Today’s flick, an aliens-in-the-desert sci-fi cheapie, is about as thin as one of these 1950s flicks can get. It features barely more than three locations, and one of those is a hole in the ground. But it is notable for being the first 3D picture that Universal released, if the internet is to be believed.
From 1953, It Came from Outer Space originated as a story treatment by Ray Bradbury, which was subsequently turned into a screenplay by Harry Essex. Jack Arnold was the director.
The film stars Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush as couple John Putnam and Ellen Fields. Ellen is a schoolteacher in the small desert town of Sand Rock, Arizona, while John is an astronomer who relocated to the area for its isolation. Also featured are Charles Drake as local sheriff Matt Warren, and Russell Johnson (The Professor!) as George, a telephone linesman.
One evening, while John and Ellen are enjoying the stars, a meteorite crashes through the sky and impacts nearby. The two load up into the most dangerous-looking helicopter ever designed (it has no canopy), and head to the site to investigate. The impact left a decent-sized crater, and John climbs down inside. There, he discovers an alien spacecraft, and catches a glimpse of the occupants before the whole kit and caboodle is buried in a landslide. Other townsfolk, including the sheriff, begin arriving at the site, but no one, with the exception of loyal Ellen, believes what John saw.
As for the aliens who were in the spacecraft, they aren’t really trapped. They seem able to come and go as they please. They begin to slink about the desert landscape around the crash site, and kidnap local residents. This is fairly alarming to John and Ellen, who are still the only people who have an inkling of events. As for the aliens, they have an excuse for their behavior. They didn’t come to Earth on purpose. They were just passing by and had a malfunction. They’re repairing their spaceship, but need to scavenge around for materials. Because of what we would regard as hideous and frightening visages, they are imitating and replacing townsfolk to facilitate their work. In a bit of pique, they assure John, in another encounter for which there are no witnesses, that everyone who has been kidnapped is fine, and they will be released as soon as the aliens are on their way. But, should anyone interfere, they’ll kill everyone.
John, for no reason rational enough for this plot, trusts the aliens, and decides to help them. He thinks they are superior beings, and sees no malevolence in either their threats or the kidnappings. It’s all just a big misunderstanding. Contrast that to the attitude of Sheriff Warren. It takes a while for him to come around to the idea that there are aliens roaming around, but when he does, all he wants to do is squash them like bugs. His attitude is as extremely belligerent as John’s is accommodating. It’s a stark contrast with no grey area at all. But, hey, the producers of this flick had such a small budget that half the film was shot on a desert road. If they weren’t going to pay for more than a weekend’s worth of location shooting, they weren’t going to pay for a nuanced screenplay, either.
And then there’s Ellen. As is always the case, imposing modern morality on the past is futile. But when Ellen floats through this movie like a Stepford wife, it can be a little grating. She is the absolute perfect girlfriend. She’s young, trim and fit, wears perfectly tailored dresses, is into whatever her boyfriend is into, and is by his side at all times, even to the detriment of her career. She never argues with him, always agrees with him in shared company, and is 100% supportive, even when everyone else in the movie thinks John is either a loon or a publicity hound. Only in a movie could this farce exist, but it’s a fascinating look at what was expected of American women in the 1950s.
Anyway, that, and all the cheapness, aside, this isn’t a bad flick. Not much happens in it, but what does is competent and amusing at points. The biggest problem is a lack of alien action. The creatures rarely appear, and when they do, they aren’t energetic at all. This is one for fans of 1950s monster fare. For others, it’s a throwaway.