We discussed many a film, novel, and obscure historical fact at the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention panel on Mars in Fiction, but we neglected to mention this influential 1950s alien invasion film. Two things separate it from the others of its genre: it was shot in color, and it has been presented from a scared child’s perspective.

Title: Invaders from Mars

Cast and Crew

Director: William Cameron Menzies
Writers: John Tucker Battle and Richard Blake.

Cast

Jimmy Hunt as David Mclean
Helena Carter as Dr. Pat Blake
Arthur Frantz as Dr. Stuart Kelston
Lief Erickson as George Mclean
Hilary Brooke as Mary Mclean
Morris Ankrum as Col. Fielding
Max Wagner as Sgt. Rinaldi
Janine Perreau as Kathy Wilson

Further information is available at the imdb.

Available at Amazon

Premise

A scientist’s son sees a flying saucer land, and soon realizes that aliens have taken over the minds of his parents and several key figures in the local military and scientific communities as a prelude to an invasion.

High Point

The opening scenes hold up well. The stylized colour imagery looks good, and the decision to tell the story from a child’s perspective gives a creepiness to the story and allows a sympathy with the protagonist unusual in 50s SF films. The paranoia of the original doubtless has its origins in the era’s McCarthyism, but it remains potent separated from that historic context.

Low Points

So many things don’t work. The child protagonist gets full run of the military operation. We’re treated to endless exposition, frequently involving people who accurately speculate on the workings of Martian society and technology while they first encounter it. Consider:

Dr. Blake: Do you mean those Martians can be giving instruction right now to the people they’ve operated on, and they would do exactly as they’re told?
Soldier: Possibly, and when they’ve served their purpose, they could loose a wave that would detonate that little bow in their brain.
David: No!
Dr. Blake (aside to soldiers): His parents have been operated on.

One of the two endings for this film actually makes some sense of these aspects—- but that ending is a disappointing cliché.

The Review

Originality: 4/6. This is an original take on the then-current alien invasion film. Invaders also calls the Martian thralls Mutants, a name and pronunciation that would be replicated in This Island Earth two years later—as would the “pulsating head” effect.

Effects 3/6 No more able than most other 50s SF film to do truly realistic effects, this film opts for theatrical stylization, and the approach sometimes works. Invaders visuals oscillate between excellent shots that make effective use of colour and light, and cheesy effects that make 60s era Doctor Who look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. The design of the head Martian is memorable (It may be viewed here, at 8:21).

Story 5/6 The premise is excellent, which may explain why someone remade the film in 1986 and NextGen Star Trek stole it for the first-season episode “Conspiracy”—- including the manner in which the alien-possessed can be identified. SCTV also did an extended spoof of the story. The execution, unfortunately, is riddled with implausible details and excessive exposition.

Acting 3/6. Some of the acting, especially in the beginning, is fine. Many of the performances are wooden and flat. The lead belongs to a child actor who is simply not consistent.

Production 4/6.

Emotional Response 4/6 The film works if viewed as cheesy 50s SF. Portions of it exceed expecations.

Overall 4/6.

In total, Invaders from Mars receives 27/42.

Notes

The original, American ending strongly suggests that this was ALL A DREAM…. OR WAS IT? The British version alters that ending, and includes an earlier, additional scene of heavy exposition to help provide context.