Roger Corman was a better director than Bert I. Gordon. That’s obvious, of course. Roger Corman is a Hollywood legend, while Gordon is known only to us poor souls who like trash cinema. Corman’s reputation has been burnished by all the successful filmmakers that came through his stable, but he could trash it up with the worst of them. I mention Corman and Gordon in the same breath because today’s It Came from the 1950s entry is almost indistinguishable from the crap Gordon used to turn out. The only major difference is that Corman knew how to end a scene before things got too boring.
It Conquered the World was released in 1956, and was directed and produced by Corman from a screenplay by Lou Rusoff, who penned the execrable Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. This flick is miles better than Phantom, and it still stinks.
It stars Peter Graves as Dr. Paul Nelson, who works on a project launching America’s first satellites into orbit. One of his friends is Dr. Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef), a scientist disillusioned with the state of mankind. How fortunate for Dr. Anderson that he finds a friend in an alien being from Venus, one of the last of his race. The alien communicates with Anderson through a radio set in Anderson’s house. The alien is giving Anderson instructions to help pave the way for a Venusian takeover of Earth.
For reasons that are never explained adequately, Anderson is all for the invasion, despite the fact that controlling the world’s governments won’t be enough for our new alien overlords. The alien in contact with Anderson lands nearby and releases bat-like creatures that sting a person in the neck and link them somehow to the alien. These poor people are now docile and controlled.
Meanwhile, there is debate, and lots of it, between Anderson, Nelson, and their wives, Claire Anderson and Joan Nelson (Beverly Garland and Sally Fraser). The running time for this dog is only 71 minutes, but, like with most b-flicks of the era, Corman still needed to find ways to fill his movie. He did it with these scenes. Not quite domestic, not quite cocktail hour, these scenes are where the film drags the most.
The good news is, Corman was a much better storyteller than most of his shitty contemporaries. He softens the tedium of these scenes with lots of cuts, and, as mentioned above, gets the audience out before it becomes too much to bear. This is filmmaking as craft and ruthless profit-making enterprise. Corman had skill, and it’s something of a shame that he chose to squeeze blood from a rock in film after film instead of trying for something special.
The rest of the film is stuffed full of tropes and cliché that will be familiar to fans of period monster flicks, and Bronson Canyon even makes an appearance. That’s where the monster is hiding, of course.
The monster itself is quite the spectacle. It’s a foam rubber cone about as tall as a man, and, well…here it is:
That’s a joke, right? Corman and company couldn’t have expected the audience to take that seriously, could they? No matter what their intentions, that thing is hilarious. It’s worth the price of admission alone, especially in the climactic ending, when Nelson and the army do battle with it. The future of the human race is at stake, and none of the characters drops dead laughing when they see the creature. That’s the best bit of acting in the entire film.
Of final note is the film’s anti-communist tone. Coming from 1956, this film landed near the end of America’s most unhinged red scare. And the evidence is everywhere, from the mind control, to Anderson, a scientist, betraying the human race, à la so many nuclear physicists out here in the real world who gave our secrets to the Soviet Union. The only thing missing is alien propaganda, but, really, who needs propaganda when the entire population are robot-like slaves? The alien is the ultimate expression of communist oppression, and Nelson’s fight against it embodies American ideals as much as human ones. The analogs to communism are clumsy, and the only reason I bring it up is because they are so obvious, and would have felt like an omission were I to fail to mention it. It’s an easily ignored aspect of the film.
What a shitty movie. Corman may have been better at making a flick like this than Bert I. Gordon, and the monster may be shitty gold, but the rest of the film drags down its placement in the Watchability Index. Despite its promise, and a fair amount of hilarity, It Conquered the World is a middling shitty watch, slotting in at #139, between Cyborg X and Resident Evil: Apocalypse.