The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Forbidden Planet (1956) Classic Film Review 160

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Another one of them new worlds. No beer, no women, no pool parlors, nothin'. Nothin' to do but throw rocks at tin cans, and we gotta bring our own tin cans.

Today’s movie is Forbidden Planet (1956). Let’s get to this point right away. This movie is based on “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. Yes, that Shakespeare. I will go into a little of this later on.

This movie has a decent 7.6 rating on[1] and has a 98 percent rating on[2]. Not too shabby. It was nominated for the best effects/special effects Oscar in 1957. Also, this film is listed in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die“, Ian Haydn Smith and Steven Jay Schneider (Editor).

It produced one of the top three robots of classic sci-fi, Robby. Of course, the most famous is Gort, and the other two are Robby and Class B-9-M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot[3], from “Lost in Space” 1965-1968 who was known simply as Robot. Most folks can’t tell the difference between Robby the Robot and the Robot. Robert Kinoshita who designed Robby the Robot also worked on “Lost in Space” 1965-1968.

This was the first sci-fi movie to be filmed without any part of the action taking place on Earth. The gold lamay mini-skirts were great too.



Anne Francis played the pure planet dweller Altaira Morbius. Frances was first covered in Blackboard Jungle (1955).

Richard Anderson was Chief Quinn, one of the planet’s visitors. He was first covered in Seven Days in May (1964).

Earl Holliman played the Cook, a man with a pension for booze. Holliman was first covered in the Film Noir The Big Combo (1955).

James Best was an uncredited background crewman. Best was first covered in The Caine Mutiny (1954).


Walter Pidgeon played the role of the mysterious Dr. Morbius. Pidgeon was born in Canada in 1897. He studied voice at the New England Conservatory of Music but left for Hollywood, and he entered silent movies with Mannequin (1926).

Talkies were no problem for this vocally trained actor. He did a few musical and was basically relegated to second leads in films like Saratoga (1937), The Girl of the Golden West (1938), and Dark Command (1940) which featured Claire Trevor, John Wayne, and Roy Rogers.

On loan out to Fox, he was given a starring role in How Green Was My Valley (1941). Back with MGM he was given more important roles but was often stepped on by the greatness of his co-star as in the case of Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), and Madame Curie (1943) where he was overshadowed by Greer Garson. Pidgeon received an Oscar nomination for Mrs. Miniver (1942), but I have to admit she is better to look at.

Pidgeon continued to work in fine films such as Command Decision (1948) with Clark Gable, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Dream Wife (1953), and Hit the Deck (1955). He took from 1956 to 1961 off to work in the theater. I feel he did his best work when he returned with movies like Forbidden Planet (1956), These Wilder Years (1956), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), and Advise & Consent (1962). Pidgeon retired from film and television in 1977. He died in 1984.

Leslie Nielsen played Commander Adams. Nielsen was born in 1926 in Saskatchewan, Canada. Another great American actor – Canadian! Initially, Nielsen studied at the Academy of Radio Arts, located in Toronto. He then moved to New York where he became part of the Neighborhood Playhouse.

Nielsen really had two careers. This first, the serious one, began on television in 1950. He was in Ransom! (1956) with Glenn Ford and Donna Reed. His first big role was in Forbidden Planet (1956). Other movies include Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), The Sheepmen (1956), again with Glenn Ford, Night Train to Paris (1964), Dark Intruder (1965), The Plainsman (1966), as George A. Custer, Beau Geste (1966), Counterpoint (1968), and Dayton’s Devils (1968). He was also prolific on television during this same time period. Sometime during the 80s, he changed to a great comic actor. His movies during this period include Airplane! (1980), Soul Man (1986), The Naked Gun: Files from the Police Squad! (1988), The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), Spy Hard (1996), Mr. Magoo (1997), not funny, Scary Movie 3 (2003), and Scary Movie 4 (2006). Nielsen died in 2010.

Warren Stevens played Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow. Stevens was born in Pennsylvania in 1919. He joined the Navy at the age of 17. While in the military Stevens became interested in acting. He was a Marine Corps pilot during World War II. Following the war, he began working stock, on the radio and joined the New York Actors Studio. Stevens role in the Broadway play “Detective Story” lead to a successful television and film career. He had a few movies that stand out. These films include The Frogmen (1951), Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), Women’s Prison (1955), The Man from Bitter Ridge (1955), Duel on the Mississippi (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956), Madigan (1968), Stryker Ace (1983), and Samurai Cop (1991). Stevens died in 2012 at the age of 92.

Marvin Miller was uncredited but provided the voice of Robby the Robot.

