Monday, September 19, 2011

Movie Monday: Red Planet Mars

This week's movie is the 1952 sci-fi/propaganda film Red Planet Mars!

Of all the films I've watched for Movie Monday, I'd say Red Planet Mars has the biggest chasm between Coolness of Poster and Actual Movie. I mean, come on--look at that poster, it's gorgeous, clever, and unusual! If only the movie was half as good...
Anyway, Red Planet Mars opens with astronomer Chris Cronyn (Peter Graves...sure, why wouldn't it be?), who has discovered evidence of large ecological movements on Mars, which indicates intelligent life!

Right around this same time, a colleague of Cronyn's says he has been talking to Mars(!)--at first using mathematical concepts, then with actual questions, leading him to believe Mars is a near-Utopia!
At first the U.S. Government tries to cover up the existence of these transmissions (oh that Eisenhower!), but world finally gets out. This news, as you might guess, wreaks havoc on the world--dogs and cats living together, etc.:
One of the more disturbing themes of the messages (depending on your point of view, I guess) is that the people of Earth can turn their own planet back into a utopia if only they return to following the word of God.

Revolution follows (except for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins), but doubt about the veracity of these messages creeps in when an ex-Nazi named Calder (Herbert Berghof) claims he has been sending the messages, duping the world, in an attempt to destroy Capitalism!

Calder gets a visit from some Soviet goons, in a set that looks like a re-dressed Castle Frankenstein:
The Soviet Union is overthrown(!) and turned into a Theocracy. More messages arrive, with Mars suggesting they/it communicated with Earth 2000 years ago in the form of Jesus Christ.

Calder sneaks into the lab of Cronyn and his wife Linda (Andrea King) and says he's going to reveal that the messages are a fraud. The Cronyns believe that Calder was only responsible for some of the messages, but he won't budge.

Linda realizes the only way to stop Calder is to blow up their lab with all their transmitting equipment (really?), so she floods the room with Hydrogen--just as another message from Mars starts to arrive!

Calder panics, pulls a gun, and fires at the machinery, aiming right at the camera:
The whole place blows up, killing Calder and The Cronyns--not the ending I was expecting!

The film ends with the President of the United States eulogizing the Cronyns and reading what arrived of the message: "
Ye have done well my............"

Red Planet Mars certainly is unusual, and for that it deserves credit. There's nary a spaceship or alien in this movie, and instead it tackles huge, titanic issues like politics and religion, all in the space of a low-budget sci-fi movie running less than 90 minutes!

And on that score,
Red Planet Mars falls flat on its face: the movie is so absurdly pro-religion that this movie is almost pure propaganda. Sure, its also vehemently anti-communist, as so many movies were at the time, but to a lot of critics (this one included) the movie is basically trying to swap out one top-down mode of total control for another. Same as the old boss, and all that.

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