|Red Planet Mars|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Harry Horner|
|Produced by||Donald Hyde|
|Screenplay by||Anthony Veiller|
John L. Balderston
|Based on||the play Red Planet|
by John L. Balderston and John Hoare
|Music by||Mahlon Merrick|
|Edited by||Francis D. Lyon|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Red Planet Mars is a 1952 American science fiction film released by United Artists starring Peter Graves and Andrea King. It is based on a 1932 play Red Planet written by John L. Balderston and John Hoare and was directed by art director Harry Horner in his directorial debut.
An American astronomer obtains images of Mars suggesting large-scale environmental changes are occurring at a pace that can only be accomplished by intelligent beings with advanced technology. Scientist Chris Cronyn (Peter Graves) and his wife, Linda (Andrea King) have been contacting Mars by a hydrogen powered radio transmitter, using technology based on the work of Nazi scientist Franz Calder. They communicate first through an exchange of mathematical concepts, like the value of pi, and then through answers to specific questions about Martian life. The transmissions claim that Mars is a utopia, which has led to great technological advancement and the elimination of scarcity, but that there is no fear of nuclear war.
This revelation leads to political and economic chaos, especially in the Western hemisphere, and is said to have "done more to smash the democratic world (or Capitalist?) in the last four weeks than the Russians have been able to do in eleven years." The U.S. government imposes a news blackout and orders the transmissions to stop due to fears that the Soviet Union could pick up and decode their messages. This ends when the next message reveals that the Earth is condemned to the constant fear of nuclear war as a punishment for straying from the teachings of the Bible. Revolution sweeps the globe, including the Soviet Union, which is overthrown and replaced by a theocracy, which is met with celebration in America.
The messages cease. Calder, armed with a handgun, confronts the Cronyns in their lab. He wants to announce that he has been duping the world with false messages from a secret Soviet-funded radio transmitter high in the Andes mountains of South America. The transmitter was destroyed by an avalanche. There have been no transmissions since then. He shows them his log. When Linda raises the question of the religious messages. Calder is contemptuous. He says that he transmitted the original messages supposedly from Mars, but that the United States government made up the religious messages, which he allowed because he wanted to see the destruction of the Soviet Union. The Cronyns know that the religious messages were not hoaxes, but Calder's claim will be believed and it will mean disaster for a now peaceful Earth. Unseen by Calder, Chris opens the valve to the hydrogen supply and tells Linda to leave. Calder won't allow it. She asks her husband for a cigarette. He says quietly that in all their years together he has never seen her smoke. They both know the spark will ignite the hydrogen and destroy the lab. But before Chris can use his lighter, a message begins to come through and an enraged Calder fires into the screen, blowing up the transmitter, himself and the Cronyns before the message is complete. However, the first part is decoded, and later the President reads it aloud to the world: "You have done well my good..." the rest evoking the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of Matthew: "You have done well my good and faithful servant."
- Peter Graves as Chris Cronyn
- Andrea King as Linda Cronyn
- Herbert Berghof as Franz Calder
- Walter Sande as Admiral Bill Carey
- Marvin Miller as Arjenian
- Willis Bouchey as President
- Morris Ankrum as Secretary of Defense Sparks
- Robert House Peters, Jr. as Dr. Boulting, Mitchell's assistant
- Orley Lindgren as Stewart Cronyn
- Philip Bayard Veiller (Bayard Veiller II) as Roger Cronyn
When the film was released, the staff at Variety liked the film, writing, "Despite its title, Red Planet Mars takes place on terra firma, sans space ships, cosmic rays or space cadets. It is a fantastic concoction [from a play by John L. Balderston and John Hoare] delving into the realms of science, politics, religion, world affairs and Communism...Despite the hokum dished out, the actors concerned turn in creditable performances."
The New York Times, while giving the film a mixed review, wrote well of some of the performances, "Peter Graves and Andrea King are serious and competent, if slightly callow in appearance, as the indomitable scientists. Marvin Miller is standard as a top Soviet agent, as are Walter Sande, Richard Powers and Morris Ankrum, as Government military men, and Willis Bouchey, as the President."
Allmovie critic Bruce Eder praised the film, writing, "Red Planet Mars is an eerily fascinating artifact of the era of the Red Scare, and also the first postwar science fiction boom, combining those elements into an eerie story that is all the more surreal because it is played with such earnestness."
Doug@hometheaterinfo.com says: Many people into movies grew up as I did in the fifties. This was the time that formed our life long love affair with film. Some young devotees of cinema may look at the flicks we enjoyed as kids and snicker. Sure there were some classic films made during this time but most of us wouldn’t get around to seeing them until we were much older. What I am referring to are those small flicks that we typically watched in the local movie house on a Saturday afternoon. Most where horror flicks or science fiction and they would set the stage for our collective appreciation of a much wider variety of genres. One movie that I saw back then was ‘Red Planet Mars’. It is a classic representation of the time and when you get into the details unique among its contemporaries. In order to properly appreciate films like this, you have to understand the temporal context that surrounded its creation. The film was made in 1952. This was the height of the anti-communist fervor in this country as demonstrated by the power that was given to the senate hearings lead by Joseph McCarthy. We were deep in the cold war with the Soviet Union. It was commonplace for school children to be part of air raid drills and learn how to duck under their desks to protect themselves from a Hydrogen bomb. In this climate science fiction did what it does best; reflect the fears of the culture cloaked in a tale of fantasy. You can basically take any threat from outer space in these flicks and apply them to communism. Sci-Fi of this era was all about the allegories that could be made to the growing ‘red menace’. In a lot of ways, this is a major departure from the other films of this time and genre. It is heavy-handed with religious themes and lacks the futuristic trappings that made for the typical matinee flick. It helps to recall that communism was seen not only as a threat against our political and economic way of life but our dominant religion, Christianity. The communists were godless and without mercy; at least that is the prevalent feeling at the time and some of that has been retained as a viewpoint to this very day. This is the kind of flick that many fans have taped off late-night television. They have the commercial breaks and a lot of editing for time concerns of the network. Thankfully the DVD format has come along and many distributors have included little cult classics like this in their catalogs. One such distributor is Cheesy Films. Don’t let the name fool you; most of what they offer fits the name but that doesn’t preclude them from being great entertainment.
The film critic Dennis Schwartz panned the film in 2001, writing, "One of the most obnoxious sci-fi films ever. It offers Hollywood's silly response to the 1950s 'Red Scare' sweeping the country and promoted by the McCarthy Senate hearings looking for commies under every bed cover. To realize how dumb this Cold War film is, try this question of the plot's summary on for size: Can it be that the Martians are signaling Earth and that their leader is actually uttering the very word of God? This is one of those really bad propaganda films that has no entertainment value, as it shows how paranoic this country can be and how it can use religion at the drop of a radio signal to promote materialism and Christianity as a superior way of life than communism. This one might be the strangest and most twisted Red Menace films of all time. "
- Red Planet Mars. Dir. Harry Horner. Melaby Pictures Corp, 1952. DVD.
- "Matthew 25:23 His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master!'". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
- Variety. Film review, May 15, 1952. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.
- The New York Times, film review, Published: June 16, 1952. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.
- Eder, Bruce. Allmovie, film review. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, September 18, 2001. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.