Hammer Sci-Fi: Spaceways (1953)

Written by Richard H. Landau, Paul Tabori
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Howard Duff, Eva Bartok
US Release Aug. 7, 1953
RT 74 min.
Home Video Image Entertainment
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)

spaceways-1952-poster

Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

If Four Sided Triangle was “nothing but a love story taking place in a technological surrounding,” then Spaceways is nothing but a murder mystery set against England’s attempt to be part of the international space race.  The movie focuses on the dramatic implications of going to space, and being the first ones there, more than it does the science fiction elements of building the equipment to get there or actually being there.  Its title is misleading, as is the tagline, “The screen’s first story of SPACE ISLANDS in the sky.”

Further, it focuses on the marital and romantic drama of its characters more than the dramatic implications of the space race.  The top secret Deanfield Experimental Station is merely the backdrop for a familiar story of unfaithful spouses, jealousy and revenge.  The problem is the mystery that evolves when the cheating wife and her boyfriend disappear isn’t very compelling.  In fact, I was so misled by what I thought Spaceways was going to be about that I was caught off guard by the sudden focus on the missing couple.

After a successful first-stage experiment, a group of scientists gathers at a black-tie cocktail party for General Hayes (Anthony Ireland) to announce they’ve received authorization to proceed on launching the world’s first artificial satellite.  Dr. Stephen Mitchell (Howard Duff) is overjoyed, but his wife, Vanessa (Cecile Chevreau) isn’t thrilled about spending more time on the high security base.  She leaves with a headache, as does Mitchell’s colleague, Dr. Phillip Crenshaw (Andrew Osborn).  The two are having an affair and Mitchell later spies them kissing.

Meanwhile, plans for the launch proceed and they are successful.  However, about the time the rocket doesn’t gain speed, remains at the same level and they think they’ll have to start over, Mrs. Mitchell and Crenshaw are discovered missing.  Could their dead bodies stuffed in the fuel tanks of the rocket be slowing its momentum?  I didn’t put two and two together until Crenshaw’s supposed replacement arrives.  It’s Dr. Smith (Alan Wheatleyn) and it’s not long before he admits he’s there to find out about “what happened to Crenshaw and that rocket of yours.”

Smith says, “They’ll [the bodies] stay there for decades if the calculations are correct… the perfect murder and no bodies lying about!”  Or, maybe they won’t.  There’s some suspicion that Crenshaw is actually a traitor, a spy paid to steal their secrets.  Maybe he somehow escaped Deanfield and took his lover with him.  I’ll admit this sounds kind of intriguing.  I assure you it’s not.  This is disappointing coming from director Terence Fisher, so let’s blame it on the fact that he didn’t write the script.  That would be Richard H. Landau and Paul Tabori, adapted from a radio play by Charles Eric Maine.

To prove his innocence, Mitchell proposes a second rocket launch to retrieve the first, with him, of course, on board.  Now is a good time to mention that Dr. Lisa Frank (Eva Bartok) is secretly in love with Mitchell.  (“Why am I so selfish?  I should be happy!”)  When she thinks she’s learned the real reason for the failure of the rocket, and he shares with her that he’s been accused of murder, they find comfort in the kisses of one another.  Before long, she’s manipulated Dr. Toby Andrews (Michael Medwin) into “volunteering” to join Mitchell so that she can trade places with him and board the rocket herself.

If you don’t trust my recommendation to skip this one, I won’t tell you how it concludes.  I will say that the dead bodies either are or aren’t in the rocket and that Crenshaw either is or isn’t a spy, and gets what’s coming to him.  In the final few moments, we finally go to space with Mitchell and his new girlfriend.  It’s very brief, though, and the “action” that takes place is over nearly as quickly as it has begun.  Speaking of “quickly,” this is a short-running movie at 74 minutes that could have benefitted from 16 more minutes to slow down and build some suspense.

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