Saturday, July 31, 2021

FLIGHT TO MARS (1951) (The Film Detective Blu-ray Review)


Label: The Film Detective
Region: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 72 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with Optional English & Spanish Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.37:1) 
Lesley Selander
Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum, Richard Gaines, Lucille Barkley, Robert Barrat, Russ Conway, Edward Earle, Everett Glass

As much as I love cheesy, vintage science fiction I have always thought that Flight to Mars (1951) was a pretty flimsy slice of sci-fi, even as a kid. The film stars Cameron Mitchell (Raw Force) and was produced on the cheap for poverty row studio Monogram Pictures, under the reigns of the legendary producer Walter Mirisch (The Magnificent Seven), who would go onto produce many classic films, among them the seminal Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). 

The even then cliched story follows the adventures of Earth's first rocket ship expedition to the red planet, led by senior physicist Dr. Lane (John Litel, The Return of Dr. X) who is joined by Professor Jackson (Richard Gaines, Brute Force), engineer Jim Barker (Arthur Franz, Sisters of Death), assistant engineer Carol Stadwick (Virginia Huston, Out of the Past) and journalist Steve Abbott (Cameron Mitchell, Blood and Black Lace) who is there to report the groundbreaking expedition. On route to Mars the rocket ship loses communication with Earth following an meteor  storm which also damages their landing gear. This leaves the crew to decide to either continue onto Mars to complete their mission with little  chance of ever leaving  the planet or turning around and returning to Earth. The decision is made  and they end up crash-landing on Mars to complete the mission, with the intention of sending their observations back to Earth via self-propelled drones.   

After a rough but intact crash landing the scientist begin to explore the surface of the planet and are surprised to find alien structures, but they don't seem all that surprised when they are greeted by five Martians, who look just like humans. How convenient, so as not to drive up the production costs.  The advanced Mars inhabitants tell them that they have been receiving Earth's broadcast transmissions for years and have learned their language (and apparently only the English speaking broadcasts), hence they can speak English. They take the Earthlings to an advanced underground city powered by an element that it turns out is quickly depleting and is non-sustainable. In true 50's form when the sole woman from Earth sees the advanced society her first utterance is to declare that she cannot wait to see the kitchen! The Martians offer to repair the rocketship, but secretly the Martian leader Ikron (Morris Ankrum, The Giant Clawplans to either repair or copy the the Earthling's 
rocket-ship technology to evacuate the Martian from their dying planet and invade the Earth! 

As I said before, I have always thought this was a pretty flimsy bit of science fiction, but even still I do love these 50's cheese-fests, even the shabby ones, and this is a mighty shabby entry ladies and gentlemen. These sets can look paper-thin and are sparsely decorated, we don't even get the usual cool-looking Martian backdrops or alien ray guns. What we do get are some shoddy model rocket ships on strings, matte paintings and miniatures, but they are used quite sparingly. On the plus side the Martian costuming is quite interesting, from their colorful surface suits to their pajama's with capes formal wear, while others looks to be inspired by medieval garb; perhaps borrowed from other Mongram productions? Who needs lavish sets though when you have the lovely Marguerite Chapman as a very leggy Martian space babe named Alita, wearing a striking miniskirt ensemble with a plunging neckline, who has eyes for our sort-of leading man Cameron Mitchell, so that's something I guess. 

Audio/Video: Flight To Mars (1951) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from The Film Detective with a brand new 70th Anniversary restoration sourced 
the original 35mm Cinecolor Separation negatives that was completed by Paramount Pictures Archive, Andrea Kalas, Charles Stepczyk and Charlotte Johnson, presenting the film in full frame 1.37:1 in 1080p HD. The 2-color Cinecolor process was the budget version of the more lavish Technicolor process, but don't expect a burst of eye-popping color, the process offered limited colors and that's what we get. The source looks immaculate with not a blemish to be seen, it really looks great. Grain levels do fluctuate a bit throughout but it looks fairly consistent, and fine detail and textures are modest but appreciable. The worst I can say about it is that the color-grading seems inconsistent, I am unsure if this is a Cinecolor limitation or source related, but the color temperatures wax and wane throughout. The skin tones in the first reel look strangely bronzed, compared to later scenes, and the color grading can lean a bit blue/gray before blossoming into peach/orange, often in the same scene and back again, but it's not ruinous, and this is easily the best I've seen this look on home video. Overall a very solid HD presentation of a clunky Martian chronical from the golden age of 50's space-cheese. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. It's a strong presentation that sounds appropriately vintage, obviously there's not a lot depth or low-end, and the probably recycled sound effects sound canned, but it does the trick and is not burdened by hiss or distortion.  

The Film Detective give fans a wonderful assortment of extras; starting off with a brand new Audio commentary by author/film historian Justin Humphreys who gives the flick a solid talk about. He talks up the film a bit too much in my opinion, but along the way we get plenty of production facts, backstory about Mongram Pictures and Mirish, anecdotes about the cast, and a candid, but still too-glowing,  assessment of the film's  shortcomings. We also get a pair of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures produced featurettes, the first is the 14-minute Walter Mirisch: From Bombay to Body Snatchers with filmmaker Courtney Joyner discussing Walter Mirisch's attempt to raise the stature of poverty tow mini-major Monogram Pictures, and the second is the 11-minute Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema's First Space Race with science-fiction artist/historian Vincent Di Fate who offers up a breezy history of space-travel films. 

The single-disc releases comes in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster. Inside there's an illustrated 12-page collector's
booklet with a new essay,
 Mars at the Movies, by author Don Stradley who tells the history of Martian cinema from the Edison Company's 1910 adventure on through to the overstuffed 50's entries, it's decline in the 60's and revival in the 90's and beyond. 

Special Features:
- Mirisch: From Bombay to Body Snatchers with C. Courtney Joyner (14 min) 
- Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema's First Space Race, with science-fiction artist/historian Vincent Di Fate (11 min) 
- Audio Commentary by author/film historian Justin Humphreys
- 12-Page Illustrated Collector's Booklet with essay, Mars at the Movies, by award-winning author Don Stradley

I have been absolutely loving The Film Detective's Blu-ray journey through the archives of The Wade Williams Collection. It has yielded some terrific b-movie gems like the avant-garde Manson entry The Other Side of Madness and the axe-wielding Conquistador terror of Giant from the Unknown, and while this might be my least favorite of the three, it's still a top-notch releases with some fantastic extras, which I thought were a bit more entertaining than the actual film. If you're a fan of vintage 50's space-cheese this might be something you need in your collection, even if you're not a fan of the film the extras are great and the presentation is exceptional.  

Screenshots from The Film Detective Blu-ray: