Here's the first coherent opinion I formed while watching The Angry Red Planet (1958, directed by Ib Melchior): "Holy crap! Look at all that stock footage!" I didn't go through and count the minutes, but the percentage of the film that's constructed from other people's footage is dramatically high. The footage actually shot for the film jumps off the screen. That's never good. This is another sci fi film I managed to avoid when I was younger, and I can't say that I would have liked it even then, because this one kind of sucks. I'm four for four for the challenge this year, and I'm desperate for a film that I can write about without the urge to jump up and down screaming: "This sucks, this sucks, this sucks!" But that's what I'm stuck with, I guess.
The story here involves a mission to Mars that fell out of contact with Mission Control back here on Earth. When the rocket reappears in Earth orbit after having been given up for lost, the Air Force rescues the rocket and brings its survivors back to Earth. The survivors are Colonel Thomas O'Bannion, who has some kind of strange growth on his arm, and Dr. Iris "Irish" Ryan, the expedition's biologist. It's Irish Ryan who tells the tale of the ill-fated mission, in which our heroes land on the red planet and discover that it's inhabited by hostile life forms, from carnivorous plants to flying bat spiders, and an alien civilization that doesn't want anything to do with humans. Our heroes escape, barely, and return to Earth, where the message from the Martians has been discovered and where electric shocks have been used to drive the alien organism from Colonel O'Bannion's arm. The end.
Not very imaginative, is it? I mean, you take a guy off a space ship with a strange ooze on his arm and you have the friggin Quatermass Xperiment! Or not, as the case may be. A wasted opportunity. The crew of the ship seem singularly, I dunno, average to be rocketed into space. You would think the world would send the best and the brightest, but no. You would be wrong. And this is chock full of the same kind of sexism I noted yesterday in It! The Terror Out of Space, only it's worse in this movie. Not only is Dr. Ryan another specialist in a "squishy" science (which is anything but), but Jesus Christ! She spends the trip cleaning up after the guys and serving them coffee and acting as eye candy. There's even a hint that she's some kind of comfort woman for Col. O'Bannion. He certainly spends a lot of time looking at her with a smarmy expression on his face, as if sexy time was about to happen at any moment, his uniform open down his chest in a VERY nonmilitary fashion. And who the fuck wanders around a space ship clutching a goddamn purse?!? Or brings perfume on a space mission? Really? I look at this kind of shit and I think that even as bad as sexism remains (at least in the Industrialized West), it's not nearly as bad as it USED to be. This marks the film as a kind of neanderthal curio.
It's a curio, too, for its sheer scientific idiocy. When the crew lands on Mars and is disappointed that their first view is not, in fact, Martians, they're disappointed by all of this strange vegetation. Dr. Ryan is a biologist. She should be screaming at her collegues to get a look at that stuff because the plants ARE Martians! The plants BY THEMSELVES would win her the Nobel Prize. But, well, they're not "Martians," after all, meaning, they're not people. She's oddly incurious, which is not a characteristic of any scientist I've ever met. For that matter, the rocket imagined by this film's designers has its control room situated where its engines should be, and where they obviously are in the stock footage shots of a rocket in flight that the filmmakers use in lieu of actual special effects.
I might be able to overlook some of this if the movie were better, but that profusion of stock footage at the outset presages a movie that is seriously cheap. This came from AIP in the Fifties, after all, but even with that caveat, it's hard to forgive a movie that chooses to design some interesting flora and fauna on paper and then decides to leave it on paper instead of actually building it in three dimensions for filming. When we get our first look at the three-eyed Martian looking in the porthole, I almost did a spit take:
In the movie's defense, even though the Bat Spider is a special effect that leaves something to be desired, it actually moves (and in creepy ways). The movie's choice to solarize the scenes on Mars disguises some of its inadequacies, too. Would that the rest of the movie were so principled. The performances aren't very good, either, and are shot in a way that suggests that no actors actually interacted with each other during key scenes. Certainly Naura Hayden's Iris seems to be performing in a vacuum. Still, you don't go into a movie like this expecting Shakespeare.
So, all in all, a pretty bad movie. Now on to the next thing.
Current tally: 4 films
First time viewings: 4
Around the web:The prolific Justin McKinney at The Bloody Pit of Horror has been cranking them out at a furious pace, with reviews of Drifter in the Rain, The Awful Dr. Orloff, Another Son of Sam, The Secret of Dr. Orloff, and Cellar Dweller. Obviously, he's pacing himself.
The Vicar of VHS over at Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movies takes on the trolls with his take on last year's Trollhunter