I took another chance on a Sexagenarian classic of cinema, to see if it holds up as well as it did when I saw it aged 8, and the answer is “Not really, but it did look pretty”. Obviously frontloading a review with that information is going to cut down on the number of people reading on, but after this movie mucked me around for 86 minutes it would be unfair to not cut to the chase here.
The basic premise of the plot is intriguing, which is to say it’s almost interesting but forgot to have any emotional impact. Dr Strong-Chin American (Rex Reason, I checked and that’s his real name), jet pilot, nuclear physicist, and hell-of-a-guy, gets saved from near death by a mysterious green-ray, then has some mysterious equipment sent to his lab, along with instructions on how to put together a mysterious device called, mysteriously, an interocitor. On completing the device, he gets contacted by Obviously-An-Alien (Jeff Morrow), who invites him off on a mysterious journey. Oooooh, mysterious.
After 50 minutes of build-up, and the world finest scientists not thinking anything strange about a group of near-identical people with foreheads you can land a plane on, the story stops mucking around and take us on a journey to outer space. As space is big, it gives the aliens time to explain why the last hour just happened, because everyone loves a calmly delivered monologue. Once Dr American and Dr Lady American (Faith Domergue) get to Alien Planet, they get another, slightly less calm, monologue about why it’s now dead due to a space war and they start their journey back home again 10 minutes after landing. Then a man in a rubber suit attacks Dr Lady American but is defeated by it having been previously injured, and Obviously-An-Alien crashes the flying saucer into the sea.
That’s it; that’s the whole story. “We had a space war, but you got here late so your whole journey was pointless. By the way, aliens exist”. On the plus side, it really does look as amazing as Universal Pictures first colour sci-fi movie should. It’s filled with Raygun Gothic design marvels, a cavalcade of colourful nonsense and visual ingenuity. Possibly more impressive, some of the effects still hold up today, although the obvious bits of string and the aforementioned man in the rubber suit may make it hard for you to give them the credit that they are due.
However, that doesn’t get away from the story and acting looking even worse now than it did at the time. It’s an excuse for the visuals, and it seems as those any kind of possible excitement was beaten out of it. There are potential plots of free will, early cold war tensions, post-war American idealism, and general humanity that are briefly suggested at and then hurried away for fear it might overload the viewer’s mind. Even the title isn’t explained, wasting even more of the source material’s potential.
It very much deserves its place in history, and it is understandable as to why it did so well at the time, but it is fundamentally an advert for Technicolour. Godzilla, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them! and The Quatermass Experiment were its contemporaries, so there is no good reason the writing, acting, messaging, or adapting from source material couldn’t have been better so even marked against films of its time it’s very attractive Trash. Universal decided to play things far too safe, leaving the film disappointingly dull under its exquisite exterior.