Maria in Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, while R2 resembles nothing less than a sentient vacuum cleaner! R2 does have a moment when he gets zapped by Jawas that brought to mind FORBIDDEN PLANET (which itself was a heavy influence on another space opera franchise- STAR TREK !).

starwars5

The evil Lord Darth Vader was so malevolent it took two actors to portray him! Well, not really, the truth is physical presence Dave Prowse’s heavily accented voice didn’t fit the character. Lucas wanted Orson Welles to provide Vader’s ominous tones, but went instead with James Earl Jones, who does a superb job. Prowse had once played the Frankenstein Monster alongside Peter Cushing in FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, and the two are reunited here as the great Mr. Cushing plays equally evil Gran Moff Tarkin. I couldn’t help but wonder what the film would’ve been like if Lucas had chosen Christopher Lee to portray Vader, and gave us fans another chance to watch Hammer Film’s two greatest icons together!

starwars6

The light sabre duel between Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) is no doubt inspired by the grand final battle between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD . Sir Alec himself thought the movie was a lot of “rubbish”, but lends a dignified presence to the proceedings. Some of the films he made with British director David Lean, mainly LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, cast a large shadow over the look of STAR WARS. War films as a whole play a part in influencing the movie, as Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor was behind the camera for THE DAM BUSTERS, the attack on the Death Star was pretty much lifted from 633 SQUADRON, and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE has also been cited as an influence.

starwars7

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. As much as STAR WARS has influenced a generation of filmmakers, the original itself has its own roots firmly in the cinema of the past. There’s the James Bond-ish battles between the Stormtroopers and the Rebels, the old “walls-closing-in” gag, the opening shot recalling 2001, the CASABLANCA like bar scene, the cocky Han Solo echoing both Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster… and I’m not 100% certain, but when Leia calls Chewbacca a “walking carpet”, is that a reference to THE CREEPING TERROR?? Only George Lucas knows for sure!! Lucas took the futuristic visual aesthetic of his THX-1138 , combined it with the full-blooded teen angst of AMERICAN GRAFFITI and his love of film, and gave us an adventure that’s truly stood the test of time. So when you all rush out to see ROGUE ONE tomorrow night, remember without classic films past, there is no STAR WARS. And maybe, just maybe, this little post will persuade a few of you to revisit some of those thrilling films of yesteryear, made long ago, in a studio far, far way…

Flight of Fancy: Vincent Price in MASTER OF THE WORLD (AIP 1961)

motw1

MATSER OF THE WORLD is AIP’s answer to Disney’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA . Both are based on the works of Jules Verne, and involve fanatical protagonists commanding futuristic ships (an airship in this case). The difference is in budget, as studio honchos Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson didn’t have the financial means to compete with the mighty Walt Disney. They did have Vincent Price though, and within their monetary constraints came up with an entertaining mini-epic enhanced by another solid Richard Matheson script.

motw2

Price stars as Captain Robur, who’s fantastic flying airship Albatross rules the skies of 1868. When his amplified voice bellows some scripture from a mountain (does this make Vinnie the Voice of God?), balloon enthusiasts Mr. Prudent, daughter Dorothy, and her fiancé Phillip Evans, along with government agent John Strock, investigate, only to be shot down by Robur’s rockets and taken prisons aboard his flying fortress.

motw3

Robur and his crew (dressed in striped shirts ala 20,000 LEAGUES) plan to force the nations of the world to end war by bombing the crap out of any warships they fly over. This “peace through strength” tactic doesn’t go so over well with the prisoners, whose escape attempt winds up with Evans and Strock being dangled from the Albatross at high altitude. To make matters worse, there’s a budding rivalry between the two men for Dorothy’s affections.

motw4

The fact that Strock is played by Charles Bronson   and Evans by little-known British actor David Frankham should tell you who wins in that department! Bronson’s good in an early good-guy role, especially his impassioned “honor be damned!” speech. Mary Webster, another Brit, is the object of their affections. Veteran Henry Hull overacts as bombastic munitions manufacturer Prudent, but it’s still good to see the former WEREWOLF OF LONDON onscreen again. Vito Scotti is the supposed comic relief as chef Topage, and muscleman Richard Harrison and AIP vet Wally Campo are Robur’s main crewmen.

