It Conquered The World, 1956. 4/10

Venus is watching, and sees its chance to mess with us. The resultant alien-fest might have more to do with the after-effects of the dinner party of the Andersons (Tom and Claire) and Nelsons (Paul and Joan), and not science fiction. The clue would be the undigested artichokes, err, the aliens. Apparently, our satellite has gone missing and scientists Tom (Lee Van Cleef) and Paul (Peter Graves) have to hustle to figure out what the deal is.

Incredibly, the ship, looking convincingly like a cool flying saucer, explodes on impact, but the artichoke Venusians have no trouble surviving. Apparently, the satellite has been hijacked. The aliens pull the stop-all-earthling-machines ploy–first noticed in The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Venusian have another, creepier device; the bat-like creatures that spawn from their underregions, looking for earthling victims.

It might’ve been be better to have the bats be the aliens–they’re not ludicrous like their artichoke ‘parents’. Anyway, the parasitic mind/body takeover is another useful strategy seen earlier in Invaders From Mars, not to mention Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I can’t figure out why Tom is such a loose-cannon. He’s pretty much an alien collaborator, looking forward to a conformist utopia. For once there’s no question that the aliens are a stand-in for a Communist takeover. “There are no victims, darling; …call them The Released” Tom tells his wife. That is, released from emotions, thoughts…humanity. So the ‘good’ guys are under “protective custody.” The whole town in fact. It’s good that there’s this political/philosophic backdrop. The “sole survivors of a dying race” rationalization has won Tom over to the aliens’ side, but not Paul.”I won’t love a monster, I won’t!” Claire insists. Meanwhile, Joan, having been alien-altered, greets Paul with a menacing, seductive ambush. Incredibly, he shoots her.

We’re dealing with the semi-helpless isolated community, which is essential in this sort of movie–to tie the suspended threads of disbelief together. The thing is, Tom and Paul are presumably running a space program from a military base and are in touch with a whole host of officials. Apparently, one section of about eight soldiers is in charge of, well, everything. This movie would benefit greatly from some stock footage–of large scale military roll-outs, civilian evacuations, etc.

Tom sort of comes around, facing Paul’s resolute stance: “He [the alien] is playing you for a big sucker!” Paul insists. Strangely, it’s Claire who goes after the alien. Like innumerable aliens before and after, the artichoke king holes up in a cave. Thanks to Paul’s one-man assassin team, the turncoat humans are methodically picked off.

Fittingly, it’s Tom who finishes off the alien. I can’t see how his little blow torch is more lethal than the bazooka, but his intervention allows one last speech about humanity, civilization. And then, an added treat, a narrator expounding on the same theme.

There’s some decent elements here: the premise, several noteworthy conventions of the genre, and the performances of the four main characters. But, It Conquered The World is less than the sum of its parts. The heart of the problem is the dorky look of the artichoke-like alien (ok, a chili or acorn if you like). That, and the message coming out everywhere like in a documentary (a good message nonetheless). It does take itself seriously for the most part, but I would take it more seriously if there were a bunch of those bat-creatures buzzing about, and the vegetable kingdom had stayed home.

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