Dir: Leonard Katzman | Cast: Francine York, James Brown, Baynes Barron, Russ Bene | US Sci-fi 81′
Watching Space Probe – Taurus is a salutary reminder of how lucky American International Pictures were to have been associated with the gifted Roger Corman. Without Corman, what we get is perfectly competent but thoroughly routine and uninspired, without the budget to create convincing spaceships or even to plunder a Soviet sci-fi picture for its effects. And it’s not even in colour. The crew is the usual combination of three middle-aged looking men to one hot chick; the hot chick in this case being the late Francine York as Dr. Lisa Wayne, who wears the same unisex coverall as the men, but unlike them accessorises it with silver go-go boots instead of the lace-up army boots the others wear (presumably the quartermasters back on Earth didn’t have them in her size). The name of the ship is apt, as she resembles a piece of porcelain in this bullpen. Dr. Wayne is initially charmlessly cold-shouldered by skipper Hank Stevens (James Brown) because he hadn’t wanted a woman on board, before he eventually mellows and charmlessly falls in love with her instead. (Ho Hum…)
The early scenes resemble Season One of ‘Lost in Space’ when it was in black & white. It then becomes ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’ when – forced to make an emergency landing on an alien planet – they end up on the bottom of one of its oceans, to be attacked by crab monsters and a cousin of the gill-man from ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’.
Considering how excited scientists get at the slightest suggestion of moisture in outer space, they take the presence of oceans on this new planet in their stride. Dr. Wayne’s supposed to be a scientist, but when they encounter what are obviously enormous crabs her first question is to ask “What are they?” We’re told early on that the equipment the ship can carry is severely circumscribed by weight, yet it fortunately turns out to include scuba gear. Naturally the new planet has a breathable atmosphere, but I wouldn’t relish sharing my new home with crabs the size of elephants; presumably any other gill-men would be dealt with the way the settlers saw off the American Indians.
Bearing in mind that this was made the year that Malcolm X was assassinated, the most striking observation made by anyone in the film is by Dr.Andros after they’ve just killed a hostile alien whose ship they’d been trespassing on. He makes a number of comments about the unlikelihood of different species being able to peacefully co-exist that are remarkably near the knuckle (“We’ve got enough troubles on Earth now. I mean we’re barely keeping from killing each other off…pretty soon someone on Earth decides that we don’t like the way they look…after all, one of us is going to be a minority group. And the next thing you know, Whammo, we’re trying to blast each other out of existence.”), and remain as scarily pertinent as ever over half a century later. @RichardChatten