There is what appears to be a false rumor about this being the first movie of future “Love Boat” 1977-1987 captain Gavin MacLeod. However, states that his first movie was I Want to Live! (1958)[4].


The movie begins aboard the United Planet cruiser C57D. It is late in the 22nd century, and they have been away from Earth for a year. The narration says they are capable of faster than light travel. They are traveling to the planet Altair IV, which is the fourth planet in the system, to investigate what befell an Earth colony left on the planet.

The saucer commander is J.J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen). He is running a taut ship, and everything is by the book. The ship is being controlled by an astrogator globe thing. This globe was in the background when George is listening to the information rings in The Time Machine (1960)[5]. Adams briefs the crew that they are getting ready to decelerate. They stand under and above circular disks that looks suspiciously like early “Star Trek” 1966-1969 transporter pads. They are bathed in green light like the aliens shot in Independence Day (1997). However, they functioned like the tubes in This Island Earth (1955).

After coming out of deceleration, the pilot Jerry Farman (Jack Kelly) has flown them almost directly into the star. Adams orders Jerry to plot a course for the fourth planet. He reminds the crew that they are looking for evidence of the Bellerophon scientific expedition which arrived about 20-years earlier.

They slow again and Jerry takes the ship into orbit. Adams briefs them on the good air and gravity on the planet. Cook (Earl Holliman) complains that there are not booze, women, or pool halls.  They check for signs of life, and Chief Quinn (Richard Anderson) monitors the radio. They can’t see or hear anything. Quinn says they are being scanned by radar, but he can’t pinpoint the location. Just then, the ship is contacted by one of the Bellerophon expedition survivors, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pigeon). Morbius is not happy that the ship has come. He tells them they should not land. Adams has to do his duty, and Morbius gives him landing coordinates.

Adam lands the ship and orders the men to be armed and maintain security. The sky on the planet is green. This is a tribute to “When Worlds Collide” written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer in 1933. It is also a great movie titled When Worlds Collide (1951).

When the ship lands, it has a regular stairway. Not one of those safety ramps or the central elevator type. The crew deploys security and shortly after they see a highspeed dust cloud coming towards them. They realize it is a vehicle coming and are surprised to see it is driven by Robby the Robot. Robby speaks in English. In fact, he speaks 187 languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues. That sounds suspiciously like C3P0 who is fluent in over six million forms of communication. Robby is tasked to bring some of the crew to Morbius’ house. The cook wants to know if it is a male or female. Adams, Farman, and Doc (Warren Stevens) get in the vehicle. Seems like a pretty standard land party, minus some red shirts. Robby makes them wear seatbelts long before that was the right thing to do.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

They arrive at the home of Morbius. He is waiting at the door when they arrive. Morbius invites the crew in for lunch. Robby is the chef and makes the raw material into food. Replicator. Standard “Star Trek” 1966-1969 technology. Then Morbius begins a weird demo of Robby. First, he shows his blind obedience by asking the robot to put his arm in the disintegrator but stops him short. He then asks Robby to blast Adams, but the robot shuts down on this illegal command. Morbius revokes the kill command. Morbius says he built Robby. He then shows the house defenses, which are just steel shudders.

Morbius says all of the others on the Bellerophon expedition were killed in the first year except for him and his wife. He says his wife died of natural causes. The others were ripped apart by some unseen force. Three more were killed when they tried to take-off from the plant. They ask Morbius why the force has not attacked in the last 19 years.

Suddenly, Altaira (Anne Francis) walks into the room wearing a super short miniskirt. This was the first miniskirt worn in a major movie, and it resulted in the movie being banned in Spain until 1967. Shocking! Altaira is Morbius’ daughter, and she has the attention of all three crewmembers. She talks about the beauty of the men, and they are a little shocked. Farman jumps in and begins the courtship. He warns Altaira to stay away from Adams.

Altaira has her friends. She calls them with a sonic whistle. Some deer and a tiger appear from the garden. The tiger appears with a tonal note and might be a mental creation. Altaira pets the tiger. The garden, while set to remind the viewers of the innocence of the Garden of Eden, is actually the forest from the Munchkin Village used in the filming of The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Adams gets a call from Quinn, and he sees that they are safe. Adams tells Morbius that he must contact Earth for new instruction. Adams says they will have to build a transmitter and use ship parts to get the message out. He estimates it will take at least 10-days. Morbius is horrified. Morbius asks if 2-inch lead shielding will help and says Robby will run it off in the morning. They should have gone with transparent aluminum. It’s very quaint.

The crew heads back to the ship leaving the worried Morbius and the happy Altaira behind.

