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.
Barbara 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.