September Film Series Quarantine: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

My pick for this month is Forbidden Planet from 1956.

Where is it available? This is a popular title, so public libraries have it (Orem and Provo are confirmed), the BYU library has a copy for those who have privileges, and for streaming rental on iTunes, and Amazon.

Come join the space crew of commander John J. Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen and get far far away from the recent strangeness and enjoy some intergalactic strangeness.  The setting is the 23rd century, and our starship is nearing a distant planet where an Earth expedition was sent over 20 years ago. Here they must solve the mysteries of the planet and the beings who live and had lived there.

This feels to me like the seedling of the original Star Trek series. I love it. A starship crew exploring uncharted regions of the universe that takes its cues from the nautical explorations of the 1700s. The atmosphere and intrigue rivets me still today.

One element I particularly enjoy is the music. It is a fantastical soundscape that abandons the symphonic orchestration that had been established as the Hollywood studio sound (which was based in late 19th century Viennese styles, thanks to Max Steiner – whose scores we have in the BYU Film Music Archive!). But the music works wonderfully because this is outer space and we can certainly push things into the unfamiliar. Electronic soundscapes transport us to worlds only dreamed of. Yet it still follows established film music syntax to raise the suspense when the onscreen action calls for it. Please pay attention to the music/sound.

Cast: Leslie Nielsen’s captain is strong and bold, making and delivering decisive orders to his crew. This is very early in his career, and he does well as the take-charge leading man. Although, in retrospect of his subsequent career as a comedic actor, it is hard not to be looking for a joke when he delivers some of his lines. Walter Pidgeon is great, and this is the time in his career where he started doing more and more on stage and less in the cinema. and Anne Francis does well as the innocent. This would be her most famous role in cinema, though she had a decent television acting career.

Technical data: an MGM production. Released in theaters March 3, 1956.  Presented in color and Cinemascope to stretch that screen wider than those tiny screens at home that Hollywood was afraid would steal away too many viewers. And those fears weren’t totally unfounded as just the prior year some very popular television programs had debuted. The $64,000 Question premiered and really marked the beginning of the dramatic television quiz show format. Also in September, Gunsmoke had debuted which was VERY popular and would become a television standard for 20 seasons. In 1955 and 1956, the popularity of rock and roll music increased: Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets, and Chuck Berry and The Platters were the rising stars. In 1955, consumerism takes off in a big way, record car sales increase in the US so that 7 out of 10 families now own a motor car, and new auto safety laws were put in place requiring seat belts to be installed on all new cars (but do they have them on the starship?).

What was going on in cinema history when this was produced?

Forbidden Planet was released in March of 1956 so it was widely competing with popular big budget musicals such as Oklahoma!, Picnic, Guys and Dolls, and Carousel. Other notables in the theaters at this time demonstrate the country’s lingering processing of the war: Battle Cry and Mister Roberts. Forbidden Planet was great counter programming for the kids and adults alike, with its mysterious science fiction offering. The rest of 1956 would overshadow Forbidden Planet with some large spectacular films: best picture winner Around the World in 80 Days, the popular musical The King and I, and possibly the grandest movie of all time: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

But Forbidden Planet is hardly forgotten and is much loved among science fiction fans today. Now sit back and enjoy the movie. The next section is for after you have seen it.

AFTERTHOUGHTS (for after the movie. SPOILERS!)

I hope you had a good time enjoying the film. As you could tell, the entire film was filmed on sets. Entirely shot on the MGM soundstage in Culver City, it allowed the creators a great deal of control in the atmosphere and became the pattern for cinematic space scenes into the late 1960s. For this film they built their set in a cyclorama, a curved backdrop to give the impression of a 360 -degree set. It is interesting to see repeating patterns in science fiction film production, as the recent star wars production The Mandalorian returns to a digital cyclorama-like set for the 21st century.

