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At a date palm ranch in a remote desert area, the Kelly family struggles with their failing business and tries to maintain harmony despite their isolation. Father Allan is dismayed when his wife Carol, who is resentful of their circumstances, expresses jealousy that their teenaged daughter Sandy will leave for college soon. Sandy overhears Carol's complaints and storms off to go swimming with her beloved German shepherd, Duke. Carol is left alone after Allan departs, and while she is doing housework, a loud, humming noise engulfs the house, causing the glasses and china to shatter as if there has been an earthquake. Believing the destruction to have been caused by a daredevil jet pilot, Carol telephones the sheriff, but admits that she did not actually see a plane. Meanwhile, Sandy has also witnessed the phenomenon and discovered that she is being watched by Him, the slow-witted, mute handyman who Allan insists live at the farm despite Carol and Sandy's objections. Sandy reproaches Him, who, because of his disability, has never been able to reveal his name, then walks away. Allan, who is driving to visit farmer Ben Webber, is attacked by a flock of blackbirds, but reaches the farm unharmed. Ben asserts that several odd things have occurred since the aerial disturbance, including the moodiness of his normally complacent cow, Sarah. When Allan and Sandy arrive home, they find a distraught Carol cleaning up the remnants of her china. Deputy Larry Brewster arrives to investigate and states that no planes have been sighted in the area, then talks with Sandy, his sweetheart. Meanwhile, Duke has wandered into the desert and uncovered the source of the disturbance: an alien craft that has landed in a crater and is using telepathy to inhabit the minds of birds, then animals, then weak humans. By the time Duke returns home, Sandy, Larry and Allan have left, and the dog lunges at a surprised Carol. She attempts to shoot the suddenly vicious dog, but misses, and is forced to kill him with an ax. After they return, Sandy and Allan learn about the bizarre mishap, and a heartbroken Sandy lashes out at Carol. Allan comforts Carol, who confides that she feels some sort of force is trying to tear them apart. Allan, having felt it too, tells her that they must stick together. Sandy, who ran out of the house, then found herself wandering in the desert without knowing how she got there, runs into Him. Him does not respond at first, but when Sandy grabs his hand, Him comes out of his trance and goes home. After apologizing to Carol for her harsh words, Sandy tells her parents about her experience in the desert, and Allan realizes that her physical contact with Him broke the mysterious hold over them. The next day, Ben attempts to milk Sarah, but the alien has gained control of her and compels her to trample Ben to death. At the Kellys', Carol is attacked by the chickens, but Allan succeeds in defeating them with a blowtorch. The family then works around the house, and Sandy tells Allan how happy she is that they are together. Allan then drops Him off at one of the groves before going to Ben's farm. There, he finds Ben dead and realizes that the problem has grown more serious. Allan returns home just in time to shoot Sarah, who is attacking Carol. He phones Larry for help, but the line goes dead before he can speak to him. While Larry is asking the operator to trace the call, Allan, Carol and Sandy attempt to drive to town. They stop at the grove where Allan left Him, but because he has disappeared, Allan orders the women to continue to town while he searches for Him. Allan is again attacked by blackbirds, and is surprised when a crow appears to lead them away. After a fruitless search, Allan returns home, where he is upset to find Carol and Sandy. Carol explains that they were forced back by birds led by the crow, prompting Allan to speculate that their problems are being caused by an extraterrestrial force. While the family eats dinner, Larry succeeds in tracing Allan's call and drives to the ranch. Him flags Larry down and knocks him unconscious before returning to the house and sabotaging Allan's car. Larry regains consciousness and follows Him into the desert, where he spots the spaceship. The men struggle, after which Larry staggers off toward the house. Meanwhile, Sandy, hoping that Larry is on his way, has snuck out to find him, and Him grabs her to take her to the alien. Larry goes to Allan and Carol's house, and when they find Sandy is missing, races with them toward the desert. As Him carries Sandy to the crater, Allan desperately yells at him, calling him Carl and begging him to return his daughter. Him regains consciousness long enough to drop Sandy at Allan's feet, but then collapses and dies. Allan sends Larry for help while he and Carol guard Sandy, who is still unconscious. The alien then telepathically calls to Carol and Allan, explaining that his race no longer has corporeal form and is searching the galaxy for bodies in which they can live. The alien expresses bewilderment that Allan was able to break his control over Him, and Allan explains that Him was a fellow soldier during World War II, and that because of a bad decision made by Allan, Him was seriously wounded and Allan had cared for Him since then. Allan and Carol refuse the alien's offer to release them in exchange for Sandy, whom he intends to take back to his planet for experimentation. Realizing that their love is a force that can defeat the alien, which feeds on hate and madness, Allan and Carol carry Sandy to the crater. As the sun rises, Allan and Carol are horrified to see the spaceship open and reveal a horrible, fanged, beast, in which the alien is currently living. The beast is killed by the strength of their resistance, although the pre-programmed spaceship takes off soon after its death. Sandy revives, and Allan expresses concern that the alien brain took over another life form after its host died. A desert rat suddenly appears, but as Allan is about to kill it, an eagle swoops down and catches it. Allan considers shooting the eagle, but Carol stops him, stating that she has never seen an eagle there before. As Larry joins them, they speculate that a force for good sent the eagle to rescue them, then begin to walk home.
The Beast with a Million Eyes
Having brought in Five Guns West for $60,000 (ten grand more than his previous picture, The Fast and The Furious), Corman was left with less than $30,000 (and perhaps as little as $23,000) to spend on The Unseen, a budget entirely insufficient to pay union scale. Knowing that he had to cast non-union actors and crew and unable to helm the movie himself because of his membership in the Director's Guild of America, Corman availed himself of stage players and Hollywood newcomers and assigned the director's credit to his production manager, Lou Place. (Ultimately, Place would also disown the film and let production assistant David Kramarsky sign the film.) Though scenarist Tom Flier's concept for The Unseen - an alien energy form uses humans and the lower forms as its eyes on Earth - meant that Corman did not have to pay out for a monster suit, Jim Nicholson at ARC had other ideas. Rebranding the production The Beast with a Million Eyes and ordering up a one sheet that depicted a fish-eyed, jaguar-fanged, and catfish-whiskered behemoth bearing down on a bikinied ingénue, Nicholson and Arkoff shopped their own concept to would-be exhibitors, who liked what they saw... even as the whole point of The Unseen was that the audience was never supposed to see anything.
To avoid the scrutiny of union officials, Corman had Lou Place do most of the filming for what was still being called The Unseen out in the desert scrub of Indio, California, more than a hundred miles southeast of Hollywood. (Instead of union cinematographer Floyd Crosby, Corman hired Everett Baker, a professor at UCLA's film school, to man the camera.) To fill a supporting role in Five Guns West, Corman had borrowed Pasadena Playhouse instructor Paul Birch and he called upon Birch again to head the cast of The Unseen, as a the Job-like head of a farming family assailed by unseen forces via the remote controlled agency of predatory birds, cattle, a pet dog, and a once-docile handyman; an occasional Hollywood bit player, Birch had unbilled roles as an MP in Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) and as a foolish mortal blasted to ash in the first act of Byron Haskin's The War of the Worlds (1953). Corman rounded out his dramatis personae with stage and TV actress Lorna Thayer, 1953 Deb Star Dona Cole (also one of six "T-Venuses" chosen that year NBC to appear on The Colgate Comedy Hour), Stanford University Players alumnus Richard Sargent, and silent movie comedian Chester Conklin (minus his trademark walrus mustache).
