Invaders From Mars (1953)

scifi-series06

Director: William Cameron Menzies

Starring: Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Jimmy Hunt

Colourful for 1953, innit! Quite a lot of print damage on the version I’ve got here, plus spidery vertical green lines running through the picture intermittently, distracting but who cares, let’s do it. May contain Colonel Fielding Colonel Fielding (x2 deliberate) and spoilers

invaders01

Little David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) is a bright, imaginative kid and when a storm disturbs his naughty night reveries of neighbour Kathy (probably) he wakes to see a flying saucer landing behind a hill in the sand pit beyond. Now, because David is such a swot-face when it comes to astronomy and all things spacey, his dad George (Leif Erickson), who works at a super-secret facility and is no doubt mindful of any exotic forms of sinister Commie infiltration, isn’t so sure that the eerie glowing disc was only a bad dream in Dave’s napper and decides to reconnoitre the hill. Bad move, bucko. George returns a changed man and not only that, more and more of the townsfolk are starting to behave just like him – cold, distant… alien. David of course knows exactly what’s going on but can he get anyone to believe him? That would be like me trying to get HR at work to believe my new boss is an offensive, intransigent and devious fucklenut.

Nice spot for a picnic...

Nice spot for a picnic…

I have never much cared for Invaders From Mars. I think it’s because of that ending (which I’ll get to in a bit – so beware). Certainly, there are quite a few things with which to commend IFM, not least the setting. It’s an iconic location, a scattering of trees, a gentle hill and a simple wooden fence disappearing over the rise. Hey, it looks innocuous enough, yet there’s something foreboding about the view, the snaking pathway seems kind of final – the last journey you’ll ever make. When George first returns from his night time sortie, it is a jolt. He departed an amiable guy, just as intrigued by the starry sky as his son but on re-entering the family home he is a rude and glowering thug. That’s bad enough but then he strikes David to the floor for merely making an innocent remark. By this time, two investigating members of the plod have also been for a dip in the sand pit – “Flying saucers, disappearing scientists… what next?” Disappearing plod, mate.

But it is the sight of Martian George leading/ dragging his wife up there that saps all hope. Their journey tells a visual conversation; Mary (Hillary Brooke) going along with her husband’s request, ‘is this really necessary, darling, at least let me go back and change my footwear…’ and George maybe saying, ‘yes it is absolutely necessary and no, you can’t, it’s just up here, just a few steps more…’ and Mary deciding, ‘enough of this nonsense, George, I’m going back…’ to be met with ‘oh, no you don’t, bitch… (shove)…’ All the while, Raoul Kraushaar’s otherworldly choral cue signifies the telltale extraterrestrial presence.

"Gee-whizz, Dad, I guess now's not the time to tell you I just got Kathy pregnant!"

“Gee-whizz, Dad, I guess now’s not the time to tell you I just got Kathy pregnant!”

David becomes rapidly isolated, unable to get his point across to those as yet unmolested. He tries to engage various people whose natural response is to call his dad despite the poor lad’s protestations. A panicky visit to neighbour Mrs Wilson (Fay Baker) to tell her that her daughter Kathy (Janine Perreau) is gone, snaffled by the sand pit is interrupted by Kathy herself… except she isn’t Kathy anymore (not upstairs in the free will department anyway). Her mom obviously thinks Dave is a big fibber – even as pint-size Smirky McWilson has set fire to the house, seemingly because her dad, Dr. Bill Wilson (Robert Shayne), like George, also works at the super-secret ‘Plant’ and is therefore some kind of target. David’s last recourse is the cop shop where he demands to see the police chief, but the chief is acting all cold and remote… uh-oh. He orders “that crazy kid” locked up in a cell! A cell, I tell you! Prison’s no place for a child! But alarm bells are beginning to ring with Desk Sergeant Finlay (Walter Sande) and he calls in hot Doctor Pat Blake (Helena Carter) who, amazingly it has to be said, goes with David’s account. Then David’s mom arrives to take him home and gee-whizz is he pleased to see her… but of course she’s no longer mom. The quick-thinking Doc concocts a medical dilemma to keep David out of his parents’ clutches for the time being and the race is on to alert the authorities.

The police dept's pledge to green kinetic energy utilised kids - "Run faster you little twat they're still not lit!"

The police dept’s pledge to green kinetic energy utilised kids – “Run faster you little twat they’re still not lit!”

All of this is good, 25 minutes or so, the tension ramps up with the effective use of a few disconcerting camera angles; those ‘possessed’ loom into frame and therefore over David in a more threatening manner, while familiar locations turn sinister; see the blank, ‘never-ending’ corridor leading to the towering police front desk. But after a visit to the observatory and a rather too knowledgeable astronomer, Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz), the grip noticeably weakens. I mean, this bloke knows the whole deal right down to the Martians using ‘synthetic humans’. Maybe it works, given the ending… Stock footage of the army on manoeuvres dominates the action now amid vital phone calls and a waiting game as Colonel Fielding (Morris Ankrum) and trusty Sergeant Rinaldi (Max Wagner) plan a move against the sand pit Martians. Their hand is forced when David and the Doc get sucked into the Martian lair. For the first time we get a look at the foe, the so-called ‘synthetics’ serving their master – a telepathic tentacled head in a jar. The synths are wearing what appear to be saggy one-piece suits and frankly they look ridiculous; you can even see the zipper. Then there’s a lot of galloping up and down rocky tunnels followed by the voice of David repeatedly shouting “Colonel Fielding! Colonel Fielding!” And I mean repeatedly. And it’s contagious; the soldiers also start shouting “Colonel Fielding! Colonel Fielding!” Once isn’t enough, see, twice properly conveys the urgency of the situation. By now, it’s all sadly rudimentary. Maybe that’s why Menzies goes for the Big Twist™. So if you haven’t seen IFM or plan to, don’t read any further.

There's nothing worse than getting sand stuck between yer toes is there...

There’s nothing worse than getting sand stuck between yer toes is there…

I don’t know why they thought this was a good idea. Original screenwriter John Tucker Battle certainly didn’t and had his name taken off the credits in a fit of pique. Who can blame him? You see, the Martian invasion, the remote-controlled townsfolk, everything… it’s all a bad dream in David’s head. At least that’s how the US version rolls; the European version ends with the Martians defeated, drops the ‘nightmare montage’ and finishes with an extra scene in the observatory. The montage itself does the film no favours as the movie plays out again, superimposed over David’s fearful (and eventually annoying) face as he flees the exploding Martian ship – seems to go on forever this bit does. Then to get hit with ‘it was all a dream’ is infuriating. And strangely, we go back to the beginning, the same UFO lands again to suggest a recurring dream within a dream. Now, that ending is kind of interesting and I do think it embraces the typical 1950’s Cold War paranoia – the need to be extra vigilant for the danger never goes away. It goes hand in hand with the ‘Reds under the beds’ message running through the movie, y’know, ‘beware, the enemy looks the same as us’, a theme revisited by several other films of the period.

Anger at having her phone hacked caused Angela Merkel to morph into her true form

Anger at having her phone hacked caused Angela Merkel to morph into her true form

What else we got…? I like the remote-controlled humans, a tell-tale scar on the back of the neck giving them away. It isn’t consistent though, when the Martians dispense with their services they ‘cut’ the signal and the human drops dead. We see this happen when they are captured in the process of trying to assassinate and sabotage key personnel and a rocket (based at the now not so super-secret ‘Plant’) because it will endanger the Martian invasion. It’s a fate that also befalls little Kathy, but off-screen. But when David’s Ma & Pa get caught causing a ruckus nothing happens and we hear they are to go under a surgeon’s scalpel to remove the alien transmitter. Neither do we find out if the operation is a success but then we don’t have to because George & Mary (and everyone else) are alive and well outside dreamland… On the other hand I suppose the film also works as a child’s nightmare, of familiar and comforting things suddenly turned against you. Surely there can be nothing worse as a kid to vividly dream of a parental love reversed and those meant to care for you are now cruel, distant strangers quite happy to see you suffer.

Botox - Martian style

Botox – Martian style

Overall, performances are decent with Erickson’s good bloke/ bad bloke stint a standout (why did Interpol title a song after him?) Helena Carter brings an element of calm class to the action while Arthur Franz’s role never really takes off. That’s because Colonel Fielding Colonel Fielding (Morris Ankrum) storms into the action and takes over the heroic role and astronomy domine Kelston is kind of relegated to just running around behind him until he gets the dame to rescue. Jimmy Hunt is okay but tends toward the shrill on occasion but then I’d expect that of a kid confronted with goggle-eyed muties, alien parents and a shiny green head in a jar. The sight of him in the grip of a mutant, kicking his legs tirelessly in a non-effort to escape is quite funny. Should he really know how to use a Martian ray gun? Doesn’t matter, it’s his dream after all and if Dave can’t be the hero in his own dream then when can he, eh…

The soldiers were mighty impressed by Dave's big red end

The soldiers were mighty impressed by Dave’s big red end

I think if IFM was in b/w it would be more effective, I find the colour gaudy, but that could be down to the disc I watched, if it hasn’t been mastered correctly and all that. Apparently, Menzies had planned to do 3-D but the idea got dropped at some point in the production. It’s interesting because a number of shots look to have a 3D perspective suggesting the process was abandoned quite late on, maybe even after the movie wrapped. Come to think of it, the 3D would probably have suited the dreamy scenario as well…

 

Trailer: http://tinyurl.com/ofret7g

 

Sorry, I can only stump up 2 Little Greenies out of 5

invaders-score

Cheers, folk

ThereWolf, November 2013

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About ThereWolf

I only come out at night... mostly...

35 responses to “Invaders From Mars (1953)”

  1. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I wasn’t crazy about this flick. As with a ton of ’50’s flicks, for me, they end up really dragging at some point, or people get real dumb. I definitely agree about the black n white comment…first the special effects are generally spotty and are more easily covered up using b&w, and the colors they used are usually questionable.

    • ThereWolf says :

      It’s pacy for 20-odd minutes, then we hit stock-footageville and momentum gets stuck in the mud.

      I think if they hadn’t been planning 3-D the movie would’ve gone out in b&w. I guess they had already spent the money on colour and saw no reason to revert to monochrome.

      The colour doesn’t look natural, but in IFM’s case it’s taking place in a kid’s dream so they’ve got a ready-made excuse.

  2. tombando says :

    Never saw this, the twist ending sounds SAD. Typical fodder otherwise, good job.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    never heard of it before. Or if I had i don’t remember at all. Good review Wolf.

  4. Toadkillerdog says :

    Good job wolfie
    I vaguely recall this flick. I am sure I did not enjoy it much

  5. Barfy says :

    Saw this when I was 7 or 8 and had to sleep with my arm in back of my head so they wouldn’t drill my neck. Sorry to hear it doesn’t hold up to adult viewing.
    Somewhere around here I have a copy of Tobe Hooper’s remake. Never watched it though.
    P.S. I liked the Angela Merkel picture and caption.

    • Barfy says :

      P.P.S. Hi Toad and Rufus!

    • ThereWolf says :

      Hey, hey, Barfs!

      Actually, while I was watching the film, I did keep getting a crazy compulsion to scratch the back of my neck…

      Merkel always makes me think of the original ‘V’ series, when the alien commander swallows that guinea pig, or whatever it was. I can just see Merkel retiring to her office, after a heavy day in front of the media, and doing likewise.

      And then I get a ‘like’ off ‘V’! Symmetry or what.

      • Barfy says :

        Thankfully I don’t see Merkel on the news that often but I do remember the scene from “V”. Vividly. Now I’ll never be able to separate the two.
        Good one Wolf.
        Slurp!

  6. kloipy says :

    always great stuff Wolf my friend! I was just thinking about this movie today

  7. Continentalop says :

    Great review Wolf.

    I’ve got to rewatch this. James Cameron, even though an arrogant prick, had an interesting take on this movie, how it’s about how a child experiences a parent’s alcoholism, or some shit like that.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Thank you, Conti.

      That Cameron take rings a bell from somewhere. I did see a documentary on classic sci-fi films awhile ago; he was on it, Spielberg, Lucas, couple of others… wondering if it was on that. Might’ve been a DVD extra, can’t remember…

  8. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Good review There. This series of yours has provided plenty of good nostalgia and continues to do so. To be honest, I saw the remake before the original, although neither is particularly good. The remake’s big scene was a dour, disapproving teacher gobbling down a frog in the biology room while the kid looked on.

    The best parts of both movies played off that fear of what kids don’t know about the adult world. We know something is going on beyond that fence–that question of where adults go when they aren’t with kids (i.e. teachers must live at the school because we don’t see them anywhere else)–but what it is exactly remains a mystery. When it starts having a negative but seemingly random affect on people once trusted, it goes from mysterious to dangerous.

    In that respect, I can appreciate what Cameron is going on about there with the alcoholism issue, but I think the concept is bigger than that and applies to a fear/curiosity of growing up and “understanding” things.

    The mistake with Invaders from Mars is honestly, the invaders themselves. Once you start unwrapping what’s going on, it’s just one more ‘little green men from space” invasion movie.

    A creepier movie might never have ultimately revealed the catalyst for the behavior at all.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Cheers, Echo.

      That’s a good reading of the movie – ‘what kids don’t know about the adult world’ – and very true. Kicking myself now!

      The thing that keeps bugging me about Invaders are the Martians themselves. They have to develop quasi-humans to do the donkey work coz they’re a tentacled head in a jar. Why would evolution on Mars deliver a useless tentacled head in a jar? And why am I even questioning this – it’s all a dream…

  9. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    There, can we put in requests?

    I want to see reviews of Fiend Without a Face and The Land that Time Forgot. Maybe a little Food of the Gods too.

    • ThereWolf says :

      Fiend (a personal fav) & Food are on the list; Land That Time Forgot (which I loved as a kid) – you’re gonna have to convince me it’s Sci-Fi first!

      It’s fantasy… but that doesn’t mean fantasy can’t be sci-fi… too confusing!

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        I’d argue that finding a lost world of dinosaurs and cavemen is every bit as scientific as the rhedosaurus rising up to cause mischief or giant atomic spiders. I mean, it’s wonky science, but it’s not like they find a world of dragons or something. Now if I said Warlords of Atlantis or At the Earth’s Core…

      • ThereWolf says :

        Warlords – no; At The Earth’s Core – yes!

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