Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The War of the Worlds (1953)

A classic

Director: Byron Haskin
Producer: George Pal
Screenplay: Barré Lyndon
Based on The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Narrator: Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Music: Leith Stevens
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: Everett Douglas
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 85 minutes
Budget: $2 million


Gene Barry: (Dr. Clayton Forrester)
Ann Robinson: (Sylvia Van Buren)
Les Tremayne: (Maj. Gen. Mann)
Robert Cornthwaite: (Dr. Pryor)
Sandro Giglio: (Dr. Bilderbeck)
Lewis Martin: (Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins)
Houseley Stevenson Jr.: ( Gen. Mann's aide)
Paul Frees: (Second Radio Reporter / Opening Announcer)
William Phipps: (Wash Perry)
Vernon Rich: (Col. Ralph Heffner)
Henry Brandon: (Cop at Crash Site)
Jack Kruschen: (Salvatore)
Cedric Hardwicke: (Commentary voice)
Charles Gemora: (the Martian)
Gertrude W. Hoffmann: (Elderly Woman News Vendor) 



The War of the Worlds begins with a tour of the hostile environment of each world of our solar system, leading to an explanation as to why the Martians would cast a longing eye on our planet hanging temptingly in the black void like a delicious blue and green kind of fruit, ripe for consumption. We learn from the narration that Mars is “in the last stages of exhaustion” and that the Martian civilisation is “searching for another world” to migrate to and that we have been “scrutinized and studied” by them for that very reason.

The story is set in early 1950s southern California where we find a Manhattan Project scientist, Dr. Clayton Forrester happily engaged in a fishing trip with his colleagues at Pine Summit when a large meteorite-like object crash lands near the town of Linda Rosa.

At the impact site, Forrester meets the distinctively stunning Sylvia Van Buren and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins. He concludes that the object that crashed appears to be far lighter than can be accounted for by its large size.  So, we know that there is something unnaturally peculiar about the object. Not only that anomaly, but it is also radioactive which spells danger! This strange feeling of discrepancy contrasts with the initial picnic-like atmosphere at the impact site where we see kids and dogs running around and pictures being taken. There are those who would consider setting the object up as an attraction and that it would be “a goldmine in our backyard.” As the object is too hot to examine closely, Forrester decides to wait in town overnight for it to cool down. Three men are left behind to guard the crash site.

Later that evening, we witness a hatch on top of the object unscrewing excruciatingly slowly and falling away to reveal the emergence of a pulsating, mechanical, cobra-shaped head attached to the end of a long flexible neck. Notice how as this is happening, the three men physically withdraw by leaning further away and stepping back equally slowly. The three guards, however, do decide to approach with a neighbourly.“Welcome to California” and bolster their courage with the assumption that waving a white flag is a universal symbol of peace.  Far from recognising this gesture as a sign of peaceful intentions, the cobra-head fixes them in its sights and fires a heat-ray, vaporizing the three guards, thereby ending their short-lived careers as would-be ambassadors for humanity.

The Martian’s power and malice extends further with the cutting of the power to Linda Rosa. Strong magnetic effects are noticed with the magnetizing and consequent stopping of people's watches. It seems like the object is creating a strong magnetic field as indicated by the compass pointing away from magnetic north and in the direction of the crash site. Forrester and the sheriff are confronted by the Martian equivalent of a no-trespassing sign when they almost have their eyebrows singed off by the Martian heat-ray when they decide to investigate the weird happenings.

Meanwhile, other meteorite-ships have been landing throughout the world. It is decided that the US military should surround the original landing site. It is not long before three large manta ray-shaped vehicles rise from site and begin to slowly and menacingly advance. As this is happening, Pastor Collins, full of peace and goodwill but short on good sense, approaches the three alien craft, reciting Psalm 23 while holding his Bible aloft. Seeming to take their cue from Revelations, the Martians smite him instantly!

The large salivating Marine force surrounding the landing site unleashes enough destructive fire power to rival the power of the trumpets that blew down the walls of Jericho. It is all to no avail though as each Martian machine is protected by an impenetrable force field. The Martians then retaliate by using their heat rays forcing the puny humans to retreat with their tails between their legs.

In Los Angeles, military leaders meet to brief reporters, devise a counter attack defence plan and prepare for an evacuation of major cities that will be threatened by the Martians.

While all of this was happening, Forrester and Van Buren have managed to escape in a small plane, but later crash land, after avoiding colliding with other Martian war machines. They take refuge in an abandoned farmhouse but are trapped inside when (luck would have it!) one of the alien ships crash-lands, half-burying the farmhouse and rudely interrupting what looks to be a very delicious meal of fried eggs.

Eventually, a Martian electronic eye attached to a long, flexible cable snakes its way into the ruined farmhouse's interior but soon withdraws after its inspection fails to find anything. This incident is followed by a lone Martian whose presence is registered in a study of terror when it places its hand on Van Buren’s shoulder. Just watch her eyes and reaction to this! Forrester, Viking-like, wields an axe and spoils that Martian’s entire day, as well as severing the thick, long cable of the electronic eye which had since reappeared.  He then saves a sample of the Martian blood on Van Buren's scarf as well as the electronic eye’s camera housing.  Forrester and Van Buren manage to escape as the Martian craft machine destroys the farmhouse. 

Forrester and Van Buren eventually meet up with Forrester's co-workers at Pacific Tech in Los Angeles. The retrieved blood sample and the electronic eye's optics enable the scientists to determine critical facts about the Martians’ physiology. Firstly, the Martian creatures would lose an arm-wrestling competition with us as they are comparatively physically weaker than humans. Secondly, they need a course of iron tablets as they have anaemic blood.

The only ace up the military’s sleeve that seems to be left is to make use of atomic weapons. To this end, a United States Air Force Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing bomber (a real treat to be able to see these old planes in the air even if it’s just on film!) unloads an atomic bomb on the three original Martian machines. Even the most destructive weapon ever conceived by humanity’s warped and evil genius has no effect, due to the protective impenetrable force fields surrounding the machines. The Martians happily continue along their piece of the path toward global destruction while orders are given for the immediate evacuation of the city. 

It is determined that the entire Earth can be conquered in just…..significantly and ironically…. six days……..

With all seeming to be lost!
With humanity finding itself helpless against the Martians!
With Los Angeles under attack and reduced to burning ruins!
What is to be the fate of humanity?
To just wait for the inevitable end?
Find out by watching the epic battle for survival in…..

The War of the Worlds

War Of The Worlds Radio Broadcast 1938

Points of Interest:  

(Spoilers beyond this point)

This film version of The War Of The Worlds is not a literal presentation or interpretation of the H.G. Welles classic story. It nevertheless does it justice and it was a sensible decision to make it relevant for a 20th century audience. The 2005 remake starring Tom Cruise was also a good move for a 21st. century audience. However, it takes a special something for a film like George Pal’s 1953 film to resonate with film viewers and be considered as a classic after 60 years. Remember, this film was made long, long before the current age of CGI effects.

The film opens with a prologue in black and white and abruptly switches to Technicolor during the opening title sequence. This clearly takes the viewer into the modern brave new world of “terrible weapons” and the creations of science that menace mankind. This is a new age unlike anything experienced in our past.

The California city of Corona was used to depict the town of Linda Rosa. In addition, Los Angeles’ St. Brendan's Catholic Church, was used as the church where a large group of desperate people gather to pray in the film. It is one of the scenes where the tension is palpable as we witness and feel for the surviving populace huddling in the church as buildings crash and burn around them.

Departing from the stereotypical flying saucer shape of UFOs, The Martian craft were designed to be sinister-looking machines shaped something like a cross between a manta ray and a swan hovering above the ground. The total effect is that the machines are both beautiful and terrifying. They move slowly and gracefully as if alive but more significantly, they move in a menacing, implacable and calculating manner. 

Each Martian machine is equipped with an articulated metal neck which in turn has a cobra-like head attached to it, containing a single electronic eye that serves as both a periscope and an energy weapon. Notice how the "eye" seems to exude cruelty as peers down on the puny priest, as if studying a microscopic specimen which it is about to exterminate once it has completed its examination. 

