Thursday, July 28, 2011

Monster Mash Blogathon: This Island Earth (1955)

Today's post is an entry in the Monster Mash Blogathon. The Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear/Monster Mash icon will bring you to a world of movie mayhem. What follows is a chock-full-of-spoilers look at:


This Island Earth was brought to the screen by Universal in 1955. The director was Joseph M. Newman, who also gave us the noir drama 711 Ocean Drive, the adventure Red Skies of Montana, the somber western Fort Massacre and the matinee favourite of my youth, The Big Circus. The effects crew on This Island Earth is exemplary. The cinematographer was Clifford Stine whose work is seen in Written on the Wind, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Battle Hymn and Patton. The art direction team was led by 14 time Oscar nominee and 3 time winner, Alexander Golitzen. Those Oscar honoured pictures include Foreign Correspondent, Phantom of the Opera, Spartacus, To Kill a Mockingbird, Flower Drum Song and Airport. David S. Horsley worked on the special effects photography and the visual effects team was Roswell A. Hoffman and Frank Tipper. Their work is outstanding.


RAID!

What is that thing? Why, that’s a Mutant. That is "Mutant". They have been breeding them on ages on Metaluna to do menial work. They are similar to some insect life on Earth, but larger and with a higher degree of intelligence. Would you like one to help out with those pesky chores? Too late. Metaluna is no more. The Metalunians struggled valiantly through years of war and even looked to Earth as a possible key to their energy problems, but all to no avail. Perhaps the real monster was they thought too much. All this was told by prolific science fiction storyteller Raymond F. Jones in three stories entitled The Alien Machine, The Shroud of Secrecy and The Greater Conflict, eventually novelized as This Island Earth.


The first of the impressive effects.

Notice the green glow around the plane? In the movie it is also accompanied by an eerie whistling sound. Mere minutes before the glow appeared our pilot and he-man scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) lost total control of the plane. Some unseen force helped him to land safely. He-men scientists always fly themselves back from conferences to their home lab.


Rex Reason, Robert Nicholls

Strange equipment has been making its way to the lab and fueled with the curiosity that makes good scientists, our boys take the packages that have been arriving from the Acme Space Depot and their handy dandy Allen key and before you know it they have themselves an interocitor.

Regrettable remark #1: When assistant Joe Wilson (Robert Nichols) mentions his wife wishes they would come up with some housekeeping devices, Cal responds that she’d only pack on the pounds if she didn’t have to work. Golly!


Robert Nicholls, Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason

Building the interocitor was a test and the prize was communication with a fellow named Exeter (Jeff Morrow) and the chance to discover more incredible scientific advancement at an unspecified compound. Cal jumps at the chance. His assistant Joe is more cautious. Besides he has that wife to take care of.


Rex Reason, Russell Johnson, Faith Domergue

There are other scientists at the compound. Girly-girl scientist Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and professorly type Steve Carlson (Russell Johnson) among them. Wouldn’t you know that Cal and Ruth have a past? The present and future isn’t looking too bright. Their fellow scientists seem to be under some sort of mind control, and our intrepid trio is getting a little fed up with the whole deal. The audience is let in on things in a conversation between Exeter and the Monitor (Douglas Spencer) of Metaluna. The home planet’s defences have been depleted and no matter the stage of the research being done on Earth, it is time for Exeter's return.


Lasers and explosions highlight the race to freedom.

Our trio makes a break for the outside world. Carlson, the other scientists, and the entire compound, including a pet cat named Neutron are obliterated as Exeter has been ordered to leave no trace of Metaluna behind.


Eye-popping view of the captured plane.

Cal and Ruth attempt to fly away from the destructive scene, but instead are pulled up into the spacecraft and on their way to the doomed planet.


Open concept spaceship.

On board the ship we are treated to regrettable remark #2 when
Exeter asks Ruth if “as a woman” she isn’t curious about Metaluna. Geez!


Breathtaking rendering of Metaluna.

