Despite this picture being produced quickly and cheaply in order to capitalize on the publicity generated by George Pal's big budget 'Destination Moon,' this movie is better than a lot of scifi flicks produced today costing tens of millions of times more and having our 21st century futuristic technology for special effects.
It's interesting to note that the film was directed by the German-born Kurt Neumann and features the beautiful Teutonic actress Osa Massen in the female lead. The original version of this film, screened by American audiences 5 years after the surrender of Germany, contains footage of the WW2 German V-2 missile, used in lieu of FX miniature shots of the titular rocketship. The V-2 footage is not from WW2, however. The V-2 film comes from the American rocket program, which in 1950 was still using captured V-2's for testing and development, due to the fact that even 5 years after WW2, the USA still did not have anything that could touch it.
These facts are interesting because Germany was hugely important to space exploration movement of the 20th century. It was a clique of German rocket experts in the 1920's who first proposed plausible trips to the moon for humans, and who served as advisors for German director Fritz Lang for the silent 'Frau Im Mond,' the first attempt at a serious cinematic depiction of space travel. The space enthusiasts were co-opted in the 1930's by the Hitler regime, eventually designing the A4, which rained indiscriminate technological death upon England in a manner similar to way US drones rain indiscriminate technological death upon the villages of Pakistan and other Muslim nations.
The German rocket experts were all captured by the US and Russians as Germany finally fell to the Allies in 1945, and they were forced to share their expertise with their captors. One German rocket expert, Werner Von Braun, did well for himself in the USA, designing the mighty Saturn V, which eventually took the first humans to the moon.
In this film, the lustful American pilot Lloyd Bridges, dressed in military fatigues, spends a lot of screen time trying to put the make on the serious German rocket scientist Osa Massen. It's kind of a metaphor for the USA, ostensibly seducing but perhaps also coercing the German rocket program for it's own uses.
There are some long, dull sections of this film in the beginning and middle where Neumann should have compressed things...probably he had orders to make this film over 1 hour so that it might pass for an 'A' picture (in those days, 'B' pictures were frequently just at the one hour length). And there are numerous scientific boners, like a zero gravity environment where a jacket floats but humans don't.
At the same time, there are a number of visuals, such as the meteor scene, where you can appreciate the ingenuity of the filmmakers, who created these images with almost no money and almost no time, and none of our futuristic technology. The acting is, overall, pretty good, and there are some very nice uses of language in certain parts of the script.
The scenes filmed at the launch center and inside the rocket, are spartan and atmospheric in a way that makes the film seem more realistic than it actually is. (The later Lippert feature, Flight to Mars, which used the same rocket sets, is inferior to this film.) As is often the case, black and white film stock gives this feature an unintended documentary quality, toning down the unrealistic elements.
The Martian sequences, filmed at Death Valley, contain some artistic visuals and there is a nice use of the theremin sound, the earliest example I know in scifi films.
Many others have noted that this is the first scifi film to discuss the possibility of earth being destroyed by atomic war. It should also be noted that this film touches upon all the other major themes of science fiction films of the 1950's: human space flight, alien races, the planet Mars, and atomic mutants.
Despite the primitive FX and numerous scientific boners, Neumann and his writers achieved a tone that is adult and dramatic, all the while avoiding the embarrassing emotional excesses of George Pal's later, big budget Mars film, 'Conquest of Space.' Also, the ending of this film is very different than most scifi films of this period, containing a nice bit of poetic dialogue. This film should be on the curricula of any 1950's scifi film buff.