Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Cast & Crew
Fred F. Sears
As Dr. Russell Martin, a space exploration scientist working for the Defense Department, and his bride Carol drive down a deserted desert road, a flying saucer spins in front of their car's windshield. Upon reaching his lab, Russ replays the tape recording he was dictating when the craft appeared and detects the sound of the saucer. Soon after, General Hanley, Carol's father, arrives at the base to inform Russ that the artificial satellites that he has been launching into space have all come crashing back to Earth. On the eve of another launch, Carol and Russ lock themselves in Russ's underground lab to observe the event. Above ground, meanwhile, a flying saucer lands on the base and disgorges a group of spacesuit-clad aliens, who proceed to destroy the entire area. Watching the carnage from their monitor, Carol and Russ witness the aliens force General Hanley into their spaceship. Afterward, Russ tries to document the events on his tape recorder, and when the machine slows down, he deciphers a message from the aliens recorded the previous day announcing their impending arrival. After Russ and Carol are rescued and taken to the Pentagon, Russ plays the recording for government officials, who remain skeptical about Russ's story of sighting a flying saucer. When Russ asks to meet with the aliens, he is told that he must wait for Cabinet approval. Sequestered in his hotel room, Russ makes contact with the UFO on his short-wave radio and schedules a meeting. When Russ leaves the hotel over Carol's objections, Carol notifies Russ's escort, Major Huglin, and they set out after him. As Russ reaches the designated meeting place, Carol and Huglin arrive and the saucer then appears and invites them all inside. After taking off, a disembodied voice explains that the aliens shot down the satellites because they thought they were weapons. The voice continues that they and their fleet of saucers circling the globe are survivors of a dying solar system. The voice then menacingly demands to confer with world leaders. Just then, General Hanley, in a zombie-like state, stumbles into the chamber, and the voice informs them that the aliens have sucked out his mind and filed it in their memory bank. After Russ agrees to deliver their message, the craft lands. Upon returning to the Pentagon, Russ suggests developing a new kind of weapon to use against the aliens before they can destroy the Earth. As Russ grapples with the concept of using a high-wave frequency to disrupt the UFO's magnetic field, a spy device from the saucer hovers over the laboratory and is shot down by Major Huglin. With a sense of urgency, Russ speeds to Washington before the aliens can decipher his plans, and the saucer pursues him. When it lands, an alien steps out and is gunned down by Huglin. Upon removing the alien's spacesuit, Huglin finds an ancient humanoid. Taking off once again, the saucer demolishes a bomber plane and then expels the body of Carol's father. At the Pentagon, meanwhile, scientists analyze the spacesuit and decode the aliens' plan of attack. Soon after, an alien voice addresses the people of the Earth, announcing that in nine days a violent explosion on the sun will occur, followed by the invasion of the aliens. With time growing short, Russ goes to Aberdeen to perfect the interference units and orders are given to evacuate Washington. The sun's eruption spawns a series of fierce storms that disrupt all transportation and communication systems, thus preventing a mass evacuation. As the saucers occupy the skies above the city, Russ and a convoy of trucks bearing the interference weapons arrive. After Russ shoots one of the saucers down, Carol runs to him. The saucers reign destruction on Washington, but Russ and his convoy pursue them through the streets, shooting them down one by one. After blasting the Supreme Court building, the last saucer hovers above the Capitol building. Aiming his weapon at the saucer, Russ sends it crashing down into the Capitol, bringing the invasion to an end. The space exploration program then continues under Russ's guidance, and with peace restored, Russ and Carol take a much needed vacation.
Fred F. Sears
Tom Browne Henry
Gene Anderson Jr.
Fred Jackman Jr.
Danny D. Landres
Raymond T. Marcus
Charles H. Schneer
George Worthington Yates
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
In 1956, Harryhausen faced an unusual challenge when producer Charles Schneer asked him to focus his talents not on living creatures but on inanimate objects. In Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), it was Harryhausen's task to somehow invest extraterrestrial spacecraft with a sense of motion and life.
Hugh Marlowe stars as Dr. Russell A. Marvin, newly wed to Carol Marvin (Joan Taylor) when their car is "buzzed" by a flying saucer. A tape player within their car records the sounds of the spacecraft, which later reveals the emulation of a human voice, laying down its demands for a peaceful meeting. The benevolence of the aliens proves questionable when they abduct Carol's father, General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), and subject him to a horrific form of mind control (later unceremoniously dumping his body from a high altitude). At the same time, the Earthlings seize the body of one of the aliens, and use it to unlock the secrets of their would-be conquerors. By analyzing the suit (and being briefly abducted himself) Marvin quickly conceives a radical new weapon with which to combat the invading hordes, at the very moment that saucers begin descending upon Washington, DC, to assume control of the defenseless planet.
Just as the screenplay was "suggested by" a non-fiction account of flying saucers by Donald Keyhoe, Harryhausen based the look of his spacecraft upon actual descriptions given by people who claimed to have had close encounters of the first kind. Keyhoe, a former rocket scientist, Naval aviator and pulp fiction writer, began investigating UFOs in 1949 and quickly became convinced of their authenticity. Over the course of 23 years, he published at least four book-length studies of the phenomenon and was appointed director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP).
In the visual lexicon of the classic sci-fi film, the smooth grey, spinning discs of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers have become the definitive UFO, imitated in a host of alien invasion movies. Few, however, have matched Harryhausen's handling of the sleek disc. "You've got to make it look interesting and vary it so that in every scene it doesn't do exactly the same thing," Harryhausen said, "We even tried to get a variety in the ray gun, by having it go in and out." The surfaces of Harryhausen's saucers are covered with rotating panels that keep the spacecraft in perpetual motion, even when hovering in one spot. Harryhausen's saucers float, dart, dive and somehow manage to convey personality, as they stealthily stalk their prey, intimidate the earthlings with shows of aeronautical bravado, swerve and reel when disabled by the electrical interference, or defiantly land on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to stake their claim to the planet Earth.
The aliens themselves were played by actors in particularly clumsy costumes, and would have clearly benefited from Harryhausen's touch. In some scenes, the same could be said of the human characters. In his book Keep Watching the Skies!, Bill Warren remarks that, "There's a sequence in a forest fire in which the saucers seem both more alive and more real than the actors, who lurch unconvincingly on a treadmill in front of a rear-projected burning forest, while the humming saucers flit purposefully through the trees."
During the film's taut 82-minute running time, little attention was paid to crafting a unique narrative or establishing an engaging cast of characters. These were little more than cinematic threads required to sew all the flying saucer and ray gun scenes together. Rather than a shortcoming, this overemphasis upon special effects was the very nature of the science fiction picture. "Character takes time to develop," Harryhausen explained, "And when you're trying to tell a tale such as we do in the saucer picture, you either spend time trying to develop characterization, or you spend time developing the destruction, which is what these pictures are all about."
Because little freedom was granted to screenwriters George Worthing Yates and Raymond T. Marcus (a pseudonym of Bernard Gordon, who had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era), producer Charles Schneer and director Fred Sears cultivated a sense of realism by employing a wealth of stock footage of rocket tests and military installations. The opening sequence was overlaid with the voice of a stern, authoritative narrator (Paul Frees), which gives the atmosphere-establishing scenes the same authenticity as an army training film or high school educational short.
While some films of the same era (such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951, and It Came From Outer Space, 1953) used the saucer invasion premise as a plea for galactic peace, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers paid little mind to the peaceful messages with which its interstellar visitors greeted us Americans. As one general remarks, while mobilizing his forces, "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol we don't meet it with tea and cookies."
Shortly thereafter begins a colossal display of fifties-era "money shots," as saucers annihilate military and industrial targets in dazzling demonstrations of special effects artistry. Harryhausen brilliantly combined the animated spacecraft with stock footage of airplane crackups for the thrilling aerial combat scenes, then employed detailed miniatures in order to show the toppling of the Washington Monument and the decapitation of the Capitol Building.
As was common in the invasion film of the fifties, the secret to human survival lay not in superior firepower but brainpower. Peter Biskind writes, "Scientists and soldiers were first thrown together in a big way during the war, the Manhattan Project, and the romance that blossomed then reached its climax at Hiroshima." The spectacle of weaponry beyond all imagining provided the climax to many sci-fi thrillers, even as it haunted the dreams of the Cold War American children who viewed them.
Director: Fred F. Sears
Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Screenplay: George Worthing Yates and Raymond T. Marcus
Based on a story by Curt Siodmak
Suggested by "Flying Saucers from Outer Space" by Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe
Cinematography: Fred Jackman, Jr.
Production Design: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Hugh Marlowe (Dr. Russell Marvin), Joan Taylor (Carol Marvin), Morris Ankrum (Gen. Hanley), Donald Curtis (Maj. Huglin), John Zaremba (Prof. Kanter).
BW-83m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Bret Wood
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
July 16, to Internal Security Commission, re: Sky Hook. Summary and progress report, from project director, Dr. Russell A. Marvin.- Russell Marvin
And Mrs. Dr. Russell A. Marvin, without whose inspiration and untiring criticism this report could never have been written.- Carol Marvin
Married two hours and already she's claiming community property!- Russell Marvin
Now that you're married, Dr. Marlowe, you don't have to sneak up on me.- Carol Marvin
You always did have eyes in the back of your head.- Russell Marvin
When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea and cookies!- General
Both Carol and I are subject to the same atmospheric disturbances that may have affected other observers, but there is a qualitative difference, when you're a scientist.- Dr. Russell Marvin
One of the buildings struck by crashing flying saucers is Union Station, Washington's main train station. This may have been inspired by a 1953 accident when a runaway passenger train smashed into the station concourse.
One of the scenes of a Washington building exploding is actually the Los Angeles City Hall being destroyed by the Martians from War of the Worlds, The (1953).
The working titles of this film were Attack of the Flying Saucers, Invasion of the Flying Saucers and Flying Saucers from Outer Space. In a letter contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, blacklisted screenwriter Bernard Gordon stated that he wrote the screenplay for this picture using the pseudonym Raymond T. Marcus. Actor Paul Frees provided periodic voice-over narration throughout the story.
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States Summer July 1956
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon - Excerpts shown) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States Summer July 1956