Friday, April 8, 2016

'Keep Watching the Skies' -- the guide to 1950s science fiction

By Doug Gibson

Thirty-plus years ago, Bill Warren published the first edition of "Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties." It is the indispensable guide to the genre's glory era.

Recently, Warren's book was updated for the 21st Century, and a two-volume set has been released by McFarland Press. The link to buying it is here . You can also call 800-253-2187 to order and the pub's website address is There's 1,040 pages with more than 270 photos, and middle-pages inset of color photos of movie posters in both volumes.

Frankly, there isn't another resource book on this topic that can match what Warren and his researcher Bill Thomas have accomplished. It's manna for genre obsessives and scholars, but it can also be enjoyed by casual fans of the films, used as a reference and guide of the pros and cons of the films.

For the 21st Century edition, there's some new and updated essays and tidbits of information. Reviews have been revised, some updated. It amazed me that even the Bowery Boys fantasy outings are reviewed, there's even a small essay about them in the back. And the fantasy films of Abbott & Costello and The Three Stooges receive play. Warren accurately notes that the first Stooges sci-fi foray, "Have Rocket, Will Travel," plays like an extended comedy short of the team.

Also, I should mention that films are covered well into the 60s. "The Time Machine" shares space with "Wild Women of Wongo," "Them" with "Invisible Invaders" and add by the hundreds.

In a genre that is now sometimes slow to break new information, I found new nuggets of wisdom and facts in many of the reviews. So, if you're an established fan, you can spend $50 secure that you'll learn something in the reviews.

The reviews are satisfyingly long for an index-type book. None of the films are fobbed off with a few paragraphs. One thing about Warren that will either please or dismay, depending on your taste, is that he reviews the films in a non-nonsense, no overt affection for the genre bias. He looks at a film such as "Voodoo Island" or "Torbor the Great" or an Edgar Ulman cheapie much the same as he would review a conventional drama of the period. There are no review points that derive from the love of the genre.

If the film's poorly acted, wooden, badly directed, it gets a pan. It doesn't matter if it has cult status or not. I respect this but will add that films such as "Plan 9 From Outer Space," or "Beyond the Time Barrier," or any other cheapie that has cult status has something that makes them unique, and memorable. It's not an obligation to love these films. They had something that was not derivative. Hence they merit that acknowledgment.

Having said that, it's obvious Warren loves these films, even if he's harder on many of them that other genre fans. After all, he wrote 1,000-plus pages about them. And with some of the cult Z movies, he admits that the subject is notably bizarre.

One more thing. The index is fantastic. Poring through it underscores how much valuable scholarship is found in the pages of the two volumes.

I took me two weeks to get through both volumes and I'll spend decades revisiting the books to read about the films. "The Tingler," "The Creeping Unknown," "Devil Girl From Mars," "30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock" ... YOU WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF FILMS TO PERUSE.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I love this book. It might be worth noting that it's now available in the Apple iBooks store. I paid $40 for it here in Canada.