Tuesday, 24 March 2015

It Conquered the World (1956)

An entertaining & well-acted classic Corman low budget gem

Produced & Directed by Roger Corman
by Roger Corman
Written by Lou Rusoff, Charles B. Griffith
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography: Fred E. West
Edited by Charles Gross
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 71 minutes


Peter Graves: Dr. Paul Nelson
Lee Van Cleef: Dr. Tom Anderson
Beverly Garland: Claire Anderson
Sally Fraser: Joan Nelson
Russ Bender: General James Pattick
Taggart Casey: Sheriff N.J. Shallert
Karen Kadler: Dr. Ellen Peters
Dick Miller: First Sergeant
Jonathan Haze: Corporal Manuel Ortiz
Paul Harbor : Dr. Floyd Mason
Charles B. Griffith: Dr. Pete Shelton
Thomas E. Jackson: George Haskell

Spoilers Follow....

It Conquered the World concerns an embittered human scientist who guides an alien creature called Zontar from Venus to the Earth, so that it can bring peace to our troubled world by ridding humankind of its feelings and emotions. The scientist, however, is totally oblivious to the terrible consequences of his actions.

The alien creature from the planet Venus secretly wants to take control of the Earth by enslaving humanity using mind control devices and as part of its nefarious plan, it makes radio contact with the disillusioned scientist who agrees to help. Our well-meaning but naïve scientist believes this alien intervention will bring peace to the world and save humanity from itself and its inevitable demise.


A “what if?” imaginary synopsis of It Conquered The World by the film’s director, writers and cast: 

Corman: Well, we begin the film with credits rolling, along with a strident music score by Ronald Stein and a horizontal white line of the type that you see across monitor screens. This seamlessly transitions to a screen in a satellite launch and monitoring control room. Do we now have your attention?

Karen Kadler: My character, Ellen Peters announces that an unidentified object has been spotted. My colleague, Pete Shelton played by Charles B. Griffith declares that all aircraft should have been out of the area twenty minutes ago. Just three minutes from launch, our project manager, Dr Paul Nelson played by Peter Graves observes that a commercial airliner is just off course. He also proudly announces that “man is finally ready to move into space.”

Lee Van Cleef: Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Secretary Platt played by Marshall Bradford is meeting with my character, Dr Tom Anderson. From my point of view as Anderson, I’m there to plead with Platt to cancel the satellite project. I was not all that surprised when told that the first satellite launched had exploded in orbit. I knew that "It was a warning” which I had already anticipated three years before the launch. I firmly believe that "alien intelligence watches us constantly." Imagine how I felt when I was told the satellite had already been launched!

Peter Graves: My character, Paul Nelson and his wife Joan are later having dinner at the Andersons’ home, As we finish dinner, I state that the satellite has been in orbit for three months and all is well. Joan gets a bit annoyed with all the shop talk, but Tom’s wife, Claire played by Beverly Garland is more concerned about Tom and his delusions.

Tom draws me over to his radio, tunes in a station and informs me that the sound he is now hearing is the planet Venus. He then asks me to “listen to it…..Listen to the voice.” What can be heard appears to be nothing but humming and static. What would you think if you were in my place?

As if on cue, the phone rings. The project informs me that the satellite left its orbit and has flown out into space. From my character’s perspective, this simply means that “the scientific achievement of the 20th Century has disappeared.”

My wife and I quickly leave the Anderson’s and drive to the nearby installation where I’m told by Pete Shelton that "its back". I confidently state we’ll bring the satellite down for a full examination.

Beverly Garland: Early the next morning my character, Claire Anderson discovers her husband at the radio set in the living room talking to something or someone on board the satellite. My husband informs me that the creature from Venus is on the satellite and will be coming to Earth “to save us.” Picture what I’m thinking and feeling as my husband tells me that it’s what he’s” been predicting for years” and that ‘it’s good!”

Lou Rusoff: We continued the story with the team bringing the satellite back the next day, but not without a hitch! Instead of the satellite returning to the designated landing area, it crash lands ten miles south of the Anderson home, in the vicinity of a cave and hot springs. The location’s importance becomes apparent later on in the story.

