Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Overlooked Movies -- 20 Million Miles to Earth

Back in 1957 I saw 20 Million Miles to Earth in the theater.  And soon afterward (or maybe it was before) I bought the one-shot digest novelization by Henry Slesar, which I suspect was the only novelization published by Amazing Stories.  It has a great cover.

The movie turned up on TCM the other night, and I couldn't resist taking a look.  The plot is typically goofy.  A U.S. spaceship returns from Venus and crashes off the coast of Sicily.  Nobody notices but a few humble fisherfolk, who manage to rescue three of the crew, including Our Hero, played by stalwart William Hopper.  The spaceship sinks, but wouldn't you know that a cylinder containing a tiny specimen of Venusian life washes up on the beach, where a boy finds it.  He takes the specimen to a zoologist, who's intrigued by it, and who's surprised when it has a rapid growth spurt.

The Venusian life form, the Ymir, gets really big, really fast.   The earth's atmosphere seems to be good for it, whereas the Venusian atmosphere is poisonous to humans.  So we need to study the Ymir and find out what's different about it if we want the riches of Venus, which we do.  

The Ymir is destructive because it's lost and puzzled and provoked (naturally the first reaction of everyone is to kill it).  They don't kill it, however, and it's captured and taken to Rome, where it escapes, fights an elephant, and gets to mess up some landmarks.  Its last stand is at the Coliseum.  What do we learn from all of this?  Here are the movie's final lines:  "Why is it always, always so costly for Man to move from the present to the future?"

The Ymir was a Ray Harryhausen creation, and it's great, certainly worth seeing the movie for.  And the movie itself is quite an interesting time capsule.  1957 really was a different world from 2017.  Only two people, a general and a doctor, are sent from the U.S. to the site of the spaceship crash.  Nobody outside the little Sicilian fishing village even knows about the crash, apparently.  There are no reporters, no other officials, nobody.  In fact the mission was a big secret, and when an Italian diplomat is informed of it, he thinks the mission was to Venice (hilarity was rampant in the '50s).  I have a feeling an audience of people under 40 would find the movie an artifact as puzzling as something from the time of Homer.  I loved it in 1957, though, and I retain some of that affection even now.

9 comments:

Todd Mason said...

And the only AMAZING STORIES novel...when I first saw that magabook, I hadn't realized Henry Slesar was a later addition to the stable of high-production writers Paul Fairman was tapping to fill AMAZING, FANTASTIC and DREAM WORLD with copy he didn't feel the need to read...along with Milton "Stephen Marlowe" Lesser, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison and Randall Garrett. All of them except Garrett going on to careers mostly devoted to better work...Garrett always willing to grind it out, even if some of the fiction was very impressive indeed.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I loved it as a kid too. Ray Harryhausen and William (Paul Drake) Hopper were good enough for me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I never watched this sort of movie, even on TV. The closest I remember getting was VOYAGE TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and the SINBAD movie. I instead would choose to watch a movie like A DATE WITH PEGGY. Probably a mistake.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Judy. A Date with Judy.

Deb said...

I get the same feeling now when I watch the beginning of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: all this weird stuff is happening and only a handful of people (led by a French linguist) seem to know or care about it?

Cap'n Bob said...

You can see it for free on YouTube.

My only complaint with the movie is the fight with the elephant. I like elephants and hate to see them hurt.

Rick Robinson said...

I've seen this a dozen times or more, and always enjoy it, except I want to root for the poor alien, who of course gets killed. Wonderful work by Harryhausen.

Art Scott said...

It's been a while since I've seen it, but I don't ever recall that they referred to the creature as an "Ymir". How would they come up with such a name? It's not as if there was a Venutian zoology textbook handy. It wasn't etched on the eggshell. It certainly doesn't sound Italian. Can you confirm or deny that the name is spoken in the movie? I'm guessing that the name came from the novelization, and that with multiple usages by Forry in Famous Monsters the label stuck.

Bill Crider said...

I don't remember the name being used in the movie. I'll have to check the origin.