Minister of Science and Chief Protector of the Faith

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Was On TV Last Night


The past few days Turner Classic Movies ran a couple of great old Ray Harryhausen films, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles To Earth. I've always loved both of these films. People often forget that Harryhausen did the special effects for "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" because there are no giant monsters in it. Click this link to watch the entire film.

Unlike most of the other "outer space visitor" films of the era, it is the flying saucers themselves and their technology that are the focus of the plot, and not the aliens. Using stop motion animation, Harryhausen brought the flying saucers in the film to life as they had never been rendered on the movie screen before. The special effects for flying saucers in previous films were usually some kind of pie tin spinning on the end of string.

My favorite line in the film is when General Edmunds says, "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea and cookies!"

Some of the dialog between the newly married hero and heroine of the film is quite endearing as well:

Scientist Guy: Married two hours and already she's claiming community property!

Mrs. Scientist: Now that you're married, Dr. Marlowe, you don't have to sneak up on me.

Scientist Guy: You always did have eyes in the back of your head.

Mrs. Scientist: Besides, it's not safe when we're driving.

Scientist Guy: But pretty...

Mrs. Scientist: I thought intellectual giants were supposed to be backwards and shy.

Scientist Guy: My third-grade teacher, Miss Hickey, said I was a quick study.

Mrs. Scientist: You're starting something you're not going to be able to finish...

Scientist Guy: Yeah, Yeah. Today I've got a hot date with a three-stage rocket.

The message of the film is that an alien super intelligence is certainly no match for our earthly can-do spunk, and that scientists can always fix any problem by the last reel of the film.

the climax of the film depcits a remarkable symbolic representation of our country's worst fears as flying saucers crash into the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. "Flying Saucers" is Freudian shorthand for "terrorists" "Communists," of course.

Tonight and tomorrow morning on Turner Classic Movies they are going to be playing a bunch of Val Lewton films. Being a Boris Karloff fan, I have only seen "The Body Snatcher", "Isle Of The Dead" and "Bedlam", but I have heard that "Cat People" with Simone Simon is really good, and any film with the word "Zombie" in the title has got to be worth checking out, in my opinon.

I don't really know who Val Lewton is, but Wikipedia says that he was an "American film producer and screenwriter, who is best known for a sequence of nine brooding horror films he produced for RKO Pictures in the 1940s."

[...] "Lewton's first production was 'Cat People'. The film was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who subsequently also directed 'I Walked With a Zombie' and 'The Leopard Man' for Lewton. Made for $134,000, the film went on to earn nearly $4 million, and was the top moneymaker for RKO that year. This success enabled Lewton to make his next films with relatively little studio interference, allowing him to avoid the sensationalist material suggested by his film titles, instead focusing on ominous suggestion and themes of existential ambivalence." Wikipedia

The article also says that Lewton lost a job as a newspaper reporter "after it was discovered that a story he wrote about a truckload of kosher chickens dying in a New York heat wave was a total fabrication." Cool!

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At Mon Jan 14, 09:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earth vs. Flying Saucers is awesome. I've owned the DVD for a long while. Yeah, you have the stereotype white male American scientist trumps all, but it is surprisingly uncheesy despite the era it emerged from. Certainly not a deep film but lots of fun action.

A lot of the imagery from it gets recycled and used in other films later on. But let's face it - saucers destroying monuments and crashing into big buildings is made of awesome.

The original Cat People is great too. It is much, much better in my view than the remake. One of the elements that works is the doubt invoked in it, you aren't 100% sure if she does turn into a cat and kills people or is just insane and believes that she does. Unlike the remake which has to show it happen and undercuts the original's more clever take on the genre.

At Mon Jan 14, 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Dean Wormer said...

I just realized the Washington Monument vs. Boy Scouts scene from Mars Attacks was an homage to Earth vs. Flying Saucers.

Thanks Zaius. Live and learn.

At Mon Jan 14, 05:29:00 PM, Blogger SamuraiFrog said...

Damn it all, I missed "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" again! I STILL have not seen that movie, so I appreciate the link!

Val Lewton's movies are pretty quality. Did you ever see Kirk Douglas in "The Bad and the Beautiful"? He plays a movie producer partially based on Val Lewton. He was best known for using suggestion and effect to create fear, rather than showing his hand, as it were. Check out "The Leopard Man"--one of the best horror sequences of all time is when the woman won't let the little girl in her house...

All of them are pretty darn good.

At Tue Jan 15, 08:13:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

MWB's World: Yes, I love this film - despite it's lack of cheesiness. The saucer shots were the most amazing space ships on film of the era. I think the film is often overlooked. Harryhausen said that it was the least favorite of his films, though. ;o(

Dean Wormer: Yep. And Harryhausen stole imagery from H. G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" for the film. Everything in Hollywood is the reinvention of the wheel.

SamuraiFrog: You are in for a treat when you get a chance to see this movie. It's cool!

At Tue Jan 15, 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Batocchio said...

Awesome! I used to be/am a huge sci-fi geek. My favorites as a kid from that era were/are The Day the Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet. The '86 remake of Invaders From Mars, a loving homage by Tobe Hooper, features a great line: "Don't worry, Son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!"

It's times like this I wish I had cable. =(

At Tue Jan 15, 08:15:00 PM, Blogger genexs said...

People of Earth...Attention!

Some great nights of TV, huh! You point out the naughty dialog by the two scientists in Earth VS. The Flying Saucers. Watching it the other night I was creeped-out by how Mr. Scientist seemed to be trying to bend Mrs. Scientist over a hot steam pipe at one point! Ouchie!

All the Lewton films TCM showed were great. But I don't think they showed "The Ghost Ship" (1942), a very disturbing film that went unseen for years because of legal troubles. The Capt'n (played by Richard Dix) could teach Capt'n Queeg a thing or two about paranoia.

Doc, I doubt you missed this, but did you see that Maila Murni (Vampira) died the other day? :(

At Wed Jan 16, 05:07:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Batocchio: What do you mean, used to be? once a sci-fi geek, always a sci-fi geek! "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Forbidden Planet" are classics. I especially like Robby the Robot, Anne Francis as Altaira, and the Monsters from the ID! I have not seen the '86 remake of "Invaders From Mars", unfortunately. I will have to keep my eyes open for it. You should get cable if only so you can watch American Movie Classics!

genexs: Mrs. Scientist in "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" was pretty hot, if you ask me. If only i could invent a weapon that would save the world from evil space aliens! Then maybe I could get a date with a Mrs. Scientist. I will have to keep my eye open for "The Ghost Ship". I had not heard about Maila Murni. She shall be missed.

At Fri Jan 18, 06:16:00 PM, Anonymous QuakerDave said...

Thanks for the link. I have always been a fan of this movie.

PS: Update your blogroll, Doc.

At Sat Jan 19, 09:23:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

OK, I've fixed the blogroll!

At Sat Jan 19, 04:28:00 PM, Anonymous Agent Orange said...

"The aliens may be years ahead of us technologically, but we've got one thing they haven't - sheer bloody mindedness. It built this planet!"

-Ed Bishop as Commander Straker "UFO"

At Sun Jan 20, 05:16:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Well, humans certainly have blood on their hands. I guess that it is on the minds as well!


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