Future war & weapons

Tales of Tomorrow

The first SF anthology TV show aired live in the US from 1951 to 1953. With material by some of the greatest SF authors of all time, its adult-oriented, intelligent scripts are often unsettling to watch even today. The cast boasts Leslie Nielsen, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Eva Gabor, James Dean, Joanne Woodward and many more. 6/10

Dick Barton at Bay

The second of the proto-James Bond films featuring Dick Barton, special agent pitches Dick and sidekick Snowy against a megalomaniac villain with a death ray machine. While the script and direction are weak, the movie has some rather enjoyable spots. Watch out for The Avengers star Patrick MacNee. 3/10

The Flying Saucer

Despite the viral marketing, the first American UFO warning turns out to be a false alarm. Alien visitors are notably absent from The Flying Saucer (1950), which plays like low-budget cold war spy serial interlaced with a promotional film for the Alaskan outback. 1/10

Captain Video and His Video Rangers

The first science fiction TV show aired as a live broadcast in the US every weekday for almost six years beginning in 1949, totalling in over 1,500 episodes. Aimed at a kiddie audience, the show was cheap and shoddy, even compared to its film serial inspirations, but involved writing talent such as Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke and James Blish.  3/10

Dick Barton Strikes Back

Did you ever wonder what it would have looked like if Hammer made a James Bond film? Well, look no further than to this 1949 spy-fi quota quickie. Here Barton, Dick Barton, chases a villain wielding a secret super-weapon which turns people’s brains into jelly. Plot holes abound, but it’s a surprisingly solid juvenile action movie. 6/10

Krakatit

Based on Karel Capek’s novel, this Czech 1948 film is the first to depict a nuclear holocaust. Otakar Vávra’s feverishly Expressionist direction follows the inventor of a new explosive having waking nightmares about the horror he has unleashed upon the world. While simplified and somewhat dumbed down, the story still follows the novel fairly closely. Scifist Rating: 7/10.

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

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

The Whispering Shadow

An entertaining horror-inspired mystery/crime serial with sci-fi elements that features Bela Lugosi in his best paid role ever. Entertaining and well acted, if quite confusing and not very original. It did, however, help pave the way for science fiction serials in sound in Hollywood. 4/10

Chandu the Magician

This 1932 sci-fi/adventure film has been called the first superhero movie. Bela Lugosi shines as the villain, William Cameron Menzies directs with style and the sets and special effects are very impressive. The inane plot is secondary in the breezy, fun juvenile adventure set in Egypt. 6/10

High Treason

This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)

The Mysterious Island

Borrowing the name of Jules Verne’s bestseller, this problem-ridden 1926-1929 production features good acting, some remarkable special effects and a solid-ish script, but alas, the schizophrenic semi-talkie-semi-silent film is just as equally horrible in many ways, with toy submarines and crocodiles substituting for dinos. (4/10)

Miss Mend

Miss Mend (1926) is quite possibly the best American action film serial of the silent era. And it was made in the Soviet Union. The tacked-on, state-required propaganda elements throw the plot and pacing off balance, but all-in-all this international spy-fi yarn is a breezy, action-packed, impeccably filmed and fun tour-de-force. (8/10)