The Man from Planet X

Year 1951

Robert Clarke as  John Lawrence
Margaret Field as Enid Elliot
Raymond Bond as Professor Elliot
William Schallert   as Dr. Mears  
Director - Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenwriters - Aubrey Wisberg  
  - Jack Pollexfen

The only saving grace to The Man from Planet X is the atmosphere. The setting is the island of Barry, Scotland. (I think it was Barry. It began with a "B".) It's foggy and misty and full of moors at night. In the daytime it's overcast and full of moors. The characters live in a tower-house in the middle of nowhere. They don't call it a tower-house, they call it some Scottish word similar to "rook" but not rook. (I know that the word rook is Persian.) Whatever they called it, it looked like a chess piece to me.

I know how people can go on and on about Roger Corman. But ol' Roger didn't have a patch on Edgar G. Ulmer. The difference? Edgar got people to take their roles seriously and act. Edgar used imaginative sets to contruct a mood. Roger just made sure the actors said their lines with long enough pauses between lines so that Corman coult rearrange their order during editing. Roger also re-used sets so there was no continuity.

See the link for my comments about Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum which mentions continuity. Also see my link to Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat, which every guy has to see at least once. Ulmer also did the memorable The Strange Woman. It's memorable not because it's a great movie but because it has many haunting scenes and Hedy Lamar. Hedy Lamar was the 1940's version of the 1990's Salma Hayek or the 2000's Milla Jovovich. (Yeah, they're my top three. I like brunettes.)

Back to The Man from Planet X. It's hard to talk about the good without bringing in the, "Really?" To start with, a planet named Planet X is moving through the solar system on a path to Earth. It's not going to collide with the Earth, just get snuggly close so that there are tidal waves and earthquakes. And it'll here in just 72 hours! In fact, 72 hours from now, when the planet arrives, will be when the Earth reacts geologically speaking. At 71 hours and 59 minutes, nada. But at 72 hours, whoa, Nellie!

And there's a place on the Earth where Planet X will come closest. Nowhere else on the Earth will Planet X be as close as it will be to the Scottish island of Barri or some Scottish island that begins with a "B". Is Bahni an island? The name sounded Carribean when they first said it. But it's not in El Carribe as Captain Ron Rico might say. It's off the west coast of Scotland, if it's Barri. I guess the concept of the Earth rotating was lost on the writers.

Assuming that this is true, that Planet X will only come close to Barri, and not be just as close to any other point on the rotating world, we'll move on . Only one guy in the world realizes this Barri fact, but he's shared it with a couple of people. In fact, only a couple of guys in the whole world even notice that the planet is heading our way. One of those men is Professor Elliot (Bond) who, along with his lovely daughter Enid (Field as in Sally Field's mother) rent a tower on the island and await the arrival of Planet X. (What kind of name is Enid? Would you name your daughter that even if you were a recent recluse? I mean you had a daughter so you must've been alone with a woman at some point. No one names people that they love, i.e. daughters and/or sons, Enid.)

Who decided to name her Enid? Was it Aubrey Wisberg, whose other works include Hercules in New York and Problem Girls? Or was it Jack Pollexfen who also penned The Atomic Brain? I'm thinking it's Jack since there's a character named "Hetty" in his other movie.

I just went and watched the part of the movie where they name the location in Scotland. It's pronounced Burray which is one of Orkney Islands. So that makes sense. Now let me listen to what they call the tower-house. According to Enid, "They call these towers brochs." Hey, it's close to rooks. Thank you, mother of the Flying Nun.

Another sitcom tie-in is William Schallert. In the movie, he plays the bad guy that starts an interplanetary war. In the sitcom The Patty Duke Show, he plays the father.

So now that I've rambled for a while, let's get back to The Man from Planet X. It's memorable because it's unique. The alien, a dwarf with a big head and slits for eyes, is close to looking human, but isn't. The broch is eerie and comes complete with a dungeon where Dr. Mears tortures the alien for information. It wouldn't be an Ulmer film without some sort of sadomasochism.

It also wouldn't be an Ulmer film if there weren't hinted at past evils but nothing specific spelled out. Dr. Mears, we're told, did time for something unscrupulous, but we're never told what. The way it's poorly brought out detracts from the film. There's an element of foreboding that doesn't quite come off.

There's also the rush job with how quickly Dr. Mears manages to communicate with the alien. In a few hours, Dr. Mears gets some secret out of the mute alien. Ostensibly, it's the way to manufacture a new type of metal. I'm skeptical that even the talented Dr. Mears could go from "Me, Tarzan. You, Ugly," to "So the d shell is missing an electron?" in just one night.

Maybe it was something else. With Ulmer, you can only guess because he hints at a lot. In that particular scene, Dr. Mears didn't specifically name the thing that would allow him to rule the world, so maybe it was a new type of metal (shades of Ayn Rand!) or maybe it was something else. Regardless, the sense of foreboding that supposed to ooze from Dr. Mears doesn't so much as leak.

Like The Black Cat, the location is isolated and that gives the movie an edge. But, it's a slow moving film and the pay-off isn't that great. Oh, there's a line about people being, "turned into zombies," which makes the movie ahead of its time, but that one line isn't worth watching the whole movie for. I remember seeing this movie as a child. It was neither frightening nor engrossing. Maybe the movie was slow to made a cerebral point that a child could not understand? As an adult I feel the same way I did those many years ago, so the answer is, "Nope. Nothing deep here."

The scenes are plausible enough even if there are shortcuts for motivation. Sometimes less is less and that hurts this movie.

No nudity, no profanity, or blasphemy. It's worth watching if you don't mind a less than breakneck paced film about how three people treat and mistreat an alien visitor.

Back to the "Torn and Frayed " list or the main movie list.