Notable now for plot points that anticipated Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) by nearly a decade, Corman's 78-minute cut of The Unseen cut no slack with would-be investors, who wanted a damned beast and, if not a million eyes, certainly a lot more of them. Facing a potential write-off, Arkoff and Nicholson urged Corman to arrange reshoots that would work in some kind of actual creature. When a $200 offer to commission such a thing was turned down by "Dynamation" specialist Ray Harryhausen (then fresh from animating a rampaging rhedosaurus for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Corman turned to reclusive artist Paul Blaisdell, then making a name for himself for his wildly imaginative cover illustrations for science fiction pulp magazines. Despite having no experience in special effects, animation, or monster-making, Blaisdell and his wife/partner Jackie sculpted and cast a quarter-scale puppet extraterrestrial to be filmed in miniature and edited into The Beast with a Million Eyes. Dubbed "Little Hercules" by Blaisdell, the creation was not meant to be The Beast with a Million Eyes (who was, by nature, invisible) but its slave; the distinction would be lost on moviegoers at the time of the film's release in June 1955, especially after Corman superimposed a floating, disembodied eyeball over footage of Blaisdell's bogie.
If The Beast with a Million Eyes was far from his finest hour (and a quarter), Roger Corman continued to learn from his mistakes and to pioneer an independent filmmaking model that would be carried forward by the architects of the New Hollywood. While the Corman-ARC/AIP axis would endure through production of the counter culture satire Gas-sss (aka Gas! Or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It , 1970), many of those involved in making The Beast with a Million Eyes added value to their resumes. Star Paul Birch would continue with Corman in Day the World Ended (1956) and Not of This Earth) (1957), headline the syndicated TV series Cannonball, and recur as a regular character in the first two seasons of The Fugitive. (Birch was also an early "Marlboro Man" for cigarette maker Philip Morris.) Nominal director David Kramarsky would later partner with Corman to produce The Cry Baby Killer (1958), which marked Jack Nicholson's first starring role, while leading lady Lorna Thayer would achieve a kind of cult immortality as the diner waitress sassed by Jack Nicholson in the infamous "chicken salad scene" of Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces (1970). The son of a silent film actress and a shipping magnate, Richard Sargent would go on as Dick Sargent to replace Dick York as Darrin Stevens on the long-running Screen Gems sitcom Bewitched.
by Richard Harland Smith
Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo (Birch Lane Press, 1992)
Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker: A Biography of the B-Movie Make-Up and Special Effects Artist by Randy Palmer (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 1997)
Roger Corman: The Best of the Cheap Acts by Mark Thomas McGee (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 1997)
Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup, and Stunts from the Films of the Fantastic Fifties by John Johnson (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 1996)
Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, The 21st Century Edition by Bill Warren (McFarland & Company, Ltd., 2010)
By Richard Harland Smith
The Beast with a Million Eyes
James H. Nicholson had come up with a tremendous ad and title and pre-sold the movie to exhibitors. Then they made the movie. When the distributors viewed the finished film, they were disappointed because the ads were so much more interesting.
Contemporary reviews often referred to this film as The Beast with 1,000,000 Eyes. The picture begins with offscreen, voice-over narration by the "alien," describing how he is going to take over Earth by inhabiting the minds of birds, animals and weak human beings. The alien proclaims that "because it will seem like I see your most secret acts, you will know me as the beast with a million eyes." Although a April 13, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that film would be the initial production by Pacemaker Productions, San Mateo Productions is credited by contemporary sources as the production company.
Hollywood Reporter news items note that the picture was shot on location at O'Rourke's Date Ranch in Coachella Valley, CA. The film marked the producing and directing debut of David Kramarsky. According to a modern source, the beast inhabited by the alien, which is seen in the spaceship, was a finger puppet that special effects artist Paul Blaisdell made out of wax. According to executive producer Roger Corman's autobiography, the picture cost only $30,000 to make.
Other modern sources note that American Releasing Corp. executive James Nicholson created the picture's title and an ad campaign, featuring key art of a beast with 1,000,000,000 eyes; after which the script was written. Exhibitors, who had expressed great interest in the film based on its title and posters, were deeply disappointed upon seeing that it did not contain a multi-eyed beast. Modern sources also add that the picture was filmed with a non-union crew and cast, which drew criticism from the Screen Actors Guild and IATSE. According to a modern source, some of the film's interior scenes were photographed by Floyd Crosby and directed by Corman.
Released in United States December 1955
Released in United States January 1956
Released in United States Winter December 1955
Shot in 8 days.
Released in United States January 1956
Released in United States December 1955 (Premiered in Los Angeles December 1955.)
Released in United States Winter December 1955