The Angry Red Planet (also called Invasion of Mars and Journey to Planet Four) is a 1959 science fiction film starring Gerald Mohr and directed by Ib Melchior. Melchior was only given 10 days and a budget of $200,000 to make the film. The shortened production time necessitated the use of a CineMagic technique, which involved using hand-drawn animations together with live action footage, and it was used for all scenes on the surface of Mars. Although this process was largely unsuccessful, producer Norman Maurer would attempt the same technique again in The Three Stooges in Orbit.
The rocketship MR-1 (for "Mars Rocket 1"), returns to Earth after the first manned flight to Mars. At first thought to have been lost in space, the rocket reappears but mission control cannot raise the crew by radio. The ground crew land the rocket successfully by remote control. Two survivors are found aboard: Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) and Col. Tom O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr), the latter's arm covered by a strange alien growth. The mission report is recounted by Dr. Ryan as she attempts to find a cure for Col. O'Bannion's arm.
While exploring Mars, Ryan is attacked by a carnivorous plant, which is killed using a freeze ray (nicknamed "Cleo") fired by weapons officer Jacobs. They also discover an immense bat-rat-spider creature, after mistaking its legs for trees, and the monster is repelled, again by Jacobs. When they return to their ship, the crew find that their radio signals are being blocked and the MR-1 is grounded by a force field. O'Bannion leads the crew to a Martian lake with a city visible on the other side. They cross in an inflatable raft, only to be stopped by a giant amoeba-like creature with a single spinning eye. The creature kills Jacobs and infects O'Bannon's arm. The survivors escape to the MR-1 and commence liftoff. The survivors then return to Earth, where O'Bannon's infected arm is cured using electric shocks.
When the mission scientists attempt to examine the expedition's data recorders, all they find is a recorded message. An alien voice announces that the MR-1 crew were allowed to leave so they can deliver this message to Earth. The Martians have been watching human development throughout history, believe our technology has outpaced cultural advancement, and accuse mankind of invading their world. They warn humanity to never return to Mars or Earth will be destroyed in retaliation.
Gerald Mohr as Col. Thomas O'Bannion
Naura Hayden as Dr. Iris 'Irish' Ryan
Les Tremayne as Prof. Theodore Gettell
Jack Kruschen as CWO Sam Jacobs
Paul Hahn as Maj. Gen. George Treegar
J. Edward McKinley as Prof. Paul Weiner
Tom Daly as Dr. Frank Gordon
Don Lamond as TV Newscaster/Martian Voice
Edward Innes as Brig. Gen. Alan Prescott
Gordon Barnes as Maj. Lyman Ross
Jack Haddock a Lt. Col. Davis
Brandy Bryan as Nurse Hayes
Joan Fitzpatrick as Nurse Dixon
Arline Hunter as Joan
Alean Hamilton as Joan's Friend
Sidney W. Pink originally wrote a treatment called The Planet Mars, which told the story of an Earth trip to the planet Mars.
"It was written on my kitchen table," said Pink later. "My kids were my critics, they'd tell me what was good and what just fell flat!"
Pink gave his treatment to Melchior, whom he'd met at a party; Melchior agreed to write the script if Pink allowed him to direct. While writing the script, Pink met Maurer, who was developing a new cinematic technique, CineMagic, which attempted to make drawings look like photographic images. However it soon became apparent the technique would not be able to deliver what had been promised.
"The damn Cinemagic didn't work like it should," said Pink later. "It was supposed to be sort of a 3-D effect. What we came up with was great anyway!"
Filming started on September 9, 1959, a month after Melchior completed his final draft.
American International Pictures released the film as a double feature with Circus of Horrors. It was the first of several movies Melchior made for the studio.
"Arkoff and I had a working relationship," said Pink. "Neither of us trusted the other… which worked out well because I wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole. Jimmy Nicholson was the brains of that operation. With Arkoff, you never got a straight count."
The film was popular at the box office and enjoyed a long life on television.
When the film was released, Eugene Archer, film critic for The New York Times, critiqued the film's special effects, writing:
The Angry Red Planet, solemnly warns its audiences not to go to Mars. Stubborn patrons who ignore the advice will discover that the planet looks like a cardboard illustration from Flash Gordon and is inhabited by carnivorous plants, a giant amoeba and a species resembling a three-eyed green ant."
Film critic Bruce Eder retrospectively praised the film, writing:
The effects are a combination of costuming, model work, and puppets, with Bob Baker's giant (puppet) bat-rat-spider moving off in the distance perhaps the best shot in the movie. Danish-born director/screenwriter Ib Melchior brings a surprisingly light, deft touch to the proceedings, allowing the actors a chance to have fun with their roles -- especially Gerald Mohr, still looking and sounding a bit like Humphrey Bogart, as the stalwart mission commander, and Jack Kruschen as the good-humored technician in the crew -- without losing sight of the adventure and the story line, and meshing it all seamlessly with the special effects-driven sequences."[
The Angry Red Planet was released by MGM on Region 1 DVD on April 1, 2003.