|Directed by||Fred McLeod Wilcox|
|Produced by||Nicholas Nayfack|
|Written by|| Cyril Hume (script)|
Irving Block (outline)
Allen Adler (outline)
|Narrated by||Les Tremayne|
|Starring|| Walter Pidgeon|
|Music by|| Bebe Barron|
|Cinematography||George J. Folsey|
|Editing by||Ferris Webster|
|Distributed by||MGM Studios|
|Release date(s)||March 15, 1956|
|Running time||98 min|
United Planets Cruiser C57D, Cmdr. John J. Adams commanding, arrives in the Altair system after a journey of more than a year. After decelerating from hyperspeed (no small matter), they find themselves in the Altair system and begin reconnoitering its fourth planet, where a colony ship, named Bellerophon, had landed 20 years earlier and had never been heard from again. At first they see no signs of civilization whatsoever, but they then come under a radar scan, and receive an urgent voice message from a man identifying himself as Edward Morbius, formerly of the Bellerophon, strenuously warning them not to land. Adams insists on landing, as his orders dictate, and Morbius reluctantly gives them standard geographical coordinates for landing.
Morbius and Altaira
Shortly after the ship lands, a very fast hovercraft rushes out to meet them. Its driver is a robot who, though he looks ungainly, addresses them politely and announces that he has orders to transport them to "the residence." Adams, executive officer Jerry Farman, and ship's surgeon Ostrow ride to the residence. There they meet Morbius, who is in a much more polite frame of mind than he was when he gave that urgent warning, and Morbius' adult daughter Altaira, who is strikingly lovely and also naive. Quite simply, she remembers no human beings other than her father. Morbius explains that every other member of the Bellerophon crew and expedition died violently at the hands of "a force that never once showed itself," to which force (which also destroyed the Bellerophon) Morbius and his wife (who died a few months later of unexplained "natural causes" were somehow immune. He also demonstrates some of the capabilities of his robot, named "Robby." He can not only walk, talk, and drive a hovercraft, but can synthesize virtually any substance or object, edible or otherwise, on demand, and gives instant, selfless, unargued obedience to any command—except only a command to kill a human being, which produces a state of mind block until the person giving such an order cancels it. Morbius boasts that he built the robot, but won't explain how he could build him. Robby, quite simply, is a product of a technology more advanced than anything that the United Planets has come up with, not to mention that the engineering involved is not Morbius' field of study.
Altaira demonstrates another unique ability: Morbius has a small zoo consisting of two white-tailed deer and a Bengal tiger, all of which are perfectly tame under her "influence." That will become important to remember later on.
Adams explains that he cannot merely leave Morbius and Altaira alone without further orders, and proposes to build a transmitter and use his ship's power reactor to power it. Morbius offers to help by having his robot "run off" several tons of lead shielding. Morbius is not merely being "obliging": he wants Adams and his crew off the planet before they get themselves killed. Or so he says.
Trouble in camp
The next morning, Adams and his crew set about building their transmitter and unshipping the power core. Robby arrives and delivers the lead shielding. But Robby has also brought Altaira with him, though one senses that Altaira stretched a point of her father's orders "not to go anywhere near the ship." When the cook takes to ogling Altaira, Adams orders the men driving their electromagnetic tractor to pick up the cook and haul him away. But later, the cook asks Robby to meet him privately and gives him a bottle of Kansas City bourbon to analyze. Robby promises to synthesize 60 gallons of this alcoholic drink, which amazes the cook.
Adams, meanwhile, cannot stop his executive officer from trying to teach Altaira how to kiss, which results in an awkward scene. Adams dismisses Lt. Farman and then tells Altaira that she ought to dress more modestly in the presence of his crew,
|“||who have been locked up in hyperspace for three hundred and seventy-eight days!||”|
Altaira goes back home and tells her father about the awkward interaction, and says that she does not like Adams, who looks at her with an obviously burning passion that she cannot understand. Morbius tells her that she need not see the men again, but he is much troubled when she tells him the full particulars of her interactions with Adams and his exec.
Sabotage—and a complication
That night, Crewmen Grey and Strong think that they hear something pass by, breathing heavily, but see nothing, so they think nothing of it. In fact, an invisible creature is entering the ship and destroying what was to be a key component of the improvised transmitter. Crewman Youngerman, inside, says only that he thought he had a dream. The next morning, Adams angrily disciplines all three men, "pending further evidence," and orders Chief Quinn to repair the damaged part as best he can. Then Adams and Ostrow set off in the tractor to Morbius' residence, seeking to question him about the unauthorized entry into their ship. Altaira is there to meet Adams, this time wearing an "eye-proof" dress. Modest or not, Adams can contain himself no longer, and neither can she: they have fallen in love with one another, in spite of themselves. But in falling in love with Adams, Altaira has lost her "influence" over her "friend" the tiger, who attacks, forcing Adams to disintegrate it with his directed-energy sidearm. Altaira is equal parts upset over the loss of her "friend" and mystified that the tiger did not recognize her anymore.
