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  Man from Planet X, The Hey Mr Spaceman
Year: 1951
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Stars: Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, William Schallert, Roy Engel, David Ormont, Gilbert Fallman
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Reporter John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) sits alone in an old tower on a Scottish island, jotting down the story of the past few days for posterity. He had been in an observatory near Los Angeles where the professor working there told him that there was a huge object in the heavens heading this way. He called this object Planet X, and warned of tidal waves and hurricanes if it were to get too close, never mind what would happen if it collided with Earth. Lawrence had been contacted by Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond) who was conducting research on the remote Scottish island, so sensing a good story for his newspaper, he headed over there, little realising that what he was to encounter would put the world in danger...

Written by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen, The Man from Planet X was one of the earliest alien invasion movies of the fifties, and one of those which heralded a golden age for the genre. Working with an obviously meagre budget, director Edgar G. Ulmer puts the fog machine into overdrive to hide the shaky sets (borrowed from the Ingrid Bergman version of Joan of Arc) and keeps things as dark and gloomy as possible, with the result that the film is one of the eeriest of the time rather than being risibly ramshackle. It may feature scientists as apparent saviours, but it's Lawrence the journalist who is there to save the day, even if the actual outcome is more complicated than the simple story might suggest.

When Lawrence arrives at the island by ship, he is greeted by Elliot's daughter Enid (Margaret Field) who is helping her father with his research. Seeing she is all grown up since he last met her, Lawrence starts to flirt with her a little too enthusiastically, which is par for the course in films like this. But never mind that, he has to meet Elliot and his assistant, the shady Dr Mears (William Schallert), who has a dark secret in his past and is patently a dodgy character seeing as how he has a black beard which he strokes at moments of contemplation.

But what of the Man from Planet X? Well, he takes a while to appear, but when he does it's in a scene shot as if, like the rest of the film, it were part of a ghost story. After taking Lawrence back to his rooms at the local inn, Enid's car breaks down on the moors, and walking back to the tower she notices a flashing light up ahead. Curious, she investigates and finds a large object (described as a kind of diving bell later on) with light blinking on and off through its windows. Creeping up to one of those windows, Enid peers inside and is terrified to see an unearthly face emerging from the gloom to meet her stare...

From then on the thrills, such as they are, rattle along nicely as Lawrence and Elliot go out to the diving bell and have their own confrontation with the mystery man, who looks a bit like Meryl Streep with a goldfish bowl on her head. Received with suspicion, he gets no sympathy at his attempts to communicate, and Dr Mears ends up attacking him (he's surprisingly weak for an alien invader). He then decides it's time to administer the mind control ray, which unfortunately makes anyone, not just the X Man, able to influence those under its power, and the military are brought in. But the film has a haunting quality thanks to the ambiguity of what the Man from Planet X really wanted - to save his people, sure, but not necessarily at the expense of us humans; and so the movie's melancholy tone makes it special. Don't mention the weird "Scottish" accents, though. Music by Charles Koff.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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