Review: Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962)

Journey to the Seventh Planet

Directed by Sidney W. Pink
Starring John Agar, Greta Thyssen, Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner

John Agar stands at the altar, holding the hands of his first love. The minister is speaking, but John’s mind is elsewhere. He stares into the folds of Shirley’s dress, at the hint of skin below her chin and above her bosom. He imagines her in bed with him, underneath him.

Well, do you?” the minister asks. The church erupts with laughter.

John blinks his eyes. Smiles. “I do.”

John Agar stands in the center of a luxurious hotel suite in New York City, his tie loosened, a glass of scotch in his hand. Outside, car horns blare and photographers shout come-ons at his wife of two years.

Turn around! Hold! Just like that! Perfect!”

He listens until the shouts die down and the sounds of the city are reduced to distant sirens. He looks up at the chandelier. He takes a drink.

John Agar stands in front of a hurriedly-painted spaceship wall in the center of a tiny soundstage. He is wearing a heavily-starched jumpsuit. His forearms itch. In front of him, Sid Pink, the director, waves his arms.

All right, boys … action!”

John snaps to attention, takes a step.

Love is one luxury I’ve never had time for,” he says. He forces a smile. The scene continues.

Journey to the Seventh Planet is John Agar’s 35th film. I’m quite positive this number would have escaped him at the time. In 1962, he had already spent a decade making appearances in low-budget science fiction pictures, a far cry from the initial promise he showed starring in movies like Fort Apache and Sands of Iwo Jima alongside superstar John Wayne. His early-’50s downfall could be blamed on his too-quick thrust into the spotlight following his 1945 marriage to America’s Sweetheart, Shirley Temple. It was Temple who filed for divorce in 1949, citing “mental cruelty.” It was Agar who was left with a big name, a recognizable face, and alcoholism, which resulted in multiple drunk-driving arrests. He fell from the spotlight and found a place in Hollywood’s back alleyways, lending his name to pictures like Revenge of the Creature and The Mole People.

Ten-odd years later, he was still there, still carrying on, still sporting his charming smile as he rode into obscurity.

Journey to the Seventh Planet is nothing special. The plot rips off Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, among other works, and takes its time reproducing every cliché it can muster. The players each phone in wooden performances. Sidney Pink’s direction ensures that every scene crawls at a glacial pace. The screenplay is padded with meaningless technobabble dialogue. The special-effects are limited to crude stop-motion creatures and unconvincing miniatures. Stock footage provides the film’s most thrilling moments, as we watch real-life space shuttles take off and fly into earth’s upper atmosphere. All the while, an intoxicated narrator informs us that “there are no limits to the imagination.” He neglects to add that there are limits to paltry five-figure movie budgets.

Seventh Planet is set in 2001, when “the planet Earth is no longer racked by wars and threats of annihilation.” Each planet in the solar system has been explored and mapped, save for the outermost three. A small crew is sent to Uranus (pronounced “yer-AH-nus”) to collect and record observations and analyses. When they arrive, the planet is discovered to be inhabited by a creature hidden deep underground – a malevolent being that takes the space explorers’ every thought and turns them into reality.

Agar’s character is the womanizer of the crew, often carrying on about women he encountered back on earth. “A UN biological expert,” he reminisces. “Boy was she biological. I wish I could have taught her my kind of biology.” The other men don’t appear to have ever experiences erections, let alone set eyes on a woman. When each crewmember’s fantasies come to life on the planet’s surface, they’re shocked into silence – not by surprise, but by confusion. The mere presence of a female is enough to drive their plans completely off-kilter as they spend their days barely reaching first base, completely oblivious to the dubious nature of their manufactured dream girls.

The film winds its way through various setbacks in the space explorers’ planned destruction of the all-powerful being. Minutes drag by as we’re treated to fireside discussions about life back on Earth and endless treks through icy underground labyrinths. Small respite comes in the form of ridiculous spacesuits with helmets that can’t possibly provide protection from Uranus’ atmosphere. Jagged ice cuts through a character’s leg, and the crew figures that the sub-zero temperature will stop the bleeding. Sure enough, it does. John Agar falls into “quicksnow,” a material that acts as Earth’s quicksand does. When he crawls out, he’s covered in packing peanuts. So that’s where those come from.

By the time the intrepid explorers jet out of the foreign atmosphere and head back towards Earth, the movie has become stultifyingly dull. Scene after scene of the cast trading wooden dialogue has taken its toll.

John Agar stands at attention in front of his commanding officer. It’s 1943.

“You’ve got a handsome mug there, Agar. You ever think about being in movies?”

John laughs. “Movies, sir? Can’t say I have.”

20 years later, he’s holding a plastic laser gun in his hands and waiting for the director’s word. When it comes, he steps forward and smiles.

Spotlights surround him, illuminating the contours of his still-handsome face. The director waves his arms.

“Cut. Perfect.”

As John Agar exits the studio lot and looks at the clouds above, he is briefly reminded of his parents’ home in Chicago – the smell of clean laundry, the sunlight dancing on the walls, and the open window leading outside, where anything was possible.

Anything.

Links:

Amazon – Strange Invaders / Invaders from Mars / Invisible Invaders / Journey to the Seventh Planet DVD
Amazon Instant – Journey to the Seventh Planet
Netflix – Journey to the Seventh Planet
YouTube – End Credits Theme Song
YouTube – Complete Film
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: