Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Release Date: July 1st, 1956 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Fred F. Sears Actors: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum, John Zaremba
n the same vein as most of Ray Harryhausen’s science-fiction B-movies, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” is indubitably mindless – but still a lot of fun. While the special effects may seem absurd when compared to all the computer generated images that inhabit most of today’s blockbusters, this 1956 piece still focuses on a coherent storyline – which is usually what gets neglected when high-grade graphics overrun a production. The amusing plot can be largely attributed to the talents of veteran low-budget thriller filmmakers, including Curt Siodmak (“The Wolf Man,” “I Walked with a Zombie”), who wrote the story (based on the book by Major Donald E. Keyhoe), and the screenplay by George Worthing Yates (“It Came from Beneath the Sea,” “Them!”) and Bernard Gordon (“The Day of the Triffids,” “Zombies of Mora Tau”).
Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) is a newlywed rocket scientist in charge of Operation Skyhook, a government program designed to explore space for future travels. Assisted by his secretary-turned-wife Carol (Joan Taylor), Russ monitors the activity of recent launches that are inexplicably being destroyed as if they were shot down from space. Before they can research the rocket disappearances, a hostile group of UFOs penetrate the command center and demand that Russ and his superiors bow to total world domination. Despite the space aliens’ superior technology, Russ won’t yield without a fight – and so it’s up to a handful of quick-thinking scientists and the army to put a stop to the diabolical intruders.
Utilizing the schlocky TV show announcer narrator that can be found in several other Harryhausen films (such as “It Came from Beneath the Sea”), “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” purposely chooses many familiar B-movie motifs and themes, unafraid to reveal its low budget status or lack of stars. Hemisphere Defense Command Center jargon, infinite indexed memory banks, death rays, and language translation devices aside, the numerous too-convenient plot devices manage never to stultify the underlying charm that almost inadvertently surfaces from time to time. When the grossly average flying saucers first appear, and the hilariously awkward spacemen stumble onto the gravelly earthen terrain, the U.S. military is quick to shoot first and ask questions later. Posing no immediate threat, it seems that a counterattack to prevent the initial absent assault is the preferred choice when confronting unknown aliens with potentially vast technological advances. “They appear to be realists,” states Russ – so let’s nuke ‘em.
Sticking with stereotypes, the countdown to the end of the world is burdened with a governmental chain of command that prevents defense forces from immediate action – just like it’s portrayed in countless other films, science-fiction or otherwise. The real authorities might have been wise to the scathing satire of this fantastical disaster flick if all the underlying notions of negligence to the people and political ineptitude hadn’t been so coated with chirping UFOs and super-intelligent extraterrestrials that lurch about like jointless stick figures. But those creations work well to create interest in a story that, for younger viewers, will seem beaten to death by the countless, newer variations on the premise. It clearly had an impact on films like “ Independence Day” and “Battleship,” with their focus on destroying recognizable landmarks or simply causing mass destruction; here, the attack on Washington, D.C. at the conclusion leaves few buildings untouched by catastrophic spacecraft collisions.
“Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” is certainly not the first film to show elliptical spinning ships buzzing around bewildered researchers. But it does achieve repute from Ray Harryhausen’s memorable stop-motion animation and photographic effects, as well as the archetypal designs for wrinkled spacemen in stiff-armored suits. Thanks to this forefather of science-fiction, many of today’s CG extravaganzas have a foundation for crafting their own twists on the concept of sadistic creatures from the unknown bent on world domination.
– Mike Massie