Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), a German-born novelist and screenwriter, had an interesting life.  After obtaining a degree in mathematics, he began writing books, then sunk the proceeds from them into Menshen am Sontag (People on Sunday), a film for which he provided the story and was co-directed by his older brother Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, with a script by Billy Wilder -- all magical names from the history of cinema.  With the rise of Adolph Hitler and after hearing a speech by Joseph Geobbels, both brothers decided to it was time to get out of Germany -- Curt to England and Robert to France.  Eventually both made their way to America and Hollywood.  (Curt would often publicly thank Hitler because "if it wasn't for that son of a bitch" he would never have ended up in Hollywood.

Curt Siodmak seemed to specialize in low-budget science fiction and horror films, making his most noted mark with early Universal horror films.   His screenplay for 1941's The Wolf Man created much of today's werewolf lore, such as one becomes a werewolf through a bite, a werewolf can only be killed by a silver bullet, and werewolf victims were marked with a pentagram.    Other Universal horror films written by Siodmak were The Invisible Man Returns, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Son of Dracula, and House of Frankenstein.  Among other classic, semi-classic, and cult classic films written by Siodmak were  I Walked with a Zombie, Black Friday, The Ape, The Beast with Five Fingers, Bride of the Gorilla, Creature with the Atom Brain, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and Curucu, Beast of the Amazon.  Siodmak's classic novel Donovan's Brain has been filmed three times.  Siodmak not only scripted Riders to the Stars, he also wrote the tie-in novelization published by Ballantine Books.

Riders to the Stars was produced by Ivan Tors, the second of his "Office of Scientific Investigation' trilogy, sandwiched between The Magnetic Monster (also written by Siodmak) and Gog.  Actor and film co-star Richard Carlson made his directorial debut with this film.  The film also featured William Lundigan (who would later star in television's Men into Space, consider by some to be a spiritual descendant of this film), Herbert Marshall, and Robert Karnes.  Eye candy was provided by Martha Hyer and Dawn Addams.  Look closely and you'll see King Donovan and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane himself, James K. Best, in supporting roles.

The plot?  Yes, there is one.  An American space agency is trying to find a metal that will withstand the rigors of space.  None can be found on Earth but, because they zoom through space all the time, it's felt that this metal must be found on meteors.  Three hand-picked men, each with his own rocket, are sent on man's first space mission to capture and retrieve meteors.  Do they succeed?  Well, we've landed men on the moon, haven't we?

Riders to the Stars is an earnest, almost documentarian, film.  It has its moments as it tries to depict space flight from a pre-Sputnik viewpoint.  Destination Moon it is not, but its decent cast and direction make it well worth watching.  It is hokey and stereotypically early 1950s and its minescule budget allowed only for the cheesiest of special effects, but please take that in stride as you enjoy this movie.

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