Target Earth

TARGET EARTH, with its bargain basement dangers, made for a neat Saturday matinee if you were about six years old back when sf-fodder was a TV staple on weekends. Shot in seven days for $85,000, this knuckleheaded nugget came out in 1954 to contend with other homicide-by-3rd-party affairs in a year rife with robots: Gog threatened Richard Egan and Tobor the Great went haywire. They’d been preceded in ’53 by the immortal Robot Monster and the unsung The Twonky, and would soon be followed by the neato ‘Robby’ from Forbidden Planet and The Invisible Boy, as well as the less-friendly Kronos. Cool or clunky, all those clankers owed a debt to the chilling ‘Gort’ of 1951’s classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. 

Scene included to keep you hooked even if the monster’s a gyp

Los Angeles has been evacuated after an attack from an alien robot army. A handful of people missed it. ‘Frank’ (Richard Denning) had been knocked cold in a robbery. ‘Nora’ (Kathleen Crowley) awakens after botching a suicide attempt by not using enough pills (an odd element to inject in a movie best-used to keep kids from bothering you for an hour and a quarter—“Mom and Dad are taking a nap. Just enjoy the movie and don’t answer the door or phone”). Love-boids ‘Vicki’ (Virginia Grey) and ‘Jim’ (Richard Reeves) have been swilling champagne all night in a deserted bar (someone at least is using common sense). Banding together to play hide & seek from the alien army (represented by one robot), they’re joined by vicious punk ‘Davis (Robert Roark), because having imminent annihilation from Venus isn’t sufficient threat, so bring in a nut with a gun. ‘Authorities’ have pegged Venus as the aggressor planet, because its “atmosphere is conducive to life” (news to anyone over five).

During the monster-crawling 50s, Denning was second only to John Agar when it came to fighting mankind’s enemies, be they Earth-spawned or Space-borne, serving tersely in Creature From The Black Lagoon, Unknown Island, Day The World Ended, Creature With The Atom Brain and The Black Scorpion. Hot number Kathleen Crowley mostly worked on TV, usually as a ‘guest siren’: here she’s outfitted to emphasize her figure more than the relative seriousness of imminent doom. Capable vet Virginia Grey puts a brave face on the material, and those bemused by bit player trivia will note that this was one of the only times in 226 credits that tough-looking Richard Reeves got to play a decent fella.

 Back to their nemesis—like the great Gort, here the party crasher from another world uses a handy “cathode ray tube” to zap pesky earthlings. But Gort’s sleekness was in a movie that had an actual budget: this walking oven is effectively a live-action cartoon. The death ray beams from an upended wastebasket atop linebacker shoulders on a triangle torso with a cheerleader waist, stovepipe arms with pincher hands, tottering forward on legs stolen from a drainage system, capped by a steel jock. The robot was inhabited by a hardy fellow named Steve Calvert, who did gigs like this while moonlighting from being a bartender at Ciro’s on Sunset Strip, where presumably someone pitched him the job while they were drinking-thinking up “science terms” for the script. “A Five-Martini Production.”

The screenplay by James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung (love that name!), and William Raynor (it took three people to write this?) does offer Denning a gallant moment: after chasing Castle down an alley, he tells her “Take it easy. I’m not going to hurt you“, whereupon he seizes her by the shoulders and slaps her, adding “That’s more like it. Now calm down!”

Directed (“Okay, Dick–look scared, move boxes around, light a Lucky”) by Sherman A. Rose. On the budget, producer Herman Cohen leveled with posterity: “We had to invade the city of Los Angeles with one robot.”

With Whit Bissell, admirably serious while mouthing the scientific explanations, and Arthur Space, clenching jaw attentively as the aptly named ‘General Wood’. 75 minutes.

 

 

 

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