..... "Stuart Metchette wrote me after he read this article and said that while he's never gotten into a cinema for jampots, he had while a child gotten in for a jar of cooking fat; he said this was an example of getting in by de-grease. I said it seemed more an example of 'out of the frying pan into the foyer'." -- WAW, 1957.
(Pendulum #1, JAN '52)
I'D LIKE TO ENTER a provisional claim to be the last fan to have seen Rocketship XM. I saw it for the first -- and last -- time the other day. If there are any fans who haven't seen it yet, I say to them, "Go and see this film if you're down in the dumps -- that's where it's showing." At least that's where it is showing in Belfast. It went to one of the first run houses, then to the suburban chains, and now it has ended up in what a kindhearted person might call our local repertory theatres. It might give you a rough idea of what these places are like -- and the rougher the idea you have the better -- if I say that one of them has a notice outside, "100 PERCENT ALL TALKING". And they don't mean the lady behind you who has seen the film before. Everybody there has seen the film before anyway, but they don't care. Half the audience is hiding from the police and the rest are in the impenetrable darkness of the back rows, known locally as fingerstalls.
I deliberately stayed away from RXM before not because I am an intellectual snob -- though of course I am -- but because I didn't want to encourage the producer Robert Lippert to pull any more dirty tricks. I always act on high ethical principles like this, providing of course they don't cause me any personal inconvenience. But by the time the film had reached the fleapits I figured that my jampot would hardly stand between Lippert and bankruptcy. (there now, I've run up against one of the things I don't know about America. When you were a kid could you get into the really cheap cinemas for empty jam-jars?) I visualized Lippert sitting in his office while the filing clerks manicure his nails. The balance sheet for RXM is brought in. Lippert's face drops. He picks it up hastily -- it never does to lose face in the movie industry -- but his knees start to tremble, throwing a couple of blond secretaries against the walls.
The Balance sheet looks something like this:
Shooting the film
" three directors with scruples
" them again with bullets
Bribe to Imagination
Technical advice, research, special effects,one Mars, one Moon, scotch tape & mousetraps
Ruin stares Lippert in the face, because he can expect no quarter (from his enemies). He buries his face in his hands, then hastily digs it up again as a thought strikes him. He reaches for the transatlantic phone -- he has very long arms -- and calls his European agent. "There is only one hope for Lippert Productions," he says. "What about that fan who hasn't seen RXM yet? Is there any word from Willis?" "Yes, Boss," says the agent, "He went to see it last night." "Thank Ghu," says Lippert (he is of course a Ghuist). He weeps with joy. His seventeen blond secretaries -- he's afraid of the dark -- won't have to be turned out without a roof to their mouths. "Well," he says, "Don't just stand there, send over what he paid for his seat!" "Must I, Boss?" says the agent. "I'm keeping my petunias in it."
This is the end. No use any longer keeping a stiff upper Lippert. He takes a revolver out of the desk drawer and puts it in his mouth. "Cancel my engagements," he says, "and if anybody calls tell them that I have a Colt in the head." So saying he shoots himself both quicker and deader than his films.
Now I'm not going to review RXM. Honest. I know there was a glorious time when all you needed for a fanzine was an article on Dianetics and a comparison of RXM with Destination Moon, but I bravely recognise that those days are gone. We must march with the times. Progress...science...fearlessly forward...new dawn...way of life...outworn shibboleths...etc. etc. (Sorry, I've been listening to too many election speeches.) So I steadfastly resisted the temptation to write a brilliantly witty critique of RXM. One thing which made this a bit easier for me was that I couldn't think of anything witty to say. And besides it wasn't really such a bad film. Old Father Lippert, the movie industry's original Pop Corn, made quite a good job of the early scenes, and it only got really annoying when the ship started to slow down in space. Pardon me, Mr. Lippert, but your ship is slowing.
I'll bet no one before ever took so much time not to review a film. I hope it won't come as too much of a shock to you to know that I started out to review another film altogether and thought it would be a good idea to lead up to it by a few remarks about RXM. After I saw it, you see, I was discussing it with James White and Bob Shaw and we decided that given half a million dollars or a movie studio we could make a really good sf film. So if any of my readers happen to have half a million dollars or a film studio we'd be glad if you'd send them along. We'll pay postage, of course. In the meantime we thought we'd better start on the scenario and decided on a van Vogt novel. Or at least I did, because I think there is no one to touch van Vogt at his prime, or at least there wasn't until he got himself cleared of all those things that distinguished him from Hubbard -- little odds and ends like engrams and ideas and ability and inspiration. James doesn't mind what sort of a film we make as long as it has a high moral tone and possibly Doris Day, and Bob couldn't object because he still owes me for all that space he bought in the last Slant. So van Vogt it had to be, and of all his stories I think the most photogenic would be The Search, if only because of the Palace of Immortality, the building with the endless corridors and the flight of steps that ended in space.
Now, after agreeing with Bob and James that the commercial movie industry would never make a fantasy movie ambitious enough to please fans I went to the cinema again the next night and was proven absolutely wrong. Not perhaps the best, but definitely the most extraordinary. It's that lavish, magnificent and incredible production The Tales of Hoffman. I have never seen a film, not even Citizen Kane or Spectre of the Rose or Winterset, which makes so few concessions to commercial ideas of what the public likes. It is just unbelievable that people would have had the nerve to sink so much money into such an uncompromising gamble. There's not a single word of spoken dialogue in it, just music and singing and dancing and trick photography and fantastically beautiful sets. It's true there are some nice girls in it, including one red-head who looks a bit like Lee Hoffman (surprisingly enough) and another who looks very like Moira Shearer (which is less surprising, since that's who it is) and a very convincing orgy that will undoubtedly be cut out by the Hays office, but what you should go and see it for are those wonderful sets. They're all in colour of course, and it's the best fantasy artwork I have ever seen. If I was a prozine editor I should buy a few thousand stills from this film and sack all my cover artists. And if I couldn't get the stills honestly I would steal them. If my covers had punch like that I wouldn't mind if it came from illicit stills.
Data entry by Judy Bemis and Tony Parker