Spaceways

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Britain’s first post-war space movie is decidedly Earth-bound, as it follows the personal intrigues of scientists preparing the first orbital space flight. Hammer director Terence Fisher is far from inept, but is thwarted by a meandering script. 3/10

Spaceways. 1953, UK. Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Paul Tabori & Richard H. Landau. Based on radio play by Charles Eric Maine. Starring: Howard Duff, Eva Bartok, Alan Wheatley, Philip Leaver, Michael Medwin, Andrew Osborn. Produced by Michael Carreras.

UK poster.

A small international team of scientists work under utmost secrecy in a heavily guarded, small rural research station in England. Their ultimate goal: to send a manned rocket into orbit around the Earth and begin the construction of a space station, which, it is carefully pointed out, could serve as a launching platform for nuclear weapons. But things are not going swimmingly. Tensions run high as the scientists’ personal lives are put to the test under the oppressive regime of secrecy, locked into quarantine as they are by fences, gates and military checkpoints. American lead scientist Dr. Stephen Mitchell (American guest star Howard Duff) has become estranged from his gold-digging wife Vanessa (Cecile Chevreay), who is having an affair with lead biologist Dr. Philip Crenshaw (Andrew Osborn). Dr. Mitchell, on the other hand is having a “not-relationship” with the team’s beautiful lead mathematician Dr. Lisa Frank (Hungarian beauty Eva Bartok). The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when a crucial test is botched, and an unmanned rocket fails to reach its intended altitude, and settles into too low an orbit as a useless piece of space junk. And if this was insult, then the real injury is that by next morning, the sympathetic fuel expert Dr. Andrews (Michael Medwin) informs the team that Dr. Crenshaw and Mrs. Mitchell are nowhere to be found. Good-natured project leader Professor Koepler (Philip Leaver) and the rest of the team draw the conclusion that Crenshaw has, at best, broken quarantine rules and eloped with Mrs. Mitchell, and at worst has been a spy for “the enemy”, and is now headed “East” with military secrets in his pocket. Enter Major Smith, the steely-eyed investigator from the Office of Military Intelligence (Alan Wheatley).

Eva Bartok and Howard Duff as the lead couple.

However, while Smith is aware that Crenshaw has kept secret the fact that he is not only a doctor of biology at Oxford, but also has a degree in engineering from (gasp!) Germany, his suspicion falls on our main character — American Dr. Mitchell. Smith suspects that prior to take-off, Mitchell has murdered Dr. Crenshaw and his own wife because of their affair, emptied part of the rocket’s fuel tank and replaced the fuel with Crenshaw’s and Mrs. Mitchell’s bodies. Of course, any proof now orbits Earth as a piece of space junk.

In order to prove his innocence, Dr. Mitchell convinces Smith and Professor Koepler that he himself will undertake the first manned space flight in order to bring back the failed test rocket and show them that there are no bodies inside. But Dr. Lisa Frank will not let her beloved go to his potential death alone, and pretending to be Dr. Andrews, she smuggles herself aboard the cockpit as co-pilot. Meanwhile, Dr. Smith hasn’t been idle, and turns up evidence that leads him to Crenshaw and Mrs. Mitchell, who have indeed escaped the compound in order to defect to the “East”. But the race is on. As the station is in communication blackout, will Smith make it back soon enough to prevent Mitchell and Frank to needlessly launch themselves into space? And if not, and if a lack of fuel wasn’t the cause of the test rocket’s failure, will the two lovers suffer the same malfunction — and be trapped in orbit around the Earth, orbiting for eternity as space junk?

The rocket.