In the morning, they begin removing the ship engine to power the transmitter. Robby carries the steel shielding with one hand. Robby says it is isotope 217 and only weighs 10-tons. Altaira is waiting in Robby’s rover. Farman goes right back to work. For humor, they pick up Cookie with the magnetic lifter. Quinn has the transmitter assemble ready.

Cookie sneaks off to meet Robby. Cookie pulls out his bourbon and Robby pours the last shot into his synthesizer and burps. Robby asks if 60-gallons would be enough.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Farman takes Altaira into the forest for kissing lessons. He says it is required for good health. She is totally unstimulated. Adams catches the pair and is pissed off and jealous as well. Adams tries to explain to Altair that her clothes are causing problems with the men. She gets defensive, and Adams gets mad.

Altair complains to her father about the way Adams looked at and talked to her. Morbius is alarmed by the male competition. Altair orders Robby to make her some more modest wear.

Two guards are outside of the ship that night, and they hear breathing but don’t see anything. Whatever it is, enters the ship and destroys some scientific equipment. Adams is all cranky with the men. Quinn says he can fix everything except the klystron frequency modulator. Adams says, so it’s impossible, how long with it take? Classic Scotty.

Adams is sure Morbius is behind the attack and he and Doc get ready to leave. The captain refuses to let Farman come along.

At Morbius’s home, Robby is putting out fresh flowers. One of the monkeys from the jungle comes in and get an electrical jolt. Robby tells the crewmen that Morbius cannot be disturbed when he is in his office.

Adams see Altair swimming in her jungle, and she appears naked. She comes out of the water and is wearing sheer clothes and then dresses in her more modest gown. Adams is a little embarrassed and flustered. She doesn’t understand why he doesn’t kiss her like “everyone else does?” Finally, he gets around to the kiss. She responds better than she did with Farman. The tiger roars and leaps to kill Altair. Adams kills it with his ray gun. Eden lost.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Adams goes back, and I think he tells Doc he had sex with Altair. When Adams touches Morbius’ office door, it opens. When they go in, they find a strange form of writing on the desk. Another door opens, and Morbius enters. He is upset about the intrusion into his private space. Adams all but accuses Morbius of the sabotage.

Morbius begins to explain the story as he understands it. He tells the crew that a people called the Krell lived on the planet. He believes that the Krell visited Earth and brought back the animals that are now on the planet. Morbius says that they were a million years ahead of Earth. He says on the verge of their greatest achievement, the civilization vanished in a single night, 2000 centuries in the past. All of their above ground remains have long since vanished. There would have been different animals on Earth 200,000 years ago.

Morbius takes the two men on a tour of the Krell underground facilities. Their metal is impervious to blasters. Morbius shows a complete library and says he only had a rudimental understanding of their technology. Even so, he was able to construct Robby.

The next device they examine is a device for educating Krell children. Morbius attaches three sensors to his head and sends the indicator about halfway up. Morbius then uses the machine to show an image of Altair. The Doc takes the test next and barely gets a reading of one third. Adams is a little less. Morbius tells that machine killed the Bellerophon captain and put Morbius in a day and a half coma. When he returned to the machine, his IQ had gone up significantly.

Adams asks why the machines all look new and is told by Morbius that all machines are self-replicating. Morbius shows a wall of gauges that are set in a series but with no wires. When he turns on machines, it only affects the lowest display. Morbius then shows them one of 400 air shafts for the 9,200 thermal reactors that are working below ground in an 8,000 cubic mile complex with 7,800 levels. So, a lot of power.

Back at the ship, Farman and the men have completed an electronic fence. Cookie asks to go outside of the fence to look for wild vegetables. But he is really meeting with Robby to pick up his 60-gallons of bourbon. Robby begins to detect something. The invisible attacker hits the fence. Soon large footprints are shown moving towards the spaceship. It enters the ship, depressing each step as it traveled. A scream comes from inside the ship.

Morbius and Adams are fighting over control of the technology. Morbius wants to send the technology to Earth as he sees fits. Adams gets the call that Chief Quinn has been violently murdered. The two men head back to the ship. Morbius says to Altair that it has started again.

Doc has made a model of the footprints around the ship. It is both a biped and a quadruped. Also a herbivore and a carnivore.  It is a mixed-up amalgamation of parts. Adams has Cookie brought in for punishment. Cookie says that he got drunk but was with the Robby the entire time.

They hold a burial for Chief Quinn. Morbius and Altair are there as well. Morbius says he warned Adams not to land on the planet and the next attack will be deadlier. Morbius says he knows by premonition.

