There is a space wheel in orbit around the earth, not unlike Kubrick's that came fourteen years later. Half a dozen of the crew are being trained for an exploratory trip to the moon. They take off as scheduled, but at the last minute their orders are changed. They will land on the planet Mars to find out if it is fit to add to earth's diminishing supply of basic materials. En route, the general in charge goes berserk and is accidentally killed while trying to destroy the ship. Another of the crew is hit by a tiny meteor fragment and is lost in space. The landing on Mars is successful and, in fact, it looks as if the planet can support crops for transport to earth. The final take off is perilous but the crew survive and their solidarity and confidence are enhanced.
The effects aren't bad for the period. Oh, they look clumsy by today's standards, but not by the standards of, say, Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Seen from space, the earth has at least a few scattered clouds and doesn't look like an illustration from a fourth-grade geography textbook. And there is a nod to weightlessness, with the crew having to wear the usual "magnetized boots." The paintings of the Martian surface must have looked realistic at the time, and the soil is as red as in upland Georgia.
That's about it for the good part. The bad parts fall into two classes. (1) Scientific implausibilities too outstanding to go unnoticed, and (2) an unfocused script involving stereotyped characters.
I'll skip most of the questions about the technical aspects of the film except to wonder here how it is possible to grow a terrestrial flower in soil that has never known life and is bereft of nitrogenous waste. True enough that "only God can make a tree," as one of the comments. (Except in California, where anybody can make them.) One more lapse can't go uncommented upon. A Japanese crew member (actually Number One son from the Charlie Chan movies, born to a Chinese family in Sacramento) explains earnestly why he wants to make the trip. Japan had just fought a bad war, but they were forced into it because they had no natural resources. (More or less true. They still don't, except for labor and ingenuity.) Well, in the absence of resources, the houses were made of paper and people ate with chopsticks because there was no metal for forks. And this idealistic Japanese doesn't want to see the rest of the world reduced to the condition the prewar Japanese occupied -- "Too many people and not enough food." So he years to address the supply side of the equation without even mentioning the demand side. Too many people and not enough food? Then fewer people = enough food. His perspective is strictly utilitarian and he leaves out any mention of population control. The mission is short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive. We've been there before. We're there now, and it's not working too well. One of the more majestic sights in the United States is the Giant Meteor Crater in Arizona. The first thing entrepreneurs did after it existence became public was to establish a mining camp at the bottom of this huge hole and dig for whatever might be left of the meteorite in order to retrieve the metal and melt it down into dollars. The remnants of the camp are still there, an irritating speck under the eyelid of the scenery.
The crew themselves. Right out of a World War II movie. One a Japanese, another an Austrian, two stern officers (father and son), an Irishman with a sweet temper, and the unavoidable Brooklyn wisecracker. Things cannot hold. The center falls apart. Why does the skipper start spouting gibberish from the Bible? Or -- okay, let him quote verse -- but why does he try to destroy the ship? What's the point of having the son kill the father and take over command in order to save the space ship? Or should we call it "the mother ship" and start ruminating about Sophocles? I mean, it's possible to be driven TOO far in trying to fit this meandering script into a coherent whole. Phil Foster, who plays the wise guy from Brooklyn, turns in a weak performance. When he speaks it's as if his speech organs were made of blubber. He and the other stereotypes are sometimes painful to watch and listen to.
I don't mean to bomb the movie. I only wish that as much talent and skill had gone into the script as had obviously gone into the special effects.
Review by Robert J. Maxwell from the Internet Movie Database.