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Sunday, August 3, 2008

It Conquered the World

The final product of It Conquered the World (ICTW) is typical of low B-grade 50s sci-fi. It aspires to some lofty literary goals, but is hamstrung by a tiny budget. At its heart, ICTW could have been a somewhat thoughtful tale of a scheming invader playing on the bruised ego of a man, to turn him into an unwitting traitor. There could have been some eerie tension as people become "possessed" by the invader, etc. etc. Director Roger Corman does a fair job directing, with a few notable missteps. However, there is only so much one can do with a sow's-ear budget. The acting of Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and especially Beverly Garland do a lot to keep ICTW from falling apart.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Tom, a scientist who has become discredited for having too many wild theories, tries to warn the authorities not to launch a satellite. They do anyway. It is lost, but returns mysteriously. Tom reveals to his friend Paul (a rocket scientist) that he has been communicating with a being from Venus, who is coming to earth in the errant satellite. Paul does not believe him. After the satellite comes down, the venusian takes up residence in a steamy cave. It somehow manages to stop all power sources. Electricity, steam, hydro, even mechanical watches stop. It releases eight manta-like flying creatures who 'bite' their intended target person in the back of the neck, implanting an electronic control device. The alien then directs them to do its bidding. The Army General of the rocket base is bitten, and so is the police chief of the town. They become emotionless tools of the alien. Paul's wife Joan is also bitten, but Paul eludes and kills his manta-bat. When he realizes that his wife has been taken over by the alien, he shoots her. Tom feels much inner turmoil. He believed that the alien was coming to earth to improve mankind, but events have caused him to doubt. The alien orders him to kill Paul, but he can't. The doubts have grown. Tom's wife, Claire, (Beverly Garland) takes matters into her own hands, drives to the cave and tires to shoot the alien. Bullets are useless. The alien kills Claire, which Tom hears over his radio. This is the turning point for Tom. He drives to the cave. A squad of soldiers tried to shoot the alien, also to no avail. Tom uses a kerosene torch on the alien's eyes. It grabs Tom in its claws. They die together. Paul (Peter Graves) gives a longish epilogue speech about imperfect man needing to find his own answers. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
By modern movie standards, ICTW could almost be annoyingly bad. However, its fun to see where it almost rises towards its lofty intentions. It tries to evoke the disconcerting mood of Invaders From Mars ('53) and the dark conspiracy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56), but just never quite makes it. There are many story threads, which could, if explored better, and with better funding, could have made good movies.

Cold War Angle
There is an undercurrent similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which a hostile force is taking over people, (especially authority figures) turning them into emotionless puppets of the future new world order. The cautionary moral of the story is how a man can be seduced by the pretty lies of an invader, and unintentionally doom his people. Beware of commie smooth talkers.

Getting All Emotional -- A familiar trope is that people "possessed" by the alien lose their emotions -- their ability to love and "dream". Instead they are passionless tools of the master. This appeared The Man From Planet X ('51) with zombi-fied towns folk. Again in It Came From Outer Space ('53), and of course Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56). A closer precedent to ICTW is in Invaders From Mars ('53) in which the alien implants a control device in the back of the victim's neck.

Ego: Achilles Heel -- The alien flattered Tom, praised his work, while his fellow humans derided him as a crackpot. With flattery, the alien got his foot (or claw) in the door. By promising to do good for mankind, the alien wooed Tom into helping him come to earth and begin the invasion. He persists in believing the pretty lie until Joan is killed and finally his wife, Claire, is killed by the alien. This is the real core of ICTW -- a man's well intended, but misguided trust.

Small World -- It must be inferred that the alien's power to stop all power applied to the entire world. That must be the "conquering" in the title, since the alien only takes over a few people in a small town before being killed.

Cheap Exploitation -- Notice that the poster for ICTW is very similar to others, especially The Beast With a Million Eyes in which an ugly monster face menaces a scantily clad damsel. This had become a stock formula for low-grade B-movies. Promise a menaced babe, and they will buy a ticket.

Killer Carrot -- The "lame" monster is a sore point for many viewers. Paul Blaisdell created the alien costume. This venusian, which resembles a demon-possessed giant carrot. It was a more ambitious costume than his mutant "Tommy" in Day the World Ended ('55) and the little critter alien in Beast With a Million Eyes ('55). Blaisdell was an illustrator. Many of his monsters come across as sculptures of illustrations, rather than plausible beings. . Corman erred in allowing audiences too long and good a look at the monster suit. It looked too absurd.

Safe Sax -- An absurd little touch can be seen when the crowd of townsfolk are fleeing in a mild panic, out of town. One of the men running at the camera is carrying a saxophone. If you had time to grab just one thing, would it be your saxophone?

Lame Comic Relief -- Corman includes comic relief with the hispanic soldier. Unfortunately, he uses it too much. Any spooky or poignant moment he had been building, is trashed by the comedic moment.

Secular Humanism Ascendant -- Previously, it was customary to include (somewhere) that God has a hand in the world (even a world with aliens). Peter Graves' epilogue speech shows an interesting shift, then underway in sci-fi. Man, all by himself, would solve his own problems. He (man) was the only answer. This is interesting, given Tom's earlier speech about how mankind has done nothing but screw things up since the dawn of mankind.

Bottom line? Don't watch ICTW with any expectations that it's in the same league as Body Snatchers or Forbidden Planet. It is a very low budget affair, with minimal sets, cheap effects, and mixed acting. Instead, watch it as a low-B-movie which has dreams of being something bigger.


thingmaker said...

I agree that the monster is pretty poor, even among Blaisdell's creations. It might have passed if seen in jumbled cuts in partial darkness... And that's the story I read somewhere; that the creature was meant to be kept in the dark but when they got to the location, the lights needed were unavailable so instead of setting up inside the cave, they shot it out in the open. Whatever the truth, this film is unique among the Corman films re-made by Larry Buchanan in that the re-make is, arguably, better. The remake is "Zontar the Thing from Venus" and it has, generally equal acting, a better monster, (even the "injectapods" are at least as good)and a more plausible weapon used against the monster at the end... Of course it is a Larry Buchanan Azalea production so it's pretty shabby in a lot of ways.

Unknown said...

It was superior to zontar.