ET Go Home


I saw most of the classic ’50s sci-fi films when I was a kid — the best time to see them — many of them in a season on BBC2 (Ah! The glory days of film seasons on BBC2!) but somehow never saw IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE until now. Which turned out to be a fine thing — I’m glad my first encounter with it was in 3D, even if the anaglyph copy I obtained was a little wonky at times.

Jack Arnold, apart from directing MAN IN THE SHADOWS, the dirty cop movie with Orson Welles that paved the way for TOUCH OF EVIL, had a fine line in monster and sci-fi flicks, all of which I’m perhaps foolishly fond of. Looking more objectively, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN still strikes me as a modest masterpiece, a philosophical and moving work with some striking surreal imagery and grand special effects. TARANTULA, THE SPACE CHILDREN and his two CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON movies are fun but don’t come close, but IT CAME is pretty nifty.

vlcsnap-39637Barbara Rush pops out.

Screenplay is credited to Harry Essex, a monster-movie regular, but the story is by Ray Bradbury, and some of the speeches have a distinct Bradbury tang: purple and overblown, but aspiring towards poetry and sometimes hitting it. The prosaic interludes by Essex actually work to dilute Bradbury’s excesses down to non-toxic levels. If everybody talked like a Bradbury character all the time, things might get unbearable.

“Ah, it’s just this poor old tunnel. Needs more propping up. Like a man: gets old, needs propping up.”

Richard Carlson, stolid in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, is rather sweet here. He’s something of an alien himself, an astronomer and dreamer who doesn’t fit into the tiny Arizona community he’s somehow landed himself in. When he tries to make peace between the suspicious locals and the crashed alien visitors, his status as outsider becomes all too apparent.


But even the loutish sheriff — a madly reactive near-hysteric (Charles Drake) — gets a typical Bradbury monologue —

“Did you know, Putnam, more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once – lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

This is practically a paraphrase of the scene in SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES dealing with “the soul’s midnight,” the time of night when most people die. Jack Clayton’s film of that book shows how Bradbury’s overblown writing CAN work onscreen, just about, if the performances and visual stylisation are there to support them all the way through.

The third great speech is from the telegraph guy —

Arnold gets some good 3D effects going — it turns out that the rocky scenery is highly suited to the process, with figures on ridges standing out sharply against distant desert landscape. The meteor flying into the lens doesn’t work, and neither does the alien POV (the poor creatures seem to be half-blind, despite consisting almost entirely of eyeball), but the long-winded avalanche is fun (rocks bouncing through frame are more convincing that ones that come straight at us — just when we’re about to be impressed, the edges of the frame always cut them off and ruin the illusion). His best device is one I couldn’t even swear is intentional. Each time Carlson encounters an alien passing as human, Arnold moves the action from the dusty locations that dominate the film, into a fakey set. The robotic speech and unblinking gaze of the humanoids is enhanced by the uncanny sound stage environment. Surreally effective.


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17 Responses to “ET Go Home”

  1. She’s stunning. Bigger Than Life might be her only great movie, with Shampoo a very good one, but It Came from Outer Space is pretty delightful.

  2. she’s in Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession too

  3. Crikey! I’d forgotten, there’s all that dialogue establishing that she’s Jane Wyman’s STEP-daughter, because OF COURSE Jane Wyman isn’t old enough to have an adult daughter. Aye, right.

  4. She isn’t actually IN Shampoo. She’s talked about by the film’s hairdresser hero. When he goes to the back to ask for a loan to set up his new salon he’s asked about what he could put up for collteral and simply says “I do Barbara Rush.”

  5. Ah right. I obviously need to brush up on my Rush.

    Just watching The Glass Web, which as Chris Schneider points out, re-unites the director and second leading lady from It Came from Outer Space, and starts with an old mine in a desert, later revealed to be a set for a TV show. “Why’d you drag me out here, to look an old mine?” complains Kathleen Hughes.

  6. Christopher Says:

    when was that foto of Barbara Rush taken?..She looks quite pleasing..
    Some of my fave anticipated hilights..The annoying kid in the space suit coming to the door,causing Ms. Rush to scream…Ms Rush screaming at the sight of a tree out in the desert at night..:oD
    This is a good film tho..the rock avalanche was the hit of the evening when this played in 3D in theatres again back in the early 70s

  7. Yeah, the avalanche is great, that and the use of height — figures on rises above the landscape, high angles. And when Barbara sees the Joshua tree in the daylight, she says “It’s like it’s reaching for you…” which is lovely.

  8. It was taken about three years ago.

  9. Tony Williams Says:

    Always great to see that nice photo of Barbara from Ehrensteinland! To my chagrin, I missed seeing her on the stage during my 1981 L.A. visit.

  10. She has two great bits in It Came — first encounter with a humanoid, acting weirdly. She freezes completely in between lines, just staring at the guy with her hands out before her as if feeling her way in the dark. And then when she plays the alien Barbara, in a cute cocktail dress with a light scarf delicately draped round her neck, like Patricia Neal in The Fountainhead…

  11. Rush is also decent, as I remember, in Quine’s “Stranger’s When We Meet.”

    Bill Warren’s “Keep Watching The Skies!” has some good stuff about “It Came from Outer Space,” including the Bradbury-vs-Essex stuff. He makes it sound as if Bradbury wrote an awful lot more than story. In any case, I tend to think that when credits read “story by” what’s meant is “previous version of the script by.”

    When Gore Vidal wrote his articles for the New York Review — in the ’70s? — where he employed the persona The Old Screen Hack, this character was singularly unimpressed by fellow screenwriter Scott Fitzgerald. As I remember, the fellow that O.S.H. much preferred was … Harry Essex!

  12. I suspect Bradbury may have written a “scriptment” with stretches of dialogue, and perhaps some flowery stuff that couldn’t be shot. Essex provides some dreadful bits for Carlson — “The girl!” he cries, referring to somebody who ought to have a name, since she’s his girlfriend. And when he talks about “some kind of ship” it’s awkward. If he means spaceship, he should say it. If that embarrasses him, then craft or structure would do. Essex has a tine ear and Bradbury a purple pen. Together they somehow arrive at a mostly happy medium.

  13. Christopher Says:

    I also like that shot of the clone Rush in her cocktail gown,standing out in the desert with her souless eyes like some Wyeth painting…
    whos your girl…

  14. Weird that I was thinking Vidor, The Fountainhead, and you were thinking Wyeth: the two were mutual admirers — Wyeth wrote a fan letter to Vidor, who then made a film about Wyeth.

  15. The Old Screen Hack sounds like a variant on Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby.

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