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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Planets Against Us

"I Pianeti Contro Noi" was an Italian sci-fi in the 50s style that was released in Europe in 1962. A French-dubbed version was also released, entitled "Le monstre aux yeux verts" (Monster with Green Eyes). Walter Manley Enterprises, apparently dubbed the French copy into English and titled it Planets Against Us (PAU). The story fits neatly into the 50s idiom of deadly invading alien stories. It also carries on the invasion-angst tradition. Aliens sabotage earth's space programs and attempt to prepare earth for conquest, with a 5th column of cyborgs all patterned after one dead man. A pretty earth woman softens the steely heart of one of the cyborgs.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A plane crashes in the Sahara, killing all aboard, but one of the bodies is missing. Earth's various aerospace projects begin to fail. Rockets blow up. Security cameras catch sight of the same man at each disaster. It is the missing dead passenger. Authorities deduce that it must be an alien sabotaging earth's space flight efforts. A global manhunt begins. The mystery man, now named Bronco, is seeking the (adult) daughter of Dr. Borri, who is perfecting a temporary-paralysis gas. Bronco finds Marina and much alien-on-earth social play ensues. Bronco is clueless, but Bronco is attractive to the ladies, etc. Things turn dark when Bronco touches the hand of a policeman who stopped him. The man dies instantly. One of the ladies after Bronco, dies similarly, reduced to skeletal dust. Bronco is part of the vanguard, a group of cyborgs, identical copies of the dead passenger. Their job is to get earth ready for an alien invasion. Dr. Borri's paralysis gas is their key. Bronco, however, develops a soft spot the lovely Marina and becomes conflicted. Bronco is damaged by a policeman. He drives to rendezvous with the other cyborgs aboard the saucer, but turns back (to go see Marina?). The saucer zaps him with a ball of light. All that remains are metal bits and the souvenir Marina bought for him. Professor Miller warns the audience that secret invaders could be anywhere. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The traditional hidden alien invasion line is nostalgic. Being an Italian production makes the acting (often odd) more fun to watch. The first cyborg army in movies is of historical interest.

Cold War Angle
In PAU, the invading aliens assume their traditional role as surrogates for the communists. The closing epilogue by Miller leaves no doubt that the intent of the movie is to play to spy fears. "(The invader's agents are) cleverly hidden in the throngs of various cities. They powerful, ruthless, maniacal. Yes, it is a dreadful, menacing, but silent invasion. Even at this moment, this very second, there may be one of these monsters right next to you (as he looks right into the camera) Watching, watching, about to destroy you NOW (he points a finger at the camera).

Cyber First? -- PAU appears to be the first "modern" film to feature cyborgs -- humanoid shaped robots -- if you don't count evil Maria from Metropolis (1927). Aliens inhabiting, taking-over or duplicating humans was pretty common. They remained organic, however. "Bronco" and his duplicates were mechanical copies of a Professor Landerson's dead son Robert.

Deadly Midas -- An interesting trope is that Bronco, the cyborg, kills with a touch of his hand. They said the touch imparts lethal radiation. Bronco's hands can kill in seconds, even a touch on this cold lips causes a non-lethal radiation sickness. This trope appeared in the 1936 sci-fi film, The Invisible Ray, in which a scientist (played by Boris Karloff) is exposed to "Radium X". Thus "poisoned", his touch kills by radiation overdose.

The Alien Speaks -- Cyborg Bronco delivers the somewhat muddled messages of the story. One the one hand, it is the usual superior alien talk. "You people of this puny world move swiftly towards your own destruction." On the other hand, he lapses into a reverie over how precious life is, how foolish man is, and how science is dangerous. These are probably the personal observations by the softening "heart" of an invader cyborg than the collective voice of the invaders who sent him.

Tin Man's Heart -- A curious subplot is the cyborg "Bronco" developing a fondness for pretty (human) Marina. Bronco had no qualms about killing people and setting up the earth for conquest by his masters. But like Ro-Man, feels the awakening spark of love and wants to keep the earth girl for himself. He tells her she has "a beautiful shape," and that, "With you I could bring a fresh spirit to the earth. And restore the world to a new state." Quite the pick-up line.

Glimpse of Old Europe? -- Bronco could have sought out Dr. Borri directly, in his quest for the paralysis gas, but curiously, he does not. He seeks out Borri's daughter, Marina. Bronco somehow needs her to make the introduction to her father. To modern American eyes, this seems pointless. It may, however, be a vestige of Old World etiquette. Even an invading alien should not simply barge into a highly respected person's office. Proper introductions are necessary.

Bottom line? PAU is a convoluted invasion story burdened with a few too many messages. Sorting them out takes some concentration, so PAU is not a good choice for an impatient viewer. For the patient and forgiving 50s fan, it does carry on the traditional invading aliens tradition.


mariusmilo said...

I've always loved this film- and as I went to school in Rome in the 70's the Rome in this film for me is a bit of a nostalgic watch.BUT what is most interesting I think about this film is how it is a marriage of the high art of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita and Sci-Fi. I lived on Via Margutta for one of my years!

Randall Landers said...

Cyborg Bronco's death reminds me of Lot's wife who turned back and was turned to salt/zapped.