Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, 1956. 9/10

Entertaining sci-fi, with no lack of flying saucers. This makes up for a ton of classic-era sci-fi movies the barely show any alien stuff. The premise is the good old we-need-your-planet-as-ours-is-in-the-recycling-bin sort of deal. Our response is to lash together a wonder-weapon in 56 days or we’re doomed. All the way there’s alien abduction, brain-washing, and an array of special effects.

The couple Dr. Russell Marvin and Carol Marvin (Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor) get top billing, supported by Professor Kanter (John Zaremba), and the military might of Major Huglin (Donald Curtis), Brigadier General Hanley; also Carol’s dad (Morris Ankrum), Vice Admiral Enright (Thomas Browne Henry), and General Edmonds (Grandon Rhodes).

Quick start–with narration of swooping UFOs all over the world. Then, out in the Southwest desert, with the Marvins tootling along. Russell’s talking about the upcoming satellite launch ftom ‘Project Skyhook’. But, they’re being buzzed by a flying saucer. Time for a smoke. And onto the military base where the launching will take place. Their taped dictation is overlayed with alien buzz. General Hanley shows up, and wants to cancel the launch; but it’s too late.

The space program (‘Project Skyhook’) isn’t doing well–all of the satellites have been destroyed. Russell tells Hanley about the saucer sighting. Then He’s notified that the latest satellite is gone missing. What looks something like saucers hover on the horizon, but weirdly, Russell launches into an Aurora Borealis/St. Elmo’s Fire explanation for it (that’s later shown to be correct). Stubbornly, and somewhat naively, they go ahead with the twelveth launch. UFOs sighted too.

One of them lands. From a force field a couple of aliens appear–we only nail the one who leaves the protected area. They proceed to annihilate our men and weapons. Meanwhile, the rocket keels over, and rays projected from the aliens extended arms continue destroying the base. Eventually, the saucers lift off. But not without sucking in Hanley. In a cool interior shot, they speak to him “Whoever you are, whatever you are” he responds, astonished. Over his head looms a crystalline device that lights up Hanley’s brain.

The Marvins are hunkered down in the HQ building, deciphering the alien’s message. Well, miscommunication. Anyway, the Marvins are rescued. Over to the Pentagon. Incredibly, the brass there is skeptical of their story; isn’t it obvious what happened? There aren’t any more witnesses from that particular base, but the sightings have been going on worldwide. I’m wondering how they got their Mercury sedan across country when we see them traveling back East by plane…oh well. Russell is able to communicate with the aliens since he knows the frequency.

He’s stuck going to a clandestine meeting with them. “It’s started now, and I’ve got to go through with it” he tells Carol, and splits. He’s tailed by a motorcycle cop, and Carol and Major Huglin. At a remote beach they all see the saucer. And they’re all vacuumed up in the cylindrical shaft that telescopes into the bottom of the craft. In outer space, a view of earth. The same deal as in the previous interior shot; aliens lurking on the perimeter of the central area with the crystal speaking device overheard. They demonstrate their power by showing a saucer wiping out a destroyer.

A zombie-like Hanley emerges. They’ve harvested his brain to ‘learn about us.’ They brain-drain the patrolman too. Anyway, the purpose of the skyjacking is to have Marvin arrange a U.N.-like meeting of world governments to negotiate/communicate with the aliens. Meaning, to accept their surrender terms. “You will have two of your lunar days” to comply. Very obtusely, the brass is skeptical again.

Marvin has an idea for an “ultra sonic gun” for defense. Now, the destroyer sinking confirmed, they get full Pentagon backing. Soon enough, they have a working prototype of the sonic gun; but it’s just a miniature. Working on Professor Kanter’s theory of what-not, they try a different tack–which works perfectly. Very eerily, an alien drone is spying on them, but it crashes.

A saucer lands and an alien goes inside the building, looking for them. Luckily, they’ve anticipated that, and ambush the craft from an ersatz weapons platform. Kanter is disintegrated. but the Major drops one of the aliens with a rifle. Man, these guys are ugly! And decompose quicker than Dracula at high noon. Stock footage of a B-29 going down. And death-ray destruction all around.

Disgustingly, one of them hovers long enough to drop the corpses of the General and the patrolman. Next up, the brass watch as the Marvins demonstrate the alien’s communication device, sourced from the dead one’s gear. But, check out that hokey computer! looks like a gigantic foosball table, with all the figures wiggling around. The alien helmet has sensory enhancing ability. Now, the aliens tell us that they’re going to mess with our environment–by tweaking the sun to produce meteorological mayhem.

That seems nuts, why would they risk destroying the earth if they want to take it over? Anyway, the timeline is short. Nine days left. Ok, I guess we have to ramp-up production of the new weapon. So, storms wreak havoc: stock footage of flooding. Alerts, troops mobilizing, jets and missiles deployed. Strange how the Shooting Star jets turn into prop-driven planes. Panicky crowds in D.C.

But our new weapon starts downing the saucers. The destruction scenes are very convincing; especially as the saucers appear very large, very low. Man, landing in front of the White House: nervy aliens! That intrusive saucer crashes. Particularly cool is the saucer crashing inside of the train station. Now, to the Capital Building. More wreckage–most spectacularly, the capital dome is sheared off. But, thankfully, an announcement that the danger has passed. We’re all good, at least locally. On the beach, Carol asks Russell “Do you think there’s are any more?…” His comeback: “Not on such a nice day.”

I remember snippets of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers from its showings on tv in the early ’60s. It’s amazing how many scenes stick with me: “whoever you are, whatever you are,” the four people abducted, the blown-up destroyer, the sonic gun, the amazingly authentic scenes of destruction, and, most of all, the incredibly well-done flying saucers. In some ways, these scenes and dialogue is memorable because they’re pretty much iconic stuff that recurs in other movies of the era.

If you only ever see one sci-fi movie from the era, this is the best example of the genre. I don’t necessarily mean that this is the best sci-fi movie of the ’50s, but that it creates a plausible scenario for an alien invasion that successfully covers all of its bases. There’s some minor miscues (the world leader meeting not only doesn’t take place, we sort of drop the subject towards the end) but the dramatic tension, surging along with quick pacing, never lets up. There’s no miracle ending, such as in War of the Worlds. There’s a miracle weapon, but it takes a lot of doing to get itvright, which makes sense.

Just enough time is given to each aspect of the plot so that the movie’s even more than the sum of its parts. There’s romance, but since the couple’s already married, that doesn’t intrude. Russell isn’t a fish-out-of-water like some local experts in this type of movie–so he fits right in everywhere. Similarly, so does Carol and her father, the General. There really aren’t any subplots to waste time, and the supporting characters do just that, reinforce the actions of Russell, Carol, and the General without needless comic relief or rival interests.

Farmermouse was spooked by the aliens, but thought the flying saucers were pretty snappy, so he gives Earth vs. the Flying Saucers nine laserbeams. 9/10.

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