Tuesday 2 January 2007

Red Planet Mars (1952)

Red Planet Mars starts off pretending to be serious, like Destination Moon, with professors in observatories talking about elliptical curves and perihelions (perihelia?). They're looking at photos of the planet Mars and it looks very likely that someone has been melting the polar ice caps and using them to irrigate the planet. A very young Peter Graves, a full fifteen years before Mission: Impossible, is the optimistic scientist Chris Cronyn who has been communicating with the planet but can't understand any of it yet. Andrea King is his pessimistic assistant (and wife) who seemingly believes that every scientific advance mankind has ever had has just brought us one step closer to oblivion. Quite why she works in science I don't know.

However on the other side, the Russians are trying the same thing. They have a hydrogen valve too along with the Nazi scientist played by Herbert Berghof who came up with the thing in the first place and so they can hear the same signals. So when Graves breaks through by signalling pi, at the suggestion of his bright young son, the Russians are keeping tabs on the whole thing. Unfortunately Cronyn's wife's predictions are coming true. When the Martians point out their achievements, successive industries go under. Martians live for three hundred years, so the life insurance companies quit working; the Martians can feed thousands off a single acre, so the farmers go into recession; the Martians use cosmic energy, so the mines and oil companies collapse. I don't buy all that but it's fun to watch the world's infrastructure collapse.

Needless to say Peter Graves isn't too happy about what he's brought about, though he should have been happy with where his career was going. This may be a scifi B-movie but at least he finally has the lead and the quality is pretty high when compared to most of its competitors. A year later he'd be in a Billy Wilder film and in the IMDb Top 250 with Stalag 17. Admittedly he didn't get too much higher than that in the movies but it was a heck of a start. Andrea King I know from great Peter Lorre movies from before this like Hotel Berlin and The Beast with Five Fingers, but she ended up in the downward spiral to bad sixties horror movies like so many American actors: House of the Black Death and Blackenstein are not great credits on a filmography.

This one, however, isn't a bad one at all. From its scientific formulae it veers into religious territory, from despair to hope. The fact that the whole message is complete unashamed American propaganda doesn't decrease the interest, in fact it increases it. What I find most interesting though is how that propaganda affects the treatment of the Nazi scientist. There are whole paragraphs I want to write about him but therein would lie some serious spoilers. Watch for yourself and see how you'd have constructed the ending.

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