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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Alien's Prefer Scotland
by Frank Wilkins

From a time when simply uttering the word "alien" or using the phrase "from out of space" brought fear to the faces of post World War II Americans, comes director Edgar G. Ulmer's, The Man From Planet X. One of the first alien invasion films to hit the big screen, The Man From Planet X (1951), stands as an eerie reminder that a decent script and adept direction can overcome even the lowest of budgets.

Ulmer effectively utilizes fog and low lighting to create a dark and creepy atmosphere as ground zero for his alien invasion of the Scottish kind. His choice of low lighting also helps obscure the fact that he borrowed many of Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc sets from several years earlier. Taking place in the damp and foggy moors of Scotland, Ulmer tells the story of Professor Elliot (Raymond Bond) who has summoned his old war buddy, now AP reporter, John Lawrence (Robert Clarke), to discuss the recent discovery of a new planet that is hurtling toward Earth at breakneck speed. Lawrence ships to Scotland for a visit to Professor Elliot's observatory -- but also learns that the professor's daughter, Enid (Margaret Field), whom he'd cold-shouldered years before, has since matured into a lovely young woman.

Upon the discovery of a seemingly deserted spacecraft and its otherworldly inhabitant, a bubble-headed space mutant with the face of Deliverance's "banjo boy", our scientists turn their attention away from the discovery of "Planet X" and toward the investigation of the alien invader's intentions. Unfortunately for me, our first sight of the alien, as he peers through the spaceship's glass portal, was spoiled during the original theatrical trailer. But I understand that when the movie first hit theaters, this scene was quite a scary sight indeed, and many of its original viewers still remember it to this day.

The scientists learn that the alien seems to be friendly as it follows them inside their castle. Tucked away in a dungeon, the scientists attempt to communicate with the creature, but eventually discover that the only means of communicating may be through the universal language of geometry. Leaving Professor Elliot's villainous assistant Dr. Mears (William Schallert) alone with the alien proves disastrous as he loses his patience and tries to force the mutant to give up more of its secrets and intentions. After the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Mears and several townsfolk, it becomes clear the alien is an advance probe of an impending invasionary force bent on taking over Earth for its own colonization.

Considering the film's budget of $50,000, it's actually quite amazing what Ulmer and crew were able to come up with. Pulling out a few stock moviemaking tactics and camera tricks, they rely on the film's strong script and Ulmer's unique visual style (not to mention some dated-looking miniature work) to build a growing sense of impending doom. They don't introduce the alien too soon, and once we do meet him, the mood of the film shifts to one of survival. With phones dead, and no way off the island, our heroes' lives are now in the hands of the good old-fashioned heroism of our leading man, John Lawrence.

(Distributed by MGM Home Video. Not rated by the MPAA.)

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