NOTE: This review contains a few spoilers, but they’re marked. These spoilers aren’t serious; most plot summaries of the film include them, but I’ve marked them for those who may be learning of this film for the first time via my blog and prefer to be surprised.
Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) is a test pilot for the United States Navy. His latest mission is to test an experimental rocket-plane, the Y-13. (This comes after the crash-landing of his previous test mission, the Y-12.)
While on a flight in the Y-13, Dan disobeys his orders and flies outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, hungry for fame and notoriety. He becomes the first man to fly into space.
Losing control of his aircraft, Dan is forced to eject himself from the pilot compartment. When the plane crash-lands back on earth with no trace of Dan to be found, the truth of what happened to the Lieutenant means big trouble for Earth and humankind.
Robert Day directs 1959’s First Man Into Space, also known as Satellite of Blood. The film was scripted by John C. Cooper and Lance Z. Hargreaves from an original story/first-draft script by Wyott Ordung.
First Man Into Space opts for a plot that’s lighter on science than it is on suspense and monster-movie appeal. There’s some talk of the ionosphere early on, some argument over Dan’s cocky approach to his test flights, and of course an investigation into the wreckage after the Y-13 lands. The heart of the film, however, is what happens to Dan himself after the Y-13 mission. (*SPOILER* Dan, inflicted by some kind of space dust, becomes a blood-thirsty monster and wreaks havoc on the world. *END SPOILER*)
As many ’50s sci-fi films were, First Man Into Space is driven by paranoia. The film was released a couple years prior to the first human journey into space (Yuri Gagarin, 1961) and a full ten years prior to the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was sold with the tagline “THE FILM THAT LEAPS AHEAD OF THE HEADLINES!” — a pretty accurate statement, though luckily the real headlines would have nothing to do with monsters. Very little was understood about space, and the unknown is usually considered with a great amount of fear.
Today, this film’s expression of that paranoia will seem silly to most, but will delight fans of classic monster movies. *SPOILERS* In his mutated form, with a sudden appetite for blood, Dan raids a blood bank as well as hunting plenty of living prey. The film incorporates many memorable, shadowy horror sequences, splitting its second half between the monster himself (a brilliantly crafted practical-effects creature) and the investigators who are searching for him. *END SPOILERS*
First Man Into Space will never be regarded on the same level as such space-monster classics as, say, Forbidden Planet, but it’s a pretty good watch. The story has no trouble holding the viewer’s attention, and some of the film’s scenes are truly eerie. The score: 3.5/5