Following up with special effects, it is interesting to note that Robby the Robot was a very expensive film prop: at a cost of roughly $125,000 its construction represents about 7% of the film’s entire $1.9 million budget. The creature was created by Joshua Meador, an animator loaned to MGM from Walt Disney Animation. According to a “Behind the Scenes” featurette on the film’s DVD, a close look at the creature shows it to have a small goatee beard, suggesting its connection to Dr. Morbius, the only character with this physical feature, as it was a physical manifestation of his primitive mind.


  • The story in this film has been compared as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in space. Which might give meat for pondering if you are familiar with the play.
  • It is interesting that the beast our earth-folk encounter deep in space is only the beast they bring with them.

I hope you experienced a little bit of that childhood thrill of exploration, of uncovering something ancient or even untouched by human hands. I hope you enjoyed the film and found some delight in traveling with this film.

Ben Harry, Curator
BYU Motion Picture Archive

Presenting the BYU Library Film Series in Quarantine

Here at the library, we are very sad that we will not be able to offer in-person screenings in our auditorium this Fall. We miss the experience of enjoying cinema together. However, we want to do what we can during this semester, and so while we may not be able to gather physically, we can still celebrate our love of cinema.

We proudly present this Fall’s series: FILMS IN QUARANTINE.

This series will still seek to enrich and add value to your cinema experiences. Each month, we will provide some viewing suggestions based around a unifying theme from some special contributors. Our goal is to present our community with viewing suggestions and provide insight/context/editorial to enrich your movie watching plans. And now you can watch them with popcorn!

How you can access these films? There are a variety of methods that you can use to access these films. You can purchase a disc, check one out from your local public library (you might need to reserve online these days before you go pick it up), or you could use a number of streaming services for rental. Commonly, these titles are available through Googleplay, Amazon, Itunes, or YouTube, or look for them on Netflix or other platforms.

September’s Theme: FAR OFF PLACES

Over the last six months many of our plans to get outside of our lovely valleys here have been interrupted. One of the powers of the cinema is the ability to transport us to locales quite different from where we are. This month’s films will get us outside our bubble. So please, take up our suggestions, enjoy a movie, stay safe, and we hope to see you in person after the thaw!

Ben Harry, Curator
BYU Motion Picture Archive

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner papers

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (1818-1913)

To continue in our celebration of women’s history this month, L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a newly digitized collection: Mary E. Lightner papers (Vault MSS 363).  Known to most Latter-day Saints by her maiden name, Mary Elizabeth Rollins, Lightner is most well-known for her role as a young girl, along with her sister Caroline, in the rescuing of the printed pages of the Book of Commandments after W. W. Phelps’ printing press was destroyed by a mob in July 1833.

Lightner’s papers relate more to her later years, including her sealing to the Prophet Joseph Smith as a plural wife. The collection includes handwritten originals and photocopies of correspondence including correspondence to Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many prominent Mormon women while in Utah, including Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, and Zina Diantha Huntington Young. Also included are personal histories, autobiographies, speeches, articles pertaining to her life while in Minersville, Utah, along with patriarchal blessings and a statement relating to her marriage to Joseph Smith. Dated 1865-1980.

Mary Elizabeth Rollins was born in Lima, Livingston County, New York, April 9, 1818, daughter of John P Rollins and Keziah VanBenthuysen. In 1828 she moved with her family to Kirtland, Ohio, where they lived with her uncle Algernon Sidney Gilbert, and in October 1830 she was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Along with her mother, sister Caroline, and brother Henry, she moved to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, where she encountered many of the persecutions suffered by the Latter-day Saints in Missouri. Mary E. Rollins married Adam Lightner of Liberty, Clay County, Missouri in 1835. Adam Lightner was not a Latter-day Saint, but he was a good friend to Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints all of his life. They moved from place to place in Missouri and later to Minnesota, and eventually went west arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1863. Mary was the first plural wife to Joseph Smith in 1842. The Lightners settled in Minersville, Utah, where Mary was one of the first school teachers and was asked to speak frequently to various groups including gatherings of General Authorities, prominent citizens, and the 1905 graduating class of Brigham Young University. Mary E. Lightner died in 1913, at the age of 95 in Minersville, Utah.

