Cinema Sunday: It Came from Outer Space (1953)

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Title: It Came from Outer Space

Distributor: Universal-International

Writer: Harry Essex (novel by Ray Bradbury, and perhaps the screenplay as well)

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson, Joe Sawyer

Released: May 1953

MPAA: Approved

 

 

After a long winter hiatus, I wanted to return to my roots and review a film from the classic sci-fi (B-movie) genre! Along with classic horror, this category is near and dear to my heart, for reasons that would take forever to explain. Suffice to say they both are treasures from my youth that I still hold close, and got me through some adverse times.

One thing that makes B-movies from the 1950s and 1960s so good, was the “tough guy” lead actors. Perhaps none more so than Richard Carlson. A real life bad apple, serving in the United States Navy as a pilot, Carlson brought his fearlessness to the big screen (and small screen). A cigarette smoking, fist fighting, ladies man who had a very short list of peers in those categories (probably only John Agar), Carlson epitomized everything about that far gone era of films.

In this film however, Carlson is more of the reasonable man, than throwing punches every five minutes. Yes there is some action on his part, but he’s mostly the voice of reason that doesn’t use violence. OK, let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a spaceship crashing to Earth, on the outskirts of a small, middle-American town. A voice tells us that a little about the town, and the scenery there. We see inside the voice’s home, and as John Putnam (Richard Carlson), and his girlfriend, Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) are sharing a quiet moment together, they head outside to stargaze. Putnam has a huge telescope, and he peeks through it, hoping to see something. Ass the two are about to start making out, they see a meteorite (or so the think)rocketing towards the nearby desert. It smashes into the Earth, and Putnam, being an amateur astronomer gets riled up about it.

 

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We the viewers get to see that it was no meteorite, but a space ship that crashed. As the smoke clears, we see a terrifying looking alien pop out of a door on the ship! It searches the nearby area, leaving a trail of slime behind it as it scares off the desert animals. The following day, John, Ellen, and a chopper pilot (Dave Willock) investigate. John heads down inside the crater to get a closer look, and when he does, he’s shocked to see an alien space craft! He approaches the open door, but it slams shut, causing some loose rocks to slide down over the craft. John manages to crawl out unscathed, but Ellen and Pete don’t believe him.

 

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As they’re trying to figure things out, Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) shows up with his deputy, and of course they laugh at Putnam, saying he’s nuts. Of course Ellen and Pete can’t verify the story since they didn’t go down to see it themselves. As they’re driving home, one of the creatures is standing right in the middle of the highway! It forces them off of the road, causing them to almost smash into a rock. As John gets out to investigate, the creature is in the brush, watching him.

The following day, the news media has found out about the “meteorite” crash, and is going crazy. Scientists, the military, and even the sheriff and his men are there lurking around. They continue to make fun of John, and even harass Ellen. The sheriff also tries to warn off John about being with Ellen (as he worked for her father and told him he’d look out for her after his death). John tells the sheriff that Ellen does what she wants, and that he isn’t telling her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

 

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On their way home, John and Ellen run into a couple of friends that work for the utilities company. One of them, George (Russell Johnson) tells them that everything has been calm as far as they’ve seen. He and Frank (Joe Sawyer) let John listen to some strange noises over the phone lines, but they can’t figure out what is causing it.

Over the next few days, townspeople, begin to disappear for a day or so, only to return in a dazed state like they’ve been hypnotized. They seem to have an ulterior motive for everything they do, and that eventually gets the skeptical sheriff to wonder what is going on. John eventually searches the desert area by the crater, and finds an old abandoned mine. He tries to enter but is confronted by one of the aliens. The alien tells him they mean no harm but recruited the townspeople to help repair their ship, so they can return to the cosmos. Putnam believes the creature, but will the sheriff?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

One of the earliest films about this subject (you did already have The Thing from Another World, and The Day the Earth Stood Still at this point, plus some other notables), the angle of aliens that were not evil is something you really need to consider. That was not the norm and quite frankly still isn’t. We have Ray Bradbury to thank for that, and from some reading I’ve done, the man credited as screenwriter pretty much just took what Bradbury wrote and made extremely minor changes. We all know Bradbury is a beast at writing scary, weird stories, but he should get the credit for this one.

Most of the films from this era don’t have very notable music but Herman Stein did a good job on this one. Very threatening, and melodramatic when needed. Clifford Stine was on top of his game with the cinematography as well, especially in the scenes with the aliens.

Carlson is his usual awesome self. He’s a very strong presence in every film he’s been the lead in, and that is a fact. Barbara Rush is quite good as well. She does a fantastic job as John’s girlfriend, a concerned citizen, trying to balance being a school teacher and that usual form of reasoning versus her feelings for John and his beliefs and so on. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a very beautiful woman either (image below), as she’s basically the only woman in the entire film!