I watched this modest SF cold war thriller a few years back, and have since had a somewhat vague impression of it in my mind. Re-watching it now for this review, I had a distinct feeling after the first 15 minutes of having seen this film before. But not five or six years ago, but quite recently. In fact, just a little over a month ago a watched another British SF cold war thriller from 1953, called The Net (review). And for much of its running time, Spaceways feels — if not like a carbon copy, then at least like a rather faithful reproduction of the former film. In movie studio Hammer’s defence, the filming of Spaceways wrapped in January 1953, a month before The Net’s premiere. And somewhat surprisingly, while Spaceways was released in the US in June 1953, its British opening was held back until the end of the year. While I have no confirmation of this, it is possible that Hammer wanted to put some distance between the very similar The Net and Spaceways, so as not to compete for the same audience. We’ll get into the similarities and dissimilarities between the films a bit later on, but for now let’s just point out that the films were based on different source materials, both published in 1952. The Net is based on John Pudney’s novel with the same name, and Spaceways is based on a BBC radio play by Charles Eric Maine. But before delving deeper, let’s take a look at the film at hand.

Italian and Spanish(?) posters.

Spaceways came at a pivoting point for British SF movies. In 1953 it had already been preceded by not only The Net, but also Hammer’s own mad scientist melodrama Four Sided Triangle (review), about two scientists who clone the women they are both in love with. And later in 1953 came the groundbreaking, live-aired TV series The Quatermass Experiment (review). Like Four Sided Triangle, Spaceways was directed by the up-and-coming Terence Fisher, the man who would later catapult Hammer to international fame thanks to his collaboration with Spaceways producer Michael Carreras on films like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1957). An unheralded but respected freelancer, Fisher was known for his knack for creating atmosphere and his dynamic, fearless camera work, which is also occasionally on display in Spaceways.

The script, written by Paul Tabori and Richard Landau, is quite convoluted. Not that the actual plot isn’t straightforward enough, which it is, but there’s so many different subplots fighting for attention that it’s easy to lose focus. The Net has the same problem. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are both adapted from other sources. Or perhaps the screenwriters simply didn’t know their science or science fiction well enough to trust it to carry the film, and felt obliged to make the astounding scientific breakthroughs portrayed in the movies secondary to standard spy melodrama tropes. Whatever the case, the script for Spaceways is not only predictable, the dialogue is clunky and, like The Net, the film treads water in the middle. It does pick up considerably toward the end, but by that time we have been treated to too many long-winded conversations in offices and labs, too many cringe-worthy attempts at characters trying to convey emotions through a filter of Dashiell Hammett and way too many scenes where characters SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY while laying out (pseudo) scientific jargon and exposition for the audience.

Howard Duff and Eva Bartok.

Like Four Sided Triangle, Spaceways was a collaboration between Hammer and American film company Lippert Pictures. Hammer was at the time what was called a quota quickie company, a small outfit focusing on making cheap movies they knew that theatres had to book in order to fulfill their state-mandated quota of British titles. Lippert Pictures made a deal with Hammer, securing the British company distribution in the States, with the caveat that the films they produced for export had to have an American star in the lead. In the case of Spaceways, that star was Howard Duff. Now, if Duff comes across as if he was delivering his lines like he was portraying Sam Spade, then that is probably because he made a name for himself portraying Sam Spade on the radio in the forties. Duff’s successful radio career had come to a full halt in 1950, when he was unofficially blacklisted for his communist sympathies. However, he was able to secure a contract with Universal, and moved into Hollywood. But because of his marriage to actor/director Ida Lupino, he was released and went freelance in 1951, thus getting hooked up by Lippert in the lead of Spaceways.

From the point of view of the history of science fiction on screen, Spaceways is worth discussing for a number of reasons, even if the film has made little impact on the genre. But this was the first film in which the idea of building a space station orbiting the Earth was a central plot point — even if none such exist in the movie. The first picture to actually include a space station came later in 1953: the Robert Heinlein-scripted Project Moonbase (review). The idea was not new as such. Way back in 1869 and 1870 Edward Everett Hale wrote about an (accidentally) inhabited satellite in his novellas The Brick Moon and Life in the Brick Moon. In the extraordinary 1897 novel Two Planets (read it!) German author Kurd Lasswitz describes a Martian space station orbiting the Earth. The first thoroughly scientific treatment of the idea was published in Russian rocket scientist and author Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s 1920 novel Beyond the Planet Earth. But it wasn’t until the idea of conquering space became a scientifically feasible idea in the forties that space stations slowly started gaining traction in popular culture. George O. Smith and Robert Heinlein wrote novels with stations in the forties, and one of the most important works was Americanised German rocket engineer Willy Ley’s popular science book The Conquest of Space, which was published in 1949. From 1950 onward, space stations started appearing with regular frequency in comic books, pulp stories and novels. Worthy of mention is at least Arthur C. Clarke’s Islands in the Sky (1952) and Jeffrey Lloyd Castle’s Satellite E One (1954). But for more on space stations, keep a lookout for my forthcoming review of Project Moonbase.

US poster and lobby card.

Spaceways makes only a fleeting to this future space station, but Lippert took this as the cue for their US marketing of the film. The US trailer promised that the film would be “revealing INCREDIBLE SPACE ISLANDS of the Future”, and the poster (see above) even showed artwork depicting circular space stations, and loads of rockets competing to get to them. Just imagine the disappointment of the American kids when they realise they have to sit through 60 minutes of contrived jealousy drama and a far-fetched cold war spy story only to get 10 minutes of footage from a cramped rocket cockpit in the end. However, the science in the film is surprisingly feasible. The movie labours under the principle of the three-stage liquid fuel space rocket, and gets much of the science right, at least from the point of view of a layman like me. Of course, there’s also a lot of mumbo-jumbo, an over-abundance of gauges and meters and blinking light bulbs and so on, but that’s to be expected from a film like this.

The art direction of Spaceways naturally suffers from the low budget. There’s a lot of sterile rooms with just plot-related accessories, and the science station looks a lot like a studio. Still, the ground control has a crazy amount of gauges and certainly feels more elaborate than the one depicted in The Net, which was mostly obscured by darkness in an obvious attempt at hiding the fact that it consisted of little more than a few TV monitors. The rocket looks like something out of Flash Gordon and is really only seen as a miniature or matte painting. It’s inspired by George Pal’s early space films, sleek and silvery, but has even more crazy wings. One of the most egregious gaffes of the movie is that the parked rocket and the models look absolutely nothing like the rocket in flight. When it takes off, it suddenly changes into an ordinary V2-rocket, in fact it’s the very same V2-takeoff that was used for another film, where it didn’t match the designed rocket either, Lipper Picture’s Rocketship X-M (1951). However, once you get into the cockpit it’s not all the bad, and some effort clearly went into designing the thing. It looks as if Hammer scoured London for all the gauges it could find, and a nice touch of old European style is the teak-lined dashboard.

The model rocket.

The spacesuits are modelled on diving suits, as they often tended to be in pre-spaceflight films, but they are reasonably well made, except for the impractical tiny eye-slit in the helmet, really just there for plot convenience, so that Mitchell can’t see who’s actually in the suit when Lisa Frank smuggles herself on board. And it looks as if the helmet doesn’t really fit snugly to the suit, which would be a problem. The special effects, apart from the scene lifted from Rocketship X-M, are more or less non-existent.

The acting in the film is a mixed affair. Howard Duff does his best impression of a wooden plank most of the time, but his charisma shines through when he occasionally seems interested in what he is doing. Unfortunately both his acting and the script force the character of the rocket scientist Mitchell into an ill-fitting mold of a bad hard-boiled detective story. He does come off a bit like a bull in a china shop opposite the nuanced British actors, but he works well opposite Eva Bartok’s equally one-dimensional acting. Bartok spends most of the film sighing forlornly and looking at the male characters with sad puppy eyes, and constantly delivers her lines as if she was on the verge if bursting into tears. It almost feels as if Bartok and Duff appear in a separate movie from the rest of the cast. For some reason director Fisher and cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer enhance the film noir setting through the lighting, cinematography and editing. It’s as if Fisher was unsure of how to go about shooting a science fiction movie and instead tried to force it into another genre he was more familiar with. He said in later interviews that he had little interest in SF, and much preferred the horror genre he was later to be associated with.

