Tag Archives: 1950s Films

The Thing From Another World

Directed by Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Christian Nyby
Written by Novella:
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Screenplay:
Charles Lederer
Uncredited:
Howard Hawks
Ben Hecht
Starring Margaret Sheridan
Kenneth Tobey
Douglas Spencer
Robert O. Cornthwaite
James R. Young
Dewey Martin
Robert Nichols
William Self
Eduard Franz
Sally Creighton
James Arness
John Dierkes
George Fenneman
Paul Frees
Everett Glass
David McMahon
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Russell Harlan, ASC
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date April 29, 1951
Running time 87 min.
Edited version:
81 min.

Watch the skies

The Thing From Another World is often hailed as the first great sci-fi/horror film but I’m not so sure. I guess that it is the film that kicked off the 1950s sci-fi cycle of films and admit that the sci-fi elements of the film have the potential to be great, but I was very disappointed at the horror element of the film.

For those who don’t know the story, a UFO crashes to Earth near the North Pole and is found by scientists and airforce officials. Whilst the spaceship is destroyed thanks to the ineptitude of the airforce personnel, they do find an alien encased in the ice. They take the alien back to their base still in the ice, but his icy tomb is melted and he is alive. Soon it is discovered that he is plant-based and bullets don’t harm him, and that he needs blood to survive and to reproduce.

The reason why I find the horror elements of the film to be disappointing is that despite the potential for tension, no one in the film seems to be scared of the alien. Sure they say that they are frightened, yet the audience cannot see that. Despite knowing that they cannot kill the monster with bullets and that it eats humans, the airforce people decide to confront it armed only with guns, while in another scene with the alien on the loose one of the airforce people jokes with his girlfriend, who also just happened to be posted to the area. Why should I be afraid of their fate if they aren’t?

I suppose that I feel frustrated that the film has so much potential but didn’t capitalise on it in its entirety. Despite this lack of tension the film is still entertaining if talky and I enjoyed watching it a lot.

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The Vanishing Prairie

Directed by James Algar
Produced by Ben Sharpsteen
Written by James Algar & Winston Hibler
Narrated by Winston Hibler
Editing by Lloyd L. Richardson
Release date(s) 17 August 1954
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States

The Vanishing Prairie is another of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures that is contained on the Walt Disney Legacy Collection Volume 2, which I received for Christmas. A couple of days ago I made a post about the other full-length nature documentary contained on the DVD set, The Living Desert. Like its predecessor, The Vanishing Prairie won the Academy Award for best feature-length documentary.

I think I prefer this movie to The Living Desert, perhaps because this film does not focus so much on snakes (although a rattler does appear), spiders and insects. The Vanishing Prairie does have many memorable and enjoyable scenes such as the buffalo giving birth to a calf, the mountain lion cubs growing from kittens to teenagers and the lives of the prairie dogs, which face many dangers in their daily lives.

Paul Smith’s musical score plays a big part in the way that one feels about this movie and while it can be a little clichéd at times, I do think that it is brilliant too.

I think that the best way to treat this is as entertainment first and then as a nature documentary. When watching this film and The Living Desert I wondered to myself how much of the footage used was genuine and how much was set up or faked. Looking at the extras on the DVD set does give you the answers to this question though which made me quite disappointed, especially since one of the signature sequences of The Vanishing Prairie was faked according to Roy Disney. However there is still a lot of original stuff that they filmed on location and it is all quite fascinating. Still, this is very entertaining stuff which is a complete contrast to the nature documentaries that you see on TV today that I feel are very dry and at times boring.


The Living Desert

Directed by James Algar
Produced by Ben Sharpsteen
Written by James Algar, Winston Hibler
Narrated by Winston Hibler
Music by Paul J. Smith
Cinematography Robert H. Crandall, Paul Kenworthy
Editing by Norman R. Palmer
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) 10 November, 1953
Running time 69 minutes

Here is a different type of Disney movie from what I watched yesterday and something that was considered quite revolutionary at the time. Yes, The Living Desert is a nature documentary but it also came out in 1953, long before National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough. This title won the Academy Award for best documentary and it is great viewing indeed.

