Six Degrees of Forbidden Planet, Edward Bernds, and George Pal

The release of The Phantom Planet (1961) on DVD from Legend Films (in its original black & white and new colorized version on one disc) kind of gives me an excuse to cite some of the times props from MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956) reappeared in el cheapo productions, as well as TV shows – something perhaps unheard of today, since any iconic prop would easily be recognized by fans, and seriously harm the suspension of belief.

I can’t precisely name all the works where the space suits popped up, but certainly the most obvious is Edward Bernds’ goofy sci-fi ‘epic,’ Queen of Outer Space (1958), where men land on a planet inhabited by feminists wearing pastel evening gowns and high heel pumps. The astronauts are all wearing Forbidden Planet suits, which were also used in one or two episodes of the original Twilight Zone series, including some stock footage of the space ship.

As historian Tom Weaver recounts in his commentary track for Queen, a fair chunk of footage in that film actually comes from Bernds’ other masterpiece, World Without End (1956), including shots of the revolving moon as the ship rapidly approaches, and angles of the moon craters before the silver ship crashes into a puree of plastic fuzz before an abrupt fadeout.

Phantom Planet is also an el cheapo production, and director William Marshall takes the moon footage from Bernds’ films, and uses it in reverse in an opening prologue about space flight. The same footage (plus the moon approach) was also used in director Ronald V. Ashcroft’s The Astounding She-Monster (1957), a brilliantly awful sci-fi shocker made for about $1.25, and available from Corinth/Image.

Saya-kowah... OOOMBAYAH!Director Ed Wood, Jr., had some uncredited involvement with She-Monster, but he’s hardly the reason why the film stinks. In spite of the brilliant poster campaign (just look at those striking pulp graphics and colours), everything is done badly, and the opening credits, which already use Bernds’ moon footage, also slap titles over the gorgeous matte shots of planetary mountains in the post-credit montage over which Sir Cedric Hardwicke explains how foolish we humans are in George Pal’s still superb production of The War of the Worlds (1953).

Bernds’ World Without End is finally free from the clutches of that irritating Best Buy exclusive deal in the U.S., and we’ll have a review of that film soon, as well as a minor rant as to why Leith Stevens’ music ought to be released on disc.

(What makes Phantom Planet unique for film music fans is that the bulk of the tracked score comes from Stevens’ haunting Destination Moon, George Pal’s highly influential, albeit fanciful and very dated tale of man’s journey to our orbiting globe of green cheese. Aside from a 10” LP and the re-recorded stereo album, little else of Stevens’ Destination Moon music is commercially available, so Marshall’s goofy film also gives us long chunks of montages with nothing but Stevens’ elegant score.)



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