In today’s guest post, Jim Brymer remembers the 1950s sci-fi favorite Forbidden Planet.
Sometimes the prognosticators of the 50’s era science fiction books and movies were overly optimistic, sometimes they were astoundingly cautious. In the case of this movie, it seems they didn’t think too much of the possibilities that the scientists were discovering at the time, as they predicted it was only in the late 21st century that man finally reached the moon. (For those of you not up on your chronology calculations, that means they thought man would not reach the moon until at least the 2080’s). But then they also thought that, having achieved such an astonishing “difficult” feat, that hyperdrive and faster than light drive was only a mere hop, skip, and a jump away.
By the time the mid-2100’s rolled around, therefore, we as Earthlings, according to this movie, would be on planets at the far-flung corners of the universe. Thus setting up the premise of Forbidden Planet, which involved a spaceship manned by Earthmen, heading to Altair IV to investigate the progress of a ship of colonists that had been sent out 20 years before.
You think you know lonely? How’s this for lonely? Being on a planet where the rest of your colonization crew has been wiped out, including your wife. The only other two companions you have on the planet are your daughter and a sentient robot named Robby. That’s the situation for Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who has been isolated on Altair IV for 20 years.
Interrupting this isolation, which Morbius is reluctant to give up, comes a manned crew of spacemen who have come to relieve the colonists.
Morbius tries to warn Capt Adams (Leslie Nielsen — yes, he did play some dramatic roles early in his career) to return to Earth and not attempt to land, but Adams, being the macho male and authoritative figure common in 50’s movies, ignores Morbius and lands anyway. Morbius sends his robot, Robby, to meet them. Robby is a marvel to the men of the spaceship. He is as strong as 20 men and can do things no one would have believed possible.
Morbius tries to shield Alta (Anne Francis), his daughter, from the men. But she is an independent sort, and despite her naivete, comes to the fore to meet the men. Over the course of the film, her naivete places the men in some seriously shocking situations, including one officer who tries to teach her to kiss. (She’s never seen another man besides her father).
In another scene she is swimming in a pool and invites the commander to join her. He tells her he doesn’t have a bathing suit to which she replies “What’s a bathing suit?”. (Note: By this she implies that she is swimming naked, but unless the atmosphere on Altair IV caused he skin to become diaphanous, she is wearing something… I know… OK so this the 50’s and nudity would have been strictly verboten.)
There is some invisible creature roaming the planet which makes its presence known and causes damage to the spaceship and also kills a few crewmen. However, when the crew sets up a perimeter barrier, the creature lights up like a Christmas tree, so we can vaguely see what it looks like, and it is huge!
Morbius in the meantime reveals a discovery he has made. The planet was once inhabited by a race known as the Krell which were thousands of times more intelligent than the human races best geniuses. Morbius has used their equipment to magnify his intelligence, but due to its power, it is only an infinitesimal increase compared to even the children of the Krell.
Morbius keeps on insisting that he must remain behind, and the more he insists the more adamant the commander becomes that Morbius must come back to Earth with them so that he, Morbius, can convey what he has learned. And the more Morbius insists, the more violent the reactions become of the invisible monster that has been attacking the crew. It doesn’t take the genius level of the Krell to see that there seems to be a connection.
The film is inspired in some parts by William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Morbius has many of the same characteristics as Prospero, particularly in the devotion he shows towards his daughter. His sense of need for isolation is inspired by his love for the planet that he has come to call home.
A few familiar faces come up if you are up on your actors from the 50’s and 60’s. Richard Anderson (who passed away earlier this year), as Quinn, was better known as Oscar Goldman on the American TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Earl Holliman, who plays the ship’s cook, was seen regularly on the TV show Police Woman. James Drury, who was the title character in the TV show The Virginian, plays Strong. And Jack Kelly who plays Jerry, will be instantly recognizable of the Maverick TV series as Bart Maverick. And if you look quick, you might spot James Best, who was famous (or notorious) as Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Apparently this was a good jumping off point for the nascent television fame…
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films. This article originally ran in 2018 as is being reprinted for this week’s Sci-Fi Saturday post.
Previously on MovieFanFare: Robby the Robot: Forbidden Planet‘s synthetic scene stealer