|It Came from Outer Space, 1953. Directed by Jack
Arnold. Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake.
This was the third film in my "Fifties Sci-Fi Trilogy," after Forbidden Planet and The War of the Worlds. Seeing it again was enormously entertaining. The last time I saw It Came from Outer Space was in a college auditorium wearing a pair of cardboard 3-D glasses. I wish I could relive that. Seeing it with an audience in its original form was a pure delight. Watching it again on video was fun, too.
A meteor comes screaming out of the sky and lands in the Arizona desert. A local astronomer sees it fall and goes to investigate, only to discover that the meteor is actually a ship. It becomes buried in a land slide. The astronomer attempts to warn the community, but he is taken for a crackpot. Meanwhile, the aliens begin to inflitrate the town in the shape of kidnapped townsfolk. When the astronomer finally convinces the authorities that there are aliens among us, the aliens reveal themselves to him as peaceful visitors, trying to get home. It's too late, though, since the astronomer has already fuelled the fires of xenophobia and paranoia...
It Came from Outer Space is one of the most coolly rational of the science fiction films of the fifties. It sets up an expected storyline, and then actively subverts it. The Red Scare aspect of the film is defused and laid bare by a merciless twist of the tale. This in itself is striking, but even more interesting is the fact that it subverts the cliches of the fifties science fiction film BEFORE they became cliches. This film is remarkably prescient or remarkably influential or both (I think it is both). Most of the credit for this, I suspect, can be laid at the feet of screenwriter Ray Bradbury (the film is actually credited to one Harry Essex, but they aren't fooling anyone). Between this film and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Bradbury lays a strong claim as the literary godfather of sci-fi movies. Richard Carlson gives a strong performance as our hero and director Jack Arnold is smart enough to populate the supporting cast with excellent character actors. The imagery is strong too, set against the Arizona desert with its brooding vistas and Joshua trees. It certainly has some of the best aliens ever conceived--they are TRULY alien. The film ends with a more humane version of Howard Hawks's "Keep Watching the Skies," as Carlson's character declares that "It just wasn't our time to meet, but there will be other nights and other stars to watch." Which is one of the more hopeful endings in science fiction movies if you stop to think about it.