Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969, directed by Robert Parrish)

In the year 2069, the European Space Exploration Council discovers that there is a planet on the other side of the Sun, one that orbits the same path as the Earth.  Unfortunately, a spy transmits this information to the communists so America and Europe team up to make sure that they reach the planet before the Russians!

(Remember, production started on this movie in 1967, when America and Soviet Union were still competing to see who would be the first to land on the moon.  Of course, by the time Journey to the Far Side of the Sun was released in 1969, America had already landed on the moon and the Russian space program was no longer taken seriously.)

Two astronauts are assigned to a manned mission to explore the new planet.  Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) is American.  John Kane (Ian Hendry) is British.  After spending three weeks in suspended animation, Ross and Kane awaken to discover themselves orbiting a planet that appears to have much the same atmosphere as Earth.  When their ship crashes into the planet, Kane is fatally injured and Ross is retrieved by a human rescue team!  He’s told that the ship crashed in Mongolia.  Kane and Ross were orbiting Earth all along!

Or were they?  Even though Ross is reunited with his wife and debriefed by Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark), the head of the mission, he soon discovers that things are different.  People who were once right-handed are now left-handed and text is now written from right-to-left instead of left-to-right.  People drive on the wrong side of the road and, after Ross makes love to his wife, she feels like something was different about him.  Ross realizes that he’s on a counter-Earth!

It’s an intriguing premise but, unfortunately, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun doesn’t do much with it.  It’s not as if Ross has landed on the Bizarro world, where people say, “Bad Bye” and root for the bad guys at the movies.  Instead, it’s just a world where right-handed people are now left-handed and everyone drives on the opposite side of the road.  Ross theorizes that everything that happens on Earth also happens on Counter-Earth, which means that the other Ross is on Earth, realizing the exact same thing that the first Ross is realizing but who cares because there’s not really any major differences between the two Earths.  Maybe if Counter-Earth had an alternate history where Rome never fell or the Germans won World War II, the movie would be more interesting or at least more like an old episode of Star Trek.  Instead, the movie is all about Ross trying to convince the people on Counter-Earth that he didn’t intentionally abort the mission and that he should be given a chance to return to his Earth.   It’s the driest possible way to approach an interesting premise.

I will say that Journey to the Far Side of the Sun also has one of the strangest endings that I’ve ever seen.  I won’t spoil it here, other than to say that I wonder if the ending was written before or after 2001 made confusing conclusions cool again.

Spring Breakdown: The Ghost In the Invisible Bikini (dir by Don Weis)

The 1966 film, The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, asks the question, “What can you do if you want to have a beach party but you don’t have a beach?”

The answer: “Find a pool!”

Seriously, a pool is just as good as a beach and fortunately, Chuck (Tommy Kirk) has a pool where his friends can hang out and listen as Vicki (Nancy Sinatra) sings a song.  It’s in a big old mansion and hey, it might be haunted.  It used to belong to Hiram Stokeley (Boris Karloff) and he’s dead now so he certainly won’t mind, right?

Well, what if he’s not dead!?

Oh wait, actually, he is dead.  But he’s still hanging around.  It turns out that he needs to do at least one good deed in order to get into Heaven.  (Isn’t starring in Frankenstein enough?  I mean, c’mon…..)  It also turns that Hiram only has 24 hours to do that good deed or it’s off to Hell for him.  Maybe he could figure out a way to help Chuck and his family win his fortune!  Hiram enlists the help of his long-dead girlfriend, Cecily (Susan Hart).  Cecily, we are told, is wearing an invisible bikini but we just have to take the film’s word on that because it’s invisible and, seeing as how Cecily’s a ghost, it’s always possible that only reason she’s transparent is because she’s a spirit.  I mean, seriously, who knows how ghosts work?

Anyway, it’s not going to be easy for Hiram and Cecily to ensure that Chuck inherits that fortune, largely because Chuck and all of his friends are idiots.  The other problem is that Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone), Hiram’s lawyer, is determined to win that money for himself and, if you have any doubt that he’s a bad dude, just check out his name.  GOOD PEOPLE ARE NOT NAMED REGINALD RIPPER!  Fortunately, even though Reginald graduated from law school and is played by Basil freaking Rathbone, he’s still an idiot and he comes up with the stupidest plan possible to get Chuck and friends out of the house.

He’s going to make them think that it’s haunted!

(But it is haunted….)

Reginald’s plan is to have his evil associates, J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White), Chicken Feather (Benny Rubin), and Princess Yolanda (Bobbi Shaw), pretend to be monsters and ghosts in order to scare all of the teens out of the house.  He also enlists his daughter, Sinistra (Quinn O’Hara), to help but Sinistra isn’t really bad.  She’s just extremely near-sighted and someone thought it would be a good idea to name her Sinistra.

And then the bikers show up!  This is one of AIP’s beach party films so, of course, there are bikers.  Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) shows up and pretends to be Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  Of course, at the time this film was made, the real Marlon Brando was filming Arthur Penn’s The Chase so I’m going to guess that Harvey Lembeck probably had more fun pretending to be Brando than Brando was having being himself….

Anyway, this is a stupid movie even by the standards of the AIP beach party films.  It’s also notably disjointed.  That probably has something to do with the fact that Karloff and Susan Hart weren’t actually added to the film until after the movie had already been shot.  Apparently, AIP felt that the first cut of the movie was missing something so they said, “Let’s toss in a little Karloff!”  Of course, Boris Karloff was such an old charmer that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t ever really interact with anyone other than Susan Hart over the course of the film.  You’re just happy to see him.

So yeah, technically, this is not a good film but, at the same time, you kind of know what you’re getting into when you watch a movie called The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini.  The jokes fall flat.  The songs are forgettable.  But the whole thing is such a product of its time that it’s always watchable from an anthropological perspective.  Add to that, you get Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, doing what they had to do to pay the bills and somehow surviving with their dignity intact.  Good for them.