1961...I'm 7 years old and going to the movies with the folks all the time. "Atlantis, The Lost Continent" was a pretty good fantasy film with a Hollywood take on the continent during the Greek civilization. It was directed by George Pal starring Anthony Hall, Joyce Taylor and John Dahl. There were touches of "Island Of Lost Souls" with the so-called "House Of Fear" where people are turned into half-animal/half men beasts. Good supporting cast of Berry Kroeger, Frank De Kova (later Chief Wild Eagle on "F-Troop") and Edward Platt (The Chief on "Get Smart"). Pretty decent special effects which would be used in a number of 20th Century Fox television shows, You can see the final explosion of Atlantis in some episodes of "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea".
Disney's "The Absent Minded Professor" with Fred MacMurray who creates a substance which gains energy when it strikes a hard substance. What kid didn't go out to the store and buy this substance to have at home? Remember "Flubber"? Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn and Tommy Kirk co-starred with a number of veteran actors and it would spawn a sequel, "Son Of Flubber" two years later.
Coming up next and mentioned on this site are "Master Of The World","Gorgo","Konga" and Mothra" all of the giant monster genre. But next is a film that would influence my life later on and help define my career.
The United States and the USSR both in the midst of the Cold War, flexing their muscles and testing nuclear weapons. The premise of "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" was both countries simultaneously testing nuclear weapons at the same time at opposite ends of the earth. That sends the earth out of its orbit heading towards the sun and the world trying to figure out how to reverse this and at the same time deal with the rising temperatures. The film deals with the lives of people in London, specifically those working for the Daily Express newspaper. Reporter Pete Stenning (Edward Judd), who has taken to drink rather than reporting stories opens the film telling us of what happened as he walks through the streets of a deserted London. In the flashback "barely 90-days ago" we see the incidents of heavy fog, rain and then increasing temperatures. We meet Stenning's friend Bill McGuire (Leo McKern) who has saved Pete's job and a woman who works in the Meterological Office Jeannie Crain (Janet Munro who overhears on the switchboard what has happened after the bombs were detonated. She begins a relationship with Pete who is drinking following a divorce and we see how they cope with the expected end of the world, complete with riots, water rationing. Finally a number of nuclear bombs are to be detonated hoping that it will send the earth back to its natural orbit. We see 2 headlines "Earth Saved" and "Earth Doomed" and don't know the outcome until we begin hearing church bells which either indicate it's worked or it's noon. Great acting in this film and every year on my anniversary in the news business, I watch this film. Never get tired of it. Directed by Val Guest who did the Quattermass films in the 50's and written by Wolf Mankowitz.
Time to visit another planet and that's where we went to "The Phantom Planet" with Dean Fredericks. He lands his ship on an asteroid and when he awakes, he finds he is 6 inches tall. No, he's not Ant-Man but is with a civilization of tiny people, the residents of Rheton. Placed on trial but is made a citizen of Rheton. Captain Chapman finds that Rheton is trying to escape a violent race called the Solarites who have been chasing them. Chapman helps the people fight a captured 7 foot tall Solarite (Richard Kiel) and discovers that searchers from Earth are looking for him. Rather than let the Rheton's be discovered, he dons his space suit and gets back on his ship, returning to normal size and leave the people of Rheton behind.
"Come with me on a Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" were the lyrics to the opening of a movie with the same name about a super submarine that is trying to fire a missile to extinguish a recently flame filled Van Allen radiation belt. Again the earth is endangered by rising temperatures as the Van Allen belt is ablaze and the ice caps are melting. Walter Pidgeon was the genius Admiral Harriman Nelson who designed the submarine Seaview. His captain was Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) with a supporting cast of Barbara Eden who we first see dancing in the submarine's mess with a tight skirt, Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Michael Ansara and Frankie Avalon who sang the title song. The crew dealt with sabotage, the rising heat, mutiny and attacking submarines but would prevail. So much so that a television series with Richard Baseheart and David Hedison as Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane would run from 1964 to 1968, regularly watched in my home.
While NASA or any other organization has yet to go there, in 1961 we were treated to the "First Spaceship On Venus" an East German/Polish science fiction film directed by Ken Maetzig. The 93-minute film featured an international crew of scientists and astronauts who after the discovery of an alien substance in the Gobi desert. Scientist determine it's from Venus and re-direct a Soviet spaceship Cosmotrator from Mars to Venus. The crew finds message of destruction and one of the scientists convinces the crew to press on towards Venus rather than return to Earth with news that would panic mankind.
With the ship's robot, Omega, an American astronaut finds an industrial complex and finds small recording devices that look like insects. The crew finds the remains of a deserted and blasted city centered around a huge crater, signs of a catastrophic explosion so powerful that shadowy forms of humanoid Venusians are permanently burned on to the walls of the surviving buildings just like Hiroshima. The crew destroys a radiation bombardment machine and after losing some of the crew return to earth with a warning concerning atomic warfare.
I was always fascinated with the stories by Jules Verne and having seen "Master of The World" with Vincent Price, I was treated to "Mysterious Island" featuring Captain Nemo who was introduced to cinema fans years earlier in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea" with James Mason as Nemo. This tale takes place years later near the end of the Civil War when a group of northern prisoners and a southerner fly in a balloon to an uncharted island where they encounter giant creatures. The stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen are showcased here. The group finds two ship wrecked women who's vessel was damaged by the same storm that brought them there. They encounter Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom) who has been on the island for years because his super submarine The Nautilus has been damaged and is submerged in a cove. Nemo agrees to help the group escape with the use of the submarine's engines inflating the balloon inside a wrecked ship. But nature is working against them, a volcano has been rumbling and is threatening to blow so they are racing the clock. The ship is raised but Nemo dies during the eruption which destroys the island. The group leaves vowing to continue Nemo's desire for peace. It featured a British/American cast with a dubbed Michael Craig as the American captain, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill and Guyana born Dan Jackson. Along with the British born Craig, Joan Greenwood, Percy Herbert, Herbert Lom and Beth Rogan rounded out the cast. Clearly head and shoulders above any remakes that came later on.