It Came from Outer Space

It Came from Outer Space (1953) movie poster

(1953) dir. Jack Arnold
viewed: 07/29/06 at the Red Vic Movie House, SF, CA

The Red Vic Movie House is one of the great theaters in San Francisco, with its repertory schedule, its cooperative-run and scheduled selections, the fact that popcorn and soda come in actual bowls to be returned rather than more disposable garbage, and it’s homey seating.  It’s a great place that I always think that I should come to with more regularity than I do every time I walk in the door.

The reason to be there this time was quite compelling, a showing of It Came From Outer Space, one of my favorite horror/sci-fi films as a kid, in its original 3-D.   When I was growing up, I loved and lived for “monster movies”, which is what I referred to them back then, with a heavy emphasis on Universal, Hammer, and all black and white horror films, dating back to Lon Chaney and encompassing in particular 1950’s horror and science fiction.  Basically, Famous Monsters of Filmland would have been more and more my bible if I had been able to get my hands on more than a couple of issues of it.  This film was indeed a personal favorite from that time and from seeing it again, I have to give myself some credit for taste.

Directed by Jack Arnold, who has several notable horror/sci-fi films from the period to his credit, including Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and  Monster on the Campus (1958), It Came from Outer Space is a top quality 1950’s B-Movie.  Full of Cold War paranoia and xenophobia, the script also seems to criticize pack mentality and conformity to the conservative small town culture that epitomizes its period.  When the spaceship lands, the moderately radical amateur astronomer/writer proves himself the outsider in the small Arizona town by thinking against the grain, quickly tabbed as a nut for his ideas about aliens and so forth, he is the free thinker in the town.  How much of this comes from the Ray Bradbury story that this was adapted from, I have no idea.

From a visual standpoint, the film has great style.  Set in a small desert town, the Joshua trees and landscape play significantly into the design and aura of the film, even offering itself up significantly as one of the great red herring shocks of the film.  My favorite thing, the thing I always remembered about the film was the “alien vision”, the perspective shots from the aliens’ point of view with this watery gel overlay backed with some serious theramin music.  I’d still say it’s great.

The performances throughout the film are solid from all of the character actors to the leads and the script has several surprises and excellent moments, most notably the “92 degrees” speech given by the town’s sheriff, which was used in the Siouxsie and the Banshees song of the same name from their Tinderbox album.  It’s full of qualities and fun.  It’s a great film, not maybe the utmost pillar of the period, but a very rock solid and cool film.

And yeah, it was in traditional 3-D with those glasses that have one red lens and one blue one.  This is pretty much a top experience all the way around.

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