Once on Metaluna, it is all too apparent that the end is near although the Monitor still holds out hope for colonization on Earth. Exeter has gained a knowledge of and fondness for his human companions and all three escape before the planet explodes. Unfortunately, a single-minded "Mutant" also finds his away aboard ship, mortally wounding Exeter and, in the way of all 50s movie monsters, does his best to terrorize pretty Dr. Ruth until he is destroyed. Whew!


Exeter knows his time is running out, but hangs on long enough to see his companions safely back to This Island Earth.


"Home"

This Island Earth drags at the beginning and is too rushed at the end. It has plot holes the size of bomb craters on Metaluna. Tragically, due to office politics, Edward Muhl fired effects wizard David S. Horsley when he fell behind schedule on the picture, leaving some effects worthy of applause and others lacking. On the plus side is the sensitive performance of Jeff Morrow as Exeter, the glorious Technicolor, the polished effects and stunning set design. While not good enough to be a classic, I think This Island Earth is a movie to cherish for its’ obvious design inspiration for future screen science fiction. It reached for the stars.


40 comments:

  1. I saw This Island Earth on AMC many, many years ago and while I winced at a lot of the "regrettable remarks" you mentioned (they're pretty much the norm for their era) I also thought the movie was a little on the dull side.

    Of course, Earth has earned notoriety as the movie that's sent up in the feature film version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. They had to shorten the movie with some edits but the MST3K version is definitely less painless to sit through.

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  2. For all their cheesy effects and grade c (or less), there is something so endearing about these movies. And hey - that mutant is pretty awesome! Very entertaining post about a film from a more innocent time.

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  3. THIS ISLAND EARTH special effects was on the edge at the time of its release and the film was a big hit. I have not seen it in a long time so I cannot say what my opinion is on how it stands up today. As Ivan mentioned in his comments those regretable remarks were standard for those pre-lib days. Enjoyed the review!

    John

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  4. Ivan, I had never heard of MST3K prior to today. I must not watch television at the right time of day or perhaps they never made their way to Canada. The story had potential, but pacing is practically non-existent.

    FlickChick, I think they gave us a very slickly done up monster this time.

    John, my favourite part of the movie is the technical aspects and, as they say in the theatre, you're not supposed to leave the hall humming the sets.

    I get quite a kick out of the "regrettable remarks". I imagine I missed some.

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  5. I think this was one of the many influences on Tim Burton Mars Attacks!... Nice review.

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  6. I've always been a fan of THIS ISLAND EARTH, particularly the earthbound scenes at the beginning when it's not clear what is going on. Plus, the concept of aliens recruiting help is imaginative. I always thought it was the inspiration for the entertaining 1980s teen flick THE LAST STARFIGHTER (which features a fun performance by Robert Preston).

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  7. I always loved this move, Caftan Woman. And your terrific review did it justice. :)

    Jeff Morrow was wonderful in this. Rex Reason - not so much. What an insensitive dolt. But then, so many men in the 50's were dolts. (At least in the movies.)

    A couple of things that have always bothered me: Why on earth breed such slow-moving, clumsy mutants, even if just to do 'menial' labor (isn't that what females are for?) I mean, they can hardly move and those pinchers for fingers, not very pliable. And think how much they must eat. It hardly seems feasible.

    Just wonderin'

    And doesn't scientist Rex notice that the 'men' in charge at the research facility (hide-out) in the beginning all look alike with high forheads and white hair?

    Just wonderin'

    My favorite scene is the 'elevator' ride when they land on Metaluna. What a gorgeous rendering of a dead planet.

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  8. Hi,Michael. Hi, Rick. You gentlemen have opened my eyes. I've thought of "This Island Earth" as an influence for design in sci-fi, but hadn't thought of the inspiration for story.

    Yvette, I agree that Jeff Morrow is well worth the price of admission. It's a shame that the plot holes are as regrettable as some of those remarks. I am always awe-struck by the design and effects in this movie. It was a brilliant move to film it in Technicolor.

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  9. Given the title, I expected this movie to be a bit more on the apocalyptic side. The sets and costumes and the color are great, though.

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  10. I've only seen the MST3K version (technically not an episode but MST3K: The Movie) of This Island Earth. They had a lot of fun with it and it was quite enjoyable. Certainly one of the better movies they riffed on that show!

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  11. Rich, the things they did well in the movie, they did extremely well.

    Well, RVChris, this is the second mention of MST3K. I really must check it out.

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  12. Caftan Woman, I absolutely loved your playful, thoughtful blog post about THIS ISLAND EARTH, including your responses to the less PC lines! :-) We're big fans of both the straight and MST3K versions of THIS ISLAND EARTH. I've seen both the MST3K episodes and the MST3K version of THIS ISLAND EARTH available on DVD. Do check them out; I think you'll like them!

    I love your blog's snappy new look with the pink typewriter! Also, I've added you to the "Further Distractions" on my TotED favorite blog list, unless you have any objections. :-)

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  13. My old blog is over. I have a new home. Same mental issues though. Drop by some time.

    http://brandnewchaos.blogspot.com/

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  14. Dorian, thanks for the kind words about the blog's new look and the post. I like the idea of being a "further distraction". I hope you like getting on my list.

    It looks like I'm definitely going to have to check out that MST3K crowd!

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  15. Brian, you can count on my company.

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  16. It sounds like this movie may be more enjoyable to look at than hear. I think I'll check out the MST3K version first. Thanks for a great introduction to a film I knew nothing aobut.

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  17. Ah, time for everyone to stop picking on John Agar and heap it on Rex Reason a bit.

    Exeter was definitely my favorite part of this one, though I did enjoy the movie itself on the whole. Excellent review!

    While I've heard of MST3K and was aware of it's presence, I was never a fan. I always preferred to just pop in the actual movie. I'd rather rip on the bad ones myself.

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  18. KC, it's funny that with all we know about classic movies there are always more to discover.

    Cliff, I knew Rex was here for a reason. I was beginning to feel sorry for John Agar. Re: MST3K, sometimes those sorts of guys aren't as funny as they think they are, or as funny as we are.

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  19. Ah...nothing like a little misogyny to give your cheesy 50s monster movie that extra kick!

    Great review! I'm so glad that so many bloggers like yourself are doing reviews that are more visually based with pictures and film clips. It really helps make the blogathon come alive!

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  20. Oh...and all of you NEED to check out MST3K if you haven't heard of it or watched it. It's one of the reasons why I love these monster and sci-fi films from the 50s so much.

    Most of the episodes are on youtube, as well.

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  21. Excellent post, with particularly beautiful screencaps. I agree with Rich that the title seems more apocalyptic than the content. I'll have to clear an afternoon to check this one out.

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  22. Nate, thanks for your wonderful hosting job. The blogathon is an atomic blast. Thanks for the tip about the inestimable YouTube. What can't you find there?

    Thank you, Rachel. The visuals are stunning and I think the movie is well worth checking out.

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  23. I'm definitely going to give the MST3K version of this another look. I love the "regrettable remarks" part of this review.

    I kept trying to place Faith Domergue while I was looking at the screenshots and then I realized she was in Where Danger Lives. She was a very uniquely beautiful woman.

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  24. Faith Domergue's attractive presence has drawn many a viewer to many a less than stellar movie. "Where Danger Lives" is an interesting case. Like, "This Island Earth", it falls short of its intention.

    Those MST3K guys have really made an impression on folks.

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  25. Enjoyed your great review! I remember THIS ISLAND EARTH (which I haven't seen in a while) as beautiful to look at, but, as you point out, the plot is rushed too quickly at the end, and the story seems to end without enough action. It's fascinating that the movie makes these, to us now, sexist comments, and yet one of its main characters is a woman who's also in a scientific career. The gorgeous Faith Domergue made another horror/sci-fi film around the same time as this one, CULT OF THE COBRA, in which she plays a cobra who turns into a woman (or maybe it's the other way around, the film is not quite clear).

    MST3K (or Mystery Science Theater 3000, to give it its full name, and which does have many episodes posted to Youtube) has 'done' many of the movies being featured on this blogathon - great minds think alike!

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  26. I have not seen this one but it definitely looks as if the mutants in this greatly inspired the Topps Mars Attacks! collector card set (which of course in turn inspired Tim Burton and all).

    Great review.

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  27. Thanks, Grand Old Movies. I guess we can count Faith among the visual splendours of "This Island Earth". For me, it's a case of what could have been as perhaps even more laudable than the finished product.

    Thanks, Kevyn. It's amazing how the movies from our youth inspire our nightmares and our creativity.

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  28. I've always had a special fondness for this one. Some of the scenes are like a science fiction magazine cover come to life.

    I must be a grump because I saw the MST3K treatment of this and barely cracked a smile.

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  29. Kevin, I like that description of the magazine cover come to life. It really is stunning.

    I'm on the fence about whether to check out the MST3K guys. If you didn't crack a smile - well, that says a lot to me.

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  30. Fun review of a fun 50s sci-fi flick! I have fond memories of catching this one on TV as a kid. I think it's one of those films that's easier to watch as a kid, when you can overlook a lot of the obvious faults. As a (chronological) grown-up, I can still appreciate the 50s kitsch and eye candy (especially the Mutant creature).

    I'm on the fence about the MST3K thing. Although I'm a big fan of MST3K, I've always felt that This Island Earth was a questionable choice - not quite cheesy enough to receive their typical treatment.

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  31. Barry P., I think that "not cheesy enough" factor is holding me back from checking out the MST3K guys.

    "Chronological grown up" - I like that.

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  32. You may not believe this but, I have not seen many "Monster" films. I have really enjoyed reading everyones "Monster" posts.

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  33. Dawn, imagine all these older movies you haven't seen yet. It's like finding a new place to shop!

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  34. Great post! I'm one of the rare people who likes both the actual movie and the MST3K version. ("I never met a luna I didn't like!") The cast in this is great, including Lance Fuller, who was utterly hilarious (unintentionally) in The She-Creature. It does drag in parts, but mostly the cinematography is good, the goofiness is ultra goofy, and all the sets are very pretty. So are the actors.

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  35. Thanks, Caftan Woman, for a good, even-handed appraisal of this picture. I agree that it's no classic, but it is what a friend of mine (talking about a different movie) once termed "a heartening failure".

    I also enjoyed the MST3K send-up, but was a little troubled; given the rock-bottom-ness of most movies the boys took on, I thought picking on TIE was a little unjust. However, they did have one line that made me laugh out loud. As Exeter and his fellow Metalunans, with their high foreheads and shocks of white hair, welcomed Cal and Ruth, one of the droids cracked: "Yes, we here at the Buddy Ebsen Institute..."

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  36. Thanks, Stacia. If it is possible to like both the movie and the spoof, I may have to check it out.

    Jim, your friend's turn of phrase describes my feelings toward "This Island Earth". I'm rather protective of the darn thing.

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  37. Caftan -

    Great review on a really great 50s film. I haven't seen it in a while, so I imagine I'll be searching through my library looking for it shortly ... Nice job ...

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  38. Your usual well-done article, Caftan Woman. I didn't read all of the comments, and I'm sure I'm not the first to say that the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version of this forever colored my perception of it. My son and I know it by heart practically - it's one of the funniest MST3000 ever did.

    I was surprised that even in their snark, no mention was made that I can recall of the incredibly sexist remarks about Ruth! "As a woman you must be curious", etc. I'm surprised that as they are being kidnapped to Metaluna, Exeter didn't mention to Ruth that they had great shopping centers there! LOL

    Jeff Morrow did well, but I always had a problem with Rex Reason in any of his movies. His voice is so bass it irritates me...weird, huh? This movie did have some beautiful sets, I have to say. I loved the green light, the spaceship hangar for the plane and the huge open concept, which you mentioned and made me laugh.

    Great job on a favorite of mine!

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  39. Becky, those MST3K guys really got around. I might still be in the dark about them if I hadn't decided to write about "This Island Earth". It's cool you share it with your son. Thanks.

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