Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tonight's Movie: It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Having watched EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) a couple Sundays ago, today it was time to step out of my movie comfort zone again and watch another '50s sci-fi film. Today's movie was the seriously creepy IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, starring one of my favorite actors, '50s sci-fi hero Richard Carlson.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is based on a story by Ray Bradbury. One night John Putnam (Carlson) and his fiancee Ellen (Barbara Rush) see a giant meteor crash to earth. But when John investigates, he discovers the meteor is actually a spaceship. Since the ship is almost immediately buried by a landslide, no one but Ellen believes John, and indeed, the townspeople make fun of him, especially the sheriff (Charles Drake).

Then strange things begin to happen, as townspeople disappear one by one, replaced by robotic-acting lookalikes. What's going on, and what do the aliens want?

The story is presented in a quietly compelling manner. Carlson's low-key demeanor makes him very believable, as least as far as the audience is concerned, and at the same time it's understandable that the townspeople disregard his fantastic story. The aliens adopting the bodies of the local citizens as their "clothes" is quite well done; the audience is still able to discern the aliens from the real people, strictly based on behavior.

The film prompted the age-old movie question: when something spooky happens, why do people get out of their cars and investigate instead of getting the heck out of Dodge? Of course, if they left, then there wouldn't be a scary movie! The tension in this film gradually ratchets up in a very effective manner.

This was one of several science fiction films Richard Carlson made in the '50s; his credits also included THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), and RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954). There's additional information about Carlson's career and sci-fi connections in my review of RIDERS TO THE STARS.

Russell Johnson plays one of Carlson's friends. Years before he played the Professor on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, Johnson was quite a handsome young man. I particularly enjoyed him as the hotheaded Jimmy in the Western LAW AND ORDER (1953), released the same year as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

The cast also includes Joe Sawyer (OPERATION HAYLIFT), Kathleen Hughes, and Dave Willock.

This movie was directed by Jack Arnold, who also directed Carlson in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The screenplay was by Harry Essex, with cinematography by Clifford Stine. The movie runs 81 minutes.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was released on a nice DVD with extras including a commentary track and a documentary. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

It was also released on VHS.

Amazon Prime members can watch this film at no charge on Amazon Instant Video.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is a well-done film which is recommended for fans of Richard Carlson and/or '50s sci-fi.

October 2015 Update: Here's an account of seeing the movie with costar Kathleen Hughes in attendance at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival.


Blogger mel said...

Jack Arnold was perhaps best known for The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), still a milestone in 1950s science fiction movies - and the movies you wrote about here are some of my favorites (after Destination Moon, The Thing From Another World, The Day The Earth Stood Still, the aforementioned Shrinking Man and The Quatermass Experiment aka The Creeping Unknown).

And no, I'm not a robot.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I'm glad you got to see this, one of the best 50s sci-fi movies, and a kind of definitive Richard Carlson role for how good he is in the genre and how well-suited to those scientist roles.

Making up for modest budgets with artistry and resourcefulness, Jack Arnold is for me the best director of science-fiction films ever, standouts being this film, the first two movies in the Creature trilogy (John Sherwood did the final one, very well), The Space Children and especially The Incredible Shrinking Man, and I support what Mel said about that. It is for me the best sci-fi movie of all time, has been since 1957 and I'm sure it always will be. It went where none of the others have gone. I can't say more about this and won't--it would not be fair to those who have not seen it.

The reason I'm throwing in my two cents here is that The Incredible Shrinking Man is on that Universal series at UCLA. I don't find that series too adventurous--lots of ever popular, frequently seen movies dominate it and maybe it would be more interesting if it were longer and they could have been more esoteric (especially with 50s Westerns, as you pointed out earlier). But it's worth it just for this title, showing as a single feature. If at all possible, Laura, I'd recommend you or anyone take the chance for a big screen viewing even though it's on DVD.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm taking notes from both of you! I'm so fortunate to have such knowledgeable film fans commenting here. As you know, sci-fi is an area where I have very little exposure so I'm noting your recommended titles including THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. My kids have a DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL DVD, and I made them a DVD-R of THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD a couple months back, so I've got a couple more here handy I can try.

Thanks and best wishes,

5:47 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, I certainly agree with the two previous comments by Mel and Blake. "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is undoubtedly Jack Arnold's finest work and one of the best science-fiction films ever made. A wonderful script (by the book's author Richard Matheson) solid performances and a beautiful, spiritual ending make this one a winner all the way.
As is splashed all over the posters from "It Came From Outer Space" the film opened and originally played in 3-D and, quite frankly, if you haven't seen it in 3-D you really haven't seen it. It's a jaw-dropper and a REAL treat to see it in polaroid 3-D. And, it's fun to visit many of the locations used throughout the film, they're right out past Victorville (as if you were heading up to Big Bear the back way)and are basically right out on what is now the "main drag" but in 1953 must have been out in the middle of nowhere! A lot of Jack Arnold's 1955 film "Tarantula!" was filmed out that way too.....


9:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Brad, thanks for adding your thoughts, I appreciate it! Your mention of Richard Matheson in connection with THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN has me intrigued, since he wrote BID TIME RETURN, which I read around the time the film version, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, was released.

I would definitely take the opportunity to see IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in 3-D if it presents itself -- it was a lot of fun seeing CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in that format last fall. That's a great bit of additional info on the movie location! I'll have to research more about that before my next visit to the area. :)

Best wishes,

3:09 PM  

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