The Flame Barrier (1958) offers a simple, yet intriguing sci-fi concept, but the minutes between the points the plot is established and is then ultimately resolved (in other words, the bulk of the movie) are comprised of an odd hybrid of jungle adventure and romance. The movie it evoked most for me is, strangely enough, The African Queen (1951.) However, with the appearance of a chimpanzee, I also got a little bit of a Tarzan vibe.
According to writers Pat Fielder (screenplay) and George Worthing Yates (story and screenplay), the "flame barrier" is the area 200 miles above the earth that lies between our atmosphere and outer space. A satellite is successfully launched into space, but it unfortunately fails, falls through the flame barrier and crash lands in the jungle. When a man, Howard Dahlmann (Dan Gachman) disappears near the crash site, his wife, Carol (Kathleen Crowley)…
…hires two brothers, Dave Hollister (Arthur Franz) and Matt Hollister (Robert Brown), to lead an expedition to find him. So far, so good, and just because most of an hour is spent depicting this expedition doesn't mean it's not entertaining. It's just not very "sci-fiey." It also doesn't mean Carol won't face any danger. Why, she faces spiders and snakes, gets splashed with mud and, worst of all, can take only one small bag with her!
For a threadbare story, there are some attempts at depth in the characterization of Carol that I found interesting. First, we're not sure of her motives. Is she really concerned for her husband's welfare or does she just want to find proof of his death so she can collect his life insurance? Her own motives might not even be clear to her; she admits as much to Dave. This could also be, though, because she's… brace yourselves… falling in love with him.
I was kind of surprised by this development, although I probably shouldn't have been. Matt is the more charming, energetic brother. He's a lovable lothario that you could imagine Carol taming. No, it's the older, grumpier brother, Dave, with whom Carol shares romantic moments. Perhaps because he's a more restrained character, I'm not sure what Carol sees in him. (His is also not a particularly dynamic performance.)
When they learn the fate of Howard Dahlmann, we return to the world of sci-fi and, again, there's an intriguing concept at the core. The action comes to a fairly suspenseful conclusion, although the details of their situation and solution to the problem are a little wonky. What they predict will happen doesn't fit the timeline of events so far; nevertheless, they are correct and find themselves in a race against time to prevent worldwide destruction. (Not really; I exaggerate.)
The Flame Barrier came from Gramercy Pictures, which produced the horror/sci-fi films The Monster That Challenged the World (1957), The Vampire (1957), and The Return of Dracula (1958); it was released on a double bill with the latter. Chances are you've seen one of those and enjoyed it. That should give you a good idea of what we've got here. While this is probably the least substantial of the bunch, it's not bad, not bad at all.
Written by Pat Fielder, George Worthing Yates
Directed by Paul Landres
Starring Arthur Franz, Kathleen Crowley, Robert Brown
Released April 2, 1958 RT 70 min.
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