Cinematography by Clifford Stine
Edited by Paul Weatherwax
Written by Harry Essex & Ray Bradbury
Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by William Alland
The 50’s and 60’s were often a vast wasteland when it came to cheaply made Science Fiction movies or Horror films. That’s because a vast majority were produced as a cheap way to get teenagers into the drive-ins and theaters and away from the marvel of the ages at the time known as television. I ended up seeing many of these clunkers being broadcast on Friday Evenings and Saturday afternoons and evenings on local stations through the sixties and early seventies.
Most of the ones I watched were broadcast at night after the local news because kids had no school the next day. What better way was there to scare the holy crap out of a kid then late at night, often when your parents were not around because they were off doing whatever. You were there with your brothers or in my case mostly sisters to be mesmerized by one-eyed aliens, or overgrown monsters like Godzilla and Dinosaurs who wanted nothing more than to wipe out mankind. Or you could just watch Roller Derby and be enthralled by the blonde bombshell known as Joanie Weston.
There were some well-made gems that showed up on occasion. Some of them were big studio productions like Forbidden Planet, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, War of the Worlds, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or films like The Day the Earth Stood Still which would show up in prime time on Saturday Night at the Movies and remains one of my favorites to this day.
I absolutely feel like I must have seen a lot of these films now available on DVD but they left no impression on me whatsoever. I can no longer swear that I saw any of them. Such is the case with It Came from Outer Space.
I ran across some reviews of the Bluray on some movie forum site, and then somehow ended up on Amazon where there were more rave reviews. I didn’t buy it right away but put it in my cart thinking I might buy it when the price was right. On June 4th, the price dropped to 10.77 and since I was ordering a few others, I pulled the trigger on Outer Space as well which had been $17 when I first placed it on my shopping list.
Outer Space is currently $9.99. You win some, you lose some. (A day later as I finish up this review the price is $13.99) You get used to that with Amazon. Just last week I got the 4K HD version of Schindler’s List for $10. The next day it was back up to $27.99. Today? Today it’s back to $10 (A day later as I finish up this review the price is $21.49). I’ve never been able to figure out the Amazon pricing changes that rise and fall more than a roller coaster at Cedar Point.
It Came From Outer Space is a black and white movie you can watch in either 2D or 3D if you are set up for that. Sadly I am not, so I had to settle for the 2D version. Most reviewers say the 3D is pretty awesome since it is the first version of Polarized 3D. Other 3D Movies of the era used the Colored Lens Projection to achieve the effect of depth. If you want me to review the 3D version, send me the equipment I’ll need and I’ll be glad to write about it.
Somewhere out in Arizona, in a nowhere land town appropriately called Sand Rock, would be writer scientist John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his gal friend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) are warming themselves by a nice Fireplace, having coffee and sort of but not actually talking about what the future holds. I think they call it beating around the bush. But let me put it this way. If in 1953 a beautiful woman is in your house, sitting by the fireplace with you, making you coffee, out in the middle of bum fuck Arizona at midnight, we already know what the future holds. You better not let the townsfolk find out you’re doing the old dipsy doodle.
What you’ll also notice if you’re an astute observer like me is that the cinder-block exterior of the house doesn’t quite jive with the fancy spacious interior on the inside. Not to mention that with no chimney, that fireplace would be blowing a lot of smoke up their ass with no place else to go. Just an observation.
A short time later, in a scene that I could have written, John and Ellen get all cozy messing around with his telescope. Wait a minute. I did write this scene way back in 2004. It went something like this:
When I put my hand on her shoulder to guide her in how best to observe the moon I couldn’t help but notice how soft and delicate she felt. At one point she asked me if I knew what a particular star was or whether it was a planet. So there I was looking through the telescope, then she would look, then I would look, and at one point we were almost looking together her face a mere fraction of an inch away from mine.
And it was at that moment, that exact second in time, that I think I became fully aware of Millie Taylor, the woman. Maybe it was the perfume she was wearing, maybe it was the light of the full moon reflecting off of her face, or how soft her shoulder had felt just seconds ago.
