Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956): Horror Sci-Fi, with Effects Created by Ray Harryhausen

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (aka “Invasion of the Flying Saucers and Flying Saucers from Outer Space”) is notable for Ray Harryhausen’s superb stop-motion animation special effects, which are still impressive today.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Earth vs the Flying Saucers DVD.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Produced by Charles H. Schneer, directed by Fred F. Sears, the horror-sci-fi stars Hugh Marlowe (best known perhaps as the playwright in “A;; About Eve”) and Joan Taylor.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was released as a double feature with The Werewolf.

The story was suggested by the 1953 non-fiction book, “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” by Major Donald Keyhoe.

In the first scene, scientist Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new bride Carol (Joan Taylor) are driving when a huge flying saucer appears overhead. Without proof of the encounter,  tape recording of the ship’s sound, Dr. Marvin is hesitant to notify his superiors.

In his voice over narration, we learn that he’s been in charge of Project Skyhook, a space program that has already launched 10 research satellites into orbit.

General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), Carol’s father, informs Marvin that satellites have since fallen back to Earth. Marvin admits that he has lost contact with them and privately suspects alien involvement.

Turning point occurs when the Marvins witness the 11th falling from the sky after launch.  A saucer lands at Skyhook and aliens in metallic suits exit, forcing the infantry guards to open fire, resulting in the death of one alien, while others and the saucer are protected by force field.

The aliens kill everyone at the facility but the Marvins; General Hanley is captured and taken away in the saucer. Russell then decodes a message on his tape recorder: the aliens wished to meet Dr. Marvin and landed in peace at Skyhook, but instead, they were met with violence.

Impatient to conduct that meeting, Marvin contacts the aliens, followed closely by Carol and Major Huglin (Donald Curtis). They and a motorcycle patrol officer are taken aboard a saucer, where the aliens extract knowledge from the General’s brain. The aliens are last of their species, having fled from their destroyed solar system. They have shot down all the launched satellites, fearing them as weapons. As proof of power, the aliens give Marvin the coordinates of naval destroyer that opened fire on them, and which they have destroyed.

Carol’s reaction is different: Horrified by the seemingly unfeeling aliens, she breaks down, and the patrol officer fires on the aliens.  The aliens say they will eventually return General Hanley and the patrol officer.  Carol becomes increasingly irrational, while Marvin tries to remain calm.

Major Huglin and the Marvins are released, but the aliens demand to meet with the world’s leaders in 56 days in Washington, D.C. to negotiate occupation of Earth.

The commercially popular sci-fi proved to be not one of the best of its genre, but extremely influential.

Spoiler Alert:

The happy ending is not particularly compelling after the engaging premise and well sustained tension.  The alien threat is eliminated, Marvin and Carol quietly celebrate by going back to their favorite beach, as joyful newlyweds.

Credits:

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Charles H. Schneer and Sam Katzman
Written by Curt Siodmak and George Worthing Yates, based on Flying Saucers from Outer Space
1953 book by Donald Keyhoe
Cinematography Fred Jackman. Jr.
Edited by Danny B. Landres
Production company: Clover Productions

Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: June 13, 1956

Running time: 84 minutes

Note:

TCM showed the movie on June 29, 2020.

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