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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Put On Your Space Suit and Fly

 



Forbidden Planet's 1956 Galaxy Far, Far Away



For me to say anything fresh about Forbidden Planet will be to perform a miracle, it having  been researched and analyzed to pulp. If I must explore science-fiction from 1956, why not, say, The Gamma People, trouble being who cares about The Gamma People? Larger question might be, who still cares about Forbidden Planet? I pried apart the Blu-Ray this week, looked at the feature (first time in at least ten years), saw the extras. Latter was done in 2006 when Planet’s crew was still among us and all our gaits were sprightlier. Today there is just Earl Holliman and Robby The Robot. Robby is presently valued at $5.375 million, according to TCM/Bonhams 2017 hammer. Occurs to me that Robby is immortal, as we all seek to be, but who will own him in, say, 2056, when Forbidden Planet turns one hundred, its fans long since gathered home? One talker head among many on the disc said “everyone knows Robby the Robot.” Oh … really? Ask the next nineteen-year-old you come across. Bet most wouldn’t know R2-D2, or C3PO either. Might a Star Wars robot auction higher than Robby? (and tell me please what became of ones used in 1977)





Most would write about Forbidden Planet over The Gamma People. It had impact, meaning … permanence … for so many that experienced it new. To be among blessed who saw Forbidden Planet in 1956 would be to cherish it forever. We’re able to watch now at least sort of the way they did, with an image to engulf (given home projection or sitting close to a large flat screen), sound ping-ponging between walls. The “Id” concept flatters what smarts we might have. Science-fiction need not always be grasshoppers climbing up the Washington monument (or did the Deadly Mantis do that?). Everyone prefers, or say they prefer, sci-fi to be “intelligent,” as it must be if we are to watch without shame, giant grasshoppers after all for kids or morons (then count me among them). There is room for Forbidden Planet, but also for Giant Claws, edifying to be cerebral, not forgetting bug-eyes outnumber thoughtful sci-fi twenty to one at least. Some at Metro wanted to pitch Forbidden Planet entirely to the mind, as in no monster, but realists knew their balconies, and so insisted on a monster. My being plenty plebian means I insist on monsters too, and Forbidden Planet has a lulu, at least by 1956 measure. All of experts say how advanced effects were for that year, all the better as there is such a thing as special effects too convincing, fun and fancy all sapped out. 2001: A Space Odyssey sort of did that number on me in 1968. I felt cold in the theatre, and it wasn’t air-conditioners running. If there is magic in movies, Forbidden Planet bottled it to first run viewership.



If You Wanted To See Forbidden Planet Bad, There Was No Badder Way Than on Syndicated TV


You could get in free for a Quaker Oats box top. Next best would have been to attend in a Sears-sold space suit. I understand some did. The joy I missed for being but two years old in 1956. How wonderful if we could see all favorites a first time through the eyes of an impressionable child. Titles I’d nominate? King Kong, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Psycho, many others. You go around just once, get truest wallop of films for too short a while, then forever look back on those as best of the best. Put yourself at age ten to twelve in 1956. What might your defining view have been? Surely Forbidden Planet for one, but don’t discount differences in us --- some may pick The Gamma People after all. Coming to Forbidden Planet first as an adult might have its pleasures, though I suspect fewer. You needed a personal history with this one. Forbidden Planet was for me too a childhood experience, if diminished from what others had in 1956.  I touched down on Altair IV one Saturday afternoon (
9/5/64) courtesy Channel 9/Charlotte, black-and-white, an image cropped by near-half for broadcast in a ninety-minute slot. How do imperishable memories come of that? Forbidden Planet would not be decently mine until a 1972 MGM Children’s Matinee where I sat among kids dropped off or in accompany of parents eyeing me suspiciously. The show for them could as easily have been Son of Lassie, or tom thumb (others of Metro offering), whatever served as prop for popcorn, Forbidden Planet no more special than these and yanked besides for what might appeal to adults that evening. Forbidden Planet as defining rite for youth did not get that way from refuse ground of kid showing or crimes visited upon it by television. Lightning in this bottle had been tightly capped since 1956, Forbidden Planet gone from ambrosia to penny candy.



