War of the Worlds (1953)

War of the Worlds (1953)

“They seem to murder everything that moves.”

Synopsis:
A scientist (Gene Barry) accompanied by a beautiful library science instructor (Ann Robinson) works with the military to stop Martian invaders from taking over the Earth.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Unlike other reviewers who have fond memories of being both scared and thrilled by War of the Worlds when it was finally released in 1953 (Paramount Studios had owned the movie rights to the title for nearly twenty years), Peary seems less than enamored by producer George Pal’s updated version of H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel. He cites the many changes to Wells’ original story as “annoying” (particularly Pal’s notion that “God is directly responsible for the aliens’ demise”), and argues that the “brutal, selfish” humans in the mob scene near the end of the film barely seem worth rescuing. “In fact,” he notes, the film “doesn’t [convincingly] show why earth’s people or their way of life should be preserved.” In terms of the lead performances, he notes somewhat harshly that “Barry is a sturdy if dull hero” while Robinson — who, in typical ’50s gender relegation, “merely looks on [and] serves coffee” — is “an embarrassment” (personally, I find it hard to fault Robinson for the way her role was written).

These days, particularly in the wake of Steven Spielberg’s tepid remake, Pal’s War of the Worlds — which Peary claims has an “enormous cult following” — is seen by most modern viewers as dated but of historic interest, thanks in large part to Gordon Jennings’ “tremendous special effects”, which were enormously impressive at the time. It’s also important to remember, as Peary notes, that this was “the first film in which America itself is turned into a war zone because of an invasion”; indeed, it must have been tremendously frightening for audiences at the time to vicariously witness an A-bomb being dropped near a populated area. With that said, however, I’m largely in agreement with Peary’s assessment of the film as “colorful but overrated”, and only consider it to be must-see for its historical relevance.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gordon Jennings’ Oscar-winning special effects
    War Worlds Effects

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical status as the first major alien invasion flick.

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One thought on “War of the Worlds (1953)

  1. First viewing (possibly). A once-must, for its solid place in cinema history. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “They could be as curious about us as we are about them.”

    ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953): If I saw this as a kid, I have no memory of that (although I do recall seeing any number of other invasion films of the ’50s). This was the first of 5 film adaptations of the H.G. Wells novel and I don’t think I’ve seen any of the subsequent ones – including the 2005 Hollywood remake (it seems I suffer from a rare dual allergy: Tom Cruise / Spielberg). This George Pal-produced film by Byron Haskin (who also did a pretty good job with ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ in 1964) won an Oscar for its special effects – and, even though the film industry has grown by leaps and bounds technologically since then, what we see here still largely manages to look creepy. Well… the spaceships and their activity, that is. The first actual sight of a Martian is a bit giggle-worthy. As is the second one. The strangest thing about watching this film in 2020 is… because the invasion is a worldwide event, it can now be seen as a metaphor for COVID-19 (though, worldwide now, people are forced to stay home; in this film, everyone everywhere is forced to run for the hills). It becomes very eerie when a military General says to scientist Gene Barry: “Our only hope lies in what you people can develop to help us.” (That would, of course, be a vaccine.)

    This Wikipedia link details the film’s differences from the Wells novel, esp. the decision to inject the story with atomic weaponry (use of an A-bomb), combined with the highlight message of God’s deliverance from evil:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_%281953_film%29

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