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FORBIDDEN PLANET (director: Fred Wilcox; screenwriters: Cyril Hume/based on the story by Irving Block and Allen Adler/on the Play The Tempest by William Shakespeare; cinematographer: George J. Folsey; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Bebe Barron/Louis Barron; cast: Leslie Nielsen (Commander Adams), Walter Pidgeon (Dr Edward Morbius), Anne Francis (Altaira Morbius), Warren Stevens (Lieutenant ‘Doc’ Ostrow), Jack Kelly (Lieutentant Farman), Earl Holliman (Cook), Richard Anderson (Chief Quinn), Marvin Miller (Voice of Robby); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Nicholas Nayfack; MGM; 1956)
“Marvelous special effects.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is magnificently transformed into this sumptuous big-budget (cost $1 million) sci-fi film. It’s ambitiously directed by Fred Wilcox (the play is updated with Freudian twists, but remains true in spirit and plot line) as the first sf at the classy MGM. The project was green lighted upon the recommendation of Dore Shary, MGM’s new honcho, who surprisingly took Irving Block and Allen Adler’s screenplay when other big named studios refused. This lushly filmed in CinemaScope 1950s classic made the sci-fi genre respectable, where before only the small studios produced such films on low budgets.

In the year 2200 A.D., Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) leads the Belerephon expedition with an American crew of astronauts and leaves Earth to journey for 378 day by United Planets Cruiser to Altair IV (the “forbidden planet”) to investigate the disappearance of the research party and colonizers sent some twenty years earlier. The planet has a lush desert look, consisting of a soothing green sky, Club Med-like pink sand, and two moons. There are two human survivors of the expedition, the philologist Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his beautiful mini-skirt clad daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), and a superior to anything Earth has achieved in technology robot servant named Robby (created by Morbius when he inherited the lab from the former tenants). Morbius is anxious for them to leave, but they refuse and visit his ultra-mod luxury home and get a tour of his advanced science lab equipped with all the futuristic bells and whistles. The crew learn the planet was in ancient times inhabited by the superior Krell civilization, now an extinct race. Their mind-bending experiments and terrific energy surge allowed them to artificially expand their intelligence to unthinkable degrees. The presence of the Americans stirs up an unseen evil force as it starts picking off the men one by one, just like it did when Morbius and his wife first arrived. The innocent Altaira, who is naive in the ways of man and making love, tempts Lieutentant Farman (Jack Kelly) and the skipper to pursue her. After a kissing lesson from Farman, she chooses the more reserved skipper.

The skipper while innocently romancing his babe, has his hands full trying to combat the invisible killer’s increasing attacks. But soon the skipper deducts that the killer is the suppressed base energy from the Krell’s unconscious (the Freudian id). It has collected in Morbius’s subconscious, who is reacting in anger to the Americans being on the planet and messing with his daughter and is releasing this invisible monster force to destroy them.

The connection with the Bard’s last play, takes it away from the usual sf pulp-fiction mode. Pidgeon’s Morbius would be the world-weary mad scientist Prospero, Francis, his daughter, would be Miranda, and their robot Robby would be Ariel. The invisible monster force would be recognizable as Caliban.

A huge plus is the superb acting by everyone but Francis (too petulant for my taste) and Earl Holliman, who in the minor role of the mischievous cook over acts as he gets loaded on bourbon. Also, adding to the film’s greatness is the intelligent script, the marvelous special effects, the great animations provided by Walt Disney, the imaginative photography and those wonderfully color-cordinated sets.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”