VHS Was Swell, So Long As You Didn't Mind Half The Image Chunked Out


“Cinefantastique” covered Forbidden Planet in 1979, and I do mean covered. A double issue, it might have been a triple for thickness and detail. Eighty-four pages was devoted to Forbidden Planet, writing crew clearly aboard since ’56 launch. You’d not come by this level of enthusiasm watching Forbidden Planet on free-vee. No movie I knew had been so investigated to that time, even as their object of scrutiny was itself still elusive as of 1979. There were revival houses for those close by Manhattan, L.A., other bastions of culture. You could rent Forbidden Planet from Films, Inc. given will and resource to cover cost ($30 to $75 during the 70’s), though I’m told scope prints, if they had them, were pinkish. Television continued to trammel it. A VHS cassette would be released by MGM/UA in 1983, but being full frame, was no help. A widened and much-as-then-possible enhanced Forbidden Planet came with arrival of laser disc. MGM/UA issued it at least twice before Criterion came to call. Extras among these were unique and not readily accessed today. Not to wander, though I wonder, does anyone collect laser, or look at them anymore? To find a player that still plays must be a challenge (two I once had gave out long ago).

Here's One For Ripley ... This Single Lobby Card Sold For $3,120 in 2020




I’ve heard Forbidden Planet referred to as a B picture, a statement silly on its face. What started as inexpensive got expensive as executive Dore Schary realized what could be done with a little more money, then lots more money, still more, and so on. Schary was impressed with Forbidden Planet beyond all fiscal sense. No one before had spent $1.9 million on a science-fiction project, with one exception, Disney and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, which cost was calculated by Variety at five million. Released in 1954 when Cinemascope was still a novelty, 20,000 Leagues went on to nine million in domestic rentals and placement among “All Time Champs,” a list Variety freshened each year. This was not enough to break even, but Disney wanted to prove mastery of live action spectacle, and to that end, he succeeded. Got the investment back too, as 20,000 Leagues stayed evergreen in theatres through the early 70’s, revivals turning red ink to black. Forbidden Planet had meanwhile earned $1.6 million in domestic rentals, a better still $1.8 million from foreign receipts. Nobody’s idea of a flop, certainly the best sci-fi had done apart from Disney’s, but so much invested in Forbidden Planet meant it would not break even. Didn’t miss by much, but enough for Loew’s to paint a target on Dore Schary for letting costs get away from him. Forbidden Planet would figure into his ouster. Schary lived long enough to see Forbidden Planet achieve classic status and enter the folklore. Say what you like about him, but we wouldn't have Forbidden Planet as it lavishly stands were it not for Dore Schary’s support and enthusiasm.


Do You Suppose Even One of These Exists? If So, It Would Be Worth a Fortune



Had Forbidden Planet come out three years earlier, and in 3-D, it might have been a sensation, as much so  perhaps had it been released for 1954 holidays in Cinemascope. Timing really is everything. Striking as they are, seems to me Forbidden Planet posters, with Robby hoisting a presumed Anne Francis, makes it seem less a formidable space venture than a robot wreck fit more for children. Just compare Forbidden Planet sheets with those for Tobor The Great, a quickie from seasons before that was frank in serving youngsters best. Looks like Metro artists took Tobor for a model. Disney’s campaign for Leagues on the other hand had dignity befitting an epic treatment. Adults could attend and not be embarrassed. Imagine if Walt had done a space project patterned after fact-driven Disneyland episodes with their special effects remarkable for then-TV. With weekly drumbeat from his series (which certainly enhanced Leagues’ gross), Disney could have applied resources to sci-fi and rich reward. No one was better equipped to merchandise fantasy product. I enjoy Forbidden Planet’s Robby-centered marketing even as it seems to me to sell this one-of-a-kind picture short.

25 Comments:

Blogger MikeD said...

My brother and I first encountered Forbidden Planet when we caught part of it at Sears while our parents shopped. We were lucky enough to see the monster sequence in color and happy to see Leslie Nielsen (The Swamp Fox) and Earl Holliman (Sundance). As soon as we got home, we rushed to our B&W rabbit ears equipped TV to watch the end. Luckily it was on WOR Channel 9's Million Dollar Movie which meant it would be shown all week so we could watch it from start to finish. Still not sure I know where that monster came from but pretty sure we thought the concept was scary back then. This would have been probably around '63-64.
Fast forward forty or so years, and we shared a helicopter ride over the Alabama Hills with Anne Francis. But that's another story.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I was a fan of FP when I first saw it in 1957. Loved Robby. Even got a Robby robot for Christmas that year. Fast forward at warp speed, I watched it again a while back. The love I had for the movie sixty+ years ago...evaporated. FP now does nothing for me. Watched it until THE END and never want to see it again. I love dozens of 50s sci-fi (the good ones and the schlock ones). For me, FP is in there somewhere but no longer on my play list.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Mike T. said...