Comets of the 17th century

L. Tom Perry Special Collections contains a variety of comet pamphlets by European astronomers of the 16th and 17th centuries. If you enjoyed (or missed) comet NEOWISE this summer, we’d like to share some delightful woodcut illustrations from recent acquisitions to this collection.

This engraving, from Erhard Weigel’s Speculum Uranicum aquilae Romanae sacrum (1661), depicts the comet of 1661 passing over the University of Jena. This comet has been identified with Comet Ikeya-Zhang, which was observed in 2002.

This unsophisticated little woodcut appears on the title page of Friedrich Müller’s Cometologiæ, which describes the comet of 1664-1665, which was widely observed across western Europe. Müller was a professor at the university in the city of Giessen.


Emmeline B. Wells collection

Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921)

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the official adoption of the 19th amendment, granting women in the United States the right to vote, which will be on August 18, 2020, L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a newly digitized collection: Emmeline B. Wells collection (Vault MSS 805). The collection contains correspondence of Emmeline B. Wells, 1898-1923; papers and poems either by or about Emmeline B. Wells; a certificate to the Columbian Exposition in 1893; handwritten documents written by Emmeline B. Wells or family; priesthood blessings; photocopies of photographs; original and typescript of ledger book (Emmeline B. Wells’ copy with marginal notes) recording Utah Suffrage Association membership and “Relief Society Minutes, Nauvoo, 1842-1844;” diaries of Emmeline B. Wells, 1 May 1875-14 October 1876, and 16 December 1883- 29 January 1886; genealogical pencil records; original and color photocopy of verse book written for Emmeline B. Wells on her seventieth birthday; and original and color photocopy of “Songs and Flowers of the Wasatch,” a book of verse presented at the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893: Chicago) containing hand-painted watercolor illustrations. Dated 1842-1923.

For more information about Emmeline B. Wells, and to explore all her recently published diaries, visit this website by the Church Historian’s Press.  The other 45 original diaries have all been digitized as well, and images can be found here.

Emmeline B. Wells was instrumental in both the Utah and national suffrage movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wells was the chief editor of the women’s rights journal Women’s Exponent. She was also friends with famous suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and in 1899 she was invited by the International Council of Women to speak at its London meeting as a United States representative. Wells served as the general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1910 to 1921.

Parley P. Pratt papers

Parley P. Pratt (1807-1857)

As we prepare to celebrate Pioneer Day on July 24th, we often turn our minds back to those early pioneers that helped to settle the great state of Utah. One of the first of these pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley was Parley P. Pratt.  He came with his family to Utah in 1847, traveling in the Daniel Spencer and Peregrine Sessions company.  He would later lead two additional companies of pioneers to Utah in the 1850s.  While his time in Utah was short-lived, due to an untimely death by the hands of a mob in Arkansas, his influence is still felt today. He served in the legislature of the provisional state of Deseret beginning in 1849, and he was among those who oversaw the division of Salt Lake City into wards and the organization of other wards in Utah. Sometime in the mid-1850s, working with George D. Watt, Pratt helped develop the Deseret alphabet. Pratt explored, surveyed, and built the first public road in Parley’s Canyon, Salt Lake City, which is named in his honor. He also explored parts of Southern Utah for future settlements.

In rememberance of Pratt’s contributions to Utah’s early history, L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce that our small collection of Parley P. Pratt papers (Vault MSS 4) has recently been digitized and posted online.  Included in this collection is Pratt’s only extent diary from his mission to Chile from 1851-1852, the first missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to visit South America.  He traveled there with one of his plural wives, Phoebe Soper Pratt, and left after their son, Omner, died. Also included are three handwritten letters during his mission to Chile, and eight fragments of manuscripts by Parley P. Pratt. All items date from 1851 to 1855.