Adams rejoins the doctor, who has been waiting for Morbius to come out of his study, where, as Robby informs them, he is never to be disturbed. Then the study door slides open—and Morbius is not present. Adams and Ostrow look at a sheet of drawings on Morbius' desk, drawings that look like hieroglyphics but are not Egyptian, cuneiform (Babylonian), Chinese, or anything else they can recognize. Then an entire wall slides away, revealing a wide, angular archway. Standing in it is a very put-out Morbius who accuses the men of burglary. Adams, refusing to rise to the bait, tells Morbius frankly that someone or something entered his ship the night before, and damaged some equipment.
A lecture and a demonstration
Morbius realizes that Adams suspects him, and decides to share a secret that nearly blows Adams and Ostrow away: the planet was once home to a highly advanced and enlightened race called the Krel, who, millions of years ago, came to earth and brought back specimens (including the ancestors of the tiger, the deer, and several trees on Morbius' land). The Krel apparently died 200,000 years ago, and every above-ground structure crumbled and blew away long before the Bellerophon arrived. Morbius reveals that on the day they died, they were about to complete a project that would free them from any need for physical "instrumentality."
Morbius also plays them some atonal Krel music, and shows the men a number of surviving Krel artifacts. They include:
- Krel metal, a hundred times stronger than steel, and able to take a direct blaster shot without even heating up.
- A physics laboratory containing a library projector and a "plastic educator," designed to educate young Krel in mental manipulation. The key fact: Morbius doubled his intellectual capacity on the educator, and that enabled him to read the Krel library projector.
- A row of power gauges, each one representing a range of power ten times the last, with no apparent limit.
Then Morbius shows him the most important artifact of all: a vast automatic machine, a cube 20 miles on an edge, with its own incredible geothermal and thermonuclear power sources.
While Morbius is giving this tour, Adams' crew have erected an electronic force-field fence to protect their camp. The cook asks permission to leave the camp, and Farnam, though he doesn't believe a word of the cook's unlikely story, lets him leave, on condition that he return before Adams does. And so the cook is away from camp, and in the company of Robby the Robot, who has brought, as promised, 480 pints of synthesized bourbon which the cook proceeds to drink without a hangover—when an invisible creature passes through the fence (causing an apparent electrical short as the only sign), leaves huge footprints in the dirt, bends the steps on the ladder as it enters the ship, and then brutally murders Chief Quinn. The guards are aware only of the shorting-out of the fence when they hear Quinn's anguished death scream.
Morbius is vehemently informing Adams that he will be the sole judge of what portions of Krel science he will deem humanity fit to receive, when Adams receives a call from Farnam, describing the murder of Quinn. Adams and Ostrow return to their camp immediately, while Morbius ruefully tells his daughter that "the Bellerophon pattern" is repeating itself.
Adams' investigation reveals only that the robot is clearly innocent (because the cook was its alibi), and that the attacker was a creature that walked on vicious-looking paws and violated every known law of evolution. Adams also begins to suspect that Morbius knows more than he is telling, and proposes that he and/or Ostrow revisit the Krel laboratory and attempt to use the plastic educator to enhance his mental capacity, so that he can learn, independently of Morbius, the real Krel secret.
Adams and his crew bury Quinn, and Morbius, with Altaira in tow, warns them that they must leave at once, or face a more general attack. Morbius refuses to explain how he knows this, claiming a "premonition."
Adams organizes a defense that includes not merely a fence but a battery of very powerful directed-energy weapons, including rifles and cannons as well as the pistols that they all carry. That night, an invisible radar contact "as big as a house" attacks the camp, and kills Crewmen Grey and Strong and executive officer Farman when they get too close. Then the creature, visible within the electric fence as an outline of a huge, long-toothed predator, abruptly breaks off its attack. Adams orders the boatswain to strike camp, except for the fence, and to take off immediately if anything threatens. Then he and Ostrow go back to the residence. Their plan: evacuate Morbius and Altaira, by force if necessary. Also, Adams wants one of them to get into the Krel laboratory and use the educator to increase his intellectual capacity and find out what Morbius knows and, they now suspect, won't tell.