Disney did have a hand in Forbidden Planet , and it's connected to 20,000 Leagues:

"The special effects sequences in the film, notably the Id Monster attacking the crew, were designed by Joshua Meador, who was on loan from Disney for the project. Two years earlier, Meador was part of the Oscar-winning visual effects team for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea that was also subcontracted from Disney by MGM. Meador oversaw effects for many major Disney animated features including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi."

That really makes you wonder what ol' Walt could have done for sci-fi if he'd chosen to go that route.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Wow, Mike Cline’s take surprised me, just because usually anything I loved at an impressionable age I continue to love, even though I now see the flaws. I encountered FP a few years ago on TCM, and projected at 7’ wide. Gotta say, it came alive for me in one spot (the matte shot showing all the levels of Pidgeon’s — was it a nuclear reactor?) and then it basically shut down again.

That amazing shot, with tiny leads traversing a seemingly endless horizon, gave me a real sense of scope (and vertigo). Kept returning to that shot again and again. For me, it was where the movie finally came to life. Nothing before or after interested me much, and much of the rest just looked cheap, Schary’s expenditures going for naught in my mind.

Greatest interest it held for me was seeing where it followed/departed from Shakespearean source, the Tempest — the same interest generated by Mazursky’s take on the same material a few decades later. (Which makes me think, picking up on the “Shakespeare In Space” angle might just have opened the door to adults being OK attending without kids.). Like Mike, I never need to look at FP again.

Great thought-provoking piece, John, as always...

3:54 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

For me, "2001" was not merely cold but chilling. In Cinerama it drove how how terrifyingly huge and empty space was; a shot of the spaceship slowly crossing the screen in the distance as a few asteroids tumbled by close to the camera creeped me out more than the last reel, aside from the final image of the star baby staring back at me.

I don't think Disney would have done especially well with contemporary scifi. As enjoyable as Ward Kimball's "Man In Space" episodes remain, the episode showing a manned moon orbit gives an idea of the "Dragnet"-style practicality they likely would have brought to a feature story. Ward Kimball was reportedly unhappy with the hint of ruins on the lunar surface; he wouldn't have been a happy camper taking aliens seriously (and I doubt Walt would have allowed them to be scary or unsettling). "Moon Pilot" dabbled, but that was a broad sitcom about an astronaut and a well-meaning space babe (Later, "I Dream of Jeannie" covered suspiciously similar ground, down to a suburban-living astronaut and suspicious government overseers).

The ideal would be another vintage adaptation. A Disney version of "From the Earth to the Moon" might have been magnificent, or at least better than the 1958 bore. On the other hand, we might have gotten Moochie Goes to Mars. Like everybody else, the post-Walt studio jumped in after "Star Wars". "The Black Hole" was a glory to look at, and some of the borrowings from "20,000 Leagues" were inspired, but it was ultimately undone by its script.

As it turned out, that left a wide untapped vein for Harryhausen to mine. If he had to compete with Disney or other majors for some of those titles we might be deprived of some great fantasy films.

Does Robby carry Anne Francis at any point in the movie? My memory is that he only hefts the guy who tried on the brain-booster, and that was helpfulness rather than robotic perversion.

4:44 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Maybe there's a post in the MGM Children's Matinees. I've come across some of the posters while surfing the net: Red Skelton's "Excuse My Dust" is retitled "Mr. Belden's Amazing Gasmobile" and the poster for "Time Machine" replaces George Pal's Victorian wonder with blandly modern device. "Forbidden Planet" is illustrated by a rendering of Saturn -- no Robby, no flying saucer, no girl.

How far did they go in repackaging? Did they mess with the films themselves? Did the Children's Matinee go beyond just branding available re-releases?

4:55 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I was ten when I first saw FORBIDDEN PLANET. I can still vividly recall the rush I felt watching it in my home town Chipman, New Brunswick theater.

Everything about it was (and remains) remarkable.