Beverly Garland: Out of the blue Tom tells me, "he's alive, he survived the crash!" What else could I say at this point but, "Tom, you’re a sick man." All that my character Claire could think to do was go into town and hope that Tom would be better when she returns.

Corman: OK, so the Venusian creature that we see exiting the satellite looks like a cross between a giant pickle and some kind of deformed crustacean! I didn’t have a million bucks like Conquest Of Space, This island Earth or Forbidden Planet to make this film you know. Still, if Klaatu from The Day The Earth Stood Still could do it, Paul Blaisdell's alien pickle could also cause electricity all over the world to fail! And it wouldn’t cost us an extra buck!

Anyway, I firmly believe that my alien depiction will seem quite conservative when the time comes for us to make contact with alien species who will no doubt come in an infinite diversity of forms.

Lou Rusoff: The story continues with the Nelson car stopping on the road and the power off at the installation, along with the phones not working. To add to the tense atmosphere, we had Ellen Peters remark on how quiet it is, while her colleague, Floyd Mason played by Paul Harbor reminds her that “it is always quiet in these mountains,” to which comes the retort, “Not this quiet.”

Corman: We included other elements in the film to ratchet up the pace, suspense and tension such as;

  • 3:03 p.m. being the time when all the clocks stopped. 
  • Eight people on a list who are destined for mind control devices.

  • Bat-like flying devices that home in on their prey and sting them leaving an electrical device embedded in their neck, which is what happens to the sheriff, the symbol of town authority. General Pattick, another symbol of protection and authority while walking to headquarters, encounters one of these flying bat-creatures and is also stung by it. Both men are now under the control of the Venusian. (I kinda think our little bat creatures looked pretty neat!) 
  • Panic erupting among the people in town. 
  • No communication with the outside world as the wire service has broken down. 
  • Anderson possessing the only working vehicle and water supply despite the fact that that electricity, combustion engines and regular water supply have been disabled.
Lee Van Cleef: You know, after watching this film, some people have told me that I’ve got the kind of stare that can flail the skin off people and pierce their souls. Hhmm. Might prove to be useful in future roles? I’m thinking...westerns perhaps?

Van Cleef day dream

Corman: Ah, Lee…The story…..

Lee Van Cleef: Anyway, after my character Anderson tells Nelson about what’s been going on, Nelson doesn't believe him and asks me why I haven’t been resisting the alien. I tell him that the Venusian is here on Earth to “rescue mankind from itself,” not to conquer the Earth. The way I see it, it is human stupidity that “restrains Man’s progress” and I’m firmly convinced that what the Venusian is offering is “ultimate freedom.”

After all, how often have we seen instances of people convincing themselves of the truth of something, no matter how delusional, which then can often assume its own sense of logic and becomes a part of their own world view? Any argument or facts to the contrary are dismissed out of hand, even as something as reasonable as Paul’s statement; “I’d have to take a look at anything that would change the world and me so completely.” Good advice for any generation….

Corman: You guys know me and how I like to keep the action in my films rolling and carry the audience along with it. Well, these days the audience is pretty darn fearful of possible invasions from foreign powers and Communist conspiracy threats and such. This will always be the case. If it’s not fear of Communists like we have today, it’ll be of something else in the future. Fear and playing on that fear is such a powerful motivating and manipulative force. So, in the film back at the installation we have General Pattick informing the technicians that, "We’re in the midst of a Communist Uprising” and that “they've sabotaged every power source in the area." He then orders the staff to remain at the installation while the city of Beachwood is evacuated.

Lou Rusoff: The action continues with Nelson’s wife, Joan being stung by a bat creature. Then the newspaper editor of The Clarion, (our symbol of the freedom of the press, information and ideas) Haskell is cruelly shot by the Sheriff for refusing his order to get out of town and in order to put an end to his paper’s “stack of ideas and notions.”

The Sheriff tells Nelson he is going to place him under “protective custody,” when he confronts the sheriff over the shooting of Haskell. After a physical struggle with Nelson, the sheriff, under orders from the Venusian, tells Nelson, "you're to be one of us...Get up, you're free."

