Friday, 5 December 2014

This Island, Earth (1955)

An enthralling visual feast that takes you on one of the best sci-fi adventure rides of your life!

Directed by Joseph M. Newman
Produced by William Alland
Written by Raymond F. Jones, Franklin Coen, Edward G. O'Callaghan
Music by Joseph Gershenson (music supervision), Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Edited by Virgil Vogel
Production company: Universal-International
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Running time: 87 minutes
Box office: $1.7 million (US)


Jeff Morrow: Exeter
Faith Domergue: Ruth Adams
Rex Reason: Dr Cal Meacham
Lance Fuller: Braack
Russell Johnson: Steve Carlson
Duglas Spencer: The Monitor of Metaluna
Robert Nichols: Joe Wilson
Karl Ludwig Lindt: Dr Adolph Engelborg

A quest to save a dying planet!! 

An evil alien scheme to take over the Earth!!

An interplanetary war!!


Warning! Spoilers follow.....

Things In Heaven And Earth

Let us take in a panoramic view of the great seat of human pride and power, the capital city of the United States of America, Washington DC. Here we find a fitting representative of human arrogance and hubris, Dr Cal Meacham as he gives an interview to a handful of reporters, prior to his boarding a Lockheed T-33A jet fighter at Andrews AFB, just outside Washington, DC. He has just attended a conference on atomic energy, and filled to the brim with a sense of his own self-importance, he parcels out tantalizing titbits of information about the possible “industrial application of atomic energy” and the need to “team up atomic energy with electronics” in order to truly realize the push button age. No matter if the reporters and the public they “inform” don’t understand since according to Meacham, “what counts is how I make it work.” Watch now as he boards his plane, that pinnacle of human technological ingenuity and soars off into the wide blue yonder of smug self-assurance.

Fly high and far little fly and gaze down upon the mighty Grand Canyon and the majesty of the Sierra Nevada range from the lofty domain you think you have made your own. Now underscore that achievement with a triumphant buzz over the Ryberg Electronics Company airfield control tower and follow this up with a steep climb that will bring you ever nearer to the sun!

As your plane flames out and before you crash, do you consider the possibility that you have tried to fly too close to the sun once too often? Then again, as your ears are being assailed by a “high frequency howl” did you ever consider the possibility that control would be taken out your hands by someone or something more powerful than could’ve been dreamt of in your philosophy? How does it feel to lose control of one’s own destiny as you descend enveloped in a bright green beam of power to make what would normally have been an impossible perfect landing? Not only had your “plane died up there,” but so had all of your old certainties that provided the foundations for your life and the materials for fashioning a future fantasy foretold by a fool.

And so the master Cal Meacham and his apprentice, Joe Wilson put the incident aside and concentrate on their search for the philosopher’s stone…..

Beware Of “Gods” Bearing Gifts

How easy to hook the human natives with the tantalizing temptation of technological trinkets! During one of their experiments, Cal and Joe have managed to burn out one of their large condensers. Joe had ordered two replacement condensers but their regular supplier had sent them several small beads instead. Surprisingly to these primitives, the new beads (ABC model from "Electronic Section, Unit 16.") can hold over 30,000 volts with no leakage before disintegrating. They are also impervious to your puny diamond drill! How odd is it that the supplier hadn’t had an order from Cal's company for six weeks despite the fact that Joe swears he had definitely placed such an order!

Even more surprising, our human friend has received an unusual order in the form of instructions and parts (more than 2,000 of them) to build a complex communication device called an Interocitor. Shear human curiosity especially of the scientific variety should be enough bait to attract attention in order to reel in and land these knowledge hungry fish. Notice that even though neither Meacham nor Joe know anything about the device, they decide to go ahead and begin construction. As Meacham declares, “I want to know what it is and what it does!”

The assembled Interociter consists of a large cabinet with an inverted triangular-shaped screen on top. They have built a Trojan horse for someone else but all that emerges from it at first is a voice instructing them how to "clear the screen." When they do so, the image of a man called Exeter appears.

Exeter informs Meacham that he has passed an aptitude test. His ability to build the Interocitor demonstrates that he is qualified to "join our team" as part of Exeter's special research project. It is put to him that he is to board a plane that will land, wait for five minutes, and then take off again with or without him in it.

Like so many who are seduced and fooled by span emails, unsolicited marketing phone calls and political spin that play on people’s vanity, needs and desires, Meacham seems not to be able to see beyond the sales pitch to what is actually before his eyes looking down at him. After all, this fellow “scientist” and “colleague” is merely “seeking scientists of exceptional ability.” Right?

How does it feel, Meacham, to be looking up into the eyes of someone or something that views you at best as a gifted primitive who may prove to be of use? If you are not yet convinced then a demonstration of power might reveal how resistance and exposure of the truth would be futile. Even now Exeter orders Cal to set the parts and instruction catalogue on a worktable and disintegrates it by means of three bright red laser-like rays shooting out from the corners of the screen. See now how the Interociter blows up, catches fire, and burns, leaving merely a charred memory of its existence.

“He was right about one thing. I’m going to be on that plane.” Oh, it was all too easy! Cal has agreed to board the flight.

Today is the day of the flight and see how the twin-engine Douglas DC-3 Dakota automatically lands in a pea-soup fog worthy of the ending to a Humphrey Bogart film. The plane’s cockpit windows are painted over, and there are no side windows. Inside the cockpit stands an Interociter through which Exeter's voice instructs Cal to take up position in the single central seat. As he is doing so, Joe pleads with him, “This whole thing smells to high heaven. Cal, I beg of you, don’t go!”

As is often the case in human affairs, the danger is recognized when it is too late. The plane takes off into the unknown leaving Joe enveloped and consumed by a thick fog of foreboding.

False face must hide what the false heart doth know

Cal lands and is met by Dr Ruth Adams whom he remembers from a conference and a midnight swim some five years previously. However, she insists that he is mistaken.

Ruth now drives him to "The Club" where all necessary comforts and facilities are provided. Here she introduces Cal to Dr Steve Carlson and Dr Adolf Engelborg, both famous scientists.

Finally Cal gets to meet Exeter face-to-face and is informed that he represents a group of scientists who are developing technological achievements such as limitless amounts of nuclear energy that will one day “put an end to war.”

Ah, to be made to feel special, with a sense of belonging to a privileged community of individuals working as part of a team! Will the enticement of the prospect of collaborating with esteemed colleagues for a noble global humanitarian cause prove to be too irresistible to our friend? We human beings are capable of blatant lying and subterfuge in order to get what we want. Just ask the indigenous peoples of many countries throughout history who have been invaded and lied to by technologically advanced civilisations! Why would we expect anything different from intelligent beings we might encounter?

Lo and behold! Right in the middle of Exeter giving Cal a virtual tour of the facilities, the Interociter indicates an incoming call is being received. Alone, Exeter is told that The Monitor is displeased that he is not moving fast enough. Despite Exeter’s protests, The Monitor instructs him to “carry on with Plan A as instructed.”

And The Truth Is Plain To See

Exeter and his erstwhile but unnerving and rather uptight assistant, Braack are at this moment hosting a formal dinner for all the members of The Club: In the background you can hear Mozart's "A Little Night Music" playing. Listen now as Cal turns to Exeter and asks him what he thinks of Mozart. Exeter replies with, "I don't know the gent...Ah. My mind must have been wandering. Your composer, of course." Oops! Hear how Cal retorts, "'Our composer? He belongs to the world!" BINGO!

Outside, under the pretext of taking in some fresh air, Cal observes to Ruth and Steve that all of the scientists are involved “in the production of atomic energy” and that there is a lack of representation of any other scientific discipline such as biochemistry.

Now in his laboratory Cal positions a thick lead plate in front of his Interociter in an attempt to obtain some privacy. He observes that Ruth and Steve “are walking around as if you’re scared of your own shadows.” Ruth now confesses that she did indeed take a midnight swim with him back in Vermont, but had to be sure that she could trust him. Take away people’s sense of privacy and trust by increasing surveillance and monitoring and the way is left open for control and manipulation by those who possess and exercise power. Add to that a good measure of fear as a powerful motivator for compliance and obedience. As is pointed out by Ruth and Steve, Exeter has a "sun lamp" type of device that is called a “Transformer” whose effects are “similar to a lobotomy” whereby areas of the brain governing willpower are targeted rendering the victim compliant.

It looks like Exeter has failed in his attempt to use the Interociter to spy on Cal, Ruth, and Steve (foiled by a cat named Neutron). So, what does he do? He decides to set up a demonstration for Cal of his power by using the Interociter’s neutrino ray (“missing link between energy and matter”) to cut a hole in the protective lead plate. His implied message is one familiar to all power-wielding authoritarian dictatorships: comply and obey, or else! How subtle!

Bid For Freedom

Abuse of power, threats and intimidation in the end only serve to generate opposition and resistance. See how in a final meeting Steve, Ruth and Cal share what information they possess: sketches of the Interociter and how it might function; sketches of Exeter and Braack highlighting their shared physical characteristics such as indentations in the forehead, and a sketch of a hillside, not far from the compound, which appears to be hollowed out and covered.

