Destination Space (1959)

This has, of course, been billed as a “lost” Fifties science fiction film.  Not that the label really fits.

Destination Space was instead the pilot for a television series that never got made.  Long time television character actor Harry Townes got a rare starring role, with John Agar second billed  and Edward Platt (“The Chief” from Get Smart) in a small guest star part.

It is a very earnest little film, which tries very hard to present a realistic picture of the future of spaceflight.  Perhaps too realistic, as it ends up far more interested in the mechanics of spaceflight and the political process for approving the massive costs of sending a manned probe to the moon than in showing any actual space travel.

Of course, part of the problem is that the pilot’s impressive effects are in fact literally too impressive for TV – they were lifted wholesale from Conquest of Space.  How they would have proceeded if they had, in fact, got series approval is a rather curious question, particularly when you remember that Conquest of Space featured a trip to Mars and not the Moon.  In fact, the massive wings of the Mars ship make little sense on a moon probe.

It’s interesting to note that Men Into Space, a half-hour children’s show which has much in common with Destination Space, debuted the same year on CBS.  It also featured spacecraft torn from the pages of Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell’s work, although they weren’t borrowed from other films:  Louis DeWitt created them for the series.  Ultimately, these effects proved too expensive and the show was cancelled.

Destination Space was produced by Paramount Studios for CBS, which does seem a rather large coincidence. One does wonder if there is some connection. Perhaps this was another, unsuccessful attempt to fill the same CBS request for a realistic space show.

I suspect the television audience of the day would have found the opening sequence, in which the crew of the space station prepare to launch the Moon probe, somewhat dry, even if a meteor does finally rush past and liven things up.  However, the final act, where the Moon probe’s reactor malfunctions and its crew struggles to repair it before it explodes, builds up quite a bit of suspense – before the film suddenly reaches an anticlimactic to-be-continued TV ending.

This is one of those films that will undoubtedly prove most interesting for completists.  It does have its moments, although if you’re looking for lots of spacecraft action you will be sorely disappointed.

However, I have to note that one of the borrowed sequences seems almost impossibly strange, regardless of which film it was in:  when the ferry ship arrives at the big wheel, the astronauts jump out of a hatch and just drift over to the space station – without either safety lines or thruster packs of any sort!  That’s a good way to lose a an astronaut or two.

Oh, well, guess we’ll just have to bring a few spares.

And for those interested in a peek at Men Into Space:

 

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