Sputnik was only a year away when alien invaders descended on Washington D.C. with their terrifying death rays in Fred F. Sears’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, one of countless pieces of ‘50s pulp to come out of a social fabric defined equally by interest in the unknown and mounting Cold War paranoia. Here, however, such social significance takes a backseat to pure B-movie matinee fun, albeit without losing any of its implicit self-examinations of moral questions in the process; the film lacks the weight of works like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing from Another World, but its thrills never want for intelligent examination of human behavior under duress.
A series of rocket ships designed to collect information while orbiting the earth have been falling back to the surface almost as quickly as they’ve been launched, an occurrence soon explained by presence an extraterrestrial species hovering nearby. Secretly planning to take over with as little force as necessary, the invaders only use force when fired upon by a typically knee-jerk military, and quickly, their malicious intentions send scientists scrambling to discover a means to defend the earth against such technologically superior beings. Unlike the ballsier Gojira, nuclear power is never explicitly invoked in the film, but a question of “what if” hangs dreadfully over the proceedings as the destruction ensues, begging reflection on the effectiveness of first attack versus the necessity of weapons as a means of self-defense.
Don’t feel too bad, though, if the notion of mutually assured destruction fails to cross your mind during the film’s climactic set piece, in which the titular flying saucers descend on the U.S. capital in Ray Harryhausen stop-motion glory, an incredible mixture of animation, miniature work, stock footage, and location shooting. That the saucers are about the most stationary special effect Harryhausen ever worked on is of little matter: Infused with personality a la the thumbprint of the artist, they are a joyous creation to behold as they spin and pivot throughout the sky. I can only hope the human cast will forgive me for saying that the saucers are the most expressive characters in the entire film.