Inspired by an outline by Ray Bradbury and modified for the screen by Harry Essex, It Came From Outer Space remains the granddaddy of the ‘50s atomic-scare pictures. It’s relatively easy to pinpoint the metaphors at work yet It Came From Outer Space remains especially evocative thanks to Jack Arnold’s 3-D savvy direction and the poetic tonality of the film’s dialogue. Astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson, perhaps an early prototype for David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder) spends a comfortable night at home with his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush). His opening voiceover suggests a man both wary of the future and convinced that truth lies somewhere in the stars. A meteor crashes into a secluded desert area just outside his home. At the crash site, Jack discovers an alien spacecraft and is convinced of a foreign threat when the film’s gelatinous eye creatures begin to turn the townsfolk into host bodies. Though the sheriff is respectfully mindful of John’s individual mantra (“He’s an individual and lonely, he thinks for himself”), he still sees the “young astronomer” as a crackpot. When schoolteacher Ellen skips class to go alien-hunting, the sheriff’s assistant questions her “responsibility to the community” when he’s clearly oblivious to John’s own concerns for the well-being of the town. Beyond the poetry of its words, It Came from Outer Space evokes an American landscape unprepared for friendly alien contact. Alien perspective is rendered via an oil-filled dish placed directly over the camera but Universal would later insist on the addition of 3-D compliable scenes of the actual aliens (here, a glitter-dropping eyeball with bad hair extensions). The hokey “xenomorphs” would egregiously emphasize the film’s subtle indictment of human prejudice: that we seek to destroy what we don’t understand.
- Jack Arnold
- Harry Essex
- Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes
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