Unlike most of today’s nature documentaries The Living Desert never takes itself or its subjects too seriously. The main focus of the film is to entertain its audience while also educating them about life in the harsh desert environment of America. There are lots of memorable scenes, especially the sequence showing the mating ritual of the scorpions, as well as the battle between the tarantula and the wasp and the mating ritual of the desert tortoise. The Living Desert is a fascinating film that still is fun to watch today almost sixty years after its release.

One feature about the movie that was criticised for upon its release is the musical score by Paul Smith, which many thought was quite hokey and gives the film its lighthearted feel. I feel that the music is appropriate and is what separates a Disney production from any other nature film.

The Living Desert is featured on the Walt Disney Legacy Collection volume 2 which was released a couple of years ago. I actually received this as a Christmas present from my parents and for that I will be eternally grateful. Other Disney True Life Adventures are featured on the DVD set including The Vanishing Prarie which I will write up very soon.


The Day The Earth Stood Still

Directed by Robert Wise
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Written by Edmund H. North
Harry Bates (story)
Starring Michael Rennie
Patricia Neal
Billy Gray
Hugh Marlowe
Sam Jaffe
Frances Bavier
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Leo Tover
Editing by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date September 28, 1951
Running time 92 min.

Phew! It’s only the second day into this project and I only just made my self-imposed deadline. It would have been quite an inauspicious way to start this thing by not be able to keep up with the premise of watching and writing about a movie a day.

The truth is that I was up at 1am this morning watching The Day The Earth Stood Still before I turned into bed. After waking up this morning I went about doing my usual Saturday things and it wasn’t until about half an hour ago that I decided to finally do this write-up. Talk about cutting things short.

I bought the definitive 2 disc version of The Day The Earth Stood Still a couple of weeks ago from JB Hifi for $13 but I saw it there today for just $10. I really recommend this DVD not just to Sci-fi lovers but to everyone who loves good films, and $10 is a real bargain for such a brilliant and entertaining film. I don’t know if I should have already of pointed this out or not but the film that I watched is the 1951 original version and not the crappy remake from 2008 that features Keanu Reeves.

The basic premise of The Day The Earth Stood Still is that a space ship lands in Washington DC and its pilot, Klaatu emerges declaring that he is visiting Earth on a mission of goodwill. He presents a small device that is meant for the President, but is shot by one of the onlooking soldiers. This action causes Gort, an 8 foot tall robot to emerge from the spaceship and disintegrate all of the weapons that the surrounding soldiers are armed with. Klaatu orders Gort to stop, before he is taken away to have his wounds tended to in the military hospital.

Klaatu then meets the President’s secretary Harley, and explains that he has a message that he wants all the people of Earth to hear. He would like to address all the leaders of the world in one place, which Harley explains to him would be impossible. Klaatu tells Harley that he would be able to better understand humans if he was to live among them incognito, but Harley says that this would be impossible and places Klaatu under protective custody.

When Klaatu escapes custody and lives at a boarding house there is a lesson that we can learn from in today’s society. It is here that he meets ordinary people and sees first hand how the mass media can demonize things that are different to the norm with their propaganda. When the occupants at the boarding are listening to the radio we hear the shock jock brand Klaatu a monster, even though nobody knows anything about the alien. It just shows that some things don’t change at all.

Klaatu befriends a widow, Helen, and her son Bobby. He agrees to babysit Bobby, who takes Klaatu, who has assumed the alias Mr. Carpenter, around Washington. They visit Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu asks Bobby who the greatest living person is. Bobby suggests the scientist Professor Barnhardt, who resides in Washington. Bobby takes Klaatu to Prof. Barnhardt’s house but the professor is away. Klaatu decides to leave a message for the professor by completing a complex mathematical problem that is left on a blackboard. Klaatu then leaves his address with Barnhardt’s housekeeper.

