The Man From Planet X (1951) – black and white (70 minutes)
cast: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field and William Schallert
For years, I’ve come across the odd-looking alien photo from ‘The Man From Planet X’ and was for the prime reason why I picked up these DVD. One of the earliest first contact SF films, it doesn’t go well when a friendly encounter goes awol when Dr. Meers (actor William Schallert) attempts to communicate with the alien from the moor and then when everyone is elsewhere, attacks it with the desire to get as much info as he can.
What makes this real Science Fiction is the alien cannot communicate in English and hence is especially enigmatic and left to interpretation. It does try to be friendly but steered away by human hostility. Although there is some moral philosophising at the end, it isn’t as strong as it could be to instil a warning to the viewer as, say, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ later did.
Beyond The Time Barrier (1959) – black and white (75 minutes)
cast: Robert Clark, Darlene Tompkins, Vladimir Sokoloff and John Van Dreelen
A USAF test pilot Major Bill Allison (actor Robert Clark) is trying out a new prototype at sub-orbital speed is thrown from 1960 to 2024 to discover a world dying of a cosmic plague. There are two levels of mutants, the more advanced wanting to attack the better odd and these are mostly mutes although one, Princess Trirene, can read minds. Allison isn’t the only time traveller, the few others are from much later period but see him being sent back into the past as a means to stop this future from happening. The end startles, making for a strong storyline for its time period and budget.
The designs are typical of the 1959 period, but the earnestness of the story carries it along and I felt it better than its B rating deserves.
The Time Travellers (1964) (82 minutes)
cast: Preston Foster, Philip Carey, Merry Anders and John Hoyt
I was pleasantly surprised with ‘The Time Travellers’. An experiment with time travel opens a portal into the future and all four members of the team step though to a post-apocalypse Earth, having barely survived a nuclear holocaust. The remaining humans, together with their android servants are preparing for an escape to a distant planet and the travellers help with the believe that they can escape, too. Only problem is the spaceship hasn’t got the capacity for more passengers so the travellers see if they can re-create the portal and return to the past. How that goes is something you’ll have to watch the DVD for.
The 60s mentality of the future look tended to be colourful costumes. Director/co-writer Ib Melchor maintained an SF integrity and padded the story with showing android construction and spaceship preparation. Back then, it wasn’t that widely known that to make miniatures look large you had to film close-up and slow-frame. These miniatures would still have a slight wrongness to them but for the brief time they were used stayed within the frame of the picture. The story plot holds together well and by simple effects.
The Angry Red Planet (1959) (83 minutes)
cast: Gerald Mohr, Nora Hayden, Les Treymayne and Jack Kruschen
One of the remaining two survivors, Iris Ryan (actor Nora Hayden), slowly relates to the top brass on Earth the fate of her expedition to Mars. This is 1959 and people still thought there was life there. In this case, mostly plant life and the odd giant spider being but there’s a twist at the end. Our neighbours aren’t interested but that’s as much a spoiler as you can have.
For such an early film, ‘The Angry Red Planet’ holds together rather well. The spaceship interiors were obvious studio sets. The Mars environment was put through a heavy red filter which made a truly red planet and made the most of a low budget. The plant-life sufficiently spooky to feel intimating, even if the crew had a formidable weapon…for a time. I’m assured by my colleague and astro-artist David Hardy that on its original release, the Mars scenes were in puce. The change in colour is therefore down to Dennis Muren who contributed to getting this film re-released.
Altogether, this is a great collection of old 50s SF films. They might have been produced on a limited budget but they’ve also done well out of it as well and certainly were part of the foundation of what we have today. With such a cheap price and assuming you have a multi-regional DVD player, this is an interesting blast from the past or, in the case of the time travel stories, of the future.
(region 1 DVD: MGM 68156. 1 DVD 4 films. Price: about £ 2.00 (UK) if you know where to look)
check out website: www.mgm.com