Rocketship X-M, declassified
20 w by 13 in h
Digital Painting by Juli Kearns
Based on a photo from the "Hanford Historical Photo Declassification Project".
No, they actually failed to grasp the irony of a Rocketship-XM float carrying the prized Atomic Frontier Days Queen and her court
The subject of the digital painting is Richland Theater's float entry in the Atomic Frontier Days Parade, mid 1950s, advertizing a production of "Rocketship X-M".
Why would this float cause a riot?
Did angry child cowpokes attack because of the anti-nuke stance of Rocketship X-M? Or were the bathing beauties pitching fistfuls of candy?
The Wikipedia entry on the movie "Rocketship X-M", released in 1950, notes that that it is not a feel good film.
Four men and a woman blast into space on mankind's first expedition to the Moon. Halfway to the moon, the engines shut down because of a problem in the fuel. Newton's laws are instantly violated as the ship comes to a dead stop. There are some tense moments (more or less) while the crew work on the problem. They solve it beyond their expectation and the ship tears off across the solar system on a new course. Incredibly, this takes them directly to Mars (about the same odds as hitting the left eye of a mosquito at a range of several miles), which causes Dr. Karl Eckstrom to "pause and observe respectfully while something infinitely greater assumes control".
On Mars, they find evidence of a once-powerful civilization, as evidenced by an art-deco wall-hanging of a face, and a backdrop of a building shaped rather like a dynamo. There has been a planetary nuclear war. They meet a descendant of the builders of the civilization: a blind and mute woman, who is pursued by other descendants: cave-men, whom they fight off and escape (with 2 dead and 1 wounded). The return voyage is only a partial success: the ship makes it back to Earth but hasn't enough fuel for a landing. They crash. There is an epilogue in which the anti-nuke moral of the film is restated. The last members of the expedition are stated to have crashed into the Earth and died.
When I was in Richland, the main movie theater was the Uptown, because that's what we had in Richland, an uptown, rather than a downtown. So, when I saw this picture I wondered if the Richland Theater was a theater troupe and if--perhaps?--a theatrical production of Rocketship X-M had been staged. If so, was it possible that it and this parade float entry could be an anti-nuke statement that slipped past the Richland censors? Would it be out of the realm of possibility? Yes, there are theater promo posters for the film on the float but I reasoned that, hmmm, maybe those were there for good familiarity measure. Remember the movie? Now see the play!
"However did you see in the Rocketship X-M float a possible anti-nuke statement?" you may ask.
"Wishful thinking," I answer, and try my best to return to June of 2006 so I might examine my head space of the time.
Oh, yeah, and returning to Wikipedia to revisit what was written up on it might help. The entry has since been rewritten but here's the critical information that was likely also there in some form.
Lippert's feature was the first film drama to explore the dangers of nuclear warfare and atomic radiation through the lens of science fiction; these became recurrent themes in many 1950s science fiction films that followed.
Having yet to see the film, in 2006, I'd had to rely on Wikipedia and reviews of it for information.
A review of the film by Alan Smithee states that the movie's script was ghost-written by Dalton Trumbo, a "Hollywood Ten" blacklist victim. Though the film doesn't victimize with jingoism, Smithee presents it as not being culturally forward enough that it isn't loaded with sexism, the female scientist getting a hard time of it from her male peers, her opinions ever discounted. And yet the descendant of the ruined civilization the Earth people meet on Mars is a woman who is both blind and mute, pursued by "cave-men" descendants. Which made me wonder if Smithee was wrong about the sexism. Was the deaf-mute woman, pursued by cavemen, perhaps instead intended originally to be commentary on the sexism experienced by the female scientist? If this was the case, the bathing beauties on the float seemed to cloud the issue. Assuming this was a theatrical production, which I was still doing. Because it wasn't the Uptown.
I continued my attempt to rationalize what was going on with this Rocketship X-M float being in an Atomic Frontier Days parade. I decided, hey, yeah, maybe it was, for real, an anti-nuke statement with an anti-sexism statement tossed in as well. As the movie's primary roles were four male scientists and a woman scientist, and there were five women riding on the float, I wondered if perhaps the starring roles in the possibly-produced play featured women rather men? That these potential scientists were dressed in bathing suits and a gown was problematic, but not enough of a mountain that I couldn't scrape my way to the top, from where I hoped to peer down and view trundling about the Richland countryside a few early anti-nuke and anti-sexism sci fi freaks.
I figured that had to be the case. Because how could the Richland Theater not grasp the irony of a Rocketship-XM float appearing in an Atomic Frontier Days parade? Seemed incomprehensible.
Ok. Sometimes (often enough) I'm not so bright.
Except, I was not so sold on my scenario that I could accept it.
I made inquiries and discovered, first, that I had jumped to the wrong conclusion when thinking Rocketship X-M may have been performed by a Richland theater company. Richland Theater was indeed the Richland movie theater in 1950.
Oh, yes, the Richland Theater, where I had seen The Singing Nun as a child.
This was what I was told about the float. It was constructed after hours with paper mache and poster paints. The choice of Rocketship X-M was purely for exploitation value. The studio provided the rocket. The woman in the gown was the queen of that year's Atomic Frontier Days festival and the others were the runners-up.
Well, that burst my bubble.
I still am bewildered that Richland apparently did not grasp the irony of a Rocketship-XM float carrying the prized Atomic Frontier Days Queen and her court.
Note: This entry was updated in 2012. I did see the film eventually and blogged it.
You can watch the movie now on Youtube.
The original photo.
Originally posted on my blog June 19 2006.