Of course for those new to it in these days of CGI that remarkableness is pretty much lost.

The coldness of 2001 is deliberate.

The birth of the STARCHILD at the film's conclusion is an unwitting reference to, "Unless you come as a child you can not enter the kingdom of God."

We are now, in 2021, in an increasingly cold world.

Great post.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The ad art for "Forever Darling" looks weird.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

A childhood friend of mine first saw FORBIDDEN PLANET on a late local broadcast in 1962 (same night I saw it for the first time). He went on to a career in science. Teaches physics at college level, has written a couple of textbooks, took a couple of years off from academe to work for some biggie tech firm, even invented some doohickey which was part of the regular makeup of the Space Shuttle. Told me the greatest thrill of his life was a call from Cape Canaveral, "Doctor, we're ready to launch, is that okay with you?"

And he tells me that he still watches FORBIDDEN PLANET every month. Every month of his life. He has an incredibly patient wife.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I saw FORBIDDEN PLANET on a double bill with THIS ISLAND EARTH on the big screen back in the 70s. Today I`m in Mike Cline`s camp. I don`t care if I never see FB again. I`m just over it.
I`d rather watch KRONOS or THE SPIDER.

10:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff considers various Children's and Family Matinee series from the 70's:


Dear John:

A very good post on FORBIDDEN PLANET. Wonderful stills and ads. I guess we all have some personal history on this one.

I was struck by DBenson's comment on the MGM Children's Matinees program as well as your reference to seeing PLANET at one of the studio's matinees. DBenson is right about the strangely elaborate but dully designed posters -- couldn't Metro have just borrowed some key-art from the files for a lot of these? -- and it does seem like someone ought to write about the program (which lasted for at least three years) at some point. Was this profitable for the company? Did they have booking arrangements with major chains that made it worthwhile? How many new prints of older films did they strike? Did Metro have to pay the MPAA to have the older movies rated? How many pictures did they market in this way?

I remain grateful to MGM for coming up with this program; despite (as you point out) sometimes having to dodge the eyes of suspicious parents when attending these matinees, I was able to see movies like THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE TIME MACHINE and THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM in 35mm. [I missed CAPTAIN SINDBAD, darn it; I had to wait for the Warner Archive to bring this out to see it.] I had no idea that EXCUSE MY DUST had been re-titled for the Matinee program! I would suppose that the studio inserted a new title card in the Matinee prints.

I believe the biggest success (with the possible exception of the perennially popular OZ) of the series was a new (or, at least, unreleased) picture, Chuck Jones' THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. [I have occasionally wondered whether this shelved-for-a-while movie -- which MGM had no idea how to market -- sparked the idea of the whole program.] I recall this as actually selling out both Saturday and Sunday shows at a nearby theatre. It might have helped that the Norton Juster book was (and still is) tremendously popular; Stefan Kanfer wrote a favorable (possibly overenthusiastic) Time magazine review -- not bad for a picture that went out as a kiddie matinee release.

I wondered why more studios didn't give this idea a flyer. Paramount did give it a shot with a 1974 "Family Matinee" series, but their catalogue of appropriate films might have been a little shallow for an extended series. WILLY WONKA, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and the animated CHARLOTTE'S WEB were ideal pix for this, but a number of older dubbed imports (including some licensed from K. Gordon Murray) were less appealing. Paramount did re-title 1969's HELLO, DOWN THERE as SUB-A-DUB-DUB for the series. I don't know whether Metro made any changes in EXCUSE MY DUST other than fancifully re-titling it for its Children's Matinee series... but for its series Par apparently performed substantial surgery on the Martin & Lewis movie 3 RING CIRCUS, shortening it by cutting songs (and a lot of Dean's part) and re-titling it JERRICO THE WONDER CLOWN! This was the only Martin & Lewis picture -- or Jerry Lewis picture -- in Paramount's series. I would have thought that one or two other M&L movies, as well as Lewis' NUTTY PROFESSOR, might have worked for kids in theatres in the '70s.

