INVADERS FROM MARS was just one of 1953s crop of science-fiction faves—The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The War Of The Worlds, It Came From Outer Space—and stumbling after them all, the immortal Robot Monster–-but it’s the one that struck a special chord for a generation of kids. We fragile boomers, now old enough to be grandparents, are still able to clearly recall how this little nightmare burrowed the extra mile into the Wonder Bread subconscious and seared memory as deeply as the death of Old Yeller. Gee whiz, it’s one thing if aliens blow stuff up—that’s expected and, face it, really cool—but when they turn your own parents against you, gosh, that’s almost enough to make you think that “it will all be okay” is one major crock of shit.
Young ‘David MacLean’ (Jimmy Hunt, 13) wakes up during a stormy night to see a flying saucer land just over a nearby hill. When his scientist father (Leif Erickson) checks out the scene, he returns changed, from warm and caring to cold and angry. Soon enough David’s mom (Hillary Brooke) is “not herself”, as are other townsfolk. A handy astronomer (Arthur Franz) and sympathetic physician (Helena Carter) believe David’s concerns and organize help from—who else?—the Army. Bring on the tanks (insert copious stock footage), crack that buried spaceship and give those Martians a taste of Uncle Sam’s right cross.
Done for a modest $290,000, the deceptively simple screenplay (Richard Blake’s dialogue is as sophisticated as swingset conversations) has a number of thematic elements that underpin the surface goofiness. Meanwhile, the direction, from famed production designer William Cameron Menzies (Things To Come, Gone With The Wind) ensures that ‘the look provides the feel’—that of a nightmare. Clever arrangement of sets and camera angles more than compensate for the dorky stock footage, and though the dialogue is laughable, fortunately the actors are all good. Hunt was a smart pick (casting a less likable and believable kid would’ve hurt), Carter is alluring as well as reassuring, and along with Franz, other solid character players from the era fill out the ranks: Morris Ankrum, Milburn Stone, Bert Freed (the scary police chief), Walter Sande, William Phipps and Douglas Kennedy. Blink and you’ll miss Barbara Billingsley and Richard Deacon (debut). Mexican actress Luce Luz Potter (1914-2005) played the Martian control noggin in the clear sphere—literally the “Head alien”. *
Effective music score is credited to Raoul Kraushaar, with some tweaking apparently done by Mort Glickman. On release in ’53, the film, done in color, made (according to Cogerson) around $2,300,000, but most of its enduring rep came from youngsters later seeing it on TV, in black & white. We didn’t have any idea that some of the special effects were created using 3,000 inflated condoms: please tell me they had some machine on hand to blow up all those Trojans, not some poor unsung slob who never lived down the kidding afterwards. 78 minutes of childhood mini-trauma is hard to find in a decent print.
My sparse comments don’t do this classic any justice: for that we simply wimp out and refer you to Glenn Erickson’s review and in-depth articles. Glenn’s the go-to-Earthling for this one. https://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s691mars.html and https://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s96InvadersA.html
Remade in 1986: everybody says that one is terrible.
* Luce Luz Potter in 1997: “I had no dialogue…It was something of a bit-part really, and yet I’ve been held in high esteem over the years for panicking generations as the leader of little green men. I had no idea what impact it would have, but fans write to me in their hundreds and say how I scared them to death as kids watching Invaders.” Purportedly, she was also a munchkin in The Wizard Of Oz. When Luz mentioned that the green men were little, she glossed over that one of them was played by Lock Martin, the 7’4″ fellow who had been under the makeup as ‘Gort’ in The Day The Earth Stood Still.