Notice the euphemisms and Orwellian use of language: “protective custody” in place of “imprisonment” or “detention.”; a state of collective servitude and control being equated with being “free” and the current state of affairs where “There are no victims,” only “The Released.”

I guarantee that even 60 years from now you’ll see similar elements to what I have just described being played out but in a different context and set of circumstances.

Peter Graves: My character, Nelson arrives to find the installation closed. I find General Pattick there and he informs me that the staff was relocated (another euphemism Lou?) to a nearby air base and that I, along with my wife, should join them. As the general offers me a ride in the jeep, I begin to feel that something is wrong. I feel compelled to act so I hit the general on the back of the neck with my gun, throw him out and take over the jeep.

Lee Van Cleef: Nelson drives up to my house where he confronts me and accuses me of being a murderer. I confess to Nelson about my role and try to convince him about the positive aspects of the alien’s ultimate plan for humanity. Before he left, Nelson merely called me a traitor who is not just “betraying part of mankind” but is “betraying all of it.” He’s an intelligent man. Then why can’t he see the benefit to humanity that will result from assisting the Venusian? According to Claire I just “had an undeserved stay of execution" as Nelson had a gun on me! If I knew that I would have stared him to death! Ha! Ha!

Corman: Killer stares? Don’t be silly Lee. Flying bat control devices! Now, that’s something! Fits in beautifully with the action and drama about to be unleashed as Nelson arrives late to his house after having to use a bike when his jeep stopped running. Not realizing that the lights are on, both outside and inside the house, he is greeted by his wife. Joan is behaving strangely (even for a wife) and is concealing a control device which she throws at her husband. She then calmly takes off for a walk leaving Nelson to go a few rounds with the control device. It rapidly degenerates into a no disqualification match with Nelson impaling and killing the aerial varmint.

Sally Fraser: Ever heard the term, “Better off dead than Red?” Well, that’s given new meaning when my character Joan Nelson returns from her walk expecting her husband to be like her: controlled for the rest of their lives. As soon as I tell him that will in fact be the case, he shoots and kills me!

Corman: Now think for a moment about what it must take for a husband or wife to take the life of their spouse in the belief that they are saving them from something far worse than death itself! A scenario almost too horrible for an audience to contemplate….

Beverly Garland: It transpires that my character’s husband has been directed by the alien to kill Nelson as he “knows what he is fighting for and must be killed.” I feel I must find out as much as I can about the Venusian and try to prevent Tom from carrying out the alien’s orders.

I manage to find out that the Venusian is located at Elephant Hot Spring cave because he needs a climate similar to his home planet, Venus. I also discover that Joan has been controlled.

Karen Kadler: What Claire doesn’t know is that back at the installation, two of the control devices were used on Pete and Floyd. My character, Ellen wakes up and notices that the power is back up and all the equipment is functioning. While going to make coffee I notice two dead control devices. Suddenly, Floyd gabs my neck with both of his hands and that’s the end of me. I tell you it was mighty cold lying on that floor considering how little I was wearing! I guess there was a reason for that......?

Beverly Garland: Now, we come to a part of film that I’ll remember for a long time to come. I really wanted to throw as much feeling, emotion and drama into my role as the script and story would allow.

After my husband refuses to listen to my appeals, he leaves the house to meet Nelson outside. In a rage I contact the alien on the radio and threaten to kill it. I take the rifle that Tom left on top of the radio and leave the house. I then steal Joan's station wagon and take off to confront the Venusian at the cave.

Peter Graves: Meanwhile, my character, Nelson informs Anderson that Joan is dead. I tell him I felt that “she wasn't my wife; She was a product of (Anderson’s) work."

Beverly Garland: While you were questioning Anderson, I entered the cave looking for the source of all this misery and mayhem. I manage to find the fiend and confront it with feelings and words of rage and defiance. I mock it with “Hiding in a cave; afraid of light?” I challenge it to "go on try your intellect on me...you think you're going to make a slave of the world...I'll see you in hell first." I empty my magazine clip of resistance by declaring, “I still have the courage of my convictions” and “I hate your guts….I’m going to kill you!”