Philip Leaver and Eva Bartok.

Philip Leaver as the roly-poly professor brings some lightness and humor to the proceedings as the goodie-two-shoes roly-poly professor. Andrew Osborn as Philip does the same, and doesn’t really leave any particular impression. Alan Wheatley as Dr. Smith does his intelligent and slightly shifty, but ultimately good-hearted detective with great aplomb, doing a sort of send-up of inspector Maigret that precedes inspector Clouseau by over a decade, roaming the rooms while he lays out his theories, always fiddling with furniture and decoration, making the pulling of a roll-up curtain seem like a grand revelation. The most distinguished actor on hand is Michael Medwin, 30 at the time, as Toby, the lively and sympathetic redhead who is a constant companion to Stephen and agrees to play along with Lisa’s ruse to make it onto the rocket. Medwin has an ease and a charm to his acting, making it all seem perfectly natural and effortless.

Fisher’s and Wyer’s camera work is occasionally quite impressive. Had the rest of the film lived up to the visuals in the beginning of Spaceways, this might have been a much more fun movie. There’s a scene in the beginning where the scientists fetch a landed test rocket with mice as passengers with a black van. Here Fisher fearlessly swings the camera around. At one point he mounts it in the back of the moving van, and when the car turns into the parking lot in swings around the camera, resulting in a beautiful almost 360 degree shot. A similar shot awaits when the scientists enter the lab, and Fisher deliberately holds the shot while the men rummage around the different rooms and work stations, following them around on a pivoting stand from room to room, station to station. Unfortunately, efter these introductions the film becomes less experimental, but there are still occasionally dynamic flashes, including the dramatic zoom-in on character’s faces, which Fisher made so iconic in his introduction of Christopher Lee as Dracula.

Michael Wheatley interrogating Eva Bartok.

I have not found any contemporary reviews of Spaceways, and film historian Bill Warren notes that it was “scantily reviewed”. It has a mediocre 5.2/10 rating on IMDb based on 350 reviews, and no Rotten Tomatoes consensus. Bruce Eder on AllMovie notes, as I do above, that the film “dates from a time when the science fiction idea itself […] was not deemed sufficient to carry a movie, and so had to be mixed with serious drama, character development etc”. Although AllMovie gives Spaceways only 1.5/5 stars, Eder calls it “very satisfying, a good old-school dramatic thriller without a trace of concessions to juvenile sensibilities”. He also praises Howard Duff, who he writes seems to enjoy “one of the more cerebral and introspective roles of his career”. Eder concludes: ” In short, there’s a ton of fine work to appreciate in this modest little sci-fi drama”.

The rest of the world’s movie critics seem to have watched an entirely different film than Bruce Eder. TV Guide called it “a weak British science-fiction effort”, and wrote that Fisher “struggles mightily with the material and manages to bring some flair to the visuals”. Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant writes that Spaceways is “very interesting as a curio but doesn’t really hang together as either a murder whodunnit or as science fiction”, and calls it “a lukewarm murder mystery in a science fiction setting”. And Bill Warren in his book Keep Watching the Skies writes: “Spaceways is an “unimaginatively conceived, indifferently made programmer”. Dennis Schwartz complains that the film “gets reduced to a trite marital drama”. However he does concede that it is “intelligently presented and Fisher manages to entertain us with authentic atmosphere and tech talk”.

Gauges, gauges, gauges.

