Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Posts tagged “H.G. Wells

Universal Monsters in Review: The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)

invisiblemansreven1

Let me start by saying  that I am a fan of the Invisible Man. The original book by H.G. Wells is a work of utter brilliance, and the original 1933 film, The Invisible Man, starring Claude Rains, is a wonderful screen adaptation and true to the “mad scientist” theme. Its a difficult story to pull off in a movie. The effects have to be decent and the actors have to be good enough for everything not to come off feeling comical. The original with Claude Rains as the invisible man gave us the building blocks of what to expect in later invisible man movies, a scientist driven mad by his own formula and desire for recognition in his field of study. The Invisible Woman has yet to make it on Universal Monsters in Review, so we’ll leave that one out for now, but the rest, The Invisible Man Returns, the Invisible Agent, and Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, while trying to do things different, end up coming off strangely out of sync. Of these, at least The Invisible Agent was cinematic and entertaining, despite its obvious propagandic agenda. The Invisible Man Returns was kinda of a bore with too many complicated themes going on, and A&C Meet The Invisible Man was entirely way too long. The Invisible Man’s Revenge seemed…well, different then the rest. The Invisible Man is no longer the protagonist, which is fine because he is the monster, right? But with the story of some maniac wanting to get back what’s owed to him (money), blackmailing and murder and what not to achieve his goals, well…I didn’t really see the need for the invisible man aspect of the film. This easily could have been a straightforward noir mystery without the need of the “mad science” of invisibility, in fact, I’d be as bold to say the entire invisible man part was tacked on and not the central theme, as it should have been. We don’t even get “the invisible man” until the second act. And the encounter with the “mad scientist” was utterly coincidental. The one saving grace for me (though the movie was entertaining regardless of non-monsterism) was John Carradine as Doctor Peter Drury and Leon Errol who played bumbling drunk Herbert Higgins. Leon stole the show, in my opinion, and was truly a pleasure watching preform. Okay…as it seems, I’ve again gone on waaay too much. Lets see what our estimated guest author had to say about The Invisible Man’s Revenge.

 

The Invisible Man’s Revenge

By: Jeffery X. Martin

“The Invisible Man’s Revenge” is the fifth film in the series, and how did that happen? As far as monsters go, the Invisible Man isn’t that impressive. You can’t see him. He’s not even malformed or hideous to look at when he’s visible. Imagine people paying money to go see nothing and being frightened by it.
Historically, this counts as a horror film. It’s not. It’s a pot-boiler, a melodrama with sparse horror elements. A man returns to London only to learn he’s been bilked out of a fortune in diamonds by people he considered friends. He vows revenge, which comes when he meets a mad scientist. Actually, he’s quite friendly, as far as mad scientists go. He even has his hair brushed.
invis2
The scientist has created an invisibility formula. It alters the skin pigmentation, changing the way light refracts. Think of the Predator, only thin and with a funny mustache.
Once the good doctor injects our lead with the serum, he goes after his former friends with a see-through vengeance.
The special effects are neat, in the same way that card tricks are neat. You’re not quite sure how they did them, but you’ve got a pretty good idea. There are lots of floating objects and hard-working actors reacting to something attached to fishing line. The scenes where the Invisible Man unwraps the bandages from his head to reveal nothing are still impressive, even if he’s less the Invisible Man and more the Walking Blank Chromakey Weather Map. One expects to see a high-pressure front forming where his forehead should be.
invis3
Jon Hall as the unseeable male is passable. It seems like the filmmakers believed they had the next big star on their hands, and he received top billing. And while stalwart B-movie performers infest this movie like bedbugs in a Mississippi motel room, the real standout is John Carradine as the crazed yet urbane Dr. Drury. He gives this programmer an air of elegance it would have otherwise lacked.
invis5
The main problem with “The Invisible Man’s Revenge” is, when you think about it, there was no need for him to be invisible for him to carry out his evil plan. He could have achieved his ends simply through threats of violence. A man will sign almost any self-incriminating piece of paper when he’s staring down the barrel of a .38. It feels like they took a script that was floating around the studio and adapted it to the Invisible Man series. This practice still continues in Hollywood, which you know if you’ve ever watched a “Die Hard” sequel.
invis4
Set in London, the main characters all sport American accents. The ending feels tacked on, with a short speech at the end to remind the audience of just how evil it is to be evil. I imagine if this movie had been made pre-Code, it would have been far more enjoyable.
As it stands, this is a decent little feature, light as a cloud. You’ll forget you saw it soon after, but again, you’re five movies into the franchise. Anything is bound to get a bit long in the tooth after that long. “The Invisible Man’s Revenge” is for completists only, and even those who insist on seeing them all are better off watching “Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man” first.
jeffxmartin
Please call me X. Everyone does. When I was a kid, fourth grade, to be exact, I wrote a horror story for a class assignment. It was so good, they called my mother in to the office for a conference on a day when school was closed for students. The fourth grade teachers and the school principal wanted to have me evaluated by a psychologist. The school staff couldn’t figure out why I would want to write a story that was violent or had frightening images. Why wasn’t it football, puppies and rainbows?I wasn’t that kind of kid. My mother knew that. And she promptly told those teachers, the principal (and that horrible school secretary, the one who looked like a Raggedy Ann doll, possessed by Pazuzu) and anyone else within earshot to go f**k themselves. I still write scary stories. It’s my job. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done.
You can keep in touch with X on his prolific podcast Kiss the Goat and Screen Kings. You can find his work, including his newly minted novel Hunting Witches, on the altar of Amazon by following the link provided here.

