Residents of a small California town witness the first stages of an extra-terrestrial invasion. The U.S. Armed Forces are dispatched, but the soldiers are no match for the technologically-advanced invaders. As the planet is overtaken by vicious alien forces, the civilian population fights for survival.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“We know now we can’t beat their machines. We’ve got to beat them.”
In the post-World War II years, Communism became a real threat in the minds of many Americans, and Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch-hunts perpetuated the idea of a possible invasion from the Soviet Union. Based on H. G. Wells’s acclaimed 1897 novel, Paramount’s The War of the Worlds is a perfect embodiment of both the jittery Cold War culture and the science fiction movies of the 1950s.
Part Michael Bay movie, part Disney cartoon, producer George Pal’s (The Time Machine) colored candy adaptation of the Wells story channels the decade’s worries and apprehensions quite well. As such, The War of the Worlds, written by Barré Lyndon (The Greatest Show on Earth) and directed by Byron Haskin (The Naked Jungle), remains an interesting time capsule. It’s also pretty darn entertaining.
The dialogue is sometimes hard on the ears, and the actors (Gene Barry, TV’s Burke’s Law, Ann Robinson, City Beneath the Sea, Jack Kruschen, The Apartment, etc.) are just okay, but that’s exactly what you’d expect from a Pal production. The producer was mostly interested in wowing the audience with inventive visuals. The War of the Worlds delivered what it promised — it’s a noisy and fun fireworks show.
This is such a beautiful-looking movie. Primary colors are emphasized to the nth degree (the wonderful Technicolor cinematography is by George Barnes, Rebecca and Samson and Delilah). Unlike most sci-fi movies of the era, the film has high production values — Pal clearly made the most of Paramount’s ample resources.
The then state-of-the-art visual and sound effects won an Oscar (the spaceships were designed by Al Nozaki), but now you can (literally) see the strings. However, there is something totally fun about seeing scale-miniatures being blown up. And last but not least, we get to see some funky-looking Martians. By the way, some of the props and sound effects were re-used in the original Star Trek TV series.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The War of the Worlds now looks like a kiddie show, but its influence is immediately palpable. Narrated by Sir Cedric Hardwicke (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Ten Commandments). Look closely for Carolyn Jones (TV’s The Addams Family). Followed by a TV series. Remade in 2005. Color, 85 minutes, Not Rated.