Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)


(director: Fred F. Sears; screenwriters: story by Curt Siodmak/book by Donald E. Keyhoe/George Worthing Yates/Ray Marcus; cinematographer: Fred Jackman Jr.; editor: Danny Landres; cast: Hugh Marlowe (Dr. Russell A. Marvin ), Joan Taylor (Carol Marvin), Donald Curtis (Major Huglin ), Morris Ankrum (General Hanley), Larry J. Blake (Motorcycle cop); Runtime: 81; Columbia; 1956)

“It is a good example of the kind of mediocre, paranoiac sci-fi films that were being made at the time.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superficial B-movie about flying saucers offering no relevant views on matters of space exploration, except some might be amused to see Washington D.C. come under attack by flying saucers. Using Ray Harryhausen’s flying saucers, this film becomes mostly a special effect experience. It is a good example of the kind of mediocre, paranoiac sci-fi films that were being made at the time. Though the exception to this uninteresting sci-fi film at the time might be the one adapted from Robert Heinlein’s novel “Rocketship Galileo,” which was made as “Destination Moon (50).” But it wasn’t until Kubrick came along in the 1960s with his “2001: A Space Odyssey” that sci-fi films matured into solid ventures and started to be taken seriously.

Somewhere in the desert, on the way to Project Skyhook, a military space exploration project, the civilian project director Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new wife, Carol (Joan Taylor), observe a flying saucer. The couple are reluctant to report it, seemingly worried about their careers, afraid that their superiors would take them for loonies, if they report that they saw a flying saucer. But back in the lab Russ discovers the tape recording of the strange sounds made by the saucer, giving them some concrete proof.

General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), Carol’s father, warns Russ that all the 11 rockets he previously fired into space, supposedly used as observation posts, have crashed mysteriously back to earth. He urges Russ to put a halt to tomorrow’s rocket firing, until the mystery is cleared up. But Russ is determined to carry out the mission.

The scientist couple decide to observe the 12th rocket launch from a soundproof bunker. But before the launch begins, a flying saucer is spotted landing on the project site. When the soldiers fire on the departing three aliens (dressed in lightweight tin armor carrying solidified electricity), they shoot one but the others quickly put an electric shield around themselves and the saucer precedes in destroying the entire project site including the rocket. They take General Hanley as a prisoner on their saucer. Once on board, they will steal his mind for their own research purposes but leave his body intact.

The only survivors at the test site are Russ and Carol. While in the bunker, Russ and Carol discover that the sounds they recorded were a message from the flying saucer arranging a meeting. The message was recorded at supersonic speed, but when the batteries failed and the recorder went into slow motion they were able to hear the message clearly.

It’s off to Washington for the rescued couple, to explain their experience to skeptical political and military leaders. Russ grows impatient with the bureaucratic delays and the failure with Washington to try and make contact with the aliens. So he makes radio contact with the aliens on his own and gets another meeting. Carol and a military liaison officer, Major Huglin (Donald Curtis), try to stop him but when it is too late for that, they follow him to the meeting place on the beach. A motorcycle policeman also tags along, and all four are forced into the saucer. They hear the bad news that the aliens want to take over the world, but would prefer to do it without destroying it. They want to arrange a meeting in 56 days of all of the world leaders and to prove that they mean business, they blow up a destroyer. We also learn that they are humanoids, survivors of a disintegrated solar system. When the policeman tries to shoot them they zap his brain and leave him aboard the saucer, while releasing the other three.

Russ explains to the military leaders what the aliens wanted and claims that he can build a new weapon, an ultra-sonic gun. He does so with the help of scientists from other parts of the world. But while he is working on that project, the aliens change the world’s weather patterns by causing meteor showers around the sun. This results in storms and the world’s communication systems being destroyed.

The silliness is delightfully highlighted by the finale of the flying saucer attack on Washington DC.

The film is noted for its reactionary politics (having the military in the same bed with science), the uninspired acting, and the film’s aim of making the aliens the bad guys. This is done by showing the Ray Harryhausen created flying saucers landing in front of the White House, slicing the Washington Monument in half and waging a full-scale attack on America’s capital.

One of the generals suggested the use of a nuclear bomb. Its use was argued against by Major Huglin, saying that it would only destroy our country and might not even work against the aliens.