Eventually Klaatu meets Professor Barnhardt, after being escorted to the professor by a government agent. Klaatu reveals himself to the professor and warns him that the Earth has been under surveillance from other planets, who are dismayed that the humans have developed atomic power. They have noted the disregard humans have for their fellow human beings and fear that it will only be a matter of time before the people of Earth turn their attention to the rest of space. Klaatu tells Professor Barnhardt that he wishes to address the people of Earth with a message of utmost importance and if his message is rejected it would spell the ultimate destruction of Earth. Klaatu then promises to show the professor a demonstration of his power to serve as a warning. Later that night when he returns to his spaceship to implement this plan he is unaware that he has been followed by Bobby, who later tells Helen and her fiancé Tom about what he has seen.

After being told about who Mr. Carpenter really is, the scheming Tom goes into Klaatu’s room and discovers a unique diamond. Meanwhile Klaatu has gone to Helen’s workplace to speak to her. They step into an elevator which suddenly stops. Klaatu tells Helen that he is the cause of this, and we soon learn that all the power on the earth has stopped, except for that used on aeroplanes in mid-flight or in operating theatres. This action brings the entire world to a standstill.

After the blackout finishes a manhunt begins, as the army decides that Klaatu has evaded them long enough and that they will get him one way or another, either dead or alive. Tom spills the beans to the authorities and they soon spot the alien and the woman in a taxi on their way to meet the professor who has gathered outside the spaceship with a group of eminent scientists. Klaatu tells Helen that if anything should happen to him it could spell the end of the world, as Gort would try to avenge his death. The only way to stop the robot is to say the words, “Klaatu barada nikto.” As he flees the taxi Klaatu is shot in the back by one of the soldiers and dies.

Helen runs to the spaceship to see Gort has awakened and killed two soldiers who were guarding the spaceship. Helen passes Klaatu’s message to Gort who then carries her into the spaceship. He then retrieves Klaatu’s corpse and revives the spaceman.

Klaatu then steps out of the ship to address the awaiting scientists. He tells them of the rest of the universe’s concerns about Earth’s disregard of life and how destructive the people of Earth can be. He warns them that if they continue with their destructive ways then robots like Gort, who have been created to protect the universe, will come and destroy the entire Earth. His final words before stepping into the spaceship and leaving are, “The decision rests with you.”

I found The Day The Earth Stood Still to be quite a fascinating film. Bernard Herrman’s score gave the movie, especially the opening sequences when the flying saucer first arrives on Earth, quite an eerie feeling. The acting is all first rate and the special effects are very good for a movie released in 1951. The most interesting aspect of the film is how some of the messages still resonate today, almost sixty years after the film’s release. As I mentioned earlier, we can see how the media can manipulate the feelings of their listeners/viewers even when they have no idea what they are talking about. The truth of a story is not as important as getting people worked up about it. Does this not sound like the way News Limited journalists go about their business.

The other message is to show that humans are very reactionary and that if they do not understand something then they must destroy it. We see this when the soldier shoots at Klaatu at the beginning of the film, and again when the general declares that he doesn’t care if Klaatu is taken dead or alive, just as long as he’s taken. It shows just how intolerant and selfish we can be. I enjoyed watching this film very much.


The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer & Ray Harryhausen
Starring
Kerwin Mathews
Torin Thatcher
Kathryn Grant
Richard Eyer
Alec Mango
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date December 23, 1958
Running time 88 min.

The Cyclops

I originally bought the DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad back in September 2008 but had not gotten around to watching it until today. I primarily bought the DVD because I had heard so much about the special effects of the legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and I wanted to see just how good they were for myself. I am also a great fan of stop-motion animation and I wanted to see just how Harryhausen’s work compared to that of his mentors Willis O’Brien and George Pal, as well as modern stop motion animation by the likes of directors Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. I was not disappointed as the stop-motion in Sinbad is great.