Did you enjoy what you read here? Be sure to subscribe to our SPAM FREE newsletter. Be the first to get new book releases, sales, giveaways, future reviews and new series’, guest posts, and of course…a FREE eBook (click below).

freebookposter


Universal Monsters in Review: The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

_long_movie_poster

Taking a cue from the original The Invisible Man, the Return seems to keep with that same breakneck speedy opening, forcing the audience to catch up as the story progresses rather rapidly. I’m not sure if I was just totally exhausted before watching this movie last night, but it took me a while to figure out what was going on and who was who. Sure. It doesnt take Sir Sherlock Holmes to figure what the scientist is doing, or when the guards in the prison discover the remnants of Mr. Griffin’s clothes on the floor.  It did take me though almost half the move to realize who Cedric Hardwicke was playing as. Was this intentional or just the style of classic Invisible Man tropes? Who knows. What I did enjoy, other than the superb acting on all fronts, was the overall deeper theme of the movie, much like the predecessor, The Invisible Man Returns discusses the ugliness of people when they’ve shed their masks, or keeping to the movie, when the masks become invisible. Who are we when our actions are no longer accountable? Similar, one might say, to the even more classic story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the abominable Mr. Hyde glares into the mirror and howls, “Free! I’m free at last!” Well, before I start rambling off topic, let me close my statements by saying that I did enjoy The Invisible Man Returns, the acting was a pleasure watching, both the voice acting of Vincent Price and the always impressive Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who would go on to play in another Invisible Man tale in Invisible Agent, and in The Ghost of Frankenstein. But the movie did drag on a bit, especially in the middle, and it didn’t have the same bite as the original. Okay, I’ve said my peace, and without further delay…let us see what our special guest has to say. 

 

 

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

By Patrick Loveland

 

[CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A 76 YEAR OLD FILM, AN 83 YEAR OLD FILM, AND A 119 YEAR OLD NOVEL]

 

 

I’ll start spoiling right out of the gate by clearing up something I’d  wondered myself when Thomas allowed me to choose this film—how could The Invisible Man return? He’d died at the end of the novel and the 1933 film based on it that this film was made to be a sequel to. So, I’ll explain it sooner than the film does—Jack Griffin, The Invisible Man from the first film did indeed die at the end. Griffin’s brother Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) has been hand-waved into existence—having worked on the invisibility experiments with Jack (named John when referenced in this film), of course—and uses his matching knowledge of invisibility to help a lovely young woman and friend named Helen Manson (Nan Grey) free her fiancé, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Vincent Price), from death row for a crime he didn’t commit (the murder of his brother). There, now we’re on the same page. I actually enjoyed the vagueness of the situation in the film’s early parts, but found it was a bit too vague about the character relationships as it went on, until about—

Actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Alright, so…

The Invisible Man Returns was written by Curt Siodmak and Lester Cole, and directed by Joe May as a sequel to Universal’s popular earlier film, The Invisible Man, which was based on the novel by H.G. Wells. One thing that’s interesting to me about this sequel is that instead of the Invisible Man in this story being mostly concerned with curing himself of his invisible state, this character has been convinced by Griffin that the process can be easily reversed after his escape. That allows him to focus on clearing his name and getting revenge for his wrongful imprisonment.

 

SUMMARY:

The film begins in Radcliffe Manor’s kitchen with the servants looking morose as they bicker over the possible guilt and approaching state-implemented death of Sir Radcliffe.

Then we transition to Richard Cobb (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) resting his chin on his hand atop a high chair back, watching something with obvious fascination. Helen Manson sits across the room from him on a couch, almost catatonic from worrying about Sir Radcliffe, her fiancé—as Cobb practically ogles her.

Helen rises from the couch and opens the room’s curtains in a shot that seems (to me) to be a visual nod to the intro scene in the first film, wherein Griffin closes the blinds and curtains in a deliberate fashion in the parlor he’s just begun renting.

invisible man returns

 

Dr. Griffin arrives and he and Helen convince Cobb to call one last influential friend in hopes of stopping Radcliffe’s execution. The friend is away, Cobb says after hanging up.

Having failed to stop the execution of his friend, Griffin visits him in his cell. Radcliffe is given the invisibility agent and escapes his cell, probably as the guard who was in it with him opens to door to yell that he’s disappeared.

Radcliffe escapes the prison through the countryside and after some travel naked and on foot, reaches Dr. Griffin’s cabin in the woods and the waiting Helen. They meet and talk. The caretaker brings some food and catches Radcliffe with his dark glasses removed, eye holes in his bandage wrappings gaping and empty. After being rushed out, the caretaker calls the police and one policeman arrives. Radcliffe argues with him and closes the door. Radcliffe quickly gets undressed, causing a turned away Helen to faint when she peeks at him, seeing the strangeness of his invisibility herself for the first time. Radcliffe escapes.

Griffin experiments in his lab above the Radcliffe mining operation, turning an invisible guinea pig visible again. Shortly after turning, it dies painfully. Radcliffe arrives and they talk. Then a man comes by to harass Griffin and Radcliffe watches this, hidden in plain sight as he is.

I’m going to stop there because this film really is worth watching yourself, no question.

What follows is an investigation by Radcliffe/The (new) Invisible Man into who actually killed his brother, complicated by the horrible side effect of the invisibility agent—madness. Dr. Griffin is in a race against time and Radcliffe’s ever-growing madness—and escalating violence—to cure the invisibility he knowingly “saved” him with.

 

REVIEW:

First let me Disclose with Extreme Fullness that I’m not well-versed on Universal Monsters. Before this, I’d seen a handful of the films (including The Invisible Man), but it had been decades since I had. At this point I’ve seen more Hammer films, but both houses have their own charms. I blame growing up in the 1980s and being terrified, chilled, horrified, and thrilled by the likes of Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Predator, Terminator, the Of The Dead trilogy, An American Werewolf in London, and many other films from the heyday of practical creature and makeup effects. I got it into my head, as many other young’ns like myself seemed to, that “old” movies were just totally corny and had little to offer, horror or otherwise—something I’ve heard younger people now expressing about those same 70s and 80s films I hold as a high water mark, with their “bad special effects”… Harumph!

invisable man returns 2

It took a few friends and teachers in art/film school to open my mind to older films, one showing me things like The Lady From Shanghai and Sunset Boulevard, and another showing me one (because it was her father’s favorite film, so I had to like it (or be able to act like I did)) that would from that day on be a genuine favorite, The Third Man. Then came the film that convinced me all older horror and sci-fi films weren’t (fun but) cheesy and quaint, The Thing From Another World. Sure, I’m not fond of the actual creature effects in that one, but damn is it thick with tension and atmosphere (as it should be coming from the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—which had a better creature they probably couldn’t have done justice to anyway). I saw Carpenter’s take on the novella first as a boy and it destroyed me and will always be my preference, but I was really impressed how well everything other than the actual creature held up in this first version/“original”.