Spaceways is one of those films that I would like to like, but must ultimately admit is doesn’t satisfy me on any level. It builds its premise on a refreshingly sober and realistic SF premise: Sputnik was only four years away and Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit around the world eight years away. A film about the first outer space orbit around the Earth could have been both a thrilling ride and an intellectually satisfying movie, given the enormous prestige placed on the space race between the US and the USSR in later years, as well as the practical implications of placing the first “eye in the sky”. But the writers don’t give these notions room to be explored, as they fear the SF premise isn’t enough to carry a movie. They then “adult” the film up with both an unlikely relationship drama and a contrived murder mystery, giving equally little time to each of these to be properly developed. There’s three simultaneous plots going on at the same time, leaving us no opportunity to get to know the characters in the film’s 75-minute running time. As a result, we care little about the outcome in either of the plots, which all receive likewise rushed conclusions. Instead of giving us a real adult SF movie, which would have focused on the political, technical and human challenges in commencing the first orbital space flight, the filmmakers water down the story with tired clichés from genres perceived as more “adult” than science fiction. Any good acting or directing can’t compensate for the botched script. It’s certainly a watchable film, and even builds up some tension and excitement toward the end, but by then it’s a bit too little and too late.

Director Terence Fisher.

The Net, released earlier the same year, suffered from much of the same problems as Spaceways, but it ultimately had a (slightly) better script. It’s interesting that these two movies, with such similar scripts, were finished just months apart. But that fact is that both were based on different source materials, as stated earlier. I can’t find any information on when the radio play by Charles Eric Maine that Spaceways is based on aired on BBC in 1952, so I don’t know if it came before or after the release of John Pudney’s novel that The Net was based on. It is tempting to think that Maine (real name David McIlwain) read The Net and decided to make his own version for the BBC. Or maybe Spaceways’ screenwriters Paul Tabori and Richard Landau had read The Net and in tweaking the radio play decided to use the novel as inspiration. Or maybe it’s just down to a coincidence that the two movies are so alike: the tropes used in both were rather commonplace at the time.

I find the last option hard to swallow, though. As I watched Spaceways, I really felt as I was retreading The Net step by step for the first 15 minutes. Both films open outdoors, introducing the technology. In the case of The Net, the supersonic aircraft, in the case of Spaceways, the rocket. Then there’s the celebration of a successful test, with all the scientists and their significant others involved — as we’re introduced to the whos and whats and the personal tensions between the characters, which both involve a main character with an estranged wife having an affair with another scientist and an American pilot having an affair with a foreign colleague. Just, in Spaceways, the two characters happen to be one and the same — Mitchell. Both films take place on a remote, rural research station and deal with the strains of secrecy and isolation besetting the scientists, and in particular their wives (female scientists are never married in fifties films). In both movies, work is interrupted by a suspected murder and a suspicion of espionage, and both films fill most of their running time with mundane melodrama and a flimsy espionage/detective story. In both The Net and Spaceways the murder plot ultimately leads to the main characters putting their lives on the line in a risky first manned flight test. Both films also include a scene in which the outcome of a test flight is dependent on a red herring character saving the day from ground control, ultimately turning out to be on the side of good. The films do differ enough that I can’t claim that Spaceways is an unauthorised adaptation of The Net, but I would be much surprised if it wasn’t inspired by it.

Covers for McIlwain’s novel.

Charles Eric Maine/David McIlwain is of some interest for both fans of SF films and British SF history. He was one of the UK’s few but active SF fans before WWII. From 1938 he co-edited an SF fanzine called The Satellite, where he published his first stories, he edited his own, short lived magazine called Gargoyle, and appeared in other magazines as well. In the late forties he got into TV engineering and started doing editorial work for radio and TV. Spaceways was his first sold radio play, which was very popular, and subsequently became not only a movie but also appeared as his first novel, as a movie tie-in.

