It Came From Outer Space

Year: 1953

Production: Universal

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake

Screenwriter: Harry Essex

Based on a screen treatment by Ray Bradbury

80 minutes; B/W

This is the first sf film by Arnold who later became a striking, often brilliant, fantasy director. Producer William Alland, who was Orson Welles' protege at the Mercury Theater, played the newsreel reporter in Citizen Kane (1941). Based on a screen treatment, The Meteor by Ray Bradbury, Essex's script features aliens crash-landing on Earth in a ship that looks like a meteorite. The familiar figure of the unworldly astronomer (Carlson) witnesses the event in true H.G. Wells' style , but when he tries to tell his fellow human beings about the appearance of the aliens no-one will believe him. The aliens are helped by the fact that they are invisible and are able to replace local people with alien doubles, who behave in a similar manner to the originals with some slight differences, including a zombie-like stare when the doubles are not in the company of other human beings. The alines have merely stopped off on Earth because their spaceship has broken down and they need human beings as mechanics. The repair work is slow and the aliens need more nad more humans to help them and, as a result, the doubles proliferate. Eventually the locals decide to take direct action against the stranded aliens and attempt to destroy them but Carlson, having discovered that the aliens mean no harm to the world, protects them in the final confrontation. When the spaceship is repaired the aliens take off for outer space, having returned the missing citizens and reclaimed their doubles. From this perspective the film can be seen as an optimistic version of The Man from Planet X (1951).

Dark desert roads and sudden moments of fear underline Arnold's ability as a director of sf films, and Essex's/Bradbury's lines match his images superbly. "You see lakes and rivers that aren't really there, and sometimes you think the wind gets into the wires and sings to itself." The film was shot in 3-D but still works when shown "flat". One of the art directors, Robert Boyle, was a Hitchcock "regular" and worked on The Bird (1963).

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