I don’t know about anyone else but, in my head, I am aged in my early to mid twenties. Any aches and pains I feel when I wake up are doubtless due to overexertion in the gym, on a sports field, or in the bedroom he says with a twirl of the moustaches. Up I get, walk to the bathroom, and get the fright of my life when I see that old man staring at me from the mirror. That’s when it all comes crashing back to me…it isn’t the eighties. It isn’t the nineties. Damn! It isn’t even that millennium! We’ve gone around the clock and are back in the twenties. Worst of all, it’s only the calendar that’s in its twenties and not me.
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I am in fact, officially, an old age pensioner. All right, my state pension only started last month when I hit sixty six but I did actually retire six years ago when my various pensions meant that I could afford to stay at home and wave my good lady wife off to work. So you think that I would have got used to it by now. You think that I’d have stopped thinking that 1978 was twenty years ago. I remember once when a song came on the radio and was described as a “golden oldie” and I said “surely that’s not an oldie”. My Clerical Officer looked at me and said “Well, it’s older than I am.” Thank you Karl, that still stings to this day.
I Can Kill You With My Brain
And they still keep coming. Only last night I was chatting with Jill and Michelle and we were talking about thoughts for future RunPee articles. Michelle said that she had a few that still needed some tweaking before they could be published. I asked what they were about and she replied, and I quote “Mostly older Sci-fi movies.” This perked me up a bit! I thought that sounds good, That is one of my favourite genres. I could really enjoy reading that. But then I made my big mistake. I asked “So, Michelle, which older Sci-fi films are you talking of?” Her reply…”Gosh, there’s several, but 2000 era I suppose. The Watchmen, 17 Again, along those lines.”
Honestly, I felt like the chap who “chose poorly” in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade! You see, dear reader, I have been a fan of science fiction films since childhood. My father was an avid, to the point of addiction, reader and his story of choice would be one of a science fictiony bent. While growing up our house was full of books by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. We had a regular, weekly walk to the library where he would try and find something that he hadn’t already read. In fact, the only time that I remember him sitting in his chair and not reading was when we were watching something on the TV.
D’Ya Know What The Chain Of Command Is?
Here his tastes were a bit more sweeping. Science fiction was still up there, obviously, but we also had quite a taste for cheesy Hammer horror films and any fantasy that Ray Harryhausen had had a hand in. Because of my acquiring some of my father’s tastes I am one of those lucky viewers who can remember the first Doctor Who, William Hartnell. To give some sense of, appropriately, where we are in time the very first episode was transmitted at 17:16:20 GMT on Saturday 23rd November 1963. The odd start time was due to delays caused by announcements regarding the previous day’s assassination of President John F Kennedy.
As well as Doctor Who this was also the time of The Champions, Adam Adamant Lives!, The Prisoner, and the peak of Gerry Anderson’s output. But, as I so often do, I’ve wittered on for over six hundred words and haven’t really got to the crux of the matter. I’m thinking of what I consider to be “older Sci-fi” films. I suppose I should start at the beginning but, I’ll be honest, that is hazy. Partly due to the passing of over sixty years and partly due to the ubiquity of the films on our TV; to be blunt, if one was being broadcast, my father would be watching it. Obviously, by default, so would I.
Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!
It seems hard to imagine now, but seeing films was very different back then. There were two main ways to watch them. The primary way was the way that the studios intended for them to be watched. When a title was released you went along to the cinema, queued up, bought a ticket and a choc ice, went in, and watched it. This gave you a window of, at least, a week to see the film. If it was a really popular title then it may be kept on for another week or two. After that it disappeared. Occasionally, if there was demand or, more likely, nothing better to put on then they might drag out the cans of film stock, blow off the dust, and give it another screening.
But then that was it. Usually for anywhere between three and five years. During that time men in suits would be arguing and haggling over who got to show it on the telly. Back at the beginning of the sixties there were only two channels to choose from, BBC and ITV. As a result there were only two channels to fight over the screening rights. More often than not a really popular title would be reserved for broadcasting over the Christmas holidays. Then it was down to repeats. Possibly a couple of times a year for a big title, Every year or so for the smaller ones. Just at random to fill in the schedules for the rubbish. Remember…we’re decades away from home video rental and downloading wouldn’t be a thing until the next century.
Yes Sir, Captain Tight Pants!
