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May 13, 2015

For the Love of Film - The Film Preservation Blogathon: Spaceways

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Terence Fisher - 1953
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

"Space is a cold place to die!" doesn't quite grab your attention like "In space, no one can hear you scream". Back when Spaceways was produced, just the idea of a man traveling by rocket was still sufficiently the stuff of science fiction, the first artificial satellite, the Russian Sputnik still about five years in the future, with Yuri Gagarin making his historic voyage in 1961.

For most of its brief running time, people talk about space travel, but most of the action is earthbound. A coproduction of the low budget Lippert Pictures with Hammer Film Productions, Spaceways is one of several films that had a second string Hollywood star with a primarily British cast. Howard Duff is the American scientist. Stephen Mitchell, who works with a small team on Britain's space program. Also on the team are the boyishly enthusiastic Toby Andrews, the unctuous Philip Crenshaw and the obligatory smart babe of the bunch, Lisa Frank, whose also the exotic foreigner from an unnamed European country. (For those interested, the life of Eva Bartok was more dramatic than any of her films.)

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The scientists attend a party where it has been announced that funding has been approved for more experiments. We first see Stephen's wife, Vanessa, the bored with the scientific chit-chat, her pinched face suggesting that she's doing her best to keep from breathing a nearby fart. Claiming a headache, she leaves the party, followed by Crenshaw. The two make plans to run away together, and are spied upon by Stephen. Prior to going home, Stephen takes a walk with Lisa to her place. They way the two look at each other, it's obvious they would rather knock boots than shake hands. Vanessa later complains that Stephen could be making significantly more money for private industry instead of toiling for the government. As far as Stephen is concerned, he wants to see his current work completed.

Vanessa and Crenshaw later disappear. No one knows where they are, but a certain Dr. Smith suspects that Stephen murdered the lovers, and stuffed their bodies in a rocket that is currently orbiting the earth. There is also a mystery concerning missing rocket fuel. The only way Stephen can hope to clear his name is to retrieve the rocket, and coincidentally be the first man in space.

It's only in the last few minutes that Terence Fisher displays any hint of the style he would bring to the horror films that won him fame. What we have is marginally film noir for the bulk of the first sixty-four minutes, with science fiction talking over for the final ten minutes. Unlike some films from about the same time, the interior of the rocket here is hardly dazzling in its gadgetry, but mostly brutally utilitarian. Those metal chairs don't look comfortable for any kind of travel. The space suits consist of dark plastic jump suits with heavy divers helmets.

Being short of running time and money, Spaceways ends a bit abruptly, and too easily. For a few brief moments, with Stephen and Lisa adrift in orbit, the end of Spaceways could have been the beginning of Gravity.

This entry is part of the For the Love of Film - The Film Preservation Blogathon hosted by Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod and Wonders in the Dark. The goal is to raise $10,000 for the preservation of the silent romantic comedy short, Cupid in Quarantine, with online viewing made available through the National Film Preservation Foundation. So get off your, um, duff, and make a donation.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 13, 2015 09:15 AM