Cast & Crew
At Havenbrook Atomic Laboratory, just outside of New York City, a dedicated scientist David Loring and his assistant and fiancée Joan Woods pause from work on David's long-time project, code-named "Jobe," a solid fuel rocket intended to carry a hydrogen warhead. Although David's commitment to his work has caused the postponement of his and Joan's wedding several times, he has at last agreed to a hasty ceremony during their lunch break. Joan asks colleague Joe Freed about David's excessive devotion to work, but Joe insists they are all dedicated and adds that he feels especially guilty for being at work when his wife Ella is expecting their baby that day. Unknown to the scientists, a mysterious missile in outer space has provoked the Soviet Union to launch a counter strike to what they believe is an American attack. The Soviet missile inexplicably detonates near the mystery missile, which changes it course, bringing it inside Earth's atmosphere. After Soviet military analysts conclude that the unidentified missile is not American, they track it over the North Pole, noting that it incinerates everything in its wake, and send out a warning to Canada and the U.S. As the missile enters American monitored airspace, CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command, security and defense center receives a report from the Northern Canadian defense early warning station in the path of the missile, stating that one of its scout planes relayed a photo of the missile, then disappeared. Meanwhile, David and Joan search for wedding rings at a jeweler in the city on their lunch break, still unaware of the missile crisis. Disturbed by David's apathetic and restless air however, Joan abruptly calls off the wedding and returns to Havenbrook. Despondent over the situation with Joan, David returns to Havenbrook where Joe excitedly relays that the nation's Joint Chiefs of Staff have inexplicably placed the entire Eastern seaboard on a yellow alert status. As the scientists' concern mounts, David concludes that New York City is under a serious threat when he is ordered to standby to "drown" the lab's atomic pile. After hearing David's news, Joan wonders if a war is imminent. Moments later, Joe excitedly relays that the laboratory has been sealed, making it impossible for them to depart or for him to contact Ella. Hoping to calm Joe, Joan gets a call through to Ella, but after Joe's first words, they are disconnected. Joe and David are then ordered by laboratory head General Barr to an emergency briefing of the lab's top scientists. Barr shows the scientists the photo transmitted from Canada of the rogue missile, which travels at over 4,000 miles an hour, and informs them that the missile is headed towards Ottawa and New York City. When questioned by Barr, David and Joe concur that the missile design is unlike any they have seen and cannot identify what nation would have the capacity to construct it. The scientists are then told they will be evacuated to an underground bunker immediately as the rocket will reach New York in a little over an hour. When nations around the world disclaim knowledge of the mystery rocket, Canada and America hastily make joint preparations to attack the missile with a battery of aircraft. A Canadian jet squadron intercepts the missile, but is quickly incinerated. At Havensbrook, David refuses evacuation, frustrated at being unable to provide a plan against the rogue missile. Although anxious over the looming disaster, Joan tells David that Joe is desperate to be united with Ella. Suddenly hitting upon an idea to utilize Jobe to stop the relentless missile, David races across the base to intercept Barr. Upon hearing David's proposal, Barr protests that Jobe is unfinished, but David insists he can attach a "baby" warhead, a trigger for the atomic fuse, to the rocket within twenty minutes. With no other option, Barr agrees. As the missile closes in on Ottawa, New York is placed under martial law and the civilian defense guides the public into shelters. While David prepares Jobe, an hysterical Joe, who has unsuccessfully pleaded with base security to reach Ella, bursts in to tell him that he believes the missile is extra-terrestrial and should not be destroyed but studied. David fights off Joe's attempts to stop him, then as he hastens to Jobe with the fuse, Joe sneaks out of the sealed grounds. Later, Joan insists on accompanying David to the launch site and Barr escorts them in another jeep. Although the road to the launch pad has beem closed, a panicked civilian races down the road toward David and the others and crashes, sending Barr's jeep off the road. While Barr stays behind with his damaged jeep, David and Joan go on alone. Further down the road, a group of teenagers waiting with their stalled car force David to pull over and steal the jeep, disregarding David and Joan's warnings of the danger of the atomic fuse box. With only moments left to get to Jobe, David and Joan walk quickly toward their jeep and discover it abandoned down the road. Realizing that the fuse box has been opened, David pushes Joan away and, fatally exposing himself to the deadly plutonium radiation, drives to the launch site alone. As Ottawa is incinerated and the missile heads to New York, David arrives at the launch pad. He manages to install the fuse on Jobe, then collapses and dies as the missile is launched. As Joe at last joins Ella and their new baby in a bomb shelter, Jobe strikes and destroys the killer rogue missile.
J. Anthony Hughes
Jack R. Glass
The Lost Missile (1958)
The film opens in a Soviet Bloc country, as radar screens there pick up a mysterious rocket-shaped craft hurtling at over 4,000 miles an hour. The military launches a defensive missile toward the object (the Soviet missile is depicted using stock footage of a V-2 rocket launch). Contact is made with the alien missile, but it is not destroyed. A booming narration tells us that "the terrible object has been diverted into an orbit by the explosion. It streaks across the Northern curve of the Earth at an altitude of only five miles. A wild missile loose on the surface of the earth burning a track five miles wide below it." Using a bleaching-out process, we see the effect of the missile as it passes; scenes white out with light, replaced by paintings of melted, scorched landscape. The Missile is on a course that will bring it over Ottawa and New York City. Along its path, we see a lone Arctic dogsledder get obliterated. Meanwhile, at Havenbrook Atomic Laboratory near New York, Dr. David Loring (Robert Loggia) is nearing completion on his work with a solid fuel rocket codenamed "Jobe", intended to carry a mini-hydrogen bomb warhead. Loring is dedicated to his work, to the point that there is a continuing strain with his assistant Joan Woods (Ellen Parker) he has postponed his marriage to her several times. Loring's colleague Dr. Joe Freed (Phillip Pine) is in nearly the same boat; he is away from his wife, even though she is expected to give birth at any moment. When Canadian scout planes relay a photograph of the alien missile, the military establishments of both Canada and the United States realize the nature of the threat and take action. Dr. Loring decides that the only chance they have of defeating the menace is to launch his untested Jobe rocket.