Personally speaking, I’ve turned my back on live television altogether. I can’t remember the actual turn of events but I had to disconnect the aerial and the box from whoever was providing our TV content at the time. A few days later and whatever it was was finished and it was time to reconnect everything. However, I did think that I hadn’t actually missed anything other than the subscription money that I’d paid for the service I hadn’t used. The obvious next step was to just make a phone call and cancel my account with Sky, Virgin, or whoever it was I was paying to ignore. From then on I mainly watched films that I’d downloaded.
And over a thousand words later we start nearing the actual topic…classic Sci-fi that I remember watching in my childhood; incidentally, I do still enjoy Sci-fi films and that may be a future article. Do I need to remind everyone that, given that amount of time that has passed, spoilers may be everywhere! As I said earlier, time has blurred the edges regarding when and what order I saw them in so, in no particular order, let’s take a wander down memory lane…
1954 – Them!
Following on from the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico a new possible story line was unearthed…radioactive mutation! In this case the things that have mutated are ants. They have grown to over two metres long and are continuing to do what ants do. Unfortunately, at that size, ants foraging means that people are on the menu. That is until the army swoops in with flamethrowers and barbecues the queen and her eggs causing Dr Medford (Edmund Gwenn) to reflect “When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict”.
1963 – X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
This is one that I remember seeing in colour! It was shown in the Friday night horror slot that used to be a favourite of my teenage self after the pubs had closed. Ray Milland plays Dr James Xavier (any relation to Charles, I wonder?) who has developed drops which extend the range of human eyes beyond the visible spectrum; into the ultraviolet, infrared, and beyond. This starts off being ever so wonderful and just a bit silly. He makes accurate diagnoses by using his X-Ray vision as well as seeing everyone naked! Eventually, though, he starts to realise that his brain can’t cope with the overloading. His solution? I’ll just quote the last line…Said Matthew in Chapter Five, “If thine eye offends thee… pluck it out!”
1957 – The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Incredible Shrinking Man is one of those films that doesn’t waste a lot of time explaining what’s going on. Scott Carey (Grant Williams) gets covered in an unexplained mist followed by a dowsing in pesticide. Six months later he realises that he is actually shrinking. He gets down to three feet tall and a cure is found! He is down hearted but a talk with carnival dwarf Clarice (April Kent) gives him a bit of a boost. A further meeting with Clarice is less uplifting as he discovers she is now taller than him; he goes home in a bit of a mood and ends up living in a doll’s house and fighting off Butch the cat.
1965 – Dr. Who and the Daleks
1966 – Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD
These two are slightly different in that I was taken to the cinema to see them. At the time the TV incarnation of the Doctor was the aforementioned William Hartnell. To his dismay the role was recast with Peter Cushing playing the lead because he was better known in the USA. It seems that Cushing was approached a few times to play Doctor Who on TV but, as he subsequently regretted, turned them down. The films weren’t based on the canon that was being established and are rarely included in Who-lists.
For instance, in the film, the Doctor is human and also the inventor of the TARDIS. He is accompanied by his two granddaughters, Susan (Roberta Tovey and Barbara (Jennie Linden), and Barbara’s boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle) as opposed to his only granddaughter, Susan, and her teachers, Barbara and Ian. Oh, the Daleks have had a makeover and the TARDIS is totally different! While the first was generally acknowledged as being a bit weak, it did manage to generate a sequel. And it is in the sequel that we first see Bernard Cribbins in the Whoniverse some forty years before he returned as Wilfred Mott.
1966 – Fantastic Voyage
Fantastic Voyage is a film which I distinctly remember the pre-publicity palaver. The film opens with “This film will take you where no one has ever been before; no eye witness has actually seen what you are about to see. But in this world of ours where going to the moon will soon be upon us and where the most incredible things are happening all around us, someday, perhaps tomorrow, the fantastic events you are about to see can and will take place.” They were obviously pretty sure that they were on to something!
1951 – The Day the Earth Stood Still
Ah yes…“Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!” Who doesn’t remember that? The secret phrase to stop the eight foot tall metal man from destroying the planet. Another film set during the Cold War and the beginnings of the nuclear arms race. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) arrives from outer space. He holds out a present for the President but gets shot for his troubles. Then Gort (Lock Martin) steps out and destroys all the army’s weapons thus proving the aggression of humans and how they may be picking on the wrong guy this time!
