Monday, October 03, 2011

Hitching a Ride

Are great movies always sui generis? Are they always innovative? Not at all. I mean, when you have a movie based on a samurai version of a Dashiell Hammett novel and recast as a western, you're not dealing with originality but the result is A Fistful of Dollars. Digging back through the detritus of genre will unearth a lot of cases like this. Influences are like rocks thrown into placid water, with the ripples creating interference patterns and waves. I couldn't help think about that while I was watching It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958, directed by Edward L. Cahn), which is such a primary influence on Alien that I can't believe that there were no lawsuits. (There was a lawsuit from A. E. Van Vogt over Alien's similarities to his story, "Black Destroyer"). Alien is a legitimately great movie, though, and It! is not.

I should note that I'm giving It! too much credit here, too, because at a fundamental level, it's a mercenary cash-in on The Thing. There's even a sequence where our erstwhile heroes attempt to electrocute the movie's beastie just like the heroes in the Hawks movie. Of course, having it not work just serves to demonstrate how bad-ass it's monster is relative to The Thing. It's fanboy one-upsmanship in its formative years. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story here follows the lone survivor of a failed mission to Mars, who is being escorted back to Earth by the relief force to face trial for murdering all of his comrades. Carruthers, our hero, vows that it was something indigenous to the Red Planet, but no one believes him, until that something hitches a ride with them on their way back to earth. The rest of the movie is spent devising ever more elaborate ways to kill the alien, all of which fail. The set pieces in the movie are shockingly familiar: the trip through the air ducts, the opening of the airlock. Seriously, this is the same damned movie as Alien, but for its gender politics...

Ah, women. Even when you're competent professionals, you're just glorified secretaries, whose sole purpose in the movie seems to be to wait on the menfolk hand and foot. None of the men gets their own damned coffee in this movie. And the two women are a medical doctor and a biologist--apparently the "hard sciences" of physics and math are too much for them, which also casts aspersions on medicine and biology as hard disciplines, if girls can do them. Bleh. Very much of its time, which is a shame. Where's Howard Hawks and his competent women when you really need them, eh? Come to think of it, the future postulated by this film is really, really white.

It! plays more than a little bit like an episode of The Twilight Zone with a bigger budget. This shouldn't be surprising given that it was written by TZ veteran Jerome Bixby. The creature, too, seems more like a TV monster than a movie monster. It's kind of cheap, but that may be because the suit and rubber mask had to be altered to fit. It's not much of a monster, to tell you the truth. The interior set of the spaceship is pretty good, if a bit Spartan, but we don't get any exterior sets. It's a modest programmer, and I suppose it's fair to take it on those terms. But, man, the existence of Alien just serves to demonstrate how badly the filmmakers here have wasted an amazing premise. Alas.

I'm not entirely sure how I missed It! The Terror from Beyond Space as a kid, but watching it for the first time as an adult is probably not optimal. The Golden Age of Science Fiction, after all, is 12.

Current tally: 2 films

First time viewings: 2

Around the web:

The Vicar of VHS over at Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movies takes on the 1971 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The Other Side, meanwhile, moves on to The Fallen Ones.

And Expelled Gray Matter takes on the crazy Klaus Kinski in Crawlspace, a film whose director contemplated killing his star for the insurance money rather than work another day with him...

Just a reminder: if you're blogging the October Challenge, leave me a comment so I can include your updates throughout the month. Meanwhile, onward toward the next film.


Andreas said...

"The Golden Age of Science Fiction, after all, is 12." <---- That. Yes.

I've actually been meaning to rewatch this, since I last saw it when I probably was 12. I'm now very curious to see the Alien parallels.

And what ever happened to guys being named "Carruthers"? That name's everywhere in the '40s-'50s... not so much anymore.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Carruthers is indeed a splendid name, though I admit that I think of Far Side characters with such names.

Dr. AC, Fool for Blood said...

Yep, between this and Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, you've got pretty much 85% of the screen story for ALIEN. I haven't seen this in quite a while, and only once at that, probably due for a revisit.