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THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953 - G)

Taking the year's Oscar for Best Special Effects, the original cinematic production of War of the Worlds depicts the consequences of a Grande alien attack on the planet, focusing on the plight of one small town in particular. Though atom bombs and full scale military assaults are helpless against the mutant machines, there is one small hope for mankind... and its right under their nose. 

This film could be compared to "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers." Gene Barry (Burke's Law) gives an intense, overly emphatic performance. Ann Robinson (Dragnet), as a beautiful Library Science teacher from USC, provides the required love interest. The FX, including alien war machines and disintegration rays, are excellent.

The cast includes: Gene Barry, Les Tremayne, Ann Robinson, Lewis Martin, and Cedric Hardwicke.

Directed by Byron Haskin.

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war-worlds

SYNOPSIS...

When a meteor lands near a small California town, a visiting scientist determines it's radioactive. Later that night, three locals, checking out the object, get zapped out of existence. Three strange devices rise up out of the crater. The military tries to blast them, but they are protected by an invisible energy shield.

A priest is zapped by an alien energy beam. The Martians are now just thirty miles from Los Angeles. A scientist and his female librarian companion encounter an alien creature. People flee from aliens around the world.

A decision is made to drop the A-bomb on the aliens. They survive it. People flee Los Angeles by the thousands. The scientist and his librarian are reunited in a church. The aliens die of a bacterial infection from Earth microbes.

Review:

Promotional Line: "Mighty panorama of Earth-shaking fury as an army from Mars invades! "

Quote from Dr.Clayton Forrester: "If they're mortal, they have mortal weaknesses. They'll be stopped, somehow."

WAR OF THE WORLDS, Directed by Byron Haskin, is a true classic of 1950's Sci-Fi that has held up surprisingly well over the years.

Gene Barry (Burke's Law) is a scientist, Dr.Clayton Forrester, on a finishing trip near a small California town. When strange meteors fall in a field nearby, Barry is called in to investigate. In the process of doing that, he meets a beautiful young Library Science teacher from USC, Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson - "Dragnet" circa 1954), and her uncle, Dr. Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). Using a geiger counter, Barry determines that the meteor is "hot". Before he can investigate further, Barry is invited to the local square dance. Barry, perhaps to prove he's just folks (or maybe to get closer to the attractive Robinson) complies.

Later in the evening, three locals approach the meteor. The top to the "meteor" screws of and a long necked, snake-like object pokes out. The three decide to make contact with the E.T. and become famous. One of the guys ponders, "What are we going to say to them?" Another replies, "Welcome to California." Waving a white flag, the three approach the object. The snake-like object pulsates and zaps them out of existence. The FX in this sequence, by Producer George Pal, Director Haskin, and Director of Photography G. Barnes, are top drawer.

At this time, the power shorts out at the square dance. And speaking of short, Barry's tie in this scene is extremely short, reaching only halfway down his shirt front. I guess that was cool in the 50's. Anywho, the watches of everybody at the dance have stopped. This is a fun and different way to show that weird stuff is going on.

When the police go to investigate a fire in the vicinity of the meteor, the ashes of the three dead guys are found. Then the alien snake appears and zaps a cop car to kingdom come. Once again, the quality of the FX here is quite good.

Soon, more meteors (alien ships) land in the area. Barry, no dummy, tells the sheriff to contact the military. In short order, the military shows up, as well as other scientists. We also learn that alien ships have landed in other countries. Naturally, the media shows up too. When Barry is asked by the press to tell them about the Martians, he replies, "They may be able to smell colors," I'm not sure exactly what this means, but, courtesy of Screenwriter Barre Lyndon, the viewer is given a fresh and thought provoking concept to mull over, the hallmark of good Sci-Fi.

Subsequent battle scenes, between the military and three pleisiosaur (aquatic dinosaur) shaped floating alien craft, protected by bell jar-like transparent force fields, are excellent. These are the best man versus alien invader scenes filmed, not having been surpassed by later Sci-Fi films.

Let's talk acting. Gene Barry, who had mostly stage experience up to this point, gives an intense, overly emphatic performance. Little is seen of the smooth sophisticate he was later to portray on his TV series, "Bat Masterson", "Burke's Law", and "Name of the Game". Well, there's nothing wrong with growing and improving as an actor, and this film shows that Barry has done plenty of that!

Ann Robinson, as the Library Science teacher fulfills the standard requirements of the 50's Sci-Fi female co-star: brunette, beautiful, and less competent than her male co-star. Robinson doesn't really seem credible as a teacher of college level classes. I guess producer George Pal believed his scientist needed a love interest of basically equal social standing. I guess it's another 50's thing.

My favorite scene is when the aliens, having invaded Los Angeles, blow up LA's landmark City Hall. The fact that I worked in that building, for eight unpleasant months some years back, may have something to do with my enjoyment of the scene.

The Music, by Leith Stevens, varying between spooky and religious, is a bit overdone, having aged less well than the rest of the movie. By 1950's standards, however, it was right on, and can be appreciated on that level by a simple twist of the mind. Besides, forty years from now, film critics may be saying the same thing of a Music Composer like John Williams!

WAR OF THE WORLDS should be highly watchable for most Sci-Fi fans, whether or not they've read H.G. Wells' classic source novel, or heard Orson Welles' famous radio adaptation. Anyone who doesn't like this film is a dirty Martian! Smelled any colors lately? 

BEST BETS: WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005), DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, THE BLOB, and INDEPENDENCE DAY.