John Keats’ last book turns 200

This nondescript book in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections recently turned 200. John Keats’ final book, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes, and other Poems, was published in early July 1820.  The collection – now considered one of the most important works of poetry in all of English literature – includes such famous works as “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and Hyperion. BYU’s copy is still bound in its original paper boards, as issued by the publisher (though the spine has been repaired).

While the volume was better received by critics than Keats’ previous book, Endymion, its publication marked the beginning of the end of Keats’ brief life. Keats was suffering from tuberculosis and his condition deteriorated rapidly throughout July 1820. He sold the copyright of Lamia to raise funds to travel to Italy for the winter in hopes of improving his health. Keats died in Rome on February 23, 1821, aged 25.

Joseph Delaplaine correspondence

Joseph Delaplaine (1777-1824)

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day celebration, where we all remember the many patriots who helped found this country we know and love today, L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Joseph Delaplaine correspondence (Vault MSS 450). This collection includes handwritten correspondence, written between 1813-1824, between Joseph Delaplaine and popular American figures of the early nineteenth century. The majority of items concern information for Delaplaine’s book, “Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans.” Includes handwritten autobiographical sketches of Oliver Wolcott Sr. and William Pinkney and letters from prominent political figures such as William Henry Harrison and Richard Mentor Johnson.

Joseph Delaplaine was born in December 20, 1777 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Jane Anne Livingston and throughout his life was interested in history, especially that of the United States and the early patriots who shaped it. He wrote and had published a book in 1815, titled Delaplaine’s Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished American Characters. In this book, Delaplaine wrote on figures such as Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and other American patriots. Joseph Delaplaine died on May 31, 1824 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Margaret Y. Taylor biography

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Margaret Y. Taylor biography (MSS 1153). This is a typewritten biography by an unknown author with handwritten corrections. Margaret Young Taylor (1837-1919) was one of Latter-day Saint Church President John Taylor’s wives and served as vice president of the General Board of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association.

Margaret Young was born in Westport, Connecticut on April 24, 1837, to Ebenezer Russell Young and Margaret Holden Young, the oldest of eight children. In November 1852, she converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She received her education at a young ladies seminary and became a schoolteacher in Westport when she was 18 years old. She met John Taylor while he was serving as president of the Eastern States mission for the LDS Church. On September 27, 1856 she married Taylor as a plural wife. They emigrated to Utah Territory in 1857 where she taught school for two years.

Taylor became secretary of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society upon its organization. In 1880, when Elmina Shepard Taylor became the first general president of the church’s Young Ladies’ National Mutual Improvement Association, Margaret Taylor was chosen as the first counselor in the presidency. After John Taylor died on 25 July 1887, Margaret Taylor resigned her position and was replaced by Maria Young Dougall.

Taylor died in Salt Lake City, Utah on May 3, 1919. She was the mother of nine of John Taylor’s 34 children.

(From Wikipedia:

Remembering Charles Dickens

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of beloved Victorian writer Charles Dickens. Dickens passed away at his country home in Kent, Gad’s Hill, on Thursday, June 9, 1870, having suffered a stroke the previous evening. He spent the morning of June 8 working on his last (unfinished) novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens had requested interment in a cemetery near Gad’s Hill, but public sentiment prevailed and Dickens was buried at Westminster Abbey in a private ceremony on the morning of Tuesday, June 14.

Dickens’ friend, prominent journalist George Augustus Sala, published a tribute to Dickens in The Daily Telegraph on June 10, 1870. This essay was quickly expanded and issued as a memorial pamphlet with an account of Dickens’ death and a description of his funeral — note the black mourning border on the title page. Several biographies of Dickens appeared through the end of the 19th century, including a recollection by his eldest daughter Mamie Dickens. These and other important early biographies can be found in the Victorian Collection by searching on the subject term “Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870.”

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