THE MAN FROM PLANET X (1951)

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Sometimes it’s too easy to just laugh and point at creaky old black-and-white science fiction films and hoot at their cheesy acting and naff special effects. No CGI? No chance! But many of those classics are the bedrock of the genre which thrives today in our multiplexes and some of them, bursting with naïve charm and homespun visuals, can still give today’s filmmakers a run for their money-no-object budgets in terms of telling a sleek, thrilling, imaginative story. But then there’s The Man from Planet X…

Shot at the tail end of 1950 in less than a week and largely on sets borrowed from Ingrid Bergman’s 1948 Joan of Arc, The Man from Planet X tells of an extra-terrestrial encounter on the Scottish moors as a mysterious alien – he’s from ‘out of space’, apparently – arrives, his home planet in hot pursuit and on a collision course with the Earth! Boffin Professor Elliot (Bond) and his American reporter chum John Lawrence (Clarke) locate the alien – he’s quite an eerie-looking flat-faced creation in a spacesuit – but can’t communicate with him. Sneery scientist Dr Mears (Schallert) discovers how to converse with the creature (it emits a stream of random electronic bleeps and whirrs) and tries to kill it after obtaining the formula for the unearthly metal from which its spaceship has been constructed. But the alien’s not dead and it scampers off back to its ship with some local villagers, hypnotised into helping it send a signal to its homeworld, possibly for the purposes of invasion.

The Man from Planet X is hokey stuff, for sure, but not without its singular charms. Terrible unconvincing backdrops expose the film’s tiny budget but a couple of atmospheric model shots and scenes set on the windy, misty moor, the spaceship stuck on the mud in the distance, are oddly effective. The alien itself is also quite forward-thinking; it doesn’t speak English, its motives are unclear and at times as it’s being dragged around and beaten up we can even feel some sympathy for its plight. But elsewhere the acting veers between achingly earnest and downright lousy and even toddlers will chortle at the ludicrous science and portents of ‘disturbances’ and ‘a dangerous atmospheric upheaval’ should the planet pass close to the Earth.

Yet despite its faults and its shortcomings, The Man from Planet X is hugely watchable, if occasionally a bit too primitive for modern sensibilities. It’s a fascinating cautious stepping stone into cinema’s exploitation of the lurid science fiction genre and there are a couple of neat concepts which are, albeit inadvertently, way ahead of their time and unusually reflective for a genre now better-regarded for its modern-day whizz-bangery. It doesn’t hold a candle to the more enduring genre movies of the later 1950s but it’s certainly not a waste of seventy minutes of your time if you’re interested in the early days of sci-fi cinema.

Extras: Trailer

THE MAN FROM PLANET X (1951) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: EDGAR J. ULMER / SCREENPLAY:  AUDREY WISBERG, JACK POLLEXFEN / STARRING ROBERT CLARK, MARGARET FIELD, RAYMOND BOND, WILLIAM SCHALLERT / DATE OF RELEASE: OCTOBER 24th

 
 


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