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

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