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TCM Greatest Classic Films: Sci-fi Adventures (DVD Review)

1 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/2/10
$27.92 two-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Kenneth Tobey, James Whitmore, Hugh Marlowe, Lois Maxwell.

My, what large scales or pincers you have.

Another keenly packaged Turner Classic Movies four-pack offers a pair of classic creature features that hit baby boomers where they lived; one time-warped space drama with cave-dwelling spiders right out of an Ed Wood prop shop; plus a chattier space drama with camp dialogue.

The two in black-and-white are The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), the Ray Harryhausen career-maker in which a stalking Rhedosaurus inhibits Manhattan traffic flow); and Them! (1954) in which James Whitmore delivers a more heartfelt performance than we usually get in dramas about giant mutations — in this case, desert ants that just can’t stay out of L.A.

The two in color and CinemaScope are World without End (1956), whose set design and attitude toward leggy space maidens anticipates director Edward Bernd’s follow-up Zsa Zsa Gabor trash classic Queen of Outer Space (1958; on DVD); plus Satellite in the Sky (1956), with Lois Maxwell, later 007’s Miss Moneypenny, on a rocket ship offering a rude surprise.

Them! was atypically classy enough (for the genre) to nudge Oscar into a nomination for special effects, though there was no way it was going to beat Disney’s giant squid in the same year’s Christmas blockbuster 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the Motion Picture Sound Editors gave it a citation for the year’s best sound editing, an award that still seems merited.

World (Allied Artists) and Satellite (Warner Bros.) weren’t quite B-movies but what used to be called “shaky A’s” — often paired with the same movie in a double bill blanketed over the much of the country. As history would have it, each played several engagements in tandem with another feature that came to be regarded as a classic: World with Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Satellite with Budd Boetticher’s 7 Men From Now (first of the director’s seven now-revered Westerns with Randolph Scott).

In World, determine if you could have ever guessed that the dashing actor playing the most amorous crewman (Rod Taylor) would end up playing, as he did, an aptly corpulent Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

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