“Halloween Twenty-Fifteen”: A Review of “Forbidden Planet” (1956)

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Forbidden Planet is often the film named by historians and critics as the most important science fiction production of the second half of the 20th Century. Without it who knows if other movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey would have ever been made. Prior to Fred Wilcox’s 1956 Space Opera, science fiction was relegated to smaller budgets, B-level stalwart actors, comical special effects, and hammy scripts. However, this would be the first of such films to actually receive a decent budget, and due to its enormous success, opened the door for future big-budget sci-fi projects. Forbidden Planet is loosely played on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It concerns a team of scientists (led by Leslie Nielson and Warren Stevens) sent to a far-away planet to check in on a previous group that landed there 20 years earlier to create a colony. Upon arrival, they discover that only one member of the crew is still alive (Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius) as well as his daughter (Anne Francis) who was born on the planet before his wife died. Things seem normal yet out of the ordinary at the same time, as the lone survivor claims he is perfectly happy there and does not need the team to come rescue him or check up on what he is doing. He wants to continue his solitary work.

As they explore further, they realize the planet has a secret. Thousands of years previously, a race of highly intelligent beings lived there and left some of their technology and language behind. The doctor who has been there all this time has made it his personal mission to uncover as much as he can. This does come with some problems, though. Some of the technology is beyond the grasp of simple humans, and its use ends up coming with dire consequences toward the conclusion of the movie. Along with he and his daughter, there is also Robbie the Robot, who is capable of almost any tasks (including producing 60 gallons of bourbon when asked by a curious crew member). This type of robot character would become a mainstay in science fiction films to come. During their stay on Planet Altaira, the crew battles stubbornness on behalf of the doctor, attacks from invisible beings, and internal strife coming from their own subconscious minds.

This is a pretty deep movie considering the time period and really enters uncharted territory for the genre. To explain the “deep” aspects of the story, that would require giving away the ending. But I will say the finale has a bit of a twist. Also, for 1956, the scenes involving the daughter were quite risque. There are plenty of strong undertones present. Though humorous and corny now, there are times when the film becomes so sexually charged that audience members of the time must have fainted. The script is intelligent and the acting is decent, though not Forbidden Planet’s strong-point. The special effects are groundbreaking and the enormous budget is apparent in all aspects of the sets, costumes, and visuals. It is a pleasure to watch. Also starring Jack Kelly and Earl Holiman.

8 out of 10 stars.

More articles in this special “Halloween Twenty-Fifteen” column can be found here.

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3 thoughts on ““Halloween Twenty-Fifteen”: A Review of “Forbidden Planet” (1956)

  1. Great site. Just a bit of trivia here: I went to high school with “Robbie the Robot.” His character is always referred to but never the actor inside the robot. His name was/is, Frank Carpenter, and we were in drama class together in high school, did plays together and he came to Hollywood a year before I did. For a time he was pumping gas at the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd. and I’d stop by in my Yellow Cab to say high from time to time. After Forbidden Planet we lost touch. For me, he kind of just “dropped off” the edge of the earth. In any case, thanks for posting such interesting stuff and including your interview of “General Hood” (Gettysburg and Gods & Generals).

    Thanks for a great site and interesting stuff.
    Patrick Gorman
    a/k/a General Hood

    1. Thanks for the comment, Patrick. That’s a neat piece of trivia that you knew the original Robbie the Robot. Stay in touch. Maybe we can do another interview with ol’ General Hood!

      Regards,
      Greg

  2. Mike McCormick

    Patrick/Greg – Believe it or not I met Frank Carpenter today. He is living with his wife in a Boise, ID retirement community. They are neighbors of my mother who is in the hospital following a traffic accident and I met him and his wife while visiting my mother today and they also stopped by to see her. I spoke with him a bit and he mentioned his role as “Robbie”. Being a fan of the movie I was trying to find more info when I came upon this blog. If you want to get in touch with him just do a search on “white pages” in Boise, ID.

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