Monday 1 January 2007

The Man from Planet X (1951)

Of all the low budget directors of the forties and fifties, Moravian born Edgar G Ulmer was one of the best at successfully hiding his lack of money with whatever tricks he could think of, up to and including using an actual plot. One of the finest films noir I've seen thus far was Detour, made six years before this one, which Ulmer made in less than a week for a mere $30,000. Here he had a whole $50,000 to play with, along with the sets from the Ingrid Bergman picture Joan of Arc, which he frequently hid with a decent amount of artificially created fog, always a useful prop for a low budget director.

The story has to do with a planet, arbritarily named Planet X, which seems to be coming closer on a daily basis. The astronomer watching it is Professor Elliot, from an old tower in Scotland. Elliot invites John Lawrence, a journalist friend of his to cover the story, but the pair of them, along with Elliot's daughter Enid and a mysterious former student (and convicted criminal) called Dr Mears, find far more of a story than they ever expected.

As could be expected in a low budget movie, none of the actors are name stars, though Enid Elliot is played by Sally Field's mother Margaret. She's the one who first meets the Man from Planet X, after her car breaks down and she's forced to brave the fog swept moors on foot. He's a curiously immobile creature with a papier mache face and a spinning top of a spaceship, but he also has an arsenal of useful if highly convenient weapons. In fact convenience is the order of the day as a whole slew of facts are obviously set up not to suit logic and reality but the constraints of the budget.

Ulmer proves his worth as a low budget filmmaker yet again, but this time he doesn't have much to work with. The Man from Planet X is nothing compared to Detour, and it doesn't even compare to other worthy if hardly groundbreaking Ulmer movies like The Black Cat, made for Universal in 1934 with both Lugosi and Karloff, and 1960's The Amazing Transparent Man, which deserves a much higher rating than the pathetic 2.7 it currently holds at IMDb. This one starts as a halfway decent B-movie scifi yarn but ends up as nothing more than a bad alien zombie flick with no depth whatsoever. Boy, the ending sucks and so does the movie.

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