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A close encounter with The Man From Planet X: Worthwhile, low-budget 1950s sci-fi

  • Jun 7, 2012

Its title character has a head that looks like a Mardi Gras mask. His space suit resembles long johns with an empty television cabinet in front and a bicycle pump in back.

He has a weakness not nearly as elegant as that of the Martians in War of the Worlds, and it is shown far too early. The spacecraft looks like a snow cone painted silver and turned upside down.

Despite its very low-budget effects and a few weaknesses in the plot, The Man from Planet X (1951) is a nifty bit of slight fun with something to satisfy most fans of stories about what might happen during our first contacts with extraterrestrials. The movie is understandably eclipsed by superior movies, including two released the same year, The Thing and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but it is worth a look if you've seen several of the others and still want more.

Writers Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pellexfen have crafted some dialogue more evocative than the speeches in most 1950s sci-fi movies. One character wishes, "If I were only not so helpless before the voiceless threat of the unknown." Another describes the alien that has landed in remote northern Scotland: "A ghost? No. Something of flesh and blood, but of neither. A horrible, monstrous creature with a head as big as two men put together. A skin with the shine of a new shilling and eyes that are no better than a dead codfish."

The movie contains many of the elements that subsequent movies would make conventions. There are extraplanetary disturbances and a distinguished scientist to try to determine what is causing them and what they mean. There is a reporter to whom he can explain everything so we can get it too. (The screenplay pokes some fun when the reporter explains the need for this obvious device: "Excuse me, professor. I'm the shadowy figure in the left background with the stupid expression on his face. I don't get this mathematics.") The scientist's daughter is there to assist her father's research but mostly to look scared by the alien and to be smitten by the reporter. And there are soldiers whose guns are surprisingly effective against a craft that withstood the pressure of interplanetary travel.

MGM didn't give director Edgar G. Ulmer much money to work with, but he proved quite adept at evoking a sense of the moors in which he sets his story. He took sets from the Ingrid Bergman version of Joan of Arc (1948) and bathed them in lots of fog. And of course he set the movie at night. The results are sufficiently eerie for anyone willing to let their imaginations play along.

The alien communicates in musical tones. The DVD box points out that this is how it is done almost 30 years later in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but in Steven Spielberg's classic the extraterrestrials' melodic communications are conveyed in symphonies of sound and flashing lights. In The Man from Planet X, all we get are a few of the humans telling us that the visitor from outer space is trying to use music to tell them something.

The movie offers a prescient hint of government conspiracies. It was made only four years after rumors spread that a spaceship had crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, and the Air Force was covering it up. Fans of such subsequent entertainments as The X-Files and Independence Day will appreciate the sentiment the reporter in The Man from Planet X expresses after the alien encounter has ended and the scientist's daughter asks, "Can such a thing be kept secret?"

"No, but it can be reduced to gossip."
A close encounter with The Man From Planet X: Worthwhile, low-budget 1950s sci-fi A close encounter with The Man From Planet X: Worthwhile, low-budget 1950s sci-fi

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June 07, 2012
I saw this many many years ago. Classic Sci-fi always is nice to see again, since it is so much fun to see the genre evolve through the decades. Nice review and thanks for sharing it here in our movie community--we need more classic movies in this area.
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Member Since: Mar 17, 2012
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About this movie



Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Release Date: January 1, 1951
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 1hr 10min
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