A Message from Mars (1913) Poster

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Update - the new, restored version
davidvmcgillivray-24-90581121 November 2015
Called the first British science-fiction film, this is more precisely a fantasy inspired by "A Christmas Carol" with the moral guidance coming not in a dream but from Mars. It stars Charles Hawtrey, at 56 far too old for the role of a selfish young man, Horace, a part he first played on stage in 1899. Although this play has been considerably opened out, with scenes on Mars and in the streets of London (including Trafalgar Square), it still offers rare insight into the way a drama would have been staged more than a hundred years ago. Hawtrey was regarded as one of the first of the naturalistic actors and yet he still uses what would now be called stock gestures. He rubs his hands with glee about four times in succession. The supporting cast is even more melodramatic. The film is also of interest because of its relative sophistication. Although the camera is static, there are several special effects, the most notable (and contemporary) being the process used to suggest that Horace has been "zapped" by the Martian. The budget also allowed for a burning building, not common in 1913. The version under review was restored by the BFI in 2014. It's tinted and so the tech specs should reflect that, officially, the film is now in colour. (The night scenes, tinted blue, are disorienting because the shoot was clearly done in bright sunlight). The new electronic score, commissioned from Matthew Herbert, suggests other-worldliness but doesn't aid the ballroom scenes. The print, available online and on TV, is around 60 not 69 minutes. It's not clear whether the reviewer who posted here in 2002 somehow saw a longer version; but for the record this is how the new version differs from his. We don't know that Horace is an astronomer, he doesn't read a magazine article about intelligent life on Mars, and he doesn't go to sleep in his study. He is only shown in his living room and the opening scenes and inter-titles imply that what follows is not a dream. The Martian does not wear "tight-fitting black clothes" and he is shown arriving outside Horace's house. There is no indication that the tramp is "an inventor who was cheated out of the fruits of his labour". He too merely turns up at Horace's house seeking work. There are no scenes in which Horace is allowed to eavesdrop on his friends' conversations nor those in which Horace's fortune is lost. The film is also valuable in that it shows that it was once common to tip policemen. Postscript 2018: The other review I refer to above is by the notorious F Gwynplaine Macintyre. By the time I reviewed "A Message from Mars" he had been dead for 5 years. Many will know that, after his death, it was revealed that he made a habit of pretending to have seen very old films, many of them presumed lost. I think we can safely say that he did not see a longer version of this film.
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Creaky Victorian comedy
Charles Hawtrey (more about that name later) was an actor-manager in Victorian England, specialising in light comedies. One of his biggest hits was "A Message from Mars" by the American playwright Richard Ganthony. Hawtrey premiered this play at the Avenue Theatre, London, in 1899. The play ran for nearly two years. In 1901, Hawtrey made his triumphant American debut in this same play at the Garrick Theatre, New York City.

The plot line of "A Message from Mars" is glaringly similar to "A Christmas Carol" ... so similar, in fact, that anyone who has read Dickens's novel (or seen any of its dramatisations) will be able to guess all of the plot developments in "A Message from Mars". The chief difference between them is that "A Message from Mars" is lighter and more comedic in tone.

Horace Parker (Hawtrey) is a wealthy young man who is exceedingly selfish and self-centred: not only is he a miser, but he also expects his friends (and everyone else) to conduct their lives according to his personal convenience. Parker is engaged to Minnie Templer (played by the attractive ingenue Crissie Bell), but Minnie has discovered Parker's selfishness and she is on the brink of calling off the engagement.

Parker does have one constructive hobby: he is an amateur astronomer, and owns a magnificent telescope. One evening he reads a magazine article which speculates about the possibility of intelligent life on Mars. Parker is sceptical about this, and he drifts off to sleep in his study.

Suddenly, Parker is awakened by a visitor: Ramiel, a messenger from Mars. If you're wondering what a 1913-vintage movie Martian looks like, you'll be disappointed. Ramiel (played by E. Holman Clark) looks like a handsome Englishman in tight-fitting black clothes. He doesn't have a spaceship or any other interplanetary gear; he simply ARRIVES in Parker's study. All through the story, Ramiel acts more like an angel than an alien: he really seems to be a visitor from Heaven (using some sort of magic or divine intervention) rather than a visitor from another planet with access to advanced technology.

Ramiel has come all the way from Mars to teach Parker the error of his ways. Just as the Spirits of Christmas did with Scrooge, Ramiel is able to teleport himself and Parker to different locations, where they observe other people's actions while remaining invisible to everyone but us.

First, Ramiel makes Parker witness the lives of people much less fortunate than himself ... including an inventor who was cheated out of the fruits of his labour and now must live as a starving tramp. Parker is unmoved. Next, Ramiel allows Parker to eavesdrop on his friends and to overhear their real opinions of him: most of his "friends" actually despise Parker's selfishness and are only interested in him for his money. Parker is angered but unmoved. Finally, Ramiel manipulates reality so that Parker's fortune is lost and he is a pauper.

