War of the Satellites (1958)

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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.

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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.

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15 thoughts on “War of the Satellites (1958)”

    1. And so arrogant in this one, who are the aliens to decide how far we can travel and explore? These movies are always lots of fun. Thanks!

  1. Great choice,and a most entertaining write -up.
    I bet you were hard pressed choosing between other
    AA Corman flicks like NOT OF THIS EARTH and
    ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS.
    What a tragic life Susan Cabot had-always liked her especially
    in her glory days at Universal.
    I guess she will be best remembered for her Corman “cult classics”

    1. It was a tough choice and I suggested to Toby maybe in a sequel blogathon we could cover some more. I like Cabot, she’s the “girl scientist” here, doesn’t get that much to do but welcome anyway, and did a nice eewww recoil when the Dr. clone started hitting on her. These movies are so much fun.

  2. This sounds fun! I love the title, WAR OF THE SATELLITES. It’s so ’50s!

    I really enjoyed Susan Cabot in her Universal Westerns so that’s another reason to try this one sometime. Thanks for putting another Allied Artists movie on my radar screen! (That comment sounds sort of sci-fi-ish…LOL.)

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. on your radar and safe to explore now that the aliens have been defeated. The thing with the teens out parking was crazy, reminded me of a Law & Order opening. Totally didn’t belong but then oddball stuff like that is what makes these movies so much fun. I could watch them all day. Thanks!

  3. This one certainly rings a bell, although it’s certainly a distant bell… I must’ve seen this one as a kid. Don’t you love it when the movie poster (or the spacesuit on the poster, in this case) looks nothing like what actually appears in the movie? Always a downer when you’re an impressionable kid!

    1. Yeah that poster is really false advertising 🙂 would be a real bummer for kids! When you’re an adult who can overlook such things, these movies are so fun. That couple out in the woods was like something out of a comedy too. Thanks!

  4. Everything about this sounds awesome – the leather recliners, the wardrobe, the dismissive “you wouldn’t understand” lines.

    Also, does the film give the formula for making clones out of oneself? I could really use that these days. Oh wait – of course the film wouldn’t have that formula…because we “wouldn’t understand” it! 😉

    1. haha, exactly, see how much time and mental effort that saves you? brilliant. I sure do need a clone or two and a recliner for each, I have all these movies sitting here unwatched!

  5. Hmm, sounds like the kind of cheap, fun picture it’s very easy to sit back and lose yourself in. And I’m a big fan of Ms Cabot so her presence is another attraction.

  6. I haven’t seen this but have seen other Roger Corman 50s Sci-Fi, and thought well of those so likely I’d enjoy it. Thanks for writing about it here.

    Generally, I like low-budget science-fiction of the 1950s more than expensive later Sci-Fi loaded with elaborate special effects. These 50s movies may be low-tech (and OK, they can be described as cheap) but rely more on imagination and the resourcefulness of their creators. And within the matinee ambiance, there are always interesting ideas, too. Really, it was the Golden Age for the genre.

    1. It’s a lot of fun and on YT if you want to see it right away. I love these and similar quality/era of horror. I mean “cheap” in the best way 🙂 they are super creative about bang for the buck, and have cool ideas (those tablet screens and suits aren’t dated at all)… total comfort food. I just watched a couple lower budget sci-fi from the past few yrs and it’s nice to see there’s still a place for those among the massive blockbusters.

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