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Unidentified Flying Objects(1956)

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teaser Unidentified Flying Objects (1956)

"There was something up there in that sky, and if they were not balloons, I don't know what to think."

So says Albert (Al) Chop (Tom Towers) in the 1956 documentary Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers (UFO for short). His statement is about as deep a critical analysis as this curious documentary is willing to provide. Mixing in fictional characters with real life witnesses and military personnel, UFO is more of a fictional re-enactment than an actual documentary but still manages to do more than many newer UFO documentaries by producing interviews with figures now firmly cemented in the pantheon of UFO lore, Nicholas Mariana and Delbert Newhouse among them.

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, an experienced aviator working in the Pacific Northwest, claimed he saw nine objects he could not identify, flying in tight formation, near Mount Rainier, Washington. Even though Arnold himself described the objects as "something like a pie plate that was cut in half with a sort of a convex triangle in the rear" as well as "saucer-like," the press quickly latched onto the description "flying saucer" and a new era was born. Forget that Arnold's own description was of something crescent-shaped, flying saucers were all anyone talked about.

That sighting is mentioned at the start of UFO and the story takes off from there by introducing us to a fictionalized government UFO investigator and press liaison, Al Chop, who goes from base to base, speaks with experts on radar and aviation, watches 16mm films and dutifully reports everything he can to the powers that be. Starting with Project Sign and Grudge before moving on to Project Bluebook, the film covers familiar territory for the UFOlogist of today but at the time, coming just nine years after the first official sighting of the modern age of UFOlogy (Kenneth Arnold's Mount Rainier incident), this must have been a treasure trove of information for people interested in the subject but with little to no means of research.

It should be noted, as well, for the modern viewer that the now well-known Roswell Incident, occurring just weeks after Kenneth Arnold's sighting, is not mentioned at all, despite an actual newspaper story on "flying discs" recovered at the site. The reason is simple: The story was forgotten about almost immediately following a military press conference stating the crashed object was a research balloon and not picked up again until some thirty years later. As a result, there's no mention of it here but its legacy nevertheless casts a large shadow over the whole affair.

Roswell was the first prominent use of the "research balloon" explanation for a UFO sighting and throughout UFO, balloons are constantly brought up as a possible solution before being immediately discounted. By 1956, that explanation must have already been prevalent enough to merit attention, by the writers of UFO, as a popular red herring thrown out by skeptics. Of course, as much as the film wants us to believe in its objectivity, it clearly falls on the side of the UFOs but, curiously, does so by suggesting that the government investigators are on the up and up, a complete reversal from the widely held view of UFOlogy today. Comically simplistic assurances are given of the investigators' credentials at every turn:

"Ruppelt will give you a complete briefing on Blue Book."
"What's the story on him?"
"Ruppelt's an aeronautical engineer. He knows about things that fly."

Ah, good old Ruppelt, he knows about things that fly. Of course, the film also uses a lot of the same tropes still employed today as "proof-positive" of the authenticity about any given sighting, stating with confidence, for instance, that the military had no planes in the area. But, of course, what else is the military going to say? What's fascinating about all of this is that, coming as it did in 1956, the two schools of UFOlogy had yet to emerge (the government side, that it's all bunk and the civilian side, that it's all a cover-up) and are blended together in a strange bedfellow amalgam of scientific research, national pride and wild conjecture.

Near the end of UFO, the now famous Washington, D.C. UFO incident of 1952 is re-enacted with surprising detail. The characters are a mix of the fictional, like Chop, and the real, like Captain Ruppelt (played by Robert Phillips) but the story plays out almost exactly as the accounts for it have detailed. Nothing ever comes of the lights witnessed both visually and on radar over DC on those two occasions in the summer of 1952, but the film does a good job of creating a fair amount of both tension and suspense as the players stand around the radar scope watching the approaching blips while listening to the pilots describe the lights as "closing in." Years later, this simple but effective technique would be raised to chilling new heights in Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott.

Perhaps the most important parts of the whole film are the actual documentary portions, where witnesses now long familiar to rabid followers of the subject, are presented telling their stories first-hand. Both Nicholas Mariana and Delbert Newhouse are there, on camera, actually describing the events that took place when they made their now famous films. Both films are presented in detail at the end of the documentary but, in a bizarre teaser, are shown early on in such short snippets as to produce unexpected laughter from the viewer. After Al Chop is told, repeatedly, that the footage he is going to see is short, so make sure to pay attention, the footage plays for, literally, less than three tenths of a second. Then they watch it again and, finally, a third time in slow motion which, of course, still yields, at half-speed, less than a full second of footage.

By the end, these films are studied in more detail and, give credit where credit is due, the film makers focus in on the lights and give the viewer plenty of time to study the objects up close. No more can be seen than white dots of light on film but their unidentified nature makes them haunting, akin to watching a mysterious, eerie ballet play out in the sky. And the fact that they are filmed in color, presented in the midst of a black and white documentary, only adds to their feel of other-worldliness.

Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers won't give modern day UFO aficionados much to chew on but it will give them a sense of the history of the movement as presented before the modern age of UFO sightings had even reached the decade mark. Before Hollywood and the popular culture at large expanded the surrounding lore to include abductions, medical experiments and implantations, the story of UFOs was as simple as seeing an unidentified light and the message was clear: Watch the skies!

Producer: Fernando Carrere, Clarence Greene, Russell Rouse and Ivan TorsDirector: Winston JonesScreenplay: Francis Martin Cinematography: Howard A. Anderson, Eddie Fitzgerald and Bert SpielvogelMusic: Ernest GoldFilm Editor: Chester W. SchaefferCast: Tom Towers (Albert "Al" Chop), Bert Freed (Dayton Colonel), Robert Phillips (Captain Edward Ruppelt), Nicholas Mariana (as himself), Delbert Newhouse (as himself), Willis Sperry (as himself), Harry Morgan (voice of Pilot on Radio - uncredited)
BW-89m. Letterboxed.

by Greg Ferrara

SOURCES:
The Online Paranormal Encyclopedia
Wikipedia
IMDB

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Unidentified Flying Objects (1956)

The phrase "flying saucer" was coined in June 1947, with sightings in Washington State of "saucer-shaped objects" over Mount Rainier. The catchphrase entered the national lexicon two weeks later with reports from Roswell, New Mexico, of the "capture" of a flying saucer near the Roswell Army Air Field. Conspiracy theories about government suppression of the existence of UFOs began to percolate as Hollywood's imagination ran wild. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1950) was a surprisingly adult treatment of the notion of extraterrestrial visitors, while other films -The Flying Saucer (1950), Man from Planet X (1951), The Thing from Another World (1951), War of the Worlds (1953), Invaders from Mars (1953) - upped the exploitation ante to excite prospective ticket-buyers. Something was in the air in 1956, with the release of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (with special effects by Ray Harryhausen) and Winston Jones' documentary Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story of Flying Saucers. (Completed that year but unreleased for another three was Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.) The film chronicles the investigations of Albert Chop, chief of the Pentagon's press section, into UFO sightings and his eventual conversion from skeptical inquirer to true believer. Producer Ivan Tors later created the TV series Flipper -- an otherworldly helper to humanity whose physical appearance is not so dissimilar from the tradition depiction of intergalactic "greys."

By Richard Harland Smith

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