Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Man from Planet X (1951)

A worthy first of its type film

  • Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
  • Producer: Jack Pollexfen, Aubrey Wisberg
  • Written by Aubrey Wisberg, Jack Pollexfen
  • Music: Charles Koff
  • Cinematography: John L. Russell
  • Editing: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
  • Distributor: United Artists
  • Running time: 70 minutes
  • Budget: $51,000 approx.


  • Robert Clarke (John Lawrence)
  • Margaret Field (Enid Elliot)
  • Raymond Bond (Professor Elliot)
  • William Schallert (Dr. Mears)
  • Roy Engel (Tommy, the Constable)
  • Charles Davis (Georgie, man at dock)
  • ilbert Fallman (Dr. Robert Blane)
  • David Ormont (Inspector Porter)
  • June Jeffery (Wife of missing man)
  • Franklyn Farnum (Sgt. Ferris, Porter's assistant)



We learn of a discovery made by an astronomer (Professor Elliot) of an unknown planet hurtling through space toward Earth’s general location. Prof. Blane informs an American journalist, Lawrence about this, as well as of reports about sightings by “trained observers” of inexplicable objects in the skies. In order to study this rogue planet, Prof. Elliot has set up an observatory on the foggy moors of a remote Scottish island (Bury), with his daughter (Enid Elliot) and Dr. Mears, a former student with a dubious reputation and past.

It seems that the two planets will not actually collide, but “Planet X,” will make a very close approach. Prof. Elliot has calculated that the part of the Earth that will be nearest to Planet X at the point of its closest approach will be small island of Bury, situated off the coast of Scotland.

We learn that there is some history between these characters. Elliot was a meteorologist during the war years, and when Lawrence was serving in the Air Force. Elliot supplied Lawrence’s unit with information concerning the likely weather conditions they could expect over their targets. Because Elliot owes the American journalist (John Lawrence) a favour, he has invited him to come to the island for an exclusive story. Enid was a teenager with “gawky legs and buck teeth” at the time, and she seems to have had a crush on John. The other scientist, Dr. Mears has a sullied reputation, and served time in jail. We don’t find out any specifics, but John thinks Dr. Mears got off too lightly and that he “ should've gotten 20 years” for what he had done.

Soon after the reporter’s arrival, he stumbles upon a strange metallic rocket-shaped object out on the moors. The object is made of no material that Elliot has ever seen before and he concludes that it is of extra-terrestrial origin with its light material and “precise measurements.” Dr. Mears’s only sees the wealth he can potentially make from it if he can work out what the object is made of and how to synthesize it commercially. He declares that the “man who controls this formula controls the industry of the world!” Far from “speaking metaphorically” I think.

On the way home from dropping John off at an inn where he is staying, Enid’s car blows a tyre. While walking back to the keep, she sees a strange glow out on the moors.  Enid soon discovers a strange space ship and its pilot, a humanoid with a strange, expressionless, immobile “ghastly caricature of a face.” Terrified, Enid runs back to the keep, where she tells her father what she saw.

Professor Elliot goes with his daughter to see for himself, and is struck by a ray that can deprive its targets of independent will, causing them to obey any command given to them by anyone. Enid thankfully is able to order her father to follow her home. Mears concludes that the alien represents a “concrete menace” that is “wilful” and “hostile.” A bit of rationalizing his motives and intentions on his part?

The next day, John Lawrence accompanies Professor Elliot to the alien ship to investigate further. After a potentially hostile encounter, they assist the alien to adjust his stuck breathing regulator valve. The alien then follows them back to the keep where they can hopefully establish communication with each other. After some failed attempts, Dr. Mears comes up with the idea of using geometry as a form of communication or “mutual basis for understanding.” Of course, after the success of his idea, Dr. Mears reveals that he has less than altruistic motives. He is only interested in obtaining information as to the make-up of the new metal compound. The moment he’s left alone with the small alien, Mears resorts to committing an act of violence upon him in order to achieve his selfish goal (“to tear out every secret!”) of making a fortune from whatever “secrets” the alien might possess and reveal to Mears.

The alien later kidnaps Enid and makes preparations for a full-scale invasion of earth by his species from Planet X when their planet moves within range of Earth. Later it is discovered that the alien is from a dying planet and that his civilisation purposely caused their planet to deviate from its orbit.

