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Riders to the Stars

Riders to the Stars(1954)

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Fascinating in retrospect because it illustrates 1950s ideas about the then-fantastic idea of space travel, United Artists' Riders to the Stars (1954) concerns astronauts who are sent into space in three separate rockets in an effort to capture a meteor and bring it back to Earth for examination. Herbert Marshall plays the scientist in charge of the mission and he's eager to learn what keeps a meteor from burning up in the deadly "cosmic rays" outside the Earth's atmosphere. The screenplay is by Curt Siodmak, a specialist in fantasy whose other credits include The Wolf Man (1941) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Riders to the Stars, which often has a documentary-like feel and includes actual NASA footage, is an interesting enough example of its genre to have been included in a retrospective at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival.

Riders to the Stars is typical of so many science fiction films of the early fifties where the emphasis is on the technology, and dialogue between characters becomes detailed discussions of scientific matters. While audiences at the time had a great interest in this subject, these films often sacrificed drama in their pursuit of authenticity and, like Destination Moon (1950) before it, Riders to the Stars is no expection to the rule. Still, it manages to throw the audience a few curve balls. The fact that Dr. Stanton is willing to sacrifice his own son for his research is a disturbing subplot and Richard Carlson's character, who at first appears to be the film's hero, shows signs of emotional instability when his professional model girlfriend (Dawn Addams) refuses his offer of marriage prior to takeoff. The film also becomes surprisingly grim in the final third when the astronauts encounter the long-awaited meteor shower.

Riders to the Stars was the first film directed by actor/filmmaker Richard Carlson, who also plays one of the astronauts. Remembered for his starring roles in the TV series I Led Three Lives and the 3-D horror flick The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Carlson directed eight low-budget features during the 1950s and '60s. His film editor on Riders to the Stars was Herbert L. Strock, who co-produced the film and was himself a director of edgy, visually arresting B-movies of the period, including Gog (1954) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957).

Interviewed at the time of the Berlin retrospective, Strock said he took the editing job on Riders to the Stars as a favor to his good friend Carlson, whom he described as a "writer, producer, director, film editor - a brilliant guy." Strock said that, when Carlson began to exceed his modest budget on the film, "Due to my editorial expertise, I was able to get things back on budget and keep the film flowing along." Strock also stepped in to direct scenes in which Carlson appeared, since the filmmaker felt he would not be effective in directing his own performance.

Producer: Herbert L. Strock, Ivan Tors
Director: Richard Carlson
Screenplay: Curt Siodmak, from story by Ivan Tors
Production Design: Jerome Pycha Jr.
Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
Editing: Herbert L. Strock
Principal Cast: William Lundigan (Dr. Richard Stanton), Martha Hyer (Dr. Jane Flynn), Herbert Marshall (Dr. Donald Stanton), Richard Carlson (Dr. Jerome Lockwood), Robert Karnes (Walter Gordon).

By Roger Fristoe & Jeff Stafford

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