Directed By: Jack Arnold
Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake
Tagline for this film: "From Ray Bradbury's great science fiction story!"
Trivia: This was the first 3-D film that Universal Studios ever released
While out stargazing one evening, writer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his girlfriend, school teacher Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush), are stunned to see a fiery object streaking across the sky, which then crash-lands in the middle of the desert. Upon closer examination, John realizes what he first thought to be a meteor is, in fact, a ship of some sort. And what’s more, he thinks he saw something stirring inside of it! Before anyone else can get a gander at this strange discovery, the ship is buried by an avalanche. So, naturally, when John tells people about what he saw, nobody will believe him (even Ellen balks at the idea of visitors from another world). Most are convinced John’s wild allegations are a form of self-promotion, a way to garner sales for an upcoming book, but it isn’t long before unusual things start to happen, from people disappearing, then re-appearing with a different personality to a break-in at the hardware store, where the thieves stole only electrical equipment. With no rational explanation for it all, the sheriff, Matt Warren (Charles Drake), begins taking John’s stories a bit more seriously. Yet the question remains: if aliens have, indeed, landed on earth, what is it they want?
Based on a story by Ray Bradbury, Jack Arnold’s 1953 film It Came from Outer Space doesn’t waste much time; a few minutes into the opening scene, where John and Ellen, enjoying a romantic night together, head outside to look up at the stars, the sky suddenly lights up, and just as quickly, an object comes crashing down. As he’ll do at several points throughout the movie, Arnold then switches to a first-person camera perspective, slightly off-kilter, at which point we realize we’re looking through the eyes of an alien from outer space (during this sequence, we do catch a glimpse of the creature, but not enough to satisfy our curiosity about it). We’re treated to yet another P.O.V. shot when John makes his way down to the site, where (peering out from the ship) we see him gazing inside the alien vessel, and watch as a door closes just before the avalanche begins. Aside from being a great opening, this scene reveals part of the mystery (it is, in reality, a spacecraft) while, at the same time, keeping us in the dark as to what’s actually going on (are the aliens staging an invasion? Making first contact?). So, when the visitors start disguising themselves as some of the townsfolk (much like the creature in The Thing, these otherworldly beings have the ability to morph into human form), we, like John, are anxious to know why they’re doing so.
Director Arnold does a fine job keeping the tension at a fever pitch (even when John convinces the sheriff that he’s telling the truth, the two bicker over how best to handle the situation), and while the look of the aliens was likely more frightening in 1953, the moral of the story, that mankind has a tendency to lash out at what it doesn’t understand, resonates as strongly today as it did when the movie was first released. A nifty “aliens from outer space” flick that, for most of its running time, will have you poised on the edge of your seat, It Came from Outer Space is one of the seminal science fiction films of the 1950s, and still puts on a hell of a show.