Riders to the Stars


1h 21m 1954
Riders to the Stars

Brief Synopsis

Early astronauts try to solve the mysteries of space travel by capturing a meteor.

Film Details

Genre
Thriller
Fantasy
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Jan 29, 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 27 Jan 1954
Production Company
Ivan Tors Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Synopsis

Dr. Donald Stanton is director of a secret U.S. government project designed to put the first human into space. After an unmanned test rocket returns to Earth badly damaged by cosmic rays, members of Stanton's team, including scientist Dr. Jane Flynn, discuss ways to create a shield against the rays. Stanton decides to examine how meteors survive as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and requests the Pentagon to do a computer search to select twelve men with highly specialized talents to join the project. A Special Intelligence agent is then assigned to find the men, and he locates the first randomly selected candidate, Dr. Richard Stanton, Stanton's son, in his electronics laboratory and asks him to go to California for a week. The agent next finds Professor Jerry Lockwood conducting a seminar in a university classroom and also invites him. Jerry is somewhat reluctant to go as he is trying to persuade his girl friend, Susan Manners, a photographic model, to marry him. She cannot make up her mind and tells Jerry that she will mail him her answer. Eventually all twelve men are located and taken to a deserted base, the Snake Mountain Proving Ground, where Drs. Flynn, Drayden and Delmar welcome them. The men have been instructed not to discuss their particular specializations with one another and first take an aptitude test and sign waivers. A planted observer then reports to Stanton on each man's reactions and suitability and, almost immediately, three men are dropped. The next day, tests are performed to find the four men most qualified for the project. All must pass a very rigorous session in a centrifuge, which is run at a gravity force of twelve and 135 degrees Fahrenheit to simulate a landing from space. The four men who pass this test, Richard, Jerry, Walter Gordon and Kenneth Wells, then meet with Stanton, who shows them the rocket hull that was almost pounded into dust by cosmic radiation and tells them that they are going to attempt to capture a meteorite in space in order to examine what protects it from disintegration. Naturally, the men are concerned about surviving the mission and Stanton gives them a week to make their decision. Wells quits immediately while Jane gets to know Richard and convinces him to participate. Although Jerry has received news that Susan has rejected him, he decides to go along with Walter and Richard. As a swarm of meteorites will be passing Earth's orbit in two week's time, the team scurries to get ready and three rocketships are prepared with scoops built into their nose cones to catch the meteorites. After the meteors' route has been pinpointed by Palomar Observatory, the men board the rocketships and take off. Walter is the first to encounter a meteorite and, after manually adjusting his speed, opens the scoop to catch it, but it proves too large and destroys the ship. Jerry then panics and, imagining that he is back flying in the war, removes his helmet to bail out, accidentally activates the full power of the rocket and disappears into outer space. The mission fails as the meteor swarm passes, so Stanton and Jane prepare to bring Richard back to Earth. However, Richard spots a stray meteor and, disobeying his father's orders, decides to try to catch it, even though he will severely deplete the rocket's fuel. Richard succeeds in catching the meteor, then opens the rocket's gliding wings and hurtles out of control through space until, at four thousand feet, he regains control and lands safely in the desert. After Richard reunites with his father and Jane, who embraces him, they examine the meteor and find that it is covered by crystallized pure carbon. By utilizing this substance on rockets and space stations, they declare, America will continue to advance into space.

Film Details

Genre
Thriller
Fantasy
Sci-Fi
Release Date
Jan 29, 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 27 Jan 1954
Production Company
Ivan Tors Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color

Articles

Riders to the Stars


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).
C-80m.

By Roger Fristoe & Jeff Stafford

Riders To The Stars

Riders to the Stars

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). C-80m. By Roger Fristoe & Jeff Stafford

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although the film was originally released in color, the print viewed was in black-and-white. The credits acknowledge research done on the "Human Centrifuge at the University of Southern California." According to a New York Times article dated October 4, 1953, some of the film's special effects were achieved using radio-controlled miniatures. The article, which identified the production company as "A-Men Productions," also stated that technical advisor Glenn Maxwell Smith had lost his right hand in an explosion while attempting to produce photogenic exhaust fumes. The New York Times review noted that the film contained newsreel footage of Wac Corporal V2 type rockets and footage of rats in gravity-less space. Riders to the Stars was actor Richard Carlson's directorial debut.