McIlwain wrote around a dozen SF novels under the pseudonym Charles Eric Maine, and used other pen names to write detective stories. Unsurprisingly, many of his science fiction stories were also constructed as detective novels. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction cites “the looseness of Maine’s grasp of science” and calls him an author of “middle-of-the-road genre SF”. Apart from Spaceways, his best known novels are probably Timeliner (1955), The Isotope Man (1957), which was developed from his own screenplay for the film Timeslip (1955, review), The Man Who Couldn’t Sleep (1956), which was adapted (very loosely) as The Electronic Monster (1957) and The Darkest of Nights (1962), which was filmed as The Mind of Mr. Soames (1969).

McIlwain and two of his most famous books.

Lead actor Howard Duff soldiered on in the movie business despite little acclaim, always finding work somewhere, thanks to his dark, smoky voice and his rugged good looks, a bit like a beefy James Dean, and the fact that he was actually a pretty good actor, even of little of this is on display in Spaceways. He also worked in TV in the fifties, and as the decade drew to a close, and the idea of blacklists slowly started losing their significance, found himself the star of his own show along with his wife Ida Lupino in Mr. Adams and Eve (1957-1958), and from there on his career was definitely up and running again with leading roles in a number of series in the sixties and numerous recurring or guest parts in the seventies and eighties. He returned to radio and never left the movies, even if his film career never quite took to new heights. He is remembered, though, for his role as Dustin Hoffman’s lawyer in the Academy Award-winning 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer. He played the lead in the sci-fi movie Panic in the City (1968) and appeared in Monster in the Closet (1986), and had roles in a few sci-fi series like the original The Twilight ZoneBatman and Night Gallery.

Howard Duff and Eva Bartok.

Eva Bartok was born in Hungary in 1927. Her Jewish father “disappeared” during the Nazi occupation in the forties ans she was forced to marry a Nazi officer when she was 15 to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. After the Nazis were defeated, Hungary suffered under the new Communist regime, which is when Bartok got in touch with Hungarian expat and film producer Alexander Paal, who agreed to marriage so he could get her out of the country and registered in England (they broke off the fake marriage a year later).

Bartok had appeared on stage in Hungary, but only in one small film, and her almost non-existent English made her difficult to cast on stage in England, the home of Shakespeare. Alexander Paal placed her in a small, but noticeable role in his film A Tale of Five Cities in 1950, but after that she had difficulty finding work despite getting better at the language. However, when the movie was released in 1951, actor-producer Burt Lancaster was so impressed that he cast her as the female lead in his next big movie, The Crimson Pirate (1952). Despite the fame that the role brought her, her film career was continued mainly in B movies in England and some slightly higher profile films in Germany. Her best known role today is that of Countess Cristina Como in Mario Bava’s gory murder thriller Blood and Black Lace (1964), often seen as the film that gave birth to the Italian giallo, and in effect the slasher genre. The film did not do particularly well at the time, though.

Eva Bartok.

Eva Bartok’s name has continued to fascinate even today, but more because of her public persona and her fascination with spirituality and new age humbug. Bartok did have a wonderful talent of throwing herself into her roles and doing strong emotional scenes, not least seen at the end of Blood and Black Lace, but her success as an actress probably hinged more on her sex appeal than her acting talents. Her only other sci-fi film was The Gamma People (1956).

Alan Wheatley.

Alan Wheatley as the nosy detective, Dr. Smith, was a stage and radio actor who got his start in the twenties, and soon made his transition to film and TV. His IMDb bio lists him as being the first person to play both Sherlock Holmes and the Sheriff of Nottingham on TV, but this is not quite the case. He was the first person to play Sherlock Holmes in a TV series , in six live-broadcast films at BBC in 1951, but Alan Napier had appeared as he famous detective in a stand-alone TV episode as early as 1949, also at BBC. The first person to play the Sheriff on TV was David Kossoff, in the live-broadcast series Robin Hood, again at BBC. However Wheatley was one of the best-known sheriffs in the long-running show The Adventures of Robin Hood, and it remains his best-known role to date. And Wheatly was the first person to be killed on-screen by a Dalek in Doctor Who, in an episode in 1964.

