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Red Planet Mars

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Red Planet Mars
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHarry Horner
Screenplay by
Based onthe play Red Planet
by John L. Balderston and John Hoare
Produced by
  • Donald Hyde
  • Anthony Veiller
CinematographyJoseph Biroc
Edited byFrancis D. Lyon
Music byMahlon Merrick
Melaby Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 15, 1952 (1952-05-15) (United States)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States

Red Planet Mars is a 1952 American science fiction film released by United Artists starring Peter Graves and Andrea King. It is based on a 1932 play Red Planet written by John L. Balderston and John Hoare and was directed by art director Harry Horner in his directorial debut.

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An American astronomer obtains images of Mars suggesting large-scale environmental changes are occurring at a pace that can only be accomplished by intelligent beings with advanced technology. Scientist Chris Cronyn (Peter Graves) and his wife, Linda (Andrea King) have been contacting Mars by a hydrogen powered radio transmitter, using technology based on the work of Nazi scientist Franz Calder. They communicate first through an exchange of mathematical concepts, like the value of pi, and then through answers to specific questions about Martian life. The transmissions claim that Mars is a utopia, which has led to great technological advancement and the elimination of scarcity, but that there is no fear of nuclear war.

This revelation leads to political and economic chaos, especially in the Western hemisphere, and is said to have "done more to smash the democratic world in the last four weeks than the Russians have been able to do in eleven years".[1] The U.S. government imposes a news blackout and orders the transmissions to stop due to fears that the Soviet Union could pick up and decode their messages. This ends when the next message reveals that the Earth is condemned to the constant fear of nuclear war as a punishment for straying from the teachings of the Bible. Revolution sweeps the globe, including the Soviet Union, which is overthrown and replaced by a theocracy, which is met with celebration in America.

The messages cease. Calder, armed with a handgun, confronts the Cronyns in their lab. He wants to announce that he has been duping the world with false messages from a secret Soviet-funded radio transmitter high in the Andes mountains of South America. The transmitter was destroyed by an avalanche. There have been no transmissions since then. He shows them his log. When Linda raises the question of the religious messages, Calder is contemptuous. He says that he transmitted the original messages supposedly from Mars, but that the United States government made up the religious messages, which he allowed because he wanted to see the destruction of the Soviet Union. The Cronyns know that the religious messages were not hoaxes, but Calder's claim will be believed and it will mean disaster for a now peaceful Earth. Unseen by Calder, Chris opens the valve to the hydrogen supply and tells Linda to leave. Calder refuses to allow it. She asks her husband for a cigarette. He says quietly that in all their years together he has never seen her smoke. They both know the spark will ignite the hydrogen and destroy the lab. But before Chris can use his lighter, a message begins to come through and an enraged Calder fires into the screen, blowing up the transmitter, himself and the Cronyns before the message is complete. However, the first part is decoded, and later the President reads it aloud to the world: "You have done well my good..." the rest evoking the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of Matthew: "You have done well, my good and faithful servant."[2]



Critical response

When the film was released, the staff at Variety liked the film, writing, "Despite its title, Red Planet Mars takes place on terra firma, sans space ships, cosmic rays or space cadets. It is a fantastic concoction delving into the realms of science, politics, religion, world affairs and Communism [...] Despite the hokum dished out, the actors concerned turn in creditable performances."[3]

The New York Times, while giving the film a mixed review, wrote well of some of the performances, "Peter Graves and Andrea King are serious and competent, if slightly callow in appearance, as the indomitable scientists. Marvin Miller is standard as a top Soviet agent, as are Walter Sande, Richard Powers and Morris Ankrum, as Government military men, and Willis Bouchey, as the President."[4]

Allmovie critic Bruce Eder praised the film, writing, "Red Planet Mars is an eerily fascinating artifact of the era of the Red Scare, and also the first postwar science fiction boom, combining those elements into an eerie story that is all the more surreal because it is played with such earnestness."[5]

The film critic Dennis Schwartz panned the film in 2001, writing, "One of the most obnoxious sci-fi films ever. It offers Hollywood's silly response to the 1950s 'Red Scare' sweeping the country".

British critic Leslie Halliwell described the film as "lunatic farrago that has to be seen to be believed".


  1. ^ Red Planet Mars. Dir. Harry Horner. Melaby Pictures Corp, 1952. DVD.
  2. ^ "Matthew 25:23". Retrieved September 26, 2019. His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master!'
  3. ^ Variety. Film review, May 15, 1952. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.
  4. ^ The New York Times, film review, Published: June 16, 1952. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.
  5. ^ Eder, Bruce. Allmovie, film review. Last accessed: February 21, 2011.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 December 2023, at 22:50
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