Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Men Into Space (1960)

Men Into Space ran for only a single season for a total of 37 episodes from September 30, 1959 until June 1, 1960, and then from August 17 until September 7, 1960. A 38th episode was also produced that was shown with the others when the series later aired in syndication. The science fiction show offered a realistic depiction of what future manned space flight would be like. What is most remarkable about the show, despite its very crude, toy-like rocket and space station models, is how many future real-life developments it anticipated, despite being aired less than a year after the formation of NASA (founded in October 1958), well before President Kennedy's pledge to put a man on the moon (Kennedy was not elected until November 1960 and did not take office until 1961), before the first manned space flight (Russia's Yuri Gagarin orbited earth in April 1961), and at a time when the United States was decidedly behind the Russians in the space race. Also striking is despite the fact that much of the production values may remind one of B-grade science fiction movies of the 1950s, there is none of the hysterical alien invasion or monsters in space themes that pervaded the genre (the Department of Defense had script approval and demanded believability), though the series does touch on the possibility of other life in the galaxy and in the last, unaired episode also shows a manned flight to Mars. But if anything the series takes a very measured, rational approach to space exploration, which may explain why it lasted only a single season. Its protagonist, Major Edward McCauley, is always the voice of reason, caution, and experience, frequently having to rescue those who foolishly rush headlong into pursuits that get them into trouble. And I suspect that one of the show's intentions was to offer a calming view of outer space to a nation that was overly excited about the Russians' success with Sputnik, sightings of UFOs, and the ubiquitous alien horror movies.

Regarding the Russians, the episode "Mission to Mars" (May 25, 1960) deals with this issue directly and is a perfect example of the message of reasoned deliberation in space pursuits. In this episode, both the Americans and Russians have established regular bases on the moon and are both about to attempt their first manned space flight to Mars. McCauley and two of his men are invited to dinner at the Russian moon base days before the planned flight to Mars, with both sides hoping to gather information about the others' plans. Naturally, both sides are coy, but McCauley reveals that the Americans could have launched a few days ago but saw the need for some last-minute adjustments to ensure the success of their launch. Russian Colonel Tolchek says that they have made no such adjustments, that they merely follow orders from the top officials, who have shown supreme confidence in their plan. However, there is one American back at the moon base, Captain Jim Nicholls, who is so anxious to beat the Russians to Mars such that he tries to cut corners on assignments so that they can launch sooner, but McCauley continually reins him in. When the launch actually happens, the Americans do launch seconds ahead of the Russians and all is running smoothly, but the Russian rocket soon runs into difficulty and veers off course. The Russian command is perfectly willing to let the men aboard die in the failed attempt, but McCauley convinces his command to abort their mission to go rescue the Russians, which he does. Thus, neither country reaches Mars in this episode, but the Americans are shown to be superior in their caution and their willingness to let intelligent men like McCauley deviate from the plan when circumstances warrant.

And there are several other episodes that show the dangers of trying to go too far too fast, such as "Earthbound" (Jan 27, 1960), which guest stars Robert Reed as whiz-kid electrician Russell Smith, who is determined to go into space but is impatient with the 4-year track it would take him to accomplish his goal through the Air Force. So he stows away on a rocket piloted by McCauley, hiding back in the electrical compartment that he helped design. However, his extra weight makes the cabinet collapse during take-off such that the rocket loses power and risks burning up on re-entry into earth's atmosphere. McCauley forces him to do a space walk on the rocket exterior to fix the problem, though this makes him extremely woozy looking out into space. Again the message here is caution against trying to attempt too much without proper experience, a temptation the American public also needed to avoid in its anxiety about the space race.

The topic of alien civilizations comes up in a few episodes. Sometimes men are ready to deem inexplicable phenomena as evidence of other life forms, only to find out upon closer inspection that their assumptions were wrong. One such episode is "Mystery Satellite" (Sep 7, 1960), in which an unidentified flying object seems to track McCauley's ship on a voyage to the moon, only to disappear when the ship lands on the lunar surface. After another Major dies chasing the object, McCauley is able to lure it to the moon and force it to crash, after which his investigation shows that the object was earth-made and perhaps picked up a magnetic charge that attracted it to other flying ships. However, there are also at least two episodes that depict men finding seemingly irrefutable evidence of other civilizations, though we never see any of these aliens. In "Is There Another Civilization?" (Mar 23, 1960) McCauley and his crew capture a large piece of space junk and bring it back to earth, where further analysis shows that it is part of a rocket ship over 500 years old, clearly evidence of another civilization who achieved space travel centuries before earthlings. And in "From Another World" (Apr 27, 1960) Edward Platt plays scientist Dr. Luraski, who brings back a rock from an asteroid he and McCauley explore, which, when cut in two, reveals the work of an ancient artist depicting a pterodactyl-like creature on another world.

