Amateur astrologer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) witnesses a meteor crash in Arizona on the outskirts of small town of Sand Rock. Upon further investigation he discovers it’s actually a UFO. A landslide covers the spacecraft and Putnam is unable to convince anyone of what this object truly is.
Putnam soon discovers the UFO accidentally crashed on earth. These beings don’t want to cause anyone harm and simply need to repair their ship. They use telepathy to control the minds of humans and shape-shifting abilities to appear human entering the town unnoticed getting the required items for their repairs.
But when the townsfolk learn of what truly is happening they want to kill these outer space beings. Although wanting to avoid any confrontations this stranded species won’t hesitate in eliminating anyone that is a threat to them. Hopefully Putnam can reason with the town and aliens to avoid a destructive end to the earth.
Based on the Ray Bradbury short story ‘Meteor’ It Came From Outer Space plays less as a straight up ‘invasion movie and more like a an extended Twilight Zone episode.
The story is something along the outskirts of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Zone’s episode The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. But whereas the ‘Invasion’ aliens were up to no good making townsfolk disappear, these aliens just want to be left alone to make their repairs with no trouble. It’s up to Putnam after making a big stink of seeing a flying saucer to calm his shaken townsfolk down and not instigate any problems with the crashed aliens.
This was a very pleasant surprise. Sitting down with this I had my expectations in check for a typical 50’s alien movie, but it’s very far removed from the more cheesy B-sci-fi movies of the time. The desert town setting that would go on to be used countless times in alien and atomic movies is made a creepy locale by director Jack Arnold, who would go on to direct other memorable sci-fi/horror movies (The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula).
It’s a smartly written film and manages to ratchet up the suspense without any showy interstellar threats on the loose, there’s only the handful of mind-controlled citizens walking hazily around talking in monotone voices.
Characters aren’t dumb for the sake of moving things along. Everyone, including the aliens, have rational reasons for their actions and what they are willing to do. I was half agreeing with the Sheriff who upon finding out there’s aliens in the desert wants to round up a posse despite what Putnam is telling him. It sounds a bit goofy that this amateur astronomer is so willing to trust everything these creatures are telling him.
The performances are effective, but are pretty standard for the time. I don’t think any of the cast particularly stands out in that arena. Barbara Rush is simply the leading lady with nothing much to do other than follow her man around and get kidnapped. She doesn’t carve out much of a character. She is very attractive though.
It’s creepy, tense and does a lot with very little. There’s a nice atmospheric music by Henry Mancini using that unique spooky thermian sound. The special effects are nicely done, but more importantly they are used in support of a strong simple story. This could have easily become a forgettable cut and dry generic sci-fi flick in lesser hands if it weren’t for everyone involved, notably Arnold and the script.
I’m not so sure how this plays in 3D as it was originally released and if that third dimension adds much, but without the red and blue glasses it’s a surprisingly satisfying old school 50’s sci-fi movie – and definitely one of the better ones.