 

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Don’t hesitate, look this one up and give it a viewing. Set aside a rainy afternoon and check out this classic! You won’t be disappointed!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Tarantula (1955)

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Title: Tarantula

Distributor: Universal Studios

Writers: Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley (screenplay), story by Jack Arnold

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Lewis G. Carroll, Clint Eastwood

Released: December 14th, 1955

MPAA: Approved

 

After showcasing one great director (Bert I. Gordon) from the sci-fi genre last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate to his counterpart, Jack Arnold, this week! The giant bug/animal craze started with THEM! in 1954, and really hit its stride the following year with last week’s film, and this one. Of course, what would a sci-fi movie be without a leading action hero? Not so great, and that’s why we have none other than B-movie legend, John Agar, to save the day in this movie!

The quality of this film is better than the Gordon film, but probably had a bigger budget as well. And let’s not forget you have a better cast, and that makes a huge difference. The movie follows the typical plot lines of the times, but definitely has some cool moments. OK, let’s get right down to it!

 

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The film begins with a man (in his PJ’s) wandering around the desert of Arizona. We eventually see that he’s been mutated from something, and really bloated looking. He falls to the ground, and seemingly dies. The scene then switches to a plane landing, and a doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar – 2nd image below), steps out, and tells the technician to check the plane. The doc then checks in at his office…that’s in the local hotel (yeah, don’t ask). He then receives a call from Sheriff Andrews (Nestor Paiva – 2nd image below), and heads out to see him. Once he arrives at his office, the sheriff explains that they need to check out a body that found along the highway earlier in the day. The sheriff can’t explain what’s wrong, because he doesn’t know what happened to the man and he needs Doctor Hastings to examine the body.

 

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Once they arrive at the coroner’s office, they talk with doctor that was working with the deceased man. Professor Deemer (Lewis G. Carroll), seems distraught about his friend’s death, but also troubled about something. They theorize that the man died from Acromegaly but that’s typically a disease that takes years to process, and this man was seen days earlier, with no signs of the disease. Later, Professor Deemer retreats to his lab, and we see why he was anxious when the others were questioning him about his assistant. He’s been using a secret formula on animals, that increases their size exponentially! The last one we see is a giant Tarantula (about the size of a medium dog)!

 

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The next day, Professor Deemer is at it again, but a figure shambles in through the back door. It’s another man who looks like he has the same disease, but this one has some life left in him yet. He creeps up behind the Professor and attempts to murder him. As they struggle, the glass gets smashed to some of the cases, and the tarantula escapes! The disfigured man chokes him out, then injects him with the serum. A fire breaks out, and it looks as if the Professor is doomed, but then he wakes up (conveniently), and escapes the flames. He then finds the body of the man outside, slumped over, dead. He buries him out in the backyard, and we see the shadow of a spider the size of an elephant.

 

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Dr. Hastings has a conversation with the sheriff, and attempts to convince him that Professor Deemer might be up to shenanigans. He’s not very responsive at first, but he does ponder his next move. Outside, a bus arrives, and a beautiful lady steps off, and heads into the hotel to ask for a cab. You see, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday – image below), has come to town to aid Professor Deemer in his experiments. Since Dr. Hastings is heading out that way to question Deemer, he gives “Steve” a ride to his place. Once they arrive, a local newspaper reporter is there and taking pictures. This angers Deemer, and he tells him to hit the road.

 

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As Steve and Professor Deemer begin their work, over time, she notices that his face begins to be deformed. The serum is finally getting to him, and he eventually succumbs to the same fate as the others. As the story moves on, large animals are found with the absolutely nothing left but bones! They’ve been sucked dry of all living tissue. Hastings finds some fluid near the bones, and eventually finds that it’s spider venom. He then surmises that Deemer’s new formula must be mutating animals, and that a giant spider is the culprit for the dead animals and destroyed homes.

 

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Can Mr. B-Movie, John Agar stop the giant beast? Or will a barely recognizable Clint Eastwood (image below) have to get the job done? Watch the film to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one that I first watched with my son a few years ago, and loved from the very first minute. Maybe it has some sentimental value to me, and that raises it up slightly, but Agar and Carroll are fantastic in this film. This is actually one of the few films from this era that doesn’t use atomic radiation as a MacGuffin. There are a couple of moments of absolute hilarity, where blatant sexism occurs, but again, this was 1955. Plenty of cigarette smoking as well. I think Agar must have owned stock in R. J. Reynolds.

