Olive Films has released FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS, the 1950 12-chapter serial from Republic Pictures, with a clean, crisp pillarboxed Blu-ray transfer. No extras offered here to help compensate potential buyers for the admittedly uninspired serial shenanigans, but Republic's expertise at this point in the genre's timeline guarantees at the very least an entertaining meat-and-potatoes outing… which certainly describes FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS .
In this generously recycled but typically lively late-era cliffhanger, Scientist Dr. Bryant (James Craven, KING OF THE ROCKET MEN, FEDERAL AGENTS VS. THE UNDERWORLD, INC.) has invented a radar gun that, when fitted with a special attachment, becomes an atomic death ray capable of shooting down an aerial target. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the range he needs to zap a mysterious flying object in the stratosphere that is hovering over his secret laboratory. Enter handsome Kent Fowler (Walter Reed, SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN, GOVERNMENT AGENTS VS. PHANTOM LEGION), a former WWII flyboy who now operates a private aerial patrol service with his also handsome sidekick Steve (Sandy Sanders, DESPERADOES OF THE WEST, DON DAREDEVIL RIDES AGAIN) and their honey-of-a-secretary Helen (Lois Collier, JUNGLE WOMAN, TV's BOSTON BLACKIE ). Dr. Bryant hires Kent to shoot down the UFO by fitting his atomic ray to Kent's plane. Mission accomplished...with an added bonus: the survivor of the crashed UFO is Mota (Gregory Gay, COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD, LAST TRAIN FROM BOMBAY), a Martian who has big plans for Dr. Bryant. Mota tells Bryant that the Martians have been studying Earth, and they have plans to conquer it before Earthlings destroy themselves – and the rest of the solar system – with their A-bombs (calling Michael Rennie...). So Mota, knowing that Bryant was a Nazi traitor during the war, offers the villainous scientist the chance to rule Earth with the aid of Mars' advanced atomic weapons. With lunkhead henchmen Drake (Harry Lauter, CANADIAN MOUNTIES VS. ATOMIC INVADERS, TV's ROCKY JONES, SPACE RANGER) and Ryan (Richard Irving, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, ROADBLOCK) in tow, Bryant tries to steal enough uranium to supply Mota's secret volcano munitions laboratory, but he's thwarted at every turn by two-fisted Kent.
According to several sources, FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS was Republic's most expensive serial for the 1950 release year… which isn't saying much when you realize the budget was a positively paltry $150,000 dollars (give or take a few grand) for almost three hours of screen time. Guided by long-time Republic producer Franklin Adreon (THE INVISIBLE MONSTER, ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE) and Republic's steady house director Fred C. Brannon (RADAR PATROL VS. SPY KING, RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON), FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS was shot in a speedy three weeks during the fall of 1950 (under various working titles such as FLYING PLANET MEN and JET MAN FROM MARS and immediately released. Padded out with used props (Mota's "semi-disc" cheapjack knock-off of the Northrop YB-35 is left over from KING OF THE MOUNTIES), refurbished costumes (Mota's costume is adapted from the previous serial, THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES), and standing sets and stock footage miniature work from Republic's famed special effects team of Howard and Theodore Lydecker, FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS certainly didn't break any new ground for the dwindling number of early 1950s audiences still seeking out these chapter serials. Never a studio that didn't wring every last penny out of its product, FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS saw theatrical duty one last time when it was chopped down to feature length and retitled MISSILE MONSTERS (be careful Googling that when you're looking for more production info...) in 1958, the year that Republic ceased original film production.
Viewing FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS on a very clean Blu-ray transfer is a mixed blessing, ironically because the presentation is now so ideal. Nobody back in 1950 saw this or any other serial in one lump sitting (they were, after all, designed to keep movie house patrons coming back each week). So watching the complete, uncut FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS's 169 minutes today, without the benefit of a week's time to blur what you saw at the previous Saturday matinee, only serves to highlight the repetition, not only in stock footage (there's only one shot of that "semi-disc" entering and leaving the volcano lair), but also in story construction and dialogue. Fans of these serials know that lesser entries of the genre often fell back on well-worn cliches like fistfights and car chases and shootouts for every single chapter, and FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS is no different. It's often cited as an example of Republic's serials in severe decline, which rings true when compared to earlier models like the superlative SPY SMASHER. However, just by repeating the conventions fans of the serial genre have come to expect, and delivering those conventions in a reasonably smooth, competent fashion, FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS can't help but succeed at a low-bar level.
You can, however, find unexpected pleasures here and there in FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS, such as the not-so-subtle Cold War subtext in the sci-fi framework (when would-be world conqueror Gay rolls out that obvious Commie accent, we know what the moviemakers are getting at); the storyline antecedents for far better regarded outings like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (and even PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE); and most amusingly of all, Mota's atomic ray gun prop that looks like nothing less than one of those new-fangled television cameras – the very cameras that were rapidly decimating the 1950s audiences for Republic's serials. Not everything here is smooth Republic serial competence (those repeated out-of-focus close-ups of Walter Reed in his airplane were clearly one-take mistakes that couldn't be corrected), but the fights and the miniatures and the explosions – new and (mostly) stock – always perk one up when the dialogue drags (too bad there weren't more self-consciously self-mocking moments like the scene where Reed falls hundreds of feet into a haystack to emerge laughing at the absurdity of the situation). As to whom the modern audience might be for these old-timey chapter outings on Blu-ray (besides the small cadre of movie buffs and aficionados who live for this sort of thing), this reviewer's nine-year-old daughter keep coming back every few minutes, throwing out an enthusiastic "Cool!" whenever a particularly smart Lydecker miniature blew up in spectacular fashion -- that's not a bad endorsement for FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS's charms, some 65 years later.
Olive Films' AVC encoded 1080p HD pillarboxed 1.37:1 transfer for FLYING DISC MAN FROM MARS benefits from what looks like exceptionally well-preserved original source material. Grain structure is mostly fine (degradation is slightly more noticeable whenever the no-doubt numerously reprinted special effects scenes pop up), while image detail is quite sharp. Blacks are impressively solid, with a creamy gray scale. Only one or two contrasty scenes and the expected few scratches and dirt specks mar an otherwise admirable black and white transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 split mono track seemed a tad low-level in its re-recording for this transfer, but it's super-clean, with little or no hiss or pops. (Paul Mavis)
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