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Friday, August 8, 2014

Invasion of the Saucer-Men



Invasion of the Saucer-Men
1957
Edward Cahn

A couple of teenagers Johnny (Steve Terrell), and Joan (Gloria Castillo),  run over an alien while driving in the dark. A scheming opportunist, Joe (Frank Gorshin), plans on hiding the body in his fridge in hopes making some money off of it. The aliens are having none this, and inject Joe with alcohol from needles in their fingers. They leave the body in place of their comrade just in time for the kids to show up with the local sheriff.

Science-fiction films of the 1950s were not known for their sense of humor. At best, they would deliver the occasional corny joke or some broad slapstick. This was to pad out the running time more than to make any sort of comment on the events of the movie. The number of annoying ‘funny’ side characters in 50s b-movies is legion. Even rarer were SF films that were deliberate comedies. Many movies, and television shows of the time contain jokes at the expense of the science-fiction. Few would use them as an element in the story itself.  This makes Invasion of the Saucer-Men an anomaly of sorts. At its core, it is a pretty straight forward 'aliens versus teenagers' movie.  The humor arises out of the characters reacting to this weird situation, but the real question is, “Is it funny?”

I suppose the ultimate answer to that question depends how you react to 1950’s comedy. Don’t go in expecting to be gasping for breath because you’re laughing so hard. It's rife with 50s cornball antics. The film spends much of its time with Johnny and Joan as they deal with a situation that puts them in trouble with the law. There are a couple of effectively goofy moments with the invaders. One of the best features an alien getting his eye poked out by an angry cow. Also, I have to admit I’m always a sucker for severed hands that run amok.

The aliens are the best part of the film, they manage to look both absurd and a little menacing at the same time. I love the fact that they can inject alcohol into the veins of their victims. It’s a perfect way to obscure their presence, and I’m surprised it’s not been a plot device in other films. The aliens have outlived the film in the public consciousness. They have appeared on album covers, stickers, and served as the inspiration for Morbo, the news anchor on the television show, Futurama.

The stand-out human of the bunch is Frank Gorshin, as Joe the drunken opportunist who aims to make some money off of an alien corpse. I know in 1957 its de riguer to keep your focus on the teenagers but, it would have been much more interesting to have Joe take the lead. I suppose the b-movie landscape wasn’t quite ready for a greedy boozehound anti-hero.

Invasion of the Saucer-Men isn’t great science-fiction or even great comedy, that doesn't stop it from being an entertaining blip in the history of 50’s saucermania.

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