‘Tis a fearsome visitor from another world!
–Montgomery Scott’s ancestor, apparently a constable in a remote Scottish village.
Our summer reviews of old-time SF move from primitive humans to aliens from worlds beyond Pluto. The 1950s was the golden age of extra-terrestrials invading earth, thanks to the post-war space-age and Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 encounter with flying saucers.1 Although other, more well-known films went into production first, The Man from Planet X was the first of the space invaders to land on the big screen.
Title: The Man from Planet X
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by Aubrey Wisberg, Jack Pollexfen
Robert Clarke as John Lawrence
Margaret Field as Enid Elliot
Raymond Bond as Prof. Elliot
William Schallert as Dr. Mears
Roy Engel as the Constable
Pat Goldin as The Man from Planet X
A mysterious planet heads towards earth and, in a remote Scottish village, a strange craft and alien appear on the moors.
This film recalls a community theatre production: the acting sometimes falls below expectations, the sets have been cobbled together, and the production as a whole feels rushed. In its better moments, however, it still engages its audience. Despite his humanoid shape, the alien thinks and acts like something not of this earth.
The ending is absolutely ridiculous, from the perspective of both science and basic plot-logic. What happens to the planet, exactly? And how does blowing up one space-ship stop a potential alien invasion? (I recognize that the aliens’ motives are mixed, and that this particular scout only became hostile when mistreated, but larger questions linger.
Originality: 3/6 The film’s setting and atmosphere reflect the traditional horror film, while the alien and its ship have come from the SF pulps. In the context of the time, however, The Man from Planet X was a cinematic original.
Effects: 2/6 The film makes dramatic use of fog and darkness. However, the frequent obvious mattes and painted flats look distractingly fake, and must have even in 1951.
Production: 3/6 Production is a mixed lot. I’ve addressed the artificial backgrounds under effects. However, the film also makes use of impressive sets remaining from Joan of Arc (1948).
Acting: 4/6 The acting varies. The leads are decent, the crazy assistant is inadequate, and the local constable needs acting lessons.
Story: 4/6 The plot features some lapses in logic. What purpose do the enthralled slaves serve, exactly? Why do the others leave Mears, whom they neither like nor trust, alone with the visitor?
Emotional Response: 3/6 I have no doubt this film terrified tousle-headed kids in bygone years. It parallels other 50s SF. It is less well-made than The Thing from Another World and less thoughtful than either It Came from Outer Space or The Day the Earth Stood Still, but its place in that lineage cannot be denied.
Overall: 4/6 The Man from Planet X still retains some both frightening and thoughtful qualities, with its gothic setting and nuanced alien, but overall it has not dated well. It retains appeal for hardcore drive-in horror fans and SF completists, but the era produced more memorable visitors from beyond.
In total, The Man from Planet X receives 23/42.
1. Kenneth Arnold’s unidentified craft were a sort of triangular crescent-moon shape. He said they moved like saucers skipping across the water. However, his report introduced “flying saucers” to the language, and many subsequent sightings were appropriately saucer-shaped.