Monday, 24 February 2014

Target Earth (1954)

B-Grade sci-fi meets gangster movie meets pulp fiction

Directed by Sherman A. Rose
Produced by Herman Cohen
Written by Paul W. Fairman, James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung, William Raynor
Music by Paul Dunlap
Cinematography: Guy Roe
Editing by Sherman A. Rose
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation
Running time: 75 minutes
Budget: $100,000


Kathleen Crowley (Nora King)
Richard Denning (Frank Brooks)
Virginia Grey (Vicki Harris)
Richard Reeves (Jim Wilson)
Robert Roark (Davis, the Killer)
Whit Bissell (Tom, Chief research scientist)
Arthur Space (Lt. General Wood)
Steve Pendleton (Colonel)
Mort Marshall (Charles Otis)


A large city in the US is almost completely evacuated as an advanced force of robots, conjectured to be from the planet Venus, invade and attack. Nora King and Frank Brooks, are among the few who have been overlooked during the mass evacuation. Together with two others they meet, Vicki Harris and Jim Wilson, they face not only the danger from the Venusian robots, but also new dangers in the form of Davis, a psychopathic killer, as well as potential death from “friendly fire.”


Spoilers follow below:

The Story

During the opening credits of the film, Target Earth, we find ourselves gradually freefalling through the immensity of space toward the planet Earth. We then zero in on a single city and are finally drawn into a nondescript single room of a rooming house.


The camera focusses on a clock that reads 1.30 and it must be PM since even though the room appears to be in semi-darkness, it is daytime beyond the drawn window blind. The camera then pans to a mirror in which we see the reflection of a woman asleep in her underclothing. We are then given a close-up of a bottle of Dr Andrews sleeping tablets lying opened next to her.

By purely visual means, the audience is invited to mentally join the dots, ask questions and ponder the possible reasons behind this lady’s obvious suicide attempt.

The character, Nora King recovers consciousness and soon discovers that her building has no electricity or water upon which modern civilisation depends for its existence. She is greeted only by an unnerving silence and a view of a streetscape devoid of the human heart and soul that is the lifeblood of any urban setting.

Some people like Nora might wish to die alone, but to live and to be alone-that is something else! How unnerved she must have felt knocking on doors and calling out “Mrs Gordon!” and “Where is everybody?” only to be met by the silent response of total human absence.


As Nora descends to the street, the sense of tension and suspense is heightened by the accompanying percussive music score. Visually, Nora becomes a mere isolated, scurrying diminutive figure scuttling ant-like hither and thither along the deserted city streets with their looming and impassive architecture.

After walking for several blocks, Nora encounters no sign of life anywhere in the city. It is the sign of death that brings the stab of panic and fear to her (and the audience) as Nora stumbles upon a woman's dead body in a doorway whose lifeless death-stare causes her to suddenly and shockingly back into a stranger who seems to have materialized out of nowhere.

We soon learn that this stranger who so suddenly appeared behind Nora is Frank Brooks who tells her that, after he arrived in the city from Detroit the night before, he was robbed, “slugged and dumped in an alley.” He had managed to revive only a few minutes earlier.

As Frank and Nora walk to the city centre, they try to figure out what has happened to the city’s inhabitants. By a process of elimination, they determine that it was probably not the result of a nuclear bomb or germ warfare. As to their own presence in the city, Frank uses the analogy of a sack of sugar to explain it whereby some of the gains seem to always stick to the sack.


Almost unbelievably considering the circumstances, Frank and Nora hear music coming from inside a restaurant. Inside they find a woman, Vicki Harris, playing the piano as her male companion, Jim Wilson, mixes her a drink. Both are rather inebriated and have been “celebrating as though it’s New Year’s Eve.” How differently people react to being placed in similar circumstances!

And the choices they make! For this quartet, the choices boil down to getting out of town or staying and enjoy what’s on offer. They decide to keep on the move by supposedly visiting other night spots.


When they attempt to take a car, the owner’s dead body almost falls out the open door. This is a stark reminder that even in the face of human catastrophes and calamities, objects, artefacts and places were once owned and used by living people with flesh and blood histories and stories to tell.

Suddenly, the four are interrupted by a man, Charles Otis, who explains that he was “trying to get out town, like yourselves.” He had also been checking the cars and discovered that they have all been disabled by having the distributor caps removed.

Otis also says that the area he just came from appeared to have been heavily looted. His description of what has taken place allows the audience to use their imaginations to picture the scene of destruction: the “mess”, smashed windows and so on.

The audience is again invited to use their imagination when the group witness the giant shadow (“it doesn’t look human!”) of a monstrous figure being cast on the side of a tall building. How the human mind has the capacity to create phantoms and monsters from mere shadows as the brain struggles to make sense of the unknown and unfamiliar!

Hotel Lobby

After they decide to hide in a hotel across the street, Otis finds a newspaper with the headlines: "Invasion By Mystery Army. City To Be Evacuated." The accompanying report states that “hostile forces of an unknown origin” have landed fifty miles north of the city. Terrified, Otis tries to escape but is killed in the street by a disintegrating ray, directed at him from the head of a large robot.

Intriguingly, Frank mentions that he has a desk at the “Home Office” which suggests that he is employed by the government. I’m not sure if this is the equivalent of the State Department or like the UKs Home Office which these days is responsible for immigration, security, and law and order, including the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service (MI5). We also have further insight into Frank’s background when he suggests that the robot invasion force is “part of an advance patrol” as per his experience in the “last war.”

Seeking a more secure hiding place, the quartet move from the hotel lobby to a suite (402 – 404) on the fourth floor.

Army command post

The discussion between a general and his colleagues paints a fuller picture as to the nature of the enemy and what has been occurring off-screen so far: They are dealing with an “enemy, the likes of which defies description,” that “the invasion was not launched by a power on this earth” and that “the consensus is that they came from Venus.”

We learn that the invaders have already destroyed an airborne division as well as twenty-four planes from bomber command.


Back at the hotel, Nora’s observation that the invasion force “must have weapons we have never dreamed of” serves to confirm the scenario presented at the army command post. Frank’s suggestion that the enemy may be from Venus, the only planet capable of supporting life, also confirms what was suggested at the command post. (OK astronomy buffs, we know a lot more about conditions on Venus these days! So what? This is a journey into the “what if?” If you don’t like it, get off!)

As the film, Target Earth is more about character than scientific accuracy; Nora’s revelation to Frank about her suicide attempt is significant. She declares that she wouldn’t care if they dropped the H-Bomb and that she “never intended to wake up at all.” We learn that her husband was killed in a car crash and that she blamed herself for his death with the result that she felt that she didn’t have a reason to live. Now, with the current threat to humanity’s existence, everything has changed for Nora, except that it seems to be “too late to do anything about it.”

What of the other characters that have been thrown into this situation? Vicki and Jim, who have been seeing each other for ten years constantly bicker and squabble. Jim uncharacteristically offers to help Frank find food and Vicki observes that yesterday he wouldn’t have given her a seat on a bus. Jim retorts by stating, “Today the busses aren’t running anymore.” Later on Jim declares to Vicki that “if we ever get out of this dive, we’ll do all our fighting from the same corner.” It’s amazing what a crisis can do to put things into perspective and enable people to work out what really is important in life.

Army command post

The general wouldn’t be a military man if didn’t order atomic artillery and guided missiles to be readied and that’s exactly what he does. Just then he receives news that (as luck would have it) a deactivated robot has been found. This looks like a job for a team of scientists to attempt to discover what has caused the robot to become inoperative. 


The chief scientist determines that the robots are driven by electro-magnetic impulses, that they can duplicate human motion, are impervious to bullets and are “incapable of pain, fear or compassion.” Qualities expressed by later screen robotic descendants such as Cybermen, Terminators and so on.


Back at the hotel, another character has been thrown into the mix in the form of a psychotic killer named Davis, who escaped from custody during the evacuation. He has broken into the suite and holds the group at gunpoint. He states that he “wouldn’t stand a chance alone and without a gun.” He informs Nora that he knows a way out of the city by means of a sewer and intends for her to accompany him. He also intends to use the others as decoys.


Science to the rescue! Hurrah! A means seems to have been discovered to destroy the lethal, beam-generating, cathode ray tube located in the robots' heads.

Hotel Lobby

As Davis is about to escape, Vicki bravely chooses to confront him, which results in him choosing to act in the only way he knows how: by shooting and killing her. Jim then attacks Davis and violently chokes him to death, which is an understandable instinctive and emotional reaction rather than a choice. Most of us would do anything to protect, defend and even avenge those who are most precious and dear to us.

Hotel Roof

The heightened tension is maintained by the sudden appearance of a robot smashing through the hotel lobby's window and its mechanical nosferatu-like pursuit of Frank, Nora and Jim up the stairs leading to the hotel's roof. With the elevation of the characters to the highest level of the hotel building as death in mechanized form looms ever closer, comes an elevation of the best of human qualities and heroic choices of the characters with Jim’s attempts to divert the robot away from Nora and Frank and his being killed by the robot's beam.

Just as the robot is about to disintegrate Frank and Nora with its beam, Army vehicles arrive on the scene. They are equipped with loudspeakers that emit a high frequency tone that can shatter the robots' cathode ray tubes and render them inoperative. By this means the roof-top robot is disabled and the good planet Earth can now rest a bit easier……until next time when the Venusians finally discover the joys of digital, LCD & LED technology! Is that a giant shadow I see on the wall across the road?

Points Of Interest

The movie, Target Earth was based on the 1953 short story, "Deadly City" by Paul W. Fairman.

Target Earth was sneakily filmed on the deserted streets of Los Angeles early one Sunday morning, without the necessary permits. The film's story, however, is based in Chicago.

I know there are those critics out there who salivate at the prospect of pointing out the film’s low budget, lack of sophisticated special effects and so on. For me the main feature of the film is its basic premise: An assorted group of people finding themselves in an abandoned city, being forced to contend with an alien menace and having to make choices that have significant personal and collective consequences.

As is well-known, only one robot was constructed and it was used for all scenes in the film, Target Earth. The robot army and alien invasion is conveyed to us as being more like an impending threat instead of an immediate in-your-face-here-come-the-explosions-and-one-damn-thing-after-another presence. With the alien robots being off screen most of the time, the threat they pose seems to work more on a psychological level which seems to mirror the nature of the fears experienced by many people at that time. Who exactly is the enemy and what kind of threat do they pose to us?

Sure, there’s a single robot that looks a bit like a lumbering washing machine with legs. Get over it! The film was made in a time long before the advent of computer generated special effects, and technology like the internet, laptops, tablets and mobile phones! Try to appreciate the film in the context of what it tried to achieve with its limited budget and that it was the 1950s, a time of fear concerning the Russians and the widespread sightings of UFO's. Add to this the fact that the film’s focus is more on character studies than on special effects which might be a priority for many of today’s audiences and critics who are used to being fed on a diet of films laden with computer generated effects, puerile non-stop action, video-game oriented presentations, threadbare story lines and hollow one-dimensional characters.

What makes this film work quite well is the sense of unease and tension that is maintained throughout most of the first half of the movie followed by the character revelations in the second half. Add to this not only the imminent threat posed to the humans by the alien invaders, but also the potential threat being posed by General Wood and the military. The group in the hotel are unaware that the city could be destroyed by tactical nuclear weapons at any moment-a fact that the audience is quite well aware of.

Descriptions of what takes place off-screen / stage; the various choices that characters make when confronted by circumstances; tension heightened by what the audience knows and the characters don’t know…….the very tools of trade used by none other than a certain Mr Shakespeare! I wonder if he would have enjoyed Target Earth?

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Stranger from Venus (1954) aka Immediate Disaster

A pedestrian and plodding low-budget film with a purpose

Directed by Burt Balaban
Produced by Burt Balaban, Gene Martel, Roy Rich
Written by Desmond Leslie (story), Hans Jacoby (writer)
Music: Eric Spear
Cinematography: Kenneth Talbot
Editing: Peter R. Hunt
Running time: 75 minutes


Patricia Neal as Susan North
Helmut Dantine as The Stranger
Derek Bond as Arthur Walker
Cyril Luckham as Dr. Meinard
Willoughby Gray as Tom Harding
Marigold Russell as Gretchen Harding
Arthur Young as Scientist
Kenneth Edwards as Charles Dixon
David Garth as First Police Officer
Stanley Van Beers as General
Nigel Green as Second Police Officer
Graham Stuart as Police Chief Richards

Witness the day that first contact is made with an intelligent extra-terrestrial life form: 

A peaceful and advanced intelligence from another planet! 
A superior being from Venus who has the power of life and death
A being that has come to Earth with  
…… an ultimatum!


The Story

(Spoilers follow below)

Stranger from Venus begins with a moving aerial shot of rural fields accompanied by other-worldly sound FX. As the farmer and the couple on the seat gaze heavenwards, we have the instant feeling that ordinary folks’ lives are about to be changed forever.

On the night that a strange craft is spotted flying over Britain, Susan North is driving on a country road when she hears reports on the radio of a “strange phenomena of light in the sky”. As the report succumbs to static, a bright light dazzles her, causing her to lose control of her car.

The camera then tracks the lower portion of a man’s body approaching the car and observing a seriously injured Susan framed by the stranger’s body, arm and open car door.

In the bar of a rural English inn, the owner’s daughter, Gretchen Harding is concerned about Susan’s whereabouts after receiving a call from Arthur Walker, Susan’s fiancé, who is looking for her.

As Gretchen serves the bar’s sole patron, Doctor Meinard, a stranger enters the bar. The term “stranger” is given greater significance by the fact that he;
  • does not like the taste of beer. 
  • has no money. 
  • claims not to have a name. (“I have no name”) 
  • has never paid taxes. (“I have never paid taxes”) 
  • does not have a pulse. (“My friend, you have no pulse”)

Add to this the fact that initially we see only the back of the stranger’s head and almost see things from his perspective. When being questioned, the other characters are strategically placed around him and the audience is forced to follow their physical placement and line of sight directly to the object of their (and our) curiosity.

During the initial stages of Stranger from Venus, a kind of aura of unnerving silence seems to surround the stranger as the others halt in their tracks and regard him, such as when later one night he suddenly emerges from Tom Harding’s room.

At the crash site the police and Arthur discover that Susan is missing but conclude that she could not have survived, let alone wander away from the crash.

Later at the hotel, as the police are organizing search parties for the morning, the stranger reappears and tells Arthur that Miss North is safe. This raises the suspicions of the police who question him about Miss North’s whereabouts.

The police eventually decide to arrest the stranger, but as they attempt to do so their efforts are thwarted by a kind of force field surrounding him. Susan suddenly appears, dazed but in good health. The story she relates about what she went through, together with her well-healed scars makes it apparent that it was the stranger who had helped her.

The stranger reveals that he has” travelled a great distance”, and it was the landing lights from his space ship that caused Susan’s accident. He also reveals that he is not an inhabitant of this planet, but is from Venus. As the doctor observes, “this is no ordinary man.” Arthur soon contacts the Ministry Of War to inform them of what has transpired.

As if to confirm the doctor’s observation, later that night as everyone is asleep, the stranger enters Mr Harding’s room. It soon turns out that a limp Harding has had for many years is gone. In addition to the stranger’s ability to cure physical ailments, he later admits to Susan that he also has a limited capacity to read people’s minds.

In order for the stranger to compensate for the differences in atmospheric conditions between Earth and Venus, he has had to undertake 12 days’ training to condition his respiratory system in order for him to survive on Earth. It turns out that he only has another 100 hours on Earth before he will die.

