Thursday, April 5, 2012
A spaceship helmed by Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) lands on the planet Altair-4 to see if there are any survivors of an expedition that landed there almost twenty years before. He and his crewmen discover only two: Professor Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). But there's something else on the planet as well -- an invisible, hulking monster with odd clawed feet that tore apart most of the members of the expedition years ago and is now attempting to do the same to the new arrivals. It would be easy to pick apart the flaws of this movie, which was supposedly inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, but it works for most of its length because of its interesting ideas and some genuinely scary sequences involving the monster. The most fascinating parts of the film have to do with the Krell, the race that formerly occupied the planet, built a huge machine inside its core, and were wiped out in a single night by "monsters from the id." The "electronic tonalities" that serve as the film's score add immeasurably to its impact and there are some effective widescreen sets and matte paintings. The acting, unfortunately, is strictly of the second-rate Hollywood variety. Pidgeon, Francis, Nielsen etc. have all given decent performances elsewhere -- Francis made a snappy Honey West some years later -- but they are all rather light weight in this; Pidgeon is okay at first but becomes pretty hammy. Another problem is the dated fifties sensibility of much of the script. Still, this was an influential movie and its best scenes are quite entertaining. The crew men's costumes were later used in the dreadful Queen of Outer Space, and Fiend Without a Face had a similar concept, although it was based on an older short story. Director Wilcox did a smattering of minor films before this, and afterward did only I Passed for White in 1960; he died in 1964.
Over the years remakes of the film have been announced -- the last was in 2008, I believe -- but none have materialized. I always thought it would be a good idea to do a prequel in which we see what happens to the original expedition, which could be quite eerie and terrifying. Who knows? Maybe someday.
Verdict: It may not hold up under intense scrutiny but it is not without its shuddery charms. ***.