Director: Jack Arnold
Writer: Harry Essex
Cast: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, and Kathleen Hughes
Composer: Joseph Gershenson
Release Date: 5/27/1953
MPAA Rating: G
Witnessing a meteorite crash in the Arizona desert, amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) decide to investigate. Upon observing the crater, Putnam discovers a spaceship operated by a crew of hideous, shape-shifting aliens who later abduct and steal the identities of several small-town residents. Despite his initial skepticism, Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) assembles a posse with which to confront the xenomorphs—now residing in a local mine. Convinced that the aliens wish to repair their vessel in peace, Putnam makes every effort to prevent a catastrophe from occurring.
One of the earliest films to feature extraterrestrials of a benevolent or innocuous variety, It Came from Outer Space should be commended for exploring a then unique trope in the world of science fiction. Also worth praising is the creepy, suspenseful tone of this offering, which will no doubt satisfy enthusiasts of the alien invasion genre.
During the kidnapping sequences, a number of alien POV shots capture the expressions of terror conveyed by human victims—an effective way of heightening apprehension without revealing the true forms of the invaders.
Additionally unnerving are the musical motifs of an uncredited Herman Stein, the eerie arrangement of whom serves to accentuate the mysterious, otherworldly, and possibly malevolent attributes of the alien creatures. (Astute viewers will, on a side note, detect many similarities between Stein’s composition for It Came from Outer Space and Bernard Herrmann’s theme from The Day the Earth Stood Still.)
Though atmospheric, It Came from Outer Space fails to generate a level of conflict that one would expect of a 1950s alien invasion story (e.g. The War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and The Thing from Another World). Specifically, the aliens reveal their intentions to Putnam at an early stage in the film’s narrative, leaving little opportunity for tensions to further escalate between the humans and their unwelcome visitors from another planet (the provocative actions taken by Sheriff Warren and the townspeople do, however, lead to a mildly intense confrontation in the climactic scenes).
Likely inspired by the Second Red Scare, It Came from Outer Space contains a commentary—albeit not a terribly subtle one—on the human tendency to overreact when faced with circumstances of a bizarre or inexplicable nature. Notably, many of the characters refuse to accept the advice offered by Putnam, instead choosing to attack the aliens without considering the potential consequences of so doing—a statement on man’s irrational, primitive responses toward the unknown.
It Came from Outer Space offers a clever, chilling, and original twist on a premise conceived by science fiction author Ray Bradbury. Fans of the sci-fi/horror crossover genre are thus advised to view this production, languid pacing and dated special effects notwithstanding.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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