Regards,
-- Griff

4:18 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon relates some fascinating FORBIDDEN PLANET encounters while at work within the industry (Part One):


Hi John,


Through simple serendipity my path and that of the "...Planet" crossed a couple times in my life. Being a working makeup artist, I saw Mr. Nielsen a couple of times in the venerable studios in town, first Universal in '77 (driving a convertible Rolls Royce, showing that you don't need to be a tip-top 'A' list actor to make a pile of money--just keep working!), and later Paramount ca. 1992. For some asinine reason I can't defend, I saw Nielsen walking down 'P Street' (the source of much exhausted, thoroughly lame humor among various of we hours-benumbed TV series workers, workdays averaging 15 hours between entering and leaving the studio gates, never mind your commute to and from!) and I mimed shooting at him with my hand for a gun--!! What the bleep was I thinking?! Maybe riffing on "Police Squad" (wasn't that the name?) of his hilariously silly TV parody of detective shows? But I'm 'glad'--big air quotes on that one!--I did it, because he must've seen me doing this, even though it was at some distance, and smiling, he made HIS hand pretend to be a gun (the index finger the barrel, you know the drill from childhood), and fired one off at ME! Fair enough! And then, I saw Anne Francis briefly in a makeup room at Universal in their actual makeup department, and I say 'actual' because it was, and as far as I know they no longer exist on any lot, but I am open to being proved wrong. A pal of mine was making her up and he hailed me to meet her for about 'that' long, and she turned and flashed a warm smile. I was impressed by her kindness and courtesy. Flash forward and I'm working on another TV show almost thirty years later, and Anne is on the call sheet that morning! Sure enough, she shows up, not looking a great deal older than I remembered her from '77, and I made her up. She had a kind of bit role on the episode of the show, a series called "Without a Trace". I was dismayed that none of the cast nor the director, nor anybody for all I could see, made any fuss whatsoever about her. I wrote her--I forget how I found her address, but---I wrote her afterwards and apologized for ALL of them, telling her I certainly recognized her and knew her work and was honored to have met her (leaving my much earlier encounter out of it). She wrote me back, a charming, disarming letter, telling me about her current activities, her family, things like that. She seemed like a sweet and whole person. Tragically, she developed cancer not long after and died of it. But I was eternally grateful to have been able to meet her and communicate with her, even briefly, and to have had the honor as it worked out to have been her last makeup artist in the entertainment business.

In 1970 as a starry eyed kid of 17, I attended the preview period for the famous or infamous MGM Auction, wherein Kirk Kerkorian, having purchased the down-and-out one-time lion of all studios was selling everything in it that wasn't nailed down. And, on that occasion I took a picture of the wonderful 'miniature', which was actually about 4' in diameter at least, of the U.S. space cruiser from "Forbidden Planet", being displayed suspended from wires. In person you could just tell it was constructed from humble earth-bound materials including wood, all painted silver; but on film, it certainly convinced anyone in 1956 it was made of mysterious, sophisticated 'futuristic materials' enabling it to fly through deep space. It's resemblance to the still fascinating concept of flying saucers was undoubtedly not coincidental.

4:21 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:


Going forward in time again, some years back I was alerted to an auctioning--again--of a lot of heterogenous Hollywood treasure via an auctioneering site not more than ten minutes from where I live. I drove over and they were kind enough to let me in and amongst these treasures. I'm not using too grand a term considering I saw there the original drawings and watercolors I'd seen reproduced in books and magazines over the decades done by the great artists such as Mario Larrinaga for the films "King Kong" and its immediate precursor, the unfinished (beyond test footage) "Creation". Anyone my age would immediately recognize some of these wondrously realized scenes. There were a number of stop motion animation puppets there, originals, that were up for auction. There were items of wardrobe that any movie fan of the golden age would have to pinch himself to believe he or she was actually looking at, like for instance the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". And among all these referents to films which elevated mere human beings into gods and goddesses once upon a time, I saw a huge prop from...yes..."Forbidden Planet", once again! For one thing, they had one of the ray gun pistols from the movie. And, they had the marvelous prop that represented a kind of control for opening and closing portals in Walter Pidgeon's laboratory that was originally created by 'the Krell', the mystery inhabitants of the planet who'd invented a way to make thoughts become manifest and real. Which of course was their colorful undoing, due to 'the monsters of the Id'! Which we who've seen the movie enough times know all about, of course. This prop was operated by Pidgeon in the scenes in the film where he reluctantly shows the two nosy emissaries from earth the sanctum sanctorum of his rediscovered Krell control center. To see it in person was not to be disappointed, since it was beautifully crafted to appear to camera to have been the creation of some mysterious and advanced race as mentioned in the movie.

