Friday, August 24, 2012

YouTube Finds :: The Thing that Came from Outer Hell! :: Lester Berke's The Lost Missile (1958)

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"You men know what to do in

situation red -- this is situation red!"
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Our film begins with the impending outbreak of World War III when the Russians detect an unidentified missile invading their airspace. Wasting no time, counter-rockets are launched to intercept. And though they score a direct hit, the missile is not destroyed but knocked off course. Also of note, before launching a counter-strike against the U.S., the Russians realize their target came not from over the North Pole but from outer space and abort. Meanwhile, that rogue missile -- we assume it's unmanned or the alien crew died from that initial bombardment -- has achieved a sustained orbit some five miles above the surface, is traveling at nearly 4,200 miles an hour, and is generating enough radioactive heat to leave a ten mile swath of utter destruction in it's wake!

What follows next is a standard commercial for America's early warning network, who soon pick up on this missile, determine its origin, and calculate its path, finding the runaway is making a bee-line for New York City, home of one of America's premier atomic research centers. Ordered to evacuate when all conventional weapons prove impotent against this extraterrestrial invader, lead scientist David Loring (Loggia) puts his matrimonial hiccups on hold to try and speed up the design and manufacturing of his own pet project, a baby nuke, that will hopefully stop the seemingly unstoppable...

After giving The Lost Missile the hard sell to a friend on Facebook a couple days ago, this conversation had me itching to watch it again to see if my glowing endorsement was as legitimate as I had insinuated, or, more than likely, found me completely talking out of my ass again. Well, I did, watch it, and found that I still enjoyed it quite a bit; even though the film's basic components are 40% stock military footage, 30% stock Civil Defense training films, 20% over-reaching melodrama, 5% Why we fight propaganda, and 5% SCIENCE! as the runaway radioactive rocket circles the Earth. But coming in at a brief 70 minutes, despite all of that filler, the film still feels like it's even shorter than that thanks to the impending doom that greases the narrative.

What the film really reminded me of was Curt Siodmak's The Magnetic Monster, which also featured a sobering tale of hard-working men of science facing a plausible threat with extinction-levels of global ramifications if they fail to rein in a rampaging isotope. (The films do share the same F/X team, led by Jack Glass, and was co-sripted by Jerome Bixby, who wrote IT! The Terror from Beyond Space and Fantastic Voyage.) And despite it's patchwork origins, The Lost Missile works due to the over-achieving efforts of the players, led by Robert Loggia as the lead scientist, who's ably supported by love-interest, Ellen Parker, and B-Movie vets like Robert Shayne and John MacNamara, who all help this heaping helping of schlock go down a lot easier.

One of the last films to be produced by William Berke, who, according to legend, died two days into filming, with his son, Lester, stepping into the director's chair to finish, The Lost Missile does rely way too much on stock-footage and a dour narrator to link it all together -- and several sudsy subplots could easily have been left on the editing room floor. However, there are some fairly effective scenes of the missile's approach and what's left after it has passed. Mentioned should also be made of a staggering montage of the eventual end of the world as the narrator tics off which eventual orbit will lay waste to certain cities around the globe until there is nothing left but ash. And even though most of Canada is lost, the city of New York is saved *whew* when the massacring missile is finally destroyed by good old American (destructive) ingenuity -- but not without great, personal loss to our protagonists and a bitter pill ending, which direly reemphasizes the old Cold War screed of everyone pitching in and sacrificing -- and paying the ultimate price if need be, to keep the world safe for Democracy.


The Lost Missile is readily available for viewing on many streaming services, including YouTube, VEOH, Amazon Instant, and Hulu.

The Lost Missile (1958) William Berke Productions Inc. :: United Artists / P: William Berke / P: Lee Gordon / D: Lester Wm. Berke / W: John McPartland, Jerome Bixby / C: Kenneth Peach / E: Everett Sutherland / M: George Brand, Gerald Fried / S: Robert Loggia, Ellen Parker, Phillip Pine, Larry Kerr, Robert Shayne, John McNamara

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