1951 – When Worlds Collide
This one takes me back a bit! It may be one of the earliest sci-fi films I saw. Set way before the space race had actually got going and even further before the likes of Deep Impact or Armageddon, this is an “oops a rogue heavenly body is on a collision course with us” scenario. Obviously, being set before space shuttles and such like were invented, there was no intention to send up someone to nudge it out of the way. This time the answer is to build an ark and to fly off to another planet. There is a bit of biblesque stuff at the beginning which makes a change from the atom age phobia!
1953 – The War of the Worlds
No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. Actually that was the opening sentence of Jeff Wayne’s musical version. This opens “No-one would have believed, in the middle of the 20th century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s.” The book starts with “No-one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” My guess is that HG Wells had a word count to meet.
1958 – The Fly
Sci-fi meets the king of high camp horror! Vincent Price was born to play Witchfinders General, Edgar Allan Poe characters, and any number of horror mainstays. And, quite frankly, he can’t turn it off. The raised eyebrow, the huge smile, the pencil moustache…he is glorious and still manages to carry all that into the role of François Delambre; the scientist struggling with a matter transporter and his flies. If you don’t say “Help Meee!!” In a strangulated high pitched voice then you haven’t seen The Fly!
1960 – The Time Machine
HG Wells strikes again! This was a particular favourite of mine. Still is, if I’m honest. What is it though about the casting of Australians as the Time Traveler? In 1949 (BBC) – Russell Napier, 1960 – Rod Taylor, 2002 – Guy Pearce, 2018 (One man stage show) – Mark Lee…spooky! Still, this film version is my go to production of the story. Despite the advanced effects, the bigger budget, and being directed by HG Wells’ great-grandson, I still prefer the 1960 version to the 2002 one. Oh, Alan Young (Filby, père et fils) returned for a cameo in the later version but actually found and wore one of his shirts from the original!
1960 – Village Of The Damned
This time we go to another great Sci-fi author, John Wyndham. His books were a common sight in our house while I was growing up. The original story was called The Midwich Cuckoos and was originally bought for production as an American project; Russ Tamblin and Michael Rennie were both named as possible stars. Due to pressure from religious groups complaining about the use of virgin birth it all fell through and was moved back to the UK with George Sanders in the lead. The 1995 remake was set in Midwich, CA and possibly demonstrates why the UK move was a better idea…
1961 – The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Ooooh…scandal! This came about because the female lead, Janet Munro, can be, very briefly, seen topless. Providing you know where to look in the two frames that it happens. Trust me, in the early sixties, this was scandalous! We’re back to atom age paranoia again. The USSR and the USA conduct simultaneous atomic bomb tests on opposite sides of the planet. This has an affect on the planet’s nutation (Look it up, I had to!) which leads to climate change on a massive scale. Besides the scandal The Day the Earth Caught Fire is also an early example of an ambiguous ending. In the newspaper print room, two versions of the front page have been prepared. One reads “World Saved”, the other says “World Doomed”. We don’t get to see which one is used.
1963 – The Day Of The Triffids
Another outing for a John Wyndham story. To be honest, this film is a far from faithful adaptation of the original source novel. There is one huge plot hole…the meteor shower that blinds everyone. In the film there are very few people who aren’t affected. I’ve never managed to see a regular meteor shower like the Leonids and we know when they are coming. I’m sure I’d sleep through an unexpected one! Also there is the ubiquitous happy ending rather than the much darker finale of the book.
1951 – The Man in the White Suit
I did wonder whether or not to include this in a round up of Sci-fi films. Let’s be honest, it’s not what you’d expect from the genre. But it does feature a scientist doing sciencey stuff and it is fiction. It is also a socio-political satire and is massive fun and one of my favourite ever films. It is also one of the wonderful Ealing comedies which I keep threatening to do an article about! Throw in the dark silky voice of Joan Greenwood and you definitely have a winner.
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!
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Was really glad to see Day the Earth Caught Fire in that list (which had plenty of fun other stuff too). One of the lost gems and not well known. Enjoy it every time we load it in the hopper.
Rob Williams Administrator
Oh yes there is a lot more to The Day The Earth Caught Fire than I had room to add! The policeman Peter speaks to towards the end is played by Michael Caine. Monty Norman was credited with writing “Beatnik Music” a year before he went on to write the James Bond theme. Richard Burton was the first choice for Peter Stenning hence the drinking, womanising and snappy dialogue of the character; Burton was too expensive for the production. I do wish it was more widely available!
I loved pretty much all of these, and the fly at the end still gives me the creeps and I think that movie was much better then the “new” on as it was to gross to me.