4:24 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:


I also saw, way before he sold it himself at auction and became an instant multi-millionaire, the original Robby the Robot at the North Hollywood home of director Bill Malone. It was wonderful to see 'up close and personal', and to try to guess what materials had been employed in its construction. Bill assured me it still worked, and years later I found out he wasn't lying, because at the auction (of many other equally stunning Hollywood artifacts--yet another one!) where he demonstrated Robby, he had someone inside to make the robot walk about, and all the things it does in the 1956 movie it was doing that evening, with the lights, the eccentric switches going on and off in the head--basically, the works. Clearly the men who worked at MGM even as late as 1956 built things to last! Bill even had the little transportation vehicle, and by 'little' I don't mean a miniature--he had the one you see the actors pile into in the movie, which then drives away at high speed via a miniature in the film. But he had the full scale one...in his garage. That, too, was on offer (for auction) at the same event.

You're right, too. That movie and a precious few like it were so, so remarkable and singular in their day, and cannot be properly appreciated now in an era when sci-fi, horror and fantasy are desperately being mined constantly for fundamental emotional reactions that they are increasingly unable to evoke due to plain old satiation. Back then, it was truly a case of too little, too much of the time. Now, it's the reverse. But, cold and offensively 'perfect' CGI effects used for almost every purpose have bleached the magic out of things which were once suggested by means far more complicated and ingenious. An old theme for guys like us who turned around one day and found that we were no longer ten, but many decades older. Darn it. But, what memories!

Craig

4:24 AM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I haven't really delved into all the literature around "Forbidden Planet", but one angle on it that I suspect hasn't been explored is the enormous popularity of kid-oriented sci-fi tv shows in the mid-1950s. The first episode of "The Honeymooners", "TV or Not TV", had a take-off on this whole "Captain Video" fad.

Today, we might be wowed by the production design, but, really, the whole aesthetic of the film is built around some of the familiar imagery of popular tv shows like "Captain Video" or "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet", hastily assembled from whatever was at hand for live television.

I think the tv shows are key to understanding how "Forbidden Planet" was marketed - basically, a kids sci-fi adventure tv show, in color and on the big wide Cinemascope screen, with a better script that adults would find engaging.

Interestingly, the tv counterparts of "Forbidden Planet", which had been broadcast since around 1949, would go off the air just before "Forbidden Planet" was released - perhaps the fad had run it's course or maybe MGM's hype around the show detracted from its tv cousins.

One point I found curious at the Wikipedia page for "Forbidden Planet" is the North Carolina connection - according to Wikipedia, the film had its world premiere at the Southeastern Science Fiction Convention in Charlotte, NC on March 3 and 4, 1956.

Laserdiscs? Yep, I still have a collection of around 300 discs and three working players. Some are titles that have never been released on dvd or blu-ray due to licensing issues, like Kevin Brownlow's "Hollywood" documentary series or some of the MGM silents, while others are 30s and 40s films that actually look better on laserdisc. Some vintage films were released early in the DVD cycle and used the laserdisc videotape masters, introducing digital artifacts into the picture (and these ho-hum dvd masters were never redone). Despite the slightly lower resolution, they actually look better than the dvd versions when projected.

There's a few old favorites I still keep on laserdisc to show what they looked like before they were restored. I have all the US releases of "Gone With the Wind" on laser - you can see the progression in how the film was restored over the years when you look through the progressive releases, for example.










9:54 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Chuck Jones' THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH remains the only movie I have seen an entire audience walk out of. I booked it when I began doing 4 hour animation marathons. Half way through it the theater emptied.

I had never seen anything like it. Hope never to experience that again. Took me weeks to rebuild the audience. The film left an incredibly sour taste.

Robby The Robot was fine at ten but nobody ever designed a robot to match the beauty of Ultima Futura, the robot in Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1927) which I have seen hundreds of times because I had to synchronize the score I had created on reel to reel tape for it. Never grow tired of it.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Personally, I like the electronic score for "Forbidden Planet" - few if any other films have a score backing the titles that sounds like this.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Saw FP in the "nice" theater in town when it came out. I was ten. And for years nothing was scarier to me than the invisible ID monster's footprints in the dust--with the music helping tremendously.


I am a robot; Hi, Robby....

