If you’re a fan of 1950’s science fiction movies, ‘The Man from Planet X’ is probably sitting on your shelf or in your Netflix queue right now, staring at you, waiting to be watched. Similar to the Planet X alien compelling people to prepare the Earth for an invasion, let this article serve as a directive to immediately watch this B flick. It’s good, schlocky fun. After all, ‘The Man from Planet X’ happens to be today’s Throwback Thursday, a column where ScienceFiction.com looks at great science fiction classics of the past.
Released in 1951, ‘The Man from Planet X’ was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Originally from what we now know as the Czech Republic, Ulmer was said to have had his start as an apprentice in Vienna for director F.W. Murnau, working on the sets of the absolute must-sees, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ and ‘Metropolis’. Ulmer made his way to the United States, where, after directing an exploitation film about venereal disease, had the opportunity to take the reigns of a major Universal picture, ‘The Black Cat’.
Even though ‘The Black Cat’ was a huge success for Universal in 1934, Ulmer’s career trajectory, perhaps unfortunately, took him to the world of B movies, mainly at production houses known throughout Hollywood during the 1920’s – 1950’s as Poverty Row. I suppose an affair with the wife of the nephew of Universal head Carl Laemmle can do that to you…
Judgement aside, one of the many flicks Ulmer directed on Poverty Row included ‘The Man from Planet X’. Shot on a shoe-string budget, Ulmer managed to complete principal photography of the movie in 6 days. In fact, the film was shot on the recycled set of the Ingrid Bergman movie, ‘Joan of Arc’.
Taking place on the foggy moors of Scotland, a dashing and mustachioed American journalist named John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) visits his friends Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond) and Elliot’s faint-hearted daughter, Enid (Margaret Field). Professor Elliot and his seemingly dubious colleague, Dr. Mears (William Schallert), have been observing Planet X, a distant planet that fell off its orbit (a phenomena known in this movie as “scientific degravitation”).
Later that night, a mysterious spacecraft crash lands nearby. An alien emerges from the vessel that obviously frightens Enid and piques the curiosities of the gentlemen. The alien ends up following Professor Elliot and his comrades home. When Professor Elliot comes down with the flu, he enlists Dr. Mears to attempt to communicate with the alien. Mears does make communication with the alien. However, things turn awry when Mears disables the alien’s breathing apparatus when the alien refuses to divulge the formula for the metal of his spaceship.
Now angered, the alien abducts Enid and Professor Elliot, along with many more people throughout the village. Lawrence manages to deduce that this alien is from Planet X and is controlling innocent people in advance of some sort of invasion. With the military wanting to destroy the spaceship, which would quite possibly kill the brainwashed people in its vicinity, will Lawrence be able to save his friends in time?
Though cheaply made, ‘The Man from Planet X’ still manages to look very stylized. You get a sense of the dampness of the location, even though the film was shot entirely in the dry heat of Culver City, CA. All of the characters are very likable. Yes, even in the end, a sense of empathy for the primary antagonist hits you right in the chest.
Take a look at the trailer.