While driving to a medical appointment, the doctor is stopped by a military roadblock. He is informed that the whole area has been quarantined and that he must return home until the situation has ended. It is apparent that the government has cordoned off the area so that no one can get in to find out the truth about what has taken place, or get out to tell the world what has happened. With the suppression of truth and the facts, the outside world is merely left with rumours that the “earth has been invaded by men from Venus” and that “according to the radio” the stranger doesn’t “exist at all.” As the doctor observes, “So that’s what you’re trying to do; build a prison around him.”

Meanwhile, Arthur has returned from London with a delegation consisting of Chief of Police, Richards and Charles Dixon from Associated Press, who have come to gain a better understanding of the Stranger’s purpose in coming to earth.

The unusual results of the fingerprint test, (“these are not the fingerprints of a human being”) together with a multi-lingual test, convinces Richards and the rest of the party that the Stranger is definitely not from Earth.

We further learn that the stranger’s species make use of thought transference rather than speech to communicate as this guarantees honesty amongst his people. The Venusian’s method of learning seems to involve a process whereby one “only need to concentrate on a topic to know it.”

The Stranger explains that Venus has been observing Earth for a very long time, and is concerned about Earth’s attempts at maintaining peace. He states that his people “have been amazed and amused at (our) behaviour.” He then informs them that his superiors will be arriving in two days and that the leaders from all the world’s governments must be present.

It turns out that the phones are being monitored by the military and that the public has not been informed about the stranger’s arrival due to a total government embargo on the story. In fact, we learn that “this story cannot be released until it is cleared by our government.” News of the stranger’s arrival has been kept under tight control.

It also turns out that a complicating romantic attachment between the Stranger and Susan has been developing.

The next day, more government representatives arrive, which angers the stranger as no other nations’ leaders are present as was earlier stipulated. He expresses his concerns at humanity’s use of nuclear power, and the kind of the damage that could be caused. He refers to the asteroid belt as an example of what can happen to a civilization that does not exercise caution. He then explains the danger posed to Venus and the rest of the solar system by the “delinquent member” of the solar system if too many bombs were detonated at the same time. Even if the Earth was to move an inch in its orbit as a result, this would over time increase until a point is reached in which the planet Venus is threatened. The intended meeting with the Venusians is to encourage the “cautious handling” of atomic energy and to teach Earth’s scientists.

Before leaving the meeting, the stranger tells those present that he knows what they are thinking: How to get the Venusians to reveal their interplanetary travel secrets and how far certain individuals can personally rise from the knowledge gained. The stranger makes it clear that the Venusian leadership would not agree to freely give their secrets away.

It later transpires that the disk the stranger had earlier hidden has been stolen and that he can’t communicate with the arriving Venusians without it. In addition, the army has been building up its forces around the hotel and that an attempt will be made to capture the Venusian craft when it lands by using magnetized cables. The authorities’ do not realise that the plan to capture the spaceship could have disastrous consequences for Earth. According to the Stranger such an attempt will result in the death of everyone in the hotel when the Venusian mother ship incinerates a wide area around the hotel.

Arthur’s efforts to avert disaster by contacting the Minister of War in London are to no avail as he is ordered to continue to prepare the ambush.

Overhead, the descending ship from Venus prepares to land, but at the last minute the Stranger uses his retrieved communicator to alert the ship of the danger. The alien craft changes course and heads into outer space.

Without any means of being evacuated, the Stranger returns to the lake, the one place of earthly happiness, to resignedly await to his inevitable fate.

Points Of Interest

Stranger from Venus appears to have been adapted from the Robert Wise classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, an impression further reinforced by having Patricia Neal cast as the female star. In both films an alien visitor arrives to deliver a dire warning about humanity’s irresponsible use of nuclear weapons, only to be met by unreasoning political and military actions. In the British version, alien visitors tend to land in the middle of nowhere, preferably close to an inn or pub, whereas visiting aliens in the US seem to crave attention by landing smack bang in the middle of Washington DC.