In fact, Morbius has been sitting at the library projector, sniffling in petulant indignation, while sixteen of the gauges behind him have been lit up. Altaira screams from inside the house, and Morbius, his concentration broken, rushes from the laboratory as, unnoticed, the gauges shut themselves down. He literally does not recognize the connection between his own resentful thoughts and the activity of the gauges. Altaira, of course, suspects nothing—but she cries out that she has had a horrible dream of thunder and lightning and a fierce creature moving through the display and attacking the camp.
When Adams and Ostrow arrive, Robby refuses admittance, protesting his orders. Altaira arrives and issues an "emergency cancellation," and the robot backs off. Altaira begs Adams to leave, protesting her immunity. Adams turns to Ostrow, saying that he is in over his head talking to Altaira, and then notices that Ostrow is missing. Just then, Robby enters from the study, cradling Ostrow, who is clearly injured.
Ostrow, in pain and weakening, lives long enough to tell Adams the horrible truth: the Krel did complete their project. The great machine, all 8000 cubic miles of it, was a device of "pure creation," allowing the Krel their vision of civilization without instrumentality. But they forgot about "monsters from the Id," the last thing that Ostrow says before he dies.
Morbius enters, criticizes Adams for his romantic attentions to Altaira, and then callously observes that the dead Ostrow got no more than he deserved for daring to fill "his ape brain...[with] the secrets of the Krel." Shocked at his attitude, Altaira declares that she will leave Morbius, who then warns Adams that he must dissuade Altaira from her "dangerous action," or else she will somehow be "punished." Adams asks Morbius what the "Id" is, a thing that Morbius ought to know, given his background as a philologist. Morbius confesses that "Id" is "an obsolete term used...to describe the inner demons of the subconscious mind."
Now Adams understands the full implications: the Krel built an incredibly powerful machine, able to project matter anywhere on the planet, in any shape or form desired, for any purpose, at a single thought. But the Krel failed to reckon on their baser impulses, which they had never eliminated, but only suppressed. Those subconscious impulses were just as capable of operating the great machine, a powerhouse of instant creation that none could shut down, and that would express and act out every criminal desire that any Krel had. And so, in short, the Krel killed each other, with their subconscious impulses, drawing form and strength from the great machine, doing the killing.
Then Adams tells Morbius that he needs to realize something himself: that Morbius himself, through his subconcious "Id", is responsible for all the murders done on that world since he set foot on it. As if to underscore the point, the residence now comes under attack, an attack that Robby is powerless to resist, because Robby knows that the attacker is as much Morbius as is Morbius himself. With Robby paralyzed and unable to act, Morbius, Adams, and Altaira flee through the study, down the Krel corridors, through the Krel metal door, and into the laboratory, where Morbius shuts the door. Adams then scrambles the door combination, in order to buy more time, while he half-relentlessly, half-urgently tells Morbius what must have happened: Morbius enlarged his mind at the educator, and now his subconscious could operate the big machine. The Bellerophon crew had voted to return to earth, and Morbius, without realizing it, "sent [his] secret Id out to murder them." Morbius remembered little, except in his dreams, but remembered enough to warn Adams away when he entered the system. Then, when Morbius decided that Adams and his crew posed a threat to him, he sent his monster out again, to damage the transmitter component, to kill Quinn, and then to try to kill them all. And now Morbius is conjuring up the monster yet again, to kill Altaira for defying and disobeying him by declaring her love for Adams.
Only the Krel metal door stands between them and the monster. The problem: though the door is 26 inches thick, the great machine is quite able to deliver as much power as the monster requires. The gauges, lighting up one by one without stopping, tell the story. As the three watch, the door turns red-hot, and then white-hot. Morbius begs Altaira to say that she doesn't believe Adams, but Altaira is silent. Then Morbius collapses in tears, realizing that he is guilty, and cannot stop the monster. Altaira begs him to be as noble as she has seen him be.
With all the gauges lit up, the invisible monster melts the door and throws it down in gobs of slag. Then Morbius rushes to meet it, crying out,
|“||Stop! No further! I deny you! I give you up!||”|
The monster then attacks Morbius directly. At that instant, the gauges start to go dark. Eventually, they all go dark, because the monster has now destroyed the source of its own motivation. But Morbius is still fatally injured. He begs Adams to start the self-destruct sequence, and informs him that he has twenty-four hours to get "a hundred million miles" (one astronomical unit) away from Altair 4, before the great machine destroys itself and the planet with it. With that, Morbius dies.