Soooo, all that leads to me saying that even with my general open-mindedness at this point for older horror and sci-fi films, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed this one. Maybe it was its sequel-to-an-iconic-classic status, or that it had a different lead actor. Possibly my confusion as to how there could be a sequel. Something had me uneasy about it. Gladly, other than some vagueness in the early parts that I’ve covered, I was very pleasantly surprised.

 

WHAT I LIKED:

Vincent Price, starting as a man given a new lease of life, then progressing through madness and murderous rage toward his ultimate goal. All of the main actors did well, actually. Other than Price, I’d say my favorite performance was Cecil Kellaway’s, as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Sampson. I also liked Nan Grey as Helen. I wasn’t familiar with her and was quite fond by the end.

The special effects were genuinely impressive. I’m not unfamiliar with practical trickery and old school post-production image manipulation, but there are shots where I really couldn’t begin to figure out on my own how they’d pulled them off. A favorite of mine is when Inspector Sampson is trying to calm Cobb down after escaping the invisible Radcliffe in an upstairs room. Sampson’s been giving people cigars the whole movie, so he gives one to Cobb as he smokes his own.

_smoke_blow

The inspector finishes a sentence, takes a big pull off his cigar, and blows it to the side of them—exposing the vague outline of a human form where nothing is visible, then that form turns its only-now-visible head. The smoke wafts around perfectly, suggesting the form without being too clear. I have to assume this shot and the next sequence I’ll describe were very influential on the obvious, loose Invisible Man remake, Hollow Man. More than the original film even.

My favorite chunk of the film begins with this blown smoke effect, which also touches on my favorite thing about the film—use of particles and other things to make the Invisible Man somewhat visible. After the inspector blows his cigar smoke at the invisible Radcliffe, he goes for a judo dive to grapple him into submission and make the big arrest. He misses and Radcliffe hides again, possibly in plain sight once more, but the inspector’s suspicions are confirmed—the man is actually invisible, and he can be seen with environmental tricks.

As rain pours down, Inspector Sampson receives special equipment delivery and has a team of policemen don gasmask rigs and smoke-throwers, then fill the house they’re in with fog machine-like smoke. Radcliffe had escaped out into the rainstorm apparently, because two police see his outline—from rain pelting his naked body—as he sneaks back in through a side door to the building Cobb is being held in.

Once inside again, we see the heavily geared policemen advancing down a corridor, smoke pouring from their throwers. A shot from behind them shows the smoke-outlined body of Radcliffe attack a policeman, knocking him out and disappearing into a room with him.

_Helen_and_disguies_Invisible_Man

We move to Helen, worried as always. One of the geared, gasmask wearing policemen approaches her in a hallway, Radcliffe using the body and head covering gear of the man he knocked out to be invisible in a different way.

I love that whole sequence and wish there was a bit more of that kind of cleverness throughout.

_silly_policeman

Also, it’s actually pretty funny if you pay attention to the way things are phrased at certain points.

 

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

Vincent Price takes top spot here as well, but not because he isn’t good. As a man wronged and trying to make things right, he does a fine job balancing that with the madness and anger the invisibility agent causes. I think I just really loved the barely-contained rage and Claude Rains’ delivery in the first film, as I feel it captured the novel’s Griffin really well. I know this is a different character, but I also felt this character was a little more light-hearted, then almost comically maniacal at times with barely any attention paid to transition. Which leads to my other issue…

Things happen a little too easily or conveniently sometimes. Even the best shot, the smoke blowing reveal, is a little too easy. How did the inspector know he was there? They also set up him giving cigars to at least two people, but I’m not sure if that was just to call attention to his own smoking so it would be in the audience’s mind in time for him to execute his brilliant smoke maneuver.

