Two of these count as â€œsci-fiâ€ in B-movie forms. The other two caused me problems as a viewer, but very different problems.
The Lost Jungle, 1934, b&w, David Howard and Armand Schaefer (dir.), Clyde Beatty. 1:08
This is the â€œfeature versionâ€ of a serial with the same name, which ran roughly four hours total. Maybe the four-hour version had a more coherent plot. The short version is mostly wild animal â€œtrainingâ€ and capture, with a pathetic jungle-rescue plot added. Hereâ€™s the problem: Clyde Beatty may have been the â€œgoodâ€ animal trainer, as opposed to a vicious underling portrayed in the movie, but weâ€™re still talking about removing proud predators from their native environments, â€œtrainingâ€ them with whips and other methods, and putting them on display. Iâ€™m no PETA person, but I am an HSUS member and I couldnâ€™t watch the movie without some disdain and discomfort. Different times, I guess. Otherwise, weakly acted and an erratic plot. $0.
Mesa of Lost Women, 1953, b&w, Ron Ormand and Herbert Tevos (dir.), Jackie Coogan, Lyle Talbot (narration). 1:10 [1:09].
Mad scientist creating giant immortal women and stunted little menâ€”oh, and giant spiders as a byproductâ€”within a remote Mexican mesa. Thrills! Chills! Really absurd plot and endless guitar strumming! Exotic dances! Portentous narration! A mess, but an amusing mess. Sometimes-damaged print. $0.50.
Assignment Outer Space, 1960, color, Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Rik Von Nutter, Gabriella Farinon, David Montresor. 1:13
A newsman gets assigned to a space station whose commander doesnâ€™t really want him there, and of course thereâ€™s an Earth-threatening emergency almost immediately (a derelict space ship that emits a sun-temperature field surrounding it for several thousand miles is about to enter Earth orbit and destroy all lifeâ€”we do like to launch ambitious projects, donâ€™t we?). Classic B sci-fi and of course thereâ€™s a female crew member who almost immediately falls deeply in love with the reporter. Maybe one reason they had trouble with the spaceships is that the meters are obviously audio distortion meters (no attempt to obscure or replace the labels: RMS Wow doesnâ€™t have much to do with navigating a spaceship). Decent production values, somewhat faded color, nothing great but watchable. $1.
Laser Mission, 1990, color, BJ Davis (dir.), Brandon Lee, Debi A. Monahan, Ernest Borgnine, rated R. 1:24.
How do you get a 15-year-old movie with major stars on a cheap 50-movie pack? This one has to be in copyright. Yes, it is that Brandon Lee, Bruce Leeâ€™s sonâ€”and how many Ernest Borgnines do you know? Excellent color, no signs of print damage, at least full VHS quality and maybe a little better, good production values. So whatâ€™s the problem? Itâ€™s meretricious tripe: A story about a mercenary who takes great delight in slaughtering as many â€œenemiesâ€ as he can, occasionally with martial arts moves but mostly with rapid-fire weaponry. And heâ€™s the hero. Thereâ€™s a â€œscienceâ€ twist: a diamond about the size of a golf ball (introduced at a luncheon with maybe two security guards), with which an aging scientist (Borgnine) can, after the rockâ€™s stolen, be coerced into building a â€œsuper laser weapon that creates atomic explosionsâ€ or something of the sort. The villains appear to be ex-Nazis in South America. I think. Debi Monahan (a looker, of course) is supposed to be the scientistâ€™s daughterâ€”which certainly seems believable as she whips out her thigh-mounted pistol and outshoots Lee. I could only watch it by treating the violence as cartoon violence: The body count was in the hundreds, usually for no apparent reason. I canâ€™t recommend this one even as high camp. $0.
And there it is: The end of the first half. Look for the whole thing in a future issue of Cites & Insights (I would say “the next issue,” but it’s always possible that space problems will force it forward.)
Now, back to the TV movies…