Phantom Planet

Still mining the Mill Creek 50 flick SciFi Classsics collection while waiting for the cable box to arrive so I can watch news 24/7 like everyone else. But in the meantime I’m finding occasional gems like the obscure Phantom Planet (1961). It was either written or directed or produced by a guy that used to write arrangements for Fred Waring but something must have happened, some bad booze, maybe, or some early LSD, as this flick is about as far removed from Fred Waring as Sun Ra. It’s not art, sure, but it’s wildly imaginative with some very striking effects–and concepts–for 1961. Surely Kubrick and Roddenberry loved it, as they both copped ideas, and not just sorta copped them either but flat out lifted whole scenes. The flick is sort of a cross between a very low budget Forbidden Planet, space opera Outer Limits, and any number of 1950’s science fiction radio shows (such as Dimension X or X Minus One), as radio allowed for just about anything, as long as listeners could imagine it. Here they tried to apply that to the silver screen (or a drive in screen anyway) and the result is no Zontar the Thing From Venus but some occasionally dumb but very entertaining science fiction. I suppose that stoned out of your mind it’s even better, but I was high on life. Well, life and coffee. Oh–that’s Richard Kiel in the solar monster suit, his first role, I think, and Francis X Bushman is the wise old alien. Plus enough alien babes to satisfy your inner Kirk.

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Eddie Albert, sentient tumbleweeds, and the ramblings of a deranged mind

“Thought has no language. We think in pictures and sensations. And then we translate these ideas into our own words and sentences.”

–Andy Thorne, played by Eddie Albert, in the “Cry of Silence”, Outer Limits (1964)

To be honest, I had never gotten past Eddie Albert and wife being attacked by sentient tumbleweeds. What might have been a workable idea in Louis Charbonneau‘s original story looks beyond ridiculous on TV. Tumbleweeds creep up, creep back, hurl themselves at Eddie. At one point he grabs one and smooshes it all over his face as if he’s being attacked. After a struggle, he wins. Did you see that honey? he asks. That thing attacked me! You actually feel bad for Eddie Albert, the actor, at this point. Eddie Albert, who wrote and starred in the first ever teleplay on television way back in 1936. Eddie Albert, hero of Tarawa. Eddie Albert, anti-hero of Attack. And here he is battling a crazed tumbleweed. There are hundreds of the things. Vast hordes of murderous tumbleweeds. We get back to town, Eddie tells his wife, and l’ll give up the idea of living on a farm. That usually did it for me right there.

This time I stuck it out but nearly gave up after they were attacked by hundreds of frogs. The scene lacked even the production values of the Ray Milland opus a decade later. Here, someone appeared to be hurling basketfuls of frogs at them. Worse yet, they were apparently living frogs, big bull frogs. You’ve never seen so many bullfrogs. The frogs squirmed, the wife screamed. They retreated back to the farmhouse. Their next foray out almost made it to the car but was driven back by deadly sentient rocks. It looked liked Buster Keaton in the avalanche scene in Seven Chances except Arthur Hunnicutt, playing a farmer named Lamont right out of Green Acres (and whose house they had sought refuge in) is struck and killed. That never happened in a Buster Keaton movie. Continue reading