Today’s installment of 37 Minutes is a guest post by Channel 37’s historian-in-residence — aerospace historian, archivist, professor, and author, Dr. Anne Millbrooke. Follow Anne on Facebook
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Scary things come from outer space, according to Earth-based movies of the 1950s. Fear of enemy invasion, nuclear war, and Nazis influenced storylines. Four examples will illustrate.
The Phantom from Space (1953) landed in Santa Monica. His spacesuit causes a stir, so he takes it off. That’s when viewers discover that the phantom is invisible! Silicon, rather than carbon base, might explain this X man. Directed and produced by W. Lee Wilder, the movie opens when radar “with eyes that never sleep” picks up an unidentified flying object. It ends . . . well, that would be telling.
Killers from Space (1954), also directed by W. Lee Wilder, begins with an atmospheric test of an atomic bomb in Nevada. Peter Graves as scientist Dr. Martin survives an unsurvivable crash of the support plane Tar Baby 2. With an unexplainable scar on his chest, Dr. Martin behaves strangely thereafter.
Big-eyed aliens from the planet Astron Delta left their planet became their sun was dying. They must move to survive, and earth can support their population of a billion aliens. As they prepare to invade Earth, they capture the radiation released from each atomic explosion in the nuclear test program. The aliens use the atomic radiation to control genetic mutations of insects and other Earth creatures that will become the aliens’ army for the forthcoming invasion. Oh, what can Dr. Martin do to stop them?
A low-budget film directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr., Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) brings alien grave robbers to Earth. According to the human-like aliens, Earth people who can think are frightened by those who cannot think. In the aliens’ ninth plan to conquer the earth, the aliens plan to create an army of those who cannot think, the dead. The aliens revive the dead at a California cemetery. Flying saucers and multiple murders tip people off. An airline pilot living nearby must rescue his wife. Best line is the nonsensical “Can you prove it didn’t happen?” In other words, this is a bad movie that really is bad. Zombies just don’t make good science fiction.
My favorite is Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). The theme is that some teenagers are aliens. In this case David Love plays an alien who falls in love with an Earth girl. Betty (Dawn Anderson) realizes that he is not from this world. As he explains to her, “We were made the same. The only difference is, we were put on places far, far apart.”
Directed by Tom Graeff, the movie uses an exploratory spacecraft to bring several teenagers to Earth. These space teens come from a Nazi-like, book-banning world ruled by the Leader. There a supreme race kills the old and the ill, and the young are raised by caregivers rather than in families.
This alien society seeks more living space, immediately for the carnivorous monsters they raise for food. The exploratory team determines that Earth is suitable for raising a herd of gargons, if you don’t mind the monsters eating every living thing on the planet. Young Derek has read a banned book, and he does mind if the gargons eat intelligent life forms. He escapes from his alien colleagues, but another teen alien with a focusing disintegrator (a ray gun) chases him.
The Leader is a hereditary position, only Derek does not know who his father is. He finds out. The Leader comes to retrieve his errant son. They meet, and . . .
Gee, the good old days were scary!
These movies are online at the Internet Archive: