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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gets Better Every Time ...

Nothing Guilty About This Pleasure: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

First of all, when was this "made"?? Ed Woodists (or is it Woodites?) would know. He had precious Lugosi footage to insert with cooked-up afterward narrative, an adroit pasting to prove Ed was no fool. I'll say this so as not to be misunderstood: Plan 9 is to me a richly entertaining film, not at all a "Guilty Pleasure" or "So Bad It's Good." I'd even aver it's well made for the virtual home movie it is. There is camera movement, and hanged if so-called bad acting doesn't seem planned. Did Wood and company anticipate and allow for an emerging late show audience that would laugh more with them than at them? Snark wasn't underway until the 70's and Medved deconstruction, but fun with silly sci-fi had been going on twenty years at least by that time, only kinder starting out. Plan 9 was primarily a TV experience in any case, being tube-available almost immediately after, if not before, what little theatre exposure it had.

Could Lugosi's estate have come after Eddie for releasing what amounted to off-cuff footage never intended for placement in a feature? At least I assume Bela wasn't doing anything other than vamping on camera for a project far from set. Final glimpses of him are marvelous; he's "acting" to extent of barely knowing what Wood had in mind, testament again to Lugosi charisma at the ready even in someone's back yard (in this case, Tor Johnson's front yard). And of course there is Tor of towering presence. I love his dialogue and wish there'd been reams more ... an Inspector Clay series perhaps? What about Tor as Clay in a clinch with Audrey Totter in an Alex Gordon production written and directed by Ed Wood? The mouth waters.

The guy who played "Kelton The Cop" used to show up at autograph fairs still wearing the policeman's uniform ... forty years later. There's grandeur at this level of living in a past. Why didn't I shake his hand and tell him how great he was? There seems no one left of Plan 9's company save Gregory Walcott, who actually lives here in North Carolina, which pleases me for knowing I could drive down and tell him how great he was in Plan 9. The film's making is deathless folklore. I could begin reading today and not get through it all before next week (or month), so perhaps it's better leaving behind-camera detail alone. The Ed Wood rabbit hole is one from which we emerge somehow be-sullied, at the least newly committed not to let such a life as his engulf us. Wood and the world he occupied belong to a seeming million yesterdays ago, or at least it feels that way watching Plan 9 From Outer Space. Maybe that accounts in part for its greatness.


Blogger Unknown said...

I have read somewhere that if you matte the film to widescreen as Wood intended, it looks much less cheesy. I have not seen a widescreen version of this so I cannot confirm if this is true.

Tommie Hicks

9:51 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Tommie, I cropped "Plan 9" to 1.85 for a recent watch, and can confirm that it looks MUCH better that way.

Maybe this accounts, as you suggest, for my improved estimation of the film.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

It's true! I'd been watching it full-frame all these years and smirked at the cheap, cobbled-together props (including a plumbing-supply item on the spaceship, and the backs of chairs being used as flight equipment). But when you watch it in widescreen, it hides all the junk we weren't supposed to see.

Both PLAN 9 and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER have been colorized. Haven't checked 'em out yet but I'm guessing the color will dress them up and make them less cheesy than they are.

I watched a late Bowery Boys picture "wide" for the first time and the reformatted composition knocked me over! It was like seeing it for the first time instead of the tenth. Same with the '50s Columbia shorts.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Question to Tommie or John: How does one matte/crop a movie onto to widescreen on my TV? (You can answer after you stop laughing at my Luddite ignorance of such matters.)

2:17 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Conrad Brooks is still around and shows up at conventions

2:54 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

The footage of Lugosi was filmed in 1956. There was much more but Wood used old film stock and it ruined what he shot.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

I confess I've never been able to get through more than 10 or 15 minutes of Plan 9, but given your matte suggestion, I'm gonna try it again!

And Kevin K, if your (16 x 9) TV has an aspect ratio button, go to "zoom" -- that should do it. If you're looking at it on a 4 x 3 cathode ray set, you're out of luck...

12:05 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

GREAT POST! Besides every other marvelous thing about this cinematic wonderment, consider this -- Wood's premise is that "STUPID STUPID" earth people don't have the intellectual and emotional maturity to steward our burgeoning arsenals of super-weapons. TRUE THAT! AND this nugget could ONLY be smuggled into the cultural conversation in the guise of an exploitation film purportedly about flying saucers and ghouls.

God help the future....

12:27 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

I'll try watching it cropped, but count me among those who was barely able to slog through the thing once.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Lugosi had been set for two films with Wood around this time: THE VAMPIRE'S TOMB, and THE GHOST GOES WEST, the latter of which Lugosi references in this made after he completed his detox program at the Norwalk State Hospital:

Although TOMB had been announced in 1954, before the production of BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, the formerly shelved project was revived after the aged, post-rehab Lugosi proved too debilitated to handle the Western rigors of GHOST GOES WEST.

According to Rudolph Grey's biography of Wood, PLAN 9 was begun about a month after Lugosi died, around September 1956.

Wood was very proud of PLAN 9. I agree that it is a much better film than its reputation suggests. Hell, Wood is a much better filmmaker than his reputation suggests. Fascinating man, fascinating life. Grey's bio, NIGHTMARE IN ECSTASY, is essential reading.

12:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer takes up the matter of Ed Wood and "Plan 9 From Outer Space":

Edward D. Wood has become greater than any film he made, a sort of Holy Fool, if a pornographer can be called "holy." He was so in love with film and the idea of himself as a filmmaker, though, that he has seemingly emerged from the sleeze pristine, every action or affectation of his redeemed by his absolute sincerity.

There is a cachet to "Plan 9 from Outer Space" as "the worst film ever made." It was bestowed by the Medved brothers, for laughs, but anyone who has watched films knows that there are worse ones, especially those which are better made and thus more insidious. For someone who came to it as a young boy, I know that the appellation is false, whether on its own terms or any other. I never noticed the crummy sets or bad acting, never winced at the awkward lines or line readings. Rather, I found it weird and eerie and could hardly bear it, when Tor Johnson rose out of his grave, so intense was the experience for me. And in this way I probably felt very much as Wood must have, himself, imagining the effect this creation of his would have upon his intended audience.

Was the filmmaker then as a boy, with a boy's sensibilities? In his heart, that must have been so, for all the more real horrors faced on South Pacific beaches, or the distortions of booze and angora sweaters, or the ambitions diverted into 8 mm loops and pulp novels with lurid titles. Something sweet remained, untouched, waiting to find expression some other time or, if not that, then when time is no more.

May it have proven so for him.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Okay, watched it cropped, and I have to agree that it certainly does improve the film's look enormously. There are a lot of movies that look much better presented matted as originally intended rather than in 4:3 "television safe" unmatted presentations.

(And on a side note, I have to add that one of the wonderful things to me about widescreen televisions was that it meant we could put a stake through the heart of those awful pan-and-scan presentations of widescreen movies we'd had to suffer through for years. I thought the public had gotten sophisticated enough to reject disfigured home video versions of movies. But no, now we have "chop-and-crop," where 4:3 films and television shows are cropped to fit 16:9 widescreen sets. Why? Because people don't like those black bars on either side of a 4:3 picture. They bought a widescreen TV, darn it, and they want all of that screen filled with picture. *Sigh* One step forward, one step back.)

Oh, back to PLAN 9. Even matted, I still don't think it's very good, but I would agree that there are a lot of movies out there far worse than this one.

I was never a fan of the Medved brothers' "bad movies" books. I disliked their snarky, superior tone, a tone which, unfortunately, has come to be almost the standard way of writing about movies these days.

Maybe part of it is that bad movies don't give me any pleasure. Incompetent filmmaking just depresses me rather than amusing me.

4:25 PM  
Blogger egorschamber said...

Conrad Brooks is indeed still going strong at 83 (or thereabouts, living in West Virginia. He has called me at least several times a week (often daily) since we became friends at monstercons years ago. I always enjoy our gab session, largely focusing on the old movies we've been watching, the Golden Age movie stars and supporting players he met when he lived in Hollywood, and details on any old-timers who died recently.

11:06 PM  
Blogger egorschamber said...

Conrad Brooks is indeed still going strong at 83 (or thereabouts, living in West Virginia. He has called me at least several times a week (often daily) since we became friends at monstercons years ago. I always enjoy our gab session, largely focusing on the old movies we've been watching, the Golden Age movie stars and supporting players he met when he lived in Hollywood, and details on any old-timers who died recently.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

Another sad coincidence:

11:51 AM  

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