The Lost Missile was a troubled production. Producer/ director William Berke had a long resume in low-budget movie making dating back to the early 1930s, and had writing credits going back a decade earlier in the silent era. B-Westerns make up the bulk of his sound-era work, although he also turned out a few Jungle Jim pictures for Sam Katzman's unit at Columbia Pictures. The screenplay for The Lost Missile was co-written by the established science fiction author Jerome Bixby (who that same year penned the screenplays for It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Curse of the Faceless Man). Bixby was interviewed in 1983 for the magazine Enterprise Incidents, and of The Lost Missile he said, "[Co-writer] John [McPartland] and I did no treatment, we simply decided on a story line, and he decided on which scenes he would be more comfortable writing and which scenes I would be more comfortable writing, mainly the technical stuff, and we did the whole thing in a week and a half... Unfortunately, on the first day of shooting, the producer, Bill Berke, had a coronary and died, so his son took over and directed and made an earnest effort, but the picture did not turn out well." The elder Berke's longtime associate producer Lee Gordon took over the producer reins and completed the movie.
The movie poster and ad art prepared for The Lost Missile was certainly sensational, hinting at both an epic scale and a personification of evil. The art depicts a throng of people fleeing from the missile, with a city in flames in the background. Above the missile, the ads depict a large clawed hand and a glowering eyeball, both seemingly directing the missile. The ad copy ("It burns cities... It melts mountains... It turns men and women into living, screaming torches!") is vague about the nature of "It", and matinee-attending kids seeing the ads probably felt gypped that there was no on-screen monster to be seen. The artwork depicts a controlling force behind the missile, but actually one of the highlights of the film is that the missile goes unexplained; there is no indication of where it came from, if it is a manned vehicle or an unmanned drone, or if the devastating effects are by accident or design.
There is a high ratio of stock footage in The Lost Missile, but it is very well integrated into the film. That's not to say that the stock shots don't create occasional continuity problems as fighter jets are scrambled to confront the missile, the exciting shots jump back and forth from an F-94 to an F-89 to an F-80, depending on which action the filmmakers needed to cut in. The different jets give the impression of a single fighter, however, so only the trained eye of a USAF wing-watcher would notice the differences. The many scenes of panic-in-the-streets were culled from some of the Civil Defense preparedness films made during the Cold War as well as newsreel footage of drills held in major cities.
In The Hollywood Reporter, reviewer Jack Moffitt liked the film, saying "as in every good suspense story, one feels the ticking of a clock through every minute of The Lost Missile... A large part of the film is stock shots, but these are so well-integrated with the dramatic footage by editor [Everett] Sutherland as to constitute a minor masterpiece of documentation. Location photography in Canada and New York's subways by Kenneth Peach expertly matches the prevailing newsreel style." The reviewer for Variety also had praise for the "results of research on stock footage", but felt that the script was a letdown, and "...not always too clear on sequence, overboard heavily for melodrama. Dialog tends to be oratorical, particularly in high-echelon scenes involving civilian and military officials."
In his exhaustive survey Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Bill Warren has praise for the effectiveness of The Lost Missile: "The film is brisk and efficient; the sets are minimal, but not unimaginative, and the direction is well above average for a picture of this nature. It builds up quite a head of tension by the climax... The script wisely focuses on the actions of David and the sacrifice involved in his saving Manhattan; it couldn't show us screaming thousands going up in flames as the blazing missile sweeps by overhead, so the story centers around the tragedy of one brave man. This is intelligent use of your limitations."
The Lost Missile provided an early role for the busy character star Robert Loggia. Following work on Broadway and small roles in features like Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and The Garment Jungle (1957), Loggia signed with low-budget producer William Berke to play the lead in two films, Cop Hater (1958) and The Lost Missile. In the former, Loggia was Detective Steve Carelli in an adaptation of a series of police novels written by Evan Hunter under the name Ed McBain. For most of the 1960s and 1970s Loggia could be seen guest-starring on dozens of TV series, particularly crime shows and westerns, and he even starred in a one-season series of his own, T.H.E. Cat (1966-67), as a retired acrobatic cat burglar. Beginning in the 1980s, Loggia returned to the big screen in showy parts in big budget features like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Scarface (1983), and Prizzi's Honor (1985), among many others. His film career is well over the 50-year mark at this writing, and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Producer: Lee Gordon
Director: Lester Wm. Berke
Screenplay: Jerome Bixby, John McPartland; from a story by Lester Wm. Berke
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Production Design: William Ferrari
Music: Gerald Fried
Film Editing: Everett Sutherland
Cast: Robert Loggia (Dr. David Loring), Ellen Parker (Joan Woods), Phillip Pine (Dr. Joe Freed), Larry Kerr (General Barr), Marilee Earle (Ella Freed), Fred Engelberg (TV singer), Kitty Kelly (Mother Freed), Selmer Jackson (Secretary of State)
By John M. Miller
The Lost Missile (1958)
The following written prologue appears before the onscreen credits: "To the Department of Defense and to Departments of the United States Army, Navy and Air Force, without whose cooperation this film could not have been made, the producers of The Lost Missile extend their appreciation." Some reviews mistakenly list film editor Everett Sutherland as "Edward" Sutherland. According to a review, portions of the film were shot on location in New York City and Canada. The Lost Missile was the last released film directed by William Berke, who died in February 1958.