Helmut Dantine’s sedative-like performance coupled with the slow-moving and very static pace of the film makes it rather less than entertaining and quite bland. There is also not much in the way of special effects and those that are used for the Venusian spacecraft scenes don’t look at all convincing.

Stranger from Venus does effectively highlight the stupidity of officialdom and those who we entrust to look after our interests. In the film, the government immediately acts to isolate the area, blocks information and communication and refuses to invite in other nations as requested. In a final act of irresponsible, bureaucratic, paranoid and short-sighted thinking, it is decided to attempt to bring down the Venusian craft so that it can steal the technology of its magnetic propulsion system, despite the possibility of utter destruction from such a course of action.

Even 60 years later not much seems to have changed with distrust, suspicion and personal and political scheming in order to gain advantage often influencing human affairs. Just look at the tragic events in Syria (at the time of writing) and the faltering attempts to achieve some kind of peace. In the short time that the different sides agree to disagree and fail to cooperate, thousands of innocent people die.

Stranger from Venus clearly stands out as a Cold War era film with a message that that would resonate with audiences at the time: that nuclear arms pose a huge threat and Mankind must step back from the brink of destruction before it's too late. Unfortunately, these days while we focus on our own era’s real and manufactured threats, we are under the false delusion that the threat of nuclear annihilation no longer exists.

Stranger from Venus depicts the government as controlling and suppressing the truth about an alien landing. The area around the stranger's landing site is sealed off by the British government. We don’t have far to look in our own era to see governments employing the military and taking charge of an “alien” landing situation; in this case (at the time of writing) people from foreign countries landing on Australian shores and seeking asylum. The government’s reaction has been to take such people (termed “illegals” even though they can legally claim asylum) and imprison (“detain”) them in concentration “camps” set up in third countries. Or they can be towed back to transit points like Indonesia. The only news we receive about the boat arrivals and asylum seekers is heavily controlled by the Australian government under the guise of “operational matters.” This lack of trust in and respect for those who are being governed by denying them the right to know only leaves room for rumours, speculation and half-truths and opens the door wide open to abuse of power. And this is what we do to members of our own species!

Venus Fact File

When seen from Earth, Venus, the second planet from the sun, is brighter than any other planet or even any star in the night sky because of its highly reflective clouds and its closeness to our planet.

Venus and Earth are often called twins because they are similar in size, mass, density, composition and gravity.

Venus is the hottest world in the solar system as its dense atmosphere traps heat in a runaway version of the greenhouse effect. Temperatures on Venus reach 870 degrees F (465 degrees C), more than hot enough to melt lead.

Venus’ atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulphuric acid. The atmosphere is heavier than that of any other planet with a surface pressure 90 times that of Earth.

The surface of Venus is extremely dry with no liquid water since the scorching heat would cause any to boil away.

Venus takes 243 Earth days to rotate on its axis and it rotates the opposite way to Earth’s rotation. On Venus, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. However, it takes Venus 225 Earth days to orbit the sun which would mean that the days on Venus would be longer than the years. In reality, though, the time from one sunrise to the next is only about 117 Earth days long.

So tell me, do you think it likely that the Earth would be visited by a Stranger from Venus?

The Asteroid Belt

Asteroids or planetoids are bits and pieces of rock left over from the creation of the solar system when dust and rock circling the sun were pulled together by gravity to form planets.

It was the largest planet’s gravity, Jupiter that kept a number of the pieces from coming together to form another planet. Instead of a planet, an array of unattached asteroids was left to orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

This region, known as the Main Asteroid Belt lies more than two-and-a-half times as far as Earth does from the sun. It contains billions of asteroid,s most of which range in size from boulders to a few thousand feet in diameter. Some, however, are significantly larger. 

Most of the asteroids in the Main Belt are made of rock and stone. A few contain iron and nickel metals. The rest are made up of a mix of these. 

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

More Sci-Fi Screen Gems & An “OMG” Award!