Michael Medwin.

The most distinguished actor on hand is Michael Medwin, 30 at the time, as Toby, the lively and sympathetic redhead who is a constant companion to Stephen and agrees to play along with Lisa’s ruse to make it onto the rocket. Medwin has an ease and a charm to his acting, making it all seem perfectly natural and effortless. Although never a great star, he remained one of Britain’s most most respected character actors through decades, often playing charming, eager and slightly eccentric characters. From TV he is remembered for his roles in The Army Game (1957-1961) and Shoestring (1979-1980). He also appeared in over 50 films, including The Longest Day (1962), Scrooge (1970), The Sea Wolves (1980), The Jigsaw Man (1984) and most recently The Duchess (2008), starring Keira Knightley. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama in 2005. Sadly, I see that Medwin passed away almost exactly a year ago in February 2020, at 96 years old.

Spaceways was produced by Michael Carreras, the son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras. Michael worked as an executive producer at the studio during its heyday in the late fifties and sixties. He also started directing in the sixties, perhaps best known for directing The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), Slave Girls (Prehistoric Women in the US, 1967) and The Lost Continent (1968). He also produced the sci-fi films X the Unknown (1956), The Abominable Snowman (1957), Quatermass 2The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Damned (1963), Moon Zero Two (1969) and Creatures the World Forgot (1971).

The launch ramp.

Cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer also shot Four-Sided Triangle, Masters of Venus (1962), Unearthly Stranger (1963), Island of Terror (1966), Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1967) and The Night of the Big Heat (1967). Editor Maurice Rootes worked on Four-Sided Triangle and First Men in the Moon (1964).

Working the few visual effects, mostly matte photography, were two chaps called Les Bowie and Vic Margutti who later found themselves working on some of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. Margutti did the effects for The Quatermass Xperiment and X the Unknown, and worked with Ray Harryhausen on The Mysterious Island (1961), but also got enlisted as travelling matte creator on Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964).

View of the research station.

Les Bowie is one of the legends in British special effects, known for his work with Hammer in particular, but he worked freelance through his own company, of which Margutti was a part of for a while. Bowie refined matte work by being able to speed up the production, and supervised the effects and miniature work for many of Hammer’s legendary sci-fi and horror films. Apart from many of the horror monster movies, he also worked on things like The Trollenberg Terror (1956), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), The Damned, First Men in the Moon, Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Terrornauts (1967), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Quatermass and the Pit (1967), Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1967) and Moon Zero Two (1969). He was one of the multitude of people called in to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), (un)credited as special effects additional supervisor. He worked on an even bigger team in creating the visual effects for Star Wars (1977) and had a big – and finally credited – role on Superman (1978) as creative supervisor of mattes & composites.

Assistant director Jimmy Sangster later climbed the ranks to writer, producer and director, both with Hammer and other companies, writing the scripts for some of Hammer’s later classic horror films. But we’ll get to him in a later post. Art director J. Elder Wills also worked on the early British sci-fi comedy The Perfect Woman (1949, review), Four-Sided Triangle and later or The Quatermass Xperiment, which remains his best known film.

Janne Wass

Spaceways. 1953, UK. Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Paul Tabori & Richard H. Landau. Based on the radio play Spaceways by Charles Eric Maine. Starring: Howard Duff, Eva Bartok, Alan Wheatley, Philip Leaver, Michael Medwin, Andrew Osborn, Cecile Chevreau, Anthony Ireland, Hugh Moxey, David Horne. Music: Ivor Slaney. Cinematography: Reginald H. Wyer. Editing: Maurice Rootes. Art direction: J. Elder Wills. Makeup: Polly Young. Sound recordist: Bill Salter. Visual effects: Les Bowie, Vic Margutti. Produced by Michael Carreras for Hammer Films and Lippert Pictures.

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