The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Forbidden Planet, and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Forbidden Planet, and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers are three classic Science Fiction movies that haven’t had remakes or sequels, at least not yet[i]. These movies are good examples of American Science Fiction movies in the 1950s. They haven’t had remakes, sequels, or prequels but the story lines and elements of these movies have appeared in numerous movies and television shows.
[i] U.S. Movie Database lists a Forbidden Planet movie as under development (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1317479/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a giant monster movie. It was based a Ray Bradbury short story. This was Ray Harryhausen’s first feature film. The movie demonstrated his talent with stop motion photography and was a foretaste of many great Harryhausen films to come. Unlike other movies of its time the monster makes its first appearance to the audience in the movie’s opening scenes. The monster is a dinosaur that has been frozen in the arctic. An atomic test in the area defrosts and awakens the dinosaur. This was the first movie where an atomic test caused the emergence of a giant monster.[i] This became the plot line for many subsequent monster movies. The monster makes its way to New York City where it rampages through the city. Unlike Godzilla and other monsters in Japanese movies this dinosaur is made of flesh and blood and could be killed with the appropriate amount of firepower, such as a 3” artillery shell. What makes killing the monster complicated is the monster brings dinosaur era diseases with it. The monster makes its way to the Coney Island amusement park where the protagonist, Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Hubschmid), and Corporal Stone (Lee Van Cleef) use the roller coaster (The Cyclone) to get into position. Corporal Stone then fires a grenade filled with radioactive material into the creature’s open wound. Then it is just a matter of setting the amusement park on fire. The iconic scene in this movie is when a police officer (Lee Phelps) empties his service revolver into the monster. The monster eats the office while he is reloading his revolver.
[i] U.S. Move Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045546/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Forbidden Planet is an outer space movie. It was based on the Shakespeare play The Tempest. It is set in the 23rd century. A space ship travels to Altair-4 to learn the status of an expedition that went to the planet 18 years earlier. When the space ship arrives they find Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) is the expedition’s only survivor. The only other inhabitant is the doctor’s daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), who was born on the planet. The doctor’s wife died of natural causes but almost all the others were killed by some mysterious beast. Dr. Morbius claimed he and his daughter were immune to this force. He warns Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) that he and his crew are in grave danger and should leave the planet immediately. Commander Adams feels duty bound to stay until he gets further orders on what action to take in light of the unexplained deaths. A very advanced race of beings, the Krell, once inhabited the planet. The Krell were working on a project to free themselves of the need for instrumentalities. Then they suddenly became extinct. Dr. Morbius demonstrates a Krell machine. He tells how his ship’s captain tried to use the machine but was killed. Dr. Morbius, a man with an IQ of 183, almost died when he first used it. The experience vastly increased his IQ. Dr. Morbius takes Commander Adams and two of his officers on a tour of a huge Krell complex. The complex is fully automated and still in good repair thousands of years after the Krell became extinct. There is a battle between the beast and the space ship crew. The crew, and the audience, only sees an outline of the beast. Commander Adams and Lieutenant ‘Doc’ Ostrow (Warren Stevens), go to the Morbius house. ‘Doc’ Ostrow activates the Krell machine. Before ‘Doc’ Ostrow dies he tells Commander Adams the Krell completed their machine. The machine grants any wish, even those of the subconscious. It was those beastly subconscious thoughts that destroyed the Krell. Dr. Morbius unknowingly activated the Krell machine. It was his subconscious thoughts that killed the other members of his expedition and four of Commander Adams crew. Because Altaira has fallen in love with Adams against her father’s wishes the beast is now coming for her. The Krell machine would give the beast all the power it needs to carry out the subconscious wish of Dr. Morbius. When Dr. Morbius realizes the situation he puts himself in front of the beast. Before he died Dr. Morbius has Commander Adams start a chain reaction that will destroy the planet in 24 hours. Altaira, Adams and his crew, and Robbie the Robot are a safe distance away in the space ship when Altair-4 explodes.
In his later years Leslie Nielsen played comedic roles. In Forbidden Planet he had a serious role as the space cruiser commander. There were some comedic scenes with Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis. In one scene Adams clumsily tried to explain to Altaria she shouldn’t run around half dressed in front of his crew. This was made more difficult since he was attracted to her. Her short dress doesn’t seem risqué today but 1956 was before the mini-skirt. This and other scenes demonstrated Leslie Nielsen’s comedic talent. Earl Holliman delivered the actual comic relief in his role as the ship’s cook and foul-up. His classic scenes were with Robby the Robot. Despite the talented actors Robby the Robot performed with it managed to steal most of the scenes it was in. Robby the Robot did this with such lines as “I seldom use it myself sir. It promotes rust.” and “Would 60 gallons be sufficient?”[i] Robby the Robot probably helped popularize “Robby” as a nickname for “Robert”.
Other movies, such as Alien and Ghosts of Mars, used the concept of something dangerous and dormant on a planet. A mission to a check on a scientific expedition to another planet was the plot line of many “Star Trek” episodes. The prelude and battle with the beast was a great mixture of suspense and action. The plot was intelligent without being cerebral to the point boredom.
