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The Phantom Planet (December 13, 1961)

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The Phantom Planet

Released December 13, 1961: An astronaut visits a planet that can move from Galaxy to Galaxy at will to avoid their enemies.

Directed by William Marshall

The Actors: Dean Fredericks (Captain Frank Chapman), Coleen Gray (Liara), Dolores Faith (Zetha), Anthony Dexter (Herron), Richard Kiel (The Solarite), Francis X. Bushman (Sessom), Richard Weber (Lieutenant Ray Makonnen), Al Jarvis (Judge Eden),Dick Haynes (Colonel Lansfield), Earl McDaniels (Captain Leonard), Mike Marshall (Lieutenant White), John Herrin (Captain Beecher), Mel Curtis (Lieutenant Cutler), Jimmy Weldon (Lieutenant Webb), Akemi Tani (communications officer), Lori Lyons (radar officer), Susan Cembrowska (juror), Marissa Mathes (juror), Gloria Moreland (juror), Judy Erickson (juror), Sally Carter-Ihnat (juror), Allyson Ames (juror), Marian Thompson (juror), Marvin Miller (pre-movie narrator), Leon Selznick (narrator), Warren Ott (Ispalata), Angelique Pettyjohn (juror)


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In 1961 little boys dreamed of exploring the wide open spaces of the universe. Sure, their fathers eagerly read comic strips and watched movie serials for space explorer "Buck Rogers" in the 1930's and 1940's, but this was 1961 - we had a President that promised us that we would REALLY go to the moon. And now here is a movie that boys from 1961 could believe was a real possibility - flying through the universe and finding another race of people.

Okay, so let's get into this thrilling adventure! First we just gotta get the characters straight: We have two male leads, and two female leads -
Captain Frank Chapman is the blonde American Hero Space Pilot. During most of the movie he is in a shirt that is open to the waist, exposing his masculine chest - I thought that kind of exposure didn't happen until John Travolta and the Saturday Night Fever era in 1977? Guess not.

There are two ladies that want his attention - blonde manipulating beauty Liara, and sizzling brunette, mute, Elizabeth Taylor clone Zetha. Then there is Herron, the man that loves blonde Liara and is jealous because Liara seems to want Frank instead of him.

Okay, the characters are established, here's the scoop. We have a space station on the moon (yawn, doesn't everyone?) and we have rocket ships zooming about space every day. But suddenly two of our rockets are destroyed when they encounter a planet sized chunk of rock that appears and disappears, getting in the way of our rockets and causing them to crash. The earth commanders are at a loss to explain, and decide to send their best astronaut Frank on a mission to discover what is going on. Frank and his partner head out into space in search of this rogue chunk of rock. (break in the action now for a bit of trivia - do you remember a television commercial for the La Quinta hotel chain that used a bit of film showing two men in a spaceship talking about the hotel chain? This is the movie that it came from)

While they are cruising through space, something is terribly wrong, so Frank and his co-pilot take a spacewalk to see if they can figure out what is up. This leads to that, and Frank's partner pushes him back into the hatch and closes the door before drifting off into space forever. When Frank wakes up alone in the rocket ship, he discovers that the ship is being pulled by a gravity beam down to the giant rogue chunk of rock. After the ship lands on the rock-planet, he gets out of the ship in his space suit and walks around until he falls to the ground unconscious, with a daze of thoughts running through his head. When he awakes and looks at the world outside his space suit . . . Holy Gulliver, Batman, a bunch of 6 inch high men are scurrying about! As he watches them, the glass in his helmut opens up, and he shrinks down to the size of the little people. He is dragged, kicking and screaming, to a cave world inside this chunk of rock and brought before the old master of the world, amid a bevy of 1960's beautiful girls, who will be the jury for his trial. Trial? Yeah, it's a weak part of the plot, but anyway, he is convicted and senteced to 'live as a free person on their planet.' Yeah, really. Then he is introduced to two women and told that he will choose one to become his mate. Sizzling mute brunette Zetha, and manipulating blonde beauty Liara.

Liara quickly grabs his arm and takes him away as Zetha lowers her head in modesty. But Herron loves Liara, and later challenges Frank to a duel to the death over her. Hero Frank gets Herron right up to the point of death, then backs away, refusing to cause Herron's death. This causes Herron to grudgingly become Frank's friend. Now that Frank and the people of this chunk of rock are not enemies, we need a new enemy, so we are introduced to the Solarians. The people on this chunk of rock must zip through the universe so they can escape the attacks of the Solarians, who are after the secret to controlling gravity that these little people have. One of them has been captured and is being held behind a force-field wall. (another trivia interruption - the fellow in the Solarian monster costume is huge actor Richard Kiel - the giant antagonist from the James Bond movies - I can picture him with his wicked grin displaying his steel teeth right now)

It seems that brunette temptress Zetha became mute somehow when the people captured the monster, and has not spoken since. Well, soon the Solarians attack again, and we are all in fear of destruction. One of the death-ray shots from the Solarians manages to break down the force-field wall of the monster, and he wanders down the cave tunnels in freedom. Of course, he comes upon brunette Zetha, and picks her up in the classic 'monster carries the beauty to her doom' manner and carries her into the room where Frank and Herron fought to the death earlier in our movie. There he lays Zetha down and turns on the death-pads, and then hides in waiting for our hero Frank. When Frank enters and finds the comatose Zetha, he runs over to her and tries to awaken her, but the monster comes out of hiding and attacks Frank. Herron soon joins the fray, and the two of them manage to back the monster onto one of the death pads, and he evaporates into oblivion. Zetha, who was watching the battle, screams out in fear, and after the monster is done away with, discovers that she can talk. She and Frank exclaim their love for each other amidst a couple of torrid kisses. Now, all through this movie Zetha has been a silent female temptress, but I'm telling you straight up, once she talks, all of the mystique of her sizzling attraction is gone, and she is just another gal in a movie. Sheesh, talk about bursting one's bubble.

Anyway, this leads to that again, and Herron has a plan to get Frank back to the moon station, by putting him back in his suit as they are coming closest to our moon. Meanwhile, back on earth, they send up a search rocket with two more astronauts aboard, and notice the younger co-pilot - his real name is 'Mike Marshall,' with the same last name as the director - yup, it is actually the fifteen year old son of the director - if daddy is the director, junior gets to be in a movie!

Okay, back to the story. The rescue ship lands easily on the chunk of rock that has claimed the earlier rockets, and find Frank laying in his suit unconcious on the ground. As Frank awakens, he asks where all the little people are, and the rescue astronauts think he is delirious and in shock. They take him aboard their rescue rocket and blast off for earth. Was it all just a dream as Frank lay unconcious on the planet's surface? Did the little people really exist, or was it just his imagination? . . . .. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with warm melted butter on it and enjoy the show.