Forbidden Planet (1956): Seminal Sci-Fi, Starring Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis

Handsomely produced, the sci-fi Forbidden Planet is based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” transformed into a classic of its kind due to groundbreaking Oscar-nominated special effects.

Space men travel to a planet ruled by expatriate Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who has built a kingdom with his daughter Alta (Anne Francis) and obedient robot Robby.  The good doctor is plagued by his mad quest for knowledge through his “brain booster” machine, and by Freudian “monsters from the id,” as his daughter discovers other men and learns how to kiss.

Produced by Nicholas Nayfack, directed by Fred M. Wilcox, Forbidden Planet was shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope.  Though it was successful at the time of its release, it’s been reevaluated and decades later it is considered one of the great sci fi films of the 1950s.

The characters and isolated setting have been compared to those in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the plot contains certain analogues to the play.

Forbidden Planet was the first sci-fi to depict humans traveling in a starship of their own creation.

It was also the first to be set entirely on another planet in interstellar space, far away from Earth.

The Robby character is one of the first film robots that was more than just a mechanical “tin can” on legs; Robby displays a distinct personality and plays integral character in the plot.

It was the first film of any genre to use an electronic musical score, by Bebe and Louis Barron.

In the 23rd century, the starship C-57D reaches the distant world Altair IV to determine the fate of an expedition sent there years earlier. Dr. Edward Morbius, one of the scientists, warns that he cannot guarantee safe landing, but C-57D Commander John J. Adams ignores his advice.

After landing, Adams and Lieutenants Jerry Farman and “Doc” Ostrow are met by Robby the Robot, who transports them to Morbius’ residence. Morbius describes how one by one of the expedition was killed by a “planetary force” and that their starship, the Bellerophon, was vaporized as the last survivors tried to lift off. Only Morbius, his wife (who later died), and their daughter Altaira were immune. Morbius offers help in preparing the return journey, but Adams says he must await further instructions.

When Adams sees Farman attempting to seduce Altaira, he dismisses Farman and berates Altaira for her naivety and clothing. She reports the incident to Morbius, and claims that she never wishes to see Adams again. However, she later designs a more conservative gown to please him.

That night, an invisible intruder sabotages equipment aboard the starship, and Adams and Ostrow confront Morbius.  Adams steps outside and apologizes to Altaira for his behavior. Unexpectedly attacked by Altaira’s tiger, Adams disintegrates it with his sidearm.

Adams and Ostrow learn that Morbius has been studying the Krell, a native race that perished 200,000 years ago. In a Krell laboratory, Morbius shows them a “plastic educator,” a device capable of enhancing intellectual capacity. When Morbius first used it, he barely survived, but his intellect was doubled.

Morbius then takes them on a tour of a gigantic Krell underground machine complex, a cube 20 miles long on each side, functioning and powered by 9,200 thermonuclear reactors.  Adams demands that Morbius turn over his discoveries, but Morbius states that “humanity is not yet ready to receive such limitless power.”

To guard against further sabotage, Adams has a force field fence erected around the starship. It proves ineffective when the invisible intruder returns and murders Chief Engineer Quinn. Morbius warns Adams that he has a premonition of further deadly attacks, similar to what happened with the Bellerophon. That night, the creature returns, but is outlined in the fence’s force field. The ship’s weapons have no effect, and the creature kills Farman and two others. Morbius, asleep in the Krell lab, is startled awake by screams from Altaira; at the same instant, the roaring creature vanishes.

While Adams tries to persuade Altaira to leave, Ostrow uses the Krell educator. He is fatally injured, but he tells Adams that the great machine was built to create anything the Krell could imagine. The Krell forgot one thing, however: “Monsters from the Id.” Their own base subconscious desires, given free rein and unlimited power by the machine, brought about their quick extinction. Adams asserts that Morbius’ subconscious mind produced the creature that killed the original expedition and attacked his crew, but Morbius refuses to believe him.

After Altaira tells Morbius that she intends to leave with Adams, Robby detects the creature approaching. Morbius commands the robot to kill it, but Robby knows it is a manifestation of Morbius and shuts down.

The monster melts through the almost indestructible Krell metal doors of the laboratory where Adams, Altaira, and Morbius have taken refuge.  Finally accepting the truth, Morbius disowns the creature, but is fatally injured, whereupon the monster vanishes.

Before Morbius dies, he forces a chain reaction within the Krell reactors. At a safe distance, Adams, Altaira, Robby, and surviving crew then watch the destruction of Altair IV.

The film initially earned $1,53 million in the U.S. and $1,23 million internationally, resulting in a modest profit of $210,000.

Forbidden Planet was re-released in theaters in 1972 as one of MGM’s “Kiddie Matinee” features. The footage was cut by 6 minutes to ensure “G” rating from.

Critical Status:

In 2013, the picture was entered into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Oscar Nominations: 1

Special Effects: A, Arnold Gillespie, Irving Rice, Wesley C. Miller

Oscar Context:

The winner was John Fulton for the special effects in “The Ten Commandments.”




Running time: 98 Minutes.

Directed by Fred M. Wilcox

Written by Cyril Hume

Released: March 15, 1956.

DVD: April 18, 2000

MGM Home Entertainment