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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Invasion of the Saucer Men

American International Pictures was clearly pandering to the teenage drive-in market with this film. It was released as a double bill with I Was A Teenage Werewolf. The plot of Saucer Men clearly features teens as the heroic protagonists. The plot was loosely based on a short story by Paul Fairman (who wrote Target Earth) but filled out with some additional plot lines. The final production was given a somewhat confused blend of comedy, parody and semi-seriousness. The result is pure B-grade entertainment with few pretensions to any loftier goals.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A couple of New York drifters, Joe and Arty, find rural Hicksburg boring. Joe drives around to find some action. He sees a flying saucer land in the woods and little "green" men get out. Joe rushes to town to tell Arty. Meanwhile, at Lover's Point, Johnny and Joan plan to elope that night, so drive away from Lover's Point with headlights off. (The other neckers complain when he turns them on). They accidently run over one of the aliens. It's dead, but its hand comes off, crawls over and stabs the tire with needle-like nails. Johnny reports the accident but the police think it's a prank. Joe can't convince sleepy Arty that a real alien sighting will make them rich. He goes back up for proof. The aliens ambush Joe and poke him with their alcohol-injecting needle nails. Since Joe was already pretty intoxicated, the extra alcohol killed him. The aliens put Joe's dead body under Johnny's car. The police arrest Johnny, saying the alien story was a lame excuse. The Air Force has since found the saucer, but in an attempt to cut it open, cause it to explode. Somewhat embarrassed, they cover up the site and claim it was a crashed jet. Johnny and Joan escape the police station. The severed hand almost gets them (hiding in the car). They flee and enlist Arty's help. When they put a spotlight in the car, the hand smokes, then poofs away. The aliens ambush Arty, stabbing him with alcohol nails. Johnny and Joan convince their fellow Lover's Point parking gang to help. Light hurts the aliens. They surround the half dozen big head aliens in a clearing as they're dragging drunkenly unconscious Arty. When the kids all turn their headlights, the aliens smoke, the explode into nothing. Arty is too drunk to be a credible witness, so only the kids know what really happened. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The almost serious, yet comic tone, makes Saucer Men a campy sci-fi classic. By 1957, flying saucers and big-headed little green men were sufficiently part of American culture that they could be used as secondary characters instead of the focal point.

Cold War Angle
There's little Cold War in Saucer Men beyond the almost cliche of invasions from beyond.

Notes
Star Gazing -- There are a few actors of note in Saucer Men. Frank Gorshin, who plays the ill-fated Joe, later played The Riddler on the 60s' Batman TV series. Farmer Larkin was played by Raymond Hatton who had been the comi-tragic Old Pete in Day the World Ended '55). Russ Bender played the minor role of Dr. Carmichael in War of the Worlds ('53) and General Pattrick in It Conquered the World ('56). He will go on to do the two "Colossal Man" movies, later in '57 and '58.

Classic Critters -- Paul Blaisdell, one of B-sci-fi's big names in props, created the saucer and the aliens. The little green man with big head and large eyes was, by 1957, stereotypic. Still, Blaisdell managed to craft in a strong menacing expression, much as he had in his mutant in Day the World Ended ('55) and the venusian in It Conquered The World ('56).

They Are NOT After Our Women -- The poster art suggests that the aliens are big enough to carry off the typical scantily clad buxom beauty. Not only were they actually child sized, they never tried to get our women. The closest we come is the severed hand crawling up behind Joan. The poster scene never happens.

Based on the Book -- Paul Fairman's story, "The Cosmic Frame" is much narrower in scope. The movie picks up his basic elements: an alien struck by a pair of teens. The aliens swapping the dead alien's body for a human body, the aliens damaging the car to 'frame' the teen, and an adult thinking he'd get rich exhibiting a dead alien's body. Beyond that, Saucer Men tells its own stories.

Teens Ascendant -- Clueless adults. Only the kids really know what's going on. This was not new. (Think Peter Pan) Saucer Men was a notable first in a trend, however, that pandered to the typical arrogance of youth. Throughout the film, only Johnny and Joan really understand that saucer men have invaded earth. The adults are all too self-absorbed or inept. "No one will ever believe us," says Joan. "Of course, not," says Johnny. "We're just crazy kids." In validation of the nobility of youth, Joan boasts that their peers will surely help. "They're not like our parents or the police. They won't think we're drunk or crazy just because we're young." This teens-rule (and adults are idiots) theme will show up again (and again) in later B-sci-fi too and become almost required in Disney and Nickelodeon programming in the 1990s and 2000s.

50s Physical Innocence -- On screen, at least, 50s teen sexuality is portrayed as rather mild. Even though the youth of Hicksburg seem to do nothing else but canoodle in parked cars, it's just tons of kissing. Clothes stay on. Joan remarks on the invasion on the night they planned to elope, "I expected to be frightened on my wedding night, but nothing like this." Despite many implied trips up to Lover's Point with Johnny, she was still going to be a virgin bride. Oh how times have changed.

Sincere Flattery -- As campy and self-parody-ing as Saucer Men is, it was deemed good enough for a remake. In 1965, B-movie-meister Larry Buchanan revived the plot in The Eye Creatures, though it lacked Blaisdell's talent in costumes.

Bottom line? Saucer Men is campy and entertaining. It tries to be both comic and yet a bit serious with sinister looking aliens. For fans of 50s sci-fi, and a tolerance for the teens-rule flavor, it's a fun (if "lite") diversion.

5 comments:

Luis Bueno said...

Great review, like all the others so far, Nightowl.

I think "Invasion of the Saucer Men" is a film you've had to have grown up with, whether that means having seen it when it first debuted at the cinema, or on a black-and-white TV that only received seven channels (not counting UHF). My own anecdotal evidence comes from a number of younger-generation acquaintances who I've tried to show this flick to, but were quickly bored or distracted.

However, guys in my generation (mid-40's) all seem to have the same fond memory of the bull (and that other unfortunate guy) who get literally needled with the alien's hypodermic-like fingernails. That's still awesome.

By the way, my wife got the movie poster matted and framed in glass for me a few years ago, and it now hangs over our bed alongside Robby the Robot. The bug-eyed aliens are a great way to start every day!

Nightowl said...

Hi Luis,
You're right that the younger viewers don't seem to be able to appreciate movies like Saucer Men. When old movies like this are the first thing you watch (more or less), they make a big impression on you. Your first glimpse of a spooky big-headed alien stays with you. A younger viewer, who's grown up on Alien and Cloverfield, would miss out on that first impression.

Not to digress, but my first 'monster' movie was Godzilla when I was maybe 7. Creeped me out to where I couldn't sleep. Post-Cloverfield, a kid would never lose sleep over Toho's rubber suit monster.

The poster sounds like a great gift. You have an understanding wife.

Anonymous said...

there was another movie like Invasion of the Saucer Men but had tall white aliens that exploded when you shined headlights on them, but dont know the name.

Nightowl said...

Anon,
You may be thinking of The Eye Creatures or sometimes known as Attack of the Eye Creatures. Check it out.

They were more man-sized, white (with eyes all over them, as per the title). They blew up when exposed to light.

thingmaker said...

And "The Eye Creatures" (crappier than this in every department) is a magnificent example of Larry Buchanan's Azalea productions with their "don't-give-a-damn" ethic of film production. You really need to get the best (available) copy to appreciate the AWFUL, and totally random, day-for-night shots... AND Best of all; in many shots the Eye Creatures (really kinda nice creations - all pulpy and white with a great gaping maws) are played by people in black leotards with only the head on. I guess they had too few full costumes and, maybe, thought that the "darkness" and foliage would hide the lack of full body suits. Or maybe Larry just didn't give a rats ass...