Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). It is one of those great old black and white UFO films that came out when American was trying to understand the Cold War between the USA and USSR and fearing total nuclear annihilation. Kind of like 2017! In this film, aliens contact an Earth scientist as part of a plot to enslave the Earth’s population. But he is the one guy they should have left alone.
This movie has some really iconic scenes, such as a UFO crashing into and destroying the Washington Monument. These great effects were created by the special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen said in his biography that this was his least favorite film. It doesn’t have any fighting skeletons or sea harpies, but it pretty good. This was also the last time Harryhausen used stop-motion to show buildings being destroyed because it was too much work.
The car that Dr. Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Carol (Joan Taylor) are driving is a 1955 Mercury. Cars were getting these outer space names because of the interest in rocketry. Names like Comet and Galaxy were common.
Paul Frees provided the narration and the voice of the aliens. If this voice in any way sounds familiar it is because Frees is the voice of the “Ghost Host” in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. When making the alien voices. Frees change the speed of the reel to reel recorder causing the voice to go up and down in pitch.
So on to the actors. We have just a few today.
Hugh Marlowe plays the role of Dr. Russell A. Marvin, the scientist trying to save Earth. Hugh Marlowe was covered in Episode 28 – World Without End (1956).
Joan Taylor played the love interest, Carol Marvin. Taylor was born to a singing and dancing vaudevillian mother and a father that was a prop man. However, the family moved to Illinois after she was born. Her father ran a movie theater and this is where Taylor developed her love for movies.
After she graduated from the Chicago National Association of Dancing Masters in 1946, she headed to Hollywood. She became a student at the Pasadena Playhouse and her first film role was in Fighting Man of the Plains (1949) with Randolph Scott. She was in quite a number of films but most of them were western. However, she is best known for two sci-fi films, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). Taylor retired from film in 1963.
The movie opens with a series of UFO sighting by military and civilian pilots, American citizens, and people all around the world. They show an Air Force office in Dayton, Ohio that collects and sifts all of the UFO sightings. Finally, the Hemispheric Defense Command in Colorado Spring declares that they are a danger and should fire at any UFO that is sighted.
It then switches to Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlow) and his co-worker and bride of two hours Dr. Carol Marvin (Joan Taylor), Driving through the desert. They pass a sign that says Operation Skyhook and restricted area. Shouldn’t you keep your operation secret? Mrs. Doctor is driving, something no newlywed would do in the 50s. He starts recording on his state of the art reel to reel recorder and explains the project. They are collecting data before humans are launched into space.
Just then, a UFO buzzes them, rides on their rear bumper, and zooms in front of them and speeds away. It is kind of like driving in Tallahassee. They pull over and watch the ship zoom away. It’s a dangerous situation so now Mr. Doctor drives. Mrs. Doctor smokes. The recorded was on the entire time and captured the noise of the craft.
Back at the base, she has to transcribe the notes, I guess cause she is a girl. Anyway, they find the recording of the UFO sound. Even though they work in space exploration, they fail to report the UFO to anyone. They get a notice that rocket 11 of the 12 is preparing to launch and head for the bunker.
General John Hanley (Morris Ankrun) arrives at the front gate but is not admitted because of the upcoming launch. They call Russell and it turns out the Hanley is Carol’s father. Hanley wants to delay the launch but they announce the marriage to him and then hang up to launch the rocket.
Hanley meets with Russell and the doctor is forced to admit they have lost contact with all of the rockets except the one sent up that day. Hanley says the rockets have all come down. Russell broaches the idea that someone may be shooting them down. Mrs. Doctor is outside grilling. What? He tells the General about the saucer they saw.
They get a note that contact has been lost with Rocket 11. Just then they see two light orbs dancing around in the sky. Russell calls them foo lights or St. Elmo’s fire. During World War II unexplained sightings were called Foo Fighter, like the band.
Foo apparently became popular in the 1930’s from the comic strip Smokey Stover, a fireman, created by Bill Holman. Of course, St. Elmo’s fire is an ionic plasma discharge from object sticking out, like the mast of a ship or the wing of an airplane. It is also the name of a movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (1985).
Anyway, Russell and Carol give great scientific explanations, right up to when Rocket 11 falls back to Earth. They decide to finish dinner and will launch Rocket 12 the next day.
The next day they are getting ready to launch 12 when a UFO starts buzzing the air base. Now, I watched enough launches in the 1960s to know that flying saucers over the rocket will cause a halt in the countdown. Hanley goes up to watch the launch while Russell and Carol take up positions in the soundproof office in the basement.
The saucer hovers low over the complex before landing in the middle of the buildings. Now, this kind of saucer doesn’t have a handicap ramp. This one sent down a round-elevator column to the ground. The slowest walking robotards I have ever seen get out. One walks outside of the force field and the Americans shoot him with a cannon. They then start blasting away at the force field with no effect. Finally, the aliens melt the people shooting at them and retrieve their fallen comrade.
Russell and Carol are cut off and trapped underground as the robotards go crazy destroying the base. Wounded General Hanley is shown on the floor of the saucer and he is interviewed by a white rose hanging from the ceiling. Hanley starts making threats and the robotards want to know why they were attached after contacting Russell. Hadley says that Russell did not understand the message. Hanley invokes the Geneva Convention and the white rose suck all the information out of his brain.
In the soundproof room, Russell makes a report of all the information he has because he knows the end is near. When the power fails and the tape player slows Russell gets the message from the aliens. Russell feels the violence has occurred as a result of a misunderstanding.
