It Came From Outer Space (1953)

“Facts, John — facts!”

Synopsis:
An astronomer (Richard Carlson) in the desert witnesses a meteor crash, but only his girlfriend (Barbara Rush) believes his story of seeing a spacecraft landing under the earth. As locals — including two telephone linemen (Joe Sawyer and Russell Johnson) — become possessed by the aliens in duplicate bodies, Carlson tries to convince the sheriff (Charles Drake) to wait until the spaceship has a chance to rebuild itself and take off, or risk the lives of captured hostages — including Rush.

Genres:

Review:
Cult director Jack Arnold — who went on to helm The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) — fully launched his ’50s sci-fi career with this alien-invasion film, whose themes clearly foreshadow concerns of many other Cold War-era titles soon to come, most notably Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). While not in the same league as that classic, It Came… has numerous unique touches, including some striking visuals, as well as the incorporation of a western-style showdown between Carlson and the local sheriff, who soon has a posse of supporters. Also noteworthy is the portrayal of the aliens as friendly visitors who simply request time to fix their craft and return home — though of course, it’s incredibly challenging for locals to accept their (temporary) presence. (The more things change…) It’s fun to listen for lines that were likely in Ray Bradbury’s original story treatment (see examples below); apparently the DVD’s commentary track (which I haven’t yet listened to) goes into detail about how much Bradbury contributed in relation to the credited screenwriter, Harry Essex. Meanwhile, one is grateful the producers only added in footage of the aliens in their authentic form briefly, for a few seconds at most — they look ridiculous.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Solid performances across the cast


  • David Horsley’s cinematography



  • A surprisingly lyrical screenplay

    “You can see lakes and rivers that aren’t there and sometimes you think the wind gets into the wires and sings to itself.”
    “It’s like beating against thin air — no marks, no signs, no nothing.”
    “It’s just this poor old tunnel needs more propping up; like a man gets old, needs propping up.”

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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2 Responses to “It Came From Outer Space (1953)”

  1. Agreed – a once-must, at least, as a solid classic SF flick. As per my post in The ’40s-’50s in Film (fb):

    “Very well then: you asked to see this – so you shall.”

    ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1953) [streaming on Hoopla*]
    * available through local US libraries

    I suppose this is among the earliest of the alien invasion flicks that we started seeing in the ’50s. This one is based on a story treatment by Ray Bradbury. Actually, in this case, ‘invasion’ wouldn’t be accurate, since the beings in this flick simply go off-course and hit Earth by accident. (Don’t we hate when that happens?!) Still, they are foreign beings, so the first people they happen upon here are not going to find their strange ways… endearing. (Admittedly, their strange ways are pretty strange – for starters, they don’t say ‘Hello’, they just stalk and then shape-shift into identical copies of whatever the people they’re talking with look like.) This flick has a really slow burn for a considerable time – I guess that was to build suspense, but with the way SF films eventually progressed over the years, this now seems a bit – well, slow. But…director Jack Arnold has, for the most part, stuck to the effective ‘Less is more’ philosophy – which is why this film doesn’t now look all that embarrassing in terms of its visual style (and its creatures). Oh, and Richard Carlson is appropriately stalwart and studly in the heroic leading role.

  2. I think this is the first film to feature benevolent aliens, but I could be wrong. A true cinema and sci-fi classic and a forerunner of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). A must see especially in 3D.

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