FILM BOOK OF FEAR: It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Without a doubt the 1950s was the best decade for science fiction films. In fact, there has never been a decade that had more. They ranged in quality from bad to extremely good, but even the bad ones had enough charm to them to make them watchable. I have already covered some of these in my FILM BOOK OF FEAR series and since the list goes on and on, this series will as well.
This was Universal Studios first attempt at the 3-D process and it works very well here. Though I never saw the original with the headache-inducing red and blue glasses, the 2016 Blu-ray release featuring this film in both 2-D and 3-D allowed me to see this film in all of its glory. It is this version that I used for this blog. It was produced by William Alland and directed by Jack Arnold. The film stars Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush, and features Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, and Russell Johnson. The script is based on Ray Bradbury’s original story treatment and not, as sometimes claimed, a published short story, “The Meteor“.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE opens to the sound of a Theremin as a meteor streaks across the desert sky, to crash land in an explosion that forms the film’s title. As this was originally shot in 3-D the meteor approaches the screen before exploding. We then cut to an aerial shot gliding over the town of Sand Rock, Arizona. As we experience what the desert is like, we listen to the narration of our lead character, amateur astronomer, John Putman, played by Richard Carlson.
The scene ends at John’s house where we not only meet him, but his fiancé, schoolteacher Ellen Fields, played by Barbara Rush. They go outside to look through John’s telescope and that is when they see the meteor and where it crashes. The impact is huge and John and Ellen go to investigate. We cut to the meteor crater, still boiling hot and through the steam we see a round object; an object that has a door that slowly opens. As we enter the doorway we hear a weird noise, almost like breathing, and in the dark see the alien. It leaves the ship and explores its surroundings, leaving a trail of glowing material behind it.
John and Ellen hitch a ride on a friend’s helicopter, who flies them to the crater. They rush to the crater’s edge, which has begun to cool. John climbs down to the base of the crater where he sees for the first time what really fell to earth; not a meteor but a space ship. The door is still open and he approaches. He then sees something within looking at him. The door shuts and the ground starts to rumble as the side of the crater collapses onto the ship, blocking it from view. This sequence is beautifully shot and is very exciting.
When he reaches the top of the crater he tells Ellen that he saw something in there; a ship of some kind. The local police arrive and do not believe anything John is claiming, especially since he is the only one that actually saw it. It is obvious that Sheriff Matt Warren, played by Charles Drake, is not a fan of John and thinks that he is a bad influence on Ellen. John leaves the crater in disgust, with Ellen beside him. She still doesn’t know what to think of it.
As they are driving away, the alien from the ship steps out onto the road right in front of them. John swerves to avoid it, almost crashing the car. John gets out to investigate. When they don’t find anything they leave. We see them drive away through the eyes of the alien.
Later in the day, the area of the crater is a flurry of activity. People from town, the military and the news services are there to see what they can. John and Ellen come back to the site and immediately feel the wrath of the sheriff and the reporters, who don’t believe him either. In fact the morning headline reads “Star Gazer Sees Martians.” John is now determined more than ever to prove what he has seen.
John asks for help from the local University to help dig the ship out but they refuse, due to lack of any hard evidence, including the lack of radiation. John leaves the site, more frustrated than ever. Though John has never done anything wrong, the town seems to be against him. While driving back home, they stop at where the alien stepped out on the road the night before. They walk a ways, taking comfort in the daylight. After finding nothing, they return to their car, completely oblivious to the trail of shimmering residue left by the alien that was behind them the whole time.
Further down the road they encounter Frank and George, who are working on the telephone lines. Though they haven’t seen anything odd, they are picking up weird sounds on the phone lines. None of them know where the origin of the sound is. Frank and George, after finishing their job, leave to head to the next one. As they are driving the also encounter the alien in the road, just as John and Ellen did the night before. They also swerve to avoid the creature and get out to investigate. George is quickly overtaken in a cloud of misty and presumably, so is Frank.
John decides to go back to see the telephone repairmen and find their truck on the side of the road, with both doors wide open. Neither is in sight. They get out to try and find them and find blood on the driver’s side door. They then see the trail of glittering residue and decide to follow it. George comes up behind them but he is different. His voice is different, somewhat monosyllabic, and his movements are very slow. Frank is no where to be seen but when John looks to his left, he sees a hand sticking out from behind a rock. George then looks straight up at the sun, without even blinking. Both realizing that something is wrong, John and Ellen leave the scene.
John and Ellen head back to town to get the police to come back and see the body. They have a heck of a time convincing Matt to come see what they found in the desert. The Sheriff relents and they speed back to the site. When they get there George and Frank are gone. All evidence has been wiped clean, including the glittering trail. In place of the hand that John saw is now a dead coyote.
Little by little more townspeople start acting as George and Frank are. The “alien” George and Frank explain to John that they need time and to be left alone. They explain that his friends are alive and will be fine if they are allowed to go about their business. As more people are replicated, the evidence is starting to mount as women are complaining about their husbands and how they are acting. Now the Sheriff starts to realize that something is going on and that perhaps John wasn’t crazy after all.
Matt mentions the electrical parts were reported missing and John’s theory is that the aliens look like people they know to come into town undetected. It is discovered that a local mine is being used by the aliens to get to and from the ship. Ellen, while driving alone, also comes in contact with the aliens and is replicated as well. When John and the Sheriff find out that they got Ellen, they go to the find her.
Putnam finally discovers the spaceship and learns from the alien leader that they crashed on Earth by accident; the creatures appear benign and only plan to stay on Earth just long enough to repair their damaged craft and then continue on their voyage. The aliens’ real appearance, when finally revealed to Putnam, is entirely non-human: they are large, single-eyed, almost jellyfish-like beings that seem to glide across the ground, leaving a glistening trail that soon vanishes.
The monsters have decided to destroy themselves and their spaceship, now that they have been discovered. Putnam reasons with them at length and convinces the alien leader to instead finish the repairs while he, as a sign of the aliens’ good faith, takes the captives outside to the sheriff and his posse. To protect the aliens from the sheriff and his advancing posse, Putnam manages to seal off the mine in order to give them the time they still need to finish their spaceship’s repairs.
Shortly afterwards the alien spaceship leaves Earth. Putnam’s fiancée Ellen asks him if they are gone for good. He responds “No, just for now. It wasn’t the right time for us to meet. But there will be other nights, other stars for us to watch. They’ll be back”.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is a fun movie from beginning to end. It shows how ignorant and prejudice that people can be and as a result, lives can be lost. With a little patience and understanding, these aliens would’ve left peacefully, returning all of the abductees back to their normal lives. This is so reflective of not only the 1950s but of today as well.
This Blu-ray release is the best version of this film released to date and is recommended for all collections. The special effects are really well done and they hold up nicely even today. If you are a fan of science fiction movies from this time period, then this is one you should not miss.
If you would like to own a copy of this awesome movie, then please click on the image above. Also, make sure to check out my FILM BOOK OF FEAR series. If you liked this blog, please share it will your friends!