Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: The Man from Planet X (1951)
Edgar G. Ulmer tried his hand on sci-fi as a director three times during his lifetime and the first one was the quite original The Man from Planet X, famous for probably being the first pure alien-invasion movie ever made (aliens invaded earth before this movie, but then in Superhero-serials and similar, and this must be considered on of the first of its kind). It was shot in six days on a budget on 41000 dollar, but the great sets (borrowed from 1948's Joan of Arc) and the slick directing of Ulmer makes it looks like at least 100 000 dollar more.
Journalist John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) travels to a remote Scottish island to interview doctor Elliot (Raymond Bond), a famous astronomer, about a strange planet coming closer towards earth. John is a childhood friend of the doctors daughter Enid (Margaret Field) and they are of course glad to see each other again. Elliot works together with the sinister doctor Mears (William Schallert), who's more greedy than interesting in saving mankind. One evening John and Enid finds a strange object on the moor, something that looks like a very small rocket or satellite. Shortly thereafter a spaceship lands and strange things starts to happen...
Ulmer uses his budget well and The Man from Planet X turns out to be a very intelligent and interesting early alien invasion flick, partly because it sets some of the "rules" that has been used in most other movies of the same kind afterwards, but also because it dares to be original and unpredictable. Robert Clarke is a classic Ulmer-hero, very friendly and very smart - a true gentleman without any hidden agendas or any obviously sexual interest in the heroine - it's all very romantic. Margaret Field plays a smart and witty heroine (she's the mother of Sally Field also, which I had no idea about!) but at one point she's sedated because she's in such a shock after seeing the alien creature - something that only could happen in movies from this time!
The alien, or spaceman, is an interesting character himself. With a face like an African mask, or maybe he just have a face with very little expressions, he's damn eerie and his inability to speak makes he even more scarier. With a blank face and often standing in the shadow with very little or no movements at all he's easily the weirdest spaceman from the fifties, maybe not in appearance - but his whole aura. The planet he comes from is quite interesting, the one coming closer to earth. I guess I'm not the only one realizing the planet itself is quite close resembles Melancholia, the planet in Lars Von Trier's movie with the same name. Even her the earth is on the brink of disaster, but like in more or less every sci-fi movie from the fifties everything works out okay in the end.
The Man from Planet X is another proof that you don't need that much to create a good movie. For geeks who's raised on Star Wars and 2001 this might be a very silly and stupid movie, but of course it's not. The script is water-tight - with the usual exceptions of the liberal views of scientific facts that always caused older sci-fi movies to have a certain degree of silliness - but most important, the characters and storyline works out well. You can find, if I'm not remembering it wrong, this movie released on MGM's Midnite Movies label.