Satellite in the Sky (1956)


Now comes Satellite in the Sky, a version of the mid-century British sci-fi film I’ve mentioned the last couple of days… but one with a budget. Shot in CinemaScope in Warner Color, this was the first color science fiction movie make in the UK. It looks gorgeous and feels newer than 1956. It’s a shame the action doesn’t quite match.

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The pace is set early with extended footage of Commander Michael Hayden’s (Kieron Moore) airplane backed by majestic music. The shots feel like stock footage, but don’t look like it, if that makes sense. The title card at the end of the movie thanks the government agencies for their technical assistance and “kind permission to use their aircraft.”

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Although Hayden is going to lead the first flight to prove that man can go beyond the earth’s gravity through the stratosphere, the drama is firmly grounded for much of the “wow-it’s-only-85-minutes-long” running time. It reminds me of Marooned (1969) with its focus on the women the astronauts are leaving behind.

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Barbara Noble (Thea Gregory) is tired of her husband, Larry (Jimmy Hanley) spending more time at work than with her, so she starts stepping out on him. However, when she faces the possibility that he might not return, she has a change of heart and makes a beeline for mission control with all her emotions.

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Ellen (Shirley Lawrence) is the cute young model girlfriend of Jimmy Wheeler (Bryan Forbes.) She’s the one running out on him for a show when he’s trying to propose marriage to her. When she faces the possibility that he might not return, she’s grateful he called at the last minute to do it over the phone.

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What? Commander Hayden has no relationship? That’s so there’s room for one to develop when persistent reporter Kim Hamilton (Lois Maxwell) stows away on the rocket to get a scoop on the mission. They have genuine, if predictable, chemistry. At first, they're at odds over the mission, but we learn there’s a reason.

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Now for the drama in space. At the last minute, they learn that the mission was funded by the government to test an experimental bomb. They plan to explode it in space in order to convince the world to stop using nuclear weapons. I have to stop for a minute to decide if that makes sense. Let’s put that aside for now.

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The point is that they have a hard time detaching it from the rocket and the countdown clock is ticking. If they don’t come up with a solution, the crew is going to explode with the bomb. Professor Merrity (Donald Wolfit) is the villain/comic relief when he unravels and goes into Dr. Smith (Lost in Space) mode as the pressure increases.

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Satellite in the Sky has a compelling plot, but I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more than I did. The special effects are better than average (Wally Veevers would later work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Maybe it comes back to the point that it’s British. It’s a little dry… a little talky… a slightly different sensibility. Or maybe it’s just that there are movies like it that are better.

Written by John Mather & J.T. McIntosh and Edith Dell

Directed by Paul Dickson

Starring Kieron Moore, Lois Maxwell, Donald Wolfit, Bryan Forbes, Jimmy Hanley, Barry Keegan, Donald Gray, Thea Gregory, Shirley Lawrence

RT 85 min.

Released July 21, 1956

Recorded on Sept. 25, 2020 (TCM)

Rating 6 Godzillas (out of 10)

This review is part of the annual Countdown to Halloween. I invite you to join me as I attempt to gain some space on my DVR. Every day, I'll be watching something from the bottom of the list, thereby reducing the percentage that's full... so I can record more!


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