motw5

Vincent Price stated this was one of his favorite roles. As the Nemo-like Robur, Price tones it down and offers an intelligent portrait of a man who uses his genius to try to end the folly of war. His end soliloquy, quoting from Isaiah 2:4 (“All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never shall they learn war anymore”) while the Albatross descends to its inevitable doom, is stirring stuff. I know, Robur’s supposed to be a madman and the nominal villain of the piece, but I found myself rooting for him more often than not.

motw6

I couldn’t root for the not-so-special special effects of Tim Baar, Wah Chang, and Gene Warren though, but hampered by the low-budget, I guess they did their best. There’s tons of stock footage interspersed throughout the film, including an opening montage of early attempts to fly you’ve seen a hundred times. Director William Witney puts his experience with serials (CAPTAIN MARVEL, SPY SMASHER, MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN) and B-Westerns to good use, moving things along at a brisk pace. Daniel Haller’s art direction stands out, but Les Baxter’s score is intrusive. MASTER OF THE WORLD is an uneven film, certainly not in the category of Disney’s Jules Verne classic, but an okay way to spend an hour and a half. If you shut your brain off and don’t expect too much out of it, you just might enjoy it.

Creature Double Feature 2: IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (Columbia, 1955 & 1957)

creature_double_feature_logo

Let’s return to those thrilling days of yore before CGI and enter the wonder-filled world of Special Effects legend Ray Harryhausen! I’ve covered some of Harryhausen’s fantastic work before (ONE MILLION YEARS BC EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS THE VALLEY OF GWANGI ), and most of you regular readers know of my affection for his stop-motion wizardry. So without further ado, let’s dive right into IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

itcame1

An atomic submarine picks up a mysterious large object on its sonar. The sub’s hit hard, and radiation is detected in the surrounding area. The damaged sub is taken to Pearl Harbor for repairs, and a substance found on it is determined to be from a “living creature” by eminent scientist Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and beautiful marine biologist Prof. Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue ). Sub Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey ) and Leslie immediately butt heads, which means they’re going to hook up before it’s all over. But let’s face facts, no one cares about the romantic subplot, we’re here for the monster, determined to be a gigantic octopus!

itcame2

Ocky (as I’ve taken to refer to him) has been disturbed by H-Bomb tests in the Pacific, and his radioactivity has caused the fish he usually feeds on to flee, so now Ocky is going after larger prey. He attacks a tramp steamer and eats everyone but a small raft of survivors, who confirm Leslie’s theory. The U.S. Navy goes out in full force hunting for Ocky, who eats a deputy sheriff off the coast of Oregon. The entire Pacific Coast is shut down, as Ocky makes his way to San Francisco, wreaking havoc at the Golden Gate Bridge. The fabled bridge has been wired with electricity to shock the beast, and Pete and Dr. Carter board the sub with a special jet-propelled torpedo to launch into Ocky’s brain. Meanwhile, Ocky’s on the loose in the Market Street area, causing destruction, snatching a helicopter out of the sky, and allowing the filmmakers to add plenty of shots of panicked citizens running down the streets of San Francisco!

itcame3

Army flamethrowers drive Ocky back to the sea, and our intrepid heroes launch their super-duper torpedo. But Ocky catches the sub in it’s six-armed grip- that’s right, el cheapo executive producer Sam Katzman held the budget reins so tight, it only allowed Harryhausen to animate six octopus arms! Anyway, Pete scubas out and uses a harpoon gun to shoot plastique explosives at Ocky, but isn’t successful, so Dr. Carter bravely does the deed, hitting Ocky square in his octopus eyeball and blowing his head off, making the Pacific Coast safe for surfers once again!

