Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Flying Saucer crashes and burns

I don't have much tolerance for bad movies (unlike some movie lovers, who relish low budgets and cheesy acting), but worse than bad is boring. The Flying Saucer, released in 1950, is both.

The movie is chiefly known as being the first feature film about the subject of flying saucers, which had been much in the news since first being reported by pilot Kenneth Arnold in June, 1947. Since that time there have been theories on the origins of the flying disks, which include U.S. or foreign secret weapons, Nazi-created craft, and spaceships from another planet. Within those basic theories are many sub-theories, which can include just about anything true believers care to imprint on the whole phenomenon.

Over 60 years since The Flying Saucer was released no one is really any closer to solving the mystery. To my satisfaction, that is. I know there are many people who can tell you “exactly” what a UFO is, since they have it all worked out in their heads.

The Flying Saucer begins with the image of a screaming old woman, who quickly moves off camera and is never seen again. This is an omen for what we're about to see, a scream of frustration at the story and the acting. Mikel Conrad, who is not Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues fame, is the writer, director and star. So blame him.

Chain smoker/playboy Mike Trent (Conrad) is sent to Alaska with lovely CIA agent Vee Langley (Pat Garrison). Her name is probably a joke: “Vee” could stand for Virginia: Virginia Langley being Langley, Virginia, home of the CIA. Ho-ho. They're looking for Russian spies and a flying saucer capable of dropping atom bombs on American cities. Mike and Vee go to a cabin in the woods, near Juno, where some Russians operate some fishing boats. Mike asks the suspicious-looking cabin caretaker, Hans, if he's “seen any Russian spies lately.” Ho-ho again. Hans is himself a spy.

A romance (yawn) develops between Mike and Vee; Mike goes from bar to bar in Juno looking for information. He gets drunk. He fights. Vee gets menaced by a bear and asks Hans (who had been stalking her with a rifle to kill her and decided it would be better to let the bear do the dirty work) if bears are dangerous. Yes, Vee, and they shit in the woods, too.

The movie has long stretches of stock footage of the Alaskan wilderness. I'm not sure if Mikel Conrad decided to just use a bunch of footage because he thought the scenery was so pretty, or hoped no one would notice he was padding a 20-minute story into 90 minutes. I had to use the fast forward button to get past the Alaskan travelog.

Another weakness (besides the acting, writing and direction) is that the flying saucer itself is shown only a couple of times in flight. It went by so fast I couldn't lock on any of the images to get a screen capture. We're talking a couple of seconds at the most. Later in the movie we're shown the “real” flying saucer, a crudely constructed prop with a cockpit.

I hope I'm not spoiling anything by telling you the flying saucer of the story was a man-made device, not from outer space. The DVD package shamelessly uses a tag line, “Have we visitors from outer space?” The dull-witted characters in the movie never mention outer space. The CIA assumes the flying saucer is from Russia, the Russians know it isn't, and want it.

The DVD is part of the Wade Williams collection. Some people think Williams is a huckster who has claimed public domain movies as his own. I have mixed feelings about this.On the one hand he's made many B-movies available (a paranoid classic like Invaders From Mars, for instance), but on the other hand he's released movies that should have been buried years ago. I don't think the world would have been deprived of anything had prints of The Flying Saucer disappeared, or barring that, never released on DVD 60 years later. I would have had a couple hours of my life back, for sure.

Despite that I at least got a kick out of this card from the movie's trailer. You know if True magazine says flying saucers are real, they must be real.


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