Adams sets up an updated perimeter with radar-controlled laser cannons. Farman and Adams make peace over Altair. Suddenly, the radar picks something up moving towards the ship. No one outside can see anything. They switch the cannons to auto control, and they begin firing but with nothing to see. Farman sends two men forward. The monster hits the wire, and its shape can be seen by the fire it is taking.

By watching the attacking monster closely, you can see one of the inside movie jokes. The roars and head movements that the monster makes are virtually the same as those made by “Leo the Lion” at the beginning of this and other MGM films.  The two men that went forward are killed by the monster. Farman runs forward and is killed also.

Morbius is asleep in the Krell lab. The gauges on the wall are about ¾ lite. Altair screams and Morbius awakes. The monster disappears when he wakes. Altair has had a dream about an attack on the ship.

Back at the ship, they bury the three dead crewmen. Doc says the attacker is constantly renewing itself. Adams decides that he will evacuate Morbius and Altair whether they agree or not. He also wants either him or Doc to use the brain booster. Adams and Doc head to Morbius’s house in their tractor. The Boson is told to defend the ship but flee if the monster gets through the wire.

Robby opens the door for them but refuses admittance. They draw on him, and he neutralized their ray guns. Altair cancels Robby’s order and lets them inside. While Adams talks to Altair, Doc runs ahead to the brain booster. She wants Adams to leave without her father and her. She declares her love, and that is when he realizes Doc is missing. As they head towards the Krell lab, Robby comes back carrying the weakened Doc back. The Doc is awake enough to say the Krell forgot about monsters from the Id. Then Doc dies. Morbius comes out and is acting pretty insensitively. Since her father is so uncaring, she decides to leave with Adams.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Adams realizes that the monster is coming from the mind of a human. Every Krell on the planet let lose all of their inner beasts at once. Morbius does not accept that he may be the source of the monster. Robby warns that something is approaching the house. As the invisible thing crashes through the forest, Morbius puts up his shields.

The monster is making pretty easy work of the steel shudders. Morbius will not accept that he is the monster. He orders Robby to kill it, but the robot locks up with the conflicting command. The three humans run inside the Krell underground facility. Adams wrestles Morbius into accepting the truth.

The monster begins smashing through the door. Morbius finally realizes that his daughter may be killed. He begs his daughter to say she doesn’t believe. The monster breaks through the door as all of the gauges light up. Morbius runs to the monster and denies it. The struggle is only shown through the gauges. As Morbius lays dying on the floor, he asks Adams to set the self-destruct sequence for the Krell lab. He says they must be 100 million miles away in 24-hours. Morbius dies.

The next day the ship is 98.6 million miles away. I don’t know why they used human body temperature instead of 100 million miles. Robby is now the ship astrogator. Adams and Altair watch the planet explode with all of the Krell knowledge. Adams tells Altair that her father’s name will shine again.


Before I get into “The Tempest,” I must mention the mocked up flying saucer from this movie was used in “The Twilight Zone” episode – To Serve Man (1962), so my wife can scream “it’s a cookbook.”

Also, Gene Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek” 1966-1969 was a big fan of this movie. It is believed by many that he got the Enterprise’s call number 1701, from the time that the saucer first entered orbit around Altair IV. Roddenberry’s legacy continues with little tributes, like Altair IV, being shown to be a Federation planet in “Deep Space Nine” 1993.

“The Tempest” vs. Forbidden Planet (1956)

“The Tempest” was written by William Shakespeare in 1610 or 1611. The play is a departure from what many think an Elizabethan play should be. The deposed king Prospero lives on an island with his daughter Miranda. He is aided by the magical Ariel and Caliban the monstrous native inhabitant of the island.

This play is extremely hard to understand. But it quite obvious that the Shakespeare story shows some interesting parallels to Forbidden Planet (1956). There are many stories on the inter webs, such as the one by Falconmoives[6] that go into more detail than I will here.

First, “The Tempest” is set on an island, and Forbidden Planet (1956) is set on a planet, which can easily be viewed as an island in space. In both, the man lives alone with his daughter. Prospero is served by Ariel and Morbius is served by Robby the Robot. Prospero can control the weather and has Caliban do his bidding. Morbius creates the invisible monster from his mind. When more people enter the “island” things rapidly change. Prospero starts out on a course of revenge and Morbius is unaware he is creating the damage. Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love as do Altair and Adams. However, Prospero accepts the love, and Morbius dies because he cannot live with the change. And of course, Altair IV is destroyed.

World-Famous Short Summary – Don’t create. Steal!

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Beware the moors


Forbidden Planet (1956)

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