Newspaper headlines are shown that say the Skyhook Operation was whipped out but Russell and Carol were rescued. The couple is taken to Washington to report what they know about the attack. Russell makes a plea to contact the aliens. He is ordered not to meet the aliens under any circumstances.
Major Huglin (Donald Curtis) is assigned to follow Russell. As soon as Russell gets back to his hotel room, he jumps on his handy shortwave transmitter and contacts the aliens. Lucky he had that in his room. They set up a meeting on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Carol calls Major Huglin and they head out after Russell. During the chase, a motorcycle cop joins in. All four get to the saucer at the same time. The ship is parked on the beach. An alien voice tells them to come in and lifts up for the elevator. The copy wants to phone it in but Russell convinces him to go inside. They stand in front of a large screen that shows them moving away from Earth as the white rose explains. The aliens slow time to travel.
The aliens say their solar system is dying and their fleet is circling the Earth. However, they show saucers flying low above the world capitals. They want the world leaders called to Washington so Earth can surrender without fighting. To show their power they destroy a Navy cruiser. The earthlings are invited to test the alien’s knowledge, and each question about Earth is answered in the voice of General Hanley, Carrol’s father. The aliens then say they sucked his mind out and as the zombie Hanley walks up behind them. The cop shoots at the white rose and they suck his brain out.
The aliens give the Earth two lunar months or 56 days to set up the meeting. Talk about a surprise attack. Now am I the only one that thinks it was odd that Marlowe is trying to set up a meeting with aliens in this movie and was trying to stop a meeting with aliens in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)? So anyway the aliens give the coordinates of the sunken destroyed.
Russell, Carrol, and Huglin are released and make it back to Washington. They have a huge debate about what to do and whether to meet with the aliens. They wonder if atomic weapons would work against the saucers.
Russell thinks he can build an ultrasonic weapon that might work on the saucers. Since they have now confirmed that the destroyer was sunk, they allow Russell to work on his weapon. He, Carrol, Huglin and some other scientist go to a lab and start building. Before long he has a working model. However, it is not powerful enough. One of the others says they should work on a weapon that will disrupt the saucers magnetic field.
They pour resources into the lab and the weapon works. As they test the weapon one of those orbs shows up in the building and starts buzzing the crew until Huglin wipes it out with his gat. Fearing they have been found out they start loading up to head for Washington. As soon as the start driving a saucer comes and lands outside of the facility. They call the military for air support.
A robotard goes into the lab. Carrol and Huglin head on with the plans, while Russell and the other try to fire the weapon. When they get it cranked, it makes the saucer wobble but they don’t have enough power for a kill. The saucer flies away leaving one robotard behind. The robotard melts one of the scientists. The RT then takes the truck and one more scientist out. Huglin kills it with his carbine.
When they take the suit off the robotards, there is a gray inside. About that time, a bomber arrives overhead. They sent a bomber to fight a saucer. Well, you know how that turned out. The ship comes down and destroys the lab as Russell, Carrol, and Huglin hid in a drain pipe in the middle of the forest. Convenient. The ship throws two human bodies out, one being General Hanley and the other presumably the cop.
The group makes it back to Washington and the alien suit is being investigated. They can now translate the alien language. Using a room length computer, they recover the alien attack plan. The anti-saucer machines are now being produced but the range is only 1500 yards. When Russell puts on the helmet he has super vision and hearing.
The aliens make a worldwide broadcast giving away their attack plan. They say the sun will be convulsed for 8 days causing the weather on Earth to become erratic. They still want the leaders to meet in Washington to surrender. Russell thinks that they have contempt for Earth power and he sees this as a weakness. The military believes the meeting is a trick. Before long there is a huge eruption on the Sun.
As the weather gets bad, they all set to work preparing to defend the Earth, never considering surrender.
Russell sends Carrol off to Palm Spring because she is a girl scientist so he can go work on weapons. But it is already too late to leave. A long montage of weather events is shown while they wait for the attack. On the day of the attack, 60 percent of the people were still in town.
The attack siren sounds and the military industrial complex jumps into action. They send a fighter up to face the saucers. They do no better that the bomber did. The rockets fired from the ground have no effect on the saucers. The Chief of Staff tells Carrol that her husband has arrived with the weapons and is by the Pentagon. She heads out into the attack.
Russell’s crew shoots one down while artillery tries to support them. Carrol runs across the Mall, doing some fancy heel running, and finds Russell. Russell takes his battery over to defend the White House while the saucers attack water towers and other import targets. One of the trucks is destroyed and the saucer lands in front of the White House. However, they are driven back into the ship. The weapons shot the saucer and it crashes. Another saucer blows up a church steeple. The weapons take another saucer down and it hits Union Station.
The ultrasonic weapon takes out a saucer and it crashes into the Washington Monument. Bastards! Two more weapon trucks are destroyed. Russell and Carrol run to the Supreme Court Building and leave the guy on the truck to die. As the saucer attacks the building, another truck brings it down.
Some saucers land in for not of the Capital and try a ground attack. Ultrasonic trucks take up defense positions. One saucer is shot down and hits the Senate Chamber. The last one goes down and destroys the dome.
The battle has ended.
Russell is given the head of the new Skyhook Program and will be given a gold medal by the UN. Russell just wants to hang out with his wife at the beach. He’s a hairy little monkey man.
World-Famous Short Summary – newlyweds meet some new friends and have a spat
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Beware the moors