The sound effects for the green ‘skeleton beam’ and heat ray rays was created by making use of such things as violins and cellos, striking a high tension cable with a hammer and mixing the sound of electric guitars being recorded backwards. The Martian's scream in the farmhouse ruins was created by mixing the sound of a microphone being scraped along dry ice, combining this with a woman's recorded scream and then reverse-playing it. 

In the original HG Wells' novel, walking tripods featured as the alien preferred mode of transport. For the film, an attempt was made to make the Martian machines appear to float in the air on three invisible legs by making use of downward lights added directly under the moving Martian machines. Due to technical difficulties, this effect only appears on one of the first machines rising from the Martian's landing site. In other scenes, three invisible leg beams create small, sparking flare-ups where they come into contact with the ground.

I previously mentioned the scene when the Martian crept up behind Van Buren and clamped its sucker-like fingers on her shoulder. I referred to this as a study in terror. Notice how she freeze-pauses and then only her amazing eyes react to the alien’s touch. This is then followed be her slowly turning her head around and staring in horror at the violating alien digits. It takes a few slow seconds for Van Buren to comprehend what has happened. Far from being a wooden character, the Van Buren character has an amazingly beautiful and expressive face that easily reflects her emotional states throughout the film. Earlier we see the realisation of what has happened slowly dawn on her face when she is in Forrester’s arms after the plane crash. In the farmhouse, when the Martian electronic eye on its long neck snakes its way closer to the besieged couple, we are drawn to Van Buren’s beautiful terror-stricken eyes, as her eyeballs slowly swivel around, followed by her head in the direction of the sinister serpent-like surveillance device. Later, her terror is palpable as she stares into the Martian lens at the lab. It is as if her face and eyes have become one of the main vehicles in the film with which to convey the story’s sense of fear and terror. 

Dr. Clayton Forrester may appear to be a wooden character at times, but he seems to be more like an island of calm and good sense in a surrounding sea of surging emotions, panic and hysteria. In a time of prolific smoking, he declines an offer of a cigarette with a “no, I don’t smoke.” This man is no sheep who moves with the flock. Instead of jumping to wild conclusions about the presence of the strange object, such as its being “an enemy sneak attack,” he employs reason and the scientific method to determine its nature and purpose. For instance, Forrester concludes that the facts don’t add up about the object and how it came to land considering its size and the impact it made. This suggests to him that it must be both hollow and light. Later on he uses science and observation to determine that the object is responsible for their watches being magnetised and he uses a compass to locate from which direction the magnetic disturbance originates. Forrester also theorises that the Martian’s ray disrupts the atomic structure of matter and they can generate atomic force to power their rays.

In addition to Forrester’s use of science and reason, we have the military’s method of dealing with threats. The army in the film make extensive use of trying to know one’s enemy and his tactics by utilizing observation and intelligence and formulating a plan of attack and defence based on that. As a result of this, the military have been able to determine that the Martians are “working to some kind of plan” and that they employ their craft in “groups of three joined magnetically.” Unfortunately, the army has underestimated their enemy and assume that with their “newest weapons” that they “can blast them right off the earth.”

In contrast to both Forrester and the army, we have Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins and his attempt to deal with the presence of the “beings from another world.” This is best summed up when he tells the general, “Shouldn’t you try to communicate with them first and shoot later if you have to?”  For Pastor Collins, it is more important to “try to make them understand that we mean them no harm.” The fatal flaw with this once again lies with an assumption: “It they are more advanced than us, they should be nearer to God.” I think deep down inside he realises this when he says to his niece, “I like that Dr. Forrester, he’s a good man.” This sounds like a good-bye as all he has is his faith as he is about to “walk through the Shadow of Death” unafraid of the “evil” he is about to meet, armed only with his bible, the symbol of his faith and the word of his God.

What kind of hope and faith is left to the world when even a representative of God and universal peace is obliterated? For the military it is the “latest thing in nuclear fission” but when a device of evil fails to defeat a force of evil, what then? Forester and his colleagues are told, “Our best hope lies with what you can develop to help us. Forrester concludes that “we’ve got to beat them if we can’t beat their machines” which for he and his team means the “biological approach.”

