Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers


I don’t know how I managed to miss this one, since I went faithfully to the Saturday matinees in Port Neches and, later, to the dusk-to-dawn nights at the Don Drive-in in Port Arthur, where we would see as many as five of these kind of silly SF pictures in one night. And of course the stills from this movie appeared thousands of times in Famous Monsters of Filmland and other such high-brow publications. But I had not seen it.

This was the first film where Ray Harryhausen didn’t have a huge monster to animate, his work here being the destruction of iconic buildings and so forth. His whole budget was $4300! He said it was the least favorite of his films. He has nothing to be ashamed of, though. The SFX were not bad at all for 1956.

The degree of xenophobia on display is breathtaking. Acting only on the suspicion that the alien saucers may have been shooting down our satellites, the Army orders everyone to shoot on sight anything that might be a saucer. When one lands, we fire first, and then they wipe us out. Later, when they say they want to talk, everyone except Hugh Marlowe (even his lovely wife) is against it. He’s put under house arrest, and when he escapes his wife rats him out! Of course, in the end it turns out they really wanted to enslave us all along, but why not talk first and try to find out?

Hugh Marlowe, who I somehow got the impression was in dozens of these films (he was in only three, including The Day the Earth Stood Still), is your stock ‘50s scientist, dedicated to knowledge at all costs, but also capable of cobbling together a death ray from a few observations of alien tech and his own cockamamie theories.

Worst thing about the picture? The aliens themselves, who appear mostly in their hugely clunky spacesuits. When one is killed and his helmet taken off, he looks like E.T.’s dad, or possibly grand-dad. But he quickly vaporizes. And no one thinks to take off his silly long gauntlets, even though they know there’s a disintegrating ray in there somewhere.