As our three plucky intrepid scientists make their escape bid from the house and compound, Exeter and Braack receive a call from The Monitor: emergency Plan B is now in effect involving a full evacuation, and destruction of the house and its occupants with the exception of Cal and Ruth. It appears that Exeter’s home planet’s ionisation layer is failing.

Braack with typical security and military mentality uses the Interociter to fire neutrino beams at the car which Steve, Cal and Ruth are using to escape in. As Steve tries to draw the fire of the Interociter away from Ruth and Cal he is killed, along with Adolf Engelborg, as he attempts to communicate with the two scientists.

Keep running Cal and Ruth until you get to the airstrip where you will find and board a tiny single-engine1949 Aeronca 11 Chief plane. As you take off what do you see? Yes! An actual flying saucer of the kind you’ve been hearing many reports about. You’ll be seeing plenty of those around Washington DC next year! What is it doing? Hovering and firing a ray which has destroyed the house! So, what they can’t possess and control, they destroy. Sound familiar?

Into The Whale’s Belly

Wait a minute! What is the saucer doing now? Oh no! It’s hovering over your pathetic little plane, and bathing it in a green light. Even though there’s still another decade until Star Trek, it appears that your plane is now being locked on and being drawn into the saucer by a tractor beam!

On board the ship Cal and Ruth see its commander, Exeter and his crew who all look like him. And of course, there’s Braack being all security chiefy and such. In Cal’s eyes they have committed "mass murder" to which Exeter retorts that he could have done nothing else, and that he is neither a “devil or saint.” Cal and Ruth are now destined to fly to Exeter's home world, Metaluna which lies “far beyond your solar system.” Exeter even attempts to appeal to the humans to “try to have more sympathy” when they come to better understand the plight of his people.

A Space Oddity

Strap yourselves in because you’re now passing through a "thermal barrier" and it’s getting hot, hot hot! It looks like Cal and Ruth will need to undergo a "conversion" process so they can survive in an atmosphere with a pressure akin to being far submerged under Earth's oceans.

Just when you think it safe here come the Zahgons who appear to be bent on spoiling your jaunt through space by attacking you with guided meteors (yes, I said meteors!) Who are these Zahgons I hear you ask? Well, (apart from sounding like characters from a Douglas Adam’s novel) they are the interplanetary enemies of Metaluna who they currently are at war with.

After dispatching several Zahgon attack craft, you manage to pass through the "ionization layer," toward the desolate and barren surface of Metaluna. You discover that the remaining Metalunans have had to retreat underground and that they are facing imminent defeat. According to Exeter, it is the “beginning of the end of our world.” You can see now the reason behind the urgency of Exeter's project: Metaluna needs vast amounts of uranium to prevent the loss their last shield.

You now know that the Metalunans came to Earth seeking uranium deposits as well as scientists to help them defend their planet in a war against the Zahgons. Will you now take a second to contemplate the possibility that a technologically advanced civilisation may wish to establish contact not for any altruistic motive such as warning us about our own planet’s destructive path or wishing to share the fruits of their technological development in a spirit of universal love and galactic kumbaya? Instead, they may be governed by an at best “what’s in it for us?” mentality or at worst by a need to subjugate and exploit.

And of course, we naturally assume that a technologically advanced civilisation elsewhere in the universe would be soooo much more spiritually advanced than we are. No war! Peace & harmony! Meaning of life, the universe and everything discovered! Tea and cucumber sandwiches with God! Of course they couldn’t possibly be engaged in flexing their technological muscles with a galactic neighbour over something like real estate, ideology, religion, politics, ethnicity or something equally petty. Nor would they stoop so low as to kick sand in the face of 90 pound weaklings inhabiting a speck of dust orbiting a little yellow sun in a minor system located on the fringe of a single galaxy consisting of millions and billions of stars in just one universe consisting of millions and billions of galaxies happily expanding until eventually all the lights go out……..Surely they wouldn’t!

Well, Cal and Ruth, enjoy your ride and take in the sights of the once mighty Metaluna: a Dante’s inferno with the charred remains of destroyed universities and ruined cultural centres, and a single building, the centre of Metaluna’s government, surrounded by the refuse of war. Why do you not tremble and bow before The Monitor, as he struggles to maintain the ionization layer and issues edicts concerning the scant remnants of his once mighty Metalunan empire needing to travel to Earth for refuge, a “peaceful relocation?” And still you don’t bow to your future superiors? Then off to the "thought transference chamber" you go!

The Thought Transference Chamber will be used to supress your free will so that you cannot defy the will of The Monitor: the worthy aim of all good totalitarian and authoritarian regimes! How kind of Exeter to point out its basic immorality, especially since such a process would interfere with your ability to assist the Metalunans! What’s that I hear you say Ruth? “My mind is my own and nobody is going to change it!”


