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June 7, 2014

Movie Review:The Bamboo Saucer (1968, Olive Films)

Directed by Frank Telford

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Air Force pilot Hank Peters (Dan Duryea, in his final film role) is buzzed by a very poorly processed flying saucer during a mission. He’s informed that the saucer in question is being kept in a decommissioned church in a remote mountainous section of Red China. Assembling a crack team of scientists and researchers – mostly American, although they do bring along British metallurgist Dave Ephram (Bernard Fox) for some chip! Chip! Cheerio! To offset the yanks. Peters and his colleagues parachute into China, where they are led by the “nice, non-communist” Sam Archibald (James Hong) to the hidden UFO. They’re not there for 15 minutes when they run across a shoot-first-and-ask-questions later Russian team led by Dobovsky (Rico Cattani) on a similar mission to track down the saucer. Seeing as they are in hostile territory, the Russians and Americans force an uneasy truce.

Hiding out in the abandoned church, they discover that the alien spacecraft opens up whenever a crew member operates his electric shaver due to the low-level vibrations. The interior of the saucer is highly earthbound and simplistic, two steps above the one found in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Said spaceship, seen inside the building in long shots, is an especially atrocious process shot – it looks like a blue-tinted child’s cutout! There are the usual capitalism-versus-communism arguments and Peters falls in love with pretty Russian scientist Anna (Lois Nettleton). When Anna prays over the body of a fallen comrade, Peters quips, “You’re not a very good Marxist, are you?” You get the idea. There are various complications, all of them stale and dated even by 1968 standards, and in an especially telling bit of agit-prop, Dobovsky convinces everyone to turn in their weapons but then pulls out a hidden, trusty revolver when things get heated. So much for disarmament, eh, comrades? The compound comes under fire by the Red Chinese and both the Americans and Russians join forces, briefly (a Cold War fantasy that some people actually hoped for way back then). Eventually Peters, Anna and Jack Garson (played by the late Bob Hastings from TV’s “McHale’s Navy”) jump aboard the spacecraft, it roars off into space – and the day is saved by pushing a couple of buttons. It all ends with a quote from U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Tailoring its international relations story for boys between eight-to-12 years of age, the hoped-for space aliens in Bamboo Saucer never show up, sending away its intended audience to an early bedtime. This reviewer knows that this was certainly the case whenever this film played on TV at approximately that age. The film’s message of international cooperation is undercut with stereotypical villainous, can trust ‘em Russians, and of course the climactic showdown between Americans, Russians and Chinese fulfills a racist fantasy of the era. “We can avert World War III by getting the Russians and the Americans on the same team against the Chinese, because, um, er, uh, well – they’re a different race?” Sadly, a lot of educated people thought this back in the Sixties.

One science-fiction film veteran on display in Bamboo Saucer is actor Vincent Beck, who plays one of the Russians. You probably won’t remember him without green face-paint and tube antennae, but Beck played the villainous, mustachioed “Dropo” in the holiday stink-bomb Santa Claus Conquers the Russians (1964)!

Overall, Bamboo Saucer is a colorful bit of pulp action-adventure sci-fi dragged down with lots of boring speeches and simplistic politics. Most disheartening about this Cold War-influenced bit of type is that it may actually gain newfound relevancy, as Russian President Vladimir Putin seems currently intent on reviving the bad ol’ days. Your call -- 

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