One year, one film: 1956
Forbidden Planet, dir. Fred McLeod Wilcox
Starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Forbidden Planet is one of the most beloved examples of mid-century sci-fi, and a truly enduring classic, all for very good reason. In vibrant color and with plenty of special effects, the film tells the story of two survivors (Anne Francis and Walter Pidgeon) of a monstrous attack on another planet. The futuristic colony and its native “Krell” have been all but wiped out by the time an Earth-dwelling commander (Leslie Nielsen) arrives to investigate. Equal parts fun and genuinely intriguing, I consider Forbidden Planet to be a must-see, and definitely one of the best science fiction stories of the 1950s.
But were the critics of 1956 kind to Forbidden Planet? Critics are sometimes much more harsh on genre films than they are on “serious” cinema, so I expected mixed reviews in my investigation of this film, possibly even some flat-out negative reviews. Much to my surprise, it seems that most of the critics at the time gave this film a hefty dose of praise.
Variety was charmed by Robby the Robot, writing that “he’s well-used for some comedy touches.” The publication’s staff also gave love to the “imaginative gadgets galore, plus plenty of suspense and thrills” and called the film on the whole “a top offering in the space travel category.”
Modern Screen labeled the flick “exciting,” calling it “one of the best science fiction movies to date” and “richly imaginative.” It landed on their “Worth Seeing This Month” list in the June 1956 issue, alongside The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Even that old grump Bosley Crowther enjoyed this sci-fi adventure! Crowther’s New York Times review exclaimed, “Fasten your seat belts, fellows. Get those space helmets clamped to your heads and hang on tight, because we’re taking off this morning on a wonderful trip to outer space.” Crowther gave his review some flair to match the film’s showy special effects, saying that Forbidden Planet features “the gaudiest layout of gadgets this side of a Florida hotel” and “some of the most amusing creatures conceived since the Keystone cops.” He even went so far as to recommend the film to the whole family, “from 8 to 80!”
Whether watching Forbidden Planet in 1956 or 2016, it’s clear that this flick is both a crowd-pleaser and a critic-pleaser.