So you refuse to enter the chamber and even attempt to escape! Like all regimes bent on control there is always a force of mindless mutant insect-like goons programmed to enforce the will of those in authority. Well, here comes a Mu-tant about to do what he has been bred to do-force you to cooperate.

That’s it Cal, fight back and take any opportunity that’s afforded to you. Down goes Exeter after being introduced to your fist. Down goes the Mutant after a Zahgon meteor bomb strikes the building bringing down a pile of rubble on top of it.

Wait! Help has come from an unlikely source in the form of Exeter. He is willing to help you both get off Metaluna whose ruler, The Monitor has since been killed. (Has he come to his senses at last or does he fear being alone, the last of his kind who now only has the company of two beings in the whole universe who know and may understand him?)

As Exeter drives you to the ship you soon discover the way is blocked by another Mutant standing guard at the ship. Exeter, your authority has crumbled along with your planet. See how the Mutant ignores your orders to stand aside and instead attacks and injures you. Thank goodness for Cal’s quick thinking by striking the Mutant over the head with a fire extinguisher, and helping you aboard the saucer. (Are they displaying the so-called human quality of mercy or merely practicality, knowing that only you can fly the ship?) By the way, has anyone noticed the Mutant climbing aboard just as the hatch is closing?

The Way Home

Never mind the Mutant now. You’ve got more pressing issues to contend with such as dodging Zahgon guided meteors and watching helplessly as hundreds of guided meteors bombard Metaluna, causing it to ignite and turn into a star, “giving light to those who may need it.” Throughout the universe the endless cycle plays itself out where from out of the darkness of destruction shines a new light of hope to light the path for life to find its way.

Ah! The horror is not over because just as you three are about to undergo the "conversion" treatment our mindlessly persistent friend, the Mutant sets his compound eyes on Ruth. Our damsel in distress finds herself having to run from the Mutant while trying to shake the effects of the conversion treatment. Luckily the differential pressures have put paid to the Mutant’s evil intentions as it topples over and disintegrates.

The three of you have managed to sail through space and steer a course back to this island, Earth and are now over the Californian coast. Exeter intends to drop the both of you in your little plane into the air but he has no intention of landing himself. He will lie to them by telling you that “our universe is vast” and that he will explore the galaxy for another Metaluna despite the fact that the ship is almost out of power. It’s no use pleading with Exeter to come with you, Cal and Ruth. He’ll only tell you that his wounds are fatal.

Both of you cling together in your little plane, glad to be home at last and thanking God that it is “still here.” After all, this little island in a vast universe is the only home you have to come back to.

And what of Exeter? In appearance, different yet very similar to us. His character and nature was quite flawed but instantly and uncomfortably recognizable to us. We saw reflected in Exeter and his alien civilization some of the worst characteristics of human beings who inhabit our little “island” in space. As Exeter’s ship descends into the sea in a ball of flame, let’s hope that this does not serve as an omen for the fate of……..

“This Island, Earth”

Points Of Interest

This island Earth is based on the novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones which was originally published as three novelettes in the magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories: "The Alien Machine" (June 1949), "The Shroud of Secrecy" (December 1949), and "The Greater Conflict" (February 1950)

The special effects were very well done for the time. The films sets are also impressive, along with the art direction and costume design. Consider for instance the depiction of the war-ravaged Metaluna and the battle between the Metalunans and Zahgons all of which holds up well even today.

The technical aspects of the film are quite amazing for the period. We have the notion of the flexible metallic paper of the manual that Cal received together with the "Interociter": a futuristic two-way 3D video communication device that even incorporates a deadly neutrino ray.

All the elements of the film combine to produce something akin to a vividly colourful and visually beautiful live action comic book complete with mutant monsters and interplanetary warfare.

There is a Tribute To Faith Domergue post in this blog. In This island, Earth she gives a competent performance as Ruth Adams. She also appeared in the science fiction films, It Came from Beneath the Sea and The Atomic Man.

Another familiar face is Russell Johnson (the professor from Gilligan's Island) who plays Steve Carlson. He also appeared in It Came From Outer Space where he had the role of George, one of the two line technicians who were possessed by the alien entity.

The standout character is the Metalunan, Exeter played by Jeff Morrow. Just watch any politician taking on TV and then watch and listen to Exeter with his smooth talking, slick coolness, neatly coiffured hair, conventional suit and tie, false sincerity and mountains of spin! Exeter does however blur the lines between good and evil and there are occasions when we can almost understand his point of view. But isn’t that what politicians often try to get us to do, even if it is against our interests?

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

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