Spaceways (1953)

Terence Fisher directs an ultra-low budget detective film with sci-fi aspirations, from Hammer Films. DD-Video R2 DVD.

The Film

The 1950s was the birth of the space-age, and cinema audiences clamoured to see the anticipated future on their cinema screens. Hollywood soon provided with the big budget, technicolour Destination Moon (1950), but some quick work by Robert Lippert saw his low budget Rocketship X-M (1950) hit cinemas first. The film was distributed in the UK by Exclusive Pictures who soon set their film-making division (Hammer Films) on the case of cashing in on the popularity. As usual, basing their screenplay on a radio drama, Hammer set-out to make a space-age movie with none of the budget.

At the Deanfield Space Centre, home of the British space programme, the scientists are working on a project to launch the first rocket into stable orbit around the earth, a pre-cursor to the development of a permanent space station. The night before the big launch, the various crew are at a party. Dr. Stephen Mitchell (Howard Duff) and his wife Vanessa have a falling out, she is fed-up of military life, he later finds her and his colleague Philip Crenshaw kissing. The next morning, the rocket launch goes well until its final stage when there is a malfunction - at the same time it emerges that Philip and Vanessa have disappeared without a trace. An investigator arrives and suspects that they might have been murdered, Lisa Frank (Eva Bartok) stands by Stephen, but to prove his innocence he has to take extreme measures....

As you can tell from the synopsis, the plot of Spaceways is more murder mystery than science-fiction. With the short run-time, few of the characters really build to anything and we don't particularly care for most of them - the investigator in particular is a very minor character for what should be the lead role, while the romance between the characters is just cliché. The film brushes rapidly over a lot of interesting plot details including Phillip's spying charges and the seemingly incredibly easy construction of a rocket to carry a person. In the end, the script is not too bad and there is some good tension and a few surprises towards the end - although the actual ending itself is rather a let down.

Terence Fisher had been with Hammer for a year, and was already one of the studio's top directors, however with the limited sets and budget of Spaceways he is rather restricted. The occasional stock footage is used well and exterior/interiors all look fine - the rocketship cabin filled with manual dials and levels looks laughable these days, but was probably authentic for the time. Hammer again proving that they can pull off great looking sets with no budget.

Spaceways is an average film that has been overlooked for many years largely due to its science-fiction premise that, thanks to a low budget, it was never able to live up too - the film might have proven more sucessful if sold as the noirish murder mystery drama it actually is. Don't expect thrilling sci-fi, or a sophisticated mystery film and you might enjoy Spaceways - it has the plot of an afternoon detective show and should appeal to fans of the same. Hammer film collectors shouldn't expect anything too exciting, Fisher does nothing special from behind the chair, and none of the cast are big Hammer players.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Howard Duff - a popular film-noir star in the 1940s and 1950s and later starred in No Way Out (1987)
Eva Bartok - Hungarian actress who starred in Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Directed by anyone interesting? Terence Fisher - Hammer's top director who shot most of their top horror films.
Any violence/gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Fans of detective films should enjoy this simple story, but not enough action or detail for sci-fi lovers.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
The print is of a good quality, rather grainy and with some speckling.
Audio English language original mono sound. Clear for the most part but with some background crackling and occasional drop-outs.
Subtitles None.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 13m 05s (PAL)
Extras The disc includes:
  • Operation Universe (1957) Hammer space-age documentary shot in colour and 'Hammerscope' widescreen. A look at the development of nuclear power, aircraft and space vehicles. A curio at best, but still good to have on DVD. Print Quality is decent - very grainy. (25m 36s)
  • A detailed 24 page booklet about the film.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Image R1 DVD - lacks bonus film.
Cuts? None known.



Return to main menu.

All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 12th July 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: