Saturday, 20 February 2016

Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)


A sci-fi film with a mixture of comedy and horror that does not take itself too seriously.



Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Produced by Robert J. Gurney Jr., James H. Nicholson
Written by Robert J. Gurney Jr., Al Martin
Based on the short story, "The Cosmic Frame" by Paul W. Fairman
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography: Frederick E. West
Edited by Charles Gross, Ronald Sinclair
Production company: Malibu Productions
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 69 minutes






CAST


Steve Terrell as Johnny Carter
Gloria Castillo as Joan Hayden
Frank Gorshin as Joe Gruen
Raymond Hatton as Larkin
Lyn Osborn as Art
Russ Bender as Doctor
Douglas Henderson as Lt. Wilkins
Sam Buffington as Colonel
Jason Johnson as Detective
Don Shelton as Mr. Hayden
Scott Peters as 1st Soldier
Jan Englund as Waitress
Kelly Thordsen as Sgt. Bruce
Robert Einer as Soda Jerk
Patti Lawler as Irene
Calvin Booth as Paul
Ed Nelson & James Bridges as Boys
Roy Darmour as Sgt. Gordon
Audrey Conti & Joan Dupuis as Girls
Buddy Mason as Policeman
Angelo Rossitto, Floyd Dixon, Dean Neville & Edward Peter Gibbons as Saucer Men



Invasion of the Saucer Men opens with the title and credits appearing with a book entitled, "A true story of a flying saucer." The music is very light-hearted sounding and the book contains cartoon-like sketches and illustrations which set the comical mood or tone of the film.
Spoilers follow.......



The narrator, Artie begins to tell us his story (“I gotta’ play it square with ya’”) as he turns each page of the book. It’s night time right after a rain storm (”spooky, eh?”) in front of the Larkin farm house.

A car drives by on the way to Lover's Point situated on the Larkin property. Old farmer Larkin runs out brandishing a shotgun and grumbles, "I'll get the law after them,"

The local town is called Hicksburg (“scouts’ honour!”) where there’s “nothing much for the young people to do.” A perfect recipe for young people to find things to entertain themselves with, not always approved of by adults of course!





In the diner we see two young adult drifters, Joe Gruen and our narrator Artie Burns, who it is sarcastically observed are “looking forward to a nice game of chess before retiring.” After Joe’s unsuccessful attempt to pick up the waitress, he borrows the car to try his luck elsewhere while Artie decides to walk back to their boarding house. After all, he “wouldn’t want to hold back the wheels of progress, or is it the progress of a big wheel?”




As Joe is driving he suddenly sees a flash of light followed by the landing of a spaceship in a nearby clearing. Joe drives to the clearing, exits the car and approaches the craft.




Back in town at the Soda Shop, a group of teenagers witness the same flash of light. Lt. Wilkins, USAF who has been recruiting for the air force seems to be impressed when one of the teenagers states, “I tell ya’, I saw a flying saucer!”

Joan Hayden and her boyfriend, Johnny have a date, but her father doesn't approve of Johnny. Like many teenagers when told not do something or faced with prohibitions which they see as being unreasonable, Joan lies about who she is seeing.


“Another load of those consarn kids on my property!”


Seeing that “most of the gang’s at Lovers Point,” Joan and Johnny both head off to Lover's Point via old man Larkin's house for a night’s worth of necking before their planned elopement.

A boozy bull named Old Walt, surprises a couple in their car at the Point. The girl screams and her boyfriend throws the bull a can of beer after exclaiming, “You nearly stunted my growth!” (seriously?!)





Meanwhile Joe, having witnessed something at the UFO site, has made it back to the boarding house room. He wakes Artie to tell him that they’ve “hit the jackpot’ and that “this is different: this is big!” He tells Artie that they are going to cash in on their find by having an “exhibition of the only authentic flying saucer.” Far from being impressed, Artie thinks Joe is either drunk or nuts and promptly goes back to sleep.

Lt. Wilkins waits for Col. Ambrose to get dressed before they are to take a group of military personnel to the reported landing site. Ambrose grumbles about the fact that it seems as if “all these saucers wait till night time to make an appearance.” He knows that Wilkins was once a publicist but his main concern is to prevent a “nation-wide panic.” Wilkins is told not inform anyone. Nothing like a dose of adult world secrecy to fan the flames of misinformed speculation. The Colonel then orders Wilkins to get some of his men and have them load their weapons.




As Johnny and Joan drive off to get married, they are almost hit by a military jeep carrying the Air Force personnel due to the fact that the teenagers have been driving with the car’s lights off. Suddenly a flash of lightning and the slippery driving conditions cause the car to hit a small creature that has abruptly darted out in front of their car.

Johnny and Joan get out of the car to investigate. At first Joan thinks that they have hit “a little boy.” A flash of lightning reveals the sight of a small alien body with an oversized cranium. Joan exclaims in horror, “It’s disgusting” and demands, “get me away from here."




The creature's severed hand then creeps over to the front tire of Johnny's car. With its retractable needle claws, it punctures the front tire. Having no spare tire, Johnny and Joan are forced to walk to Larkin’s house and call the police.




When the Air Force arrives at the UFO landing site clearing, the Colonel calls division headquarters to summon engineers: “SOP calls for engineers, not guesses.” Lt. Wilkins has been speculating that the saucer’s presence may help to explain the blue lights that jet pilots have been spotting. He wonders “how many airline crack-ups it’s caused?”




Meanwhile back at the Larkin house, Joan and Johnny let themselves in and use the telephone to call Police Headquarters. The Desk Sergeant does not believe their story, putting it down to “Saturday night, that’s official!” It wouldn’t be the first or last time that young people are not listened to, dismissed or disbelieved out of hand by adults in authority.





A flash of lightning together with a sudden power outage adds to the spooky atmosphere. As Joan goes off to find some candles, she spots something outside staring at her and runs to Johnny in fright. At that moment the lights come back on to reveal Larkin standing at the front doorway wielding his shotgun.

“Consarn hoodlums”


Larkin does not listen to the teenagers’ explanations of why they are in his house. He smells the odour of alcohol and accuses them of drinking. He thinks they are up to no good and warns them that if he sees any of those “smoochin’ kids” they’ll “get their backsides loaded with rock salt!” Larkin then calls the operator and tells her to get the police out to his place.

Later on Joe stops off at the Larkin house while Larkin is out checking on his livestock. He calls Artie at “Watkins 01536” to tell him that he has “proof” about the alien, but Artie does not believe it. Joe tells Artie to clear everything out of the fridge as he's about to bring home something “perishable” which they’ve got to keep “on ice." It almost sounds like Hicksburg is about to have its own little civilian version of Roswell!

But 10 years after Roswell, these aliens have other ideas……



As Joe once again attempts to retrieve the alien’s body, he is jumped by some aliens who were watching and lying in wait for him in the woods. The aliens then repeatedly inject an already half-sozzled Joe with their alcohol venom before carrying his body away. 




As Johnny and Joan approach Johnny's car, they hear a strange pounding sound. They soon discover the source of the sound: an alien doing a spot of what looks like panel beating on the car. Of course it is assumed that the aliens are stupid and primitive and are furious at the car and hold it responsible for killing their comrade. Oh Johnny, it’s the aliens who are interstellar travellers, not humans! Who’s dumb? Kids!

“Go ahead corporal, fire a few rounds.”

Back at the UFO landing site, the USAF personnel do their military thing: surround the craft, inform its occupants that they are in fact surrounded (“We have you surrounded!”) by yelling at them with a bullhorn and then indignantly but futilely firing off a few rounds at the craft when they dare to have the effrontery not to respond to the hails.

Now remember kids, if you come across something you don’t understand and yelling at it or throwing things at it doesn’t produce the required results, then there’s nothing else for it but to…….


…..Cut it with open with an acetylene torch!


“Did you ever hear such a cock ‘n bull story?”


Meanwhile, the police have loaded Joe's body into an ambulance. The Detective takes Johnny's statement and he describes the alien as being “all green, except his head.” The detective assumes that Joan and Johnny are drunk and so he gives Johnny a field sobriety test: “I want you to blow up this balloon.”




