Sunday, March 30, 2014

ROCKET ATTACK, U.S.A. (1958/61) - A Review

With both Putin and Kim Jong-Un acting up, it kind of seems like the whole world is suffering from some sort of Cold War nostalgia nightmare. So it seemed like an appropriate time to watch this ultra-low budget Cold War classic from cult director Barry Mahon.
The film is, of course, Rocket Attack, U.S.A., and it was cranked out not long after the Soviet Union launched their famous Sputnik satellite. Mahon was ideally suited to this project because he A) had prior experience directing exploitation films, and B) he had flown combat missions with the Royal Air Force during World War II.
But don't worry that Mahon (who probably also wrote the script) brought too much experience or verisimilitude to this cheapie. Rocket Attack U.S.A. offers all the cheap and ludicrous thrills one could want from a Z-grade exploitation picture.
Our hero, John Manston (Mahon regular John McKay) is clearly and quickly identified to the audience as a top-notch spy guy. How do we know? Because he constantly wears a spy guy trench coat, cinched tight around the waist. Obviously he's just the guy to send undercover to Moscow to get the inside dope on the Soviet's missile capabilities! Once he makes it to Moscow, Manston hooks up with his contact, Tanya (Monica Davis - who also had previous experience with Mahon), a beautiful Russian who happens to be the mistress of the Soviet Secretary of Defense, and who also happens to speak perfect American English.
From there it's a mad whirl of bad dialogue, bad acting, cheap sets and stock footage, all leading up to a climactic gun fight at the most unconvincing launch pad you'll ever see. Then comes the ending - which is pretty downbeat: The Soviets successfully launch a nuclear missile that destroys New York City. Clearly intended (for marketing purposes if nothing else) as a "message" ending, the last image of the film is this:

In my opinion, Rocket Attack U.S.A. is a near-perfect specimen of the "torn from the headlines" school of exploitation filmmaking. Its tone is hysterical, its acting uniformly bad. The plot is jumbled, and moves forward in fits and starts. We're supposed to believe that most of it takes place in the U.S.S.R., but it was filmed in New Jersey. The special effects are some of the cheapest I've ever seen. And it crams all this, and more, into a brief 68 minutes. Crackpot history was never so much fun - or made so little demands on your time.

Barry Mahon is a classic bad movie master, perhaps best known for directing Errol Flynn's last movie, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959). He would go on to gift the world with films like The Dead One (1961), The Adventures of Busty Brown (1964), and The Beast That Killed Women (1965), which combined the horror and nudie genres in a story about an ape loose in a nudist camp. Continuing this somewhat schizophrenic nature of his career until the end, some of Mahon's final films included Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico (1969) and the children's film, Jack and the Beanstalk (1970). I haven't seen all of his many, many films, but those I have seen have all been entertaining, to say the least.

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