Scientist of the Day - Edward Morbius
Linda Hall Library
The film Forbidden Planet was released on Mar. 15, 1956. This was (arguably) the greatest science fiction movie produced before 2001: A Space Odyssey, in 1968. It had a top-notch cast, with Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, and Walter Pidgeon; an interesting story line; first-rate special effects; full-color CinemaScope; and the first-ever electronic score. And, of course, it had Robby the Robot, a seven-foot tall, whirring and clicking mechanical charmer who stands at the front of a long line of loveable screen robots.
But today we celebrate the scientist protagonist of the film, Dr. Edward Morbius, played by Pidgeon. Morbius and his daughter Altaira were the sole survivors of a colonizing party to the planet Altair IV, and the substance of the film concerns the arrival of a search party, who are trying to determine what happened to the original expedition. Morbius has spent the previous 20 years studying an ancient race, the Krell, who had left an impressive technological legacy on Altair IV, including mind-altering devices. All the rest of the original landing party had died mysteriously, and when the new search party arrives, they too are subject to invisible visits from an unseen force that kills their crew and destroys their equipment. As it turns out, the evil force is Morbius's subconscious mind, a “monster from the id,” enhanced by equipment left behind by the Krell. It was Morbius’s unconscious, unknown to his conscious self, who had killed the original crew and wreaked havoc on the investigating party.
Evil or mad scientists have been a staple of cinematic science fiction since Metropolis (and in literature, since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), but Dr. Morbius was different, because his evil side operated independently from his conscious personality, which had the best of intentions. As it happens, our Library today opens its new exhibition: It’s Alive. Frankenstein at 200: The Science behind the Story (third image), and one wing of the exhibit is devoted to "Mad Scientists of the Silver Screen," in which Dr. Morbius makes an appearance. The exhibit will be open to the public until Aug. 31, 2018.
Not surprisingly, movie posters for Forbidden Planet feature Robbie and the curvaceous Altaira; we have been unable to find one that showcases Dr. Morbius, so we have to settle for a still shot from the film (second image). The film's original trailer is not bad at all, as trailers go. You can see more than 20 “Mad Scientist” trailers at a kiosk in our new exhibit.
Building up to our exhibition opening today, we have recently featured two other cinematic mad scientists this year as Scientists of the Day: Rotwang, from Metropolis, and Dr. Strangelove.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.