(director/writer: William Cameron Menzies; screenwriters: Richard Blake/John Tucker Battle; cinematographer: John F. Seitz; editor: Arthur Roberts; cast: Arthur Franz (Dr. Stuart Kelston), Helena Carter (Dr. Pat Blake), Jimmy Hunt (David Maclean), Leif Erickson (George MacLean), Hillary Brooke (Mary MacLean); Runtime: 78; 20th Century-Fox; 1953)
“An enjoyable B-movie, but not quite as good as its reputation suggests it would be.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An enjoyable B-movie, but not quite as good as its reputation suggests. If you can suspend critical judgment regarding the thinness of the story and the robotic acting and taut dialogue that should have been made funnier instead of playing it so straight and you are in a receptive mood for what the 1950s took for schlock outerspace, then you should be amused by this space flick. We are in the prime time of hardened cold war attitudes, which are bristling with military solutions and a case of good old paranoia to keep us on our toes. So what better or easier target for all our pent-up anxieties, than for the Martians to be the bad guys.

Now there might be just as many people in this country who believe in flying saucers as there are those who don’t, so when we see a flying saucer land in someone’s backyard and disappear in the ground the film is on familiar sci-fi turf.

The film does a good job of setting up an eerie tension around the Martians landing and it builds up a dark mood around the small-town that is invaded and the fear that a young boy has when his parents are abducted. It will show this invasion through the eyes of this very bright schoolboy, David (Hunt), and have his reactions be the rational way we are expected to see things. When he wakes up to hear a humming noise and sees the spacecraft land, he quickly tells this to his rocket designer father, George MacLean (Leif Erickson), who is working on a secret space project. He is someone the Martians are particularly interested in because of his scientific skills. When he goes out to look in his backyard and is abducted by the Martians, all his son could do is helplessly watch as he is taken underground.

For the first part of the film, the boy desperately tries to explain to the incredulous adults what he saw. When his father returns he is a changed person: becoming cold and mean, and there is a crystal device stuck in the back of his neck giving him orders from the spacecraft.

David is comforted from all this by a Dr. Blake (Helena); she shields him from all the other Martian abductees who are brainwashed into carrying out the Martians’ missions; such as, blowing up the rocket factory.

In order to stop them, the Army is called in with their tanks and armor. At last, we see the underground tunnels of the Martians and we see the Martians who are mutations of green minuscule human beings kept under glass globes.

The director, William Cameron Menzies, was the first Oscar winner for art direction in 1928, and was production set designer for GWTW. In this cheapie production he makes the most of the sets he created and in the final battle scenes between the Army and the Martians, he creatively makes those scenes look good enough to add a certain amount of necessary chills.

As the film progresses we want to know if the kid’s parents can be saved, if they can get the crystal devices out of the heads of those abducted, and if there is life in outer space.

To answer some of these questions from a scientific point of view the astronomer, Dr. Kelston (Franz), the boyfriend of Dr. Blake and mentor of David, is called upon to offer explanations. We are told that Mars is a variable distance of 300 million miles away from the earth, that there is not enough oxygen on the planet to support life but underground cities could have been built there, and that the Martians bred these synthetic humans to save their species as a precaution from an attack by us. Anyway life on Mars doesn’t seem so hot so why not come to America the land of opportunity, a haven for those seeking a better life!

The only thing serious about this movie, is that it was done in a serious manner. Aside from that, it’s a harmless tingler with enough thrills to make it pleasantly watchable. It is one of those movies where you can find enough to think it wasn’t so bad; and, it really wasn’t so bad when you come to think about it. The most interesting part, is that it gives you a clear view of 1950’s attitudes. It reflected a time that was much different from the way things are now: parents spoke to their children in a respectful manner and vice versa, there is a naïveté in its political concerns, and it idealized the small town concepts of America. There are many old-timers who wish America could return to those simpler times…even though those times had masked the bigger problems they couldn’t face, the problems that blew up in the ’60s and changed the language and attitudes of the country. This film was made 46 years ago, but seems as if it came from a time that will never be with us again. It is worth seeing mainly for those reasons.