Q: I’m trying to remember the names of two movies I watched as a child. One had Steve McQueen and the guy who played Johnny Reb as a Polish partisan fighting in WWII. I only remember the part where Steve McQueen rushes a German bunker and is machine-gunned but is able to roll into the bunker blowing it up. I also recall a movie with the same guy who played in the TV series Johnny Reb. But it was a science-fiction movie, and it ends with the Johnny Reb guy walking into a Martian spacecraft and being killed rather painfully, as I remember. Can you give me any help from these sketchy summaries?
Rick, of Germany
A: Boy, do I have a great, popcorn-munching double feature for you.
For starters, let’s raise the curtain on “Mission Mars,” a 1968, B (or C or D) sci-fi flick starring Darren McGavin, Nick Adams and George DeVries as three U.S. astronauts sent on the first trip to the Red Planet.
Along the way, they encounter the bodies of two Russian cosmonauts floating in space before finding a third in suspended animation on the planet’s surface. Then, an alien sphere appears, and when DeVries goes to investigate, he is dragged inside and killed.
The remaining two are advised to get the heck out of Dodge, but the sphere is emitting a force field that prevents the good guys from taking off. So Nick Adams — Mr. “Johnny Yuma” himself — makes the ultimate sacrifice so that the movie’s biggest star, McGavin, can make it back to Earth and live happily ever after with his now-pregnant wife.
“The last 50 minutes would have made a wonderful episode of the ‘Outer Limits,’” critic Thomas Kent Miller wrote. “But as a theatrical movie, it’s beyond awful (as bad as the same director’s ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’).”
After you recover from your encounter with the Polarites, it’s off to 1944 France, where an all-star cast led by Steve McQueen, Fess Parker, James Coburn, Bobby Darrin and Bob Newhart battle the Nazis in the 1962 “Hell is for Heroes.” This time, McQueen gives his all for the greater good while Adams plays Homer Janeczek, a young, displaced Pole who becomes the squad’s mascot in hopes of eventually making it to the U.S. of A.
“Heroes” is easily found on DVD; “Mission Mars” not so much. (Don’t be fooled by the 2000 “Mission to Mars.”)