Muz z prvního století [Man in Outer Space] (1962)

(aka Man of the First Century)

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I was disappointed by this one.

I’m a big fan of Czech Comedies, particularly Czech SF comedies.  There is a wild absurdity about them that you won’t find in anyone else’s comedies.  And I am also a big fan of Oldrich Lipsky’s Czech comedies as he made some of the best of them, including such gems as  Four Murders Are Enough, Darling; Lemonade Joe; I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen; Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet; and The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians.

So, naturally, I have been looking for his early SF comedy, Man in Outer Space, for a very long time.  But that doesn’t change the fact that for once, Lipsky’s comedy fell flat, achieving only a certain mild level of amusement without ever reaching the heights of absurdity of his best films.

I really want to love this film, thanks to the fact that we end up in a future that looks like something out of a Popular Science Magazine from the Fifties, with neat little flying cars (which, we are told, are Skodas and Tatras) and wild buildings with lots of glass and pointless turning bits. The design work is impressive, and the models are quite good for the era, not quite as good as Derek Meddings’ work for Gerry Anderson, but better than you’d have found in the Italian films.

And the basic notion seems promising material for a satiric absurdist like Lipsky.  A grumbling worker accidentally launches the rocket he’s working on, and returns five hundred years later (this is never really explained, and there are no references to relativity and time distortions).

Unfortunately, he returns to a socialist utopia and all the fun drains out of the film.

We’re talking about a world where machines provide everything, no one works at anything they don’t love, there are no bosses, no one has to approve anything, no status, no jostling for position, no need to impress anyone else.

And no resemblance to any real human society we’ve ever seen.

Milos Kopecký showed up as a villain in several Lipsky films (and played Baron Prasil/Munchausen in Karel Zeman’s film) and was quite funny in some of them.  Here, he’s given a venal, lazy, greedy, goldbricking character to play, who has an annoying stutter and nothing much to make him at all sympathetic.

I find it a touch ironic that, more than anything else, his venality and obsession with status remind me of Wef and Bee in Georgiy Daneliya’s insanely brilliant Georgian comedy, Kin Dza Dza.  For some strange reason a lot of people seem to completely miss the fact that Daneliya was skewering the everyday realities of life in the Soviet Union, and that Wef, Bee and all the other greedy, status obsessed people of the Planet Pluk were everywhere in Soviet society.  Life in the Soviet Union bred generations of people obsessed with envy, position and getting everything they could.

As I’ve noted before, propaganda makes poor theater, and I suspect that the studio was given the job of making a film which condemned this sort of behavior.  So naturally, Josef isn’t allowed a single redeeming characteristic, and at the end we are warned that he is on his way!  However, compare this to the Czech films made just a few years later: for example,  the hero of Who Wants To Kill Jesse? (1966) is given an official guide to how to survive in prison which teaches him to secrete lots of money for bribes in his prison uniform!

There is, in fact, one moment that almost reaches the level of humor we should expect from a Lipsky film, when Josef tries to order dumplings but keeps getting lobster, while later on we find another character whose room is filled with these Czech dumplings (sort of a boiled log of bread the size and shape of a salami) because he keeps getting them when he tries to order lobster!

But it seems to be the only time they were allowed to suggest that their perfect future wasn’t entirely perfect.  It’s as out of place as that lizard running loose in the computer in THX 1138.

Oh well.  It is mildly amusing, even if you just can’t believe in a future where no one ever has to do anything they don’t want to do, or put in long years of training for their jobs.

It just doesn’t live up to Lipsky’s high standard.

Not that that would be easy.

 

(Former member of Mark’s Wish List)

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