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An early Sci-Fi Gem from the fifties...
on April 3, 2004
The great thing about 1950's sci-fi movies is the way in which they took the psychological fallout from the Soviet-USA Cold War confrontation that dominated the decade (paranoia, McCarthyism and the "Red Scare", fear of the atomic bomb), and turned it into edgy science fiction that's unlike any present-day moviemaking. Some of these relatively low-budget films were awful, but others have stood the test of time to become classics of the genre. One of the best is 1953's "It Came From Outer Space", which features a great plot, solid acting, and is based on a story created by the great Ray Bradbury, one of the best sci-fi writers of his generation. Richard Carlson, who also starred in several other classic sci-fi films of the fifties, is John Putnam, an amateur astronomer and scientist who lives in the desert outside a small town in Arizona. The townsfolk consider John to be a loner and something of an oddball, but he does enjoy the love of Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush), a pretty schoolteacher who thinks that he can do no wrong. John's relationship with Ellen has earned him the ire of the town's sherriff (Charles Drake), a down-to-earth, cowboy-type fellow who can't understand Putnam's interest in "weird" things like science and astronomy and who wants Ellen for himself. One evening both John and Ellen watch as a huge meteor crashes near an old mine outside of town. The next day they investigate the meteor's crater, but only John makes it to the bottom, where he sees a large spaceship which is promptly buried in a landslide which nearly engulfs him as well. Ellen believes his story, but others are doubtful and laugh at him, and even the local radio stations make fun of him. However, events soon begin to convince even the skeptical sherriff that something odd is afoot, especially when several townspeople begin to act in bizarre ways, such as speaking and behaving in a zombie-like manner and staring directly at the sun for long periods of time. As it turns out, the "townspeople" are actually aliens from the buried spaceship, and the real humans have been abducted by them - including Ellen! Although the sherriff and some other townsfolk wish to attack the aliens (out of fear and paranoia), Putnam suspects that the aliens are actually peaceful and only want to repair their spaceship and leave. I won't give away anymore of the plot, but the storyline of "It Came From Outer Space" actually is decades ahead of its time, and strongly resembles modern sci-fi (such as "Star Trek") in showing that even strange "aliens" are not always hostile and can be peaceful if given a chance. This attitude comes directly from the stories of Ray Bradbury (for example, "The Martian Chronicles"), where aliens aren't always the bad guys and humans aren't always the good guys. It's this moral complexity that makes "It Came From Outer Space" stand out from the other (and often more simplistic) sci-fi films of the decade. As an added bonus, the DVD set of this film will be a delight to all fifties sci-fi movie buffs. It has a short documentary entitled "The Universe According to Universal" showing how "It Came From Outer Space" and other fifties sci-fi movies were made, the theatrical trailer, and a commentary by film historian Tom Weaver. Overall, this DVD set is well worth the money, IMO. Recommended!