Film (1960; vt Assignment Outer Space). Titanus/Ultra Films. Directed by Antonio Margheriti credited as Anthony Dawson. Written by Ennio De Concini and Jack Wallace. Starring Rik Van Nutter, Gabriella Farinon, David Montresor, Archie Savage, and Alain Dijon. 73 minutes. Colour.
For his next assignment, journalist Ray Peterson (Van Nutter) is flown to a space station by pilot Al (Savage); upon his arrival, commander George (Montresor) objects to the presence of this green "outsider", especially when his unauthorized filming of a refueling operation accidentally leads to the loss of valuable fuel. However, when a returning Spaceship controlled by a deranged "electronic brain" threatens to destroy the Earth with its powerful Force Field, Peterson pulls strings so he can join four other astronauts – George, Al, Archie (Dijon), and Lucy (Farinon) – on a desperate mission to stop the spaceship. Al sacrifices himself while discovering that there is a narrow corridor in the field surrounding the spaceship that allows people to approach; Peterson then takes a space taxi through the corridor, throwing small objects to both sides to determine the safe zone, and is able to enter the spaceship and, by cutting cables, turn off the electronic brain. Since this also means that the doors no longer open, George leads a rescue operation to cut through the hull and rescue Peterson just before both ships are destroyed by their approach to Earth's atmosphere.
By far the best sf film from director Margheriti, this is distinguished not only by his trademark special effects but by an almost-plausible plot and a rare instance of impressive acting in his films, as dancer-choreographer Savage is remarkably persuasive as a seasoned space pilot. This is also one of the few films that explores the standard sf conceit that the people who live in space will come to feel different from, and hostile to, residents of Earth, though tensions are defused in the film as Peterson romances Lucy and demonstrates his good qualities while the denizens of space admit to a lingering attachment to planetary life. The film's story, involving a trip to a Space Station followed by a confrontation with a maddened Computer, is understandably regarded as an influence on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – especially since director Stanley Kubrick was familiar with Margheriti's work, having originally asked him to handle the special effects for his space epic. [GW]
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