Cast & Crew
Amateur astronomer John Putnam has recently moved to Sand Rock, Arizona, and attracted the affections of schoolteacher Ellen Fields. One night, their kiss is interrupted when a giant glowing mass in the sky crashes into an abandoned mine shaft in the nearby desert. John and Ellen visit the huge crater created by the crash's impact, and when John climbs in, he finds a glittery trail that leads to a spaceship. In the open door stands an alien, but John gets only a glimpse of its one glowing eye before it creates an avalanche that buries the ship. By the time John narrowly escapes, a newspaperman and Sheriff Matt Warren have arrived, and when he reports what he has seen, the men scoff that he must have suffered a blow to the head in the avalanche. Pete brings Ellen home, explaining that though the townspeople may deride him, he must pursue his discovery, and she agrees to help him. Although they momentarily glimpse an image in front of their car, they do not realize that the alien is watching them. The next day at the site, John encounters more opposition, not only from a phalanx of reporters, but from his old friend, scientist Dr. Snell. Later, a jealous Matt warns John that he will not allow Ellen to be harmed by John's "foolishness." Driving home, John and Ellen come upon their friends, phone engineers Frank Daylon and George. Frank, who hears an eerie whistle over the phone lines, asks John and Ellen to check one area of the lines while he and George check another. Finding nothing, John and Ellen return to report to Frank and George and discover their truck abandoned on the road, a blood stain on the door. John follows glittery tracks into the desert, where a glassy-eyed, robotic George emerges and assures them that nothing is wrong. John, spying Frank's body on the ground behind a rock, grabs Ellen and races back to town to enlist Matt's help. As soon as they leave, the real Frank and George awaken from being knocked out and see before them their robotic replicas, who explain that they are aliens and have taken on the men's appearances. The aliens reassure Frank and George that they are peaceful and will merely detain the men at their ship until the aliens are ready to leave Earth. Meanwhile, Matt does not believe John's story, and although he finally accompanies them back to the desert, he leaves in disgust when they find no trace of Frank and George. All three return to town, where Matt watches as John spots the alien Frank and George and chases them down the street. Hidden in a dark alleyway, the aliens, who sense that John understands them, inform him that if they are left alone to repair their ship, they will remain peaceful. That night, while John frets over whether he is doing the right thing by not attacking the aliens, he is called to Matt's office. The sheriff, concerned about that day's disappearance of people, including Dr. Snell, and electrical equipment, begins to believe John, and the two men visit the mine together. At the same time, the alien George abducts Ellen and brings her to the mine, where Matt reluctantly agrees to wait in the car while John explores outside. Within minutes, an alien uses Ellen's form to lure John into the mine. There, an obscured alien instructs John that its race is an advanced one and will continue to be pacifistic as long as no humans disturb them for the two hours they need to finish their repairs. The alien further explains that, although they desire contact with earthlings, humans are not yet developed enough to accept the aliens' frightening appearance. John refuses to agree until the alien shows itself, but then turns away in horror from the huge, one-eyed, bulbous creature. John reveals to Matt what he has learned, and the two return to town, where John finds that the aliens have visited his house. When he informs Matt, the nervous sheriff rounds up the local men to attack. Alone, John runs to the mine to warn the aliens, but when he arrives, the head alien, who now looks just like John, hears the townspeople approaching. No longer trusting John, it mournfully announces that they now must use their deadly laser weapon. John proposes that if the aliens release the earthlings as a show of faith, the men outside will cease attacking. Reluctantly, the aliens agree, and the unharmed humans crawl through the mine shaft to the crowd outside. After Frank and John set off dynamite at the mouth of the mine to block the entrance, the townspeople stand together to watch as the spaceship flies out of the crater in a burst of light. When Matt asks if they are gone for good, John explains that they will return when humans are ready to accept them.
Glenn E. Anderson
Leslie I. Carey
Russell A. Gausman
David S. Horsley
Joseph E. Kenny
Ruby R. Levitt
Joan St. Oegger
It Came From Outer Space
Writer and amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) is sharing his telescope with his fiancee Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) when they witness a blazing object streak across the sky and crash in the nearby desert. Upon investigation Putnam sees a strange spacecraft at the base of a newly formed crater but an avalanche buries the object before other townspeople arrive at the scene. No one will believe Putnam's account, dismissing the town newcomer as a kook. Suddenly, people in the community begin to disappear - only to turn up later as zombie-like "duplicates" of themselves. As panic and fear incite the townspeople to rise up in arms, Putnam makes contact with the extra-terrestrial visitors and learns the true nature of their presence, one that poses no real threat. He then attempts to act as a mediator between the two groups but can he prevent a violent resolution to an already explosive situation?
Like a more benign version of Edgar Ulmer's The Man From Planet X (1951), It Came from Outer Space (1953) is a seminal science fiction film that launched the careers of many key figures in the genre. It was the first collaboration between producer William Alland and director Jack Arnold who would continue their partnership with The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), the sequel Revenge of the Creature (1955), and the anti-nuke parable The Space Children (1958). Alland, a former actor and stage manager of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre (he appeared as the investigating reporter and narrator in Citizen Kane, 1941), would branch out on his own, producing This Island Earth (1955), The Mole People (1956) and other memorable sci-fi fantasies. Arnold's filmography is no less impressive, and includes such fan favorites as Tarantula (1955) and his masterpiece, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957).
