To help us celebrate the holidays this year, on December 12th, 20th Century Fox releases its remake of the classic 1951 sci-fi film, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," starring Keanu Reeves in the role of "Klaatu," first played by Michael Rennie 57 years ago. Movie Smackdown will, of course, be putting the two films in the ring against each other and maybe even several times in different combinations. To us, well, this is like an event of historical proportions.
Today we've asked SmackRef Bob Nowotny to get the laser beams flying by introducing us to the joys of 1950s sci-fi invasion films. We knew he was the right man for the job since he actually believes, and I'm quoting:
one cannot argue (at least convincingly) is that any science
fiction/alien invasion movie produced after 1959 is the equal of these
well respected classics. Yes, there have been subsequent science
fiction films brought to the screen, but they are all pretenders to the
After Bob's Blurb (note to Bob: we gift you this as the name of your next blog), you'll find a brand-new fresh-off-the-bus SmackPoll where you can express your own opinion(s). Our goal is to find an "Alien Invasion" film winner from the Classic era, and put it up against a similar winner from the Modern era. This is, admittedly, a pretty ambitious goal for a site run only on blood, sweat and tears but, given the subject matter, maybe the fate of the Earth rests on it. In the meantime, here's Bob and his alien-infested trip down memory lane.
Ah, yes, the Glorious 1950s. The decade that gave us McCarthyism, duck-and-cover drills, rock-and-roll and the hula hoop, also gave us the Golden Age of Hollywood Science Fiction. At least two dozen terrific motion pictures came from this era, each worthy of being declared the best sci-fi flick ever, and most of them dealt with aliens coming to Earth with, often, nefarious intent. This was also, you'll recall, the decade when flying saucers really caught on in the public imagination. (Note to UFO people: Yes, I know… Kenneth Arnold, Roswell, etc. 1947… but the 50s was when Hollywood lent its media muscle to the cause.)
The films were full of intergalactic travel, alien life forms, invisible shields, ray guns, Robbie the Robot (who could easily kick the ass of R2-D2 and 3-CPO simultaneously), and that's only the beginning…
Before there was such a thing as CG and HD and 24p, there were authentic 35mm science fiction-themed motion pictures with intelligent scripts, memorable character arcs and an exploration of meaningful issues like the Red Scare or the dangers of nuclear technology.
Among all these glorious Technicolor gems was a unique sub-genre — the "alien invasion film" — which, one could argue, comprises the best of the best.
And so here, in chronological order, are the ten candidates for the best alien invasion film of the 1950s:
- THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) — There's plenty of reasons this production is on our list, but it is probably the memorable dialogue that stands out the most. Lines like: "An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles!" are never forgotten. Nor is the warning at the very end: "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" This youngster certainly did, and still does…
- THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) – A true classic, selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. What else do we need to say other than "Klaatu barada nikto" mofo…
- IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) – Based on a short story by one of the masters of science fiction, Ray Bradbury. Thanks to his character Sheriff Matt Warren we learn that "More people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature…lower temperatures people are lazy-going, over ninety-two its too hot to move, but just ninety-two people get irritable. " That's something worth knowing. (I assume it's always 92 degrees in Rush Limbaugh's studio…)
- INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) — Aliens take over the bodies of humans turning friends, neighbors and loved ones into cold-hearted, ruthless, sullen people. If Ann Coulter would have been alive in 1953 she would have been cast for sure.
- THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) — Sheriff Bogany: "What is that gizmo?" Forrester: "I'd say that gizmo is a machine from another planet." And what gizmos they were. Too bad they will never be seen again. Unfortunately, these marvelous Martian war machines were made out of copper and after production ended some studio bozo donated them to be melted down for a Boy Scout copper drive. Just think what they would fetch today on e-bay…
- THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) — Any film featuring Faith Domergue in costumes so tight that she couldn't wear underwear is a classic. No wonder the official Tagline declared: "The Supreme Excitement Of Our Time!"
- EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) — General Edwards: "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea or cookies." Now you know why Santa skips Washington, D.C. each year.
- INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) — Ambulance Driver: "Well, I don't know what they are; I never saw them before. They looked like great big seed pods." Sort of like the Burpee Company on steroids, but don't be mislead, this is definitely a sci-fi classic that will still scare the heebie jeebies out of you despite a special effects budget totaling a mere $15,000.
- INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN (1957) — According to American International's Tagline: "They Threatened The World Until Some Hep Youngsters Took Over!" Hep? Yep.
- THE BLOB (1958) — The working title was THE BLOB THAT GIRDLED THE WORLD. I guess Playtex objected. Still, any feature film that stars Steve McQueen, has a title song co-written by Burt Bacharach and possesses more silicone gel than two Carol Dodas is a must see.
Now that you're hooked, you may want to read a truly excellent explanation of all this by MSNBC writer Erik Lundegaard, "Keep Watching the Skies," from the summer of 2007. But wait! Don't click there yet. You haven't done your patriotic duty. That's right, you have to vote, or Democracy itself could collapse, and that might even be a sign to aliens that it's time to take over.
The ten films all stand tall on their own merit and any one of these will be a worthy and winning finalist that will surely kick some latter-day sci-fi butt — after all, Robbie wouldn't have it any other way.
Two things about this poll. First, you get to vote for your top three films. Second, if you change your mind because you actually rent and watch some of them, you can come back and re-vote.
Meantime, "Keep watching the skies…"