Monday, July 28, 2014


Back when I was in high school in the early 1970s, KTBC-Channel 7, a local television station, bought a package of Columbia Studios films to show in prime time on Wednesday nights. Films in this package included BELL, BOOK, AND CANDLE (1958) and THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) (which was produced by Great Britain's Hammer Studios but theatrically released in the U.S. by Columbia). I watched both of these films for the first time when they were broadcast and enjoyed them both but I can only recall watching one other film from this package. And it's a doozy.

I don't know if I finished my homework first and then watched the movie, or, if I did my homework during the commercials or, if I just said "oh, to hell with my homework, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS is on TV tonight and I'm watching it!" I suspect it might have been that last option. Regardless, I watched the film on the portable black-and-white television set I had in my bedroom at the time and I loved every minute of it.

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) was rushed into production to cash in on the then current flying saucer craze. Fred F. Sears directed the screenplay (by Curt Siodmak, George Worthing Yates and Bernard Gordon) that was "suggested" by the book FLYING SAUCERS FROM OUTER SPACE by Major Donald Keyhoe. But all of that really doesn't matter. What matters is that the special effects are by Ray Harryhausen.

In EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (and how's that for a matter-of-fact film title?), Harryhausen turned his stop-motion animation wizardry to the task of animating inanimate objects (in this case, flying saucers), rather that the creatures he had previously brought to life in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955). In addition to the flying saucers, Harryhausen animated several Washington D.C. landmarks (the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court building and the U.S. Capitol) as they're destroyed by the rampaging saucers. By the way, I saw some of the original models of the flying saucers and the Washington buildings when I visited the legendary Ackermansion museum home of the late, great Forrest J. Ackerman in 1994.

In the film, Hugh (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) Marlowe and the lovely Joan Taylor, play a newly married couple. Marlowe's a scientist and Taylor's dad, the venerable Morris Ankrum, is a U.S. army general. Shades of General Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce Banner and Betsy Ross from Marvel's INCREDIBLE HULK comic book series which debuted several years later. But here, it's not Marlowe who turns into a monster but Ankrum, who becomes a zombie at the hands of the aliens.

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS features an attack by the saucers early in the film, then a long, talky dead period in which the people of earth are given way too much time to construct a counter-weapon against the aliens (some scenes in this stretch of the movie echo similar sequences in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)). Marlowe comes up with an effective weapon to use against the aliens in the last reel which features the saucers' attack on Washington D.C. in what passes for "destruction porn" circa the mid-50s.

I recently purchased the blu ray edition of the film which features the original version of EARTH in pristine black and white. That's the version I watched the other day. There's also a digitally colorized version of the film. I watched a few minutes of it, just to see what the color looked like. I must confess, it's remarkably well done, far better than those godawful colorized films of the 1990s. And Ray Harryhausen himself approved of this colorized edition. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. You can watch either version on this disc (along with a bunch of other special features) but the purist in me prefers the original b&w version.

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS isn't a great film and it's certainly not Harryhausen's finest work. That was yet to come. But it's a sturdy example of 1950s science fiction cinema and I got a kick out of watching it again the other day.

 And I didn't even have to ditch my homework to do so.

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