ANGRY RED PLANET (1959)

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The trailer asks ‘Is there Life on Mars?’ In answer, the red planet is shown to be teaming with all manner of exotic life and screams out in capitals: ‘Your eyes will see the wonders of a world, no eyes in this world have ever seen before!’ It promises all these wonders will be presented through the photographic miracle of ‘Cinemagic’.

As it transpires, Cinemagic makes everything red and solarised with objects getting a white outline, this effect combined with hand-drawn illustrations, animation and Paul Dunlop’s electronic music turns their adventure on the Martian surface into a poor man’s version of a psychedelic trip.

The story starts by the discovery that Mars Rocket 1 (MR1) is returning to Earth after being out of contact for 63 days. Using robotic controls they land it in the Nevada desert, where they find Dr Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) in a shocked state and Col. Thomas O’Bannion (Gerald Mohr) unconscious with a green flesh-eating bug latched to his arm. The fate of the other two members of the crew is unknown.

What happened to the expedition is revealed in flashback through the eyes of Iris as she recovers from her ordeal in hospital. As it turns out the journey is pretty routine, Thomas flirts with Iris and insists on calling her ‘Irish’, Chief Warrant Officer Sam Jacobs (Jack Krushen) provides a bit of comic relief  and falls in love with his sonic rifle, which he names ‘Cleopatra’, and the remaining crew member is Professor Theodore Gettell (Les Tremayne) who chucks in a few ‘scientific’ titbits at appropriate moments. They suffer from having to eat tinned rations, but weightlessness does not effect this craft allowing the occupants to freely move around as if they are on Earth.

On landing, they see Mars is covered in vegetation and they speculate that it is home to small animals as well. On leaving the spaceship they encounter a carnivorous plant that looks as dangerous as a bouncy castle with tentacles, which promptly tries eating Iris. The crew speculates that the plants are controlled by a community mind and that it is watching them.

Through Cinemagic we see in the distance a futuristic Martian city; a vicious giant rat-faced crab-like creature and a giant amoeba that emerges from a lake and chases the crew back to their ship.

Worst of all there are ugly three-eyed humanoid types who lurk around and leave a message for humanity. They tell us they have been watching us since we emerged from the slime of existence, and have noted we have yet to stop being violent and war-like. Our lack of progress means that the Martians do not want us to visit them again, and if we do they’ll destroy us. Not very neighbourly, then again this was made in 1959 when the Space Race between the USA and USSR was at full tilt making a fantasy about aliens keeping us in order a powerful viewpoint.

Given its low budget and 10-day shooting schedule, this offers an entertaining insight into the unconscious fears about our place in the universe, and it is refreshing to see the story unfold from the viewpoint of Iris in the male-dominated world of sf of that period. She is portrayed as an independent and intelligent scientist, only let down by the fact that she screams and faints when encountering aliens and is helped by men in these situations. Nonetheless, she reassures them that: "I know you think I acted like a hysterical female there back at the ship, but I can assure you I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself!" 

ANGRY RED PLANET (1959) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: IB MELCHIOR / SCREENPLAY: IB MELCHOIR, SIDNEY PINK / STARRING: NAURA HAYDEN, GERALD MOHR, LES TREMAYNE, JACK KRUSCHEN /  RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

 


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