Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: Richard V. Heermance
Music by Marlin Skiles
Cast: Marguerite Chapman (Alita), Cameron Mitchell (Steve Abbott), Arthur Franz (Dr. Jim Barker), Virginia Huston (Carol Stafford), John Litel (Dr. Lane), Morris Ankrum (Ikron)
If there’s a recipe for cooking up a perfect 50s B movie, you can bet it was used to whip up Flight To Mars (1951). Let’s see. You’ve got the great B director Lesley Selander. There’s Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz and Morris Ankrum in the cast. There’s the lovely Martian maiden (Marguerite Chapman) in her interstellar miniskirt. And it’s all in Cinecolor from the fine folks at Monogram Pictures.
A team of American scientists, accompanied by a newspaperman (Cameron Mitchell), take a rocket ride to Mars. (Mitchell smokes through much of the flight.) Once they crash on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their damaged rocket to plan the Martian migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…
There’s an element of hope in 50s science fiction that find very attractive, and Flight To Mars has it in spades. In movies like this, you can “trust the science” (and scientists) without a trace of irony or sarcasm.
Flight To Mars, with its “Mars N Miniskirts” theme (Marguerite Chapman looks great in her Martian attire), is part of a rich cinema heritage. There’s also Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953), Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953, with Marie Windsor), Devil Girl From Mars (1954), World Without End (1955), Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), Queen Of Outer Space (1957) and Invasion Of The Star Creatures (1962). That’d make a helluva weekend retrospective, wouldn’t it?
There’s a strong tie between Flight To Mars and both World Without End and Queen Of Outer Space — both use rocket footage from this one, severely cropped for CinemaScope. All three were released by Monogram or Allied Artisits — same company, different names.
Producer Walter Mirisch was trying to take things up a notch at Monogram, and it’s obvious they splurged a bit (relatively speaking) on Flight To Mars.
There are the effects and Cinecolor, of course. A cast with a few name actors in it. Some interesting sets for the underground Martian city, complete with a Herman Miller ball clock (designed by George Nelson). And a handful of nice matte paintings (certainly inspired by 1936’s Things To Come).
But you’ll still see some of the usual Poverty Row tricks — the cast is tiny, the sets are often reconfigured to create new spaces, and for a movie about space flight, there’s very little space actually seen. And it was all shot in just five days!
The Film Detective treated Flight To Mars to a 4K restoration from the picture’s original 35mm Cinecolor separation negatives. On the whole, it looks wonderful. The Cinecolor is terrific, given the process’s odd, limited color palette. Some scenes are sharper than others, with the Mars portion of the movie looking best. The grain’s a bit clunky in some scenes, but I’m so glad nobody tried to process it away. Never thought I’d see it look like this. The sound is quite nice, with more range than you’d expect. There are a couple of nice documentaries from Ballyhoo, a commentary from Justin Humphreys and an essay by Don Stradley.
I adore Monogram Pictures Corporation and have a real soft spot for many of their movies, no matter how good they actually are. I love Flight To Mars — and what The Film Detective has done with it. Highly, highly recommended.