Taking Altaira with him, Adams drives back to camp; Robby follows behind, presumably on his hovercraft sled. In the next scene, the ship is in space and moving off one AU away from Altair 4, as Morbius warned them to. Robby is now a member of the crew, adapting well to shipboard discipline. Altaira watches as the planet explodes in a blaze of blue-white light. Adams consoles Altaira by saying that someday, humankind will reach the same level of technological achievement as the Krel did, and that her father's name would shine like a beacon in the annals of humanity.
- Walter Pidgeon as Edward Morbius, PhD, LittD, philologist (language specialist) of the failed Altair IV colony
- Anne Frances as Altaira or "Alta," his daughter
- Leslie Neilsen as Commander John J. Adams UPSF, commander, Space Cruiser C57D
- Jack Kelly as Lieutenant Jerry Farman UPSF, his executive officer
- Warren Stevens as Lieutenant "Doc" Ostrow, MD, his ship's surgeon
- Richard Anderson as Master Chief Petty Officer Quinn, his senior chief
- George Wallace as his chief boatswain's mate, addressed as "boatswain" \bō'-sǝn\
- Earl Holliman as his ship's cook
- Robert Dix as Crewman Grey
- Jimmy Thompson as Crewman Youngerford
- James Drury as Crewman Strong
- Harry Harvey Jr. as Crewman Randall
- Roger McGee as Crewman Lindstrom
- Peter Miller as Crewman Moran
- Robby the Robot:
- Frankie Darro wearing the robot suit
- Marvin Miller providing the voice
Spoilers end here.
The Id—or the sin nature
The most important theme concerns those dark desires that Morbius speaks of. What Sigmund Freud called the "Id" is nothing more nor less than the sin nature of man. No matter how civilized man believes himself to be, he cannot escape the sin nature, not without the assistance of Jesus Christ. And so the Krel, arrogantly believing that they had conquered the sin nature for good (and perhaps not even believing that they had a sin nature), built a device that would respond instantly to mere thought. Result: mutual murder, as the sin nature finally expressed itself without check, with the aid of a machine that none could turn off.
Ironically, this story, based though it is on an atheistic premise (including evolution), illustrates the fatal flaw in atheistic thinking: the sin nature will reveal itself, no matter how often or how forcefully an atheist denies that nature. Furthermore, one could argue with strong justice that human beings have been attempting a Krel-like project for over a hundred years, a project that fails to account for that sin nature, and denies its existence. Or worse: it assumes that a class of human beings that are somehow above the sin nature, while the rest of humanity is not, exists and deserves to rule.
Adams illustrates the problem in his fervid attempt to reach Morbius to convict him of his sin nature:
|“||We're all monsters under the skin! That's why we have laws and religion!||”|
But Adams's understanding is incomplete. Law can never save; law can only remind imperfect man that he will always miss the mark. Only Christ can save.
Morbius also provides a prize example of the arrogant scientist, complete with his own set of professor values: an attitude that he is above human law and permitted to write his own law.
|“||Perhaps I do not prefer to be dictated to on my own world.||”|
The problem being, of course, that he presumes to command a device that commits murder on command, without his even having to come to grips with what he does, until Adams, as a representative of the law, forces him to. Happily, he has a chance to redeem himself. Unhappily, the price of that redemption is his own death, for only by laying down his own life can he stop his "evil self" from murdering his own daughter and the man she loves.
More to the point, Morbius is an approximate example of professor values, of which arrogance is an almost defining characteristic. Sadly, university professors of every stripe risk thinking themselves above the laws that apply to less-intellectually gifted persons, and fully qualified to be laws unto themselves. Morbius arguably wishes only to be left alone, and lays full claim to the advanced science that he has discovered. Were this the full description of Morbius' thoughts and actions, he would have a case for claiming exclusive rights to his discoveries. But because he has secured those discoveries by murder (in the defense of which he can only plead insanity), his claim no longer has any justice.
Sadly, this story employs a device quite common in the science fiction and horror genres: the destruction of all record of an advanced science, or an ancient curse, in order to protect the rest of civilization from an influence with which it might not be able to cope. How and why the Krel or Morbius installed a self-destruct mechanism in the laboratory next to the great machine, or why the Krel didn't activate it before they ended up using the machine to kill one another, the story never explains.
Allusions to other literary works
This film is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. The most recognizable characters in it are Prospero (Morbius), Miranda (Altaira), Ariel (Robby), and a ship's captain (Adams) and boatswain. But the theme is entirely different. Unlike Prospero, Morbius has blinded himself by his own arrogance, and seeks to protect his own "empire" at all costs.
Awards and Nominations
The special-effects crew received an Academy Award nomination for their excellent special effects, especially their depiction of the Krel laboratory and the great instant-creation machine.
The film's DVD release received a Saturn Award nomination for the best DVD Classic Film Release of 2007.