First Spaceship On Venus  (1962)

My initial reaction to this film was to guffaw early and often.  It’s not an outstandingly bad film, but it is riffable in the extreme.

And originally, that was going to be about all I had to say in a review: lots of riffabilitude, though the movie is not especially bad.  But then I started looking up some background information on it...

I had thought this was some kind of weird Japanese international collaboration.  It’s actually East German and Polish.  Hard to tell once it’s dubbed.  And... the story was taken from an early novel by Stanislav Lem.  (Who, as it happens, passed away just three months ago as of this writing.)  And somehow, learning this one fact changed my perception entirely.  Knowing Lem’s work, I suddenly understood what the movie was meant to be, with the silliness of the props and Venusian scenery stripped away.  What they encounter on Venus is very much in line with Lem’s later, better known work... the movie just couldn’t communicate it very well.

This was an Iron Curtain attempt at a serious, sober, large scale science-fiction epic.  It failed to be what it should have been due to dorky props, general goofiness, and an apparent attempt to shoehorn in riffs playing off every recent major rocketship movie to come out of the West, which at this remove just comes off as a gross excess of cliché.  And, of course, the butchered-up English dubbed pan&scan edit that most of us get to see just adds to the damage.

People who don’t look for the goofy in old sky-fie movies (not us, that is) are sometimes able to see this film the way it was meant to be seen: as possibly the finest, or at the very least easily the most ambitious, movie about outer space that had, up to that time, yet been made outside of Hollywood.