The Man From Planet X
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The king of the Bs, Edgar G. Ulmer was renowned for his ability and his preference for shooting all his features on shoestring budgets. Most directors would feel creatively restricted by the lack of funds, but Ulmer was stimulated by the challenge. Indeed, he turned out some of the most imaginatively filmed genre pieces ever to come out of "Poverty Row," a term reserved for low budget studios like Monogram. Ulmer started his movie career working on several milestones of European cinema, including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Metropolis (1926), and Sunrise (1927), usually as a set designer and assistant director. He started directing his own features in 1933 and created such groundbreaking genre films as The Black Cat (1934) and the film noir classic Detour (1946). For his science fiction film The Man From Planet X (1951), Ulmer completed the B-picture during a six day shooting schedule, having shot it on sets left over from the Ingrid Bergman epic, Joan of Arc (1948). The result is that rarity - an artful and thought-provoking science fiction thriller that is all the more remarkable considering the film's modest budget.
Lead actor Robert Clarke (The Hideous Sun Demon), who was paid a mere $350 a week for starring in The Man From Planet X, recalled the film in an interview with Anthony Petkovich for
"It was the first film ever released about an invader from another planet. We were in production after Howard Hawks' The Thing and that of course was a big budget film. But they were waiting for the snow to fall. Ken Tobey told me that they waited for two or three months! In the meantime, Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen started making Planet X. We were in production in Hal Roach Studios on one sound stage with only a couple of shots that were done exteriorly.
"Edgar (Ulmer) was originally a set designer. As a matter of fact, he did the glass paintings of the castle in the film. Painted them himself. Edgar never gave less than 150%. I've had people ask me, "What was it like to go to Scotland to do a picture?" I think it had to do with the fact that the set was filled with that simulated fog all day long. The crew's eyes would be watery and bloodshot, their throats were sore. We, as actors, could go out once in a while. He didn't just have a stationary camera like most B pictures. Like most B pictures before the zoom lens was invented, you had to lay track down on the floor, but with the rock set for the castle, it was uneven, so they had to continually shim it down. Edgar had a cameraman who was trying extra hard. And considering that we only had six days to shoot, the resulting camera moves gave such a wonderful, big feel to the production. Edgar also had a lot to do with editing the script which was very talky. He just had an enormous amount of input. Another director could have just made a flat B picture. He gave an artistic feel to it."
William Schallert, Clarke's co-star in the film, also recalls his involvement in The Man From Planet X in Tom Weaver's excellent book, They Fought in the Creature Features:
"I've always felt very beholden to (producers) Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen for recognizing that I was a usable actor and putting me into several of their pictures. The first time they used me was in The Man from Planet X, which we made in 1950. At that point, I'd been working on the stage for four years, and I'd built a kind of reputation in town...At the time, I also had a beard, and maybe that helped; the guy I played in The Man from Planet X was the villain of the piece. I was called over to Hal Roach studios, read for them and got the part.
"They were an oddly matched couple of guys. Jack Pollexfen was a really strange looking guy; we used to call him the Man from Planet X....I also remember X himself. He (the actor) was a very small guy, kind of middle aged. He mostly just looked interesting; I don't know that he was much of an actor. In a way, you look back on pictures like The Man from Planet X and you say, "God, that whole thing was just a joke ," but it
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Producer: Jack Pollexfen, Aubrey Wisberg
Screenplay: Aubrey Wisberg, Jack Pollexfen
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Art Direction: Angelo Scibetta, Byron Vreeland
Editor: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
Music: Charles Koff
Cast: Robert Clarke (John Lawrence), Margaret Field (Enid Elliot), Raymond Bond (Professor Elliot), William Schallert (Dr. Mears).
by Scott McGee