The Phantom Planet

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For the alternative rock band, see Phantom Planet.
For other uses, see Phantom Planet (disambiguation).
The Phantom Planet
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Marshall
Produced by Fred Gebhardt
Screenplay by William Telaak
Fred De Gorter
Fred Gebhardt
Story by Fred Gebhardt
Starring Dean Fredericks
Coleen Gray
Francis X. Bushman
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography Elwood J. Nicholson
Edited by Hugo Grimaldi
Four Crown Productions Inc.
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release dates
  • December 13, 1961 (1961-12-13) (United States)
Running time
90 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Phantom Planet is a 1961 black and white science fiction film directed by William Marshall.[1] American International Pictures released it as a double feature with Assignment Outer Space. This was Richard Kiel's first film role.


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 yet another of their Pegasus spacecraft with its two-member crew mysteriously disappears leading to rumors among the ranks of "space monsters" and "phantom planets", Mars mission pilot Captain Frank Chapman and his navigator Lt. Ray Makonnen are sent to investigate in their own Pegasus 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 the air hose of Chapman's spacesuit and sends him into unconsciousness. Makonnen is able to repair Chapman's suit but as he opens the door to push Chapman inside he himself 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 is unable to communicate with the lunar base. He records a diary message of the preceding events concluding that he is going to land on an asteroid that has somehow is pulling his ship toward it.

Exiting his ship but still feeling the effects of his accident, Chapman collapses 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 dragged underground and placed on trial for attacking one of the little people.

Sesom, the aged and wise ruler of Rheton (the native name for the rocky and seemingly lifeless planetoid that Chapman has landed on), explains that though his craft was brought safely down by their gravitational tractor beam, they had not been able to do same with the preceding crafts which were destroyed with their crew when they crashed into their surface. He then tells the angry Chapman that although as a result of his sentence he will now have all the rights of a citizen of Rheton, he can never leave and his ship has been sent back into space whilst he slept so that the secret of Rheton's existence and more importantly of the gravity-controlling technology that allows them to fly their wandering world through space will be preserved.

At the trial Chapman meets two beautiful women, Sesom's smugly spoiled blond daughter Liara and the mute and gentle black-haired Zetha, with the former more than willing to answer his many questions about Rheton, and Sesom informs Chapman that he may later choose one of the women to marry once he has become accustomed to life on Rheton.

Liara, after following and engaging constantly with Chapman, declares her love for him, but Chapman, still eager to return to his own people, rejects her. Herron, a young man who is himself in love with Liara, attempts to win her for himself by telling Sesom that Chapman is unfairly attempting to win the favors of both the women.

Stating that he believes this to be a crime against the people of Rheton, Herron requests a duel to the death with Chapman. Chapman agrees, and the two engage in a form of combat where opponents must push each other onto gravity plates that cause immediate disintegration if touched. Just as Chapman is about to push Herron onto a plate, he lets Herron go, stating that he cannot kill someone for no good reason.

As time goes on Chapman and Zetha become more acquainted and eventually fall in love. Late one night Herron comes to Chapman and tells him he can help him escape.

However, any plans for the future are put on hold when Chapman discovers the real reason for Rheton's erratic course through the cosmos when the planetoid is once again attacked by the Solarites, a monstrous alien race of "fire people" from an unidentified "sun satellite" who want to destroy Rheton with their flaming fighter crafts and steal its secret of gravity control.

With Chapman's help, Sesom and Herron are able to destroy the Solarite fleet with their gravity beam, but a giant seven inch tall Solarite prisoner from a previous raid escapes when the gravity curtain containing him fails during the battle, and stalking the cave corridors, it captures Zetha who had been traumatized into silence by a childhood encounter with its strange and savage species. After Sesom is attacked by the bizarre bug-eyed monster, Chapman and Herron attempt to rescue Zetha, and Chapman defeats the Solarite by pushing it onto a gravity plate.

While kidnapped, Zetha is scared out of her muteness when she sees Chapman about to be attacked by the Solarite and can now speak again, allowing her to confess her love for him. The two kiss, but they are interrupted as it is revealed that a search party from Earth had located Chapman. In order to preserve the secret of his adopted people, Chapman re-dons his spacesuit and, after once more being exposed to normal air, returns to normal size and reluctantly heads back to Earth with the search party, leaving Rheton and Zetha behind.



Director William Marshall, a former actor and bandleader, had previously made two films with Errol Flynn, Hello God and Adventures of Captain Fabian. His son Mike Marshall made his debut in the film. His screenwriter and co-producer Fred Gebhardt had previously produced and wrote 12 to the Moon a 1960 Columbia Pictures release. Star Dean Fredericks had just finished the lead in the Steve Canyon television series. Francis X. Bushman had been a major star in silent films, and the part of Sesom was his final role.

DVD releases[edit]

  • The original cut of The Phantom Planet has had multiple "bargain bin" releases.
  • The MST3K version of the film was released by Rhino Home Video as part of the Collection, Volume 8 DVD set.
  • A colorized version was released by Legend Films.


Footage from the film was used in a 2010 advertising campaign for La Quinta Inns and Suites, an American hotel chain. The film was also riffed in a 1998 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The rock group Phantom Planet took their name from the film.


The people of Rheton worship a mysterious but familiar-sounding force called the Aura, and when Sesom is attacked by the escaped Solarite and survives, Liara says it was because "the Aura was with him".

See also[edit]


External links[edit]