Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ray Harryhausen tribute

Ray Harryhausen died back in May, and TCM is finally getting around to devoting a night of programming to his work in memoriam. They will be showing five of his movies:

Jason and the Argonauts at 8:00 PM;
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at 10:00 PM;
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger at midnight;
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers at 2:00 AM; and
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms at 3:30 AM.

Of these, I'd like to blog about Earth vs. the Flying Saucers today. Hugh Marlowe stars as Dr. Russell Marvin, a rocket scientist with the Department of Defense (this was in the days before NASA) who is married to his lovely wife Carol (Joan Taylor). The two are driving back to the desert military base where the good doctor does his research, with him dictating notes into one of those old reel-to-reel tape recorders. All of a sudden, a flying saucer comes up on them, hovers over them for a bit, and then leaves! They both clearly saw it, but both also realize that nobody is going to believe them.

Anyhow, Dr. Marvin's satellite launches have more or less been a failure, but they're trying another one. This one is an even bigger disaster: while Russell and Carol are in the underground bunker following the launch, another flying saucer lands at the military base, some space men step out, and they proceed to destroy everything above ground! While trying to record evidence of this, the doctor discovers the aliens had left a message for him on that reel-to-reel tape.

So it's off to Washington to get advice from his bosses at the Pentagon on what to do. The brass, unsurprisingly, dither over what to do, not knowing whether the UFOs are real. Oh, they're real, of course. Dr. Marvin is eventually summoned to meet the aliens, who give him an ultimatum: you're not ready to handle spaceflight, so stop trying to get into space or we'll destroy you. The good earthlings don't want to be destroyed, so they set about trying to find a weapon to deal with the advanced civilization in the two months the aliens have given them to come to terms. Needless to say, the humans don't come to terms, and the aliens attack....

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a movie that's full of plot holes. Surely the space aliens know there's no way the people of Earth can actually threaten anybody in outer space for centuries, even at the rate at which they were trying to explore space in this movie. If the aliens had really been smart, they would have created more bureaucracy for Earth to stunt our development into space. But, this is really the sort of movie you watch for the special effects. And they're quite good, or at least, very much fitting with the plot. I suppose it helps that these flying saucers are visually rather more simple than any of the creatures like the Ymir or the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, and so easier to make them look like they were realistically moving. The scenes of the attack on Washington DC are particualy worth watching. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is an exemplar of 1950s scifi B movies, but a very entertaining one.

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