20mil1

Ocky’s stop-motion scenes of destruction are exciting, but there’s only so much you can do with a giant octopus. The monster in our main attraction is another story. 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH begins with a spacecraft crash-landing off the coast of Sicily. Some brave fisherman (with bad Italian acc-a-centas) board and find two humans still alive. They pull them off before the ship sinks, and little, annoying Pepe (played by future VEGA$ co-star Bart Braverman) is sent to get help from a visiting doctor (Frank Puglia ) , but Dr. Leonardo is only a zoologist, so he sends his med student granddaughter Marisa (Joan Taylor) to attend the surviving crewmen. One dies, but Col. Bob Calder (William Hopper, PERRY MASON’s Paul Drake) demands to speak to his superiors, butting heads with Marisa in the process (and you already know what that means!). Meanwhile, enterprising Pepe finds a capsule loaded with a mysterious, jellylike substance, so he sells it to Leonardo for 200 lira (so he can buy a “Texas cowboy hat”!).

20mil2

The jelly hatches a tiny, strange-looking creature, so Leonardo and Marisa put it in a cage with plans to take it to the Rome Zoo for study. But next morning the thing has grown larger, and escapes while in transit. Annoying Pepe tells Air Force brass he sold the stuff in the capsule to Leonardo, and they track him down. Seems that spacecraft was a secret expedition to Venus, and the creature in question is a Ymir (though it’s never called that in the film).

20milx

The Ymir wanders the countryside scaring horses and sheep, coming across some sulfur in a barn, which happens to be the Ymir’s favorite food. While snacking, Ymir is attacked by a dog… bye, bye dog! The local farmer stabs it with a pitchfork, and Ymir attacks him! This pisses off the local Commissario, who no longer wishes to cooperate with the Americans and wants Ymir dead. The Italian higher-ups give Calder one last chance to capture Ymir, and they do, using a net and zapping poor Ymir into unconsciousness with high voltage.

20mil3

Ymir (who’s now grown to gigantic proportions!) is kept sedated by electricity and studied at the Rome Zoo. The Air Force holds a press conference and allows three reporters to view the beast. When an accident short-circuits the electricity, Ymir breaks free from his bondage, and engages in a titanic battle with a zoo elephant. Ymir goes on a rampage through the streets of Rome wreaking havoc, and you guessed it, we get shots of panicked citizens fleeing for their lives! The armed forces can’t stop Ymir as it heads to the Colosseum, where bazookas finally take it down, as it hangs on for dear life before plunging to its demise.

20mil4

The Ymir is Harryhausen’s most iconic (and lifelike) creation. Like Frankenstein’s Monster and King Kong before it, the Ymir is a frightened and misunderstood creature  trapped in a world it never made. The scene where police are tracking down Ymir with dogs is reminiscent of an old Universal horror; all that’s missing are the torches and pitchforks. Ymir definitely gets the viewers to sympathize with its plight, and I felt sorry to see the poor beast persecuted to its inevitable doom.

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH is my favorite of the two, and I consider it Harryhausen’s masterpiece. IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA is fun, but the story of the Ymir still resonates, and is a certified science-fiction classic. See them both and enjoy the genius of Ray Harryhausen!

Halloween Havoc!: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (Allied Artists 1958)

qos1

QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE has quite an interesting pedigree. Screenwriter Charles Beaumont (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) adapted a story by Ben Hecht, of all people, then director Edward Bernds got his frequent Three Stooges/Bowery Boys collaborator Ellwood Ullman to punch things up a little. The resulting mishmash is a huge contender in the “so-bad-it’s-good” sweepstakes, a sci-fi schlockfest featuring goofy special effects, sexism, and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

qos2

The movie’s right up there with PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  in its cheesiness, except in glorious Technicolor. Set in a futuristic 1985, space Captain Neil Patterson (Eric Fleming, RAWHIDE’s trail boss) and his intrepid crew (Dave Willock, Patrick Waltz) are assigned to shuttle Professor Konrad (sci-fi stalwart Paul Birch) to Space Station A, where there’re “indications of some trouble up there”. Off they go into the wild blue yonder, where they witness the station being blown to smithereens by a mysterious ray (via cartoon animation), then are pulled by a mysterious force to crash-land on Venus! How do they know it’s Venus? Because Konrad takes a look at some leaves and pronounces it so, that’s how!