But there she was, right next to me and I said, “That’s a planet,” rather hoarsely, and she looked over at me, her face mere inches away and almost whispered, “a planet?” and I was looking at her and I said, “Definitely a planet, Mars or something,” and I think she said, “not Venus huh?” and I said, “no it’s definitely Mars, but I could be mistaken,” and she said, “too bad, I was hoping it was Venus,” and then all I could do was gulp. I was feeling hot and flushed.
I should sue for plagiarism. Oh wait! This movie came first so I guess that’s out. That being said, my scene is way more romantic with its crisp sharply written dialogue. But as always, I digress.
John and Ellen’s telescoping love mechanics are interrupted by a huge flaming golf ball shooting across the sky eventually hitting the earth with an ear shattering blast that may shake your windows because it’s 10 times louder than the sappy dialogue between John the Amateur Astronomer and Ellen the Amateur Astrologer. (See the movie to understand that joke)
Turn your surround sound down in preparation for that scene. Frankly, I struggled with the audio all through the Blu-ray presentation with the dialogue sometimes dropping out and becoming almost inaudible.
Because they just happen to have a crop dusting helicopter pilot on standby, they enlist him to fly them out to survey where the meteor hit, although you and I know it’s not a meteor at all. This is because the writer and director was keen on letting us see all beforehand. The whatchamacallit comes bouncing out of his spaceship, we get a quick glimpse to know that he’s King of the Uglies, and then find out they leave sparkles all over the ground as if they are rejects from the Twilight Movies.
Coming upon the huge giant crater with smoke billowing around it, John climbs down into the chasm to investigate, leaving Ellen and the Helicopter Pilot, Pete Davis (Dave Willock), up near the rim. Once inside the hole, Putnam discovers most of what we have already seen.
He no sooner decides to head back to the top of the crevasse than a landslide covers up the ship we previously and accurately described as a huge over-sized golf ball.
When he describes to Ellen and Pilot Dave what he saw, Dave thinks he’s full of crap. Even Ellen is a bit skeptical although she does her best to humor John, and go along with him since she’s counting on that wedding ring and part ownership of John’s Luxurious Deluxe Cinder-block resort with the magical fireplace.
Driving back to Putnam’s house, the two love birds damn near run into one of the aliens. And for some odd reason, they both tried to convince each other all they saw was an optical delusion.
John and Ellen head back to the crater the following morning because they just didn’t get enough abuse the previous day. Even a professor friend, Dr. Snell (George Elredge), that Putnam thought would back him up, gives him the big brush off.
On hand to offer more of his two cents worth, Sheriff Warren (Charles Drake) informs John he’s sure that John is completely off his nut, wastes no time telling Putnam he’s an idiot and shouldn’t be filling Ellen’s head with such stuff and nonsense, especially since she’s a schoolteacher and the town people are already beginning to gossip about her many midnight rendezvous with the wacko from the desert with the magic fireplace. It’s also readily apparent that Sheriff Warren is quite put out by the fact that Ellen has latched onto John, ruining his own plans for some undercover duets but disguising it with his concern that the local schoolmarm might lose her job.
Later, they stop in the middle of nowhere to check out a fancy cactus and so John can get all poetic about the Arizona Desert with dialogue that sounds like it was lifted out of the pages of a book. In fact, it was taken verbatim from Ray Bradbury’s treatment by credited screenwriter Henry Essex. You’d think with only an 80 minute running time there wouldn’t be time for this silliness. But we do learn about Arizona’s world famous Joshua Trees. So I guess I named my youngest son after a tree in Arizona.
Further down the road our fearless duo run into telephone company linemen Frank (Joe Sawyer) and his buddy George (Russell Johnson). George, instead of working on phone lines looks like someone who should be stranded on an uncharted island. Frank is hearing odd things on the telephone wires, and after letting John listen in on the phone call, he too begins spouting some fancy prose about working in the mystical magical desert because you can never learn enough about desert life at the movies.
Afterwards, the misplaced Wichita Linemen head in one direction to see if they can figure out what’s going on while Boris and Natasha head in the opposite direction. It is the two guys from Ma Bell who have a close encounter of the worst kind. When John and Ellen meet back up with them, they know something must be amiss because a lifeless body laying behind a rock is a dead giveaway if you’ll pardon the pun.
It turns out Frank has not passed on to the next Universal Studios B movie in the sky. These aliens have a knack of cloning human beings so there’s duplicates running all over the Arizona landscape. But it did make Frank take a nap.
Eventually more humans come up missing and when George’s wife complains to the Sheriff that her husband is not the stud he used to be, the Sheriff scratches his head, thinks for about an hour and a half, and decides there may be something to John’s tale of Aliens and Space Cruising Golf Balls after all.
In the film’s only humorous sequence (unintentional of course because this movie is completely devoid of any intentional humor) Ellen gets captured and cloned but the Aliens decide they didn’t like the schoolmarm’s regular clothes and deck her out in an evening gown any movie starlet worth their salt would kill for.
Eventually Putnam finds out that the Aliens landed here by mistake when they overshot their celestial runaway and they’ll be leaving as soon as they fix what would be our equivalent of a flat tire. If the meager minded earthlings will just let them be for a few hours they’ll be on their way and John can have Ellen back to ravage her as he pleases in whatever way pleases her.
I do know that I found the movie to be a crushing bore after having read so many rave reviews. Maybe they were written by clone leftovers stranded here by the Aliens back in the 50’s. Hey, don’t scoff. Haven’t you all watched Roswell, New Mexico or even the original Roswell?
The writers and director Jack Arnold just take the whole thing way too seriously and it wouldn’t have hurt to inject at least a little humor into the dialogue if nothing else. Instead we get John and Frank giving us Arizona geography lessons.
But most of the film is nothing but John trying to get people to believe him that yes, aliens are hanging out and having a party in Sand Rock. We see more of the Aliens watching us than we see of the Aliens, and since everything they see appears as if they are looking through a bubble, it’s not much fun. Turns out, they are looking through a bubble. With their eyesight, they could never pass a driving test and maybe that’s a good thing considering they unintentionally crashed into the 3rd Rock from the Sun.
I guess if you’re watching it in 3D you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. There may be some cool visual stuff going on to keep you occupied. Cool stuff like a huge flaming golf ball shooting into your living room and exploding in your face or John Putnam Swinging his telescope out and almost hitting you in the kisser.
The acting is serviceable and probably better than it is in most of the films of this type. Carlson would have a long career, mostly in television. Barbara Rush would co-star in quite a few movies before also going the TV route, as you can see here in this still from The Love Boat. As Ellen though, she mostly seems a bit amused by the proceedings in It Came From Outer Space and I always had this feeling that it wasn’t the look of love on her face, but the look of somebody trying to suppress a smile or a bit of a laugh. And that idea, right or wrong, brought a smile to my face.
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s the first film to suggest Aliens may not be here to wipe out the planet and that it was the basis of many of the ideas Stephen
Spielberg used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I get it. But the only time it really held my attention was when I was left to figure out why the Alien creatures decided to change Ellen’s apparel. But I think that’s just mind games on the part of the director. There is no suspense or drama in the whole 81 minute running time. Did I say 81 minutes? Seemed like it was a helluva lot longer than that! The strange thing is, right in the middle of the film an Intermission card came onto the screen. You mean to tell me this 80 minute piece of Science Fiction fluff needed an Intermission?
If you want to see a good Science Fiction movie of Aliens taking over human anatomy, I suggest Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Either the 1956 version or the 1978 version depending on if you like your endings hopeful, or just plain grim.
I’ll give the movie a C based on its originality and effort and the fact that it’s probably more engrossing in 3D. And as I said, if you want to send me the equipment to watch it that way, I’ll certainly update this review. Until then, a C is all you’ll get.