The Phantom Planet (1961)

William Marshall was born in Chicago, Illinois. He started his entertainment career as the vocalist for Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians — Waring was “The Man that Taught America to Sing,” as well as the inventor of the first commerically available electric blender in the U.S., the Miracle Mixer, which Dr. Jonas Salk used to help mix up his polio vaccine; plus he had one of the largest collections of original comic strip art in the world — before moving to Hollywood to be an actor.

Marshall acted in twnety-five movies, including Knute Rockne All AmericanState Fair and Blackmail before becoming a director. He wrote and directed 1951’s Hello God, which starred Errol Flynn, as well as directing a movie Fynn wrote, Adventures of Captain FabianThe Phantom Planet would be his last film.

In addition to all that singing, writing and directing, Marshall also found time to get married four times. He was with his first wife, French leading lady Michèle Morgan, for seven years and they had a son Mike* (who is in this movie), then was married to Devil in the Flesh star Micheline Presle, with whom he had a daughter, director Tonie Marshall. Then, he was married to Ginger Rogers for a decade* before he found a lasting marriage– 23 years before his death — to Corinne Aboyneau.

But hey, didn’t we have a movie to discuss?

The Phantom Planet takes place in 1980, a time when In 1980, the United States Air Force’s Space Exploration Wing has bases on the Moon and is getting ready to head to Mars. The only problem is that spaceships and astronauts are disappearing. Rumors abound that it’s yet another case of phantom planets and space monsters, so Captain Frank Chapman and Lt. Ray Makonnen are called in.

Don’t get too attached to the latter, as he dies about two minutes later, before Chapman crashes on to the Phantom Planet and shrinks down to six inches in size. Now he has become a citizen of Rheton, where he will have the full rights of everyone else, but can never leave. He even has the choice between two women, the leader Sessom (Francis X. Bushman) entitled daughter Liara or the mute and kind Zetha (Dolores Faith, who disappeared from acting when she married the heir to Maxwell House, James Robert Neal, after a long courtship; she supposedly died in 1990, but there were reports of her still alive as late as 2006).

After some romantic misadventures and trial by combat with Herron, who is in love with Liara, our hero repels the evil forces of the Solarites (Richard Kiel is ond of them) before leaving behind the planet and growing back to full size.

This is the very definition of made on the cheap, as all of the film’s sets, spacesuit helmets and special effects originally appeared in the CBS TV series Men into Space. Speaking of recycling, there are some rumors that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea reused some of these sets.

Hey but someone loved this movie! It has a Dell comic book, after all.

*Marshall’s first two wives were friends and he’d begun dating the second (Micheline over Michèle) while still married. She’d already started an affair with her co-star Henri Vidal, so he hired detectives who caught her in bed with him and Marshall got full custody of his son Mike.

Strangely enough, Marshall hated France, despite three of his wives coming from there and would call his first wife Mike because he refused to learn how to pronounce her name.

Strangely enough, Marshall had really conservative values, so when hisfirst wife moved from France to Hollywood, he refused to live in the house she built at 10050 Cielo Drive. He demanded that she sell the property, which years later would be purchased by Roman Polanski and, well, we all know how that turned out. In some level of irony, his daughter Toni was one of the people who sigbned the Free Roman Polanski petition following the director’s arrest in Switzerland in 2009.

**Actually, he produced a movie for her that bombed called Quick, Let’s Get Married and they were seperated for most of the time they were officially betrothed.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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