Red Planet Mars

Peter Graves and Andrea King starring in “Red Planet Mars.” United Artists, 1952.

Andrea King wasn’t expecting much when she was first handed the script to “Red Planet Mars” back in 1952. Up to that point the majority of science fiction films that Hollywood produced were nothing more than low-budget novelties, and serious actors of the day just didn’t show interest in them. Her initial reaction was to turn it down immediately, but when she saw the two authors’ names on the cover she was intrigued enough to turn the page. Anthony Veiller was the distinguished screenwriter responsible for many good films, including “Stage Door,” and John L. Balderston had written screenplays for “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Prisoner of Zenda” and “Gaslight.”

What Andrea read that day was a fantastic tale about a husband and wife who were both scientists trying to prove the existence of life on Mars. It read like a play, which in fact it had been, but it wasn’t too unusual at first — the typical sci-fi philosophies with an added dose of anti-Communism thrown in. After all, this was 1952, and our country was adamantly fighting the Cold War. Even the title of the picture was an obvious political suggestion. But the story took an extremely daring twist when the messages received back from the red planet were finally decoded and revealed to be quotes from the Judeo-Christian Bible! Had God delivered the Sermon on the Mount from Mars? Where they suggesting that our Creator was in fact an alien from another planet sending messages to earth? Andrea loved questions like these, especially during such repressed times. She hadn’t read a bold script like this in years and signed on to do the picture right away.

Harry Horner, an Academy Award -winning art director (1949’s “The Heiress”), signed on to direct his first film. Andrea starred as Linda Cronyn, and the young man cast opposite her was a promising up-and-comer that many thought would go far. His name was Peter Graves, and it’s safe to say they were right. The villain of the piece, a German scientist, was played by Herbert Berghof in a rare screen appearance. Herbert was for years a highly-respected acting teacher in New York, and the real-life husband of actress Uta Hagen.

The original 1952 half sheet poster for “Red Planet Mars.”

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