qos3

The crew (wearing leftover space suits from FORBIDDEN PLANET ), are captured by a gaggle of beautiful Amazonian Venusians, who all speak perfect English. They’re taken to the palace of masked Queen Ylana (Laurie Mitchell), who has wiped out all men on Venus save for a handful of scientists living in exile on a satellite to do her bidding. Ylana believes them to be spies and imprisons them while she makes plans for a counterstrike. She sends for Patterson to be taken to her boudoir, where they share space cocktails for two. Ylana tries to seduce him, and almost succeeds, until Patterson rips off her mask to reveal her horribly disfigured face due to atomic radiation. “Men did this to me”, she says, “men and their wars”,  which explains why she hates men so much- the woman’s downright ugly (in a pretty decent makeup job by Emile LaVigne).

qos4

Having rejected Ylana (and who can blame him!), Patterson’s sent back to his men, who’re taken by some rebel girls to the lab of scientist Talleah (Zsa Zsa, who’s NEVER spoken perfect English!). Talleah tells the Earthlings that Ylana plans to destroy Earth in two days by means of a beta disintegrator ray. They all escape and search for the weapon of mass destruction and the girls, horny after being deprived of men for so long, engage in a  make-out session with the guys inside a cave (except poor Konrad, who goes to gather firewood). After an attack by a silly looking space spider that resembles a child’s plush doll, Konrad warns them an Amazon patrol is outside. Talleah and her girls pretend they’ve captured the men in order to gain access to Ylana’s death ray.

Queen Ylana is captured by the gang, and Talleah disguises herself as Ylana to give the order to stop the destruction of Earth. Ylana breaks free and recaptures everybody, then forces them all to watch as Earth is about to be zapped to kingdom come. But Talleah’s rebels have sabotaged the death ray, causing Ylana herself to be disintegrated. The rebels take power, and are sad to see the Earthmen go. But a communication from Earth tells Patterson and his crew not to fly home in their battered spaceship, they’ll send a rescue mission that’ll take about a year or so. The men rejoice as they realize they’re about to spend a year on a planet filled with sex-starved, beautiful Amazon women!

qos5

 

Yes, it’s sexist and nonsense and pretty bad, but not PHYNX-like   bad, more like a third season episode of STAR TREK  bad. It’s certainly fun, especially to watch the camera linger lovingly on all that female pulchritude. Oh yes, DP William Whitley knew EXACTLY what he was doing, and the result is a voyeur’s dream. Among the Amazons, you’ll spot 50’s babes like Lisa Davis, Barbara Darrow, Marilyn Buferd  , and Mary Ford (Mrs. Les Paul), all minor actresses who dressed up many a low-budget flick. There’s even an uncredited bit from sexy Joi Lansing  as the girl making out with Waltz’s character before they fly into space.

qos6

Marlin Skiles’ score isn’t bad, featuring some weird instrumentation, using that 50’s sci-fi standard the theremin as well as xylophones and even a harpsichord! The sets and art direction do the best they can with a limited budget, but the special effects are just plain ludicrous. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE won’t tax your brain, and isn’t (to be honest) very good, but if you’re in the right mood, it’s goofy enough to entertain you this Halloween season. Especially if you’re a guy, and feel like spending 80 minutes ogling hot 50’s sci-fi Amazonian babes! Just ask Commander Trump:

qos7
“Will ya quit gropin’ me, ya big ape!”

 

Halloween Havoc!: GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (Toho/TransWorld 1956)

“History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man”-

“Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult

godz1

Let’s kick off this year’s “Halloween Havoc” with the Grandaddy of kaiju eiga, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The Big G first hit Japanese movie screens in 1954, and made its way to American shores two years later in a reedited version with new narrative footage. I’ve only seen the Americanized interpretation, so I can’t comment on Inoshiro Honda’s original vision, but I do enjoy this film a lot more than the endless, silly sequels that ensued. I’d go as far as saying GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is one of the best sci-fi flicks of the 50’s, one that’s influence looms like Big G’s shadow even today.

godz2

We start with a familiar sight: Tokyo in ruins, “a smoldering memorial to the unknown”! American reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr, not the “wild and crazy guy” comic) is trapped under debris from the chaos unleashed, and narrates the tale for us. Martin’s learned that eight ships have been destroyed recently, caused by “a blinding flash of light, the ocean burst into flame”. Represntitives of the military and science community have a conference, and Dr. Yemane leads a team to Odo Island, where the natives claim they’ve seen a monster known to them as Godzilla. The Big G makes an impressive screen debut: he’s (she’s?) 400 feet tall, a fire-breathing land/sea Jurassic hybrid bent on destruction. Nuclear testing is to blame for Godzilla’s resurrection, and depth bombs can’t stop. Soon the monster heads to the mainland for more devastation.

godz3

Godzilla attacks as the panic-stricken populace evacuates Tokyo. The Army rigs the city’s electrical high-tension wires to stop the beast, but even 300,000 volts can’t contain Godzilla! The monster wreaks havoc, melting towers with it’s flame breath, turning “the heart of Tokyo into a sea of fire”! The carnage continues until scientist Serizawa, involved in a love triangle with Yemane’s daughter Emiko and ship captain Ogata, gives in and uses his new Oxygen Destroyer weapon to kill the beast at sea, sacrificing his life in the process so Tokyo may rise again.

Inoshira Honda’s footage looks much better than the film shot in America under Terry Morse’s direction. They give it a good try, using actors with their backs to the camera to meet with Burr, but Honda’s darker vision just doesn’t quite match the more pedestrian American scenes. Even with this quibble, the movie kept me enthralled, though I’ve just got to see the original Japanese version one of these days.

godz4

The Big G himself (herself?) is much scarier than in the subsequent sequels. There’s no “wrestling match” style monster battles here, just good old fashioned destruction as Godzilla rampages on Tokyo. The monster isn’t overused, and the rubber suit special effects are shot to good advantage, with Masao Tamai’s black and white cinematography ideal for the movie. GODZILLA spawned a slew of imitators (THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, GORGO, REPTILICUS) , but the original Big G  is head and shoulders above the rest.

“Oh no/There goes Tokyo/Go, go Godzilla!”

“Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult

 

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”: Fifty Years of STAR TREK

startrek1

Gene Roddenberry’s space odyssey first sailed onto the small screen on September 8, 1966. I can remember being allowed to stay up late (I was only 8 at the time!) to watch it with my dad, who was a big science-fiction buff. As a career Navy man, I think he related to the idea of a ship’s travels (he was also a fan of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA). Being a young’un at the time, I was more into the weird creatures the Starship Enterprise crew encountered on their “five-year mission”.

startrek2

Unless you’ve been living in another galaxy the past half century, you know all the characters. There’s William Shatner as the headstrong Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, emoting as only Shatner can. Leonard Nimoy became something of a teen idol as the logical Vulcan Mr. Spock (something about those pointed ears, maybe?). DeForrest Kelly played the ornery Dr. “Bones” McCoy, forever at odds with Spock’s emotionless thinking. His tagline “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a…(fill in your own word)” became a pop culture punchline, though he only repeated it in eleven episodes. James Doohan (Engineer Scotty), Nichelle Nichols (Communications Lt. Uhura, who shared a then-controversial interracial kiss with Kirk in a 1968 episode), George Takei (Helmsman Sulu), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov, who joined in Season Two) round out the Enterprise’s crew.

What set STAR TREK apart from other sci-fi shows was the writing. Television viewers were used to juvenile space operas like CAPTAIN VIDEO AND HIS VIDEO RANGERS and TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET, but Roddenberry was determined to mix social commentary in with the futuristic proceedings, and hired some of the best science fiction/fantasy writers around. Top names like Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, George Clayton Johnson, Jerry Sohl, and Theodore Sturgeon crafted intelligent, thought-provoking scripts light years apart from the old comic strip stylings of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

Everyone has their own personal favorite episodes, and I’m no different, so here are my Top Ten STAR TREK episodes:

startrek3

  1. “City on the Edge of Forever” (Season 1, Episode 28; D: Joseph Pevney W: Harlan Ellison)- McCoy travels through a time portal and changes the course of history, so Kirk and Spock must correct it by following him to Depression Era New York. Joan Collins guest stars as Edith Keeler, who must die to prevent the Nazis from winning World War II. I think this is the best of the entire series, and many Trekkies agree with me. Powerful in every department.

