The Angry Red Planet (1960)
Hey, did you see that highly regarded new drama being hailed as "important" and Oscar-worthy," it an allegorical tale based on an actual event? I, neither. Screw that. Not while I can view important and Oscar-worthy sagas such as The Angry Red Planet from the comfort of the Manor Mansion.
Someone--I believe it was that Shakesbeer guy--once said "The play's the thing." He was wrong. What does that goofus know about the subject, anyway? He hasn't had a single word published in ages! The correct expression should read "The cast's the thing"...and does Planet ever slam-dunk a grand slam through the goalposts in that regard.
First and foremost, the spacecraft crew includes the golden-voiced Les Tremayne, junkfilm icon extraordinaire. You may not know Les by name, but he, Whit Bissell or WIlliam Schallert seemed to appear in every third sci-fi flick of the Fifties and Sixties. Nobody sounded more authoritative than Les Tremayne. And he wore a goatee back when it was actually cool (a l-o-n-g time ago.)
Our, um, "rugged" leading man is Gerald Mohr, who carved a busy career out of "modest-budget" pics, likely because he bore a striking resemblance to Humphrey Bogart--as in, if you struck Bogey over the head to bind him to a rack, stretched him about eight inches and tortured a large portion of the charisma and acting chops out of the man.
Let's just be polite and called Gerald "gawky and not particularly attractive"...which is perfect for our purposes, as it's a hoot to see Mohr in a role traditionally played by some whitebread square-jawed he-man type.
Gerald may be a joy, but there have been few in history, especially amongst leading ladies, who've matched the bravura performance of his ARP counterpart, Nora Hayden. Wooden enough to require maintenance from Terminex, the very pretty Miss Hayden spends a great deal of screen time furrowing her brow and looking off into the distance, like someone who forgot their eyeglasses struggling to read cue cards.
Me being a meanie? Not at all, y'all. In the world of junkdom, her technique is exactly what the mad doctor ordered. Ever see an entertaining sci-fi pic with Bette Davis or Meryl Streep? Didn't think so. In fact, Nora's stiffness is a vital element in making ARP stand out among Nosey Earthlings Visit Another Planet pictures.
Rounding out our phenomenal foursome is Jack Kruschen as the trad "lovable lunkhead"--usually with a Northern European-sounding surname and always from an outer borough of NYC--legally required on every manned space mission, to provide muscle and comic relief. (It's right there in the NASA Handbook under "Mandatory Moron Mandate.")
Kruschen's quite adept at Dimwit Who Never Gets Killed roles, and ARP is no exception. Fondling his freeze gun, Jack sighs, "I call her Cleopatra because she's such a cool chick," and peppers the proceedings with similar pips throughout.
Plot-wise, Planet is fairly standard stuff. Our quintessential quartet blast off, sweat the flight to Mars, land safely, disembark, ta....OH, MY GOD, I'M HAVING AN ACID FLASHBACK!!!!!!! 'Ang on, guv, I ain't 'allucinating. That's the startling optical effect of Cinemagic, the invention of ARP producer Norman Maurer, son-in-law of Moe Howard. Yes, the "spread out, I oughta murder you" Moe from the Three Stooges!
Blasphemers have likened Cinemagic to ol' Moe giving a viewer one of his infamous eye pokes. Ignore the philistines. C-Magic is truly a "words can't do it justice" effect, but the best I can describe it is, imagine turning the Contrast setting up all the way on a black & white TV show then covering the screen with red Saran Wrap. Like, dude, I heard, if you watch these scenes while wearing 3-D glasses, you'll actually time-travel. Whoa, intense.
Oh, and in case you're STILL not convinced ARP is important and Oscar-worthy, please be informed it also features a "batratspidercrab" and the cinematic arts' greatest give-the-snot-nosed-kids-nightmares-for-a-month trick, the ominous "People Of Earth, Scram Or Our Vastly Superior Fleet Will Crush All Your Grandparents, Puppies, The Ice Cream Man And Santa Claus" message-from-space gimmick.
I personally believe every movie should end with a foreboding voiceover threatening the audience.with mass destruction. Just think of how much better Shane, The Music Man, The Ten Commandments et al would have been with such an epilogue. Or how about Rain Man? "I'm an excellent annihilator. Yeah, definitely. Uh-oh, ten minutes to obliteration."
Why, an ending like that could have made Dustin Hoffman a household name. Maybe even important and Oscar-worthy!
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