Spooky soundscape & good rocket-into-space model FX for the budget & era, plus decent enough actors & an overall atmosphere of gloom, together lend First Man Into Space (1959) an immediate effectiveness, just so long as you started out with a liking for cheap 1950s sci-fi.
The film captures the hopes & fears that fueled world imagination at the start of the age of space exploration, the era of Sputnik & the Mercury probes.
It is so nearly perfect at seeming to be an American film, pretending to take place at a New Mexico Air Force base, that it's hard to believe it's actually British.
The rocket-plane Y-12 returns from a test flight into the stratosphere, higher than any manned flight.
Safe & sound astro pilot, Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards, whose voice is dubbed because he could not effectively disguise his accent), is the rowdy brother of stern Commander Charles Prescott (Marshall Thompson) who fears his undesciplined brother could turn out to be the wrong man for further flights to the borders of space.
Even so, Dan's chosen for the next test flight, this time of the Y-13 which will go a little higher than any other experimental plane, into the ionosphere.
But this time ground control loses contact with the ship, when Dan disobeys landing instructions.
To be sure he's the one who makes history as the first man in outerspace, he takes the rocket-plane higher than was approved, & passes through a space-storm before dropping back to Earth.
Dan's now Encrusted Man, craving blood, stalking the countryside, with nothing but bloodlust & instinct pushing him on.
He kills cattle, a nurse, &am breaks into a blood bank, with further victims before he's captured.
His pain-wracked body is adapting to space & he can only be comfortable in a high altitude chamber. Dr. Von Essen (Carl Jaffe) tries to save him, but it's hopeless.
In the altitude chamber at least he can breath & think again & communicate intelligently, capable of last farewells to Tia (Marla Landi) the woman he loves, before he dies.
Sure the monster suit looks like a tinfoil jump-suit with turd-helmet, & the action is more comical than tense. Terrifying in its day, it now incites giggles for its naivete. Yet this is a B-movie classic deserving of the full restoration, with extras, as provided by the Criterion release.
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