In Roger Corman’s War of the Satellites (1958), space exploration is blocked by a mysterious alien group intent on protecting the universe from the interference of humans, who they see as intellectual infants at best and a virus contaminating the Earth at worst. Even after a series of Project Sigma satellites explode when they reaching a certain point in space, scientists are undeterred and plan how to improve the program and technology. Then a message–on paper delivered by rocket–arrives from space and is found by two teenagers necking in the woods (ring a ding ding ding, daddy!). The message orders the UN and all humanity to stop space travel, but humans shrug and proceed anyway. Next the aliens send an emissary, who takes on the likeness of the man heading the program, Dr. Van Ponder (Richard Devon), after he dies in a car crash.
This fake Van is able to create clones of himself to be in several places at once, and is allowed to command the next expedition despite arousing suspicions when he acts strangely and the terrible burns he suffers in the lab don’t cause him pain or lasting injury. Van plans to sabotage the mission and end the program once and for all by flying the spacecraft straight into certain destruction at the dangerous barrier area (which I could’ve sworn I heard Control call the Magneto cloud). Will the crew be able to stop this alien doppelganger?
This is a super-low budget film done in weeks, and began with Corman’s promise to Allied to use the word satellite in the title to capitalize on the recent Sputnik launch; even the manned spacecraft in the film are referred to as satellites and the teens mention the Sputnik listing in the TV Guide. As usual for many of Corman’s early epics, effects are cheap and cheesy, depend on miniatures and a few sets used over and over with slight alterations, and usually there are also some delightfully creative and forward-looking techniques and details to be found. The ship is huge and roomy with labyrinthine halls and arch structures, and people get so far away from each other they use tablet screens to see what other areas are up to. The crew (which includes Susan Cabot and heroic Dick Miller) walk around leisurely and sit down seconds before takeoff. And where do they sit but in gorgeous leather recliners with a rocker base (I want one in front of my TV) with one seat belt around their waist to protect them from the crushing G-forces.
The spacesuits are not as shown in the poster above. They’re dark, stylish, minimalist onesies with lots of strategically placed zippers, the shoes are eternally cool low black Chucks with white soles, and they communicate by pressing on a slim black collar. I like how easily they explain away complicated concepts and theories just by saying “oh you wouldn’t understand.” Certainly saved research and screenwriting departments a lot of work. The effect where Van massages his hand to erase his severe burns is clever, as is the clone generation process. Facing a medical exam, Van fabricates himself a beating heart, and in so doing, inadvertently neutralizes his alien power to control the bodies of others and also gives himself pesky human feelings. Suddenly overcome by a powerful attraction to Sybil (Cabot), he gives himself away and foils his mission by professing his love to her. The Van clone that splits off from this lovelorn one is distinguishable by his pale face, generous use of eyeshadow, and withering disapproving look for the one that betrayed the mission by going human. Credit to Devon for doing such a fun job playing the real Van and all these different copies in doppelgangland. He and the rest of this neat cast make all the talky parts fun to sit through, and the whole thing is schlocky fun.
Roger Corman makes an appearance at mission control, along with Robert Shayne and writer/director Bruno VeSota, who was seen in many Corman pictures.
This post is part of the Allied Artists Blogathon hosted by Toby of 50 Westerns from the 50s & The Hannibal 8. Please click here to see the other Allied Artists films being covered as part of this event.