SPOILER ALERT: The ending is obvious. Parker was asleep when the Martian arrives, so of course all of this turns out to be (surprise!) a dream. Now he awakens, and (like Scrooge) he has learnt his lesson. Parker vows to end his selfishness, using his fortune to help others. Minnie decides to marry him after all, without bothering to wonder how Parker has changed so drastically overnight.

The script of "A Message from Mars" was published in book form in 1913, illustrated with photo stills from the movie. This may be the very first book/movie publicity tie-in.

Most film fans will associate the name "Charles Hawtrey" with an English comedian of a later era, who starred in the "Carry On" movies and played supporting roles in several major British films, including "Sabotage" and "Passport to Pimlico". For years, I mistakenly assumed that he was Charles Hawtrey Junior, son of the Victorian stage actor who stars in 'A Message from Mars'. In fact, the 'Carry On' actor's real name was George Hartree. During his adolescence, as a child actor (when the original Charles Hawtrey was still well-remembered), Hartree cynically changed his name to "Charles Hawtrey" with the specific intention of misleading people into believing that he was Hawtrey's son.

"A Message from Mars" is creaky and predictable, and not a science-fiction film as I define the term, but it holds some interest for those interested in the Victorian theatre.
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Long-forgotten British sci-fi movie is more than a tad dated, as you'd expect
Leofwine_draca9 May 2016
A MESSAGE FROM MARS is an intriguing little sci-fi movie with two distinguishing factors: it's a silent film, released in 1913, and there aren't too many of them around; also, it's British, which is unusual in itself from this era. We have the BFI to thank for recently cleaning up the print and putting it on general release.

As for the film itself, I think it's fair to say this is no classic. I was expecting a low rent British version of A TRIP TO THE MOON from the title, but what we get instead is a morality story along the lines of A Christmas CAROL. The plot involves a disgraced Martian who, in order to reintegrate into his society, must help a selfish human see the error of his ways in order to become a better person.

A MESSAGE FROM MARS is an hour long production with accompanying music and sound effects and tinted scenes varying between sepia, blue, and red. The acting is exaggerated, as you'd expect from the era, but the storyline is quite involved. Although the Martians themselves are disappointingly dated, the 'zap' effects are cleverly staged, and there's a decent set-piece involving a burning building. The camera-work is static for most of the time but there's a good rolling shot of a moving vehicle which must have been tough to stage. I should imagine that this was electrifying stuff for audiences at the time although nowadays it's more of a quaint curio than anything else.
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Of historical interest only
jamesrupert201423 December 2019
Ramiel (E. Holman Clark), a Martian law-breaker, is sentenced to travel to Earth where he is to "redeem the most selfish of mortals" (Horace Parker, played by Sir Charles Hawtrey). He does so by forcing Parker to experience life as a tramp, during which the wealthy but thoughtless man realizes the value of friendship and kindness. While often cited as Britain's first full-length science-fiction film, 'The Message from Mars' is only nominally science fiction. The 'Martians' could have just as easily been a group of angels (they refer to Earthlings as 'mortals' and "Ramiel" is the name of an archangel in the apocryphal Book of Enoch) and there is no Martian 'technology' contributing to the story (Ramiel simply appears and disappears at will). The film is very slow moving and stagy (not surprising considering its provenance). The acting is typical of the era: lots of exaggerated gestures and posturing (po-faced Ramiel spends most of his time on Earth crossing his arms and frowning in disapproval). The film does mix indoor and outdoor filming and the recently released BFI edition includes the original colour tinting. There are a number of routine substitution splices but the only really interesting 'special effect' is the 'shaking' that Ramiel gives an initially belligerent Parker. The film is often compared to "A Christmas Carol" but unlike Dickens' complex story, Parker needs only to briefly experience life as indigent person to find enlightenment. Hawtrey, who had played Parker in the 1899 stage play is too old for the role of the suitor who thoughtlessly jilts his girlfriend Minnie (he is 55 years old to ingénue Crissie Bell's 23 years). The restored BBC version was scored by Matthew Herbert, and the minimalist machine-music is often out of place and dull. At about 60 minutes in length, 'The Message from Mars' is watchable but will likely only be on any real interest to film historians or to fans of the genre.
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A Good Movie to Watch With the Soundtrack Turned Off
boblipton15 July 2018
Others have described this movie as a scientifictional version of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and that's not a bad tag. On Mars, where everyone wears Medieval garb and a big ankh, E. Holman Clark has committed some crime. For his punishment, he has his ankh taken away and must redeem Charles Hawtrey.

This is not the Charles Hawtrey of the CARRY ON films, but a stout, well-to-do man who wants to stay home and read the paper when his fiancee, Crissie Bell wants to go to a dance. After she breaks their engagement and he settles in, a man comes with a note asking if Hawtrey can do something for him. The answer is apparently no. After this, Martian Clark pops in using standard camera tricks, and tries to redeem Earthling Hawtrey by tormenting him.

It is based on a play by Richard Ganthony from 1899 and this is believed to be the earliest British sf feature -- make of those distinctions what you will. I found the hour-long restoration a bit abrupt, but well carried out, the story well acted and the print quite watchable; doubtless the tinting helped. I am always glad to see any early movie restored, and to see one, like this, that is quite watchable on its own terms is a pleasure.

