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!