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I Bet You Didn't See... The Angry Red Planet

CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! - I'm also sorry for this one if you are colourblind!

From approximately 1940, Hollywood started to move away from it's classic "Golden Age" of light-hearted musicals and dance films. The novelty of sound films ("talkies") was a thing of the past and they had become the mainstream norm. Filmmakers were now ready to test what they could do and stretch the limits. Science-Fiction films were not new, but they were the place to push the boundaries.

Classic Sci-Fi films from the 1940's and '50's era include Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940 film series), The Ape Man (1943) featuring Bela Lugosi, 1951's The Thing from Another World and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). These are superb in their own right, considering how poorly they can age or how cheap we may view their production. If you haven't seen Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, I highly recommend and will try and do a review of the series later. It's very funny and entertaining!

I took the time to watch Ib Melchior's The Angry Red Plant from 1959, which is a classic, stereotypical date-night drive-in Sci-Fi picture. It has everything you expect from the height of romanticised, Hollywood Science-Fiction. Gerald Mohr plays Colonel O'Bannion with Nora Hayden is our heroine and the commander's love interest, Dr Iris "Irish" Ryan. They are supported by comic sidekick Jack Kruschen as Sam Jacobs and the on-board Professor Gettel played by Les Tremayne.

These four are flown to Mars to explore this new world. They are looking for intelligent life, which they randomly mention that they expect there to be. They also want to investigate the vegetation on Mars. The planet is covered in a haze of redness, as to be expected on "the red planet".

Kruschen, Hayden, Mohr and Tremayne on set

The story is told by Dr Ryan (Hayden), while she is trying to tell her superiors on Earth what went wrong. Only she and O'Bannion (Mohr) have made it back and O'Bannion is in a bad way with an aggressive Martian growth on his arm. Only she can tell them what happened because since landing on Mars, there has been no contact between the ship and Earth.

Mars is brilliantly portrayed in a way that shows how little was known back then. Vegetation and a red haze, as all old Sci-Fi would have us believe, with intelligent carnivorous plants. Luckily, the boys on Earth have developed a freeze-ray that saves Dr Ryan (typically) from being devoured. They then discover a lake with a city that they attempt to approach, and that is when it all goes wrong.

That well-known Martian terrain

I love this kind of classic Sci-Fi. It shows how much we learned in such a short space of time. By 1959, the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union was well established. The first satellites had been launched a few years earlier and in the same year Laika the dog had died during her 10-day flight for the Soviets. It would be just two more years before Yuri Gagarin would be the first man to orbit Earth. As for Mars, well... we wouldn't actually land anything there until 1971 (Soviets win again) although it was in 1965 that the American's won the race to get a probe to orbit the planet.

The crew on the planet surface

This brief timeline shows us how little we knew at the time. The costumes in The Angry Red Planet are basic and hilarious, really. Jumpsuits with a scuba tank on the back and a heavy-duty biker's helmet. It's quite obvious there is no visor on the front either! Of course, being 1959, Dr Ryan had perfect make-up on all throughout, and I think I saw her hair was still well maintained under the helmet! Along with the freeze-ray Jacobs (Kruschen) names Cleopatra, O'Bannion arms himself with a handgun. I love it.

In our modern age of CGI, I quite enjoy old-school material sets and props. Alien plants being chopped up and clearly being plastic or fabric. I think it's wonderful to see the creativity and inventiveness of the filmmakers with limitations of the day. You can create anything on a computer, but back then it was a product of real, genuine creative genius to create these creatures.

I can't say that it's a great film, but it's fun and a good chuckle, as all old Sci-Fi is. If you like old-school films that look cheap, go for this one.

Directed by: Ib Melchior

Screenplay by: Ib Melchior, Sidney W. Pink

Starring: Gerald Mohr, Nora Hayden, Jack Kruschen, Les Tremayne

Released: November 23, 1959

My Rating: 6/10

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