When Lawrence discovers that the alien and the professor's daughter are gone, Tommy, the village constable declares that others from the village are missing as well. Lawrence convinces the constable to accompany him to the site where the spaceship was located, but they discover that it is no longer there and even Mears himself is missing. With communication to the outside world cut off, they eventually manage get word to Scotland Yard using inventive means. It worked since later on an Inspector and sergeant fly in and are briefed on the situation……

What will now unfold?
Will this be end for all of us?
What decisions will be made?
Will it be necessary to destroy the spaceship and the alien visitor?
Is the Man from Planet X, on earth just to prepare for a planned invasion?
Have the actions of humanity turned an intelligent and normally benevolent stranger, into our bitter enemy, thereby sealing our doom?

Find out the answers to these and other questions, when you meet......


Points Of Interest

The Man from Planet X can be viewed as being a parable on the dangers of greed. The consequences of human greed are laid bare through the actions of the unscrupulous Mears, whose lust for personal gain could have spelled the end of civilization.

The Man from Planet X has been credited with being the first of the alien invasion films. There was at that time a move away from stories being driven by the problems associated with the brave new frontier of space flight and the efforts of scientists, governments, private industry and astronauts to overcome them. An era was being ushered in with films that featured the arrival on Earth of alien beings who instead of coming in peace may have come here to have a piece of us or to leave us in pieces!

The film was shot for approximately $50,000, and I do have to say that it does look pretty cheap. When I first saw the painted backdrops of houses, etc., I groaned at the prospect of the quality of this film matching the quality of its backdrops. I’m glad that I was proved wrong!

Even though the space ship looked a bit like a diving bell, I liked the pulsing lights through the port holes. Together with the fog, the effect was of an evil face full of menace that should be avoided at all costs.

The Man From Planet X was shot on sets for the 1948 Ingrid Bergman film, Joan of Arc. The Scottish moors setting with the thick fog lends the movie an eerie mood or feel of horror. Adding to this mood, are the suggestive elements whereby what is not seen but only suggested or implied heightens our sense of dread. For instance, when Lawrence and Enid see a flash in the sky they try to determine how far away the “storm” is by counting the seconds it takes for the clap of thunder to reach them. We know it is not a storm because there is no thunder clap. We only saw the flash illuminated on their faces, but we can use our imagination to join the dots. The shape we arrive at is something not of this Earth!

The keep itself which forms part of the setting, was described by Elliot’s daughter as once being a “defence against Viking raiders.” How ironic when considering what transpires in the film. Who can definitively say that the Earth itself might not one day succumb to the predations of other forms of life and civilisations, the existence of which we have no clue?

Whether or not it is difficult to ascertain the alien's true  motives, i.e., planning an invasion from the outset or deciding to do so due to Dr. Mears’ actions, the real point of the film is the nature, actions and motivations of human beings. If we treat strangers from other worlds with fear and suspicion by screaming and running away in horror, and then resort to violence and look for ways to exploit them, then God help the universe should human beings spread out and make contact with other civilisations! We have the capacity to do good such as Elliot and Lawrence’s attempt to help the Alien when he was in distress and trying to establish communication. Such qualities may help us to avoid potential threats to our existence as a species. Unfortunately, it is those self-destructive aspects of human nature, such as those displayed by Mears, that we have to guard against as the consequences for not doing so could be detrimental to our very survival.

Knowledge of the kind that the characters in the film had might “bring more fear in a world already filled with it,” but surely knowledge of the nature of the forces that can threaten our very existence from both within and without is preferable to ignorance….

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Five (1951)

Historically important
  Ahead of its time

  • Director: Arch Oboler
  • Producer: Arch Oboler
  • Screenplay: Arch Oboler
  • Story: Arch Oboler
  • Music: Henry Russell
  • Cinematography: Sid Lubow, Louis Clyde Stoumen
  • Editing: John Hoffman, Ed Spiegel, Arthur Swerdloff
  • Studio: Arch Oboler Productions
  • Distributer: Columbia Pictures
  • Release date: April 25, 1951 (U.S.)
  • Running time: 93 minutes (Black and White)
  • Budget: $75,000 


  • William Phipps (Michael Rogin)
  • Susan Douglas Rubes (Roseanne Rogers)
  • James Anderson (Eric)
  • Charles Lampkin (Charles)
  • Earl Lee (Oliver P. Barnstaple)


As stated in a newspaper headline, a warning had been issued that detonating a new type of atomic bomb could result in humanity's extinction. The film’s title, “Five,” refers to the number of survivors of this atomic bomb disaster that has wiped out the rest of the human race.

The film opens with the once invincible and dependable icons of civilisation (Big Ben, Tower of London, Kremlin, Eiffel Tower) suffocating in a sea of destruction-smoke, sirens and screams. An aerial shot slowly closes in on the small isolated and exhausted rag doll figure of Roseanne Rogers as she numbly staggers in shock along the roadway in her search for another living human being. We discover that Roseanne was in a hospital's lead-lined X-ray room when disaster struck. It is almost ironic that she has been saved from death by radiation by undergoing a process that involves radiation (X-rays) which outside of controlled medical uses is deadly to humans.