As for predicted events that have been borne out by history, the author of the Wikipedia entry for the show provides a list of several achievements depicted in the series well before they actually took place, such as the discovery of ice on the moon, the ability to refuel rockets in space, and the construction of a space telescope. The accuracy of these predictions may be due to the technical advisor for the series, Wernher von Braun, who played a key role in the development and success of NASA throughout the 60s and 70s.

Contributing to the look of the show, particularly the moonscapes, was renowned space artist Chesley Bonestell, whose work graced the cover of many science fiction magazines in the 50s, as well as more mainstream publications, such as Collier's. However, Bonestell's space ship designs were not used in the show, except for the extrapolated alien spaceship depicted in "Is There Another Civilization?", but apparently his work was used for the circular, orbiting space station seen in several episodes. Bonestell also contributed to such science fiction feature-length films as Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, and War of the Worlds, and was inducted into both the International Space Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

The theme music for the show was composed by David Rose, best known for composing the instrumental hits "Holiday for Strings," which rose to #2 on the pop charts in 1944, and "The Stripper," which was a #1 hit in 1962. Born in Britain, Rose met Red Skelton during World War II and later became the musical director for Skelton's TV show for over 20 years. He also provided music for several other TV programs and won Emmys for his work on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. He married actress Martha Raye in 1938; they divorced in 1941. He married actress Judy Garland 2 months later, but they divorced in 1944. Rose passed away August 23, 1990 at the age of 80.

Unfortunately, this series has not been officially released on DVD, and given the show's short run and obscurity, it is unlikely that it ever will be. There are, however, unofficial "bootleg" versions of the series available on DVD-R. The picture and sound quality is about the same, occasionally a little better, than what you would find on YouTube.

The Actors

William Lundigan

Lundigan played Colonel Edward McCauley, the protagonist and only character who appeared in all 38 episodes. Lundigan was signed to a contract with Universal Pictures in 1937 and appeared in several films through the mid-50s, such as The Sea Hawk, Santa Fe Trail, Pinky, and Love Nest with Marilyn Monroe. After that, he switched over to mostly television appearances, serving as host for 18 episodes of Climax! between 1954 and 1958 before landing the lead role in Men Into Space. He appeared very infrequently on TV or in films after that, his last appearance being on Marcus Welby, M.D. in 1971. He served in the Marines as a combat photographer during World War II and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. He died December 20, 1975 at the age of 61.

Joyce Taylor

Taylor played Mary McCauley, the wife of Col. McCauley, in 11 episodes. She began her career as a singer, signing to Mercury Records, but her early acting career was stymied by Howard Hughes, who had signed her to his RKO Pictures yet allowed her only one small role in a single film. She began appearing in television programs in 1957 on The Gale Storm Show. Over the years she appeared on Bonanza, The Real McCoys, 77 Sunset Strip, Wagon Train, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lock Up, and My Mother the Car.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 14, "Tankers in Space": James Drury (the Virginian on The Virginian) plays Major Nick Alborg, one of two brothers McCauley takes on a mission to attempt to refuel a rocket in space; Murray Hamilton (Steve Baker on Love and Marriage and Capt. Rutherford T. Grant on B.J. and the Bear) plays the other brother, Lt. Col. Bill Alborg.

Season 1, Episode 15, "Sea of Stars": Jack Ging (Beau McCloud on Tales of Wells Fargo, Dr. Paul Graham on The Eleventh Hour, Lt. Dan Ives on Mannix, Lt. Ted Quinlan on Riptide, and Gen. Harlan "Bull" Fullbright on The A-Team) plays Lt. Jerry Rutledge, who accompanies McCauley on a mission to prevent a wayward satellite from crashing into the space station.

