The first spaceship to Mars, presumed lost, is found in space and brought back to Earth by remote control. Only two from an initial crew of four are still alive, but one is unconscious due to an attached alien growth, while the other is traumatized, blocking out all memory of what happened. In hopes to save the unconscious crewman, the amnesiac is interrogated back into remembering. Those in charge thereby learn of the terrible dangers awaiting anyone venturing into the spooky, ruddy stillness of the very alien Martian ecosystem.
Directed by: Ib Melchior
. Starring: Gerald Mohr
, Nora Hayden
, Les Tremayne
, Jack Kruschen
, Paul Hahn
, J. Edward McKinley
, Tom Daly
, Don Lamond
, Edward Innes
, Gordon Barnes
, Jack Haddock
, Brandy Bryan
, Joan Patrick
. Music by: Paul Dunlap
Well, I'll give the film makers this much credit: the planet sure seems angry. And quite red, for that matter. This is fairly typical low-budget 1950s sci-fi right here, complete with shoddy effects and no more than a passing knowledge of science, or even the laws of physics. It's about a manned mission to Mars in which stuff goes wrong, which is a theme that shows up even in today's movies; here, it's told mainly in flashback by one of the survivors.
Rocketship MR-1 (you know, for Mars Rocket 1) blasts off with four crew members on board - Tom O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr), Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden), Theodore Gettell (Les Tremayne), and Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen). A couple of days later, they land on Mars. To put that in perspective, if the fastest spacecraft around today left while Mars and Earth were closest to each other, it would arrive at Mars in a little over a month. That's if it's an unmanned craft, as the human body can't take super-duper fast speeds. But, okay, this was 1959, so we'll just have to accept that the writers were spitballing some ideas and didn't care if they fudged some numbers.
Contact is lost a couple of months after departure from Earth, and suddenly the MR-1 is detected in orbit around Earth (yeah, I know); immediately, the science types spring into action and return the rocket to terra firma by remote control. Which is totally a thing, at least in science fiction. Anyway, Iris staggers out of the ship and is essentially in shock, while one of her crew mates is rushed to an operating table with some green thing on his arm. It's up to amnesiac Iris to fill in the blanks for the doctors, who for some reason need her to explain just what in tarnation happened before they can do anything.
This is where the flashback comes in, as Iris is hypnotized. We learn, in quick order, that the ship did land on Mars. Upon landing, the crew note only vegetation - no, as they said, life. Plants aren't life, people! And if someone from 2015 told this crew that plants are, indeed, life, the answer would be along the lines of "well, not REAL life!" Anyway, the plants are there, and they appear to be completely still. This unnerves everyone, particularly Iris, who as the lone female is prone to emotional outbursts, not like the manly andor thoughtful men on board.
Much of the movie was shot in Cinemagic, a process that was supposed to simulate hand-drawn animation. It doesn't really work to that extent, but the scenes on Mars do have a very strong reddish hue to them. Seems appropriate. But here are a few other interesting bits that this laugher provided. 1) while the crew is on board their ship and looking out of the portholes, the sky changes from red to blue and back again between scenes. I'm not sure if the blue was supposed to mean daytime and the red was night, but even in 1959 people knew why the sky looks blue to us. 2) While on Mars, the crew encounters what they call a lake (although it's massive enough that "ocean" would have been the first thing to pop into my mind), so they come back later with a - wait for it - inflatable raft. Just the kind of thing you'd take onboard a spaceship that needs to be as lightweight as possible to escape Earth's gravitational pull. And then 3) about that gravity. The ship itself appears to have plenty of it, as no one's floating around. Understandable, since it would probably break the budget to turn on the antigravity in 1959. Mars also has plenty of it. In fact, it's the same gravity Earth has! Neat little coincidence.
But sure, this was 1959, and the extent of outer-space exploration was...what, Yuri Gagarin? We can let them slide on a lot of this science stuff. Science is for nerds, right? Let's see this crew take on the aliens! Which they do, and spoiler alert, the aliens aren't at all pleased we're on Mars. After a while, you can kind of see their point.
The Angry Red Planet is a relic of its era; it's light on facts, light on humor (other than the forced or stereotypical kinds), light on drama, and just plain light overall. Even the tone is light. I did get a kick out of the prehistoric Mission Control, which consisted of a bunch of people crowded around one terminal. Who knows how big the mountain was that housed the actual computer. Gerald Mohr, who plays the crew's commander, is sort of a poor man's Peter Graves and looks like a poor man's Humphery Bogart, which is why he was hired. Kruschen, who plays Sam the warrant officer (why?), is your garden variety comic relief. He's even from Brooklyn, which means he's got your back and just let him at those aliens! Tremayne, who had had a long, illustrious career in radio by this time, is the requisite "thoughtful scientist" on board; Iris is also a scientist, but everything she says is dismissed, because she's a woman.
Review by Dan Franzen from the Internet Movie Database.