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Toward the Unknown (1956)
Somewhere at a secluded U.S. Air Force Base lives a picked handful of very special men — the rocket pilots of outer space and the eerie experimental craft that rule the skies beyond the sky...
Filmmaker(s): Mervyn LeRoy

Tortured into a false confession while a POW in Korea, Major Lincoln Bond returns to active service as a test pilot. Determined to clear his name, Bond battles a hard-nosed base commander, prejudiced officers and his own insecurities.

Toward the Unknown (1956)

Spam in a Jan

Three things noteworthy about this movie, which though big in its day is almost completely forgotten now.

It is one of a class of movies where the humans are second class citizens and the prime characters are machines. This class originated almost at the beginning of the form in clips featuring locomotives. Locomotives were the rough semiotic equivalent to fighter planes. Oddly, the script features two different episodes, one with a high performance fighter and another with a piloted rocket.

These two “characters” are a different as can be and completely confuse the ethos of tough guy test pilot which is so celebrated.

That ethos is the focus of the other two items of interest.

William Holden, a bad actor by any measure, plays a POW from the Korean “conflict” who was forced to betray his country in some unspecified way. He now returns to test piloting and has to prove himself to the general, himself and his girl. Most of the exposition is clumsy, but it is a remarkably sophisticated notion in a genre that was exclusively jingoistic.

The final surprise is the girlfriend. She is played by a little-known actress with a wonderful, rich silvery voice. She’s quite plain and unremarkable unless you know “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” often pilloried as a bad movie. Actually, it is a terrific movie with comically low production values.

She plays Jan, who for most of “Brain” is a disembodied but living head on a cookie sheet. The movie is often called “Jan in a Pan.” You cannot see that movie and be unaffected if you are serious about movie ideas. And if you have seen it, you cannot see this without thinking about it.

In this one, the girlfriend is a test pilot groupie. She is secretary and lover to the General of the place, who is both kind and bold (but 25 years older). When our hero Link shows up, she shuffles between their beds, ultimately staying with Link when the General leaves because she just likes to be around test pilots.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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