The film’s plot involves the legendary Sinbad, who is on his way to Baghdad with his fiance Princess Parisa. On the way there they discover the mythical island of Colussa where they see the incredible sight of the magician Sokurah fleeing from a giant one-eyed cyclops. When the cyclops turns on Sinbad and his men Sokurah rubs his magic lamp and orders the genie to create a barrier between Sinbad and the giant monster. However whilst fleeing the cyclops Sokurah loses the lamp which is subsequently picked up by our one-eyed friend. The magician tries to get brave Sinbad to return to the island, but the legendary sailor doesn’t want to put the lives of his crew at risk for such a folly.

Whilst in Baghdad Sokurah once again tries to convince Sinbad to return to Colossa. Even the Caliph of Baghdad, who is Parisa’s father, feels that if Sinbad agreed to Sokurah’s wishes it would spell disaster, even after the magician amazes the court by conjuring up a snake-woman. The only way that Sakurah can convince Sinbad and the Caliph to the trip is by shrinking the lovely Parisa to the size of a doll with an evil spell. He tells Sinbad that the only way to reverse the spell is with the shell of the egg of the two-headed Roc, which naturally enough only resides on Colossa. Sinbad has no choice and agrees to this, travelling with a crew made up of his bravest men as well as some of  the most desperate convicts from Baghdad’s prison. The convicts mutiny but are repelled when they are driven insane by screaming demons before finally reaching Colossa.

Once Sinbad and his crew finally reach Colossa they once again encounter the cyclops, who takes them prisoner. Whilst ol’ one eye is cooking one of Sinbad’s men on a spit, the beast is distracted by Sokurah, who had earlier split off from Sinbad and had snuck into the cyclops’ cave to look for the missing genie’s lamp. When the cyclops goes to investigate the tiny Parisa slips between the bars and unlatches the cage that has imprisoned Sinbad and his men. The cyclops is blinded after Sinbad pokes him in the eye with a spear, before it is tricked into walking off a cliff.

Sinbad takes possession of the lamp but does not know how to use it. Princess Parisa enters the lamp and finds a very unhappy boy genie who tells her the secret words to summon him, but only on the condition that she try to free him from his bondage.

The party finally reach the roc’s nest and Sinbad takes the part of the egg-shell he needs to break the magician’s spell. His starving men decide to quell their hunger by killing and eating the roc chick that emerges from an egg, which inevitably infuriates the bird’s mother who attack the men and takes Sinbad to her nest. In the confusion Sokurah kills Sinbad’s faithful men and abducts the Princess, taking her to his underground fortress. Sinbad follows, slipping past the dragon chained to quard the entrance. Sokurah finally transforms Parisa back to her normal size, in return for the magical lamp. However once he has possession of the lamp he reneges on his deal and brings a sword wielding skeleton to life to fight Sinbad. Sinbad defeats the skeleton in a very exciting sword fight before he and Parisa flee the underground lair. As they cross over a river of molten lava, Parisa recalls part of the prophesy the genie told her about. She persuades Sinbad to throw the lamp into the lava, freeing the genie from his slavery.

As Sinbad attempts to leave the cave he sees another cyclops blocking the exit. He releases the dragon to kill the cyclops but Sokurah then orders the fire-breather to attack the hero. Sinbad and his crew use the giant crossbow that they had built to slay the dragon, which kills the evil magician when it falls on Sokurah. Sinbad, Parisa and what is left of Sinbad’s crew depart but they soon find that the genie has been freed from his bondage to the magic lamp, as he is now Sinbad’s new cabin boy.

I must say that this was a film that I enjoyed watching a great deal. The stop motion animation may be quaint when compared to today’s CGI creations, but I appreciate the huge effort that Harryhausen put into not only building his fantastic creations, but for meticulous attention to detail he must have needed when animating each sequence. Apparently it took Ray a total of 11 months to finish all of his animation work on this movie. Whilst some of it does look a bit dodgy now, especially the scenes of Parisa where her size seems to change a bit, this was state of the art special effects in the late 1950s. I especially like the giant cyclops as well as the sword fight between Sinbad and the skeleton, which became a sort of Harryhausen trademark. Some of the acting is a bit wooden, in that cheesy 1950s way, but overall I think that The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad is a great movie suitable for everyone who loves adventure and imagination.