Spaceways (1953) – Friday Night At The Home Drive-In

Poster for Spaceways (1953)Spaceways (1953) by #TerenceFisher
#HowardDuff #EvaBartok

While working on sending the first artificial satellite into high orbit, two scientists blast off to solve a murder.

“Space is a cold place to die!”

“The screen’s first story of SPACE ISLANDS in the sky!”

#SciFi #Thriller

Spaceways (1953) begins with a very dramatic main title theme. The credits inform us that the movie was directed by Terrence Fisher, who would go on to a distinguished career working for companies like Hammer Films. He would direct some certified classics like Dracula (1958) and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). So, the bar of expectations was immediately raised (for me) going into this relatively unknown movie…

So, what’s it about?

The first half hour is a pretty straight forward, almost dry and boring, space program procedural. A group of scientists are trying to send a satellite into space – one that will orbit the earth forever and ever (or something like that). Some people have complained about the inaccuracies of the science. I think that’s beside the point. The real question is, do we  care whether or not their satellite is gonna go up there and work? Not a lot, I’m afraid.

However, the real story is a bit of a soap opera, featuring extramarital affairs and a bitter feud between husband and wife. The husband is an engineer, Dr Stephen Mitchell, and he’s part of the team trying to send that satellite up. His wife, Vanessa, is having an affair with Dr Philip Crenshaw, one of the other team members. Meanwhile, Lisa Frank, a mathematician on the team, is secretly in love with Dr. Stephen. Is it a love triangle? Or two love triangles? Either way, it’s far more compelling than the scientific mumbo jumbo.

Did you say bitter feud?

Vanessa is angry and bitter toward her husband, because he is working for very little pay at this very important government job. She would rather he take a higher paying job, but he wants to do this important work. She is also jealous of the dark haired mathematician Lisa, who has what I might call a Bettie Page haircut – although I am probably way off base on that.

So, what happens?

They attempt to send the satellite up into space, but it’s a partial failure –  getting stuck at a lower altitude than they had intended. Everyone is very disappointed.

At about that same time, Vanessa and Dr Philip Crenshaw go missing, and this is where the movie takes a strange turn… and gets really interesting.

At first, I thought it was simply that the two characters have run off together, twisting the knife that was already protruding from Dr. Mitchell’s back. But then I slowly started to realize the filmmakers were setting up a murder mystery. In fact, they were setting up Dr. Mitchell as a suspect. Did he murder his cheating wife and her and her lover? Did he hide their bodies on the satellite, ensuring that there would be no evidence left on earth? It’s a fairly ludicrous idea, but also somehow kind of brilliant.

So, is Spaceways science fiction, or not?

The climactic sequence involves Dr. Mitchell getting permission to fly into space in a second rocket ship so that he can find out if the dead bodies of his wife and Dr Philip Crenshaw are up there – or not. This becomes even more complicated when Lisa decides to sneak on board and go with him. She says she would rather die up there with him than live without him on earth.

So there is some outer space action, but only fairly late in the running time.

So, what’s the verdict for Spaceways?

Spaceways (1953) is a well-made movie and it rates decently, getting a 5.1 on the IMDb. It’s not particularly fun, in the way that giant monster movies are. Spaceways has no monsters, and not much in the way of real sci-fi action. I suppose it’s more realistic, or at least more of a soap opera. It’s most interesting for the fact that it’s a strange mashup of different genes.

While Terrence Fisher would go on to make some true classics, as well as some beloved not quite classics, Spaceways is not quite either one. Still, it’s at least #NotQuiteClassicCinema adjacent, and it’s different enough to be worth at least one watch on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.