July 16, 2019

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Fred F. Sears
Stars: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Morris Ankrum

What it's about. Brainy manly man scientist Hugh Marlowe is newly married to hottie brunette Joan Taylor. He is in charge of a Federal research project launching rockets into space. Unknown to Marlowe, These rockets have been systematically destroyed by invaders from outer space, who have arrived in giant flying saucers and full body spacesuits.

When Marlowe perseveres with his rocket launches, the aliens land and destroy the entire military base. They abduct Taylor's father, Morris Ankrum, who just happens to be a general. Because it is a movie, Marlowe and Taylor are the only other survivors.

Marlowe is so smart that he invents a ray that will disable the flying saucers, and because it is a movie, he has no difficulty convincing the Feds to build many such readily transportable ray guns. Marlowe and Taylor are also abducted by aliens, but for some reason are released unharmed and even get the scoop on when and where the aliens will strike next.

Right on schedule, the aliens land on Washington, D.C. Marlowe's ray guns cause the flying saucers to crash into famous landmarks, such as the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. Humanity is saved, thanks to clever Marlowe.

The visual affects were created by legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, but these are less elaborate than in his other projects, such as Jason and the Argonauts and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

How others will see it. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers generated little stir upon release, but has acquired cult status for its campy plot and special effects. Today at imdb.com, the 6K user votes is single highest among the 144 films with a Fred F. Sears credit. The user ratings are better than expected. U.S. voters grade it 6.6 out of 10, though foreign observers award a somewhat lower grade of 6.2.

User reviews are predominately positive. The film is seen as iconic 1950s 'B' movie sci-fi, an insight into the now-distant culture of an American white-bread era that began with the invention of the atomic bomb and ended with the assassination of JFK.

How I felt about it. Director Fred Sears died of a heart attack the very next year, 1957. He was only 44. It is revealing of his productivity that five films he directed were released posthumously. Crank-'em-out Freddie made a lot of 'B' westerns at first, but eventually made quickie low budget films in a variety of genres.

Sears was never nominated for an Oscar. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is his best-known movie, though musicologists might have an interest in his two 1956 rock'n'roll films, Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock. Sears was also an actor with many film credits, though they taper off after 1952, by which time he was in greater demand as a cost-efficient director.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers looks like the sci-fi 'B' movie it is. Marlowe is a creditable actor, memorable as the foil in the Cary Grant-Ginger Rogers comedy Monkey Business. But his performance here is narrow, a semi-tough guy who always has the answers and is always in charge. He is surrounded by various interchangeable straight men and the comely Joan Taylor, who is little more than set decoration.

It is never clear what the aliens want, or why they feel so threatened by Marlowe's harmless rockets. They take a great interest in Marlowe, but if they fear his knowledge and can-do attitude, the aliens should focus on the 95% of the Earth surface that excludes the United States. Their obsession with Washington is similar to Godzilla's focus on Tokyo. Come to think of it, why doesn't Godzilla ever terrorize Yokohama?

We also wonder why the aliens tell Marlowe when and where they will show up next. Because no matter how many saucers appear, Marlowe is certain to be there as they crash land one by one.