Thursday, November 26, 2009


When Astronauts Adam West and Paul Mantee have to pull some fancy maneuvering to escape collision with an asteroid, they wind up stuck in orbit around Mars. They eject in separate capsules and land on the planet; West is killed but Mantee and a monkey named Mona survive. Mantee has limited food and oxygen, but soon discovers a yellow coal-like rock that, when burned, gives off enough oxygen for him to use to get around. The monkey discovers a grotto with water and some edible vegetation and they live comfortably for a while. Soon, Mantee finds a skeleton in a marked grave and when he begins hallucinating (seeing the dead, zombie-like West walking around the cave), he fears for his sanity, but suddenly a "Man Friday" shows up. It turns out that an alien humanoid race is strip mining the planet and one of the slaves (Victor Lundin) escapes and stumbles into Mantee's cave. The two learn to communicate and must eventually go on the run from aliens searching for Lundin. They wind up at the polar ice cap hoping against hope for an escape ship from Earth.

When I was a teenager, I'd read good things about this movie in the monster mags, but when it showed up on network TV, it was, of course, panned and scanned, and my family hadn't moved up to a color set yet. I got bored with it long before the halfway mark and gave up. Now it's on a Criterion DVD, letterboxed and in beautiful color. I still got bored, but not until much later. In its day, the movie was marketed as scientifically accurate, and indeed, the landscape does look quite a bit like the photos from the Mars Rover--it was filmed in Death Valley, with the blue sky replaced by an eerie orange glow. The rest of the science (the lack of weightlessness, the oxygen from the stones) I'm not so sure about. Mantee does a good job in the middle third of the film, with no one but the monkey to play off of, but after Lundin shows up, things bog down a bit. Mantee looks hot in his snug black t-shirt, and we even get a quick nude shot of him jumping into a pond. For me, the movie is more interesting than compelling, more a novelty than a film I'd watch more than once. [DVD]

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