Invaders From Mars (1953)
I started to watch movies as a child. Laying on the floor in the living room, looking up at the old black and white set, I would be entertained for endless hours watch any of the many Sci-Fi features in the late afternoon. One film had more than the usual impact on my young mind, Invaders from Mars. (Iím of the age that you can assume Iím referring to the fifties version not the remake.) Young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) loves astronomy. He has a little telescope ad wakes up one fateful night to observe a celestial event. His father (Leif Erickson) and mother (Hillary Brooke) are awakened but his kind-hearted father lets David stay up to take a last look. David sees a space ship land in the sandy lot behind his house. He runs to his parents and his father investigates, gone until morning. When dad gets back he is changed, mean, he even hits mom! David knows that something is horribly wrong. As the tale unfolds he finds that Martians have landed behind his house and are intent on stopping the secret atomic rocket project (so secret that it seems everyone in towns knows about it.) David finds that more and more of the town now have little devices on their necks and are under the control of the aliens. He finds that the townís young female doctor Pat Blake (Helena Carter) is device free and willing to help. David summons the U.S. Army who sends Colonel Fielding (Morris Ankrum) and his faithful sidekick Sergeant Rinaldi (Max Wagner). While this film is at face value one of many such genre flicks of the fifties it rises above the lot for several reasons. I know that this is not just a personal feeling since once my wife was talking to her sister about the film an invoked vivid memories of it by wiggling her fingers under her chin and shouting ĎMutantí. Those that have seen the film will know what Iím talking about here! This film represents the peak of the cold war military propaganda films of the time. A small boy can call in the army to meet the threat from the stars. The army is always ready to defend against any menace. What really places this film in its own beloved category is the fact that the end makes you doubt the division between dreams and reality. This is some concept for the typical seven year that watched this film before bed. There is the breakdown of trust between a child and his parents, his reaction of going to an authority figure like the doctor for solace and his trust in the military to make things right again. While the film barely clocks over an hour and fifteen minutes it is packed with genuine human emotions and a nice little story.
The cast is familiar to many old movie buffs. Hillary Brooke was a femme fatale in many early mysteries but may be best known for her work on the Abbot and Costello TV show. She is the epitome of Mom here, supportive of her family, loving and devote as wife and mother. There is enough normal mom shown so that the audience appreciates the drastic change in personality that freaks out young David. Erickson had a career that spanned almost five decades and just about every genre of film. He is at his best in films like this where you have to believe him as an Ďevery-maní, someone the audience can readily identify with. Jimmy Hunt was perfect as David. As a kid I identified with his love of science, his trust in family and wanting to see something special in the black of the night sky. He was a good little actor, holding his own opposite much more seasoned actors.
William Cameron Menzies directed this cult classic but is best known as a set designer for films like Gone with the Wind. His main profession adds a lot to the look of this film. There are sets that bend perception like a surrealistic painting. Take a note of the hallway to the police station, the way the length and height seem unreal and the shadows add so much to the mode. Menzies also directed another favorite of mind, H.G. Wellís Things to Come (1936). If you get a change check it out as well. Menzies knows how to work with the typically short time allotted to these films. The action moves at a nice pace keeping the expository material balanced by the albeit cheesy special effects. Sure you can see the zippers on the backs of the Martian mutants but who cares, You have to put yourself in the mind of a seven year old to enjoy this film. Menzies uses the sets to show more than dialogue could have conveyed. The sand pit pulling the fighting Rinaldi to his fate, fence that drops off to nothingness and the stark room where the boy, stripped of everything familiar to him must learn to trust the doctor.
This is the way a cult classic film should be presented. I have cherished my VHS tape for years and it is starting to show the effects of wear. Now, with a DVD I get not only the American version I have know for all these decades but I get the British release version as well. This provides a somewhat different ending to consider. There is also a booklet detailing the problems encountered while restoring this film. Many may feel the video is too dark, just be thankful we have a fairly clean copy of this film to own. While only in 4:3 color video and digital mono sound this film should be purchased on the merit of how fun it is to watch not the technical merits we hold films to today. Appreciate this film either as a part of your childhood revisited or for the younger viewers where the modern Sci-Fi films today came from. The style of the film is worth the price. Add this one to your collection and remember it every time you awaken from a bad dream.