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They're wonderful, *they've* done something to them, something awful!


Invaders from Mars
(1953)

The first half hour of this is tremendous, a pre-Invasion of the Body Snatchers paranoia vignette bringing alienation into the heart of the nuclear family. It’s made all-the-more disturbing through being told from the point-of-view of a small boy (David, played by Jimmy Hunt). His loving parents become cold and physically abusive following their investigation of a strange light coming from a nearby sandpit. A modern filmmaker would surely blanche at depicting childhood fears in quite so undiluted a fashion. Certainly, it makes Kevin McCarthy's (or Donald Sutherland's) concerns seem much more manageable.

Leif Erickson and Hilary Brooke do fine work as the doting parents turned into heartless automatons (although this change is so over-the-top that no one would fail to notice something was wrong; these Martians need to do more groundwork). The lighting and staging in these early (pre-transformation) scenes support the unsettling nature of what is to come; when Erickson stands in the doorway to his son’s bedroom he is just a shape shrouded in shadow and could be the embodiment of any child’s fears.

But then, following a detour to the police station and the intervention of an enormously insightful doctor (Helena Carter) we’re subjected to an earnest 20-minute science lecture in which an astonishingly credulous (luckily for the boy) and far-seeing astronomer (Arthur Franz) informs us of all the current theories concerning UFOs and space travel. These range from referencing actual events (the Lubbock Lights) to mewtards (actually mutants, but that's how I kept hearing it) living on Mars. I saw the British version of the film, which expands this scene (other changes saw the saucer blown up at the end and the removal of the original the ending which suggested it might all have been a bad dream).

And then he gets the military involved, who also believe him unquestioningly (I guess this is part and parcel of having a rocket base on your doorstep; UFOs are ten-a-penny). Oh, for the halcyon days of good old commie-under-the-bed terror eh? The last third of the film shows us the mutants, and their master, none of whom are all that impressive (the Martian slightly more so, in a tentacled head kind of way) while the army employs extensive stock footage to defeat the menace. It's all a triumph for the scientific/military establishment. And little David even gets mom and dad back!

Ronald Reagan was surely inspired by the movie’s vision for the future of America’s defence systems:

Dr. Kelson: It's just a matter of time before we set up inner-planetary stations, equipped with atomic power and operated by remote control. Then, if any nation dared attack us, by pushing a few buttons, we could wipe them out in a matter of minutes.

Director William Cameron Menzies was foremost an art director and production designer, but during the 1930s and 1940s he called the shots on a number of big pictures, both credited and uncredited. These included Things to Come and The Thief of Bagdad. Invaders is most certainly a cheapie, but there’s a flair to the set design and imagery that contrasts with the plodding B-nature of the script.

***

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