The detective and the doctor are disgusted by what seems to them a very callous response to the killing of a person. Added to this is the strong odour of alcohol as well as Johnny’s puzzling determination to leave: "For a guy who has committed a serious crime, you're awfully anxious to get to the police station."

At police headquarters the detective, after having finished typing up the report, hands it to Johnny to read and sign. Johnny realizes that instead of being a report, it really amounts to being a confession to murder. Joan then pipes up and plays the ‘her father, the city attorney’ card. The detective, however has already called her father.

When Mr. Hayden, the city attorney arrives he tells his daughter that he'll try to get her out of trouble, but that “young punk” and “rough neck” Johnny is on his own. 


“The man you killed is a nobody”

Joan’s father is about to give is daughter another of life’s really ‘valuable’ moral lessons. When they go down to the morgue to identify the body and see that it is Joe Gruen, Johnny exclaims, "I didn't run over this man!" Hayden then tells Johnny and Joan, "Now get this, both of you. We're lucky in one respect. The man you killed is a nobody. There will be only one person interested in the charges brought against you. That's his room-mate."

Back at the UFO site, engineers are trying to cut the craft open with acetylene torches. Suddenly, the metal skin of the craft ignites and the craft explodes.

At Police Headquarters Johnny works out that the aliens have been planning to frame him for Joe's murder. He and Joan conclude that they need more evidence so they exit the room they are in via an open window and purloin the police detective's car.

Johnny and Joan drive back to Johnny's car and as they search the surrounding woods, unknown to them they are being observed by the aliens. As they walk back to the police car, the severed alien hand enters the car through an open back window and plops down onto the back seat.




As Johnny and Joan drive off, Joan is feeling a bit chilly, so she reaches back to close the back window. As she does so, the alien hand inches its way up the back seat towards her. Joan suddenly catches sight of the menacing needle-brandishing digits of the hand, screams, jumps out of the car with Johnny and closes the door thereby trapping the freakish phalangeal fiend. The teenagers now have their evidence and all they need now is a credible witness…….Artie.


Artie’s belief or lack thereof in the teens’ story is best summed up by his observation: "Killed by little green men? That is the craziest story I've ever heard," They then plead with him to call the police to verify their story. The police sergeant informs Artie that his roommate Joe was killed and they are looking for the boy and girl who it is believed had killed him and that they have indeed managed to escape custody.



In the meantime, a stoush has erupted between Larkin's inebriated bull and a bad-tempered alien spoiling for a fight. The bull manages to give a good account of himself by gouging one of the alien’s bulbous eye balls. However, the bull loses the pub brawl when the alien hypodermically harpoons him with its needle-like claws sending the beast into a kind of alcohol-laden coma.



Armed with a camera and a gun, Artie, Johnny and Joan depart in Joan’s cantankerous old heap of a car which she has christened…..Elvis! It gets worse with jokes about girls needing an extra mirror and the old car still being able to pant and shimmy! I kid you not. As if we need any kind of comedic relief from tension at any point in this film! Anything that makes 21st Century audiences cringe has to be good though.

When the three arrive back at the police car, we find the aliens engaging in a bit of breaking and entering in order to get their dead compatriot’s animated body part. After the aliens clear off, Johnny, Joan, and Artie notice the hand on the floor board of the car. Artie manages to take a picture with his flashbulb camera, just as the hand evaporates in a cloud of smoke. No-one in town will believe the teenagers, but they will have to pay attention to a witness like Artie.

As the trio begin to drive back to town, Joan's car battery starts to go through its death throes. The aliens advance towards their car and it isn’t long before they conclude that “bullets don’t hurt them” but instead “It’s the light that hurts them.”


The car battery has finally shuffled off its electro-magnetic coil and as a consequence, the aliens advance menacingly yet again. As Artie runs for it, he is attacked and injected. Armed with only the camera, Johnny and Joan use its flashbulb to keep the aliens at bay while they make their escape.

Calling from Larkin's farm. Johnny tells the police that they are ready to surrender. However, he is told that he is no longer wanted for murder because Joe died of heart failure due to his blood's dangerously high alcohol content and that Joan's father has taken care of all the legal matters. With no help forthcoming from the police, where else can they turn? The “gang at Lover's Point, that’s where.


