The sci-fi classic The Man From Planet X clearly demonstrates what a creative director and good cast can accomplish on a minimal budget. As the film's star, Robert Clarke, relates, "Producer Jack Pollexfen told me that the total cost for the film was $41,000. That's all. Margaret Field, that's Sally Field's mom, and William Schallert and I, got the Screen Actors Guild minimum for a week, $175. Now, the daily rate is $540. We did the picture in a week -- we had some overtime. My check came to $208 for the whole picture. And there were no residuals at that time . But quite frankly, if I'd had the $200, I would have paid them to let me do the part."
One lingering question has been put to Bob Clarke many times: Who played The Man From Planet X? "They did not give screen credit to the man who played The Man From Planet X, thinking that that would fool the public into thinking that it was really a man from another world ... which I thought was very, very unfair. People have asked me, 'who was it?' I have no idea. I couldn't remember his name if my life depended on it. He was always itching in that leotard outfit. He was always uncomfortable with the headpiece. And he wasn't making much. I think he was making whatever extras got or maybe a little more. But he wasn't making what we made -- the huge sum of $175."
As Clarke recalls, the breakneck shooting schedule wore on the actor's nerves. "After about five days of the six-day schedule, I was so drained I was having difficulty with my lines -- Bill Schallert and I were up on a precipice [doing a scene] and I couldn't get the lines out and I was frustrated, stressed out -- and Edgar said something that didn't help. As I told his daughter Arianne, 'I'm sorry that I said [in my book] that Edgar was a pain in the butt but he was!' And she agreed that at times, she said, 'my father was very tempestuous. He was very temperamental.' He was very creative and he had one focus ... he didn't want to have any argument. He was the boss on the set. But, I was probably as big a pain to him at times as he was to me."
As far as Clarke is concerned, the film's brooding intensity and unsettling pall are attributable to one man: Edgar Ulmer. "He was the genius behind the look of that picture -- the atmosphere, the fog, the paintings of the broch [castle], the glass shots -- he painted them himself. He was a tremendously talented man."
The Man From Planet X remains one of Bob Clarke's personal favorites. The film was screened recently at the newly renovated Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles with Clarke and Arianne Ulmer in attendance. "To see it on a big screen once again ... it really held up," he says with a smile. "It really was a big thrill. I think it will last a long, long time."
The Crater Kid © 2000 Marty Baumann, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED