It Came From Outer Space

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It Came From Outer Space
"An early entry in the Cold War paranoia science fiction canon, this film is also one of the most unusual."

One night, astronomer John (Richard Carlson) is watching the stars with his girlfriend Ellen (Barbara Rush) when he sees what looks like a huge meteorite crashing toward the desert. On closer inspection he discovers it has landed in an old mineshaft, and appears to be an alien spaceship - but, of course, no-one will believe him. Then the townspeople start acting strangely, and John and Ellen suspect that they may be in serious danger.

An early entry in the Cold War paranoia science fiction canon, this film is also one of the most unusual, quite daring in the way it challenges the already familiar tropes of the genre. It may feel like a reply to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but it acually predates the book that inspired that film by a year. Its fluency and thoughtfulness, as well as some of its more chilling moments, derive from the involvement of Ray Bradbury, on whose story it was based. Jack Arnold's punchy direction and Clifford Stine's often noirish cinematography complement this perfectly, bringing depth to what would otherwise be a formulaic tale.

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Bradbury is doubtless also responsible for the film's quirky humour, with its telegraph men notable as the sort of messengers who wander through all his work. There's also an intriguing hint at the themes of his classic novel Fahrenheit 451, written whilst the film was being made, with the observation that 92°F is the optimum temperature at which humans are inclined to kill each other. A final line references one of the film's closest, though more brutal, contemporaries, The Thing From Another World, shadowing the comparatively upbeat ending with a warning.

Films in this genre frequently gave their stars little to work with, but Carlson works well within the restrained category of hero, particularly in his rapport with Rush, who is impressive in an early role. The strength she brings to her character sits at little at odds with the requisite screaming scenes but even there she manages to put across more complex emotion. The only really weak link is the character of Matt, the local sheriff, whose tedious stupidity is a poor cover for lazy plotting in the intervals between the film's strong set pieces.

With Arnold more interested in building up tension than in all out monster action, this may disappoint some B-movie fans, but it has substance enough to appeal to many who might ordinarily shy away from the genre. The monsters, like most of their kind, look ridiculous today, but the ideas behind the film still resonate. It's a simple film built with simple tools, but built very well.

Reviewed on: 06 Jun 2012
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It Came From Outer Space packshot
An astronomer suspects something is very wrong when, following an apparent meteor impact, the local townsfolk start behaving strangely.
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Director: Jack Arnold

Writer: Harry Essex, Ray Bradbury

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake

Year: 1953

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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