startrek4

2.”The Trouble With Tribbles” (Season 2, Episode 15; D: Joseph Pevney W: David Gerrold)- Without a doubt the funniest episode, and a very close second for me.An important grain shipment on Deep Space Station K7 is threatened by Tribbles, furry little creatures that multiply prolifically when fed. One of the series’ strongest supporting casts, with the late William Schallert,   William Campbell, Stanley Adams, Whit Bissell, and Michael Pataki.

startrek5

3.”Space Seed” (Season 1, Episode 23; D: Marc Daniels W: Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilbur)- The episode that introduced Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonein Singh, a genetically altered megalomaniac from Earth’s past who shanghais the Enterprise and its crew. Montalban returned to do battle with his nemesis Capt. Kirk in the best of the STAR TREK films, 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN.

4.”Assigment: Earth” (Season 2, Episode 26; D: Marc Daniels W: Art Wallace)- The Enterprise travels back in time to 1968, where they encounter Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), an alien sent to avert the nuclear destruction of Earth. This was the pilot for a new sci-fi series to star Lansing and Teri Garr, but it wasn’t given the green light. Too bad, because this is one of STAR TREK’S top entries, and the idea held much promise.

5.”A Piece of the Action” (Season 2, Episode 17; D: James Komack W: David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon)- Another humorous episode with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet molded after Roaring Twenties gangster days. Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback play the bosses of rival gangs out to control Sigma Iotia II. Kirk and Spock dressing and acting like old Warner Brothers hoods is a riot!

startrek6

6.”The Naked Time” (Season 1, Episode 4; D:Marc Daniels W: John DF Black)- A space virus infects the Enterprise crew, causing them to lose all inhibitions. George Takei has called this his favorite episode, and who can blame him- he gets to jump around like a swashbuckling Errol Flynn!

7.”Patterns of Force” (Season 2, Episode 21; D: Vincent McEveety W: John Meredyth Lucas)- Kirk and Spock visit planet Ekos to search for missing Federation observer John Gill, and discover he’s become the leader of a culture patterned after Nazi Germany. Another fine “message” episode featuring David Brian (FLAMINGO ROAD) in the role of Gill.

8.”The Devil in the Dark” (Season 1, Episode 25; D: Joseph Pevney W: Gene L. Coon)- Mining planet Janos VI is being threatened by a mysterious space creature called the Horta. A plea for tolerance of “the other” disguised as science-fiction, William Shatner has said this is his favorite episode.

9.”Amok Time” (Season 2, Episode 1; D: Joseph Pevney W: Theodore Sturgeon)- Spock is suffering from the Vulcan condition known as “pon farr”, and must return to his planet to mate or he will die. Kirk joins him, and the two friends must battle to the death when T’Pring requests a challenge. (Celia Lovsky , who plays Vulcan leader T’Pau, was once married to actor Peter Lorre.)

10.”Mirror, Mirror” (Season 2, Episode 4; D: Marc Daniels W: Jerome Bixby)- The Enterprise meets and battles its evil doppelgänger from a parallel universe. Though this plot has been used over and over in the sci-fi genre, this episode does a great job, with dual roles for everybody.

startreka

STAR TREK has spawned four TV sequels, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, with a fifth scheduled to premiere in 2017 on the streaming channel CBS All Access, titled STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. There was even a Saturday morning cartoon series in 1973 featuring the original cast lending their voices to the characters. Thirteen feature films based on the Star Trek Universe have been made, including the most recent, STAR TREK BEYOND. Now one of the most popular science-fiction franchises of all time, it’s hard to believe STAR TREK almost got cancelled in its second season, saved only by a letter-writing campaign by its fervent fans. After the third and final season, the 79 episodes went into syndication, where it found its audience. Trekkie conventions sprung up, and the series became a pop culture phenomenon. These days, its referred to by fans as STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, but to me it’ll always be just STAR TREK. Happy Golden Anniversary, Enterprise crew… here’s to fifty more years of going “where no man has gone before”!

startrek8

 

(Do you have a favorite episode or any STAR TREK memories to share? Feel free to comment below!)