The sets were pretty good for the time, and the desert shots definitely stood out. Of course, the special effects leave a lot to be desired in this day and age, but for back then, they were pretty cool. Even now I can imagine little kids in a downtown movie theater, screaming their heads off when the tarantula attacks. Watch these films with a lens of nostalgia, and you’ll definitely enjoy them. Thanks to people like Jack Arnold, we’ll always have these classic “B” movies to give us laughter, and good times!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

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Title: Creature From The Black Lagoon

Distributor: Universal Studios

Writer: Maurice Zimm (Screenplay by Harry Essex & Arthur A. Ross)

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Ricou Browning

Released: February 12th, 1954

MPAA: PG (NR)

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First, let’s get something out of the way before we get to the synopsis, and then my thoughts. This film is one of those few, that are perfect. For its time, it was scary, intriguing, thought-provoking, and just an all around great experience. To movie lovers, it still is, and that will never change. This film stands the test of time. OK, now that we’ve got that aside, let’s get to it!

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Creature from the Black Lagoon was released in 1954, amidst the big sci-fi boom of the 1950’s. Many studios were putting out films with space exploration, otherworldly creatures, alien invasions, giant radiation mutated bugs, etc. It was definitely the best decade for new films of that genre. With household names like Richard Carlson, and the gorgeous Julie Adams! This movie was also very cool because it was filmed in 3-D! Alright, enough of the posturing, let’s get to the movie!

The film begins with a research party looking for fossils in the Amazon Basin. Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno), finds a fossil of a webbed hand, that appears to be part human, part amphibian. He rushes back to the institute where he works, and finds Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson -far right, image above), and his assistant/lover, Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), as they are doing research at the institute on marine life. He shows them and two other doctors the fossil, and they all conclude that this might be an evolutionary missing link, and it must be found. They get Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning -far left, image above) to finance the trip, and head down to the Amazon Basin. While they’re away, two of Dr. Maia’s laborers are brutally attacked by some strange and mysterious creature!

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As the expedition arrives, they seek out the laborers, but find their bodies have been torn apart by something unseen. They dig for eight days, but find absolutely nothing. Mark is getting frustrated, but then David theorizes that some of this basin must have been washed away at some point, so they travel a little more down the river, to a lagoon. The boat (Rita), is captained by a man named Lucas, who seems to be a bit unscrupulous, but knows the waters very well. Mark and David head into the murky waters to check things out, and soon realize, that they are not alone. As they explore the depths of this mighty river, they find a fascinating creature, that looks half human and half amphibian. Mark shoots it with his harpoon gun, but it doesn’t even seem to faze the creature. It swims away, and the two men head back to the boat. They tell the others of this incredible creature, and they formulate a plan to capture it.

They fashion a cage from bamboo, and then use a drug that the captain uses to catch fish when the nets aren’t working to well. It’s a kind of powder that they spread through the water, and it will hopefully slow the creature down enough to be captured. Mark still wants to kill it, but David is adamantly against that action. As they put the plan into motion, the creature attempts to enter the boat, but is driven off by fire. It dives back into the river, and they follow it to its lair. It attacks Kay, but then falls to the ground, passing out from the drug. AS it regains consciousness in the cage aboard the ship, it sees Kay talking to one of the other scientists. The creatures strength returns, and it busts out of the cage easily. It savagely attacks the scientist, but gets lit on fire by a lamp. It retreats into the river, and the team is left in shock.

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Mark wants desperately to go after the creature, but David tells him that it’s too dangerous, and that they are leaving. As they proceed back up river, they see that their exit is blocked by a fallen tree. David thinks that it was the creatures doing, and he and Mark argue over a plan of action. As David tells him that he’s going to go into the water to tie a rope around the tree, so they can pull it out of the way with the ship’s wench, Mark attacks David, but ends up getting punched out by David. David then goes into the water, but is attacked by the creature. Luckily for him, Mark has decided to come into the water, and help. He uses his harpoon gun to fight off the creature’s attack, but eventually gets killed by it in the end. This leaves David and the others to find a way to stop the creature, and try get out alive!

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OK, here are my thoughts on the film:

As I said in the beginning, this film is perfect. The story is fantastic, but unlike a lot of horror, sci-fi movies, it doesn’t leave you guessing about what the creature looks like very long. Sometimes that can take all the suspense out of a movie, but it certainly does not in this one. The tension between Richard Carlson’s character and Richard Denning’s character is great! Throw in the gorgeous Julie Adams, and you have a really solid chemistry. Even Antonio Moreno and the others lend their strengths to the dialogue.

A great soundtrack, with an overall thunderous tone, gives a suspenseful feeling to this movie. I can’t imagine this one in color either, the black and white print is outstanding, and the 3-D “effects” were good for their time, no doubt. Honestly though, it could have easily done without that tag, but it was a sign of the times, so who cares. The underwater scenes in particular were really incredible. You can find this movie just about anywhere and for a decent price as well, so there’s no excuse to not own this classic Universal flick! With guys like Jack Arnold and William Alland!

Click here for the trailer!