Receiving no reply to her piteous plea, “Somebody please help me!” Roseanne makes her way to her aunt's isolated hillside house. Walking in upon a scene with a strangely unreal homely atmosphere, she finds that someone else is already living there. It turns out that the man, Michael, a sensitive young poet and philosopher who is glad that the “cheap honky-tonk of a world” is dead, had been in an elevator in the Empire State Building (“mighty edifice”) when the ‘end’ came. He can even recite the speech he used to give to visitors to the building which now seems utterly absurd under the circumstances. Too numb to speak, Roseanne slowly recovers. She rejects Michael's attempt to force himself onto her, stating that she is both married and pregnant.

Two more survivors eventually arrive: Oliver P. Barnstaple, an elderly assistant cashier who is in denial in that he believes he is on vacation, and Charles, an African American, who we learn wanted to be a teacher but wound up becoming a doorman. Charles has been taking care of Oliver since they were both accidentally locked in a bank vault when the disaster occurred.

Later on while at the beach, they discover a man in the water. After dragging him out, they learn that his name is Eric, a cosmopolitan Alpinist who was stranded on Mount Everest during a blizzard when disaster struck. He was making his way back to America when his plane ran out of fuel just short of land.

After seeming to recover, Barnstaple dies peacefully at the kind of place he had always wanted to be.

With Eric’s inclusion in the post-apocalypse community, the seeds of conflict and discord have been sown. Eric believes the reason that they lived was because they were immune to the radiation. He wants to search for and gather together any other survivors. Michael, however, believes that the radiation is more intense in the cities that Eric wants to search.

As can be seen from his attitude toward Charles, Eric is a racist. The fight that erupts between the two men is halted when Roseanne goes into labour. With Michael’s help she gives birth to a boy.

With hopes emerging for making a better life, it is Eric who spoils things by deliberately driving the jeep through the little community’s cultivated field, destroying a portion of their crops. Michael orders Eric to leave, but Eric resorts to a show of power and threat of violence as he brandishes a pistol and states that he will leave only when he is good and ready to.

Needing to discover what became of her husband, Roseanne accompanies Eric to the city. Eric, not surprisingly insists that Roseanne not tell Michael about this. Eric has been stealing supplies, and a fight results between him and a suspicious Charles who is stabbed in the back and killed by Eric.

In the city, while Eric is looting, Roseanne discovers her husband's skeleton in a waiting room. Eric refuses to let Roseanne return to the group and after they struggle his shirt is torn open to reveal that he has radiation poisoning.

Eric’s fate seems to be sealed. But what of Roseanne and her baby’s fate?  What about Michael? Will they ever be reunited? Is there any hope left for the fledgling little community? Or has all hope for humanity’s survival been destroyed by the fallout of its most destructive sins of violence, domination, fear, lust and greed? 

Points Of Interest

Five is the first film to depict the aftermath of a catastrophe involving fall-out from a super-atomic bomb that, with the exception of a few survivors, wipes out humanity on earth.

Remember that this film was made just over five years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought an end to World War II. While the film was being made the world was embroiled in the Korean War. General MacArthur proposed using nuclear weapons on strategic targets in China. Meanwhile, in the US, children were being taught to “Duck and Cover.” Since then we have had the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mutually Assured Destruction concepts, proliferation of nuclear weapons with politically unstable states having access to them and (at the time of writing) headlines screaming with the hysterical rhetoric of nuclear retribution and retaliation from North Korea. Perhaps some of our more bellicose political leaders need to see what life would be like for the survivors of a nuclear holocaust.

However, the film makes one wonder whether anything will really change  should such a calamity befall humanity. Judging from the characters’ words and actions, it seems that the failings of humanity would not magically disappear even with the prospect of being able to start afresh.  Racism, lust and all the other self-destructive human failings will probably still rear their ugly heads. Take for instance, Michael’s attempt to force himself on the last woman on Earth-and this from a fairly nice, deep and introspective character. In this study in group-dynamics, this small but diverse group of survivors face, and try to overcome a great cataclysm. While doing so they are forced to face a crisis within-a crisis of their own making where prejudice, fear, intolerance, greed and other base human instincts threaten to cause an implosion of the last five surviving members of the human race.

If that sounds pretty dark, well, that is certainly the mood and atmosphere for much of the film. The tension and sense of dread is palpable during the shooting of the city sequence as we see the image of the buildings, abandoned cars and scattered skeletons through a shaky camera lens, as we witness the emotions register on the close-ups of Roseanne’s face and hear the constant soul-shattering wailing sound of sirens.

The film Five contains characters who each symbolise different elements that go to make up our modern civilisation and community. There is something of each character that we recognise within most of us. For instance, we have the mountain climber, Eric (“I climbed Mt. Everest. I alone. Always alone.”) who represents the kind of politically ideological, dogmatic, racially intolerant, destructive and domineering fascism that left much of Europe in ruins a few years previously. Perhaps there is a bit of Eric buried within all of us with our need to have, possess and control things and people. For Eric, (and for how many other fascist-minded dictators?) the cities are there “bursting with food” ready to be plundered. Not for him the “return to primitiveness” and living by the sweat of one’s brow. He must lead others (preferably the select few of humanity who have “special immunity’) by his strength of will toward the mountain summit no matter what the human and material cost.  How many people have had to die as the “King Eric 1’s” of this world have led others in their quest to turn their “theory” into “fact” just so that they can “justify their existence?”

Then there’s the banker, Barnstaple, who represents an old-order mentality which he tries to hang on to cope with the dire circumstances. After all, “vacations are delightful, (but) one has obligations to one’s work.” It is such a mode of living that can make one want to “sleep under the stars” for “40 years” but never get to do so. It is too easy to have one’s priorities and values twisted so much that the only life that is lived is a life of lost opportunities, unrealised ambitions and unfulfilled wishes-a wasted life. For Barnstaple, and for most of us, we have always wanted to go somewhere, be something or do something but are left thinking, “I don’t remember why I didn’t.” Barnstaple is only now able to enjoy the simple pleasure of being at the beach at the last moments of his life. Only with the approach of death is he able to appreciate the value of what he has lost sight of for much of his life while dutifully fulfilling his role and function as assistant cashier.

For me, Charles represents the true heart and soul of this little community. He is like a ‘one who was blind but can now see’ type of character who wanted to be a teacher, “but lost my way somewhere I guess.” Like most of us, Charles settled for a “piece of security” with the result that, “all my life in the city and I never saw the lights.” A life of security and obligation is fine but a question inevitably has to be asked; is that all there is? Looking behind and beyond the façade to really see “the lights,” to really hear the “dripping of a faucet,” or to derive satisfaction at growing something simple like corn, helps to connect one to what is truly meaningful and important in life. We never know how important and significant such things are until we are deprived of them.

Finally, there is Michael and Rosanne. In many respects they seem to represent a kind of new Adam and Eve of a new Eden. They hold out a promise of future hope and a fulfilment of a God’s hope when He “shaped a lump of clay into his own image.” Now that a breath of life has been given to a new living soul in the form of the birth of a child, we have a sense of the possibility of a new life where people “work together, live together, like friends” and never repeat the mistakes of the past. For Michael, it could be a world where a Roseanne can be seen for who she is; a Roseanne, a person with an identity instead of being objectified and seen as being “just a woman.”

The shooting location of Five was the remote 360-acre ranch owned by director Oboler and his wife Eleanor in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. The cliffside house used in the movie was designed by famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. A gatehouse and the hilltop retreat were the only buildings actually completed. The shooting location seems to reinforce the isolated (exterior) and cramped feel (interior) of the film itself.

You will soon notice that dialogue or talk tends to dominate the film, Five at the expense of action. This tends to make the film rather slow-moving, especially for many of today’s audiences who might be more used to action and special-effects dictating what happens on screen. This may not be the film for you if you have a short attention span or prefer a diet of sci -fi films where one damn thing happens after another in a universe, far, far away.

There is also far too much in the way of presenting religious messages and Biblical imagery. One can only take so much of needing to repent ones sins along with references to Eden and quotes from the bible.

Arch Oboler’s handling of the issue of racial tolerance is interesting and is probably a product of the times. For some people, Charles seems to be there largely to assist Barnstaple or help out with tending the crops. Strangely from our perspective, Charles doesn’t seem to show the kind of sexual interest in Roseanne as the other men do. He is even killed off along with any hope of passing his heritage on to any future generations! Such a scenario would have made a reprehensible character like Eric quite happy!

The depiction of nuclear war doesn’t seem to coincide with what we know about effects of a nuclear explosion and radiation fallout. In places it almost has more in common with the aftermath of a neutron bomb explosion whereby organic material is impacted while leaving inorganic materials largely intact.

Whatever the finer points are of the film Five, the one inescapable fact to be derived from it is the stark and shocking manner in which it grapples with the enormity of having to face the consequences of nuclear war. It seems that we still have a lot to learn….

©Chris Christopoulos 2013