Friday, April 8, 2022

The Bamboo Saucer

The Bamboo Saucer
Frank Telford

Flying saucers and the Cold War were staples of genre cinema for decades and hit their height in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1968, with the Vietnam War causing so much strife both in Vietnam and the US, people had become weary of all the pointless death in the name of a proxy war that more and more were publicly turning against. It is interesting how this is reflected in The Bamboo Saucer and that it probably would have been a completely different film if it had been made just a few years earlier.

An Air Force test pilot (John Ericson) is chased by a UFO. After his adventure, not only is there no evidence, but also nobody believes him. His pursuit catches the notice of a secret organization that reveals a similar craft may have landed in China. A small team are air dropped in to the find the UFO. They run into another team of scientists from the USSR and two decide to form a truce to find the craft before the Chinese army finds them.

"It smells like Fritos in here!"

The majority of The Bamboo Saucer plays out like a spy adventure film. We have mysteries, secret organizations, a military that is hiding the truth, and a little glob trotting. Despite this being a low budget film, the adventure does feel big. It does the important work of making the effort to reach the flying saucer feel earned and I think the most interesting part of this is how the USA and USSR backed teams join forces and are shown to be equally heroic when things grow dire.

It was with no small amount of delight for me to watch this cold war spy film turn into a proper science-fiction film with a message of cooperation. The USSR and USA groups are given some nuance when it comes to their views and characters. The Chinese aren’t given quite this deep a look, serving more as the faceless bad guys who push our heroes to work together. It would have added yet another level of nuance and show that all people could benefit from cooperation had they been given more to do. This production had already caught the ire of the US military for not showing it in the most perfect light, which means they were doing something right at least.

"A craft from the planet Ertl."

I enjoyed seeing this as a color production, it helps the whole experience feel bigger and more important. The downside of this is that it makes the already dodgy special effects stand out even more. While there is something certainly charming the obvious model effects it does diminish the feeling of large-scale adventure up to that point, but it’s a minor quibble.

The Bamboo Saucer is a minor gem that offers quite a few surprises, especially if you’re used to the tone of cold war films from this era. A fun adventure that has something to say, The Bamboo Saucer is worth taking for a spin.

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