Before Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen hit his stride playing serious characters in broad comedies, such as Airplane!, and the Naked Gun series, earlier in his film career Hollywood studios often cast him as the super-serious hero type. That’s what I discovered in 1956’s Forbidden Planet, which I just watched again for the third time, giving it a more critical eye than I had done in past viewings.
I applaud the special effects team of Forbidden Planet: A.Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe, and Irving G. Ries. My 12 year old happened to watch the opening scenes with me of the spaceship from Earth, flying around in outer space, it’s red light pulsating as it glides through a dark sky brilliantly lit with multitudes of stars. He didn’t once scoff at the scene or make any comment about “fake” sets. The fact that a youth of today can’t pick apart the special effects in a film made in 1956 is a testament to the work of that special effects team. I also applaud the Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons and Arthur Lonergan. What creativity those two men had! They had to imagine a future world, future interiors of a spaceship, a home on another planet, the possible nature around it, an inner zone depicted as huge that provides the energy to run another planet, a robot that could move and his fast moving planet rover, I really enjoyed seeing the sets again. I can’t leave out two more behind the scenes skills that really made this movie so good: sound effects and animation. A husband and wife team, Louis and Bebe Barron, were listed in the credits for creating the “Electronic Tonalities”, cool sounding electronically made beeps and whirs, and whizzes and bops, and so much, much more to add to the feeling of what it could sound like in Outer Space(I know, another sci fi film has told us that in space no one can hear one scream but I want it to sound like the Barron’s work!) Disney lent out Joshua Meador to create the animation that helps to depict the outlines of the film’s monster. “SPOILER”-there is an invisible monster terrorizing the crew that has landed on the planet of the title. When the monster tries to crash into the spaceship’s force field, we get a bit of a visual outline of the malevelant killer, and Meador created those animated outlines.
Nielsen plays Commander JJ Adams, leader of the space ship C57D, who with his crew of 18 men, have been sent on a mission, to find the distant planet Altair-4 and the crew of the space ship Bellerophon, which had landed there 20 years earlier. On board the C57D is the capable communications man, Quinn(Richard Anderson), Dr. Ostrow(Warren Stevens), Lt. Farman(Jack Kelly), Cook(Earl Holliman), and bosun(George Wallace.) James Drury of tv western The Virginian and James Best, best known as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazard also play crewmen on the ship, but you really have to be looking for them, they’re a bit hard to find.
As they are about to land on Altair-4 they make vocal contact with a Dr. Morbious(Walter Pidgeon, another Canadian!), one of the survivors from the Bellerophon ship. He tells the men to turn around and go back to where they had come from, he doesn’t need their help, and there is danger on the planet. This causes Commander Adams to get his back up, so to speak, and he tells Morbious that ready or not, they’re going to land!
After the landing, as all of the crew are outside their ship observing the planet’s surface and sky, a distant dust cloud appears and grows closer to them. With laser guns ready, the crew discovers that it’s a vehicle of some type, driven by a robot! The robot introduces himself as Robby, and he asks the Commander to get in the vehicle as he, Robby, has been sent by Dr. Morbious to bring the Commander to the doctor. Lt. Farman and Dr. Ostrow join Commander Adams and off they go.
After chit chat, and scientific thoughts, philosophies, a meal made by that fabulous Robby, and Dr. Morbious’s history about the Bellerophon have been digested, in strolls Altaira, Dr. Morbious’s gorgeous 18 year old daughter(Anne Francis)-oops! Dr. Moribious forgot to mention that he has a daughter and our 3 crew members from C57D are suddenly sitting a lot taller in their chairs, and paying a lot of attention to this female. Altaira is delighted to meet them as she’s never met real, live men before!! There are some funny moments when Lt. Farman decides to introduce kissing to her-it helps with stimulation, he tells her!!! Of course, this leads to Altaira visiting the men at their space ship, and she gets a royal scolding from Commander Adams for stirring up his crew, especially in her very short-hemmed dresses. This causes Altaira to “hate” the Commander, but we know that by the film’s end, they’ll be in love.
There’s more to the plot as an invisible monster begins to wreak havoc on the space ship and the crew. Commander Adams blames Dr. Morbious for all of this evil and with psychiatric jargon and definitions, the evil is finally exposed and explained.
Why do I like this film? For the good story, the visual look and sounds of this film, and the acting. Leslie Nielsen, OC(means he received the Order of Canada in 2002) native of Regina, Saskatchewan decided as a youth that he wanted to try acting for a career, due to the success of his half-Uncle, actor Jean Hersholt. He noticed the respect his half-Uncle drew for his career and thought that it wouldn’t be such a bad way to make one’s way in the world. Nielsen is good as the take charge leader, and despite his scolding of Altaira, it’s easy to see why she falls for him later in the film. Nielsen also gets to chew the scenery when he yells at Dr. Morbious, who needs someone to yell at him! Walter Pidgeon is good, in a sort of obtuse, “I’m the smartest person in the room” attitude. Anne Francis is lovely as Altaira, not realizing that her presence is a hindrance to the men. Earl Holliman has a smallish, comedic part as the cook always looking for booze. Richard Anderson, Warren Stevens, and Jack Kelly bring the right amount of seriousness to their roles, too.
For a look at a sci fi rendering of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and for a film that some believe helped to inspire Star Trek, seek out Forbidden Planet! It does air on TCM from time to time, so check for it there. Also, a kind soul has put the movie on Youtube, in 20 segments. I’ve included the link for the first segment here.
This post has been for the O Canada Blogathon. Be sure to visit classic movie bloggers Kristina at Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings to read more wonderful posts about just how much Canadians have contributed to Classic Movies.