Updated: October 15, 2019
FORBIDDEN PLANET PHOTO GALLERY #03
Starring Anne Francis, Jack Kelly, Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox
Theatrical Release: 1956
Taking advantage of the great success science fiction in general was
enjoying during the early heydays of the "Project Blue Book" 1950's,
Forbidden Planet was MGM's first attempt at a big-budget science-fiction
film. They were following closely on the success of 20th Century Fox's
1951's superlative The Day the Earth Stood Still and Universal's
big-budget This Island Earth in 1955. The soundtrack, for what it was in
1956, was done by the team of Bebe and Louis Barron and was comprised of
what were called "electronic tonalities." Most of what could be considered
the visual effects for this film were handled by none other than Disney
Productions and primarily encompassed many matte paintings, but they
earned Disney an Oscar nomination. Disney's technique was effective then,
and even though obviously dated now, when viewed in its historical
context, it serves to show how films have always had a major hand in
driving associated technologies.
The most obvious "effect" in the film was the powerful protector/servant
robot, Robby. Designed by Bob Kinoshita and "animated" alternately by
stuntmen Frankie Carpenter and Frankie Darro, this was Robby's first
appearance. But as is so often the case in Hollywood, over the years he
was cannibalized and deconstructed to serve in many, many other "B" films.
He even turned up in a slightly revised form on the highly popular ‘60's TV
series Lost in Space, spouting the now historical phrase, "Warning!
Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!"
Beside the ostensible cost of all the special effects, MGM put together an
impressive, if mostly unknown, cast. Leslie Nielson, of Naked Gun and
other Zucker slapstick comedies fame, was a young and handsome newly
discovered leading man making only his third screen appearance. Ann
Frances, who had been a child star of radio, was picked for the comely
young daughter of grizzled film veteran Walter Pidgeon. But as a
26-year-old ingenue in this film, she made my pre-pubescent eyes pop out
of my head! Hey, come on -- I was twelve when I saw the movie for the
first time. What sticks with this then teenager the most was Frances'
leading role in a short-lived mid-‘60s James Bond-esque TV spy spoof
called Honey West.
Gene Roddenberry took the Nielson role as his model for James Tiberius
Kirk in his pioneering and visionary television series Star Trek. He also
got the character for the colorful and overachieving Engineer Scotty from
the brilliant but facetious Chief Engineer Alonzo Quinn, played by
Richard Anderson. Take the scene where, due to the destruction of the
ship's radio gear, Doc is forced to try to cannibalize the rest of the
ship to repair it. When the Commander states, "OK, so it's impossible;
how long it will take?" Doc quips "Well, if I skip breakfast...." Even
the Enterprise and its internal workings were modeled after the
United Planets cruiser C-57D from this masterpiece.
The plot, in essence, takes the United Planets cruiser C-57D to the fourth
planet of the faraway star Altair to check on and rescue the survivors of
the "Bellerophon," sent on its colonization mission some 20 years earlier.
They find the ship's only survivor, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pigeon), who,
after surviving some "planetary force" ripping all but one of the rest of
the stranded survivors limb from limb, settled into his idyllic life here
on this otherwise agreeable planet. The only other original survivor of
the ill-fated Bellerophon, Morbius' wife, had died the following year of
natural causes, after giving birth to the now nubile young Altiara (Anne
Francis). The newly landed and space-worn crew, or at least its officers,
each play to the young woman and, in scenes that look totally camp now,
were considered fairly racy in the mid ‘50's.
What the cruiser C-57D finds when it arrives at Altair-4 is a
less-than-gracious Dr. Morbius who has absolutely no intention or need of
being rescued or returned to Earth. With this new wrinkle, the Commander
must radio Earth for instructions. Guess what? Foreseeably, the ship's
radio gear gets destroyed by some unseen intruder, making it all but
impossible for the crew to get new orders. More attacks occur, giving
Morbius cause to believe that the destructive planetary force, long
dormant these past 19 years, has been loosed again. Morbius feels somehow
responsible, and decides to inform the Commander and the ship's doctor of
the planet's secrets.
According to Morbius', some 2000 centuries ago, the very wise and advanced
race known as the Krell perished in a single night on the eve of their
greatest accomplishment. (Hey audiophiles, ever heard that name before?
Watch this movie and you'll see where they got their stylized looks as
well.) One of Morbius' diversions during his marooning was the tinkering
together of Robbie the Robot, only possible due to the Krell knowledge he
had gathered over his two decades of study. The unseen force continues to
wreck havoc with the ship and its crew as well as Morbius' home and the
underground stronghold of the Krell. Then…well, you'll just have to rent
or buy this classic.
The first thing anyone suffering from a classical education will likely
note about the film is the marked similarity to Shakespeare's last
complete play, The Tempest -- with a dash of Sigmund Freud thrown in. A
shipwrecked group of people represent society in compressed form;
Prospero's (Morbius) magic raised to put them through some purgatorial
trial; his young daughter, Miranda (Altaira), Ariel (Robby) are the
instruments of the magic; and the monster from the id materializes as
Caliban. I didn't notice this when I first saw the film on Chilly Billy
Cardill's Saturday Night Science Fiction/Creature Feature in the ‘60s. As
a matter of fact, my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Paxton, nearly had a
coronary when, as I was reading The Tempest, I pointed out that it seemed
like a take off on this film!
Is this the first film you will be dragging out to demonstrate your
super-duper-deluxe, state-of-the-art home theater or DVD player to all
your buddies the first time they come to visit? Not likely. The video
transfer is quite good in several respects, given the age of the film, but
abominable in others. The vibrancy and insight of the original seems to
have made the transfer in tact, but there are lots of film scratches and
other mars readily visible. The soundtrack is quite dated, and though it
has been updated to stereo, it leaves much to be desired for your Dolby
Digital surround decoder. Folks, in this regard, it ain't no Apollo 13.
Even the menu and its options are limited by comparison to most of today's
What it is, however, is a wonderfully vital and surprisingly well-aged
trip through historical cinema and an absolute must-have for any fan of
science fiction. No film in the annals of science fiction other than
Stanley Kubrick's singularly spectacular 2001: A Space Odyssey has had
more influence on the genre.