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

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