director Edgar G. Ulmer
In 1951 two real classics of the genre were released, films that would come to embody the Fifties and American xenophobia, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World. While science fiction existed before the 1950’s, it came be one of the definitive periods for the genre, Cold War metaphors and all. The Man from Planet X may not be one of the jewels of the genre nor period, it’s a cool low-budget thriller with some awesome things about it.
Ulmer spent most of his career as a Poverty Row film-maker, but he made a couple of excellent films and certainly some other very interesting ones. The Man from Planet X is darkly noirish, even to the extent of verging on expressionistic horror at times. Set mostly in a remote and murky part of Scotland, a scientist and his daughter host a couple of former students as they study a phenomenon from space, a planet that has redirected its route directly toward Earth. And the reason for being in this weird part of Scotland? It happens to be the part of Earth that will come the closest to the planet when it “passes by”.
Clearly the science here isn’t the heartiest.
But wait! There is a spacecraft that has landed, with the man from this Planet X. He’s a strange-looking spaceman who “speaks” through sounds, carries a gun, and needs some form of his own oxygen to breathe. Sadly, one of the former students is Dr. Mears (the ageless William Schallert), seeks to profit from the technology of the spaceman. This very short-sighted plan goes awry and the spaceman enslaves several people to prepare for the landing of his fellow creatures when the planet comes close.
It actually quite muddles the potential good or evil of the aliens. They are trying to escape their dying world, but do they come in peace? We never find out. We blow them up.
One of Ulmer’s key qualities is his work in miniature landscapes and background matte paintings. They are most remarkable here as well. I don’t know but it probably says a lot about me that even as a kid, I loved the glorious, lurid fakery of matte paintings as background design. Maybe I just loved the fantasy of it and the styles, didn’t need it to “look real”.
I think The Man from Planet X has tipped me over the top with Ulmer. I’ve liked his films and have cited Detour as a personal favorite, but now, the auteur of Poverty Row is now in my list of favorite directors.