More importantly, It Came from Outer Space marked Ray Bradbury's first foray into writing for the movies. He penned a story treatment entitled "The Meteor" and submitted it to Universal which hired him to expand the concept into a longer treatment. Instead, he delivered a complete screenplay. According to Bradbury in his introduction to the anthology They Came from Outer Space, "They got, in essence, an entire screenplay for the grand sum of three thousand dollars, which was my final salary for the four or five weeks I had stayed on at the studio. With the treatment in hand, they fired me and hired Harry Essex to do the final screenplay (which, he told me later, was simply putting frosting on the cake). Why had I made it so easy for him, he asked when I met him later. Because, I replied, I was a fool, and I was in love with an idea - a good combination for writing but a bad one when you find yourself back out on the street supporting a family." At the time, Bradbury was already famous for his visionary novels The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 but the success of It Came from Outer Space led him to pen the screenplays for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Moby Dick (co-written with John Huston and an Oscar®-winner for Best Adapted Screenplay of 1956), and film versions of his own work such as Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983).
It Came from Outer Space was also Universal's first foray into science fiction AND their first official 3-D release. The new technology had invigorated the movie industry with the release of Bwana Devil the previous year and Universal was anxious to cash in on the sudden popularity of stereoscopic movies. Although It Came from Outer Space is rarely presented in the 3-D format today, you can still see glimpses of the technique in specific scenes - the arrival of the aliens, a rockslide, a shock cut of coat-hangers in a closet, and disorienting alien point-of-view shots. According to a Hollywood Reporter article, "the widescreen process afforded viewers a 90-degree radius and included aluminum-paint coating which reflected four times more light than a typical screen."
Set in the imaginary town of Sand Rock, Arizona, It Came from Outer Space was actually filmed on location in and around the California towns of Palmdale and Victorville and the Mojave Desert. Arnold maintained tight security on the set during the filming in order to protect the "surprise element" of the movie - the appearance of the aliens. Two designs were created by the makeup department; the rejected one ending up being utilized as the model for the Mutant in This Island Earth. As seen in the completed version of It Came from Outer Space, the alien more closely resembles a huge protruding eyeball encased in a fleshy, vein-lined mound and prompted Bradbury to remark, "...the studio couldn't resist shoving back in some of their bad ideas. I warned them not to bring the "monster" out in the light - ever. They ignored my advice. The bad moments in the film come when the monster does just that: stops being mysterious, steps out, and becomes a laugh riot."
Still, It Came from Outer Space is more memorable for its eerie mood and evocative, desolate location, one which Arnold would return to again and again in his films (Tarantula, 1955, Red Sundown, 1956, The Tattered Dress, 1957). Even the dialogue reinforces the movie's otherworldly setting as when one of the telephone linemen comments on the desert landscape, "You can see lakes and rivers that aren't there and sometimes you think the wind gets into the wires and sings to itself." While the film can be viewed as a time capsule of the Cold War-era, warning us about the dangers of xenophobia, it also approaches the concept of an alien invasion on a more psychological level than the one presented in H.G. Wells' novel and 1953 film, The War of the Worlds.
It's no surprise that It Came from Outer Space proved to be a hit for Universal, arriving when it did in the early fifties just as a widespread interest in flying saucers and outer space exploration was peaking. The movie certainly had a profound effect on Steven Spielberg. When Bradbury attended a preview screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), he met the director who asked him, "How did you like your film?" Bradbury replied, "What?" "Close Encounters wouldn't have been born," Spielberg replied, "if I hadn't seen It Came from Outer Space six times when I was a kid. Thanks."
Extra Trivia: Look for Russell Johnson ("The Professor" from the Gilligan's Island TV series) as one of the alien-possessed telephone linemen. Barbara Rush won a Golden Globe as "Most Promising Female Newcomer" for her appearance in the film (her most memorable scene is when she shows up as a seductive looking alien duplicate, intent on luring Richard Carlson into the abandoned mine). One of the art directors, Robert Boyle, worked regularly on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, including The Birds (1963).
Producer: William Alland
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Harry Essex, Ray Bradbury (story)
Cinematography: Clifford Stine
Film Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Art Direction: Robert Boyle, Bernard Herzbrun
Music: Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, Herman Stein
Cast: Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank Daylon), Russell Johnson (George), Kathleen Hughes (Jane).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
It Came From Outer Space
The Universal make-up department submitted two alien designs for consideration by the studio executives. The design that was rejected was saved and then later used as the Mutant in Universal's This Island Earth (1955).
The working title of this film was The Strangers from Outer Space. The picture begins with voice-over narration in which Richard Carlson as "John Putnam" declares that everyone in the small town of Sand Rock was sure of what the future held until one fateful night. Although he usually received lower billing, special photography cinematographer David S. Horsley is listed in the opening credits before the director of photography.
It Came from Outer Space was Universal's first 3-D film. The June 1953 Cue review notes that the film also marked the first time that 3-D technology was combined with a "giant" screen and stereoscopic sound (for more information on these technologies, see the entry below for the 1953 Twentieth Century-Fox film The Robe. According to a May 1953 Hollywood Reporter article, the widescreen process afforded viewers a 90-degree radius and included aluminum-paint coating which reflected four times more light than a typical screen.
In order to protect the surprise element of both the story and the alien's appearance, director Jack Arnold tightly controlled the production. Variety reported in February 1953 that all actors were required to sign a secrecy pledge, while a May 1953 Los Angeles Daily News item stated that the alien was created, shot and destroyed in one day to ensure that no one outside the studio could view it. According to a February 1953 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter, some scenes were shot on location in Apple Valley, CA, and modern sources cite the Mojave Desert as an additional location.
Released in United States Spring May 1953
Released in United States on Video April 13, 1994
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States Spring May 1953
Released in United States on Video April 13, 1994
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon - Excerpts shown) March 13-26, 1975.)