1950s American sci-fi films

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1950s American sci-fi films

  1. 1. U.S. SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES OF THE 1950S BY ROBERT ARNOLD1. IntroductionPeople, by the 50s, had lost their optimistic confidence in the ability of science to fulfill all thedreams of mankind; instead, you saw science about to fulfill all the nightmares of mankind. Theprospect of nuclear war . . . was hours away." - J.G. Ballard Although America had come out of the Second World War as the only superpower in the world with nuclear capability the monopoly did not last long. The Soviet Union exploded their first device in 1949. After this event America became more and more paranoid about a communist plot to take over the west. This was reflected in science fiction movies made during the fifties. The alien invaders in some films were a subtle way of showing how a communist invasion could happen. (See poster on left.) There was also a fear of atomic research resultingin horrible mutations in the animal kingdom. (See poster on right.)2. Sub-genres 1. The Alien Invasion films Earth is invaded by beings from another world, usually hell-bent on either enslaving or destroying human beings. Example: - “War of the Worlds” (1953) Plot Synopsis: - An updated version of the 1895 novel by H.G. Wells, this is set in modern America instead of Britain. The Martians destroy everything in their path, the U.S.Military unable to stop them even with nuclear weapons. Eventually the aliens succumb to an Earth virus for which they have no immunity. Quote: “The smallest creatures that "God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth" has saved mankind from extinction.” 1
  2. 2. 2. The scientists interfering with nature films Scientists, usually by exploding atomic bombs, cause animals or insects to mutate, the most popular being by growing to enormous size. Example: - “Them!” (1954) Plot Synopsis: - After nuclear tests in the New Mexico desert, a colony of ants is mutated to giant size. They attack and kill a couple in their caravan, leaving a child surviving. After the Army destroy the main ants nest they discover that queen ants have hatched and flown away to found new colonies. In the sewers of Los Angeles they finally corner the last of the ants and kill them with flame throwers. Quote: “When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict." 3. Humans explore other Planets films Humans set off to explore other worlds, usually getting themselves into danger. Example: - “The Angry Red Planet” (1959) Plot Synopsis: - After the first manned mission to Mars returns to Earth the two survivors relate their experiences. After landing they encounter a carnivorous plant that tries to kill one crew member, later being attacked by a 40ft Bat-Rat-Spider. They come across a city across a vast lake and one of their number is killed by a huge single celled creature. After the return to Earth the scientists at the base discover a message on a tape recorder warning humans never to return to Mars. Quote: “Some baby, that rat-bat-spider nightmare, huh?”3. CharactersThe various stock characters that appear in these films are as follows:- • The Main Scientist. Usually depicted as an old forgetful man or if a younger man dressed in tweed jacket and smoking a pipe. If the scientist is female she will be beautiful and scornful of military types until danger threatens, then she falls in love with him. • The Military Man. A veteran of WW2 and deeply suspicious of new technology. He will normally fall in love with the female scientist after saving her from danger. At the end of the film he will castigate the scientists for interfering with nature. • The Disposable Crewman. The first member of a spacecraft to be horribly dismembered by an alien threat. • The Religious Character. A clergyman or layman who questions the reasons for going against the will of God. Sometimes will be killed by the aliens or monster. • The Crazed Mob. A crowd of people who flee or attack whatever is threatening their lives. 2
  3. 3. “Them” – 1954 “Earth Vs the Flying Saucers” – 19564. Special Effects Timeline 1951 1954 1956 1953 1955When Worlds Collide (1951) The winner of the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Special Effects. This sci-fi film has a mediocrestory that has spectacular special effects, including a great fireball — a sun-sized body called Bellus — hurtlingtoward earth, and a rocket-propelled spaceship built on a ramp.The War of the Worlds (1953) This film was the winner of the Best Achievement in Special Effects Academy Award, by producer GeorgePal, for its vivid depiction of the invasion of the Earth by Martians. This was the first visual effects-laden "popcorn"film, featuring vibrant colour special effects, and the destruction of various cities including Los Angeles.20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) The fanciful Richard Fleischer-directed Disney film based upon the Jules Verne book of the same name, withJames Mason as Captain Nemo, won the Academy Award for Special Effects; it was notable for its depiction of theNautilus and the giant squid fight. One of the other nominated films in the category was Them! (1954), a typicalmid-50s B-monster film with giant ants invading Los Angeles.This Island Earth (1955)This cerebral 1950s science-fiction film by director Joseph M. Newman required various special effects, including aflying saucer and its landing on the doomed planet Metaluna - both created with models and special cameratechniques; it also necessitated alien makeup for the big-headed Metalunans, and futuristic set designs.Forbidden Planet (1956)One of the landmark science-fiction films of the 50s was this classic space adventure film - an adaptation ofShakespeares The Tempest. It was the first science-fiction film in colour and CinemaScope. Its Oscar-nominatedSpecial Effects included miniatures (e.g., the spaceship), innovative set and art decoration (with soundstage scenicpaintings), and matte paintings to create the alien environment of Altair IV.It also included the famed friendly servant prop (probably the most expensive, intricately-wired film prop everconstructed at the time (at $125,000)) -- Robby the Robot. The film also featured an all-electronic music score.One of the best remembered segments was the animated night attack (using hand-drawn cel animation) of the IDmonster on the flying saucer spaceship - in actuality, it was displaying Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon as Prospero)face-to-face encounter with his own projected sub-conscious, incestuous feelings for his lovely young daughterAltaira (Anne Francis). 3
