Directed by Lesley Selander
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn
Starring Cameron Mitchell
Music by Marlin Skiles
Cinematography Harry Neumann
Edited by Richard V. Heermance
Monogram Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Monogram Distributing Corp.
November 11, 1951 (United States)
Country United States
Flight to Mars is a 1951 American Cinecolor science fiction film, produced by Walter Mirisch for Monogram Pictures, directed by Lesley Selander, and starring Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell and Arthur Franz.
The story involves the arrival on the Red Planet of an American scientific expedition team, who discover that Mars is inhabited by an underground-dwelling, but dying civilization. While anatomically human, the Martians are suspicious of the Earthmen's motives. A majority of their governing body finally decides to keep their visitors prisoner, never allowing them to return home with the information they have discovered. But the Earthmen have sympathizers among the Martians. Soon a plan is set in motion to smuggle the scientists and their Martian allies aboard the now guarded spaceship and make an escape for Earth.
The first mission to Mars led by physicist Dr. Lane (John Litel), includes Professor Jackson (Richard Gaines), engineer Jim Barker (Arthur Franz) and his assistant Carol Stadwick (Virginia Huston). Journalist Steve Abbott (Cameron Mitchell) is also on board to cover the expedition. A final interview with the scientific team makes Steve realize that there are grave risks to the mission.
Once in space, the crew members prepare for their landing on Mars. After 48 hours, the spacecraft has made a change in course as it is attracted by the Moon's gravitational pull. At the same time, the mission looses contact with the Earth. When a meteor storm disables the landing gear, the crew must then decide to crash-land on the Red Planet or turn back. Each crew member has to make the decision to go ahead or try to return to safety. Professor Jackson makes the case that the primary reason for their flight was to collect data, which can be sent back via self-propelled space cylinders with homing devices. The decision to proceed is a difficult one as it means they can never go back home.
After crash-landing on Mars, five aliens approach the spacecraft. Looking like humans and able to communicate in English, their leader, Ikron (Morris Ankrum), the president of the planet's council, explains that Martians have been able to receive Earth's radio broadcasts. Their efforts to transmit back have only resulted in hearing faint signals on Earth that were coming from Mars.
The Martians bring the expedition to an underground city that is being sustained by life-support systems fueled by a mineral called corium. The crew meets Tillamar (Robert Barrat), the past president who now is an advisor to the council. Terris (Lucille Barkley), a young female Martian shows them to their room and serves the group automated meals, made from hydroponically grown food. The expedition is amazed at the technology all around the city and return to the council to ask for help in repairing their spacecraft.
Discretely, Ikron reveals that corium is nearly depleted and that the end of their civilization is at hand. He recommends that the Earthmen's repaired ship can be reproduced to create a fleet of spaceships that will evacuate their people to Earth. Although Tillamar is hesitant, the council votes for Ikron's plan.
Alita (Marguerite Chapman), one of the leading Martian scientists is placed in charge of repairing the Earthmen's spaceship. Ikorn keeps informed of the work's progress by using Terris as a spy. Jim suspects the Martians' motives and fakes an explosion on the spacecraft to slow the repairs. Later, after working with her, he tells Alita that he is in love with her and wants her to be his wife. When Jim announces their takeoff for the next day, he surprises everyone with the news that Tillamar and Alita will join them.
Terris reports the suspicious behavior to Ikron, leading to Alita and Tillimar being held by Ikron's men and taken to the council. Jim foils Ikron's plan to seize the expedition's repaired spacecraft by freeing Tillamar and Alita, with Martian guards in pursuit. After a confrontation on the loading stairs, the three make it onboard safely and the expedition is able to take off into space, heading for Earth.
Marguerite Chapman as Alita
Cameron Mitchell as Steve Abbott
Arthur Franz as Dr. Jim Barker
Virginia Huston as Carol Stafford
John Litel as Dr. Lane
Morris Ankrum as Ikron
Richard Gaines as Professor Jackson
Lucille Barkley as Terris
Robert Barrat as Tillamar
Wilbur Back as Councilman
William Bailey as Councilman
Trevor Bardette as Alzar
Stanley Blystone as Councilman
David Bond as Ramay
Raymond Bond as Astronomer # Two
Flight to Mars has some plot similarities to the Russian silent film Aelita but unlike that earlier film, it is a low-budget "quickie" shot in just five days. Principal photography on location at Death Valley, California took place from May 11 to late May 1951.
Except for some of the flight instruments, Flight to Mars reuses the interior flight deck sets and other interior props from Lippert Pictures' 1950 science fiction feature Rocketship X-M. Even that earlier film's spaceflight sound effects are reused, as are the concepts of space flight outlined in RX-M 's screenplay. The main difference between both films is a planned flight to Mars; the earlier Lippert film concerns an accidental journey to the Red Planet, which happens during a planned expedition to the Moon. Additionally, Flight to Mars postulates a Martian species which is superior, in many ways, to humanity, and could pose a long-term, strategic threat. In the Lippert film, however, a Martian species is a throw-back, a consequence of a global nuclear holocaust, which occurred millennia earlier; those Martians pose only an immediate, tactical threat to the RX-M's crew.
A sequel, Voyage to Venus was proposed but never made.
The New York Times review notes: "Flight to Mars is the second American film of the postwar era (after the previous year's Rocketship X-M) to depict a manned space trip to the Red Planet." Critical reaction to Flight to Mars was not positive. Film reviewer Glenn Erickson characterized the film as derivative. "Of all the early space movies, none is so disappointing as Flight to Mars. Destination Moon was scientifically accurate, and Rocketship XM had a gripping dramatic script. This copycat production has neither." He further described the shoddy production values as, "Producer Walter Mirisch put the show together from found items - the ship interior is from Rocketship XM, and the Martian suits from Destination Moon."