The following films have been added to the Sci-Fi Screen Gems Page for your enjoyment.

War Of The Monsters (1966)

Killers From Space (1954)
Curse of the Aztec Mummy (1957) 
Robot Vs Aztec Mummy (1958) 
Man with Two Lives (1942) 
Gammera the Invincible (1966) 
Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967) 
Life Returns (1935)

AND my O.M.G (Oddly Mesmerizing Gunk) award goes to.........

.......the following sci-fi screen offerings;

1. Robot Monster (1953)

A Robot Monster has been sent to Earth as the advance party of an impending invasion. Ordered by The Great One to capture several humans, the Robot Monster becomes confused as it learns more about humans.

2. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Aliens resurrect dead humans as zombies and vampires to stop humankind from creating the sun-driven bomb, Solaranite.

3. The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Joseph Javorsky, a defecting Russian scientist, flies to the nuclear testing grounds in Yucca Flats, Nevada, to deliver KGB documents to U.S. officials. Javorsky is unaware that he's being followed by two Russian agents who have orders to kill him and bring the briefcase containing the documents back to Russia.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Tribute To Jack Arnold

Jack Arnold was one of the leading science fiction filmmakers of the 1950s whose films reflected his own genuine enthusiasm for the genre.

Jack Arnold was born on October 14, 1916 in New Haven, Connecticut. He was the son of Russian immigrants, who ran the concession counter for a local cinema. 

As a youngster, Jack read a lot of science fiction pulp magazines, which laid the foundations for his classic 1950s science fiction genre films. 

Arnold's parents relocated the family to New York City, where Arnold's father had some success as a stockbroker. Even though his parents intended Jack to pursue a professional career in law or medicine, he was more drawn to live theater. With the 1929 stock market crash and a downturn in family fortunes, Arnold had a successful audition with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts thereby granting him entre into the program.

Arnold acted in both on- and off-Broadway stage productions in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Plays he appeared in included, The Time of Your Life, Juke Box Jenny, Blind Alibi, China Passage and We're on the Jury.

During World War II, while serving in the Signal Corps. Arnold learned the techniques of film making from famous documentary filmmaker, Robert Flaherty.

Jack began making short films and documentaries after his war service with one short film, With These Hands (1950) being nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature. His theatrical movie debut came with the B picture, Girls in the Night (1953). Arnold’s film output ranged from crime thrillers and westerns to melodramas and love stories.

Of particular relevance to the subject matter of this blog, Arnold directed a number of excellent 1950's science fiction films, including It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Monster on the Campus and The Space Children. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) has achieved cult popularity (featured in my previous post). The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) was possibly Arnold's greatest cinematic achievement.

Arnold also went to England to direct the Peter Sellers film, The Mouse That Roared. This early effort helped to establish Peter Sellers as an international star.

Jack Arnold’s television career began in 1955 with several episodes of Science Fiction Theatre. From this he went on to direct the long-running television series Perry Mason, Rawhide and Peter Gunn, as well as episodes of much loved television shows such as Alias Smith and Jones, The Fall Guy, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island (yes, Gilligan’s Island!), Mod Squad, Wonder Woman, The Love Boat and The Bionic Woman.

“Skipper! Save me from the big hairy spider!”

Jack Arnold died at age 75 of arteriosclerosis in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California on March 17, 1992.

Jack Arnold’s films generally feature eerie, atmospheric and moody black and white cinematography, competent acting, thoughtful scripts and lively pacing.

As his career progressed, Arnold was spending most of his time directing for television where as a director he could not assert himself in the same way as he may have been used to when directing the sorts of 1950s sci-fi films he wanted to direct, and which tended to reflect his own distinctive character and passion for the genre.

As for the central character in his film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, there is something of him in most of us that we can identify with: Individuals who strive to play a meaningful role in a universe which seeks to dwarf our significance and stature. For Jack Arnold, his significance, legacy and stature is established as being one of the most skilled directors of B-movie, sci-fi films during the 1950s.

©Chris Christopoulos 2014