In my last posting I shared some behind the scenes dirt about inventor Burl Buckowski's home-built aircraft, the Hover Plane. The tiny craft never made it to film, but did have a big impact on the wall of a factory near the studios of Vigilance Pictures. The fact that Burl wore a Hoverboy helmet during his demonstration flight, despite being told it wouldn't be visible to the camera, may explain why he lost control of his aircraft.
The story has brought a number of great questions and one comment I won't even stoop to mention. But Nick from Kingston asks, "How did they create the effect of the giant Eskimo Flying Igloos in the serial, Hoverboy vs. Nanook?"
Great question Nick! I'm sure millions have asked the same question.
Here's how it was done. Small igloos were made from paper maché, then hung from sticks and Vigilance Pictures staff 'flew' them in front of the camera dangling from sticks. The staff members stood a few feet away from the camera, which was low to the ground. Meanwhile, the actors stood about two hundred feet away and pointed up into the sky. They were tiny in the shot. The Igloos are huge. The effect, from the camera's point of view, was that gigantic floating igloos were moving ominouslyacross the sky.
Here we see how it's done.
This was in fact a test run. For the actual shot, long threads were used to suspend the igloos so the sticks were out of the shot. Despite this, one stick did make it into the edge of the frame, as did the front toe of the shoe of a crew member.
The movie is seldom seen today because many Aboriginal groups say it is racist. Plus a lot of women say it's sexist. And pretty much everyone else thinks it's fascist.
Side note: The six Vigilance Studio employees in this shot, starting closest to camera, are the special-effects whiz Doug Kruschev, props master Sheldon Prorascki, studio accountant Martin Van Dutchy, unidentified (possibly a young Kirk Douglas), assistant cameraman Bub Cooper and Witold Kula, a vagrant who lived in a shed on the studio log in return for doing odd jobs and who later returned to his native Poland became a world renowned economic historian.
They say 'birds of a feather, flock together, so perhaps it's not surprising that Vigilance Pictures, who made many Hoverboy movies and serials, would be draw a flock of Hollywood wannabes with visions of being part of movie magic. Or maybe it was the films were so bad, audience members were inclined to think, "Heck, I could make something better than this." For whatever reason, Vigilance Pictures became a haven for what in the good old days were known as 'eccentrics and characters,' and today would be clearly labelled as Borderline Personality Disorder.
But rather than turn these people away Vigilance put them to work. The introverts became crew members. The extroverts found themselves as actors. The difficult or foolish were turned into stunt performers, a job that had a higher casualty rate than the 101st Airborne in World War II.
In fact, one of the members of that illustrious unit approached Vigilance Pictures with an offer to have his brand new, self-designed and self-built aircraft become 'The Hover Plane!' It would be, "Like Batman's Batmobile. Only inventor Burl Buckowski couldn't get it through his head that as exciting as his plane was to watch, Hoverboy already had the power to fly. Well, to hover. Burl continued to pester the head of Vigilance Pictures to use his home-built plane in Hoverboy movies, "You get a great looking machine for your hero and I get a ton of free advertising. If even one out of ten Hoverboy Fans decides to buy one of these planes, I could sell dozens of them."
Finally he convinced the movie crew to include his plane in a film. On the first take of the first shot of the first scene, Burt flew his plane into the side of a factory.
This week in 1955:filming begins on the Vengeance Films Hoverboy action serial, "INVASION OF THE UNDERSEA ESKIMOS", directed by Lyle Ponce, the man who made the aquatic classics "THE THREE STOOGES MEET NEPTUNE" and "THE 60 FOOT MERMAID of PARTY BEACH".
The plot was admittedly a standard "Soviet-funded Eskimos sabotaging the Northern DEW Line radar stations and blowing up American submarines" kind of story, but this Hoverboy serial featured some of the most unusual underwater stunts ever attempted. The Eskimos traveled underwater with sleds pulled by trained stingrays, and used weapons made from live eels and piranha. The scene where Hoverboy fights the scuba bears is considered the finest underwear fighting bear footage ever filmed.
With so much of the budget tied up in expensive stunts and highly trained animals, costs were kept low by using sets and backdrops created for a Perry Como Christmas special, and interiors were shot in an Encino High School, primarily using their Olympic sized pool to double as the Arctic Ocean. At one point Hoverboy exclaims, "The rotten Snow-Commies have drawn black lines on the bottom of the sea to make it easy to infiltrate America's waters."
This week in 1955:filming ends on the ambitious "INVASION OF THE UNDERSEA ESKIMOS" movie serial. The relatively tight shooting schedule of only four days may explain the number of drownings among the stuntmen, actors, extras, caterers, production assistants, drivers, make-up artists, gaffers, grips, scriptwriters, lighting crew, cameramen, agents, innocent passers-by, and family members of the production team. The film claimed, truthfully, that no animals were injured during the filming of the movie, but it fails to mention the eight dogs and one hundred and thirty eight stingrays that were killed.
Eagle eyed viewers will notice the American Submarines have Swastikas in many shots, due to stock footage from 1947's "The Phantom Submarine" purchased for the submarine shots, and used carelessly.
FUN TRIVIA:All the Eskimos actors in the serial speak Chinese, and most of their dialogue translates into English as variations of the phrases, "What's going on?" , "Who are you people?", "Where is my family?", "Please let me leave…", etc.