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Friday, September 5, 2008

Not of This Earth

While not nearly as well known as some of his quirkier films, Not of this Earth (NoTE) is perhaps Roger Corman's best movie. It stars Paul Birch as the strange alien man in black suit and sun glasses. He starred as the besieged father in Day the World Ended ('55). He plays the role well. The female lead is Beverly Garland, who played Claire in an earlier (and more famous) Corman film, It Conquered the World ('56). She plays her role pretty well too. The pace stays fairly lively and not as entirely predictable as may low-budget B-movies can be. NoTE double-billed with Attack of the Crab Monsters making for a Roger Corman double-header. NoTE was the better of the two.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The film opens with a murder. Seeing a strange man's all-white eyes kills a young woman. The man drains her blood into bottles in his aluminum briefcase. Later, he comes to a hospital seeking a blood transfusion. He uses mind control to convince the doctor that there's nothing amiss. He and the doctor arrange for one of his nurses (Garland) to be his live-in nurse and give him daily transfusions. Mr. Johnson is actually an alien from the planet Davana whose population is dying. Radiation from a protracted nuclear war is causing their blood to deteriorate. Mr. J kills a vacuum salesman and three wino bums (by showing them his white eyes) to fill out a shipment of blood back to Davana for tests. He next sends a live specimen (a chinaman), using a matter transporter in a hidden chamber in his living room. If human blood is suitable, the Davanans will conquer earth and use people as pasture animals to provide them with blood. The nurse's boyfriend is a policeman, aware of the string of blood-draining murders, suspects something's wrong. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman arrives, also wearing sunglasses. She's a Davanan who escaped before Davana lost their war. They're both now trapped on earth. Mr. J gives her a transfusion of blood, but it's tainted with rabies. She gets sick and dies. The doctor examines the dead Davanan woman. With proof of aliens, the policeman rushes to save his nurse girlfriend. Mr. J is chasing her down with his big black Cadillac. Mr. J catches her and uses mind control to send her home to make her transport herself to Davana. The cop-boyfriend arrives and gives chase. While trying to flash his white eyes at the pursuing motorcycle cop, Mr. J crashes and dies. The spell is broken. Nurse stops before transport. At his grave, nurse and cop muse about the strange man. The grave stone says "not of this earth." Behind them walks (out of focus) the figure of another man in black suit, sunglasses and aluminum briefcase...The end. (?)

Why is this movie fun?
Despite the usual low-budget issues, NoTE is engaging and keeps a pretty brisk pace. There are some plot twists which keep things from getting predictable. There are also several unexplored story threads which give the movie depth. All this is pretty good for budget-B-movie. See more in the Notes section.

Cold War Angle?
While not a dominant subtext, nuclear war is present as the problem which has doomed the planet Davana. Not only are the losing their protracted war, prolonged exposure to the radiation has ruined their blood. War is killing them, even if they hadn't lost militarily. That's the cautionary lesson for us.

Notes
Vampires in Space -- There is something compelling about vampires. Long the stock of horror stories (and films), the blood fetish occasionally factors into sci-fi. Here, it is a sci-fi fit. The Davanan's need new blood to replace their radiation damaged blood. Nothing supernatural. It's quite biological and gone about in technological ways.

Stranger in Town -- One effective feature is how "Mr. Johnson" is not automatically familiar with all of earth's ways. He might be advanced, but he doesn't know everything. He can't drive well. He doesn't know doctors require blood tests, he's unaware of blood diseases like rabies, etc. etc. These are small things, but help create a mood of his alien-ness.

Transporter First -- In NoTE we have the first matter transporter device. Until NoTE, all aliens arrived in ships or saucers. The Davanans arrive, not in a ship, but by beaming down. They beam back supplies and even test subjects. While transporters would become a common sci-fi feature in years to come, Corman had them first.

Eat Local -- The Davanans always referred to the earthlings as "sub-humans." They had to interact with the people, but did not consider them equals. Earthlings would be a feeding stock, kept at "pasture" to provide blood for the Davanans until the last earthling was consumed. The trope of aliens-eat-humans was not particularly common yet in 1957. HG Wells' novel War of the Worlds (1898) featured the martians feeding on earth blood. This plot feature was not a part of George Pal's 1953 screen version. The Thing ('51) had the alien requiring human blood to feed his seedlings, but he crashed here by mistake. The Davanans came purposefully to feed. Earthlings were merely wild beef. This was plot feature was still rare in early 1957.

If Looks Could Kill -- A quirky feature is that the Davanans can kill earthlings by eye contact. It's not like they have heat vision or anything. It requires actual eye contact. If an earthling sees their all-white eyes, it somehow fries the human brain and they die. No rationale is offered. That's just how it works. It's odd, but it solves the violence problem. No ray guns. No bludgeoning, etc. They just die, like those who looked upon the mythical Gorgons.

Rumors of War -- A motivating back-story in NoTE is the protracted war between the Davanans and their unnamed enemies. This is reminiscent to This Island Earth in which the protracted war between the Metalunars and Zahgons is what brings Exeter to earth. The Davanan's total war becomes the motivation for alien incursions on earth. In both cases, they need earthlings to help. In the first film, the need was noble. In NoTE, it was cruel.

Sympathy for the Vampire -- Birch plays the alien as an almost tragic figure rather than the typical swaggering evil villain. Instead, he's sickly, and ordered to die if necessary to save his people. The female Davanan adds to the tragic mood. She was a refugee -- one of the last to escape their war's destruction. She too is sickly and dies of earth germs (rabies) -- shades of Wells. This vulnerability makes the Davanans more complex as antagonists.

Bottom line? For fans of 50s sci-fi, NoTE is well worth watching. It has a good pace and enough unexplored complexity uncharacteristic of B-movies. There's enough there to merit repeat watchings.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Didn't NoTE also feature a "first" in the sense that a creature very similar to the face-grabbers in Alien(s) would fly around and attach to the spinal column of the
victims? Very creepy. In fact the
face-grabber and this creature in
NotE were very, very similar. A rip-off perhaps?

lenabbad13 said...

Yes, it did. The creature was bat like. I was terrified seeing that as a child back in the the 50's!

John Drake said...

Howdy,


To me, this is not your average budget Roger Corman film.

The characters have depth and the plot line is not bad.

The bottom line is that it is well worth watching.


Watch out for loud noises if you are an alien as well as tainted blood.

John