Two years after Anne Francis's death Jan. 2, 2011, at age 80, she's still remembered best for the groundbreaking sci-fi film she starred in more than 50 years ago, Forbidden Planet. It's not a comment on Francis's talent or career – she had plenty of other great roles that her many fans love – but rather a testament to the movie's staying power. It's a classic, and Francis was a big part of its lasting appeal.
Today we're honoring Francis's life with five facts you may not have known about her most famous film.
1. The plot of Forbidden Planet is loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest. In The Tempest, a father and his daughter are stranded alone on a remote island for many years. The father, a magician, conjures a storm to lure his brother to the island, where fortunes are changed, the daughter falls in love, and the father is stripped of his powers. In Forbidden Planet's version of the story, it's a remote planet they're stranded on, and the father is a linguist rather than a magician. But many of the basic plot elements remain.
2. Just as in The Tempest, the daughter in Forbidden Planet – Francis's character, named Altaira – falls in love with one of the crewmen from the ship. The actor who plays him? It's none other than a young Leslie Nielsen in a rare serious role, years before he became known as one of the kings of the screwball comedy.
3. Where The Tempest features a magical spirit, Forbidden Planet has a robot. At $125,000, Robby was a wildly expensive prop for 1956 and was the first movie robot that was more than a "tin can on legs." Seven feet tall, the robot prop had a person inside manning controls – but this didn't stop it from frequently falling over (contemporary jokes cast Robby as a drunk). Even if you've never seen Forbidden Planet, maybe you'll recognize Robby from another movie – the robot was used again in 1957's The Invisible Boy and in 1984's Gremlins.
4. Robby the Robot took sci-fi filmmaking to a new level, but the high-tech prop wasn't the only groundbreaking aspect of Forbidden Planet. The film's music was something totally new – the first movie score composed exclusively of electronica. Composers Bebe and Louis Barron were among the first to create electronic music, using some of the earliest synthesizers to make strange and unearthly sounds. No "real" instruments were used in the score, giving the music a techie feeling that would become standard in future sci-fi movies.
5. The movie's original title was Fatal Planet, and it was never expected to become the genre-defining classic it is. Originally conceived as a lightweight piece for one of the B-movie studios, it was pitched to MGM – a pitch that was expected to be a lost cause. But studio heads liked what they saw and gave the filmmakers a starting budget of $1 million, which later was nearly doubled. This unlikely support allowed the film's creators to craft the classic we know and love today – in the process, creating a blueprint for the entire sci-fi genre… and helping to ensure Francis's status as a fan favorite.
Written by Linnea Crowther