The Phantom Planet is a 1961 science-fiction feature film directed by William Marshall from a screenplay written by William Telaak, Fred De Gorter and producer Fred Gebhardt, based on the latter’s story.
The Four Crown production stars Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray (The Leech Woman; The Vampire), Tony Dexter, Francis X. Bushman, Dolores Faith and includes the first film role for Richard Kiel (‘Jaws’ in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker).
In the future world of 1980, the United States Air Force’s Space Exploration Wing has bases on the moon and is on the eve of a mission to Mars. When one of their Pegasus spacecraft with two crew members aboard mysteriously disappears, pilot Captain Frank Chapman and his navigator Lt. Ray Makonnen are sent to search for them in their own craft.
During their search, their ship receives minor damage from a meteor shower that both men go outside to repair. However, a small bullet sized particle pierces Chapman’s suit that sends him into unconsciousness. Makonnen is able to repair Chapman’s suit but as he opens the door to push Chapman inside he is fatally struck by a similar particle.
Makonnen’s last act before he is propelled into deep space is to close the door with Chapman safely inside the ship. Chapman awakes to find Makonnen gone and unable to communicate with the lunar base. He leaves a diary message of the preceding events concluding that he is going to land on an asteroid.
Exiting his ship, he passes out and sees small humans about six inches in size approaching him. Once the visor of his helmet is opened, Chapman is able to breathe but due to the planet’s unusual atmosphere, he is also shrunk to six inches in size. He is placed on trial for attacking Herron, one of the small people.
Sesom, the leader of Rheton, the name of the planetoid that Chapman has landed on, explains that though he will have all the rights of an inhabitant of Rheton, he can never leave and his ship has been sent back into space whilst he slept.
Chapman meets two beautiful women Liara and the mute Zetha who welcome him and answer his many questions. The stranded astronaut decides to help the inhabitants of the planet battle an invading race of monsters known as the Solarites who come from a planet orbiting the sun.
Reviews [click links to read more]:
” … the tragic Solarite creature costume is right up my alley (it resembles something that might have turned up in a third-season episode of The Outer Limits), and I got a kick out of the bizarre notion of the space monsters zipping around the solar system in hollowed-out meteors fitted with heat rays and rocket engines. There’s just enough good stuff here to make The Phantom Planet merely mostly a waste of time.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“Despite its silly plot, this remains an entertaining minor movie, if only for its intriguing cast and Marshall’s energetic direction.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction
“There are moments where it is engagingly surreal; the scene where the astronaut first encounters the little people is bizarre but quite fascinating. I also think the movie does a very nice job with the special effects for what must have been a very low budget. The plot is a bit of a mess, though…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“It might help to endure the movie if you turn it into a drinking game and count the number of science fiction cliches: The alien planet populated by creatures who look just like us; Meteor storms turning up out of the black just when the astronauts venture outside their spaceship; The tractor beam; The love triangle; Attacked by aggressive aliens; The alien monster fixated on the pretty young lady despite being a completely different species…” HNN
” …it’s strange that this 1961 s-f quickie is such a plod. Sober and conventional in coping with wild material, it doesn’t have the slyness which makes Cat-Women of the Moon or Fire Maidens From Outer Space fun, though on a scene by scene, concept by concept, character by character basis, it’s just as demented.” The Kim Newman Web Site
“The film is dreary and slow-moving. Its one moment of joyously surreal beauty is a scene early on where astronaut Dean Fredericks crashes on the asteroid, collapses in his spacesuit and is then approached by the miniature inhabitants of the world who come up and tap on the glass plate of his helmet, wondering where the inhabitant is.” Moria
“For the most part, the film features some pretty poor special effects, but they are good enough that you understand what they are trying to convey and you simply have to let your mind fill in the blanks. The sequence with the little people was done well and looked great with the worst abomination the movie had to offer being the Solarite and the horrific costume actor Richard Kiel had to wear.” The Telltale Mind
“This is cheesy fun – pure and simple. The movie paces itself nicely and does not get lost in endless stretches of boredom that can ruin this type of flick. The actors play their parts well and it made me think it would have been fun to have worked in Hollywood at a time when movies like this were being cranked out.” The Video Graveyard
Cast and characters:
- Dean Fredericks … Captain Frank Chapman
- Coleen Gray … Liara
- Anthony Dexter … Herron (as Tony Dexter)
- Francis X. Bushman … Sessom
- Richard Weber … Lt. Ray Makonnen
- Al Jarvis … Judge Eden
- Dick Haynes … Colonel Lansfield
- Earl McDaniel … Captain Leonard
- Mike Marshall … Lt. White (as Michael Marshall)
- John Herrin … Captain Beecher
- Mel Curtis … Lt. Cutler
- Jimmy Weldon … Lt. Webb
- Akemi Tani … Communications Officer
- Lori Lyons … Radar Officer
- Richard Kiel … The Solarite
- 82 minutes
- Black and white
- Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
- Audio mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System)
American International Pictures (AIP) released the film on 13th December 1961 on a double feature with Assignment Outer Space.