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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Angry Red Planet

The 1960s did not start off too different from the 50s. The decade's first sci-fi movie, Angry Red Planet (ARP) is solid 50s B sci-fi material. Coming ten years after Rocketship XM, ARP revisits RXM's premise of man's first manned mission to Mars. This time around, however, the advanced martian civilization is not wiped out, but still there. Instead of us learning from the martians' mistakes, the martians want nothing to do with us. Like RXM, all but two of the team are killed and the message is delivered via the surviving two returning in the rocket. This time around, however, the man and woman don't die, but live to develop their budding romance.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The earth rocket MR-1 is long overdue and found drifting in space. Mission control takes over remotely and flies it back to earth. The female astronaut, Dr. Ryan, staggers out. Colonel O'Bannion must be removed on a stretcher. He has a strange green globbish growth on his arm. Dr. Ryan cannot remember anything, and all the mission recordings are blank. The only hope to save O'Bannion is to force Ryan to remember. She does and the rest of the story unfolds as flashback. The crew of four successfully land on Mars. It has plant life, but is oddly still. The crew explore and Dr. Ryan is almost eaten by a carnivorous plant. Dr. Gattell is almost killed by a 40' "spider-rat-bat" monster. They try to cross a lake. Across the lake they can see a city of tall buildings. Between them, however, rises a giant ameoba monster. They rush back to the rocket, but Sam is grabbed by the ameoba and "digested". O'Bannion has a bit of the green slime on his arm. The ameoba engulfs the ship and will eventually dissolve through the hull. O'Bannion suggests electrifying the hull. The ameoba retreats. A voice tells them to leave and warns them. They take off and the story resumes in real time. Dr. Ryan, now recovered, works on a theory to save O'Bannion from the engulfing green slime. It works and the two can resume their flirtations. The last mission recording contains the full warning from the martians. Earth men are too immature, and should never come back to Mars, or Earth will be destroyed. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Missions to Mars were fairly common 50s fare, but ARM's Mars is surreal and clearly hostile. The color photography adds some interest, such as seeing the 'sky' turn from blue at night to red by day.

Cold War Angle
After ten years of continuing Cold War the cautionary message had changed tone. In RXM, we were optimistically expected to learn from the martians' tragic nuclear mistake. In ARM, the martians berate us as too immature and destructive, as if there were no hope of us ever growing up. Some Cold War frustration is expressed.

Women's Role -- ARM had the obligatory female astronaut. Her presence allowed for the usual stereotypes. When the RM-1 lands, and Dr. Ryan emerges, the General declares, "It's the girl!" When Dr. Ryan puts on her "space suit" (really just flight coveralls), Sam says: "You know,I can say I recommend space suits for beautiful young dolls. what happened to all your lovely curves?" Dr. Ryan actually basks in the male attention. She screams a moment later at the sight of the 3-eyed martian. Later she would tell O'Bannion, "I know you think I acted like a hysterical female there back at the ship, but I can assure you I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself!" This, just before needing to be rescued from the carnivorous plant. Typical prideful yet vulnerable female. Yet, despite all this, is a serious and determined Dr. Ryan who figures out in the lab how to save O'Bannion from the creeping green slime. She saves him.

Cinemagic -- Worth noting, is the photographic effect used to make the martian landscape look different. Besides the heavy red filter, "Cinemagic" took whatever tones were in the shadow range and partially reversed them. This gave a semi-solarized effect. While not especially successful, the effect did help the painted backdrops and fake plants meld into a more complete and surreal landscape.

Budget Bogart -- Gerald Mohr plays Colonel O'Bannian. His look is reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart. Mohr also tries to copy some of Boggey's mannerisms too. The result may have been more effective in 1960. Now, however, he comes across as somewhat greasy.

Monsters -- The "spider-rat-bat" is a show stealer. Clearly a marionette merged via green screen, the effect is low-budget, but unforgettable. The giant ameoba is harder to describe. It looms up out of the lake as a more solid beast. It has tentacles, a dorsal ridge and one eye that rotates like a radar array. Yet, when it surrounds the rocket, it's another blob. Professor Gattell theorized that the martians were somehow able to direct animal life on the planet.

Pilate, Not Savior -- The martians in ARP don't fit into either of the usual alien categories, neither friends nor fiends. They don't want to invade our planet (nor take our women). Nor do they want to help us like space saviors. Instead, like Pilate, they wish to wash their hands of us and leave us to whatever doom awaits us. Their warning (somewhat shortened here) was: "Men of earth, we of the planet mars give you this warning. .... For milenia we have followed your progress. ... learned your speech and your culture, and now you have invaded our home. Technological adults, but spiritual and emotional infants... Your civilization has not progressed beyond destruction ... Do as you will to yourselves and your own planet, but remember this warning: Do Not Return to Mars. ... We can and WILL destroy you...."

Bottom line? ARP is conventional 50s B sci-fi, but with some perks. The color is a step up from the usual low-budget fare, even if the plot, acting and props are not. Still, an entertaining addition to the 50s Mars lore.

1 comment:

Mike Scott said...

I love all those Sid Pink/Ib Melchior movies (Angry Red Planet, Reptilicus, Journey to the Seventh Planet, The Time Travelers)! ARP and Journey, especially, have this weirdness to them that you don't find in the US studio made flicks.