An Italian/West German co-production, in Europe this groovy slice of Swinging Sixties sci-fi is known as Perry Rhodan - S.O.S. aus dem Weltall. Mission Stardust and its four man crew commanded by square-jawed Major Perry Rhodan (Lang Jeffries) is launched to the Moon, but pulled off course by a mysterious alien spaceship. On board the men meet blonde space-babe Thora (Essy Persson), leader of the Arkonide aliens who are looking for another humanoid race to breed with. Of such dreams mediocre space porn are made. However, her fellow traveller Crest (John Karlsen) is dying of leukaemia. Rhodan arranges to obtain an experimental cure from a doctor in Mombassa, but the mission is endangered by the Kenyan army and international criminals led by suave mastermind, Homer Larkin (Pinkas Braun) who want to get their hands on the Arkonide’s abundant supply of diamonds.
Published in Germany since 1961 and written by an ever-changing team of authors, the Perry Rhodan novels enjoy quite a fan following across Europe, but are largely unknown over here. Devotees consider this movie adaptation so appallingly bad that many deny its very existence. Those unfamiliar with Rhodan’s literary universe, yet fond of the trappings of go-go era sci-fi will warm to it more. Mounted on a fairly large scale, the film opts for a winning sincerity rather than snickering camp, although Italian helmer Primo Zeglio fails to make the most of its lively ingredients and keeps things at a steady plod. This was Zeglio’s penultimate movie and sole stab at science fiction after a raft of historical adventures and spaghetti westerns.
However, the special effects were directed by Antonio Margheriti, well known to Italian cult film fans as someone more at ease with comic book sci-fi, as evident from his own The Wild, Wild Planet (1966), Operation Goldman (1967), Battle of the Worlds (1961) and many more. Modern audiences weaned on a diet of computer graphics may be unimpressed, but Margheriti’s space age miniatures and models, including the Arkonide spaceship (sort of a diving helmet with octopus legs), compare favourably with those of Gerry Anderson or Eiji Tsuburaya. The Arkonide robots are less impressive, serviceable when clanking around in black spacesuits, but goofy as heck when unmasked as metal skeletons with goggle-eyes.
At times closer to a James Bond thriller than science fiction (Braun’s dog-fondling, tuxedo clad baddie parodies Blofeld), the plot gets Rhodan mixed up in the diamond trade and throws espionage twists, such as the traitor in his group or the sexy nurses who turn out to be gun-toting assassins. It flirts, inconsequentially, with Third World politics as the alien landing creates havoc in Kenya and various warlords, politicians and shady spy types try to cash in. As played by Canadian actor Lang Jeffries, Rhodan is a rather uninspiring hero, prone to standing around looking unimpressed while Thora whips out a gadget for every occasion.
The script weaves in some saucy banter between space girl and square-jawed hero, as Thora strips off behind a transparent screen in front of Perry, who swiftly plants a kiss that melts the ice-maiden. Even though she plays one of those snooty aliens who dismiss human beings as hopelessly primitive, Swedish model-turned-erotic film star Essy Persson (most famously in I, A Woman (1965 and Radley Metzger’s Therese and Isabelle (1968)) makes for a gutsy heroine, with a fetching array of skin-tight spacesuits. Suitably groovy lounge music score composed by Anton Abril, while the psychedelic theme song was by Marcello Giombini.