In what seems like a weekly occurrence, Hollywood has once again been rocked by the death of one of its biggest stars. This time, supreme character actor Robert Loggia has died at the age of 85 after battling Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years. Loggia worked in just about every genre imaginable, taking on roles as diverse as Tom Hanks’ boss in Big and Al Pacino’s drug lord in Scarface. Of course, he did horror films, too, with key parts in The Believers, Innocent Blood, and the underrated Psycho II. Getting his start in the industry way back in the fifties, it’s no surprise that he made some fun sci-fi turkeys as well, one of the first being the 1958 classic The Lost Missile.
The Lost Missile opens with a mysterious projectile flying through space towards an unnamed Eastern European nation. The target country is able to defend itself by shooting the missile with a missile of its own, but instead of being destroyed, the offending object is knocked into a five-mile-high orbit around the Earth where it burns everything below it as it circumnavigates the planet. In New York, an engineer named Dr. David Loring (Loggia) is, along with his assistant/fiancée Joan Wood (Cop Hater’s Ellen Parker) and pal/best man Dr. Joe Freed (Philip Pine from The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and The Price of Fear), working on a project called the Jove rocket that is, of course, a rocket capable of carrying a hydrogen warhead. David’s military base gets word of the unidentified missile, and the scientists are tasked with finding a way to stop the destruction, even if it means using their untested weapon.
Famed quickie director William Berke was slated to direct The Lost Missile, but his death on the first day of shooting forced his son, Lester Wm. Berke (an assistant director who would go on to produce television shows like “Quincy M.E.” and “Airwolf”) to take the reins. The script, written by John McPartland (The Wild Party, No Time to Be Young) and Jerome Bixby (Fantastic Voyage, It! The Terror from Beyond Space), is a “The Twilight Zone” influenced doomsday movie, as much about the characters as it is about the event. It’s a bit one-dimensional, the titular missile dragging its feet throughout the entire running time of the film, from the dazzling trip through the stars at the beginning to the all-too-sudden “The End” ending. Still, it’s full of heart and soul…and the kind of campy visual effects that make fifties sci-fi movies so much fun to watch.
The character of David Loring in The Lost Missile is a long way from the gruff cops and ruthless gangsters that Robert Loggia would go on to portray later on in his career. Whereas Loggia became one of the great character actors of his (or any other) generation, his performance in The Lost Missile is that of a pure leading man, right down to his chemistry with the love interest Ellen Parker. Like any good sci-fi protagonist, Loggia is dashing, charming, and charismatic, solving problems with both his intelligence and his actions. The Lost Missile shows Robert Loggia as an action hero and a movie star.
Of course, all fifties science fiction films are far-fetched and silly, but The Lost Missile is full of “well, duh” and “why didn’t they think of that sooner” moments. For example, it takes the scientists half of the movie to finally figure out that they should try to use the experimental Jove rocket to take down the mysterious missile. Furthermore, it isn’t until the beginning of the third act of the film that Joe puts the pieces together enough to realize that the missile is – gasp! – from outer space (or, as he puts it, “not intercontinental, interplanetary!”). Story shortcuts and convenient contrivances are all over the place in The Lost Missile, and that campiness is what makes it – and all fifties sci-fi – so much fun to watch.
As silly as the film gets, it still puts forward an air of authenticity that, to a fifties movie audience, could be very frightening. The movie opens with a title card thanking the Department of Defense as well as the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force, making it seem as if the film is a documentary. The realism factor is furthered by the inclusion of voiceover narration that fills in the gaps in the exposition, giving the movie a scientific and sterile feel. Also, to pad the movie to feature length, Lester Wm. Berke packed the film with stock footage of government lab workers and military defense exercises, piling up the authentic footage to give the movie a realistic vibe. Finally, let’s not forget that a hydrogen bomb factors heavily into the plot of the film, as does a threatening rocket from the sky. For such a corny concept, The Lost Missile goes out of its way to appear genuine and true, playing upon the very real Cold War paranoia of its post-WWII audience.
The music for The Lost Missile was done by Gerald Fried, who did the scores for many classic cult fright flicks, from I Bury the Living to The Baby, but is much better known for his work on television shows like “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” His score for The Lost Missile is not a normal fifties sci-fi score, drenched in theremins and mellotrons. Instead, it’s a full blown orchestral wall of sound, percussive and driving, marching along almost militarily with its blasting horns and pummeling drums. It does not let the viewer forget that The Lost Missile is supposed to be a suspenseful action movie.
In his lifetime, Robert Loggia played bit parts, leading men, and everything in between, and did it in everything from comedy to horror. It may not be one of his more popular movies, but The Lost Missile shows the man before he became a legend.