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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Man From Planet X

This little low-budget film was released in the spring of 1951, the same time as "The Thing", but failed to get much attention. Obscure as it is, it's notable for having a couple of sci-fi movie firsts. It was the first movie to depict an outer space alien as a little "green" man with a large head (a pattern we all take for granted now). Yes, it's a black and white movie, but the Enid character said his face had a green glow. There ya go. Little green men had to have their debut sometime. It was 1951.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A Professor Elliot discovers a strange planet which has entered the solar system, headed towards Earth. A space craft is found out on the foggy moors of Scotland, complete with a little green man who seems friendly. The alien follows the professor back to his observatory/castle. A former student of the professor, the greedy Dr. Mears, tortures alien (by cutting off his "air" supply) in an attempt to get the secret of the alien's lightweight-yet-strong miracle metal. After this sort of treatment, the alien turns menacing. He kidnaps the professor's daughter, Enid, and uses a mind-control beam to make villagers set up his ship to communicate with the approaching Planet X. He's the vanguard as his people seek to abandon their dying planet and take over the earth. Before the alien can transmit, however, the army shows up and blasts the spacecraft to bits. Planet X wooshes by harmlessly. No invasion, or anything. The End.


Why is this movie fun?
There are so many "firsts" in this movie, that they're fun to spot. Little green man with a big head is a biggie. It also featured mind-control where normal humans become emotionless slaves of the alien. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) made this plot device famous, but it was in use earlier -- like in this little film. Also fun is the very minimal sets. The Scottish village is a painted backdrop. All the "outdoor" shots are done in the dark with lots of fog. The whole thing might have been shot in someone's garage and backyard, for all you know. This all gave it a distinctly film-noir feel. The Constructivist space ship is interesting too. It's a merging of simple geometric shapes, like spheres, cones and cubes -- not at all the soon-to-be-stereotypic saucer shape.

Cold War Angle
There isn't too much of the Cold War in Man From Planet X. No nukes, no Russians, and not too much tension, when you think about it, over a possible impending invasion of hostile aliens. The plot focused tightly on the individual alien and rescuing Enid. Concerns over an invasion seemed secondary at best.

Notes
In the B-film tradition of budget thriftiness, Man from Planet X was shot on sets left over from Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc (1948). The acting is typical B fare -- although it's fun to see William Schallert as a young man, playing the unscrupulous Dr. Mears. Despite it's very B level production levels, Man from Planet X has it's interesting points. Would the alien have been friendly if Mears hadn't accosted him? Why would a whole dying planet's civilization have just wooshed by doing nothing if they had hostile intent? Did mankind, via Mears' greed and the army's haste to blow stuff up, ruin what might have been a peaceful meeting with an advanced culture? Did the earth's haste to destroy a single (maybe) hostile alien doom a whole planet's? Man From Planet X suggests such possibilities, but coyly doesn't answer them. Where The Thing left no doubt that aliens are hostile, Man from Planet X l left the door open. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. That's kind of cerebral stuff for a B film.

Bottom line? Man from Planet X is simple fun for fans of classic sci-fi. Just keep in mind its low budget.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Also notable for it's director,
Edgar G. Ulmer of "Detour" and "The Black Cat" fame. Both cult classic movies.

Nightowl said...

Quite true. Ulmer had a knack for low-budget film-noir which comes through in "Man From Planet X" as well. There is a steady darkness to how the story is portrayed. "Detour" was a great little film too.

Anonymous said...

This underrated movie has some real thrills when Enid encounters X. Schallert played the villianous Mears perfectly. All in all, catch this one if you can!

John Drake said...

Howdy,

This is a great movie.

The atmosphere and timbre of the movie casts a spell on the watcher.

The acting is excellent. William Schallert does a fine job playing a real psycho/bad guy - a far cry from his role in the Patty Duke Show.
Margaret Field is a doll.
A must see, somewhat obscure, film.
Time to fire up your DVD player.
John