Friday, March 10, 2017


Eve heads out to the beach with good news for her swim trunks-clad scientist boyfriend Fred: they're being transferred from the barren island observatory where they work now to a better assignment someplace else. She's also happy that they will no longer be working for the cranky old man who heads the observatory, Professor Benson (Claude Rains). They celebrate this news by deciding to get married. Meanwhile, two astronomers think they have discovered signs of a strange object heading for Earth. When Fred visits the eccentric Benson in his elaborate greenhouse, Benson is already aware of the planet-sized object which he has dubbed "the Outsider." Once the public is aware, experts predict that the Outsider will collide with Earth, but Benson claims it will not. He turns out to be correct, but what it does instead is quite strange: it goes into orbit around Earth and begins shooting out flying discs aimed at our planet. We soon discover that the saucers are unmanned, and that the Outsider seems to be, rather than a planet, a vehicle for a race of aliens. The military wants to destroy it, but Benson wants to learn what it is and accompanies a small group of scientists, including Fred and Eve, to land on the Outsider. They have a short amount of time to explore before the planet will be destroyed, and of course the recalcitrant Benson puts himself in harm's way by breaking off from the others. When told he is putting himself in danger, he says, "What importance does life have if to live means not to know?"

This Italian sci-fi film has big ambitions but is hobbled by a low budget, a flawed script, and poor English language dubbing. The idea of a spaceship that looks like a planet is good and would be used in later science-fiction movies. But much of the plotting feels half-hearted or perhaps unfinished. The relationship between Eve (Maya Brent) and Fred (Umberto Orsini, in yellow at left) is given a big build-up in the first 20 minutes, but it soon sputters out to the point where they actually break up (I have no idea why—perhaps I missed a plotpoint). A sequence set on a Mars base seems designed mainly to take up time in the middle of the movie. The special effects are colorful but cheap and will certainly be disappointing to current day viewers. As the narrative approaches the climax, it gets interesting but is not really allowed to develop beyond getting to the end of the movie. What's good about it? Well, a nice eerie atmosphere is sustained throughout due to cinematography, sets and the musical score. There is quite a bit of debate about the late-career performance of Claude Rains—many critics find him hammy and unbearable, but I join those who believe that he is the movie's main saving grace. In the first part of the film, when his character holds forth in his greenhouse, he seems to be sleepwalking through the role, but by the last half-hour, he is giving a full blooded performance, even if we can tell that he thinks the proceedings are generally beneath him. This is only the second film for director Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson) who would go on to helm many low-budget films—sci-fi, horror, exploitation—and would reach his peak with a series of cheap but colorful films in the mid-60s, the best of which is WILD, WILD PLANET. This is a public domain movie so there seems to be no official video release; most of the DVDs out there are poor in quality, but the print I saw on a YouTube channel was at least presented in widescreen, even if it was a bit blurry at times. [YouTube]

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