  4. 4. 5. Best and Worst of the Genre 1) The best – “Forbidden Planet”(1956) As described in the above section on special effects, the film was the “Star Wars” of the 1950s as regards to popularity. Based on the Shakespeare play “The Tempest” updated to the 23rd century, the United Planets cruiser C57-D has been sent planet Altair IV 16 light years from Earth. They have been ordered to discover the fate of an Earth colony which disappeared 20 years before. It is discovered that the entire colony are dead, except for its leader Dr Morbius and his daughter Altaira. Morbius has discovered that the original inhabitants of the planet, the Krells, suddenly died out over a short period 200,000 years before. He finds their technology in a vast underground cube 20 miles square powered by over 9,000 nuclear reactors (see image left).The devices help boost his intelligence, but at a cost. He sends an invisible monster called the “Id” to sabotage the space cruiser, killing crew members in the attempt. The mission commander Adams falls in love with Altaira causing jealousy in her father. Adams eventually finds out that the Id monster is an extension of Morbius’s mind boosted by Krell technology. The monster tries to kill Adams and Altaira in the Krell laboratory, Morbius coming to his senses is mortally wounded trying to stop it. He then initiates a self destruct device to destroy Altair IV, giving Altaira, Adams and his crew 24 hours to escape in the C57-D from the planet. The Cruiser C57-D landing on Altair IV. 2) The worst – “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959) Directed by Ed Wood Jr, quoted in “The Golden Turkey Awards” as the worst director of all time. This film was the last screen appearance of horror legend Bela Lugosi despite him having died three years before. Wood used home movies he took of Lugosi and spliced them into the finished film. To get round that problem that his star had died Wood used an unconvincing double to shoot most of his scenes. He had to hold a cape in front of his face to hide the fact that he looked nothing like Lugosi. The film tells the story of aliens’ previous eight plans having failed for world conquest they resort to plan 9. This involves reanimating the dead by stimulating their pineal and pituirity glands. In a house next to the cemetery a pilot is telling his wife of his encounter with an UFO while flying when suddenly they are knocked over by a huge wind when the 4
  5. 5. UFO lands in the cemetery. Calling the local police, they go over to where the craft has landed. The alien called Eros allows them to enter, and they board with their guns drawn. Once inside, Eros tells the humans that his people first came to Earth to talk and to ask for their aid, but the humans wouldn’t listen to their messages. According to Eros, the humans will eventually discover solarbonite, a substance that has the effect of exploding “sunlight molecules”, symbolising nuclear power. Eros explains that a solarbonite explosion would destroy everything the sunlight touches, causing a chain reaction that would eventually destroy the entire universe. Outside the ship, Clay (one of the dead) arrives with Paula (the pilot’s wife). Eros threatens to have her killed if they try to force him to go with them. Officers Kelton and Larry arrive and spot Clay with Paula. They realize that their guns are useless, and decide to approach Clay from behind with a stick. Eros sees this, and shuts off the ray controlling Clay, allowing Paula to go free. A fight ensues between Eros and Jeff, (the pilot) during which a fire inexplicably starts. The humans leave the ship, and it takes off in flames. Eros and Tanna are trapped as the ship explodes in space. As a consequence of the explosion, Clay is traumatically skeletonized, as is, presumably, the female zombie.6. Budgets & Profits Budgets Profit Film Year Released $1,200,000 $1,850,000 The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951 $210,000 $5,000,000 The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms 1953 $300,000 $2,000,000 Them 1954 $417,000 $2,500,000 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers 1956 $240,000 $4,000,000 The Blob 1958The above table shows the budgets and profits of five of the most popular films. The figuresshow that films with relatively small budgets generated profits far in excess of their initial costs.Below is a graph showing the number of films released per year throughout the 1950’s. It showsthat the years 1953 and 1957-59 where the genre reached its greatest popularity with thepublic. FILMS RELEASED PER YEAR 30 25 20 Number 15 10 5 0 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 Year 5
  6. 6. 7. MY RESOURCES • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plan_nine_from_outer_space.jpg • http://www.cinemaniax.net/2010/02/tcm-greatest-classic-films-sci-fi-adventures-dvd/ • http://www.slashfilm.com/is-hollywood-is-going-alien-crazy-will-aliens-be-the-new- vampires/ • http://www.scifimoviepage.com/1950s.html • http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1280&bih=598&q=e+mail+addre sses+for+sfx+magazine&btnG=Google+Search • http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20081021185534AAb3kg8 • http://www.badmovies.org/movies/angryred/ Above The final scene from the film “When Worlds Collide” (1951). 6

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