The pacing and build. It’s not boring before it, but things don’t really pick up until almost exactly halfway through the film. I understand the classic script structure halfway point power swap aspect, but in this it dramatically improves the film overall, instead of strengthening the arc of the protagonist in an already interesting plot. Radcliffe starts investigating who actually killed his brother, starting with a drunk former night watchman named Willie Spears (Alan Napier, in a fun performance) who Cobb has made superintendent of the Radcliffe mining operation. This is also where the audience starts to be shown possible motivations of those who have framed Radcliffe. It doesn’t ruin it, but this half and half feeling leads to an uneven presentation, even with rising action taken into account.

The ending. As I said, spoilery is my stock-in-trade today. Griffin dies in the first story, beaten by a mob in the novel, and shot in the film. His body is revealed after death, which I feel is poetic and tragic and part of why it works well. In The Invisible Man Returns, as far as we are shown, Radcliffe lives and there’s swelling music and it’s a relief and all that (even though Frank Griffin just said Radcliffe would die without surgery, but that’s none of my business…). I’m not saying I wanted a sad moral tale of an ending, but once again it did feel a bit too easy. I take into account that this character’s story is quite a different one with different motivations and crimes, as I said in the beginning myself, but something in-between might’ve felt more appropriate for the tone they’d set as the film went on.

RATING:

This film is entertaining, decently thrilling, has fantastic special effects, and has some genuinely funny moments sprinkled in too.

I’ll give The Invisible Man Returns 7/10.

author photo

PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and shorter prose fiction. He also draws somewhat disturbing imagery on Post-its. By day, he schedules classes, helps instructors get set up for class sessions, possibly draws said weird Post-its, and moves many furniture’s at a state college in Southern California where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick Loveland’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in late 2016 by April Moon Books.  You can connect with Patrick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Or Blog [under construction]: https://patrickloveland.wordpress.com/

Do you like what you read here? Be sure to subscribe to our SPAM FREE newsletter. Keep in the loop with new book releases, sales, giveaways, future blog articles, guest posts, and of course…(click below).

freebookposter


Universal Monsters in review: The Invisible Man (1933)

invisablemanposter

Of all the Universal classics, The Invisible Man was one of the few I’d never taken the time to watch. This past weekend, I alleviated my curiosity and found myself, as you’ll note from the below review written by the fantastically talented Duncan Ralston, surprised how different the pace is from the other Universal films. This is a tale about a mad scientist, but instead of boring audiences with the details of his experiment gone awry, we delve into a sprawling story of madness and revenge. Some other notes I found interesting were the references to disfigurement, as The Great War was not far from the minds of screenwriters, becoming part of the cinematic landscape in the form of mangled images. The “disguise” of Jack in the opening of the film reminded me very much of some of the images from early silent pictures, such as 1928’s The Hands of Orlac or even 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera staring the Man of a Thousand Faces. Beyond here, there story for The Invisible Man takes on its own linage, more than about vengeance, and perhaps more in terms of madness and the things we (humanity) mettle in. Without further adieu, lets see what Mr. Ralston has in store for us.

The Invisible Man: Dabbling in Things Better Left Alone

By: Duncan Ralston

Something I’ve heard a lot these days is that old movies are too slow, too boring. This is sometimes a fair criticism. In modern movies, it’s argued, the viewer is shown only the scenes they need. Countless movies prior to the 1980s give us scenes and dialogue unnecessary to move the story forward.

The Invisible Man is not that movie.

Smoke swirls in a howling wind as the credits play, introducing the main character as “the Invisible One,” rather than the Invisible Man. He blows into the Lion’s Head Inn on a snow storm, wrapped for the cold in a long trench coat, full face wrap, dark goggles and gloves. The tavern regulars gape at him. While the housemistress takes him upstairs, the regulars theorize about him, small town gossip: he’s an escaped convict, or he’s snow blind, or he’s disfigured. She catches him with the lower part of his wrap off his face, and tells people he’s been in a horrible accident.

