Assignment Outer Space (1960)
aka Space Men
Antonio Margheriti began his directing career with this Science Fiction film written together with Ennio De Concini: Assignment Outer Space. Fantasy or Science Fiction was an unusual genre for the Italian movie production at that time, in fact, except for some comedy, only another Science Fiction film was done before this: The Death Comes From Outer Space by Paolo Heusch (1957).
"Spacemen represented a sort of gambling bet. It was a genre that I've always loved, and I wanted to demonstrate that also in Italy it was possible to make films of the fantastic genre, different from those that we used to produced in those years." in fact, Antonio would use all his imagination in order to realize this film, which had a very small budget. Less than 30.000 US$, and it was completed in 20 days, including the special effects. Margheriti also made with this opera his first experiment of "contamination of kinds", a peculiarity that is in many of his films and for which he would become famous, mixing the Science Fiction with the Western and the adventurous and pioneeristic genres. Reading the story it is easy to recognize the similarities with other films which, many years later, will re-write the history of Science Fiction movies: The relationship amongst man and deep space, and amongst man and computer, with the computer that takes control of a spaceship to complete his mission, like in 2001 A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick; or the similarity of the entire story with Marooned by John Sturges; and to end, the small corridor in the space that the hero crosses to reach the heart of the spaceship and destroy it, which resembles the small passage of the "Black Death" of Star Wars by George Lucas. All films that will be produced many years after.
The film was produced by Turi Vasile and Goffredo Lombardo for Titanus, which, seeing the excellent results of the film, decided to distribute on a large national scale. Using the following advertising: "No scenes of this film are located on that planet of the Solar System known with the name of Earth". The film was a big success, getting also some very good critiques and reviews. Excellent were also the sales to foreign countries, especially the American market, where the film gained the favor of the public. This success consecrated Antonio Margheriti as director and special effects expert, opening a path for other, and foreseeable, productions of the same kind.
by Edoardo Margheriti
Year 2000, the conquest of Space becomes a reality. Space satellites orbiting around the Earth, and Human bases on other planets of the Solar System, open the path to the explorers of new worlds. Roy Peterson, (Rick Van Nutter) a young reporter is sent to the space station BZ-88 to write an article on the "Spacemen," persons trained to live in space on board spaceships. There, he discovers that Alpha 2, an interstellar spaceship with a fotonic propulsion engine, after the death of the entire crew, is now controlled only by the computer, and is returning to Earth with the risk of a collision. The spaceship is inaccessible, because of the fotonic radiations generated by the engine, and the only way to save the planet is to destroy it. Many attempts are made to disintegrate the spaceship with atomic missiles from other spaceships, but they do not succeed. Our heroes discover a thin corridor, between the deadly radiations, from which the ship may be reached, but it is very narrow, too small for a spatial carrier. Roy has an idea, and offers to try with a "space Taxi", a small single space jet. In the deep space, alone, in a dimension without sounds or colors, Roy rides his "space horse" launching around small parts, bolts and other small breakages, which disintegrate upon contact with the fotonic barrier. With this simple idea he attempts to find the passage and follow it. The crazy mission of Roy succeeds, and he enters the spaceship, changing his coordinates and sending on a new endless travel, far away from Earth.
by Edoardo Margheriti
My father was very affectionate toward this his first film, and he often spoke about it, and remembers it with pleasure. For many years he had preserved the spatial helmets, the laser rifles made out of wood, and the spaceships models. Some were in plastics, bought in a department store and covered with aluminum foil to resist the acetylene flame which imitated the propulsive jets. Others were made from wood and metal. They were small and pudgy, but in the 60's, the experience of special effects of that kind was almost nothing, and they improved by experimentation, attempts or for intuition. The tricks were invented at the time, and made with the poor things which were available. Antonio was using his great imagination and ability instead of technical equipment and big budgets.
For example, he always told that in the bathroom of the Studios Titanus Appia, named "Scalera", there was a lamp made by a big sphere of white crystal, that he borrowed and, after painting it, illuminated it from the inside to realize the planets. Something more, as I have already said, the miniatures of the spaceships were very small, and there was the risk of seeing the wires to which they were suspended, then Antonio had an idea, (and from this you can tell that he was a sort of genius between the pioneers of the genre):
"Because most of the spectators, more accustomed to effects, try to see the wire, looking above the models with attention, I've placed the wire on the bottom part of the spaceships and makes the Camera work upside down. Projecting in a normal way everything is returned to place, but the wires were located in the lower part of the screen and almost nobody noticed one."
Finally, the genesis of Italian space movies makes it to DVD! An ace reporter (Rik Van Nutter) is sent to space to record the daily lives of the Cosmonauts(?) who labor millions of miles from earth. He is far from welcome by the galaxy weary crew (who call him "parasite") of the space station he is assigned too. To make matters worse, he decides to tag along on a refueling mission without permission, and causes the loss of precious fuel. Things just couldn't get worse, or could they?
Alpha 2, an out of control spaceship with a heat producing "Photonic" field is about to enter in to orbit around Earth, which would burn everything on the face of the planet! The reporter and his new found "friends" fly towards Mars to intercept and destroy the spacecraft. Once they make contact with Alpha 2, they devise a plan to exploit a flaw in the Photonic field to stop it, which takes the ultimate sacrifice of a brave Cosmonaut, the pitching arm of another, and the deep introspection of the rest.
"ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE" is definitely one of the wildest Italian space operas. It's plot movement is slow at first, but when it kicks into gear, it never stops. The laws of physics and space are discarded in favor of cool space gadgets (like the Space Taxi) and traveling between two space craft by merely floating from one to the other, which would become a standard in the Margheriti brand of space adventures. The special effects are a scream, especially when the little tiny models of the Cosmonauts interact with the larger rocket ship models. My favorite of these scenes is where miniature Cosmonauts fly out to connect a very large hose to the tail pipe of a rocket ship to refuel it. They just don't make 'em like this anymore. Music soundtrack fans will recognize the same music queues found in PHANTOM PLANET from Gordon Zahler's music library.