Season 1, Episode 16, "A Handful of Hours": William Schallert (Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show)plays Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr. Orrin, whose life is in danger when McCauley is forced to make an emergency moon landing.

Season 1, Episode 17, "Earthbound": Robert Reed (Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, Kenneth Preston on The Defenders, Judd Morrison on Doctor Kildare, Lt. Adam Tobias on Mannix, and Dr. Adam Rose on Nurse) plays electronics whiz Russell Smith, who stows away on McCauley's rocket and almost gets everyone killed.

Season 1, Episode 18, "Caves of the Moon": Donald May (Pat Garrison on The Roaring 20's and Grant Wheeler on Texas) plays Capt. Doug Bowers, who accompanies McCauley on a mission searching for water on the moon; Paul Comi (Deputy Johnny Evans on Two Faces West and Yo Yo on Rawhide) plays Major John Arnold; John Howard (Dr. Wayne Hudson on Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal, Commander John "Pliny" Hawk on Adventures of the Sea Hawk, and Dave Welch on My Three Sons) plays Dr. Rowland Kennedy.

Season 1, Episode 20, "Moon Cloud": Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo on Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Capt. Ray Rambridge on The Lieutenant) plays Perry Holcomb, a scientist with a jealous rival.

Season 1, Episode 21, "Contraband": James Coburn (Jeff Durain on Klondike and Gregg Miles on Acapulco, The Magnificent Seven, In Like Flint) plays Dr. Narry, one of four suspected thieves taken on a moon mission to determine which one is really guilty.

Season 1, Episode 24, "Is There Another Civilization?": Joe Flynn (Capt. Binghamton on McHale's Navy) plays Casey Stoddart, a pesky reporter who publishes a sensational story about three astronauts from the same mission who die tragically after returning to earth.

Season 1, Episode 25, "Shadows on the Moon": Mort Mills (Sheriff Fred Madden on The Big Valley, Sgt. Ben Landro on Perry Mason, Marshal Frank Tallman on Man Without a Gun, Touch of Evil) plays Dr. George Coldwell, one of two scientists on a mission looking for nuclear fuel on the moon. 

Season 1, Episode 29, "From Another World": Edward Platt (the Chief on Get Smart) plays Dr. Lusarski, who accompanies McCauley on a mission looking for signs of alien life on an asteroid. 

Season 1, Episode 30, "Emergency Mission": Edson Stroll (Virgil Edwards on McHale's Navy) plays a member of the MR-28 crew, a ship that must be rescued by McCauley. 

Season 1, Episode 31, "Beyond the Stars": James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays Lt. John Leonard, member of a team sent to monitor radio signals from space on the far side of the moon. 

Season 1, Episode 32, "Mission to Mars": Jeremy Slate (Larry Lahr on The Aquanauts and Peter Gaffney on Run for Your Life) plays Capt. Jim Nicholls, an American on the moon particularly intent on beating the Russians to Mars; Jack Hogan (Kirby on Combat!, Chief Ranger Jack Moore on Sierra, and Judge Smithwood on Jake and the Fatman) plays Major Ingram, one of McCauley's men invited to dinner with the Russians. 

Season 1, Episode 34, "Flare Up": Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink on Hogan's Heroes) plays Major Kralenko, a Russian bent on blaming Americans for a mistake he appears to have made. 

Season 1, Episode 35, "Into the Sun": Paul Picerni (Agent Lee Hobson on The Untouchables) plays Bob King, a former Air Force pilot suffering from a lack of confidence. 

Season 1, Episode 37, "Mystery Satellite": Charles Maxwell (Special Agent Joe Carey on I Led 3 Lives and who was the voice of the radio announcer on Gilligan's Island) plays Col. Frank Bartlett, who tries to chase down the mystery satellite. 

Season 1, Episode 38, "Flight to the Red Planet": Marshall Thompson (Johnny Smith on Angel and Dr. Marsh Tracy on Daktari) plays Major Devery, McCauley's co-pilot on the first manned flight to Mars; Michael Pate (Salvador Quintana on Zorro, Chief Crazy Horse on Branded, Second Hand Three on Batman, and Chief Vittoro on Hondo) plays Dr. Vic Morrow, a scientist who jeopardizes the crew's safe return.