|It Came From Outer Space - 1953|
More subtle than the other films of its genre, this film is often understated, its script moody and lyrical. Not surprising, considering it is based on the story "The Meteor" by Ray Bradbury, and has much of the tone of that writer's prose.
The film opens at the home of John Putnam, an astronomical writer living on the edge of the desert. A tender scene between him and his girlfriend is broken by the scream of a passing meteor, which crashes nearby.
But it ain't a meteor. It's a spaceship. An inhabited spaceship.
Upon investigation, Putnam finds this out, but has to flee as the ground collapses onto the partially buried spaceship.
He tries to convince the authorities of what he has found, but they don't believe him; more than that, they think he might be crazy, or a nutty scientist who's spent too much time looking up through a telescope. Soon, the media and his colleagues are expressing either doubt or amusement.
Small things begin to manifest themselves--a feeling of unease. A very subtle interference on local phone lines. People behaving oddly.
Townspeople begin disappearing, to be replaced by cold, emotionless duplicates. Putnam's complaints to the sheriff fall on deaf ears, leaving him as the man alone (with girlfriend, naturally) against whatever may be infiltrating their town.
Slowly, others begin to notice the changes in their friends and neighbors, even to believing Putnam's wild story. The sheriff slowly comes around, but late in the game, even as the alien's abduct Putnam's girlfriend.
A phone call. A rendezvous with the aliens in the desert. His girlfriend appears, and runs when he calls to her. He pursues her, and winds up being given a warning by a hidden alien being to stay away, to tell everyone to stay away, or the abducted humans will be harmed.
Now Putnam finds himself on the other side of the coin--it's to him that falls the responsibility of keeping the authorities and everyone else away. But he has trouble keeping the sheriff back, and, finally, in exasperation, the sheriff rallies the townspeople to confront the alien abductors.......
The film moves slowly, but not leadenly--it assumes more of a languid pace, allowing the tension and mood to build and develop.
Like Them, it uses the stark beauty of the American desert to create another world where man is the stranger and the endless open space can hold unknowable dangers. Even when there is nothing to be seen, that absence itself is disturbing. It uses the desert as an alien land, where man is out of his element.
The film also makes counterpoints between the very small and the cosmic--the tiny human figure as the scientist stands before the huge alien sphere, the small humans in the vast desert, quick shots as the human characters look down to see a small desert creature such as a lizard or spider. When Putnam confronts the two aliens who have replaced two of his friends, the aliens stand at the top of a small staircase, filming up toward them, emphasizing their size, and down onto the human, making him smaller, more insignificant.
Some of the same elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the humans replaced by alien intelligences, the paranoia that a person may not be who they appear to be, and the isolation as one man tries to convince the world of a truth they can't bring themselves to believe. But it also features aliens which are just as afraid of us as we are of them, a break from the mold of the 50s paranoia picture.
Originally presented in 3-D, the 'flat' version is probably better without the distraction of the 3-D gimmick. There are few examples of objects being thrust or thrown at the camera, thankfully, so those bits aren't awkwardly out of place as with other 3-D films.
Featuring the stalwart Richard Carlson (not to be confused with the almost identical Hugh Marlowe). Watch also for Gilligan's Island's Professor, Russell Johnson in a supporting role as one of the county linemen taken over by the aliens.
PLUSES: Moody piece, lyrical, a film head and shoulders above 95% of the genre.
MINUSES: Schlock representations of the aliens...? We see too much of the aliens, and too soon.