Conquest of Space (1955)

Classic sci-fi film from producer George Pal about astronauts on board a space station known as The Wheel. The Wheel’s crew is made up entirely of men. There’s no obligatory female crew member for all the men to make passes at. Had there been one, rest assured handsome leading man type Eric Fleming would have been all up on that. The commander (and creator) of The Wheel, General Merritt (Walter Brooke), has to assemble a small team for the first manned mission to Mars. The General’s not happy about this but he gathers the team anyway. It includes his son (Eric Fleming), a medical doctor (Ross Martin), an electronics expert (Phil Foster), and a geologist (Benson Fong). Soon after their mission is underway, the General has a mental breakdown and begins to have doubts not only about their mission, but whether God would approve of man’s exploration of space altogether.

I’ve seen people describe this film as both pro and anti-religious. It’s funny how people’s sensitivities and prejudices flare up on both sides when it comes to religion and politics. I don’t find the film anti-religious at all. It’s maybe anti-religious NUT but what sane person isn’t? As for the flip side, it’s certainly hard to argue the film is pushing a religious agenda when the General is shown as being mentally unbalanced to the point of trying to murder his own son. The film also ends on a positive note about man’s exploration of space, as well as a cute wink that the Almighty approves.

The cast is solid. Walter Brooke has the most difficult role but he handles it well, I think. I didn’t always understand his character’s thought process but I did believe that he was losing his grip with each passing moment. Eric Fleming exceeds expectations, particularly in the later half of the movie. He has “stock leading man” written all over him but he does a good job. Comic relief Phil Foster grated on my nerves the first time I watched this but in subsequent viewings he’s grown on me to where he’s become one of my favorite parts of the film! Benson Fong represents an earnest attempt on the filmmakers’ part to include some diversity in the cast. You would think this would be applauded but a lot of reviews simply point out a few stereotypical facets of his character. Admittedly, his “little man” speech is deserving of a few laughs, well-intentioned though it may have been. Regardless, his character is an intelligent, thoughtful man who is presented as an equal to his Caucasian peers and plays a significant role in the film. How is this not worthy of admiration?

I love sci-fi films from the ’50s. I see so many complaints about this and other space exploration films of the time that nitpick all the technical errors. The dreaded word “realism” is often used as a bludgeon in these critiques. They say this or that isn’t possible, so therefore the story fails. The best of these old films are full of imagination and wonder and a sense of awe at what might be possible, not dwelling on what isn’t. That, to me, is what science fiction is all about. As for Conquest of Space, it’s an extremely entertaining sci-fi movie with good special effects for the time. It also has rich colors and fun sets. This was back before all sci-fi films were drab and monotone. If you’re a fan of classic science fiction movies, you should like this one.