(1958, SciFi-Religious, b&w), with:
Century 21 Calling...
(1962, Educational-Industrial, color)
That’s all that’s left of St. Matthew’s original screen play.
In a nutshell:
Short: Perky teens experience the telephone technology of the future.
Film: A telepathic Blob from Heaven uses a gang of children to sabotage the military.
In Century 21 Calling, a young blond couple rides the monorail to the Seattle World’s Fair, where they fondle a number of foreign visitors as they frolic through the exhibits. Eventually they make their way to a pavilion that displays that greatest of technological gifts, the telephone. They listen with passionate delight as big-haired women read cue cards and demonstrate such upcoming features as pagers, speed dialers, autodialers, touchtone phones, call forwarding, call waiting, and conference calls. Why, the telephones of the future will even water the dogs, preheat the oven, and turn on the air conditioner for you. Overcome with happiness, the starry-eyed couple ascends the Space Needle to listen to the stirring telephone theme song of the future.
In The Space Children, the Brewster family journeys over barren beach dunes because the father, Dave, has been transferred to a military base to work on a rocket called The Thunderer. This rocket will deliver a nuclear device into orbit, where it will hang like the Sword of Damocles, waiting for instructions to swoop down and vaporize a city of our nation’s choice.
The Brewsters move into a tiny trailer park with a bunch of other vaguely defined rocket specialists and their families. While their manic-depressive mother obsesses about sand, the Brewster boys, Bud and Ken, meet Edie Johnson and her co-children. They take a look at the rocket and then frolic on the beach. Soon they meet a misshapen Blob that has just cruised in from the Celestial Realms Above. It proves Its friendly intentions by smiting the largest child’s abusive alcoholic stepfather (Russell Johnson, a.k.a. The Professor from Gilligan’s Isle). Then It issues telepathic instructions to Bud; he becomes the Blob’s prophet, with all the other children as his disciples.
Dave discovers the Blob’s intentions (to destroy the Thunderer) and tries to warn the military, but the Blob gives Bud the power to strike his father down. Dave swoons before he can deliver the warning. Edie’s genocidal father (played by Jackie Coogan in short shorts) also faints when he discovers the Blob’s cave. The other children use their Blob-given powers as well, cutting off telephonic communications, crashing fuel trucks, and slipping through the rather lax security to sabotage the rocket before it can go off. The Thunderer explodes during an attempted launch, and Blob’s spell is broken. The adults rush down the Blob’s hiding place to demand an explanation.
Bud and the other children meet them at the cave and explain that Blobs have been using children to sabotage nuclear rockets all over the world, because the adults weren’t ready to do it themselves. Everyone acknowledges the wisdom of this as the pulsating Blob ascends back to the Glorious Throne on High. A verse from the Gospel of St. Matthew closes the film in lieu of credits.
Tom has opened a kissing booth, with all kind of kisses on sale. After some discussion, Mike selects a dry, perfunctory grandma kiss. “No tongue,” Tom warns, adding that he doesn’t have one. Tom charges Mike $49.99 for the grandparental affection, but Mike complains that the kiss, though dry and perfunctory, seemed more aunt-like than grandma-like.
Host Segment One:
Tom makes out with himself for practice. He is interrupted by a phone technician, who has installed three handsets and a PA system. Pearl calls them on the PA; Mike answers his phone as instructed, and Pearl explains that she has sent them these phones to take over the world through more efficient officing. The phone system goes haywire when they try to get Bobo, Brain Guy, Tom, and Crow on the line as well.
Host Segment Two:
Mike dons a blue cardigan and pantomimes the aggressively chipper young man from the short. Tom and Crow demolish him with a wrecking ball.
Host Segment Three:
Mike tries to launch a model rocket, but it won’t fire. He goes to inspect it, calling “Don’t turn it on,” over his shoulder. The rocket explodes. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl decides she has a monkey, so why not build a space program around that monkey? They build a full-sized rocket and put Bobo in the centrifuge to prepare him for his journey into space. Brain Guy forgets to add the pin that holds the carriage to the centrifuge, causing Bobo to fly over their heads. Up in the Satellite of Love, Tom walks past a charred and blackened Mike. “Oh,” he says. “Don’t turn it on.”
Host Segment Four:
“Fashion means Coogan,” Crow declares. Driven mad by the film’s portrayal of Jackie Coogan in tiny swim trunks, Crow has prepared sketches for a number of other outfits the former Uncle Fester could have worn, each one more revealing than the last.
