Future technology

The Genius

“Mexico’s Charlie Chaplin” Cantinflas shines as a research assistant in this SF romcom from 1948. Big Oil and authorities chase poor Cantinflas across the movie, believing he has his dead professor’s formula for turning water into oil. A talky and unnecessarily long, but sympathetic effort. 5/10

The Jade Mask

Charlie Chan solves yet another murder mystery in this reasonably well made Monogram cheapo, aided by his #4 son and legendary black comedian Mantan Moreland. A whodunnit with a sci-fi MacGuffin in an old dark house with a fairly interesting cast led by Sidney Toler. Light fun, an incredibly convoluted plot, with some casual racism thrown in. 4/10.

Time Flies

British radio star Tommy Handley trades puns with William Shakespeare in this 1944 jazz comedy, as three music hall performers accidentally hitch a ride in a nutty professor’s time machine back to 16th century London. Despite Handley’s dated jokes, good production values, nice musical numbers and petite US jazz singer Evelyn Dall make it worth a watch. 4/10

Tainstvennyy ostrov

The most accurate adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Mysterious Island that has ever been put on screen was made in Soviet Ukraine in 1941. This doesn’t necessarily work in the film’s favour, as it is rather talky and static. Look out for Robert Ross, long-time leader of the African American community in Moscow. 5/10

Sky Bandits

This 1940 film is the third version of the same story of a gang of criminals shooting planes out of the sky with a death ray, and arguably the best, thanks to its light tone and comedy. It is also the last entry in a series of juvenile films featuring Sergeant Renfrew of the Royal Mounted. 3/10

Son of Frankenstein

Basil Rathbone is the son of Frankenstein who moves back to his father’s castle, only to find Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi hiding in the basement. The latter gives what is perhaps the performance of his lifetime in this visually stunning movie, which unfortunately treats Karloff’s classic monster with little respect. 7/10

Sky Racket

The actors know how to hit their marks and the DP is capable of setting up a shot in the 1937 remake of the equally bad 1936 film Ghost Patrol. A government agent and a bride on the run are captured by a gang of criminals using a death ray to shoot mail planes from the sky. Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel is criminally underused. 1/10

Things to Come

H.G. Wells and  William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy, the last big SF film before the 1950s. The most expensive film made in Britain at the time, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and effects, but the script is stiff, the acting wooden and the viewer bludgeoned to boredom with the message. 6/10

Undersea Kingdom

Inspired by Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire, the young Republic Studios launched their own sci-fi serial in 1936, and the result was an action-packed, but rather brainless concoction. Occasional good design and an energetic Crash Corrigan can’t save this badly scripted Atlantis-themed hodgepodge. 3/10

Ghost Patrol

Tim McCoy’s really big hat delivers the best performance in this derivative and uninspired sci-fi-tinged modern western. The Poverty Row production sees a G-man in a 10 gallon Stetson infiltrate a gang of criminals using a death ray to shoot down mail planes. Of you like your B movies on the far side of really bad, this is just the thing for you. 1/10

Cosmic Voyage

Kosmichesky Reys is a stunning, costly Soviet moon landing adventure from 1936, inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1929 film Woman in the Moon. Thanks to the collaboration of legendary rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, it is impressively accurate. Aimed at a juvenile audience, Cosmic Voyage is an enjoyable and exciting space adventure movie. 7/10

The Dead Speak

Mexico’s first science fiction feature film is an intriguing curio that involves a team of scientists trying to capture the last image recorded in a dead person’s eyes. Highly derivative of US genre films, but competently made and quite entertaining. 5/10

Loss of Sensation

A 1935 communist propaganda film with quite a few enjoyable quirks. Capitalists and communists fight over an army of robots that is controlled by saxophone. Based on a story by “The Jules Verne of Ukraine” and directed with a certain expressionist and avantgarde flair, the film is not without its merits, although the acting is stiff and amateurish and the script and dialogue leave room for improvement. 5/10

Master of the World

A mad scientist, an army of killer robots, a grieving widow and a dashing hero. There are the ingredients for the German 1934 film Der Herr der Welt film by action hero Harry Piel. Perhaps his darkest movie, and one of the few where he doesn’t appear on screen. A predictable script and flat filming, but the acting is good and the special effects not bad either. 4/10

Gold

This smart, well filmed and very successful 1934 film marked the beginning of the end for German science fiction before the Nazis banned the genre. Best remembered for its impressive futuristic sets and superb effects, this film is on the talkier side. It’s secret weapons are German superstars Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. 7/10.