Scientist Chris Cronyn (Peter Graves) and his wife Linda (Andrea King) are attending this astronomical observatory tonight, which has its telescope trained on planet Mars for, as the chief astronomer explains, our world is at its closest to that heavenly body at this moment than at any other time in its elliptical orbit around the sun. The new photographs are in, and show what a difference has been made on the surface within the space of one week, as what were recognised as canals now shine, and the mountains at the northern pole have diminished. Cronyn works it out immediately: the Martians have developed a system to irrigate their land. There is life on Mars!
Red Planet Mars was not, as its title and date of origin suggests, one of those cheesy Hollywood B-movies with paper plate flying saucers menacing the good people of Earth, it had higher ideals than that. For this reason it has been disappointing viewers ever since 1952 when it was first released, just as science fiction was turning into a steady stream of what were effectively monster flicks rather than the more cerebral affairs such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, which remained a benchmark of thinking person's speculative efforts. In that vein, this modest work had Graves develop a method of talking to Mars, contacting its denizens and divining some surprising news about them.
Graves would tussle with monsters soon enough, but this time around the sinister, murderous menace was Communism, though surprisingly the Stalinists did not reside on the Red Planet, despite the name, they were the Soviets who were conducting the Cold War at the time. Now, they had their own strain of science fiction, a lot of space exploration for instance, which almost always contained a dig at the capitalist running dogs of imperialism across the Atlantic (or Pacific, either would do), but the Americans would construct entire films around their concepts of painting the Soviets as their enemies. The feeling was, naturally mutual, but was not offered equal weight in cinema.
So the Americans were concocting rabidly pro-U.S.A. propaganda like this under the guise of entertainment, which now the Cold War is over look either quaint or incredibly boring to modern eyes. Red Planet Mars was more the latter, aside from Cronyn's snazzy flatscreen television sets which he could control from his armchair - not with a remote, but with a set of buttons and dials on the armrest. That and the radio room were about as futuristic as it got here, indicators that our hero was a boffin par excellence, and that his brains were likely to cause trouble when he refuses to stop making his findings public, yes, he does contact the aliens and they tell him all sorts of things about their society. Things like they don't need coal to make electricity, they use cosmic energy instead, and nobody starves there since each Martian only needs half an acre to grow enough food for a year.
This sends the markets and authorities on Earth into a panic, for no concrete reason as far as you can discern other than to establish some tension in a plot sorely lacking it. But there may be some subterfuge going on as an ex-Nazi scientist in the Andes is intercepting these Martian broadcasts and passing the information around the world, in fact he's doing more than that as the twist ending reveals. Chaos is the result until it is discovered the Martian grand high poo-bah is none other than God Almighty Himself, and he begins promoting a lesson of peace and love among humanity that will see to it those Godless Communists are not merely taught the meaning and worth of Christianity, but will bring down the Soviet Union once and for all as their peasant population rise up in a "kill the Czar" kind of way. This all sounds a lot more exciting than it is, for the manner in which it plays out is with masses of talk that render any enjoyment, camp or sincere, difficult to appreciate. There's even a cop-out "no it isn't/yes it is" ending for maximum disappointment. Music by Mahlon Merrick.