Film (1951). Mid-Century Films. Directed by Edgar G Ulmer, starring Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond, and William Schallert. Screenplay Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. 70 minutes. Black and white.
As the wandering Planet X approaches Earth, an Alien from the planet lands his spacecraft at the place where his world will come closest to Earth, in rural Scotland, which has also attracted an astronomer, Professor Elliot (Bond), seeking to better observe Earth's celestial visitor. Unable to breathe Earth's atmosphere, the small alien wears a spacesuit with a helmet, and a tube with a valve to control the flow provides him with the sort of air he needs to survive. At first he seems friendly, especially when Elliot's daughter Enid (Field) kindly helps him adjust the valve so he can again breathe properly; his mission is to obtain assistance for his people, who face extinction because their world is "dying . . . turning to ice." However, after cruel Scientist Dr Mears (Schallert) Tortures him in hopes of obtaining valuable data, the alien inaugurates a plan to conquer the Earth by employing humans under his mental control. But his plan is thwarted, largely due to the heroic efforts of reporter John Lawrence (Clarke) and other Scottish villagers.
The Man from Planet X could be regarded as a transitional film, combining the cloistered, shadowy atmosphere of earlier horror films (> Horror in SF) with the new theme of alien Invasion that would dominate 1950s sf films. As one distinctive feature, this is one of the few films featuring an alien on Earth who must wear a spacesuit (and it is far from improbable that such visitors would find our environment inhospitable), and amidst numerous films about evil alien invaders, the film initially and unusually makes its alien a sympathetic figure: he looks more childlike than threatening, is driven by benign motives, and resorts to desperate measures (the soon-to-be familiar strategy of using mentally enslaved humans as his agents) only after he is mistreated. Perhaps most interestingly, in an era that typically valorized scientists as heroes, this film illustrates how the structure of their community can encourage scientists to act unethically, as Mears seeks to force information out of the alien solely in order to advance his career. The film is sometimes dismissed as a cheap, poorly-made production, and sometimes celebrated as a lost classic of the sf film; the strange reality is that there is a modicum of truth in both of these extreme opinions. It is at least a film that merits more attention than it usually receives. [GW]