2:28 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Robby made numerous other film and TV appearances. The crewmen's uniforms showed up in several M-G-M productions, including THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The B-movie nut in me has to give honorable mention to Frankie Darro as the guy inside the robot.

I remember seeing the "MGM Children's Matinees" trailer for FORBIDDEN PLANET and being totally underwhelmed. The narrator sounded about 20 years old, and in a gee-gosh tone he showed us "where Robby the Robot lives!" I felt like I was watching some local-TV kiddie show.

I know of 41 titles in the MGM Children's Matinees series:

First group of eight: LASSIE COME HOME, NATIONAL VELVET, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, GYPSY COLT, THE YEARLING, KIM, CAPTAIN SINDBAD, and SON OF LASSIE

Second group of eight: THE WIZARD OF OZ, TOM THUMB, FLIPPER, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, THE BUSHBABY, BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, and CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY

Third group of twelve: ZEBRA IN THE KITCHEN, THE TIME MACHINE, COURAGE OF LASSIE, THE HILLS OF HOME, THE SECRET GARDEN, CLARENCE THE CROSS-EYED LION, FORBIDDEN PLANET, FLIPPER'S NEW ADVENTURE, AROUND THE WORLD AND UNDER THE SEA, HANSEL AND GRETEL, MALIBU THE DEER (surprise comeback of 1934's SEQUOIA), and -- guilty pleasure -- THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN'T, which MGM picked up from Childhood Productions.

Fourth group of thirteen: CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, MR. BELDEN AND HIS AMAZING GASMOBILE (retitled recut of EXCUSE MY DUST), THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG DINK STOVER (retitled recut of THE HAPPY YEARS), LILI (recut), GALLANT BESS (recut), STABLEMATES, FEARLESS FAGAN, THE INVISIBLE BOY, PETER RABBIT AND THE ADVENTURES OF BEATRIX POTTER, TIKO AND THE SHARK, MAGIC BOY, CHALLENGE TO LASSIE, and LASSIE'S ADVENTURES IN THE GOLD RUSH (THE PAINTED HILLS, retitled).

6:04 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Speculation on MGM's and Paramount's matinee programs. At that moment in history there may have been an outbreak of "Hollywood doesn't make clean movies anymore" noise, so this was a response: Presumably curated and possibly edited films running under a banner that promised it was safe to bring/dump the kids. A bit like burger chains putting a Healthy Salad on the menu without expecting big sales, although MGM stepping up its schedule as per Mr. Gillivray indicates they did make money.

Also, they may have been jealous of Disney's near-monopoly of that audience (although it was shrinking at least as fast as the rest of the pie). Disney, of course, was still a brand that guaranteed family fare and made it possible to profitably re-release not only animated classics but low-budget live action comedies. The Disney name in the newspaper ad often did all the work.

3:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

During my years in the seventies as an exhibitor, I played the following MGM CHILDREN'S MATINEE features:

LASSIE COME HOME, NATIONAL VELVET (trimmed), THE YEARLING (trimmed), CAPTAIN SINDBAD, SON OF LASSIE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, TOM THUMB, FLIPPER, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, ZEBRA IN THE KITCHEN, THE TIME MACHINE, COURAGE OF LASSIE, THE HILLS OF HOME, CLARENCE THE CROSS-EYED LION, FORBIDDEN PLANET, FLIPPER'S NEW ADVENTURE, CHALLENGE TO LASSIE and THE INVISIBLE BOY (the ticketed little darlings complained because it was black and white).

Had to pay 35% of the take for each.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Mr. Benson is correct, the MGM Children's Matinées were curated. The director of the program, Tony Myerberg, was aiming for a very young audience: ages 4 to 8. He made his selections from the vault list and held test screenings. Whenever the kids showed extreme restlessness, those scenes were cut and the action tightened.

