Tuesday, December 29, 2009

War Between The Planets (1966)

War Between The Planets

Italy 1966 colour

aka Planet On The Prowl, “Il Missione Pianeta Errante”/Mission Wandering Planet

Director “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti Writers Renato Moretti, Ivan Reiner

Cast “Jack Stuart”/Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Commander Rod Jackson), “Amber Collins”/Ombretta Colli (Lieutenant Terry Sanchez), Enzo Fiermonte (General Norton), “Alina”/Halina Zalewska (Janet Norton)

Third in a four-film series Margheriti was contracted to make for US television, then desperate for cost-effective colour B-pictures, in the mid Sixties. It took a staggering three months to shoot the four films simultaneously, using different coloured clapper boards to keep track of actors and props on the constantly-recycled sets. All four films were set around a space station, hence the informal “Gamma One Quadrilogy” tag.

Not surprisingly, given the Italian film industry’s assembly line mentality and Margheriti’s own effects wizardry, the results were not only better than expected, but were deemed far superior to most of the domestic schlock-fi pictures of the time. MGM decided to release the four films theatrically, starting with Wild Wild Planet, before dumping them on the late night TV trashpit.

War Between The Planets - also known as Planet On The Prowl – recycles Margheriti’s plot from Battle Of The Planets. Earth is once again rocked by a series of cataclysmic gravitational disturbances caused, it seems, by a rogue planet. Scientists dispatch a Neutron Deflector to the donut-shaped Gamma One space station, rocked by a much smaller series of catastrophes, a space opera of the soapy kind: Redhaired Lieutenant Sanchez is attracted to angry alpha male Commander Rod Jackson, who’s reluctantly engaged to the General’s clingy and infinitely less likable daughter Janet. Luckily for the rest of mankind they keep their dramatic cocktails on ice until after landing on the Angry Red Planet, an odd duck shooting cold coagulated fat into the atmosphere from its pock-marked surface, firing remote-controlled asteroids (or, in the words of one verbose scientist, “asteroidal manifestations”), and with a single computer brain linked via a series of arteries to the living and breathing heart of the planet itself.

If Kubrick didn’t see this film and flip, I’ll eat my beard: Margheriti’s model work and set design is, for a throwaway B film, simply astounding. On the minus side, the actors wear their pancake makeup like a fat kid at a cake-off, and mouthing the words in English when your first language ain’t Inglese was a bad choice. And someone please strangle the narrator – if I hear one more minor plot point mimeographed in triplicate, I will staple my severest of objections to his chest... (Andrew Leavold)

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