Eventually Johnny and Joan, together with a few carloads of their friends, drive off to a clearing to which the aliens are conveying Artie's body. The teens plan to surround the clearing and when a signal is given, to turn on their car lights. When they arrive, the plan is put into action and the aliens sizzle and evaporate until they all disappear. Artie wakes up and is obviously very drunk. Johnny concludes that the aliens inject their victims with alcohol but if the victim is already drunk then the result is death.

After grumpy old Larkin arrives on the scene, blasting rock salt into the air and telling the kids to get off his property, Artie finishes his narrative, (of course as he’s being helped by two lovely young ladies!):


"So that's my story. Johnny and Joan helped me remember a little of it. But I wrote it you understand. A true story? Well that's the nice thing about all this book writing business. You pay before you read."


An alien hand then closes the book followed by a scream.

Points of Interest


Invasion of the Saucer men taps in to the UFO hysteria phenomenon and Cold War paranoia at the time which led many to fear threats from un-American alien forces of destruction. A nice healthy environment in which to grow up! Not!




Despite the film seeming to be pitched at a young audience, it becomes apparent that in its own way it sets about delivering a punch to society’s nose when it comes to how young people are often viewed and treated. Also up for examination is the kind of negative modelling that adults can sometimes give young people.


In the case of Joe and Artie, we have a couple of adult figures who can’t see anything beyond the next big scheme, the next opportunity to make a quick buck, not realizing that they are just a couple of losers with big dreams and no talent with which to achieve those dreams. For them, “this town’s a cinch for a quick buck.” Look and learn young people….


“(They) think we’re drunk or crazy just ‘coz we’re young.”


That 20th Century invention of the “teenager” or “adolescent” has often proved to be a curse for many young people so labelled over the last few decades. Such labels often tend to have negative connotations in the minds of adults: Drug-taking, binge drinking, gangs, anti-social activities and so the negative assumptions about young people pile up.

“After all, we’re just crazy kids.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise when people decide to act in the very way they are perceived or expected to behave. While many young people do display anti-social behaviours, the overwhelming majority of adolescents are well-adjusted and decent young people who respond well to respect given to them by adults; who thrive on praise and being paid due attention to; who need to take risks in order to grow; who need to be given responsibility; who love to have fun in life and learn best when they are having fun. After all, the health of any society is determined by how it values and treats both its elderly and its youth.

The whole affair surrounding the death of Joe, brings up three interesting points concerning the effect that the adult world can have on the ethical and moral development of the young as well as on young people’s view of their role and place in society;

1. The ease with which a young person’s testimony can be ignored, disregarded and disbelieved, based on prejudice and preconceived notions concerning their trustworthiness.

2. How labels can be so easily applied to people as a way of demonising them and avoiding any kind of fair, considered and deeper appraisal of their thoughts, actions and motives.

3. Young people learn quickly from adults, even to the extent of picking up a distorted ethical and moral framework. For instance, how easily recourse can be made to the use of parental influence to clear up any real or perceived negative actions on the part of their offspring. Although it is right and proper to have the support of one’s family in times of strife as in Joan’s case, at some point in other normal instances, young people need to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Joan’s father ought to have extended his assistance to Johnny as a matter of fairness and justice in the circumstances. He failed to provide a sound ethical and moral lesson to his own daughter.


In addition, when Joan’s father refers to Joe as just being a nobody, it raises the argument that if he were a somebody, that would make all the difference! What value does a human life have? How does the act of killing someone whether or not accidentally vary in accordance with the victim’s perceived status and whether or not one can sweep it under the carpet or get away with it? Hope you’re listening kids and taking it all in!




Frank Gorshen who plays Joe Gruen we recognize from his role as The Ridler in the Batman TV series and his standout role in the 1969 Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," in which he played a character with a half black and half white face....or was it a half white and half black face? Does it really matter? That was the whole point!



Speaking of stand-outs, we cannot forget The Saucer Men characters in the film who were a creation of make-up and effects genius, Paul Blaisdell. Their huge bulbous eyes and giant vein-covered bald heads helped to define our cultural understanding of what constitutes alien life, namely our notions of what "little, green men" look like. Who does the alien Morbo in the animated series Futurama remind you of? Or indeed the creatures in the film, Mars Attacks!?


Paul Blaisdell's flying saucer was also used in the opening scene of The Outer Limits episode, “Controlled Experiment.” (1964)

Even the film’s plot has been a major influence on successive sci-fi films like, The Blob.


“Our job is to prevent a possible nation-wide panic by keeping the information from the public.”


Of relevance even (especially?) today is the way the film briefly deals with the idea of governments hiding information from the public. Witness how Colonel Ambrose bulldozes evidence of aliens right into the ground to hide information from the public who have the right to know that they are under threat by those very beings. The colonel even declares to Lt. Wilkins, “makes you proud….being part of a show like this.” Lt. Wilkins then suggests that “there might be other units covering up other things” and as far as the “good job” they have done, they can get some sleep and “read about a jet crash in tomorrow’s papers.”
Makes you proud, indeed and….makes you think……





©Chris Christopoulos 2016


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Tribute To Peter Graves


"My career had been built on the solid, straightforward, honest, hard-working guy,"

Peter Duesler Aurness 

(March 18, 1926 – March 14, 2010)


Peter Graves was an American film and television actor who was best known for his role as Jim Phelps in the CBS television series Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973 and from 1988 to 1990. His elder brother was actor James Arness (1923–2011) who we saw as the alien in The Thing from Another World and as the star of the television series Gunsmoke. We also know Graves for his portrayal of airplane pilot Captain Clarence Oveur in the 1980 film Airplane! (Flying High) and the 1982 sequel Airplane II: The Sequel.



Family Background


Peter Graves was the son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a businessman, and his wife Ruth, a journalist. Graves' ancestry was Norwegian, German, and English.

The family name originally was "Aursnes," but Rolf's Norwegian father, Peter Aursnes, changed the spelling when he immigrated to New York City in 1887.

To avoid confusion with his older brother, James Arness, Peter adopted the stage name "Graves", a maternal family name.



Education & Military Service


Graves graduated from Southwest High School in 1944.

During World War II, Peter and his brother, James Arness joined the US Army. Arness was an infantryman and was wounded in the battle of Anzio, Italy, while Graves was posted to the then Army Air Force which later became a separate branch of the US military.

Peter then enrolled at the University of Minnesota on the ‘G.I. Bill,’ or The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, a law that provided benefits for returning World War II veterans. At University, he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.


Acting Career


Peter Graves appeared in more than seventy films, television shows, and television movies throughout his career.

In 1955, Graves appeared in the NBC television series Fury, as the rancher, Jim Newton.

Graves featured in the 1953 World War II film, Stalag 17.

From 1960-61 Graves starred as leading character, Christopher Cobb in the TV series Whiplash. His character was an American who came to Australia in the 1850s to establish the country's first stagecoach line. His trademark weapon to fight the bad guys was the bull-whip instead of a gun.

Graves went on to star in the British made ITC series Court Martial playing U.S. Army Lawyer Major Frank Whittaker. He then had guest roles in such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66 and The Invaders.




In 1967, Graves replaced Steven Hill as the lead actor on Mission: Impossible. Graves portrayed the character of James Phelps, a role for which he is best remembered by Baby-boomers like me.

After the Mission Impossible series ended in 1973, Graves had roles in a feature film, Sidecar Racers in 1975; the soap opera Class of 74; and in the 1983 the ABC miniseries, The Winds of War as Palmer Kirby. 




Suddenly the serious, “solid, straightforward, honest, hard-working guy” transformed into the character Captain Clarence Oveur in the early 80s comedy films, Airplane! and Airplane II: The Sequel. The earnest dead-pan demeanour of his earlier characters was now used to comedic effect.

1988 saw the creation of a new Mission: Impossible series with Graves in his old role as James Phelps and being the only cast member from the original series to return as a regular. This series lasted for two seasons, ending in 1990.

