Journey to the Seventh Planet
Midnite Movies Double Feature
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
As the 1950s drew to a close, the Science Fiction film was on the wane. Even the drive-in vogue was fading, after four solid years of increasingly cheap program pictures. Whenever the topic 'bad movie' came up, chances are a monster movie would be mentioned as well. Why not, when there were silly titles like I Was a Teenage Werewolf to make fun of?
MGM's latest Midnite Movies double bill combines two lesser independent attractions from the very end of the cycle, one from an outfit specializing in cheap features for a major distributor, and the other an effort by the independent wannabe Sid Pink. Both are threadbare and inept, and enjoyable mostly from a comic point of view. One is ridiculously scaled back to a minimum of featureless sets and employs at least a reel of stock footage; the other is a space epic lacking in both resources and imagination.
MGM Home Entertainment
1959 / B&W / 1:66 letterboxed flat / 67 min. / Street Date April 1, 2003 / $14.95
Starring John Agar, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge, Robert Hutton,
John Carradine, Paul Langton
Cinematography Maury Gertsman
Art Director William Glasgow
Editor Grant Whytock
Original Music Paul Dunlap
Written by Samuel Newman
Produced by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Invisible Invaders is a Robert E. Kent production. Look at his filmography and you'll find dozens of genre titles from the second half of the fifties, mostly released through United Artists. Kent was sort of an in-house/outsourced producer whose B product filled out UA's release slate. The films he made were all shot in B&W under conditions that would stymie a television director -- no real locations, dull sets, and flat, perfunctory direction, often by Edward L. Cahn. The haste with which these pictures were made can be seen in the fact that Cahn racked up 15 releases in both 1959 and 1960 - an average of one feature every 6 to 7 weeks.
The plot is grandiose. Aliens attempt to conquer Earth by inhabiting human corpses and overwhelming the living; the entire world is thrown into chaos almost overnight. A tiny group of researchers holes up in a hidden cave lab to perfect some method of combating the armies of the dead. Overcoming their interpersonal problems, the human defenders finally emerge with an effective ray gun.
Sam Newman's sketchy script uses ponderous radio narration to fill in 90% of the story, while mismatched and crudely edited stock footage of natural disasters, airplane crashes, etc., fail to bring any of it life. In between the filler material are a series of so-bad-they're-fascinating dramatic scenes.
John Carradine and his echoey voice make a brief early appearance, playing a dead scientist reanimated by the aliens for the illogical purpose of warning a colleague about the menace. This enables the research lab to be set up even as the invasion is getting started. Carradine is always arresting on the screen, but his function is simply pointless. He's just the first in an uninterrupted stream of indigestible events.
John Agar, hitting a career rock bottom, plays the soldier assigned to keep the scientists secure. The resources allotted mankind's only hope amount to one jeep and one G.I.. Agar naturally falls in love with scientist Philip Tonge's daughter.
The actual filming of Invisible Invaders is so threadbare, one gets the idea that director Cahn was given a 6-day schedule, but decided to get it all in the can in half that time. The film contains only about 30 seconds of real action, all of it shot in Bronson Caverns. Characters don't move around unless they have to, and most of the shot are static views of actors rooted in place to assure good focus on the first take. From the looks of the show, one doesn't envision Cahn ever getting past take two. To insure that all the dialogue cuts together, everyone keeps the dramatics at an even pitch. It's a good example of filmmaking that emulates sleepwalking. Everything is smooth. Keep it up for slightly over an hour, and you've got a movie.
The monster suit from It! The Terror from Beyond Space is used to provide a glimpse of an invader made visible by the researcher's special ray. But the most memorable visual is the odd spectacle of a half-dozen zombie automatons stumbling down a sagebrush hill. Dressed in burial clothes, with whitened faces and black eye sockets, they do have a certain cartoonish impact -- once. Cahn must have had the services of his cast of 5 or 6 for no more than half a day. Every time the narrator mentions the mounting hordes of the dead overwhelming the world, we cut back to the same angle of the same 5 zombies, walking arms outstretched, down the same hill. Sometimes a spiral graphic is superimposed to lend visual contrast.
Invisible Invaders may be incredibly cheap, but it was made by experienced professionals trying to make a watchable movie. Unlike some no-budget rip-offs, there's nothing cynical about the show, although filming had to have its depressing moments for the actors and crew. When people join creatively to make something intended to have no merit beyond minimum commercial requirements, there isn't much left to discuss.
Eight years later George Romero took the film's basic idea and ran with it for his Night of the Living Dead. Faithful fans of the genre were the only ones to notice a resemblance.
Journey to the Seventh Planet
1962 / color / 1:66 letterboxed flat / 77 83 min. / Street Date April 1, 2003 / $14.95
Starring John Agar, Carl Ottosen, Peter Monch, Ove Sprogoe,
Louis Miehe-Renard, Ann Smyrner, Greta Thyssen, Ulla Moritz, Mimi Heinrich, Annie Birgit Garde
Cinematography Aage Wiltrup Visual Effects Krogh, Wah
Chang, Jim Danforth
Art Director Otto Lund Editor Tove Palsbo
Original Music Jerry Capeheart, Ib Glindemann, Mitchell Tableporte
Written by Ib Melchior & Sid Pink
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff & Sid Pink
Directed by Sid Pink
Journey to the Seventh Planet is a different story altogether. Its producer, the late Sidney Pink, is all enthusiasm and high hopes, but lacks the talent to put together a competent entertainment. For his third American International opus, Pink repeated the space voyage theme from The Angry Red Planet in the newfound production location of his monster opus, Reptilicus.
The story is not without its good points. Borrowing a page from Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Ib Melchior's script has a quintet of astronauts land on Uranus. Plumbing a new bottom below rock bottom, a demoralized John Agar is backed up by the un-photogenic Carl Ottosen, who returns from iB>Reptilicus with fewer inappropriate facial expressions. Once they've alighted on the frozen planet, they're amazed when the icy landscape changes to resemble wooded Denmark in the springtime. Before they can figure this out, they're overwhelmed by miraculous visions of home (mostly rural Danish farmhouses) and the buxom girls they left behind. Each voyager seems to have had a sweetheart who dresses in revealing nightgowns or awkward formal wear; they are acted by a brace of calm Scandinavian beauties with come-hither smiles on their faces. Greta Thyssen (Terror is a Man) plays herself, as astronaut Agar apparently knew her back on Earth. Lookers Mimi Heinrich and Ann Smyrner return from Reptilicus.
The film's gimmick is brilliant and inept at the same time. The impossible illusions of home, hearth & companionship could have an uncanny appeal, if Journey to the Seventh Planet's characters that were more credible. The astronauts are neither troubled nor weakened in any way that would make us suspect their longing for home might overwhelm their sense of mission; the illusions just happen and they accept them in a rather humdrum way.
This is a shame because the girls and the greenery are the protective illusions of the ruler of Uranus, an intelligent creature with no other means of defense. Its ability to conjure visions from the minds of invaders reminds of the great Lem/Tarkovsky Solaris, but done at the kindergarten level. As our heroes are already obsessed with women, and Agar is eager to forget the mission and shack up with his phantom female, the film could rightly be titled, Planet of Masturbatory Fantasies. And it played mostly to little children!
Once the astronauts realize they've been snookered (the girls drop prejudicial hints like, "You don't want to go looking around any more, do you dear?"), they enter an ice cave and overcome a series of monsters before zapping the evil brain within.
Even when the visuals are good, they do harm to the higher possibilities of the story. The 'illusions' of Home in Denmark are created just by filming the real thing. Uranus is not like one of Philip K. Dick's mind-bending tales of artificially created worlds, where all one must do to prove that one's surroundings are faked is open a door or cut into a piece of fruit. Even when these astronauts discover that the plants have no roots, they make no distinction between things real and artificial. It either is 200 degrees below zero or it isn't, so the Uranus brain must be making 'real' changes to reality, but this isn't explored.
Pink had been dissatisfied with the interesting alien environment produced by a couple of Hollywood shops for his The Angry Red Planet two years before. According to Ib Melchior 1, Pink actually believed that his Danish effects were state-of-the-art, when they're some of the poorest in any space movie. Uranus is represented by tiny sets on tiny stages, barely big enough to show the astronauts sitting around a campfire. It's the most claustrophobic 'space' movie ever made. The colorful set for the cave where lurks the giant brain is too small for the actors to move. Crude animation must suffice for the space scenes, and spirals and other cheap patterns are superimposed over the alien
brain in an attempt to give it some menace. 2
Well-read Sci Fi fans are aware that Journey to the Seventh Planet was substantially reworked by American-International. Sam Arkoff considered several of Pink's Danish monsters so terrible, he had them thrown out and replaced with poorly integrated work by a local company called Project Unlimited. Wah Chang and Jim Danforth created a one-eyed monster for a few animated cutaways, and Bert I. Gordon's The Spider was raided for some big arachnid cutaways. They are so substandard, that one can only cringe at the thought of what they replaced. We do see brief cuts of some claws and twig-like things sticking in from out of frame that hint at what the originals were like. 3
Journey to the Seventh Planet ends up as more of a snooze than Invisible Invaders. Genre fans will remember the space movie's very successful release as a kiddie matinee and be kinder to it for nostalgia's sake. After all, the action does take place in the year 2001.
MGM's Midnite Movies double feature of Invisible Invaders and Journey to the Seventh Planet has serviceable flat transfers of both features. Each is matted to 1:66. Cahn's picture is best when matted wider, but Pink's import is already cramped-looking.
The color in Journey to the Seventh Planet is very good, even putting some life into the stock footage rocket launch. The transfers are bright and clear, although there is minor dirt from time to time. MGM seems to have (accidentally?) reinstated the original theme song that accompanies the amateurish end titles - the warbly vocal was dropped from Orion's VHS release. Apparently a couple of shots from Angry Red Planet were edited in later for television to represent Karl's death in the brain, and so do not appear here.
Each film comes with a trailer and is subtitled in English, French and Spanish. Once again, the little Midnite Movie poster-like artworks on the package front are colorful and exciting. I wish MGM would release these as postcards or collector art, as many of them outdo A.I.P. and UA's anemic original poster designs.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Invisible Invaders & Journey to the Seventh Planet rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 17, 2003
Ib Melchoir: Man of Imagination by Robert Skotak
2. This isn't a criticism of the talent or creativity in Denmark or other places outside of Hollywood. Copenhagen had its share of fantasy film fans and special effects enthusiasts (I've seen old 'trickfilm' magazines from Holland & Denmark), but Pink was wrong to think that his tiny budget could create the outlandish visuals in Melchior's script. The entire crew for the effects was probably 4 or 5 individuals doing their best with resources appropriate for a Halloween fun-house.
3. The alternate cuts and missing scenes from this film and Reptilicus might exist in Denmark, but MGM doesn't have them. If Pink's Danish duo of features were in the hands of, say, Anchor Bay or Synapse, one might imagine a special edition roundup of alternate versions to interest the diehard fans.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson