“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” Wernher Von Braun.
In 1980 America has a space station (as proposed by rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun) in the shape of a wheel orbiting the Earth. The plan is to use it as a jumping off place to build and send a manned rocket to the moon. Colonel Samuel Merritt (Walter Brooke) is the space station’s designer and commander. On board is his son Captain Barney Merritt (Eric Fleming). He has been aboard for a year and wishes to get back to Earth to his wife. They had only been married for 3 months before he was assigned to the space station with his father.
An inspector from Earth, Dr. George Fenton (William Hopper), comes aboard the space station and presents Colonel Merritt with new orders. He has been promoted to general and instead of the moon the space ship will be going to Mars. This change in plan is greeted differently by members of the station. Barney volunteers to go on the mission as well as several astronauts. The colonel’s friend Sergeant Mahoney (Mickey Shaughnessy) volunteers but is rejected by the colonel who states that he is too old. (ageism at work). The colonel selects his crew, all men. (sexism at work.) The team blasts off for Mars.
Unbeknownst to the crew the colonel is suffering from space fatigue. As the mission goes on the colonel’s behavior is getting more and more bizarre. They lose a crew member and the weight of that sends the colonel deeper into his madness. Once they reach Mars he tries to crash the ship on the planet’s surface but his son stops him and lands the ship. Once they land the colonel tries to sabotage the ship. Barney confronts him and the colonel pulls a gun. (I have no idea where that came from.) They fight and Barney shoots and kills his father.
The remaining crew members must struggle to survive not knowing if they will ever make it back to Earth again.
“Conquest of Space” was released in 1955. The producer of the film was George Pal. Pal has a tendency to make expensive movies. This being one of them. Due to the over-runs in the budget the outer space special effects became stock footage for other movies. Specifically “Destination Space” which was a Television pilot done in 1959. One interesting note about all this is that “Conquest of Space” was done in color and “Destination Space” was a black and white pilot.
The visuals are impressive. The cinematography is standard George Pal. Which of course is never standard. The problem with “Conquest of Space” is that it has a tendency from time to time to plod along. Fortunately there’s usually something great to look at while it’s plodding. Not Pal’s best work but certainly not bad. The science in the science fiction story was as real as could be done at the time. There are some issues now about using Von Braun’s space wheel, but at the time it was the height of science possible.
One other thing I thought was weird was the sudden change from the Moon to Mars. I don’t think NASA ever tried that sleight of hand. The strange thing is that I found myself liking and not liking the movie. Except for the speech that Sergeant Imoto (Benson Fong) makes on why he wants to be on the crew, the dialogue could have been on mute and you wouldn’t have missed much. But his speech was actually great. Between that and the pretty pictures there is something to see here.