During the 1990s, Peter Graves hosted and narrated the documentary series Biography. Graves later parodied his Biography work in the film Men in Black II, in which his character hosted an exposé television show. He also played Colonel John Camden on the television series 7th Heaven.




On October 30, 2009, Graves was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In that year he was featured in an AirTran Airways video campaign promotion appearing in what else, but a pilot's uniform topped off with Airplane! references.

In 2009 Graves signed on as a spokesman for reverse mortgage lender American Advisors Group, appearing in a national commercial in which he marketed reverse mortgages.

Graves' final project was narrating the computer game epic Darkstar: The Interactive Movie, released November 5, 2010.


Death


After returning from a brunch on March 14, 2010, Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 83, just four days before his 84th birthday.

Awards

Golden Globe Award in 1971 for his role as Jim Phelps in the series Mission: Impossible.

Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1997 as host of Biography.


Filmography


Up Front (1951)
Fort Defiance (1951)
The Congregation (1952)
Red Planet Mars (1952)
Stalag 17 (1953)
War Paint (1953)
East of Sumatra (1953)
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)
Killers from Space (1954)
The Yellow Tomahawk (1954)
The Raid (1954)
Black Tuesday (1954)
Fort Yuma (1955)
The Long Gray Line (1955)
Robbers' Roost (1955)
Wichita (1955)
Fury TV Series (1955 - 1960)
The Naked Street (1955)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
It Conquered the World (1956)
Hold Back the Night (1956)
Canyon River (1956)
Beginning of the End (1957)
Bayou (1957)
Death in Small Doses (1957)
Wolf Larsen (1958)
A Stranger in My Arms (1959)
Whiplash (1959–60)
A Rage to Live (1965)
Texas Across the River (1966)
Branded (1966) Senator Keith Ashley in "The Assassins" (2 episodes)
The Ballad of Josie (1967)
Mission: Impossible (1967-1973)
Mission: Impossible vs. the Mob (1968) (compilation of both parts of the two-part Mission: Impossible episode "The Council" re-edited and released to European theatres)
Sergeant Ryker (1968)
The Five Man Army (1969)
The President's Plane is Missing (1973 TV movie)


Before there was a Jim Phelps, leader of the Impossible Missions Force who always chose to accept dangerous undercover assignments!




Before there were tapes that self-destructed in a matter of seconds!



Before there was a Captain Oveur who invited young boys into his plane’s cockpit and enquired, “Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

OR


THERE WAS………

Graves the astronomer, Chris Cronyn in Red Planet Mars (1952), married to an eye-rolling-around-the sockets-McCarthyite-right wing-fundamentalist-Christian-crazy person wife: In this science fiction film. Graves’ character receives messages from Mars which suggest that it is from a utopian society. But is this all the work of Soviet agents who are bent on destroying the freedom of the US? Find out by reading my blog post on Red Planet Mars 

Graves the scientist, Dr. Douglas P. Martin in Killers from Space (1954) who is killed in a plane crash but is resurrected by an alien race so that they may acquire the information necessary for them to take over the Earth. Will they succeed? Find out by watching the film on this blog’s Sci-Fi Screen Gem’s Page.

Graves the scientist, Dr Nelson in It Conquered the World (1956) in which Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), makes contact with Zontar, a Venusian creature whose secret aim is to take complete control of the Earth by enslaving humanity using mind control devices. Zontar claims it only wants to bring peace to the earth by eliminating all emotions. Anderson agrees to help the creature but his friend Dr. Nelson tries to persuade him that he has made a terrible mistake in placing his trust in Zontar. Will he be successful? Find out by reading my blog post on It Conquered the World

Graves as lab research director, Dr Ed Wainwright in Beginning of the End (1957). He, together with news photo journalist Audrey Ames, battle giant locusts that have been accidently enlarged by the scientist's experimenting with radioactive material at an agricultural research project run by the Department of Agriculture. What will be the outcome of this battle? Find out by reading my blog post on Beginning of the End.



Speech from It Conquered the World

(Spoiler Alert!!!)


While there's still a Peter Graves on film, it’s……
Never over, Oveur!




©Chris Christopoulos 2016