As the scientists evacuate, they become separated during the widespread panic among the fleeing populace. Humanity shows its worst face as a rioting mob steals Pacific Tech group’s trucks and destroys their essential equipment. The scene showing the man with the suitcase full of money who tries to buy his way onto a truck during the evacuation of Los Angeles, demonstrates what happens when hope and faith appear to be lost. Desperation and personal survival can become the order of the day when people are placed under stress and live in fear in a world where “you can’t buy a ride for love or money” anymore. Rob people of their sense of security and well-being and the veneer of civilisation could soon crumble.

Forrester knows exactly what one certain person will do in the face of civilisation’s impeding demise when he declares to the two military policemen on the deserted streets of LA, “She’s kinda lost but I think I know where she’ll be.” He eventually finds Van Buren in a church and as this last edifice of faith crumbles from the alien onslaught, we find both Forrester and Van Buren clinging to each other in the final act of faith and hope; their love for each other. Right at that point there is a crash and everything goes silent. The silence itself is almost as shocking as the previous noise of destruction.

The excruciatingly slow emergence of the alien presence earlier in the film signalled the hostile intent of the Martians. Now at the end of the film, we witness the equally slow emergence of a Martian’s hand and arm as it gradually inches its way out of the crash craft’s opening. Is the Martian somehow appealing for help as its life gradually ebbs away? Or is this simply a dramatic device to show the effect of the bacteria on the invader?

The ending of The War of the Worlds neatly fuses together the scientific and the religious / faith-based views so far presented in the film in the final outcome. For someone like Forrester, the Martians’ demise can be explained by them having “no resistance to bacteria.” The alternative view is that they “were all praying for a miracle” and they were saved “by the brilliant things that God in his wisdom had put upon this earth.”

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning an Oscar in the category Special Effects and was later selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress being deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.

No doubt there will be other remakes of The War of the Worlds in the future, but I am sure they will all in some way pay homage to both George Pal’s brilliant screen sci-fi masterpiece and to the brilliance and timelessness of Mr. Wells’ original concept and story.

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Invaders from Mars 1953

Adjust your point of view
and enjoy!

Director: William Cameron Menzies
Producer: Edward L. Alperson Jr.
Writer: John Tucker Battle, Richard Blake
Music: Raoul Kraushaar
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editor: Arthur Roberts
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Running time: 77 minutes
Budget: $290,000 approx. 


Jimmy Hunt (David Maclean)
Helena Carter (Dr. Pat Blake, MD)
Arthur Franz (Dr. Stuart Kelston)
Morris Ankrum (Col. Fielding)
Leif Erickson (George MacLean)
Hillary Brooke (Mary MacLean)
Max Wagner (Sgt. Rinaldi)
Milburn Stone (Capt. Roth)
Janine Perreau as Kathy Wilson
Barbara Billingsley (Secretary)
Bert Freed (Police Chief)
Robert Shayne (Professor Wilson)
Luce Potter (Martian Intelligence)
Clifford Dove (Martian Mutant) 



Invaders from Mars begins with strident, serious martial music and a backdrop consisting of planets and stars. A narrator asks us to ponder what sorts of life forms inhabit these planets and states that such matters have been the concern of “scientists of all ages.”

The story of Invaders from Mars is told from the point of view of a boy, young astronomy buff, David MacLean who is awakened at 4.40am by a thunderstorm and is stunned to witnesses from his bedroom window a large flying saucer descend and disappear into a sand pit not far from his parents’ home.

Just prior to this incident, David’s parents are awakened by his alarm clock going off at 4.00am because David wishes to be up to view a particular nebula. Interestingly enough, David’s mother, Mary says to her husband, “you’ve been dreaming” when he decides to get up and check on his son. Is the viewer being set up for something here?

When David’s scientist father, George goes to check on his son, he tries to reassure him by stating, “you were dreaming” and “this is all your imagination.” This reinforces what George’s wife has just said to him and sets the viewer up with what the nature of the  film’s story is. At any rate, George gives his son the benefit of the doubt and proceeds to investigate his David’s claim about seeing a saucer land. After all, we learn that he works at a “plant” that conducts activities which are “secret,” that there are “rumours” and that he “can’t talk about it.””

George goes to investigate David's claim the next morning and mysteriously disappears. While George is missing, David's mother, Mary calls the police. The two policemen who arrive begin to investigate and are soon swallowed up by the sand in the backyard. 

When George and the policemen return much later in the morning, he seems to have acquired a red puncture mark on the back of his neck and he is behaving in an oddly cold and uncharacteristically hostile manner. Note the close-up on George’s face. We immediately know something is wrong just by his expression, coupled with his savage tone of voice and his abrupt and rude manner. When he strikes his son, it is like a bolt out of the blue and we almost feel it as much as David does. 
Notice too, how the return of the two policemen immediately confirms what has happened to George merely by their stance and facial expressions. To highlight what has taken place, George says to wife just before they are about to leave the house, “Your son said he’s going to Andy’s.” Not “David” or “our son!”

David quickly realizes that something is very wrong and eventually goes to the police station for help after he notices that other townsfolk are acting in the same way and after witnessing his young neighbour Kathy Wilson walking in the sandpit near where the saucer landed and disappearing underground.

David is finally placed under the protection of the city health-department physician, Dr. Pat Blake who he comes to trust as she gradually believes his story. She gains David’s trust by telling him, “Doctors are like ministers” and that people can tell them anything. However, as she goes to find out more information she has to lock David in the cell as she has to “obey the rules.”

In addition to the help from Dr. Blake, David receives assistance from local astronomer, Dr. Stuart Kelston. It is conjectured that the flying saucer is probably the beginning of an imminent invasion from the planet Mars which is now in close orbital proximity to Earth. At the moment, “Mars is closest to us in its particular orbit.” Kelston goes on to state that the Martians make use of “mu-tants” to sustain their way of life in space and that they are taking action now due to a perceived threat from rockets being shot into space from Earth. It turns out that David’s father is working at a plant that produces the motor assembly for an atomic powered rocket.

The army is eventually called in to investigate and troops and tanks under the command of Colonel Fielding are sent in. The invading Martians’ sabotage plot at an important nearby government rocket research plant is soon uncovered. The secondary “baddies” (the two police officers, General Mayberry and the police chief) who have had controlling devices implanted in their brains, are dispatched with lightning speed. The army organises its forces and surrounds the saucer landing site.

Meanwhile, Dr. Blake and David wind up underground and are captured by two tall green humanoids and are taken to the Martian and its flying saucer.

Army troops eventually blow open an entrance to the tunnels, and Colonel Fielding’s small detachment manage to reach the saucer entrance where they confront the Martian, a green humanoid face encased in a transparent sphere served by the tall, green and mute "mu-tants." The face is apparently “Mankind developed up to its ultimate intelligence” and the “mu-tants" are “slaves existing only to do his will.”

Under the Martian's mental control, the “mu-tants” have implanted mind-control crystals at the base of the skulls of the kidnapped humans, thereby forcing them to participate in the plot to sabotage an atomic rocket project at a military plant near the town. If the human victims fail and are captured the mind control devices are designed to implode, causing a fatal cerebral haemorrhage…...

Will the troops, Colonel Fielding, Dr Blake and young David be able to escape the clutches of the Martian invader and his “mu-tants?”

Will the Martian sabotage plan eventually succeed, paving the way for an ultimate invasion of Earth?

Will the army have the necessary clout to defeat the Martian menace of the mind-controlling alien Mastermind?

The Dream World Of  David MacLean

(Warning: Spoilers Included Beyond This Point)

Not long after the start of the film, Invaders From Mars, you might  baulk at the idea of having a kid as the central character and wonder where the heck you are with one foot seemingly lodged in a more or less familiar on-screen world with the other foot being immersed in a more than usual bizarro-world of movie sci-fi consisting of illogical (“surreal” – sorry!) plots and characters. True, if you approach the film with a purely rational and adult mindset. But be careful where you do step because with this film you are not in control!

In Invaders From Mars, David's dream is in fact a nightmare or alternate reality reflecting the various pressures being faced by a young boy. It is filled with threatening doppelgangers of significant people he knows in real life. It is a world where, as in a dream, logic takes a back seat and people and events become representations of something else. We get to see and experience things from David's point of view with only his world, his fears and his perceptions forming our frame of reference.

For a young person such as David growing up, the world can be an insecure and threatening place with remote authority figures who cannot always be trusted, but who seem instead to be bent on controlling and circumscribing their lives. How to approach such people and make them take notice of what you say, how you feel and what you think?? A difficult task indeed when the adults in your world are worried about possible annihilation from atom bombs and foreign conspiracies destroying their way of life! Such fears are all too easily projected onto young people and it is easy to overlook the effect this has on them.

David’s dream world reflects a large part of his real world experience. He lives a largely protected and sheltered life and it is his youth and limited experiences which have caused him to construct such a loopy scenario as expressed by the character, Dr. Stuart Kelston whereby the Martians have come to the Earth in Motherships, that they live underground on Mars and have bred a race of synthetic humans called Mutants as their slaves! In David’s world, events are reduced to shades of comic book black and white with no subtle shades of grey. Even the characters of his dream world are identified stereotypically by the colours they wear: His mother dressed in black and Pat dressed in white.

David lacks credibility and power by virtue of his age and nobody is going to take his predicament seriously. His parents have become distant and unfeeling monsters who have become part of an alien conspiracy to conquer the Earth. His parents appear like evil villains straight out of comic books or TV serials with their conspiratorial whispered asides. So, who will listen to him? He is just a kid.

However, this is David’s dream and by virtue of this fact he does have some measure of power. After all, in his world adults can be made to look ridiculous such as Colonels and scientists finding themselves looking silly being perched up on a roof, a place that David would be forbidden to go by those very same adults! Take that!

There are adults in this dream world that David can call on for help. Take Dr. Pat Blake, from the city Health Department. Where did they find all these stunningly beautiful women for these 1950s Sci-fi films?  David’s subconscious has come up with someone who is tender like a mother who takes him seriously, accepts him and stands by him. She can even lie for him such as when she tells David’s parents that he has “every symptom of polio” in order to keep him out of their clutches. (Just like David has probably told his parents a few white lies in order to avoid getting into trouble) For his part, David’s young mind has transformed Pat, who he probably has a crush on, into a kind of screen heroine. It is extremely difficult for the viewer to take their eyes off Pat, particularly with the red adornment placed above her left breast which stands out starkly from the white background of her ‘uniform.’ It is with no surprise that we discover Pat lying helplessly on a glass operating table, with one shoulder bared and with a pulsing penetrating device slowly moving toward the back of her neck ready to violate this older woman that young David is on some level attracted to and who he must rescue from the clutches of these alien “rivals.” Not much different to the heroine tied to the railway tracks with the train looming closer! Kelston can hold and comfort Pat though since he has become an ideal representation of a future and older David. Go back to the shot of David and Kelston side-by-side at the telescope!

David’s dream logic gives him the power to act and be the hero for the world and his heroine, such as his inexplicable ability to leap into action, take charge, identify and operate the Infrared tunnelling Raygun, despite the fact no one has seen or used one before! What an action hero! 

In David’s dream world, there are also other heroes he can draw on for support such as U.S. Troops: Men who represent and personify the American ideal of decency and exist only to protect and serve.

So, by what means are we being invited into this distorted dream-like representation of David’s reality?

Clever Camera Angles

Invaders from Mars makes effective use of low and high camera angles to emphasize the dramatic and visual impact of key scenes. For instance, in the police station, the long entrance way combined with high and low camera angles emphasize David’s smallness in the face of officialdom and authority.

Set Designs & Props

The Hill seems to be a stylized dream image, giving it the quality of an alternate world that one enters at one’s own peril. It is a living sinister place where characters are led up a curved path that winds up the hill between leafless black tree trunks and a broad blackened plank fence. At the top of the hill the fence dips out of sight where characters are then fed into the sinking sand of the Pit and downward into the bowels of the hill. The hill set deceives us with an optical illusion despite its flat painted picture-like perspective design. Notice, however, that when a character walks up the path, they seem to diminish in size. The optical illusion makes it seem as if they are shrinking as they walk and reach the top of the hill.

The use of glass paintings helps to create similar illusions such as the view being given down the glass tube above the Martian operating table.

The police station set design consists of strangely elongated features and stark, unadorned walls, making it appear like a dreamlike surrealist painting. It is as strange and unreal as the lab that Kathy’s father works in. Once again we have high ceilings and long entranceways leading directly to an oversized focal point, in this case extremely tall test tubes. Both places are pretty much David’s own personal constructs gleaned from movies and comics. So, it is no surprise that we find Kathy’s father busy at work in the lab just after his daughter has died! All part of David’s youthful lack of life experiences.

Lines and angles on the sets are frequently used to draw our notice to particular people and objects. Take the blackened plank fence on the hill. As foolhardy Sergeant Rinaldi advances up the hill toward the pit, the fence line serves to both frame his body and trace his direction of movement up the hill and down into the pit itself. Notice how in the spaceship, lines in the form of support pylons set at an angle lead our eyes directly to the soldiers placing explosives on the floor or Pat lying on the floor where she was initially placed.

Clocks: Time and its importance is emphasized in Invaders from Mars as it either seems to be running out or as in a dream it has elasticity as it not only advances implacably forward toward ultimate disaster, but also seems to almost stop and move backward. There are images of time-pieces that are focussed on in the film, from the clock in David’s bedroom to the lone clock on the police station wall.

Stock Footage & Shot Repetition

Well, if you have only so much to spend and you want lots of big stuff to be happening, what are going to do? So, in Invaders from Mars, we have;

Footage from WW2 training films to show lots of hardware and tanks supposedly taking up position around the Pit.

Repeated sock footage, sequences, camera angles and camera shots. One result of this kind of repetition is that we are supposed to believe that there are numerous “mu-tant” Martian slaves and can-do GI Joe soldiers battling it out in the Martian tunnel.

Special effects

The bubbling, melting walls of the underground tunnels caused by the Martian heat-ray was an effect created by shooting a large tub of boiling oatmeal from above. This breakfast cuisine was colored red using food coloring and lit with red lighting.

Apparently more than 3,000 latex condoms were inflated and stuck on to portions of the tunnel set's walls to create the cooled, bubbled-up effect on these blasted out sections of the tunnel walls. Can you imagine the fits of laughter while completing such a project and being lubricated with a few beers! So who’da thunked it? Condoms are not just great water balloons!


The eerie vocal effect of the chorus seems to be almost in stark contrast to our notions of the 'heavenly chorus' of angels. It feels disturbingly discordant to our ears and adds to the “surreal” quality of David’s dream world. We know instinctively that nothing good is being indicated by it.

Open-Ended Ending

A large explosion together with lightning and a clap of thunder, rips both David and the viewer back to what seems to be reality. David runs from his bed into his parents’ bedroom where they reassure him he was just having a bad dream. David returns to bed, but with the noise of more wind and loud thunder he climbs out of bed again and goes to his window. And what does he see? The flying saucer of his dream slowly descending into the sandpit!

With the image of David’s face dissolving to the "The End" title card, we are left wondering: Is young David still asleep, trapped in some kind of recurring loop of a nightmare? Or perhaps his dream is a premonition of things to come? Or maybe it was all just a dream? 


©Chris Christopoulos 2013

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sci-Fi On Film And The World Of 1953

From the relatively quiet year of 1952 in terms of science fiction movies, we now enter the year 1953, and what a year it was for sci-fi on film! A wonderful collection of sci-fi films were produced, many of which have become classics. Certainly such films still served as metaphors for the American fear of Communist invasion and infiltration, with the recurring theme of the threat of take-over by seemingly benign beings possessing a hidden hostile agenda. Such films that will be featured in this blog over the coming weeks will include;

Invaders From Mars: An almost dream-like stylized story told from the point of view of a young boy whose warnings about a Martian flying saucer and a menacing Martian taking possession of people in order to do its bidding were ignored by adults.