The whole idea goes back to 1946, when the MPAA's Eric Johnston invited all the studios to submit appropriate titles for an industry-wide Children's Film Library, "approved by your community leaders, parents, and teachers." Exhibitors could get new prints for Saturday-morning matinées. And here is that list:

MGM (all Mickey Rooney pictures): THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, YOUNG TOM EDISON, THE HUMAN COMEDY

Fox: Shirley Temple in POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM; JANE EYRE

Paramount: Shirley Temple in LITTLE MISS MARKER; ALICE IN WONDERLAND, MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH

Warner Bros.: THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, GREEN PASTURES

RKO: Anne Shirley in ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and ANNE OF WINDY POPLARS; TWO THOROUGHBREDS

UA: SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD, THREE IS A FAMILY, KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY

Columbia: Edith Fellows in FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW and FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS IN TROUBLE; BLONDIE BRINGS UP BABY

Universal: Gloria Jean in THE UNDER-PUP; THE MIGHTY TREVE, SANDY GETS HER MAN

Monogram: Mickey Rooney in THE HOOSIER SCHOOLBOY; BAREFOOT BOY

Republic: YOUNG BUFFALO BILL, SIS HOPKINS

8:38 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Interesting post! As to 'just being over' FP, I have a second hand, but assuredly true story. My son moved to the LA area in the late 90's and made it a point to show up for one of those famous informal Saturday tours of Forest J. Ackerman's place. For those who don't know or remember, in later years the Famous Monsters editor would entertain curious fans/strangers who would just show up weekends in front of the 'Ackermansion'. For an hour or so, Ackerman would show off his collection of memorabilia, and answer a few questions. The day Alex was there another visitor asked FJA if there was any classic fantasy and/or horror film of which he was NOT particularly fond. He didn't hesitate. FORBIDDEN PLANET.

11:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers FORBIDDEN PLANET as part of a New York Cinecon adventure:


In those days, as I have said, the Cinecon was a moveable feast. The first one that I attended was held in New York at a hotel not far from Times Square. It was wonderful. The films shown included “The Bat Whispers,” “Damaged Lives,” “Hips Hips Hooray!,” “The Miracle Woman,” “Les Roi des Champs Elysees,” and “Noah’s Ark.” There was also a special showing at the Museum of Modern Art of “Sunrise,” with guest of honor George O’Brien in attendance, and “The Dance of Life.” The prints of these two films were on nitrate and exquisite to watch, though this may have been responsible for the announcement made at the outset that the two-color Technicolor sequences of “The Dance of Life” could not be projected.

My boon companion in adventure and I also took an impromptu tour of Times Square, which in those days was far from being a “family friendly” locale. On most street corners there were tables set up for three card monte or shell games, shops had on display paraphernalia we were unfamiliar with, and various dives offered entertainment of a sort that would not have been on the Cinecon program. A crowd drifted around the square like a fetid stream seeking no outlet to the sea. A shill in the doorway to a walkup touted a model we might want to see. “Who knows,” he said, “You might get lucky.”

Another highlight, and one appropriate for this week’s essay, was the Friday afternoon showing we took in at a downtown theater of “Forbidden Planet.” I had not seen it until then but found the experience both exhilarating and disappointing. The scope was ambitious, the special effects often stunning on the big, curved screen, and the electronic score appropriately strange and eerie, but I could not help but appreciate that, in many ways, the picture was very juvenile in its treatment. I have read that the story was based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” but this could only have been true in the most superficial way; that is, of a man and his daughter being joined by strangers on their “island,” with Robbie the Robot standing in for Caliban. Walter Pigeon made for a rather stolid Morbius, who was seemingly oblivious to any psychological aspects pertaining to the Krell advances or their fate, no more than the Krell themselves supposedly were, though one would think that this would have occurred immediately to anyone dealing with anything that focused on the mind and its powers. The young male leads flocked around his daughter, played by a most fetching Ann Francis, like teenage boys rather than the experienced spacemen they supposedly were. The others in the crew were entirely male and undifferentiated in character, save for the cook, who unaccountably was dressed in navy blues and a white sailor’s cap, as though he had been plucked off some U.S. Navy vessel traveling the Bermuda Triangle in the 1950s. He would engage in a transaction with Robbie that would produce vast numbers of pint bottles of whiskey hardly removed from the product available from some state store when the movie was released, and not something of the twenty-second century. Possibly the studio was afraid that the story would have been too different unless the audience had characters familiar to them and with whom they could identify. Even so, it does not excuse such use of stereotypes or the general dullness of the exposition. I came away, even then, thinking that “Forbidden Planet” was entertaining and well worth seeing, especially in such a venue, but not an exceptional picture. I can well appreciate the sentiment of those who, having seen it before, have no desire to see again.

As something out of the ordinary, however, it well complemented the delights of the Cinecon, to which we returned, and would return to for some years to come, wherever it set down.

3:30 PM  

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