Host Segment Five:
Mike and the ‘Bots receive a visitation from the holy anti-nuclear Blob. Tom makes excuses and goes to dismantle his neutron device while Crow asks, “Get you a beer, Holy Blob?” The Blob answers in the affirmative. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl and Brain Guy launch their rocket into space. Unfortunately, Bobo wandered out for a Three Musketeers during the launch sequence and forgot to get back in. With no one to steer it, the rocket turns in its course and destroys the castle.
The abusive alcoholic stepfather’s vacant stare.
Almost all of the wondrous telephonic conveniences described by the short have come to pass in one form or another, except for the part where people turn on their air conditioners and ovens and sprinklers by phone. I suspect the concept of conservation hadn’t yet fully penetrated our national culture. Why would you want to cool an empty house? Also, if you just put the sprinklers on timers, you won’t have to remember to call at all. Safety is another issue. Like flying cars, the technology exists; we just don’t trust people with it. (I have a recurring nightmare of waking one night, showered in dust and debris, staring up at the pair of headlights protruding from my ceiling. Flying cars won’t happen until they can fly themselves, and even then enterprising contractors will specialize in roof armor and make millions.) Why would anyone want to turn on an oven while still four hours from home? If your vehicle breaks and you forget to call and turn it off, your house burns down. Maybe the houses next door as well. That’d make you popular in the neighborhood.
You may recall that Our Lord once said something to the effect of “harm a child and you’d be better off with a millstone around your neck.” You may also recall how His Holy Blob used the children to further Its violent, peacekeeping goals, and wonder how It could justify such actions. Be of good cheer, my Brothers and Sisters, and let not your hearts be troubled with doubt. The rationalization...er, explanation is simple. You see, the Holy Blob doesn’t have a neck at all, and thus can endanger Its age-challenged protégés with impunity. We see this in the following excerpt from the Gospel of St. Bud, Chapter Five:
3. Hey kid, thinketh the Blob at the Chosen Bud, Holy Prophet of the Blob. Can you sneak past some heavily armed guards and loosen some O-Rings for me?
4. “Choose another,” sayeth Bud, “for I am too young to do thy squishy, glowing bidding.”
5. Just go, the Blob replyeth. I need vague justification for a scripture at the end.
6. “But thou seemst to be pretty powerful,” Bud answereth. “Canst thou not just do it thyself?”
7. Watch this, sayeth the Blob, and It killeth a handy stepdad. That could have been your dad. That could have been you. Now get moving. Don’t forget to split a steering rod and threaten your parents on the way there.
8. “I’m going,” sayeth Bud. “Thou don’t-est have to make a federal case out of it. Jeez.”
9. The Lord works in mysterious ways, kid, sayeth the Blob, whether it be through storm, or fire, or still, small voice, or murderous, telepathic Lump.
Think upon these words of wisdom, my Brethren, and be edified.
My favorite host segment is the Holy Blob’s visit to the Satellite of Love. Tom’s indignation at having to get rid of his neutron device and Crow’s willingness to kick back and drink beer with his Celestial Visitor make it funny viewing. Tom’s kissing booth is my second favorite; as usual, Servo misses the point of human intimacy. My least favorite is the Jackie Coogan fashion sketch, which is probably meant to be creepy, and succeeds. Pearl’s rocket sketches are competently amusing, and the goofy nerd laugh is a nice touch.
The film segments have some fun moments. Tom comments on the overacting youngsters with, “We’re young and perky, so get the hell out of our way!” During the travel sequence at the beginning, Crow says, “These monorail engineers have a one-track mind.” When a phone call activates the sprinkler system, driving away the neighbor’s dogs, Crow says, “How do you like it when the lawn piddles on you?” In the movie, Dave Brewster’s constantly blank face inspires Mike’s comment, “He has a real screen absence.” The children’s stereotypical frolicking inspires Tom to sing, “Hey, hey, we’re the Children. People say we Children around. But we’re too busy Childrening...” After the facility director delivers a long, confusing metaphor comparing a scientist to a deep sea diver, Mike says, “I think I just got the bends from that analogy.” Also, Bud’s desperately depressed mother inspires many, many comments about the invading sand. The short’s fun to watch, but the film drags down the commentary with its hopeless dreariness. Watch Century 21 Calling as much as you like, but if I were you, I’d only watch The Space Children once.
(1958, SciFi-Religious, b&w), with: