IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)
Slash’s Shitfaced Saturday.
As per my announcements, I found it prudent to watch this “Classic 1950’s” Science Fiction film, before I could review the television film remake, done for the Sci Fi Channel in 1996, starring pal, Adrian Sparks. As Science Fiction films went in the early 50’s, this one was considered an “A” picture, and it would have been part of a double bill at an urban downtown movie palace, or in smaller towns, the neighborhood theater, like the one in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, or CINEMA PARADISO. I had young parents, and since we didn’t get our first television set until 1954, we went to movies, mostly at drive-ins, so I saw this film from the back seat of a 1950 Dodge, eating the food my mother would bring with us, no fucking waste of money at the snack bar, & at 9 years old I probably thought it was strange seeing a second run 3-D film at the El Rancho Drive-In, because the 3-D didn’t really seem to work as an effect.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)
Directed by Jack Arnold @ 81 minutes.
The film starred Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank), Russell Johnson (George), & Kathleen Hughes (June).
Taglines: Fantastic sights leap at you in 3-D.
Amazing sights the human eye has never seen.
A helicopter’s churning blade whirls inches from your head.
In scientifically perfected eye-resting full sepia Mono-color.
The film won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer (Barbara Rush). It was nominated for a Hugo Award, & it was nominated to be in the AFI Top Ten Best Science Fiction list.
The Working Titles included THE METEOR (which was the title of the Ray Bradbury story), ATOMIC MONSTER, & STRANGERS FROM OUTER SPACE.
It was directed by Jack Arnold, who was considered the “King of 1950’s Science Fiction films. He had directed 84 films from 1947-1984. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was his first Sci Fi movie, and he went on to do CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955), TARANTULA (1955), THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), MONSTER ON CAMPUS (1959), & THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (1959). Then like so many other studio directors, he went on over the next 30 years to direct tons of television series episodes, finding time however to direct the feature BOSS NIGGER (1975).
Jack Arnold: “I always loved Science Fiction. I grew up reading all the Pulp Magazines. When I started directing Sci Fi films, I remained a fan. I loved making this type of movie because the Studio pretty much left me alone. I had lied and told them that I was an expert, & they never challenged me.”
The cinematography was done by Clifford Stine, & he lensed 32 films from 1949, including ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953), THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955), THE UGLY AMERICAN (1963), & THE KING’S PIRATE (1967). But most of his career he had worked as just a camera man on some significant films like KING KONG & SON OF KONG (1933), THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956), NIGHT PASSAGE (1957), SPARTACUS (1960), & PATTON (1970).
The uncredited musical score, sounding resoundingly uninspired was actually worked on by Henry Mancini, Irving Getz, & Herman Stein.
Richard Carlson had 105 film credits from 1935-1975, including BACK STREET (1941), THE AMAZING MISTER X (1948), KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950), RETREAT, HELL! (1952), THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), his own television series MACKENZIE’S RAIDERS (1958-59), & THE VALLEY OF THE GWANGI (1969).
Barbara Rush did 110 films from 1950, which included WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951), TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), THE YOUNG LIONS (1958), THE BRAMBLE BUSH (1960), then from 1969-2007 the rest of her career was spent doing episodes on various television series.
Trivia: Talk about synchronicity, when I searched through my VHS vast library of films looking for a copy of this one, I found it, and the tape included IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE II on it as well. I didn’t get too excited about that until I watched ICFOS (1953) and I realized that in 1996, I had gone to the then new Sci Fi Channel, and had taped the two films off of it. Come to find out it was the Premiere unveiling of the “new” Sci Fi made for TV movie ICFOS II. Jesus, I had inadvertently taped the first showing of the sequel, not even realizing, since I did not watch it, that pal Adrian Sparks had been in it; and now here I am schmoozing with son, Tyler on HH, doing a kind of tribute to Adrian (who flies to Cuba later this month to finish shooting the Hemingway Bio-Pic PAPA.) Sometimes life just offers up “too much good stuff”.
Of course, Sand Rock, AZ is a fictitious town. They filmed the movie near Santa Clarita, CA., out on the Mojave desert, and near the towns of Palmdale & Victorville, CA. in the Antelope Valley where I used to live for a couple of years–and they shot a lot of it on the Universal Studio back lot, and in Stage 12 for the interiors. The budget for the film, even including the “new” 3-D lenses, was a reported $800,000 dollars. One of the make-up ideas for the aliens in this movie was rejected, and then used later as the Mutant in THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955). The screenplay, although credited to Harry Essex, was mostly copied verbatim from the original Ray Bradbury initial film “treatment”.
Walter Chaw of FILM FREAK CENTRAL wrote: “Rod Serling once observed that for as lovely as Ray Bradbury was to read, his prose proved almost impossible to say.”
This was one of the first American movies from the 1950’s to place its credits at the end of the film, instead of at the beginning. It was the first 3-D film to be released by Universal Studio. The alien POV was done in 3-D, but since they were only created with one large eye, and therefore are monocular, they could never perceive or experience stereoscopic vision. Personally, I have amblyopia, which makes me essentially monocular for my visual perception, and when I watch a film in 3-D, it just gives me a migraine, & I never experience the objects coming out of the screen. Steven Spielberg credits this film with its plot focused on benign alien visitors as the main inspiration for his own CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).
There is an urban legend/myth, totally refuted, that one of the movie extras, dressed as an Army corporal at the crash site, was really the comedian Morey Amsterdam–but no hard evidence has ever confirmed this. Richard Carlson’s house in the desert has a fireplace inside it, but no chimney on the outside. When John, Ellen, & Pete the pilot return to the airfield in their odd little open helicopter, we hear rotor noise over the dialogue–but the main rotor shaft & tail rotor are not moving behind them. When John & the Sheriff are searching for missing linemen, John kneels & points out some blood on a large rock, and as he pushes on the rock it indents.
Synopsis: [ **Note: this description of the plot contains spoilers back to back, so if you are the kind of person who resents this, quit reading immediately. ]
During the opening credits we hear the overly used, quite familiar strains of the Theremin, an electronic musical instrument that is played without physical contact, named after its Russian inventor Leon Theremin. The performer places their hands above the instrument between two antennas, creating the oscillator for frequency with one hand, & amplitude (volume) with the other hand. We old timers remember the constant use of this instrument on TV for SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, LOST IN SPACE, and several others.
The camera pans up over a bluff and we see a sleepy little Western town at twilight:
John Putnam narrates: This is Sand Rock, Arizona, of a late evening in early Spring. It’s a nice town, knowing its past and sure of its future, as it makes ready for the night & the predictable morning. The desert blankets the earth, cooling, resting for the fight with tomorrow’s sun–and in my house near the town, we’re also sure of the future–so very sure.”
Writer & amateur astronomer, John Putnam, and his girlfriend, schoolteacher Ellen Fields, make lovey-dovey oh-gosh we-are-soon-to-be-married dialogue, while John lights his pipe from the fire in the fireplace; which is odd, because soon they stand at the patio doors, which are wide open. They stroll outside to use his large telescope, to check out the stars.
Suddenly they see a bright flaming object passing (slowly) over them. It crash lands a few miles from them out on the desert. We see that the flaming object was a space craft, and we see one of the aliens within the first five minutes of the movie; a tall blob of protoplasm with tentacles & several legs, and one huge eye in the center of it. We see lizards & coyotes scurrying away in fright, and an owl is startled, and as it “flies away”, we see a string tied to one leg, jerking it upside down. We are introduced to the alien’s POV, like looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle, which was created by forming soap bubbles on the front of the camera lens.
The next day, they hire Pete to pilot them in his cute little open cabin helicopter to the crash site. Pete is played by character actor Dave Willock, a comic actor that was in a lot of TV episodes in the 50’s, whose voice & face are familiar, but no one ever knows his name. John bravely enters the crater, telling Ellen to “Stay here, protect Pete”. He enters the crater without any protective gear, wearing street shoes, slacks, and a sport coat with leather patches on the elbows. He touches one boulder that appears to be “hot”. He notices some kind of slime trail leading up from the bottom. Then he sees the large circular space ship. A door opens. He sees aliens, they see him–closing the door quickly and starting a landslide. John barely escapes the rocks tumbling down and filling the crater; the rocks that do pelt him are obviously styrofoam, because he emerged unhurt, unbruised, unplussed.
Pete: John, John, are you alright?
John: I’m down here. I’m alright.
Pete: Are you alright?
John: Yeah, I’m alright.
Ellen: Oh Johnny, are you alright?
John: Yeah, I’m fine. But the space craft I saw is now covered up with tons of rock.
Pete: It must have been traveling pretty fast to hit the earth that hard, and still stay in one piece.
In the next scene we see John & Ellen tooling along in his new 1953 Ford convertible, with black-wall tires, a spotlight on the driver’s side, and a snub-nosed .38 in the glove box. They are concerned about the fact that no one believes his story of aliens and a space craft. The local newspaper prints a banner-line edition; STARGAZER DISCOVERS SPACE SHIP FROM MARS. We see the standard stock shots of the Ford driving along, and then the studio shots of the occupants in the foreground, and an obvious diorama portraying the exterior; a technique widely used in Hollywood, and one that always seemed to phony to me. One of aliens appears in front of them, then disappears.
Ellen: What was that?
John: I don’t know. (which is kind of odd since he had seen one of them before when he was in the crater.)
Ellen: Did we hit it?
John: I don’t know, but you stay here. I’m going to look around.
John pulls the .38 out of the glove box, and puts it in his sport coat pocket. At least ten times in the movie, Ellen is told to “Stay here,” which of course, she never does.
Chaa–weee-aahh–eee–waah–eee–waah–oooo theremin music is heard, stoking the suspense, & irritating me.
The next scene is the next day, at the crater, which is a 1000 yards across, with several journalists, the sheriff & deputies, the Army/National Guard scampering about, & with a delicious assortment of vehicles, a ’49 Ford Woody station wagon, a ’48 Chev sedan from the military, a ’53 Chev for the newspaper men, and a ’52 Chev cop car. Down in the crater was Professor Snell from a nearby university; a renown astronomer, and a kind of mentor to Putnam–but when John excitedly inquires about things, the professor does not believe it is anything more than a buried meteor. Neither the Army, or the University are willing to dig into the crater to test Putnam’s theory.
John: I thought you, of all people, would believe me. I expected more than that from you; after all, you are a man of science.
Snell: That’s precisely why I don’t pay any attention to witchcraft.
Disappointed, John & Ellen drive off fast in the ’53 Ford. They stop soon to talk with Frank & George, two linemen working on the phone poles. They have not seen anything strange out there, but Frank, up on the pole, is hearing “Strange noises” in the lines. John crawls up the ladder, puts on the headphones, and hears the noises too. George, the younger of the two, was played by Russell Johnson, who later became the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. The linemen pack up, & toddle off in their 1952 Chev phone truck, while the couple head off the other direction in search of answers. But the linemen encounter an alien in front of them, and when they stop, they are attacked by the Coke bottle POV & the pounding chords of the theremin.
John & Ellen soon tire of finding nothing, so they turn around, & go searching for the linemen. They find the truck, stopped in the road, with both doors open. John pulls out his cute little .38, tells Ellen to “stay here”, & follows a slime trail–but is immediately confronted by George–who assures them he is fine, that both of them are fine; but he stands stiffly & his voice sounds a little robotic. John notices an arm & hand sticking out from behind a nearby rock. The couple leaves, but realize something is amiss, and head off to town to tell the Sheriff (who used to be sweet on Ellen, & has always been resentful of Putnam).
Meanwhile the George clone meets up with the real George, and even though Frank had to be killed, he now has a Frank clone too.
George Clone: It is unfortunate that Frank resisted. We did not want to kill him. We will not take your souls, minds, or bodies. We are good, do not be afraid.” explaining further that earth was not their destination, that they had crash landed, and just needed some time to repair their ship. They shape-shifted into various earth people, but did not harm the originals, in order to move around unnoticed to get the electronic components necessary to repair their ship.
John & Ellen go to town, get the Sheriff into their Ford convertible, and return to the spot where they left the linemen. The truck was gone, & no trace of Frank or George was found.
Back in town, the Sheriff admits to John that electronic equipment is coming up missing. John sees Frank Clone in the street, & follows it to an alley, where he encounters it & the George Clone. They stand in shadow in a dark doorway, their eyes shining malevolently. John is frightened, and he pulls out his .38.
Frank Clone: Your friends are all alive & unharmed; just give us some time, and things will be fine soon, back to normal. But if you fight us, terrible things will happen–so terrible you can’t even imagine them.
The scene shifts to the old Excelsior Gold Mine, being worked by three old prospectors, complaining that the mine will have to be “shored up” because of the damaged done from the meteor crashing into one corner of it. Of course, the Coke bottle 3-D POV appears, and the tumultuous theremin squawks & wails as the three miners are attacked & cloned.
We hear John listening to a radio broadcast where the announcer is talking about the publicity-seeking Astronomer. He & Ellen show up at the Sheriff’s office where the two wives of the missing linemen are making a missing persons report. George’s young sexy wife, nipping out in her tight blouse, played by Kathleen Hughes (who was the hot-box blond shown in the movie posters and publicity stills) has just this scene, and one line in the whole movie.
June: If you ask me, they just ain’t coming back–else why would they take all their clothes with them?
Ellen offers to drive them home in John’s ’53 Ford, making me wonder how the hell did they get there in the first place? The Sheriff is told by one of his deputies that Professor Snell & his assistant are missing. He & John drive off in a ’52 Ford cop car, and they find the ’50 Woody Ford station wagon abandoned near the crater.
Meanwhile Ellen is driving alone on the desert, after taking the ladies home, and she is flagged down by the Frank Clone. He gets into the car with her, “I am fine, Ellen, now take me to the mine.”
Back at the Sheriff’s office, they are scratching their head a lot when the phone rings. “It’s for you,” the Sheriff said, handing John the phone (the phones were all the old 30’s & 40’s models, where you speak into the main frame, and hold the listening piece up to your ear). “We’ve got Ellen. Come to the mine & let’s talk about it.” says the alien on the phone. Without wondering a bit where his own car is, he & the Sheriff head up to the mine. Once there, John tells the Sheriff to “Stay here while I check things out”, & John sets off toward the mine with his .38 and a cop’s flashlight.
Suddenly Ellen appears from out behind a Joshua Tree, dressed in a chic black cocktail dress. He calls to her, but she moves on ahead of him, moving very fast for a chick in high heels; he struggles to keep up with her. He arrives at the entrance to the mine, & in the darkness he hears:
Alien: John Putnam.
John: Come out here into the sunlight, let me see you.
John: I need to know who I’m dealing with. (Again, which was odd, because he had seen the aliens three times by that point.)
Alien: We have souls & minds just like you–we are good–but you would be horrified by our actual form.
John: Come out I tell you, I need to see you as you really are.
Alien: Keep your people away from us, or we will have to destroy the hostages–but since you insist, I will reveal myself to you.
Coke bottle POV shots, twanging theremin tunes, & the alien appears to him. It was too terrible for him to deal with, & he covered his eyes. Back at the cop car, where the Sheriff is getting bored & restless & overheated:
John: Oh God, I saw them as they really are–it was horrible! We have to leave them alone. They crashed here by mistake, and they will leave by tonight.
The sheriff takes John home, and again, John is not curious as to where his own car might be. He sees a slime trail on his rug, but as he looks at it, it vanishes. He sees that they have taken all his clothes. Wow, has he been cloned too, and they let him go?
Scene shifts back to the Sheriff’s office, where one of his deputies is berating him for being a patsy, & a pussy, for just waiting around as John has told them. John shows up, & one wonders how in deuce he traveled back into town without a car. They have a long dialogue about the onerous heat index:
Sheriff: Did you know that more murders are committed at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? More than that & it gets too hot to move, but at 92 everybody gets irritable.
Looking out the window the Sheriff sees Frank Clone & George Clone loading up their phone truck, & he has an “Oh fuck it” moment, snaps with the stress & the heat, & pulls his police revolver, starting toward the door. John panics & punches out the Sheriff, rushes outside & steals the cop car; I guess the keys were left in it. The Sheriff runs outside, deputizes about 20 men, hands out police rifles, and the hooligan posse drives off after the clone linemen. Five vehicles moving in a perfect line, in perfect intervals; taking back roads, they get ahead of the fugitives, and set up a roadblock. When the clones drive up in the linemen’s truck, they pump 50 shots into it, killing the clones.
Meanwhile hero John arrives at the mine in the stolen cop car, and this time is able to drive right up to it, where in the past everyone had to hike over to it off the main road. Armed with his trusty .38 snub nose, and a cop’s flashlight, he finds the Ellen Clone, still garbed in the stunning black cocktail dress. She beckons for him to follow her, but when he steps forward, he notices a deep crevice in front of him ( strange that the original three miners would allow such a thing to exist in the mine).
John: You are not Ellen. You are dressed like her, but you’re not her. You wanted me to fall into this and die, didn’t you?
Ellen Clone: You can no longer be trusted.
Some kind of a laser gun is suddenly in her hand, and she opens fire, but is a lousy shot, firing three bursts, while John easily ducks & side-steps them. He pumps four hot 38 slugs into her, and she pitches into the pit. He continues on, and soon comes to the end of the shaft, finding the space craft, where all the clones are working on it, including his own Clone, dressed in his smoking jacket. John & John Clone exchange a heated dialogue, and the hostages are revealed. John Clone threatens to zap them.
John Clone: I would rather it all end here rather than falling into an angry mob’s hands.
Miraculously the real John convinces the aliens that if they let the hostages go free, he would take them out of the mine, and stop the Sheriff’s posse from coming in. The aliens calm down, and let everyone go free. At the mine entrance, hero John decides to dynamite the doorway, stopping the mob, sealing up the aliens. The Sheriff arrives, and suddenly the ground shakes like an earthquake. We see the crater with sparks coming out of it, like cheap Chinese sparklers. Next we see the cheesy space craft ball of fire streaking across the sky; which irritated the snot out of me, since they did not even attempt to show us the spaceship blasting its way through the rocks.
Sheriff: Well, they’re gone.
Ellen: For good, John?
John: No, just for now. It wasn’t the right time for us to meet–but there will be other nights & other stars for us to watch. They’ll be back.
Rotten Tomatoes rated this movie at 81% Critic’s Approval, and 53% Audience Approval.
On their site it was written: “It is a pulpy, but effective psychological Sci Fi film with provocative, for the 50’s, messages regarding Cold War xenophobia.”
TV GUIDE reported: “This is one of the better Science Fiction films to come out of the Cold War 1950’s–a definite anti-McCarthy statement.
Alex Sandell of JUICY CEREBELLUM wrote: “This classic movie represents very good Drive-In fare & fun.
I enjoyed watching it, appreciating its message, seeing streaks of Bradbury in it, laughing at the goofs & the early 3-D techniques, & I loved seeing the vintage cars in it, the vehicles of my youth. It does distress me that the lauded sex-pot, Kathleen Hughes, only had a brief scene, & one line in it. From the publicity shots, I expected her to so a Mamie Van Doren bit, and become cloned, and lead the aliens in a raid on Sand Rock, abducting & seducing all the men under 30. I rated it at 2.5 stars.