Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Red Planet Mars (1952) - An MGM Blu-ray Review

The early '50s sci-fi film RED PLANET MARS (1952) has just been released on Blu-ray by MGM.

It's a very unusual film about Chris and Linda Cronyn (Peter Graves and Andrea King), married scientists who believe they've found a way to communicate with the inhabitants of Mars.

When messages from Mars begin arriving and are publicized, they initially cause worldwide economic upheaval...and then a message arrives quoting the Sermon on the Mount. It seems that Christ has also been present on Mars?

The implications are huge, and more upheaval ensues around the globe, but this time it's more positive, including Russian Christians overthrowing the Soviet Union. As the film moves into the religious theming, it begins to take on the tone of a religious production such as SECOND CHANCE (1950), a Hugh Beaumont-Ruth Warrick film made for church distribution which I reviewed a number of years ago.

Eventually Chris and Linda receive shocking news about the messages they've been receiving...which leads to a surprising conclusion which will not be revealed here.

Before watching the movie I noted that the IMDb rating is unusually low and some of the reviews there are pretty bad. I also read Glenn Erickson's take on the film from a few years ago.

I'd venture to agree that it's kind of a bad movie in some respects, with a cheesy villain (Herbert Berghof), a so-so script, and an oddball premise...yet it's also interesting and perhaps even important as a peek into '50s Cold War fears and hopes for solutions.

The movie was written by Anthony Veiller and John L. Balderston, based on a play by Balderston and John Hoare, and indeed, it's more talky than anything, confined to a handful of sets.

That said, the screenplay tackles some Big Ideas -- fear of "what's out there" in space, Communism, Christianity. It addresses them in over-the-top ways, with Chris and Linda prepared to possibly die to preserve the new Christian age on Earth, but it's quite interesting when viewed as perhaps the pinnacle of space age atomic fears as depicted in a sci-fi film.

It's also thought-provoking viewed in our modern era, when rumors of UFOs seem to bubble up periodically, only to fade away again. It's not something I've ever spent much time considering, and particularly given my religious faith it hasn't mattered to me very much. The way this film melds the two issues, aliens and Christianity, is quite...different.

This was Graves' next movie after the excellent Western FORT DEFIANCE (1951), where he played a blind cowboy, but I found him only so-so in this; he spends much of his time defensive and angry.

King, always a favorite, is given a more nuanced role as the voice of concern, first about opening communication to Mars and then about the government possibly removing same. In one of King's final scenes, her eyes and line readings are such that she comes off as a cultist, which is quite fascinating.

As for the ending, well, you just have to see it. It's a jaw-dropper, and it certainly left me wanting to learn more about this movie and its history.

This 87-minute United Artists film was directed by Harry Horner. It was filmed in black and white by Joseph Biroc.

The supporting cast includes Walter Sande, Morris Ankrum, Willis Bouchey, and House Peters Jr. Orley Lindgren and Bayard Veiller play the Cronyns' sons; I assume Bayard was related to screenwriter Anthony Veiller.

There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the cinematography, but the Blu-ray print is excellent. The film has English subtitles available but no other extras.

Viewer interest in this film is likely to vary. Those interested in the issues it addresses may appreciate the wild ride, as I did, while less tolerant viewers are likely to exclaim "What was that?" at the end. Either way, it's a movie which isn't likely to be forgotten, and I'm glad that it's now widely available in a fine print thanks to this MGM Blu-ray.

Thanks to Allied Vaughn for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. RED PLANET MARS may be purchased from Movie Zyng and other online retailers.


Blogger Rick said...

Quite apart from any "cinematic quality" (heh) this thing might have, it's always been a huge, painful, angering disappointment for sci-fi fans, or for anyone looking for some simple '50s goofiness. Tuning into a movie named RED PLANET MARS and finding yourself watching a slow, silly political-religious tract was enough to turn a casual viewer into a torch-bearing villager.

We wanted WAR OF THE WORLDS, pt. 2 or INVADERS FROM MARS RETURN! and instead we got this. Bah.

But you're right, there is interest there if you know going in what you're dealing with. The sluggish offerings of Neanderthal politics and Sunday school Christianity can be interesting, viewed as a lens into the muffle-headed '50s. Sure.

But as entertainment, it's nil.

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

Soem pretty good writing credits here, antithetical to the Swing the Shingi Sickle crowd. You know, no less valid than any other sanctimonious science fiction, with the same sanctimonious old man sandals ontificating about the spirit of mankind. How I hate those films. This is pushback.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Barry Lane said...

... corrections. Swing the Shining Sickle....old man in sandals pontificating. No Birkenstocks in this thing.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Trevor said...

I don't have many 50s sci-fi movies on Blu-ray but I have seen plenty of the goofy ones! I first saw Red Planet Mars on YT a couple of years ago & this MGM Blu-ray is a fine AV upgrade. I would put Red Planet Mars right up there with my Blu's: Invaders from Mars (fabulous except for the goofy minions), War Of The Worlds & When Worlds Collide (both fabulous). All four have strange themes (for the time) & are well executed. My only criticism, Red Planet Mars religious sharp right turn at the end is jarring but signposted by Andrea King's subtle hints throughout the movie. Highly recommended, enjoy!!

11:41 AM  

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