“The mysterious appearance of an unknown planet brings miniature people, giant monsters, beautiful women and undaunted heroes to the screen. The self-contained planet Rheton has the ability to move in and out of galaxies to escape their enemies. Earth sends an astronaut team to investigate, which discovers miniature people. One astronaut survives to help them fight off monsters and Solarite attacks.” (courtesy IMDB)
This week’s burnt offering is a film named The Phantom Planet (1961) and set in the far distant future of 1980. I know you’ve been wanting to see a movie that answers those existential questions like why are we here? What is my purpose in life? Do I have a destiny? Why do villains thrive while nice people get done-over? Who shall have the mackerel When The Boat Comes In? As soon as I find such a film, I promise I’ll review it for your edification. While we’re waiting, let’s discuss the unremarkable Phantom Planet, which answers none of these questions, but raises one more: Couldn’t these people find a better way to spend their time?
It might help to endure the movie if you turn it into a drinking game, and count the number of science fiction cliches: The alien planet populated by creatures who look just like us; Meteor storms turning up out of the black just when the astronauts venture outside their spaceship; The tractor beam; The love triangle; Attacked by aggressive aliens; The alien monster fixated on the pretty young lady despite being a completely different species, just to name too many. Well, are we all sitting comfortably? Then take your protein pill and put your helmet on as we blast-off for The Phantom Planet.
How many of you will recognise the narrator as the voice of Robby The Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956)? Former deejay Marvin Miller was the disembodied voice in just about everything from Gigantis The Fire Monster (1955) to Fantastic Planet (1973) to Police Squad! The high point of his career was the role of Arthur Curry, better known as the world’s lamest superhero Aquaman, in the 1968 cartoon, and he even appeared on screen as Armana in The Story Of Mankind (1957) – more about that later.
The Phantom Planet was directed by William Marshall – not to be confused with William Marshall who played the original Blacula (1972), and definitely not the William Marshall who was a loyal knight to King Henry The Second in Twelfth Century England. No, this William Marshall started as a vocalist for the Fred Waring Orchestra in 1936. As an actor he had minor roles in a few films in the forties and fifties, and his other two films as director – The Adventures Of Captain Fabian (1951) and Hello God (1951) – both starring Errol Flynn, were just as mediocre as The Phantom Planet. Interestingly, his directing career mirrored his personal life. His first marriage was to the beautiful French actress Michelle Morgan, his second was to beautiful French actress Micheline Presle, his third to beautiful not-so-French Ginger Rogers, and all ended badly, just like his films.
There’s not much to be said about leading man Dean Fredericks. This is both the high point and low point of his film career – how sad is that? He appeared in quite a few fifties television shows, but apart from that he’s so boring I couldn’t be bothered talking about him any more. Introducing Delores Faith as Zetha didn’t work out, either. This is her career high point, unless you count the educational film V.D. aka Damaged Goods (1961) made the same year. She managed to get minor roles in sixties television shows like The Man From UNCLE before achieving the Hollywood dream of marrying a Texan millionaire and retiring. Seems like the goods were in reasonable condition after all.
The role of Herron is played by Anthony Dexter, whose career got off to a good start when he played Valentino in the a Hollywood biography inventively titled Valentino (1951). It was a box-office success, but things went downhill after that with such films as Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), and The Story Of Mankind (1957) – which arguably holds the title of the worst film with the best cast ever – in which he played Christopher Columbus, former slave trader and future troublemaker. After a bit-part in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and a final role in an episode of The High Chaparral, he retired from the drudgery of acting for the glamour and excitement of teaching in high school.
Doris Jensen‘s career also started well, first with a change of name to Coleen Gray, then key roles in two film Noir classics: Kiss Of Death (1947) in which she was married to Victor Mature and menaced by Richard Widmark, and Nightmare Alley (1947), where she was Tyrone Power’s wife and partner-in-crime. The following year she was John Wayne’s love interest in Red River (1948). Then began the decline with many undistinguished films, except for Kansas City Confidential (1952), Stanley Kubrick’s first good movie The Killing (1956), and a prominent role in the cult film The Leech Woman (1960). In 1964 she began campaigning for compulsory prayer in schools, and the only film work she could get was in Cry From The Mountain (1986) produced by Bible-bashing warmonger Billy Graham.
Also amongst the cast of The Phantom Planet is The King Of The Movies. No, not Clark Gable, but the very first actor to claim that title, Francis X. Bushman, who plays Sesson. Bushman made his film debut in 1911 and by the next year he was a major star. Indeed, he was the number one male box-office attraction in both 1916 and 1917, but he lost popularity when he divorced his wife and married Beverly Bayne, his co-star in many films, including the lost silent version of Romeo And Juliet (1916), which he also directed. He was cast as the villain Messala in Ben-Hur (1924), which was an enormous hit and should have revived his fortunes, but around that time he got on the wrong side of that scoundrel Louis B. Mayer, who he later accused of ruining his career by blacklisting him. Francis was also in The Story Of Mankind (1957), as the amoral collaborator in the mass murder of Egyptian babies, Moses. Oddly enough, The Phantom Planet did not restore Francis to stardom, and invitations to play romantic leads did not resume, only bit-parts in television shows like 77 Sunset Strip and Batman. His last film was The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini (1966), and he sadly passed away that year after a fall. I mean a literal fall, and not a career-reflective ‘How The Mighty Have Fallen’ type of fall, although that could have been lethal in his case.
If you thought the jury were rather good-looking, you’ll be pleased – or disturbed – to know that Hugh Hefner would agree with you. Marya Carter and Marissa Mathes were Playboy Playmate Of The Month in May and June 1962 respectively – if not respectably. Angelique Pettyjohn is best remembered for her role as Shahna in the popular Star Trek episode The Gamesters Of Triskelion. By the early eighties she was making p*rn films until she was rescued from that fate by the Star Trek phenomenon – she was Guest Of Honour at many conventions until 1992, when she became a victim of cancer aged only 48.
Yes, that was our old friend, Richard Kiel aka Jaws aka Eegah! (1962), inside that sad-eyed Solarite suit. Wisely, he again wasn’t given any dialogue. Once free, the Solarite failed to do any real harm to the citizens of The Phantom Planet, and instead focused on carrying the attractive lady from one room to another. What stereotypical monster behaviour! If he’d known anything about old movies, he’d know this always ends badly for the one doing the carrying. I think Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) was the first to work it out – travel light, move fast, have acid for blood…
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this week’s presentation, but then I sincerely hope for world peace and a Ferrari. But since you’re still reading this, I know I can count on having your company again when I pick another forgotten fragment of filmic fluff from cinema’s lint trap next week for…Horror News! Toodles!
The Phantom Planet (1961)