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Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956, Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor)

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This was the second sci-fi film from producer Charles H Schneer and special effects creator Ray Harryhausen, following It Came from Beneath the Sea. Director Fred F Sears, a journeyman Columbia filmmaker more at home on the range with ‘B’ feature westerns, set out to give the movie a ‘realistic’, documentary-style flavour by using Paul Frees to narrate in his most doom-laden voice, a task he also performed (in part) on The War of the Worlds.

Research scientist Dr Russell A Martin (Hugh Marlowe) is working on ‘Project Skyhook’ to launch a satellite into space, but every satellite that is sent into orbit is destroyed by flying saucers that are planning to invade the Earth. The robots manning the saucers land and kidnap Martin’s father-in-law. Martin succeeds in contacting the saucers by radio and arranges a meeting with the extra-terrestrials, who inform him of their plan for world conquest and order him to organise a conference of global powers.

The Earth is given 60 days in which to capitulate and Martin is allowed to go. Having been given enough information by the naive aliens as to how their spacecraft operate, Martin sets about devising a weapon to use against them and comes up with a revolutionary sonic gun. When the saucer fleet (which appears to number no more than seven) arrives in Washington DC, Martin and his assistants shoot them down, one by one. As they fall to the ground they crash spectacularly into a series of famous Washington landmarks, among them the Washington Monument, Union Station, the Supreme Court Building and finally two collide with the Capitol.

The film’s main attraction is Ray Harryhausen’s spectacular special effects, which were stunning, particularly for their time. It culminates in a highly satisfying and cleverly created orgy of destruction to which plot and character are, necessarily in view of the low budget, subordinated. The saucers themselves are very impressive, blankly evil and fast moving. The result of Harryhausen’s work and Sears’ brisk no-nonsense direction is an excellent example of an archetypal 50s invaders-from-space thriller.

production details
USA | 83 minutes | 1956

Director: Fred F Sears
Writers: George Worthing Yates, Bernard Gordon, from a story by Curt Siodmak and (uncredited) Ray Harryhausen, suggested by Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Donald E Keyhoe

cast
Hugh Marlowe as Dr. Russell A. Marvin
Joan Taylor as Carol Marvin
Donald Curtis as Maj. Huglin, Liason Officer
Thomas Browne Henry as Vice Adm. Enright
Morris Ankrum as Brig. Gen. John Hanley
Grandon Rhodes as Gen. Edmunds
John Zaremba as Prof. Kanter
Larry J. Blake as Motorcycle cop
Paul Frees as Alien (voice)
Forbes Murray as Military Officer at Experiment
Bert Stevens as Air Intelligence Command Officer
Arthur Tovey as Officer/Civilian at Military Conference
Frank Wilcox as Alfred Cassidy

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