The 1950s are famous for many cinematic trends and historic notables: a greater amount of films were slowing being shot in color to compete with television and widescreen began rearing its head for the same reason; the terrible blacklist that cut short or damaged the careers of many in Hollywood suspected of being communists; the short-lived but later revived 3-D fad was introduced; and, of course, who could forget all the science fiction movies.
Today we’re discussing a specific kind of sci-fi film. Starting, I believe (please correct me in the comments below if I am wrong), in the early 1950s, was a series of unrelated and yet similar films dealing with the arrival of an alien visitor(s) whose intentions were sometimes clear and other times not. Danger always managed to follow despite whatever intentions the foreign being(s) might hold. Other films in the same family from around the same time are Invaders from Mars (1953), War of the Worlds (1953), The Thing from Another World (1951), and possible the granddaddy of them all, the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
The Man from Planet X (Don’t you just love that title? I admit it’s what got me to add this film to the queue.) has by far the smallest budget when compared to the films above. It was given the very small sum of $38,000 (eventually coming in at $41,000). Shot in only six days, it is our return to the glorious B-Movies (our first venture being through the Mr. Wong mystery Doomed to Die).
The plot of the movie is as follows. A planet is on an orbit that will take it near Earth, more specifically a small village in Scotland. An American reporter, John Lawrence (played by Robert Clarke), is called to a remote castle near the village to help out a friend of his, a scientist called Professor Elliot (played by Raymond Bond). The professor is observing the approaching planet and is trying to ascertain the meaning and possible purpose of it. Also joining the Elliot is his slimy assistant, Dr. Mears (played by William Schallert), and Elliot’s kindly daughter, Enid (played by Margaret Field). An alien ship soon lands on the moors separating the village from the castle. While the alien visitor (only capable of speaking through the use of sounds that approximate music) is initially friendly to Elliot and John, he quickly grows hostile after Dr. Mears attacks him and tries to take advantage of him in order to learn advanced scientific ideas from the alien. With not only their lives in peril but those of the nearby villagers in danger, as well, can Elliot, John, and Enid stop this alien with mysterious intentions or will this small village be wiped off the map?
B-Movies can rather be really entertaining (whether that be for the right or wrong reasons), just plain awful, or, God forbid, boring. The Man from Planet X isn’t boring. Oh, no. It’s nearly insufferably so. Very little actually happens in the film if you take an even slightly closer look at it. Lots of interesting points are introduced (like Dr. Mears wanting to get important science information out of the alien in a truly good and gripping scene) but they are usually introduced to merely go away again after little being done with them.
Most of the scenes that could be entertaining aren’t shown to us but told. And that makes up two of the default scene types you’ll see in The Man from Planet X: explanations and exposits. If the film isn’t explaining an exciting scene we wish we were seeing, it’s expositing something about the plot. It’s too bad because the film starts out with tons of potential and mystery about the planet hurtling towards Earth and the alien’s intentions. That just doesn’t last far into the movie and boredom quickly seeps in.
To give the film a little credit, the alien design is creepy and definitely different from other movies I’ve seen. The downside is the face has absolutely zero mobility. Another good thing to mention would be that while the darkness and fog in this movie is there mostly to hid the cheep production values, at certain points it can be used effectively, like when the alien spacecraft (which looks great by the way) is seen for the first time. These are further examples of how great this movie could’ve been.
While I love the title and I know the movie has its die-hard fans, the movie, I thought, was lackluster. Yes, it was done on the cheep, but a small budget doesn’t have to handicap you like it so obviously did this production. I would love to recommend it but it neither works in a positive way nor does it fall into the so bad it’s good category.