[i] Robby the Robot also used these lines in the movie Gremlins.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is an alien invasion movie. A flying saucer makes an appearance to the main protagonist, Dr. Russell A. Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his spouse Carol (Joan Taylor). Fifteen minutes into the movie a flying saucer lands at a rocket complex. Soldiers at the base fire on the space ship and kill or wound one of the aliens. An alien destroys the complex and captures the commanding general, Brigadier General John Hanley (Morris Ankrum). The flying saucers are impervious to human weapons, but outside the flying saucers’ defensive barrier the aliens are vulnerable to rifle fire. They probe general Hanley’s brain to learn everything he knows. This process wipes general Hanley’s brain clean. The aliens’ intent is conquest, not extermination. The aliens take Dr. Marvin and Carol into one of their flying saucers. They use a translation device so to communicate with him. They tell him they use an anti-gravity force to propel their saucers. The aliens further demonstrate their power by sinking a U.S. Navy destroyer[i]. The aliens give an ultimatum, surrender or destruction. Dr. Marvin and other scientist work to find a way to fight the flying saucers. They figure out the alien weapon uses sound waves. They are able to destroy a cement block using sound waves but conclude it wouldn’t be practical for them to create a weapon using this principle. Then they bring up a solution proposed by a scientist in India. This Indian scientist proposed developing a weapon to overcome their anti-gravity device. Dr. Marvin and his associates pursue this option and develop a prototype. This sets up the final battle in Washington, DC. The other earth weapons are useless but there is a convoy of truck mounted anti-anti-gravity devices. The saucers vs. trucks battle isn’t one sided but in the flying saucers are all destroyed.
In Earth vs. the Flying Saucers both the earthlings and aliens behaved competently. The audience gets a good knowledge of what the aliens were doing and thinking. It was the aliens’ underestimating human resourcefulness that was their undoing. This was another Ray Harryhausen film. The flying saucers didn’t simply drop out of the sky they looked as if its operators were losing control then the ships crashed. They had a knack for crashing in Washington DC landmarks. The movie also used footage of actual aircraft crashes.[ii] An element the movie possibly borrowed from War of the Worlds (1953) was the earthlings obtaining a piece of alien equipment. In Earth vs. the Flying Saucers they got a dead alien and its space suit. In both movies they gave the audience an alien’s view of the world. This was also used in the movie Battleship (2012). Unlike Battleship in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers the equipment was irrelevant to the solution for dealing with the aliens.
[i] The footage was the sinking of the British Battleship HMS Barham. Source: U.S. International Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049169/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv).
[ii] There is WWII combat footage of a B-17s going down in flames and footage of a mid-air collision that took place at an air show. In the bomber scene the aircraft is first shown as a B-29 but after the flying saucer strikes the aircraft a crashing B-17 footage is shown. This obvious change in aircraft type has been done in many movies involving real crash footage.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 31, 2020:
Yes, black and white adds a certain feel to movies. Often colorizing loses some of the atmosphere. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 31, 2020:
Sometimes they just need to let us enjoy the old movies like they were made originally. I even like them in black and white.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 20, 2018:
You have a point. When a movie is iconic it's usually because of the time when the movie was made. A scene or line from a movie that works in the 1950s often won't have the same impact with a 21st century audience. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 20, 2018:
I rather like it when old movies do not have remakes. If they were good let them remain as classics from their day and time.
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 20, 2017:
Au Fait, the movie you saw probably was "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms". It wasn't the only monster that came to the Big Apple but it is probably the most memorable.
C E Clark from North Texas on June 20, 2017:
These all sound like my kind of science fiction movie. I still love War of the Worlds. The old Godzilla movies and King Kong. I think there was a movie about a dinosaur that terrorized New York that wasn't Godzilla. Watched them all as a kid. Excellent reviews of these 3.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 31, 2016:
Yes, Forbidden Planet's disapointing box office performance caused major studios to shy away from big budget Science Fiction movies. The success of Star Wars, and improvements in film technology, changed that.
Susie Lehto from Minnesota on October 31, 2016:
I was born in the early 50's so I don't remember the old Si-Fi movies from when they were first televised, but I remember some reruns. Movies have sure come along ways since these ones came out. They changed the direction of science fiction into real thrillers.
Robert Sacchi (author) on May 23, 2016:
Yes, CGI has made many unreal places and things looks more real. One has to admire the effort and detail of the stop motion special effects though. I appreciate your reading and feedback.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 23, 2016:
It is funny when you look at the early sci-fi movies compared to how much more real (in term of monsters, etc.) they look today. Thanks for writing about these three. The imagination of sci-fi writers is amazing. Sometimes things written about as pure fantasy (like black holes in space) is discovered later to be factual.
Joe Poniatowskis from Mid-Michigan on March 26, 2015:
I loved all 3 of these. I know that by today's standards, the effects are pretty cheezy, but I really enjoyed them. And I agree, nobody should ever re-make Forbidden Planet.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 14, 2015:
Thank you. I was going to put in a comment to that same effect about remakes but decided against writing it.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 14, 2015:
Personally I think that the forbidden planet was a great movie. It's regarded as a classic. In a way it's probably good that there isn't a remake of it as the remakes that I've seen haven't always lived up to the original. Voted up
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 12, 2015:
Yes, The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a great movie. Its ending is different than what the audience was use to for that time.
Brian & Kate from Princeton, New Jersey on March 12, 2015:
I would also include a great and overlooked movie, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054790/?ref_=nv_sr_1) . A surprisingly well written movie with a blink-and-you'll-miss scene with Michael Caine pre- "Zulu".