The Angry Red Planet


Notes: Orion Pictures / American International Pictures
Col. Tom O’Banyon: Gerald Mohr
Dr. Iris Ryan: Nora Hayden
Professor Theodore Gattell: Les Tremayne
Sam Jacobs: Jack Kruschen
Major General George Treegar: Paul Hahn
Professor Paul Weiner: J. Edward McKinley
Dr. Frank Gordon: Tom Daly

Produced: Sid Pink and Norman Maurer
Directed: Ib Melchior
Screenplay: Ib Melchior and Sid Pink
Story: Sid Pink
Music: Paul Dunlap

Summary: The Capitol Building, the Pentagon, motorcade sirens, and militaristic snare drumming are shoved at us. A gaggle of men at a table in a room are snapped at by Major General George Treegar regarding MR1 — a Mars rocket thought to have crashed onto Mars two months ago but which has been spotted. Major Ross and Professor Weiner hold forth and the General decides quickly that we all need to go to Nevada.

Lots of men play with buttons on panels. It’s deep and important. There’s a countdown and fuel concerns. The plan is to have the rocket land, although we don’t know if there are any survivors from among the original crew, of whom we see black-and-white documentary footage: Colonel Tom O’Banyon from the U.S. Air Force; Dr. Iris Ryan, touted as a biologist and zoologist, but also as daughter of the famous Professor Ryan; Professor Theodore Gattell; and Sam Jacobs, expert in electronics and radar. As the military awaits the rocket, one observer declares the craft a potential “flying coffin.” We see the MR1 park back down on earth (footage of a rocket take-off run backwards). “Radiation monitors” (guys in lead suits) approach, but when the door of the craft opens and the leaders see “The girl!” they exclaim, “The hell with radiation; let’s go!” A stretcher removes one covered body while a traumatized Iris looks on with all the others.

Tom is in the hospital with a spreading growth. The tapes of the flight are blank, erased magnetically. There’s only “one chance — the girl!” but she keeps saying, “I can’t remember.” But we all flashback to the take-off. In space the crew detects radiation. The responsible meteor misses them though. Then they wax sanctimonious about “Mars, the Red Planet, our destination.” The fact that it has two moons prompts would-be comic relief Sam to put forth, “What a place for romance!” He’s not serious and dire like Tom. (Clearly, he’ll die.) Tom tells Iris, whom he insists on calling “Irish,” about his first dog as a kid. Space travel is apparently similar, and so is she. It has something to do with familiarity. I don’t get it. Then they look out the porthole and Iris says it “makes Broadway look like a dark alley.” Tom rejoins, “When we get back, Iris, how ’bout exploring that dark alley … together?”

“When’s chow, huh?” ponders Sam. Snarky comments fly regarding rations vs. a steak at Tony’s, medium rare. More deep ponderings return to the “angry red planet,” “foreboding,” and named after the “ancient god of war.” Iris whimpers, “I wonder if some things aren’t better unknown.”

Sam reads a science fiction horror comic book featuring “martians, monsters.” It’s been 29 days in flight now, and as time passes it becomes 47 days. They finally land (again, a take-off, backwards). They see vegetation out the window. They spook themselves and Tom finds an opportunity to mention that his grandfather’s ears used to twitch in “Indian country” when Indians were around. There’s lots of paranoid talk about “control.” As they prepare to stroll on the planet, Iris sees a monster and her scream brings us back to the narrative present with doctors explaining that “her mind refuses to remember.” Tom’s infection is spreading too. Maybe we should use drugs on Iris.

Back to the recollection, no one really believes Iris. When they exit the spaceship, a red-tinted lens tries to disguise the cartoony quality of the illustrations of the planet’s surface. Iris notes plantlife not dependent on chlorophyll and having instead primitive nervous systems. After declaring her independence as a woman, a plant grabs her. Tom machetes the tentacles of this “giant carnivorous plant.” They go back to the ship and Sam declares his love for his gun, which he has named Cleo. Radio communication has been cut off, and they’re supposed to stay five days.

They have another outing and those giant trees turn out to be the legs of a giant bat-like spider. Sam’s gun doesn’t work until Tom instructs him to shoot the eyes — “Blind it!” — and the Professor is saved. They come to an oily lake where Iris has a “feeling of deadness.” They’ll bring the boat tomorrow. But when they get back, Tom announces that he and the Professor have decided to abort the mission. When they try to launch, however, they find themselves caught in a “force field.”

They set out onto the lake and see 1/2-mile-tall buildings, but a monster surfaces and chases them to shore. It’s amphibious and Sam gets sucked into its goo before the others close the spaceship door. The blob engulfs the ship, a special effect concocted by placing a model of the ship in Jell-o, heating the Jell-o, and then running the footage of the melting backwards. Tom’s arm has been touched by the goo and “it’s eaten right through the suit.” Iris theorizes that it’s a unicellular animal, like a giant amoeba, operating by instinct to engulf its food and digest it with acids. They wonder if electricity would work against it, maybe 1/2-million volts. The Professor is not well, and he collapses. As the force field is discovered to be down, a booming voice begins, “Men of earth, we give you this warning” — at which point Iris faints. When she wakes up, the rocket is in flight and Professor is dying from the acceleration pressure. Tom is in the cabin with green shiny gunk creeping further up his arm. This is essentially where we came in.

Iris rises and starts working on Tom’s case in a biology lab. She suggests that they are treating it as a disease but should be treating it as an animal. A final tape is brought in, finally with something recorded. It’s the full warning from the martian: “For millennia we have followed your progress…. And now you have invaded our home.” The martians see us as technologically advanced but as moral and spiritual infants. “Do not return to Mars…. We can and will destroy you.” They’ll wipe out the earth if we continue our interplanetary meddling.

Commentary: Although the rugged masculinism is embarrassing, painful, and doofy, this isn’t a bad film at all. It doesn’t command respect, but it sort of earns it. And Tom’s glittery green infection is really pretty!