From here, we discover what happened to the Invisible One. Jack, a scientist, has been missing for a month. His fiance and partners are worried about him, as he left a note saying he would return when he’s solved his predicament. The scene with the scientists is a bit of an info dump, but it’s not very long before we’re back with the Invisible Man we now know as “Jack.” He’s working on an antidote at the Lion’s Head Inn, but he keeps getting interrupted. He finally reveals his invisibility, pushing her husband down the stairs, throwing things and knocking stuff over during his escape. He steals someone’s bike and peddles off on it, fully invisible.

The thing that struck me most about this movie is how fast-paced it is. There’s a remarkable amount of story and character thrown into its hour and ten minute runtime, and yet it doesn’t feel rushed. Some scenes play out quickly, others are allowed to linger.

Another great bit is all the “poltergeist”-type wire gags, where Invisible Jack moves objects, has tantrums, beats people up, and prances around laughing like Scrooge on Christmas morning. These scenes are great fun, and look surprisingly good for the era. The effects don’t work quite so well when Jack is clothed while invisible, a black outline around his clothing unable to be removed during rotoscoping. These scenes were at first considered “unfilmable,” and effects work took up four months of production. Effects guru John Fulton said when he was given the script in 1933, “It bristled with difficult special process scenes, and I wondered if, even with our modern process techniques we could possibly make all the amazing scenes called for.”

invisible-man-1933-claude-rains-in-bandages

Once Jack’s evil plan is unveiled–which amounts to causing general mayhem, such as murder (“small at first”), and derailing trains–the police are hot on his trail. The montages of the police plotting and executing his capture are brilliantly paced, and the police don’t lose him due to Keystone Cop shenanigans, as one might expect in an older movie. They’ve conceived a decent plan, and only fail initially because of an accident of fate. Something I thought while watching these scenes is that they might have formed the foundation for every Authority Against the Vigilante sequence in almost every modern superhero movie.

I haven’t read H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man in maybe 20 years, but from what I remember of it, it differs a lot from this adaptation. For one thing, I remember a lot of Jack dealing with his predicament, where in the 1933 Universal film most of that is cut in favor of action. But maybe I’m mixing this up with Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. I do recall he was seeking revenge at one point on the partner who betrayed him? Stole his work? I don’t recall. Revenge is only briefly touched on in the movie, but for a different reason.

All in all, Universal’s The Invisible Man is an entertaining film that suffers slightly from a few corny lines, female roles that border on the “hysterical” (not hysterical ha ha, hysterical as in screaming at every opportunity), and by starting in media res, with Jack already a maniac, it doesn’t quite work as a tragedy.

Those few flaws aside, The Invisible Man is well worth a watch. It must have been a Herculean undertaking to put this film together using the practical effects at the time, and for audiences to have believed they’d actually seen an invisible man, as some critics mentioned, is something few modern movies with effects costing multiple millions can manage.

DuncanR

Duncan Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts and The Animal, and the upcoming anthology, Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can follow and chat with him at www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com.


INVASION! War of the Worlds (1953): in review

Related image

“Its coming!”

“Amazing! Terrifying! The most savage spectacle of all time!”

“They came to CONQUER the EARTH.”

“Might panorama of Earth-shaking fury as an army from Mars invades.”

“The original invasion!”

These are the tag lines audiences were given while watching Byron Haskin’s film adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells story “War of the Worlds.” While Haskin may have been the director, I’d hang my hat on that George Pal (producer credit) had more to do with the films stylization, considering his previous films, When Worlds Collide and Destination Moon had the some technicolor fluidity. Also considering the era, the special effects and overall production of the film was out-of-this-world (no pun intended). Pal gave the film a beautiful apocalyptic quality that is visually stunning to watch. The entirely of the film is breathtaking, charming albeit terrifying, from the small California town of Linda Rosa, to the overwhelming inclusion of global invasion. But what is “War of the Worlds?” Lets take this in the story’s natural progression, from novel, to the radio, and finally to film.

Novel:

waroftheworldsbook

H.G. Wells first published “War of the Worlds” in 1897 as a science-fiction piece and perhaps even a social commentary piece on British colonization of indigenous tribes and then subsequently being killed off by disease. Much like Wells’ other works, “War of the Worlds” was destined to be an influential story, spawning dozens of adaptations, including radio.

