Wednesday, 7 August 2013

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Great mixture of suspense and intrigue
An intelligent, moody, atmospheric and thoughtfully crafted film
A worthy sci-fi classic

Directed: Jack Arnold
Producer: William Alland
Screenplay: Harry Essex
Story: Ray Bradbury
Music: Herman Stein
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Distributor: Universal Studios
Running time: 81 minutes
Box office: $ US 1.6 million


Richard Carlson: John Putnam
Barbara Rush: Ellen Fields
Charles Drake: Sheriff Matt Warren
Joe Sawyer: Frank Daylon
Russell Johnson: George
Dave Willock: Pete Davis
Robert Carson: Dugan (reporter)
George Eldredge: Dr. Snell
Bradford Jackson: Bob (Snell’s assistant)
Virginia Mullen: Mrs. Daylon
Kathleen Hughes: Jane (George's girl)
Paul Fix: Councilman
Robert "Buzz": Henry Posseman 


The following contains spoilers, so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Sand Rock Star

Just outside of Sand Rock, Arizona there was a report yesterday of a fireball streaking across the desert sky, followed by what is believed to have been an impact of a meteor.

Eye-witnesses to the impact, amateur astronomer John Putnam and his girlfriend, Ellen Fields chartered a helicopter from pilot, Mr. Pete Davis to take them to the impact crater situated by the old Excelsior Mine.

According to Mr. Putnam, after descending into the crater, he noticed a strange object and stated that it wasn't a meteorite that crashed, but was, he claimed, an alien spaceship!

When pressed for details, Mr Putnam stated that the object he saw was “some kind of a ship” and that it was “like a huge ball rammed there in the side of the crater.”

Apparently, the mysterious craft was buried in a landslide and consequently, Mr. Putnam’s story cannot be verified as there were no other witnesses.

A respected scientist, Dr. Snell was called in to investigate the impact site. He and his assistant took extensive radioactivity measurements, but could find no evidence of any radioactivity. Dr. Snell was convinced it was just a meteor. According to him, “everything points to it being a meteor.” He also went on to state that he deals in facts and science and not ‘witchcraft.”

Miss Ellen Fields was reluctant to talk to the press but it has been suggested that both she and Pete Davis believed that Mr.Putnam had just imagined everything, despite being at the impact site themselves.

Mr. John Putnam is regarded as being somewhat of an eccentric in the field of astronomy who tends to hold some very unorthodox views.

It would seem that the army is in no hurry to dig out the crater. Will an alien space ship be unearthed if they do?  Some sources have suggested that all that will be uncovered will be a fanciful tale for a forthcoming book by an amateur astronomer seeking recognition.

By Itell Fibs, Sand Rock Star Reporter

In the dramatic opening of the film, It Came From Outer Space, we see an object hurtling towards us and crashing to earth with the title of the film exploding on to the screen. This is followed by a relatively sedate aerial view of Sand Rock in the late evening in early spring. It is a place “knowing its past; sure of its future.” Inside an isolated ranch house outside of town we meet John Putnam, an amateur astronomer and his girlfriend Ellen Fields, the local school teacher. It is a scene which confirms the observation that it is a time where they can feel “so very sure of the future.”

The mood is one of optimism as John and Ellen engage in hopeful talk about marriage. In a marvellous piece of irony it is suggested that they “see what the stars have to say,” followed by Ellen wishing upon a star as the "meteor" from the opening shot cuts a swathe across the night sky. They are indeed both about to see what the stars have to say as their world is about to be turned upside down from this point.

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

From inside the crater at the old Excelsior Mine I stood transfixed amidst the eerie mist and beheld a sphere that was partially exposed. A hexagonal- shaped door slowly opened to reveal a black interior punctuated by flashing lights from some kind of machinery. Suddenly a flicker of movement caught my eye and I had the feeling that I was the one being observed. Before my eyes could resolve the black shadowy figure into a recognisable shape, my fear took over and I felt my feet impelling me backwards. Something similar may have been working on the mysterious occupant of the sphere as it too seemed to be retreating as if in an attempt to avoid contact. The closing of the sphere’s door seemed to have triggered an avalanche in the crater, burying all evidence of my mysterious encounter.

The film, It Came From Outer Space is punctuated with instances that grab at the viewer by means of shock and suspense. Take for instance, the scene in the crater’s interior. We have a very clever combination of eerie mist with spooky and haunting theremin music; a mysterious, slowly opening and unconventional hexagonal door; the inky blackness of the sphere’s interior revealing only the mere hint of otherworldly technology; a point of view shot from the alien creature’s perspective whereby we see the world through some kind of gelatinous eyeball; the “snail trail” glitter left on the ground by the creature.

When John and Ellen go in search for whatever it was they appeared to have hit with the car, we have another one of those nerve-jarring moments. John tells Ellen to stay in the car but as he moves forward, a hand suddenly appears from off-screen and touches his shoulder. Of course, the hand belongs to Ellen. During the course of the scene there is the ever-present feeling of being observed by something.

Added to this suspense effect, is the equally ever-present Joshua tree which seems to loom over the onlooker like some kind of unearthly creature. In the biblical story, Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses to explore and report on the land of Canaan, and only he and Caleb gave an encouraging report, a reward for which would be that only these two of their entire generation would enter the Promised Land. Could this perhaps explain the presence of these (and future?) alien visitors to Earth?

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

The incident that is the subject of my book served to highlight the kind of dilemma I have faced throughout most of my professional life and is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write about and publish my experiences. I knew in my heart that the Excelsior Mine event would be the biggest thing that’s ever happened and that we were dealing with some form of life from outer space. But how could I prove it, even to myself? Not only that, but even those closest to me were urging me not to tell anyone what I saw for fear of personal ridicule. Being on the periphery of the scientific establishment and daring to think for myself has come at a high personal cost-a life of loneliness and self-doubt.

The Joshua tree thrives in the desert and it is this desert setting that adds to the eerie atmosphere of the film. The desert scenes are very atmospheric and creepy whereby the desert takes on the quality of a living, almost malevolent, being that is “alive…and waiting for you.” As John remarks, there are “a thousand ways the desert can kill.” It is this same desert where John and Ellen come across the county telephone linemen, George and his boss, Frank. Frank tells them that working out there in the desert they “hear a lot things, see a lot things.” At this time, Frank tells them he's hearing something very strange on the wires.

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

After Ellen and I left Frank and George, it wasn’t long before we began to feel that something was wrong. We then decided to turn around and head back. We soon came upon the empty telephone truck on the side of the road, so with my gun in hand we started to search for the truck’s occupants. I soon noticed blood on the truck door along with a glittering trail. All of a sudden George appeared…… 

While John and Ellen are searching for George and Frank, we notice a tendril of mist sneaking up behind Ellen. Once again we gasp with shock as the mist suddenly transforms into a human hand. Added to this unsettling moment we soon realise that the hand belongs to something impersonating George. His demeanour is odd and stilted and his voice has a tinny or metallic quality. This imposter “George” is also able to stare directly into the sun, “yes, the sun-beautiful.”

Police Report Notes of Sheriff Matt Warren

At ___pm, received report from Mr John Putnam and Miss Ellen Fields concerning possible homicide involving county telephone linemen George____ and his boss, Frank Daylon.

Accompanied John and Ellen back out to where they reported encountering George and Frank.

Upon arriving at the scene and after a brief search no evidence of a truck or foul play could be found.

Conclusion: Traces of blood were detected, but its source was most likely a dead coyote found at the scene. The animal appears to have been struck by a passing vehicle.

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

After our encounter with “George” and our fruitless search of the area with the sheriff, I could not help thinking about what he said, “We could not, would not take your souls or your bodies.” What exactly did these beings want? If their intention was not hostile, then why were they here?

After noticing “George” and “Frank” walking through the town I decided to follow and confront them. Did my blood turn to ice when I saw the sinister-looking silhouettes of the two “men!” What struck me about them most were the glowing orbs located where their eyes would normally be. A warning? A threat? A plea? They told me point-blank to “Keep away!” They explained that they didn’t want to hurt me, in fact, me least of all. They appealed to me that they needed more time or “terrible things will happen.” Time for what? What kinds of terrible things would happen if we didn’t give them that time?

Police Report Notes of Sheriff Matt Warren

Nature of probable homicide investigation widened to include investigation of John Putnam’s claim that Frank and George are in fact the creatures from a space craft that is buried in the crater at the old Excelsior Mine.

Evidence so far includes;
  1. Frank's wife, Mrs._____ and George's girlfriend, Jane Dean reported them acting strangely and are now missing. Their clothes are also missing.
  2. Theft of electrical equipment from the town’s hardware store.
  3. Dr. Snell and his assistant, Bob, have been reported missing.
  4. Drove out to the crater with Mr. Putnam and located Dr. Snell's car, but could find no trace of Snell or his assistant.

The era in which It Came From Outer Space was released was a time of hopeful optimism, but it was also tinged with its own set of fears and insecurities. A kid in a space suite knocks on the door and we jump as Ellen lets out a piercing scream. John declares “wouldn’t it be fine if I weren’t John Putnam at all.” Who can you trust if you can’t be sure who might wind up on your doorstep or who has been taken over or influenced by some kind of  “alien” concepts, ideas, way of life, etc., 

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

Nothing could prepare me for the call I received at the Sheriff's office informing me that these…..xenomorphs had Ellen. After Matt drove me out into the desert I waited and waited  until I spotted what appeared to be Ellen standing on a ridgeline wearing a black cocktail dress. When she moved I followed her until she led me to the opening to the old Excelsior mine shaft. It was on that spot that I was soon to be face-to-face with a horrific sight more terrible than anything conjured up by the evil recesses of any human being’s subconscious.

At first an almost disembodied-sounding voice informed me that these creatures were repairing their ship in order to leave our world and that they needed my help. Apparently their mission was to another world and an error caused them to go off course. Can they be believed? Is it feasible? They also told me that they were “not ready to meet in friendship” and that we’d be horrified at the sight of them. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps destruction would result from any meeting between our respective worlds. For our part, what we don’t understand, we try to destroy.

I just had to see for myself!
I wish I hadn’t insisted!
I saw them as they really are…


Yet again a period of tension and suspense is inserted into the film at just the right moment when Matt is spoiling for a confrontation with the xenomorph impersonating the lineman. The sheriff, on-edge and with his voice rising, declares that “at 92 people get irritable!” With the ticking of the wall clock getting steadily louder (“That clock-ticking!”) and with Matt’s nerves stretched taut, the tension becomes too much and a fight erupts between Matt and John. 

Police Report Notes of Sheriff Matt Warren

After my confrontation with John Putnam the creature posing as Frank drove off in his telephone truck. I then decided to form a posse with the intention of stopping and confronting the creature on the highway by blocking its vehicle with a barricade.

As Frank’s truck approached, we had to open fire causing the truck to careen off the highway, hit a boulder and burst into flames, thereby killing the vehicle’s occupant.

Extract from What The Stars Had To Say, by John Putnam

I had to get to the mine before the others, so I borrowed Matt’s patrol car and drove there. After entering the mine, I once again came across the alien version of Ellen. My God, if I wasn’t more careful, she would’ve let me fall to my death into the chasm at my feet. This alien Ellen (so beautiful like the real Ellen and yet so different, detached and cold!) informed me that they only needed a few more hours. She said that they didn’t want to use violence but that there was “no other way.” This version of my Ellen then attacked me with a wand that emitted a beam that could cut through rock. Fortunately, she missed. I had to use my gun to shoot this Ellen and watch the look on her face as she realised what had happened just before she toppled over into the chasm and dissolved in the lake below. Even though I know it was not the Ellen I know and love, the image of the other Ellen’s expression has been etched onto my soul for the rest of my days…..

Segment of an interview conducted at KLTV studios after the publication of John Putnam’s book, What The Stars Had To Say.

Interviewer: After you shot the Ellen alien imposter, what did you do then?

John Putnam: I heard the sound of machinery and after tracing its source I discovered the aliens in their human form making repairs to their ship. What I found to be the most disconcerting thing was me standing face-to-face with the head xenomorph who had assumed my identity. After he explained their mission and the equipment's power I was left in no doubt as to their power to tear the world apart. According to my alien double, all they needed was time and that their dream was simply to know other worlds.

Interviewer: Did you believe them?

John Putnam:  They could have destroyed our planet there and then. Anyway, I demanded Ellen's release as a sign of good faith and my alien double then ordered all the human hostages released. As you already know I managed to seal the mine entrance with dynamite to keep Sheriff’s posse away from the aliens. After the explosion, the ground shook beneath our feet and the aliens’ ship departed, streaking across the sky as if in haste to flee a place deemed to be off limits.

Interviewer: Why do you say that?

John Putnam: It just wasn’t the right time for us to meet. However, there is one thing we can all be sure of.

Interviewer: And what is that?

John Putnam: ......THEY’LL BE BACK!!!

©Chris Christopoulos 2013

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