The Angry Red Planet, 1959. 6.5/10

From the Golden age of sci-fi, Angry Red Planet hits all the targets for this genre. A returning spaceship from a Mars mission, a skeleton crew (an amnesiac woman, and a dying man), a flashback narration of the mission to–a literal red planet. Oh, yes, and some cool monsters. Featuring the only giant amoeba in outer space, as far as I know.

The full crew consists of Dr. Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden), Colonel Tom O’Bannion (Gerald Mohr);, Professor Theodore Gettel (Les Tremayne), and Warrant Officer Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen). There’s a bunch of medical staff on hand, as well as base officers, and operatives, but no one stands out amongst them. Don Osmond provides the voices for the the narrator, the newscaster, and an alien.

We start with the array of wooden actors meeting to discuss the probable loss of the Mars spacecraft. But, with tons of some guys (some in uniform, some in sports or plaid shirts) manning controls, they successfully reignite its engines. The following night, it lands in one piece. The top guys wait anxiously, “The hell with radiation! Let’s go!” After all, they’ve got to save “the girl” (Iris).

And the Colonel, with a green slimy growth on one arm. Iris seems to have forgotten what happened on the mission. “Why don’t you start at the beginning…” So, she does–begin a flashback, that is. We see the rocket launch and the crew settle in.

Approaching Mars, they dodge a cherry-red meteor. The colors are super-sharp. Staring out a viewport, Tom tells Iris “I’d like to explore your dark alley” huh? Well, she’d opened the door by quiping that space made Broadway look like a dark alley. His flirty talk already needs a tune-up.

On the other hand, Iris has occasion to splash on some fragrance, in between serving rations and dusting. At last they’re about to land. By some wizardry (actually stock footage) the rocket has changed its look. Sam wants to be the first to greet the Martians.

Oddly, the sky has changed from bright red to pale blue. Iris is all set; she’s got her purse! (equipment, hopefully). Gettel thinks the absence of movement on the surface might be intentional. They suit-up. At this point Iris sees an alien face in a porthole (looks a little like the Creature From The Black Lagoon).

Back to the present, Iris wakes up screamingr, and then recalls the incident that frightened her. Onward to the flashback. Of course, the guys don’t see the alien; and the atmosphere is bright red again. The Martian landscape is a sort of cartoonish Kool-Aid red. It’s almost three dimensional. Anyway, they have a sort of raygun for heavy weapons.

They mess with the abundant flora. Iris sees what looks like an enormous Venus Fly Trap. Of course it is…a Martian Fly Trap? The raygun dispatches it. Thankfully, they make for the ship. Gettel has the only intelligent comments–he thinks they’re being watched. They’ve only seen plants, where are the critters?

As is usual in this sort of movie, they’ve lost contact with Earth. Tom has this constant leering grin; what an annoying hep-cat. Next day they roll out again and explore. First problem is a gigantic insect-like rat. Gettel is trapped by it; just as it looks like he’s only going to answer roll-call from a Ouija board, the others drive it off using all their weapons.

As a three-eyed creature watches, they slink back to the ship. Gettel convinces Tom to cut the mission short; they attempt to take off, but no go. They figure a “force field” holds them down. With an expectation of finding the Emerald City, they decide to traverse the lake they’d seen the day before. Indeed a magnificent (though cartoonish) cityscape is what they see looming on the horizon.

Interrupting this utopian sight is a giant amoeba surfacing in front of them. They get back to shore in time, but it’s in hot, gooey pursuit. Sam is slurped up before he gets back inside the ship. Tom was slimed by the amoeba, which surrounds the ship. The other creature (it’s the three-eyed guy that appeared in the window earlier) is chilling nearby.

Iris has the idea of electrocuting the thing through the outer hull; assuming the inner hull is insulated, this makes logical sense. So, the necessarily adjustments are made; Gettel gives it the juice. It works, as it melts like hot jello.

