Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“A superior intelligence has come from Venus in MY satellite, established residency, turned off the world’s power, and is about to take over the world’s population.”

Roger Corman. Oh dear. Well, this 1956 alien invasion movie features two very well-known actors contending with a monster from another world, only on Corman’s infamous shoestring budget. It Conquered The World in only 71 minutes. 71 very long minutes.

In the rural hill town of Beechwood, there’s a space research station that is preparing to launch the first man-made satellite into orbit. The lead scientist’s best friend, another scientist, tries to stop the launch with dire warnings of the potential of alien intervention keeping mankind from entering space. They go ahead with the launch anyway, and some time later, the satellite disappears mysteriously (having been transported to Venus) and returns to Earth orbit much, much quicker than a round trip like that would take. The rocket then crashes to Earth and the Venusian passenger within starts deploying bat-things to take over the minds of assorted important people to begin conquering the world. He’s aided in this (over the radio) by the hero’s best friend, leading to an ideological, as well as physical confrontation.

Dr. Paul Nelson: Peter Graves is our standard-issue science hero. A man of ambition and exploration, he also values human independence and free will, and really hates the idea of something that would or could limit human freedom. Despite the movie’s massive downer ending, he gets a surprisingly good speech about the need for mankind to feel emotions.

Dr. Tom Anderson: Lee Van Cleef is Dr. Nelson’s best friend and someone who’s been laughed out of most scientific circles for his crazy ideas. Well he’s had it with your primitive Earth bullying! He’s got a friend that he talks to on the radio who lives on Venus and who’s coming to Earth to solve all the problems that human emotions cause. Figures that would be when the crackpot is actually right. Regardless, he gives a pretty good performance, all things considered.

Joan Nelson: Sally Fraser plays our hero’s wife, a supportive and kind woman who eventually gets her mind taken over by the alien. Paul doesn’t like that one bit.

Claire Anderson: Beverly Garland plays Tom’s wife and is the real female lead since she gets probably the meatiest performance out of the film. She’s torn between love for her husband and hatred for his part in the invasion when she finds out about it. She ultimately decides to go and confront the alien herself, even giving it a fiery little speech about it.

Brigadier General James Pattick: Russ Bender (a Corman film regular) plays a general who gets taken over by aliens fairly early. He then sends a unit of soldiers out on a patrol to keep them away from the lab.

The Venusian: One of only 9 living Venusians, he comes to Earth hoping to conquer it for his people. I think a picture would best describe the creature, so here you go:

That is the "It" what "conquered the world." There’s stories circulating that the effects guys made him squat because he came from a high-gravity planet, but when Beverly Garland laughed at it and kicked it over, Corman told them to make it bigger.

Roger Corman, the B-Movie King, directed this, and there’s a certain “style” to Corman’s films. The films were all shot really fast on low budgets and used a lot of padding. What kind of padding? Well, there’s a fair amount of stock footage and then even more shots of people (usually Peter Graves) going from one place to another; either walking, driving, or even bicycling. Naturally, that kind of stuff bogs the pacing down something fierce, and the movie really slouched along until we get to a pretty big climax (by Corman standards) that ends with a rather hefty body count.

As for the effects, well, you’ve seen the Venusian. The alien also shoots out probes that attach to the back of the neck and take over the mind. They look like rubber bats on string.

Lou Rusoff & an uncredited Charles B. Griffith, the story is actually kind of interesting. A crafty alien lands on earth, shuts down pretty much all power supplies (even wristwatches and water hoses somehow), and starts picking off authority figures so he can use them to keep the rest of the people in line. Add to it a fairly thorough anti-Communist subtext (invaders make everyone equal by brainwashing them sort of thing) and you have some interesting Cold War era sci-fi ruminations. Just not quite interesting enough to pad out 71 minutes, so we get lots of walking scenes.

Original music by Ronald Stein, the score is your standard issue 50’s B movie soundtrack with “spacey” sounds and punctuations of fanfares.

Shabby alien aside, It Conquered The World is actually a pretty dark film for 1956. By the end of it, Dr. Paul Nelson is pretty much the only named character still standing. That’s dark. There’s apparently no way to undo the mind control. That’s dark. I don’t want to give the impression that the movie is good, because its not. It is a cheesy, low-budget 50’s sci-fi flick that’s really boring except for the scenes with Graves, Van Cleef, and Garland, and the finale brings everything together for a brutal and grim ending. It’s an interesting film, and pretty good for a Corman film.

No comments: