During a flight to Mars in the spaceship Mars Gravity Probe 1, Commander Christopher 'Kit' Draper and Colonel Dan McReady are forced to deviate from an asteroid and they leave their spacecraft in pods. Draper lands on the surface of the Red Planet and survives. He learns how to produce oxygen and while exploring the planet, he finds McReady dead in his crashed pod. He finds also the monkey Mona and brings the animal to the cave where he is sheltered. He learns that he can breathe the Martian air for short periods but needs also oxygen. But Mona finds water and an edible plant in the underground. .After a long period alone, Draper feels the loneliness. One day, he sees a spacecraft landing on Mars and he believes it might be the rescue team to save him. But he finds aliens working on the planet and some of them are slaves. One of them flees and stumble with Draper and he names him Friday. Now he needs to find a way to be rescued and return to Earth.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The rock walls the characters climb along in the Martian caverns were comprised of modular sections which could be rearranged for different scenes to prevent a repetitious look to the face of the cliffs the characters were negotiating. See more »
The water-pool cave that Kit falls into from the surface is later revealed to be a 100 or more feet high, a distance that would kill a falling man. (however, gravity on Mars is only ~40% Earth's, so the fall could be less serious) See more »
The BBFC website for the original UK theatrical release lists a running time of just 80 minutes. This suggests the film was heavily cut on its original release as the full theatrical running time is 106 minutes. See more »
Here is a film that has endured, perhaps because the science (relatively accurate back then) does not outweigh the fiction, and the crux of the fiction is the human relationship. The script, with just a few changes, could have been made as a Western, indeed, the appearance, and many mannerisms of Vic Lundin's Friday character seems to be based on portrayals of American Indians in Westerns.
Credit has to be given first to director Byron Haskin, no stranger to Sci-Fi, having made WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON in the decade before RCOM was released in summer of 1964. Interestingly, for a man who spent much of his career in the special effects department at Warners, the film does not depend on effects, in fact they may be the film's weak spot. Not that they are substandard for the era, but the repetition of shots of the alien ships in flight, and of the destruction they cause (not even taken from a different angle, or reverse printed), remind one that the film was a budget conscious production. Originally conceived by noted screenwriter Ib Melchoir for a more costly production, budget cuts mandated script revisions that were done by John C. Higgins. This was a curious decision, Higgins was more at home in film noirs that were made by Anthony Mann, this was his first and only genre assignment. To his credit, and Melchior's misgivings aside, he pared down the script to essentials, and the film in general looks like a costlier production.
Much of the films success has to be owing to the splendid performance of Paul Mantee as Kip Draper, who carries of most of the first half of the film singlehandedly. Mantee was an unknown at the time of shooting, and he only had one more lead in A MAN CALLED DAGGER, but this casting worked in the film's favor. With an unknown actor, we're not in the position to associate the performer with any other role, he becomes everyman, and we become he. We share his loss of his commanding officer, his need to discover new forms of food, shelter, oxygen, and most of all, his isolation and loneliness as he begins to realize he's not likely to leave the planet. Actor Vic Lundin does well as Friday, we originally are led to believe he is mute, and the actor's eyes and expressions convey his thoughts perfectly. While it could be carped now that the film is politically incorrect, that it is an example of imperialism that Friday learn English, rather than Draper learning Friday's language, but such points of view were uncommon in 1964. Besides, that would require the audience to learn Friday's language anyway, and the script, having Friday owe his life to Draper relieves this as a form of subservience. As the film goes on, the relationship becomes one of equals, and Friday does repay the debt by saving Draper's life.
Applause should also be given for the talents of Winston Hoch, cinematographer, for depicting a credible Martian landscape. Much of the film was shot in Death Valley, where 16 years earlier, Hoch shot John Ford's THREE GODFATHERS (he also shot the luscious photography of SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON as well as some of the Irwin Allen shows and movies in the 60s), but during the whole of RCOM, we can entirely believe we're on Mars. Composer Van Cleave contributed a score that unfortunately has not made its way to a home recording, but works marvelously with the mood of the film, embellishing it, but not overpowering it.
When the film was completed, Paramount and producer Aubrey Schenk were impressed enough to announce a sequel which was to be titled "Robinson Crusoe in the Invisible Galaxy" but disappointing boxoffice results quelled that project. Mantee would go on to a career of supporting roles on many TV films and episodic shows, and Haskin would come back with the excellent film THE POWER, but this was a shining moment for both of them. As with the best of Sci-fi before it, METROPOLIS, THINGS TO COME, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS or THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, the film is a celebration of the human spirit and a triumph of collaboration among talent.
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