Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Seductive & Quite Shameless Come-Hitherness of Anne Francis, Robby the Robot & Forbidden Planet

Now I do not mean the title of this piece to be a knock on Fred Wilcox's groundbreaking 1956 sci-fi film, nor do I mean it in strictly a sexual manner (though knock-out Anne Francis' skimpy outfits may say otherwise).  Simply put, from both a psychological and societal standpoint - and yes, a sexual one as well - Forbidden Planet is a scintillating work of genre filmmaking.

Risque for its time (how did they get those dresses that if any shorter would have been belts past the censors!? - not that I am complaining mind you) and well ahead of said time as well - Forbidden Planet can claim to be the first sci-film film to portray humans flying in spaceships of their own making as well as the first to take place entirely away from the confines of good ole Planet Earth, as well as the first mainstream motion picture to have a soundtrack totally comprised of electronic music (or "electronic tonalities" as the credits say, reportedly so as not to have to pay the composer's union).  All this along with that ever tantalizing title (changed from the original, and much less tantalizing Fatal Planet) make Forbidden Planet an exercise in subversively lurid filmmaking - a thing that many B-pictures of the time took great pride in getting past the so-called powers-that-be.

The story goes as thus: Early in the 23rd century, the United Planets Cruiser C57-D has been sent to the planet Altair IV, 16 light years from the Earth. Its mission is to discover the fate of an expedition sent 20 years earlier to establish a colony on the planet. The cruiser is contacted by Dr. Edward Morbius, who radios the crew and warns them to stay away. However, the starship's captain, Commander John J. Adams ignores the warning and lands his ship anyway.  When the crew lands they find that only Dr. Morbius and his nineteen year old daughter are still alive.  Needless to say, the nineteen year old Alta, played by twenty-five year old Anne Francis, decked out in outfits that would make even the most pious of space travelers go gaga and playing the ultimate tease as she first learns about kissing from her weary space-traveling guests, is the veritable hit of the party.  But then I said this wasn't all about sex, so I digress.

The true breakout star of this film was Robby the Robot - making his film debut as the credit's claim.  The robot, a creation of Robert Kinoshita, art director for the TV series Lost in Space which incidentally had a very similar robot in its cast (and Robby himself would guest star on a few episodes as a sort of robotic family reunion), is both guardian and housemaid to the doctor and his lovely daughter (he is the one who made her dresses, so don't believe it when he tries to claim gender neutrality in one scene) and would become a big star in both TV and movies (and future sci-fi conventions) as his career grew.  It is Robby and the rest of the fantastic creations of this film that would go on to influence Gene Roddenberry when he was creating his iconic TV show a decade later.  One can see many of these influences on Star Trek as one watches the film, but there are many others in between the so-called lines - including the mention of the planet Altair IV as a Federation planet in Deep Space Nine and the iconic numbering of the original Enterprise by using the ship's time of arrival on Altair IV, 17:01 hours.

 But back to the story itself (which incidentally is based on Shakespeare's The Tempest): unable to get the doctor and his daughter to leave the planet, the crew is set upon by an unseen monster - the same unseen creature than apparently killed the rest of the original landing party oh so long ago.  The mysteries of the planet and the advanced race of beings that once inhabited it begin to unravel as Adams and his men begin to investigate further into what exactly is happening here.  The philosophical ideas of how much knowledge the human mind can handle and who has the right to decide what that amount is, come into play as Dr. Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon and Commander Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen long before he became the godfather of the movie parody, take on the ideological and quite inevitable yin and yang sides of the film's storyline.  But let's face it, no matter what I tried saying earlier, it all does come back to sex in the end.

I mean really, let's face it, no matter how many times we can debate the ideas of knowledge and power and the corrupting forces of both, or the power of the id over the ego, or how influential the movie was on future generations of sci-fi writers, directors and fans, we never quite get that vision of Anne Francis in those mini-dresses, or out of those mini-dresses, frolicking around the swimming pool, or allowing those crewmen to show her the ways of the world (though her own loins are fired up only by that studly man muffin Leslie Nielsen) out of our minds for even a second - even a yoctosecond.  Granted, Miss Francis was more than just a pretty face and a great pair of legs.  She was a fine actress who would play many different roles throughout her career, and play most of them with a certain kind of bravura  that managed to use both her feminine wiles and her sense of class and grace and intellegence, but here and now, on Altair IV and amongst the men and monsters of this forbidden planet, it is all sex sex sex.

Hell, even Robby has to take time out to "give myself an oil job" (his words, not mine!) after spending all that time alone with the gorgeous Alta.  After all, she must have done something right to be included in The Rocky Horror Picture Show's theme song, Science Fiction/Double Feature.  And if these censor-mocking innuendos were not enough (though they satisfied me enough) just look at the poster that was released for the film.  It shows Robby holding a scantily-clad unconscious buxom blonde who is obviously not the aforementioned Miss Francis.  Why is this shot on the poster when it is never in the movie itself?  Well duh.  Sex sells my friends and again, let's face facts people - no matter what I said before, it always comes back to the sex and the seductive and quite shameless come-hitherness of Anne Francis, Robby the Robot and Forbidden Planet.


blahblahblah Toby said...

great review for this film kevyn, i just saw it for the first time this week and was amazed by the the length of anne francis clothing and the special effects, not to mention the influence on star trek it obviously had.

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Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

Nice review..

Scot said...

Excuse me, but Forbidden Planet was hardly "the first sci-fi film to portray humans flying in spaceships of their own making." Just off the top of my head: George Melies' A Trip to the Moon (1902), Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon (1929), the sci-fi musical comedy Just Imagine (1930), Universal's Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, Rocketship X-M and Destination Moon (both 1950), When Worlds Collide (1951), Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), Conquest of Space (1955) -- all depict man-made spacecraft and predate Forbidden Planet .

Unless, of course, you mean movies with Earthlings using human-made interstellar spacecraft.