The Man from Planet X

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The Man from Planet X. Somebody 1951.
The Man from Planet X. Mid Century Film Productions 1951.

Before watching the movie:

This sounds like one of the schlockiest sci-fi horror films not involving psychic brains crawling out of their jars or aliens raising zombies from a small town cemetery on the idea that it would get humans’ attention better than just touching down on the White House lawn. The story has the potential to rise above, but with what they had to work with, this is clearly made to shock the popcorn out of your lap.

One of the things that drew me to this movie was that the titular alien is apparently iconic enough to be featured/spoofed in the Area 52 sequence of Looney Toons: Back in Action. I can’t recall offhand if it was the only one I didn’t recognize, but it was very distinctive to be so unfamiliar.

After watching the movie:

Reporter John Lawrence arrives on a remote Scottish island at the invitation of old friend Professor Elliot, there studying a previously unknown planet coming toward Earth at an alarming speed, and according to the Professor’s calculations, this island will be the closest place on Earth to this mysterious Planet X. However, while the date of closest approach nears, the Professor’s daughter Enid finds a space capsule already on the moors. When the Professor and John go to investigate, they discover its occupant, a spacesuit-wearing figure clearly not of this world, wielding an obedience ray. They appear to befriend him by helping him with his suit’s air supply, but the power-hungry Dr. Mears has other ideas for their visitor and his technology.

I feel like I would have enjoyed this movie more if I hadn’t been led to believe from a synopsis that the plot was fundamentally different. I got the impression that Dr. Mears successfully got control of the alien technology rather than just being sleazy enough to damage any hope of friendship between worlds. Of course, the movie you make in your head is usually more interesting to you than what’s on the screen, but I was particularly intrigued by the idea of a human stealing an alien’s technology to take over the world and making that alien the scapegoat. The actual plot is paint by numbers in comparison, but I really shouldn’t have expected much more.

The director is mainly known for film noir, and this is somewhat lightly noir-ish. The impression of perpetual night, though it actually takes place over several days and does have daytime scenes, feels more like noir than like horror. The night is sinister and not to be trusted, but more likely to betray than to dismember.

For the first half of the movie, the entire cast was pretty much just three Americans on an allegedly Scottish island, but once everything gets going and reinforcements start coming in, I did start to get the sense of place. There’s even some moments where the Americans have to translate their terms into British terms, which I was impressed by, as it shows the movie knows there’s more difference than accents.

The tension of the movie completely failed to grab me. I couldn’t really care about anyone, and I don’t think that’s entirely because I was expecting a different story. It’s just that in a movie concerning a planet flinging itself at the Earth and sending a vanguard with an obedience gun, I found the characters and plot contrivances less believable. The story knows what it wants, but isn’t really equipped to get there. It had a good alien design, but not much else going for it.

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