What I found distinctly not a pleasure is the sound track that the BFI allowed it to be saddled with by Matthew Herbert, credited here as "Sound Designer." I have heard Mr. Herbert's work previously on the Best Foreign Oscar-winning UNA MUJER FANTASTICA, and he is certainly competent in that. For this movie, his sound design sounds as if part of it has been lifted from the 1960s version of DOCTOR WHO; the music, including dance music, is something I can only describe as electro-junkyard Reggae; and his idea of what an Edwardian London Street sounds like on a clear, clean evening, is that of the Indianapolis Speedway on a slushy afternoon. Other sound effects are equally over-the-top.

Like many a contemporary musical artist brought in to compose for a silent movie, Mr.Herbert seems to think that there are silent movie fans who will watch this regardless, so he needs to get in the kids who wouldn't watch it without the weird and ugly music. The result, I fear, will be something that will please no one but Mr. Herbert. People like me, who enjoy silent movies, will be rude about it, and the kids won't come to see this movie anyway. Not until they have gone to a lot of the more easily accessible silents. At that point, they will, at best, be puzzled.
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This is just a message for a friend to find my User-ID
teebruecke23 February 2022
I need 150 characters so here you go.

There was once a man from peru who dreamed he was eating his shoe he woke with a fright in the middle of the night to find that his dream had come true.
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Of great historic importance, but difficult for the modern viewer to appreciate
JamesHitchcock21 November 2022
Ramiel, a native of Mars, is banished to Earth for some unspecified violation of the laws of his society. He is informed that he will only be permitted to return to his native planet when he has fulfilled his mission, which is to redeem the most selfish man on Earth. This turns out to be Horace Parker, a wealthy middle-aged Londoner. Horace is not a miser, as some have called him, if by "miser" is meant a man who would rather hoard his money than spend it. His luxurious home and elegant clothing show that he is quite happy to spend on himself. He refuses, however, to spend money on anyone else and treats the poor with contempt. His selfishness has led his beautiful young fiancée Minnie to call off their engagement, but he seems unconcerned.

Some descriptions of the film call Horace a young man, although this is inaccurate as he is played by Charles Hawtrey, who was 55 at the time. This is not, of course, the actor of the same name who found fame in the "Carry On" comedies. The younger man, whose real name was George Hartree, changed it to "Charles Hawtrey" in the hope that people would think he was the son of the original Charles Hawtree, who was a well-known figure on the British stage during the early twentieth century; in reality the two were not related.

"A Message from Mars" has been called the first British science fiction film, but it is not really science fiction in the sense that we would understand the term. It is really a traditional religious morality tale, semi-secularised by making Horace's saviour a visitor from another planet rather than, say, an angel. Even so his name, Ramiel, is that of an angel mentioned in the Apocrypha. As others have pointed out, the plot is similar to that of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".

Like virtually all films from the 1910s, this one was shot in monochrome, but in this case that word does not necessarily equate to "black-and-white" because different scenes were tinted in different colours, as was sometimes done during the silent era. (Alfred Hitchcock was to use this device in some of his early films such as "Downhill" and "The Lodger"). Here the Martian scenes are tinted in a neutral brown, whereas on Earth exterior scenes are a chilly blue, stressing the cold and bleakness of the streets (the action takes place in winter) and the interior ones a warm orange-brown, stressing the warmth and comfort of Horace's home. A house fire plays an important part in the action, and the relevant scenes are tinted a vivid red.

One strange feature of the modern restored version is that a soundtrack has been added- there is no dialogue, but there is a musical score and sound effects, some of which seem inappropriate, especially the sound of traffic whistling by which we hear every time the action moves outside onto a London street. Someone appears to have forgotten that there was little motorised traffic in 1913, and what vehicles there were moved much more slowly than modern ones, so they certainly would not have made the sound we hear. Mars must be a very windy place- all the Martian scenes take place indoors, but we can always hear the wind howling outside.

Trying to evaluate a film like "A Message from Mars" is a difficult task because it is so different from modern films. Indeed, it is in many ways different from later silent films such as "Downhill", "The Lodger" or Anthony Asquith's "A Cottage on Dartmoor", all of which date from the late twenties. By this later period techniques such as the close-up had been developed, which allowed actors to display emotion by using facial expressions. In 1913 cinematic technique was in its infancy, and there are no close-ups in "A Message from Mars". All scenes are filmed from a distance, and the only way the actors have to show emotion is a series of hand and arm gestures, which is not particularly effective. It is perhaps not surprising that the scene in which Minnie ends her engagement is so uninvolving. Films like this are of great historic importance, but it is difficult for the modern viewer to appreciate them. 6/10.
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Good BFI restoration
Stevieboy6667 May 2018
A Martian is sent to Earth to cure a rich man called Horace of his selfish ways. In other words this is a sci fi variation of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. I watched the excellent B.F.I restoration on the Talking Pictures channel. Needless to say, everything ends well. But one question that I found myself asking - how does a fat, bolding middle aged man get engaged to an attractive woman who looks young enough to be his daughter!? The answer I guess is obvious - his wealth. Some things haven't changed!
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