Its at this point that the Martian voice warns them to mind their own business. Gettel is dying from a stroke, brought on by exertion and stress. Well, we’re down to Iris, and the slimed-up Tom. Maybe that’s his comeuppance for being such a jerk.

Anyway, having split the crazy Martian scene, Iris feels sad. What a survivor! Ok, we’re back from her flashback. She wants to remember everything the alien said. The docs have gleaned enough from her info on the amoeba to figure that Tom’s ‘infection’ is progressive. Hey, they could electrocute him, that’d kill it…

Iris, now fit as a fiddle, is in her lab gear, working to save Tom. I’m not so off-base, as they do to plan to apply select amounts of electrical shock to the afflicted area. Now, we even get the tape of the alien “Do as you will with your own…but do not return…unbidden.” Ok, bro, just chill. A last look at the red planet from space. The end.

I remember this being much better when I saw it as a kid; I know, I was a kid. But my enjoyment with most movies, especially from the classic sci-fi era, are remarkably unaffected by time. I figured out why. We didn’t have a color TV in the mid-’60s. Seeing the lurid effects of that wretched red-tinted Martian landscape really brings it down.

The color and the fact that much of it is simplistic props or drawnings makes it look doubly unreal. Not so different from an hallucinogenic effect (more 1969 than 1959). The otherworldly sense is the pay-off in this sort of movie–weird is good, but we shouldn’t have to squint to get a look.

What does peep out of this tangy Martian landscape are the monsters. And they’re all pretty good; presumably the three-eyed guy is the intelligent alien (the one sending the message). It would’ve been more interesting if he’d really been a character, instead of just appearing at a distance. Direct interaction with aliens usually adds something to the plot. Otherwise, we’ve just got a bunch of people wandering about waiting to get attacked.

The rat/crab thing is pretty nasty, and the amoeba gives the word ‘monster’ a new image and interpretation. So much for the organic special effects; the technological stuff works fine too. The control panels and screens, both on the ship and on the ground, are suitibly complex and sophisticated-looking. Even the raygun looks formidable.

So, we’ve got an interesting premise, pretty good pacing, and (red tint excepted, even though it can’t be ignored) some cool special effects. That leaves…acting to consider. Or, it would, had there been more than broad attempts at stereotypes in these performances. I could excuse the input of the on-the- ground personnel, as those folks are peripheral anyway.

It’s the main characters that disappoint. Mohr is set-up with about the most disgusting misogynist role possible; in short, he’s a creep. Hayden is pressed right into her nurturing/housekeeper role; I guess it’s a big deal that they let “the girl” come along anyway. Yes, it’s 1959, but rarely does such stuff get so blatant; some of Mohr’s lines would be groaners even in a bar scene.

Kruschen is the handy, but obnoxious guy from Brooklyn. Nothing wrong with types, but these two guys show no nuance, and don’t get an inch outside their characters’ boxes. Actually, Iris does do more than make coffee and get attacked; the amoeba destruction concept was her idea. No one questions her judgement about that or anything else. Plus, she’s the only one to return in one (human) piece.

Tremayne actually isn’t bad; the best of a bad lot. His input almost adds a psychological dimension to the Martians; the concept of the planet’s stillness being intentional is interesting. Clearly there’s more going on than the monster attacks; the force field and the alien’s warning, for example, are on a different plane than the Martian fly-trap.

The instinctive and the intelligent life forms are seemingly disconnected; is the three-eyed Martian also endangered by the ‘wildlife’? We never get to find out. Also, if the alien intelligence is so hostile, why wait until the crew lands to send the warning?

There’s good stuff here; the pacing keeps us wondering what’s next, the flashback is handled well, and there’s enough inner logic for the plot to maintain suspension of disbelief. Angry Red Planet had the potential to follow the truly beguiling Forbidden Planet (1956), but had little of the earlier film’s sophistication. 6.5/10.

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