I then empty the rifle’s magazine into the creature but with no effect. At least I meet death standing and defiant instead of living obediently in servitude on my knees.

Peter Graves: Yes, both Nelson and Anderson hear it on the radio back at your house. It seems to trigger something in Anderson who decides that he will help by going to the cave and kill the creature.

Corman: Now, the energy of this film is maintained from the death of Claire in the cave by a quick succession of quite entertaining scenes;

The comical Pvt Ortiz, who while looking for food, hears Claire's screams, enters the cave and fires at the creature. He manages to escape and returns to his unit to report on what has happened. 


Nelson discovers Ellen's body at the installation, enters an office and shoots Pete, Floyd and General Pattick who is only wounded. 


Anderson, meanwhile comes across the Sheriff blocking the road leading to the cave. The Sheriff fires at Anderson, but Anderson circles around on foot and barbecues him with a portable blow torch. 


The wounded Gen. Pattick heads for the cave in a jeep but is ambushed by Nelson who is now on foot. Nelson manages to shoot and kill the general.


While Nelson drives to the cave, the army boys have entered the cave and open fire on the Venusian, but this just makes it grumpier and draws it outside. A bazooka is then employed but this just puts the alien in a really foul mood.


A touch of redemption along with payment for past sins is always a good touch to add. And so we have Anderson on the scene ordering a cease fire. He decides to flame grill the Venusian with his blow torch (and death stare) but it attacks and kills him before it too dies.


We finally end with Dr. Paul Nelson's closing observation about Dr. Tom Anderson and others like him who…….

Peter Graves: Let me get this one Roger. I think I still remember it:

"Man is a feeling creature, and because of it the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can't be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. When men seek such perfection they find only death, fire, loss, disillusionment and the end of everything that's gone forward. Men have always sought an end to our misery but it can't be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from Man himself."

Lee Van Cleef: Hey Roger! You got any westerns in the pipeline?

A Van Cleef Day Dream

Corman: I’ll let you know Lee; I’ll let you know……

Points Of Interest

There’s no escaping the fact that It Conquered The World was a low budget movie with special effects to match that will cause audiences to chuckle. This is more than made up for by the film’s energy and its surprisingly above- average cast.

Peter Graves will always be remembered as Mr. Phelps from the TV series, 'Mission: Impossible.' In It Conquered The World, Robert Graves gives a solid performance as the scientist who maintains his integrity despite his friendship with his friend and fellow scientist turning sour due to the latter’s misguided betrayal of the human race.

Van Cleef we know from his work in movies such as 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly' and 'Death Rides A Horse'. In It Conquered The World, Van Cleef gives a strong performance as an obsessed, disillusioned and bitter scientist who is intent on selling his soul to an alien devil.

Stunning Beverly Garland gives an excellent performance as a desperate wife struggling in vain to drag her husband away from the precipice he is about to fall from to be swallowed up by an abyss of evil. As Garland confronts her husband and the Venusian, we cannot help but almost yell out to her, “Go Girl!”

In 1966 there was a why-bother remake by Larry Buchanan called "Zontar the Thing from Venus."

Despite its shortcomings, the film works on many levels including interesting characters and the moral choices they make, complex and thoughtful plot, playing on ‘50s Cold War fears, and so on.

If there was a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Aliens, Zontar would receive its protection considering how many times he was shot, bazookad and blow-torched! Zontar was seen as being an animal who was being subjected to extreme violence. This was why the movie was originally given an 'X' rating in England, and nearly banned. The movie's director argued that the alien was not in fact an animal, but was instead an intelligent being. On this basis the ban was removed.

Roger Corman came up with the idea for the design of the creature believing that since Zontar came from a big planet, it would have evolved to cope with heavier gravity than Earth's gravity and would appear to be somewhat squat in stature. Paul Blaisdell who built the creature thought that the camera would make it look bigger. Just how frightening it was can be judged from Beverly Garland’s reaction when she first saw the creature: "THAT conquered the world?" together with her kicking 'It' over…….

©Chris Christopoulos 2015