Radio:

October 30th, 1938 is indeed a day that will live in infamy! Well, until FDR will replace it with the Attack on Pearl Harbor, yet interestingly, both infamy dates could be argued to have spawned from the same trajectory…being WWII, but I’m getting off track here.  Produced at Columbia Broadcasting System, “War of the Worlds” aired as an episode of the American radio drama anthology series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed on Halloween during an era before television sets were a household item. Radios dominated living rooms.

orsonwelles

On that fateful night, no doubt thousands were huddled together listening intently to the cautionary voice of Orson Welles as he retold the classic H.G. Wells story. Many of course knew this was a drama production; however, many more did not catch the “fiction blurb” and believed the events unfolding were real. It could be said that Orson Welles was inspired by many radio drama shows of the day, however, I think a strong argument could be made that he was also making a statement, a statement of the gullibility of the mass public who seemed to be willing to believe just about anything aired on the radio and perhaps maybe even a commentary of the growing threat from Germany at the time, this being 1938. But this goes back to the original story and the adaptability it has for each generation.

Film:

Quoting from the 1953 movie, a radio reporter states, “In the First World War, and for the first time in the history of man, nations combined to fight against nations using the crude weapons of those days. The Second World War involved every continent on the globe, and men turned to science for new devices of warfare, which reached an unparalleled peak in their capacity for destruction. And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science, menacing all mankind and every creature on the Earth comes the War of the Worlds.” Here we get a glimpse into the mindset of the film adaptation of Wells’ novel. We see the generational bent, the dangers of science, so-to-speak.

waroftheworldsposter

We have to, of course, understand the day and age. This is 1953, the world is still reeling from the Atomic Bomb, this is by definition the Atomic Age, and will go on to spawn dozens of films that speak to the fears of this era. There is also an interesting spiritualization entwined in the film, pastor Collins is regarded more favorably than in the original novel and with the ending scene at a cathedral on the drink of destruction when the invaders begin to suddenly die, and then…silence, given one of the last quotes, “The smallest creatures that ‘God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth’ have saved mankind from extinction,” we see perhaps a quasi-religious intention in the story telling. Depending on where you land on the fence, some have regarded it negatively, while others positively. Personally, I didn’t find the religious aspects overdone, though I did note them because they are undeniably there. The message I got was the futility in the efforts of mankind to save itself against an seemingly unstoppable force, to be saved in the end by such a minuscule thing.

alien

Regardless of the intentions, War of the Worlds is highly entertaining. Even the effects are still fun to watch, though at times clumsy, an obvious indication given the age of the film. There were many harrowing moments, including the above scene when we finally get a look at the alien in its biological form. When it comes to horror, I’m of the mindset of less is more, and given the films bright colors and almost over-the-top techno science-fiction, this moment and its banality is absolutely chilling. The cast was also good. Gene Barry played an excellent Dr. Clayton Forester and Ann Robinson was a sympathetic Sylvia Van Buren. Another positive of the film was the onset with the small town charm in Linda Rosa, focusing almost exclusively on its characters, and then the slow escalation toward a global event, giving us glimpses of a world-wide invasion. The small town sequences worked fantastically because the audience was “set at ease” with the smaller group interactions and joyfulness of a “simply American life.”  When the chaos is introduced, the film pulls back and gives the audience a larger world view, streets filled with looters and displaced peoples searching for safety.

alienarm

As the musical score begins its final dramatization (enter sad music), I feel we are given one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, as the alien arm reaches out and falls limp, dead, and then followed by silence. It is a strange joyous while at the same time tragic moment. As Gene Barry reaches out and touches the lifeless alien, we get this final connection as biological being cast in our own worlds set adrift among the endless black of the cosmos. The ending, for me, is directly connected to the opening sequences of the film, the artistic depictions of the “other worlds” and how barren they are. The fact that life exists anywhere is a miracle.  I think that this is perhaps George Pal making a final quip, stating how precious life is, yet it seems all we can do is kill each other. This sentiment should not be lost for our own generation, it certainly was not lost on Pal’s post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki generation.

My Rating: 5/5