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Phantom Planet, The

Entry updated 21 March 2022. Tagged: Film.

Film (1961). Four Crown Productions. Directed by William Marshall. Written by Fred De Gorter, Fred Gebhardt (see Robert A Wise), William Telaak, William Marshall, based on a story by Gebhardt. Cast includes Francis X Bushman, Anthony Dexter, Loretta Faith, Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Richard Kiel and Richard Weber. 82 minutes. Black and white.

Spaceships on routine missions are being destroyed by a mysterious planetoid (see Asteroids) that appears and vanishes, so astronauts Frank Chapman (Fredericks) and Ray Makonnen (Weber) are sent to investigate. While trying to repair damage caused by meteors, Chapman's air supply is damaged, and after Makonnen gets him back inside the spaceship, another meteor sends him hurtling into space to his doom, inspiring him to recite the Lord's Prayer as he drifts away (see Spacesuit Films). Chapman's spaceship is then brought to a landing on the planetoid, and once exposed to the planet's strange atmosphere he shrinks to miniature size (see Great and Small) and meets the other tiny inhabitants of the world, called Rheton. Their leader Sessom (Bushman, in what seems to have been his 225th film appearance) explains the many unusual properties of this world, including its ability to appear and vanish and its atmosphere which shrinks people; the Rhetonites insist that Chapman must remain to keep their planet a secret, especially since they fear an attack from their enemies, the monstrous Solarites. Attracted to two women, Liara (Gray) and the mute Zetha (Faith), Chapman is challenged to a duel by the jealous Herron (Dexter), but after Chapman wins and declines to kill his foe, they become allies and cooperate in a scheme to bring Rheton close to the Moon, so that Earthmen can come to investigate, find Chapman (who can be enlarged again if exposed to air from his spacesuit), and leave with him before they learn the secret of Rheton. Before this occurs, Chapman assists in fending off an attack by the Solarites and in killing a captive Solarite (Kiel) who escapes and goes on a rampage.

Although sometimes described as an sf adaptation of Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735), only one scene – when a prostrate Chapman is surrounded by tiny Rhetonites before he shrinks to their size – actually recalls Jonathan Swift's novel. Instead, despite its unusually minute Alien world, its plot seems an amalgam of Flight to Mars (1951) and This Island Earth (1955), as a human visits a Decadent civilization beset by bestial enemies and gets involved in melodramatic intrigues before escaping and returning to Earth. Also, while Chapman has difficulties with Sessom and Herron, every inhabitant of Rheton actually turns out to be really nice, reflecting the doll-like stature that makes them necessarily unmenacing. It is also incongruous that Chapman's implausible adventures on Rheton are preceded by a more realistic, even grim, sequence set in outer space, perhaps deemed a necessary prelude to a film released after humans had actually ventured into space. [GW]


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