movie review: The Man From Planet X (1951)

The Man From Planet X is a 1951 pre-Sputnik science fiction movie directed by Edgar Ulmer, one of the busiest film directors in Hollywood from the1930s through the 1960s. We covered at least one of his movies, the Hedy Lamarr period drama The Strange Woman, and possibly Detour (which I’ve seen but I don’t have a link for a review). Movies about aliens & spaceships are weird at this time, because a major war had ended and in a few years there’d be a race to get satellites into space, not exactly for scientific achievement but to show how a nation was flexing its muscles and showing off its progress in another race, getting nukes to travel long distances.

I have another observation, that Planet X may be from an interest in somewhat recent astronomy discoveries in the early 20th century. A ninth planet (at the time), was theorized to exist in the late 19th century, as astronomers believed some object was crossing paths with Neptune and possibly affecting Neptune’s orbit. Pluto was discovered in 1930 (it was later reclassified as a dwarf planet). Around the same time that astronomers were theorizing and searching for Pluto, they were wondering if there was another planet doing the same thing to Mercury that Pluto was doing to Neptune, and searched for a 10th planet that they planned to call Vulcan once it was discovered. It wasn’t – Mercury just moves so fast and is so close to the sun that the sun’s gravity ends up, well, I don’t know the science, but it sort of proves the theory of relativity.

So maybe Planet X was on the mind of science fiction writers, and having an “X” in your title is exotic. Sure enough, there is a man, or man-thing, from a planet they call Planet X, and as well as a creepy love triangle and some post-war jitters.

Lawrence is a reporter from America who flies into rural swampy foggy Scotland to visit his friend Elliot. Professor Elliot has a daughter Enid, who has grown up since Lawrence last saw her, and you know how these 50s movies go with that sort of romance. There’s also Elliot’s assistant Dr. Mears. Mears has some sort of past and Enid is somewhat creeped out by him, and Mears likes to sit in the shadows and observes, but the latter may make him a good scientist as far as Prof. Elliot is concerned.

Dr. Elliot has discovered and has been observing a new planet that has entered our solar system, and is creeping closer and closer to the Earth. Lawrence is like “wow, cool” and then leaves and is dropped off at a hotel by Enid. Enid, on the way back, gets a flat tire and decides to hoof it through the dense fog in the marsh and sees a glowing pulse in the distance. It’s a SPACESHIP, or to her possibly just a metal orb with some windows – maybe they haven’t been exposed to the idea of spaceships at this time. She peers in the window and comes face to face with our title character, who has kind of a stretched face with slits for eyes and a mouth. He’s wearing a glass dome, by the way – his own helmet. It’s a creepy moment, and she runs like hell. The next day Lawrence heads over and he and the professor go to check out the spaceship. At some point (there’s a couple back and forth visits, including Dr. Mears watching from afar), a beam shoots out from the ship and hits Professor Elliot, putting him in a trance, that Lawrence shakes him out of.

Then, thanks to the fog and camera work, in a creepiest of creepy entrances, the alien walks in the frame. The alien tries to hold the two at bay with a weapon but is also dying because it can’t reach a valve on its life support that goes to his helmet. He starts to pass out and Lawrence opens the valve, saving the alien, who puts away his weapon. At this moment the guys think that this is all a peaceful reconciliation. The alien follows them to Professor Elliot’s home, and Dr. Mears figures out a way to communicate with the alien, but doesn’t tell anyone, so that he alone can profit from this first contact discovery. However, he’s being played, and the alien manages to get back to the ship and start zapping people in town with his ship’s ray, where they come to the ship to start digging it out.

Lawrence, noticing that everyone is missing, goes to the spaceship to wake people up and get them away from the ship. Apparently the alien was setting up a beacon to create a landing point for the people of Planet X, who were going to invade Earth. Whaaaaa? Dr. Mears was the one who discovered that this was the plan, but as the army shows up and starts shooting at the ship, Mears gets in the way and is killed. And then spaceship blows up, allowing Planet X to just zip past Earth.

That’s pretty much it. I must have blinked and missed the deeper discussion where the alien sucker punched Mears or whatever or how he discovered the alien was up to no good. There’s other scifi movies from the 50s where aliens kidnap people and put them under their spell to save their own hides because they’re stuck on Earth and are just trying to get home (It Came From Outer Space,” which I’ve seen a couple times on Svengoolie). I mean, the alien has our heroes at gunpoint, starts dying, is saved (and Lawrence didn’t even pull the weapon out of the alien’s hand as it was on the ground unconscious), and puts its hands out as a sign of peace. It wasn’t like some other scifi movies show up and announce in plain english they’re here for peace, which by the way is subjugation of the human race please and thank you (This Island Earth? I’ve only seen that on MST3K and it was heavily edited). I thought it might be some kind of mystery where the alien is misunderstood and Dr. Mears ends up causing harm not just to the alien but also to the advancement of mankind, missing an opportunity for us to learn from it.

However, I’ll give it this: it’s CREEPY. Did I mention the creepy meet reveals of the alien? That must have been the jump scare of the 50s. It’s pretty short and for all the fog on the studio set it looks interesting. The alien is still a guy in a suit. It’s okay, it’s not terrible. I just don’t feel there was that deep of a message that sci-fi from this era would beat you over the head with, sometimes loudly and in plain english.


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