The War of the Worlds: Film version of the H. G. Wells' 1898 story. The story involves global alien invasion with a focus on the alien devastation of 1950s Los Angeles.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms: This film is based on a Ray Bradbury short story. The story involves a subterranean monster (a Rhedosaurus) being thawed out in the Arctic after atomic testing. New York City is in peril from the rampaging creature as it tries to make its way to its ancestral breeding grounds. Forerunner to Godzilla in 1954.

Magnetic Monster: An isotope absorbs the energy around it and doubles in size every 11 hours, threatening to upset the earth in its orbit.

Phantom from Space: an invisible and largely misunderstood alien crashes on Earth by mistake.

It Came from Outer Space: One-eyed aliens crash-land in the desert and create body-doubles of the townspeople in order to get their ship repaired.

Project Moon Base: Sabotage leads to a lunar orbital mission having to land on the moon instead.

Catwomen of the Moon: A lunar mission stumbles across a hidden civilization of moon women who despite their seemingly cordial welcoming of the humans are intent upon stealing the human visitors’ rocket in order to get to earth.

Donovan's Brain: A doctor decides to save the brain of a dying millionaire after he was pulled from an aircraft crash. However, the brain grows in power and telepathically takes over people with evil intent.

Four Sided Triangle: A lonely scientist duplicates the woman he loves who happens to love another!

And there’s more………

1953-Main Events 

Cold War /Military

  • President Harry S. Truman announces the United States has developed a hydrogen bomb.
  • The CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel meets to discuss the UFO phenomenon.
  • The United States conducts its only nuclear artillery test.
  • The Korean War ends with the signing of an armistice agreement. The north remains totalitarian and communist, while the south remains Western oriented and capitalist.
  • Soviet Union announces it has a hydrogen bomb.
  • The CIA helps to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and retain Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne.
  • The United Nations rejects acceptance of China as a member.
  • The Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea is concluded in Washington D.C.
  • U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approves the top secret document of the United States National Security Council that states that the United States' arsenal of nuclear weapons must be maintained and expanded to counter the communist threat.
  • U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his Atoms for Peace address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

Apart from Panther, Sabre, Thunderjet & MiG jets, what other types of aerial craft might have been  flying through our planet's skies? Perhaps this video clip from 1953 might answer this question.....


  • Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes the 34th President of the USA.
  • Tito is chosen President of Yugoslavia.
  • Joseph Stalin suffers a stroke and dies on March 5.
  • Nikita Khrushchev is selected First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
  • Nikita Khrushchev becomes head of the Soviet Central Committee.


Science & Technology

  • James D. Watson and Francis Crick of the University of Cambridge announce their discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule.
  • Jonas Salk announces his polio vaccine.
  • "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid", is published. It describes the double helix structure of DNA.
  • The UNIVAC 1103 is the first commercial computer to use random access memory.
  • The first colour television sets go on sale for about $1,175 US.

Record Breakers

  • Jackie Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabrejet at an average speed of 652.337 miles-per-hour.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
  • The Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, piloted by Scott Crossfield, becomes the first manned aircraft to reach Mach 2.

Popular & Cultural

  • The Crucible, a drama by Arthur Miller, opens on Broadway. Parallels with the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s
  • The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom takes place at Westminster Abbey.

Coca Cola Ad From 1953

Social / Economic

  • Trade unions gained strength with greater numbers of workers belonging to unions.
  • Wage and price controls ended.
  • Unemployment was at 2.9%.
  • Standards of living continued to grow seemingly without limits.
  • The yearly Inflation Rate in the US was  0.82%
  • A new house could set you back at $9.550.00, while a new car could cost you $1,650.00. which you could run on 20 cents per gallon of petrol.
  • You could expect to earn on average $4,000.00 per year. 

And so it is now time for us to embark on our journey through this wonderful year’s worth of fabulous sci-fi films…….

©Chris Christopoulos 2013