Omega 13 “In defence of…”- A weekly treatise in which we analyze publicly derided Box Office Failures using granular convection to piece out the good that might lie beneath.
With the internet taking great pleasure casting an askance view on even the minute of failures in all manner of creative endeavour I thought it might be nice to look at those famously bad films of the past and revealing all the moments where they made the right choice. All movies have them, and they are even easier to see in a bad movie than in a good movie (since good movies are brimming with goodness). Kind of a Devil’s Advocate, but with a Pollyanna attitude; This is Omega 13…
Episode 09- Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Distributer: Valiant Pictures
Release Date: July 22, 1959
Budget: 60 Thousand
1st Weekend Total: Unknown
A film that might have faded away to obscurity had the Medved brothers, in 1980, not award Plan 9 with the coveted Worst Film of all time, and also giving Ed Wood worst director. From that moment forward it would be famous for being bad, and regardless of more films arriving that were worse than Plan 9, after that award was given, it will always be considered the worst of the worst… and much like most films in this weekly treatise, most people have never seen it. Can I show beyond doubt that Plan 9 isn’t as bad as they say? I’ll prove it can be done.
Forever known as Bela Lugosi’s last film, despite his footage was shot for a different collaboration, The Ghoul Goes West, director Ed Wood later worked his Plan 9 script then called Grave Robbers from Outer Space to include Lugosi as a king of tribute to the man, as well as, and most assuredly, to cash in one last time on a “name” actor. Although Wood was able to finagle then-famous wrestler Tor Johnson, and the first TV’s first horror host, Vampira, as well as the up and comer, Gregory Walcott, who went on to have a comfortable career most notable to Omega 13 readers, Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as the persistent, and plucky director, paints Wood as a man who is so in love with making films that he has deluded himself in to thinking that the art of making a film is good enough- that his exuberance was enough to make even the most distrustful person feel like they were apart of something magical. If you read the biography Nightmare of Ecstacy, by Rudolph Grey, you would see him portrayed as a more sociopathic character who used whomever he could, and made whatever deals he needed to get a picture off the ground, including banking on his supposed friendship with Bela Lugosi, a sad form of his old self, addicted to heroin, and depressed as he was not Hollywood’s boogyman, anymore.
A cautionary tale Plan 9, borrows the main theme from the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still, and turns it on its ear by incorporating the many themes that were filling the theatres at the time, ghouls and conspiracy.
An Alien race attempts contact with Earth, but the American government chooses to ignore the Aliens’ pleas for parlay, only to have the Aliens take the time to study Earth and deem them unworthy of further existence because their soon creation of the metaphorical Solarbonite bomb (read: Nuclear weapons), and their lack of maturity to handle the responsibility of said weapon. After the bombing of Japan marking the end of World War II, the world was struck with a constant fear of when and where the next bombs may land, with consistent bomb drills in schools, and shelters being created in back yards across the country, Plan 9, plays on the fear that was sweeping the country.
And that is where Plan 9 works; the fear of the unknown. Filmed in 1956, and released to theatres in 1959, man had not yet, still, walked on the moon. What world’s lay beyond ours? Scientist had surely proven a great many things of our sweeping universe, but the blackness of space was still ripe for wonder and worry. What was hiding on the other side of the moon? It was only 10 short years prior that the famous Roswell incident happened and, although the government stated it was a downed weather balloon, the population was in a tizzy. First we have nuclear weapons pointed in all directions, but they now had to worry about whether beings from another world might obliterate the Earth for… reasons.
Gregory Walcott and his co-pilot, David De Mering do their able best to make the dialogue work, and they are believable as they work through their repartee in the cockpit of American Flight 812. Both sell the scenes of flying a plane while only holding pieces of plywood cut in a semi-circle, and a dark shower curtain hung in the door leading to the passengers. Even as Walcott stares off screen to the flying saucer, he still works to keep the plane in the air, checking off-screen instrument panels and even, when De Mering walks on his line, Walcott keeps in character keeping eye contact with the stewardess before Wood, cuts in for their 2-shot when he can say his line, and cue his co-pilot to say his line again.
Bela Lugosi, of course, filmed these scenes for a completely different film, but what he lacked in direction he makes up for in conviction. The sadness, the loneliness he conveys as he weeps at his wife’s funeral. The broken man, picking a flower that his lost love planted becomes a reminder of a happier time. Lugosi is lovely, weak and lost. One will never know whether his character was hit by a car because he was deep in thought, or he walked out on that treacherous road in order to join his lady in the afterlife. How truly sad that they do find themselves together again, but as mindless Zombies unable to recognize each other through their need to kill.
Something most people might have missed is that this might have been one of the first films to have an X-Files Mulder-like character with Colonel Tom Edwards, in charge of Saucer field activity, who directly tells his commanding officer, under threats of Court Martial, that he sees no reason to lie about what he has seen just because the army is tight-lipped about aliens. Unlike Mulder, Colonel Tom is still working out his own feelings on the subject, implying that he was given the job, not because he had any interest in it, but because he was assigned it. And, even after he had launched a fruitless attack on the flying saucers is still unsure of whether fighting, or striking a meeting with the foreigners is the better. An interesting statement on American politics that works to this day.
You believe there are such things as flying saucers, Colonel?
You seen them?
You realize there’s a government directive stating that there is no such thing as a flying saucer?
Call Ed Wood an opportunist, or a hack, he was desperate to make a film, and desperate to tell his stories. Capable of holding a gathering at his home, and still writing the script while he makes conversation, he was obviously born only to write and create stories. If one looks past the cardboard scenery, and bad acting, you can see a child-like enthusiasm that is lost on most once they become adults and face the day to day of the workplace. A man high on the idea of seeing something he wrote, he directed, he created on the silver screen was more drive than most people have. It didn’t matter whether he hired a wrestler with an accent too thick to understand, or portrayed the dead Lugosi with a man covering his face with a cloak, Ed Wood gained great pleasure from the film industry, only taking to writing smutty novels and blue movies to make ends meet.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is from the mind of a man who knew nothing but the stories he wrote, and was a product that capitalized on 50s paranoia that, unfortunately, taken out of context is lost on the modern day viewer. A time when wonder was not a four letter word, and the future and space, and the dark corners of the earth were still unexplored and full with mystery.
End Episode 09
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Omega 13 where we dig through mire to find the appreciable inside 1989’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier…