Friday, January 27, 2017

First Man into Space (1959)

I haven't seen First Man Into Space in an age.  For a while it was a late night TV favourite, along with its stablemates Grip of The Strangler and the magnificently surreal and nightmarish Fiend Without a Face.   Like its predecessors, the film was produced by Amalgamated Films and distributed by MGM, but unlike them was far too derivative.  First Man Into Space is a pretty blatant knock off of The Quatermass Experiment, featuring an astronaut who returns to earth infected by an alien organism which turns him into a killer.  Unlike his counterpart in The Quatermass Experiment, who gradually mutates into a hideous monster, the eponymous protagonist of First Man Into Space returns to earth encrusted by a rock like substance (the monster get up is probably the best thing in the film).  This, apparently, is starving him of oxygen, forcing him to rampage around the countryside attacking cattle and people in order to drink their oxygenated blood.

The movie even tries to replicate the ending of the original TV version of The Quatermass Experiment, in which Professor Quatermass appeals to the human side of the now unrecognisably mutated astronaut, effectively persuading him to commit suicide.  In First Man Into Space, the mutated astronaut is persuaded to enter a high altitude chamber by his brother (who also happens to be the mission director), where a simulated high altitude enables him to regain his humanity before he expires.  Unfortunately, the film never comes close to replicating the atmosphere, tension or originality of The Quatermass Experiment, (either TV or film version) let alone its interesting characterisations and dialogue.  That said, it is, in its own right, a reasonably entertaining little b-movie, but without either the presence of Boris Karloff  or the truly surreal sight of a house besieged by crawling brains boasted by Grip of the Strangler and Fiend Without a Face, respectively, it has nothing to lift it out of the ordinary.  A cast of familiar b-movie faces perform as best they can within the film's limitations, but no one is outstanding.   However, it should be noted that First Man Into Space has, in the past, been unfairly maligned by some reviewers. There is a persistent story that the film was shot entirely in the UK, despite being set in the US, with Surrey standing in for New Mexico, which is entirely untrue.  Although some sequences were filmed around Hampstead Heath, the New Mexico sequences were, in fact, filmed in New Mexico.



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