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It Came from Outer Space (1953) - Terror in the 3rd Dimension

Updated on November 4, 2016

One of the classic sci-fi movies of the fifties, It Came from Outer Space (1953) was produced by Universal Studios, directed by Jack Arnold and was the first screenplay produced by SF author Ray Bradbury – although Bradbury only turned in a treatment and the finished result was rewritten by Harry Essex.

Bradbury offered the studio two story variations, one with benign aliens and the other hostile - "I wanted to treat the invaders as beings who were not dangerous, and that was very unusual." Bradbury said. "The studio picked the right concept, and I stayed on." In 2004, Bradbury published the book “It Came from Outer Space” which contained four versions of his screen treatment for the movie as well as essays, studio letters, posters and reviews.

Amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) sees what looks like a giant meteor crashing to earth near the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona. He goes to investigate and discovers an alien spaceship buried in the crater, before he can investigate further there is a landslide and the alien ship is buried under rock.

No one in town believes his story, but soon people start to disappear and when some of them reappear they seem cold and distant.. Before long the town sheriff has started to believe John’s story and rounds up a posse to go to the meteor site and destroy the ship.

Meanwhile John makes contact with the alien ‘xenomorphs’ who it transpires are only trying to repair their crippled spaceship . John manages to convince the sheriff that the aliens mean no harm. The aliens repair their ship and blast off into space.

It Came From Outer Space was filmed in 3D and I saw it in that process when it was shown at a quaint old cinema in Central London in the early 80’s, on a double bill with George Pal's War of the Worlds. The 3D presentation was headache-inducing though some scenes were effective. Those were the days of red / cyan anaglyph 3D glasses.

The film opens with a shot of the alien craft hurtling towards the screen and exploding. This 3D effect was achieved by mounting a model on a track and hung on a pulley with cables and pulled towards a mirror. Pyrotechnics were ignited inside the hollow model to produce sparks. If you view the scene frame by frame, you can see a reflection of the mirror as it was shot at a 45 degree angle. The final impact smashed the mirror to pieces and it can be seen in the movie.

One of Ray Bradbury’s ideas for the film was for the movie to be viewed through the eye of the alien to force the audience to use their imagination as to what the monster might look like. But since the movie was being filmed for 3D, Universal insisted that a monster be created to get a reaction from the audience and the movie was re-shot. For a couple of scenes the effect of seeing through the alien's eye was achieved by filming through a concave bowl filled with oil.

Director Jack Arnold would go onto make other genre classics including The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). He also directed the Peter Sellers comedy The Mouse That Roared (1959).

In the movie Jack Arnold makes the desert look like a desolate, alien world. The film hovers on a shadowy twilight edge where things are never what they seem. Gnarled trees and cactus appear ghostly and there is one eerie scene where an unseen alien moves silently across the desert scaring little animals, leaving behind a trail of glittering dust. Other memorable scenes include a glowing hand suddenly appearing into shot and duplicated people staring at the sun without blinking, or standing silhouetted in a darkened doorway with glowing eyes.

Richard Carlson ... John Putnam
Barbara Rush ... Ellen Fields
Charles Drake ... Sheriff Matt Warren
Joe Sawyer ... Frank Daylon
Russell Johnson ... George
Kathleen Hughes ... June

Directed by Jack Arnold, Ray Bradbury (story), Harry Essex (screenplay)
Produced by William Alland, Original Music by Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, Herman Stein, Cinematography by Clifford Stine, Film Editing by Paul Weatherwax
Make up by Bud Westmore, visual effects by David S. Horsley
Universal Pictures, 81 minutes, USA release - 25th May 1953

The Critcs Wrote -

“A solid piece of eerie entertainment, replete with wild screams and bug-eyed monsters guaranteed to send scared customers out of this world.” (Hollywood Reporter)

“Direction by Jack Arnold whips up an air of suspense, and there is considerable atmosphere of reality created, which stands up well enough if the the logic of it all is not examined too closely. Some of the threat posed by the landing of visitors from space on earth is lessened when it is established the chance visitors intend no harm.” (Variety)

“Interesting science fiction which despite a threatening title plays down the threat of aliens from space, preaches a message of tolerance. The movie was originally in 3D, which accounts for the large number of objects which keep coming at the audience.” (Christopher Tookey)

"Despite the dated acting, Arnold’s vigorous direction and Bradbury’s intriguing ideas meld to produce a genuine classic in its limited field. Some of the quality of the picture, certain scenes, are so haunting that it’s surprising the film has never been remade.” (Bill Warren, Keep Watching The Skies!)


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    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks JT and thanks Cogerson.

      Jack Arnold was an odd choice for The Mouse That Roared, a comedy classic which usually turns up on the BBC during weekday afternoons. Peter Sellers plays three roles including the Grand Duchess of a tiny impoverished country which declares war on the United States, hoping that when they lose they'll accept foreign aid.

      They send an invasion force to New York, armed with longbows and wander the streets looking for someone to surrender to... :)

      It was popular enough for a sequel to be made, Mouse on the Moon (1963). Richard Lester directed this one.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Very nicely done Steve.....I do not believe I have ever seen this movie, but I have heard of it. I will check it out and let you know what I thought about it. Lots of interesting information here.....his Peter Seller's movie looks out of place compared to the other movies the director made....voted up and useful.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 6 years ago from Florida

      It is a well written hub.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for popping by Rob. I was looking at the posters, that must be the first use of the word "Xenomorph" in movies or any kind of advertising. According to the dictionary it's a geological term. In recent sci-fi it refers to the alien species in Ridley Scott's Alien and it's sequels.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      I'm a big fan of those old 1950s sci-fi classics. While "It came from outer space" isn't really one of my personal favorites, I still get a nostalgiac feeling watching any of those low-tech sci-fi oldies.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Hah! Thanks Acer, I thought I'd give the banned and questionable a break and get back to good old 50's sci-fi. :)

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      Awesome job Steve voted up,awesome,some great photos and research.Actually,I remember "The Incredible Shrinking Man"escaping into the back yard into the quantum universe.;)