History of Sci-Fi Cinema 14: “It Came From Outer Space”

itcame1It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Written by Harry Essex, from a story by Ray Bradbury
Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by William Alland
Universal
Starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Russell Johnson

An amateur astronomer and his dishy girlfriend are stargazing one night when what appears to be a meteor lands in the desert. But of course, that’s no meteor! It’s actually an alien spacecraft. But the only person to see it up close is the amateur astronomer and he has no proof to back up his claim. Not until townspeople start going missing, that is. It’s your typical 1950s Commie Scare paranoia piece . . . except that it actually isn’t. It’s a straightforward bodysnatcher yarn . . . except, no it’s really not. What it is is a thoroughly entertaining story with solid acting (Barbara Rush won a Golden Globe for her work in this film), good characterization, and a pretty spiffy alien that you never see too clearly on screen.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 13: “Invaders From Mars”

invaders_from_mars_poster_01Invaders From Mars (1953)
Written by Richard Blake, from a story by John Tucker Battle
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
Produced by Edward L. Alperson Jr., Edward L. Alperson
20th Century Fox
Starring Jimmy Hunt, Helena Carter, Arthur Franz

Wikipedia describes the Second Red Scare as having inspired movies and literature to produce “stories and themes of the infiltration, subversion, invasion, and destruction of American society by un–American thought and inhuman beings.” There is perhaps no clearer or less subtle example of that than Invaders From Mars, with body snatches, mind control, personality change, threat of invasion, etc. Not that these themes are rare in science fiction of this period, but here they are so “on the nose.” The performances are far from nuanced, the Americanism proudly flag-waving, and the music dramatic and obvious. And yet … it turned out to be a highly enjoyable viewing.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 12: “When Worlds Collide” & “War of the Worlds”

12-WWCWhen Worlds Collide (1951)
Written by Sydney Boehm, based on the novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie
Directed by Rudolph Maté
Produced by George Pal
Paramount Pictures
Starring Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen
1:23:00

12-WotWWar of the Worlds (1953)
Written by Barré Lyndon, based on the novel by H. G. Wells
Directed by Byron Haskin
Produced by George Pal
Paramount Pictures
Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson
1:25:00

As I’m running a bit behind in my blog, I decided to combine my next two entries into one, as the next two make a fitting pairing: two towering accomplishments of cinema sci-fi, a double-feature of destruction by producer George Pal, these two films couldn’t be more similar — and at the same time, more different. Both inspired by influential works of fiction, both depicting the end of the world, both depicting strong Christian beliefs and themes, and both with a ray of hope at the end.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 11: “The Thing From Another World”

The Thing From Another World (1951)
Written by Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks & Ben Hecht, based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W Campbell, Jr.
Directed by Christian Nyby (or possibly Howard Hawks)
Starring Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin, James Arness
1:27:00

One of the most influential films of all time, this is the quintessential “base under siege” story. A group of military personnel along with a “newspaper man” (as he’s repeatedly referred to) are sent to the north pole to investigate reports, by a team of scientists stationed there, of a crashed suspected UFO. The destroy the flying saucer but learn that it had an occupant, which has survived. It was, according to Wikipedia, the 46th most successful movie of 1951, but the most successful sci-fi movie, outselling both The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide (which we’ll take a look at next). Critics at the time weren’t too kind to it, but over the decades it has become regarded as one of the milestones in sci-fi cinema.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 10: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

10-DayTitleThe Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Written by Edmund H North, based on a novel by Harry Bates
Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray, Sam Stephens
1:32:00

A sharp, intelligent sci-fi thriller with a message of warning to the people of Earth to stop being dicks. Or rather, you can be dicks all you want, but if you spread it out beyond your own borders, you’re going to get smacked hard. This is, quite literally, one of the greatest films ever made. It has been acknowledged by the American Film Institute as the fifth best sci-fi film ever; it repeatedly gets included in Top 100 lists (sci-fi or otherwise); it holds a 94% rating from Rotten Tomatoes; it received a special Golden Glove Award for “promoting international understanding.” And it was cited by Arthur C Clarke as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time — higher than his own film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 9: “Rocketship X-M”

09-RXM-titleRocketship X-M (1950)
Written by Orville H. Hampton, Kurt Neumann, Dalton Trumbo
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery
Lippert Pictures
1:18:00

A fanciful film, direct competition to Destination Moon, about a rocket crew who attempt to reach the moon but are thrown off course and instead land on Mars. For the most part it’s similar in structure and tone to DM, but with some significant differences. The most noticeable thing about it is, unfortunately, is that it’s shockingly sexist to modern ears and eyes. It also walks a line between an attempt at hard science and being awkwardly romantic. It gained a dubious honor by being featured in 1990 in the opening episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 ‘s second season.

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History of Sci-Fi Cinema 8: “Destination Moon”

08-DM-titlesDestination Moon (1950)
Written by James O’Hanlon, Robert Heinlein, Rip Van Ronkel (based on short story by Robert Heinlein)
Directed by Irving Pichel
Starring John Archer, Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, Dick Wesson
George Pal Productions
1:31:00

A lightweight film about a group of private industry leaders building a rocket to the moon. And then getting off the moon. And, in terms of plot, that’s pretty much all it’s about. But what’s at the center of this narrative is the dangers of such undertakings. Apollo 13 it ain’t, but for its day it caused quite a stir, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and nominated for Best Art Direction. In 2001 is was awarded a Retro Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation 1951. It was involved in its very own space race to get to the box office first. And Woody Woodpecker shows up along the way, because who better to persuade millionaires to give you money than Woody?

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