Lassie Come Home
It’s a pleasure to see a dog given such a leading role. How many animals have devoted themselves to walk-ons with an inspiration or a natural gift that carried the scene or lent it authenticity?
And then, it’s a film with a real feeling for animals even before Disney (whose The Incredible Journey this inspired), and a surprisingly accomplished job by a novice director and former assistant to King Vidor and Billy Wilder; there are two or three seams visible, and that’s all.
The opening sequence on the flight deck of a United Planets cruiser approaching Altair IV is a direct harbinger of Star Trek, especially the wardroom just visible in the background, also the viewing screen, which offers a planetary view out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And here as well is a pivot from the sparse interior of Frau im Mond just visible. Metropolis figures later on the planet, and very important indications from Things to Come. Morbius’s study is akin to Captain Nemo’s, the monster’s chimerical footprints are those of The Invisible Man. Finally, the great power plant “two thousand centuries old” has something of Borges’ Babylonian library about it, and the essence of the tale is very close to Mr. Arkadin.
The point of departure is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but Hume’s Prospero is the mad scientist who doesn’t know he’s mad, or an unwitting dupe like Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. His Ariel is Robby, the Robot, who receives some of Shakespeare’s Caliban material, but the Caliban in Forbidden Planet is Morbius himself, whose id spawns a monster. This is antithetical to The Tempest, if you like, but there are many clues in Beckett’s “Dante...Bruno.Vico..Joyce”.
“His [Vico’s] division of the development of human society into three ages: Theocratic, Heroic, Human (civilized), with a corresponding classification of language: Hieroglyphic (sacred), Metaphysical (poetic), Philosophical (capable of abstraction and generalization), was by no means new, although it must have appeared so to his contemporaries. He derived this convenient classification from the Egyptians, via Herodotus.”
“In the beginning was the thunder: the thunder set free Religion, in its most objective and unphilosophical form—idolatrous animism: Religion produced Society, and the first social men were the cave-dwellers, taking refuge from a passionate Nature: this primitive family life receives its first impulse towards development from the arrival of terrified vagabonds: admitted, they are the first slaves: growing stronger, they exact agrarian concessions, and a despotism has evolved into a primitive feudalism: the cave becomes a city, and the feudal system a democracy: then an anarchy: this is corrected by a return to monarchy: the last stage is a tendency towards interdestruction: the nations are dispersed, and the Phoenix of Society arises out of their ashes.”
“The first men had to create matter by the force of their imagination...”
And so, “hume sweet hume”, adding this with a sidelight illuminating Ariel and Caliban: “on this earth that is Purgatory, Vice and Virtue—which you may take to mean any pair of large contrary human factors—must in turn be purged down to spirits of rebelliousness.”
The scenic grandeur in CinemaScope is distinguished by its effort toward strangeness rather than naturalism. The density of imagination in the forests of Altair IV is enough to make a labyrinth. The foreground compositions give, for example, a lateral movement (the crane truck) revealing the philologist Morbius’s vehicle with its windscreens like two clutched breasts, his daughter Alta sitting in it, and Robby advancing toward the camera with metal sheets.
The cast is divided between the military types of the cruiser and the two survivors from the wreck of the Bellerophon. Anne Francis is the ideal American beauty, supernally lovely and astonishingly fresh and keen. Walter Pidgeon somehow makes an expression of wry devilment into one of futurity.
Leslie Nielsen, Jack Kelly, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman are among the crewmen. The prime characteristic of Robby is that it can replicate any form of matter, even “genuine Kansas City bourbon”. In view of Beckett on Dante, “The ‘De Monarchia’ was burnt publicly under Pope Giovanni XXII at the instigation of Cardinal Beltrando and the bones of its author would have suffered the same fate but for the interference of an influential man of letters, Pino della Tosa,” it’s worth mentioning not only the Vatican’s disapproval of Godard’s Hail Mary but its distinction between the “creator” and the “craftsman” (“Letter to Artists”, 1999), which rests on a Polish pun.