Invaders from Mars

Invaders from Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies)

About halfway through Invaders from Mars, the army mobilizes to come to the aid of the protagonists (who have discovered an alien invasion). These mobilization scenes are all stock footage–later tank footage is stock too–but director Menzies uses it for a long time, like an actual scene. While dragging down the midsection of the picture, it does neatly split the film.

When Mars starts, it’s all about a kid discovering the aliens have landed and started brainwashing people. His father to start. Besides a brief introduction to the family–Mom Hillary Brooke gives a lousy performance, but Leif Erickson is great as Dad–the first twenty minutes are Jimmy Hunt (the kid) running around town trying to get help. He keeps discovering strangeness and more brainwashed humans. Mars really moves.

Then he teams up with Helena Carter, playing a doctor who believes the story (no one really questions Hunt’s story), and Mars starts to slow down. Arthur Franz comes in as an astronomer and erstwhile love interest for Carter. Then the army gets involved, then there’s the lengthy stock footage sequence.

The conclusion, with the alien spaceship, is exciting. Menzies directs the first twenty minutes with aplomb. The set design is brilliant; Mars feels special for those sequences. Sadly, most of the second half takes place either on an outdoor set or at various locations. Its personality evaporates.

While Mars drags, Hunt, Carter and Morris Ankrum’s army colonel are quite good. Menzies does wonders with a small budget.



Directed by William Cameron Menzies; screenplay by Richard Blake, based on a story by John Tucker Battle; director of photography, John F. Seitz; music by Raoul Kraushaar; production designer, Menzies; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jimmy Hunt (David MacLean), Leif Erickson (Mr. George MacLean), Hillary Brooke (Mrs. Mary MacLean), Helena Carter (Dr. Pat Blake), Arthur Franz (Dr. Stuart Kelston), Morris Ankrum (Col. Fielding), Max Wagner (Sgt. Rinaldi), William Phipps (Sgt. Baker), Milburn Stone (Capt. Roth) and Janine Perreau (Kathy Wilson).

Invaders from Mars (1986, Tobe Hoober)

Invaders from Mars, while it’s occasionally obvious it’s a comedy, can’t seem to decide. For a while, Hooper directs it absolutely straight–which doesn’t do the film any favors. Hooper’s composition is excellent (he and cinematographer Daniel Pearl have some great Panavision shots) but there’s no menace. Hunter Carson plays a kid convinced aliens have landed and are taking over the townsfolk, including his parents, but Carson never seems too out of it.

The other acting in those scenes is the big problem. Laraine Newman is bad as Carson’s mom, even if she is somewhat likable. Timothy Bottoms is a little better, but still no great shakes. As Carson’s evil schoolteacher, Louise Fletcher is awful. For the scenes when Fletcher has to act really crazy, she’s even worse. It’s like Hooper told her to play it as a comedic role and she just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Karen Black’s great as Carson’s only fellow human. It’s a thankless role for her, but she’s got some excellent scenes.

Just over halfway through, when Mars is really dragging, the military comes in and things get funnier (and better). James Karen’s great as the general who Carson and Black enlist to fight the aliens. The accelerated pace even makes up for the previously unexplained Mars space shuttle mission. Hooper really should have opened with that detail.

Christopher Young’s score helps a lot, as do good supporting turns in the latter half.

Mars is confused. Its lack of commitment sinks it.



Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, based on a screenplay by Richard Blake; director of photography, Daniel Pearl; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Hunter Carson (David Gardner), Karen Black (Linda Magnusson), Timothy Bottoms (George Gardner), Laraine Newman (Ellen Gardner), James Karen (Gen. Climet Wilson), Louise Fletcher (Mrs. McKeltch), Eric Pierpoint (Sgt. Maj. Rinaldi), Christopher Allport (Captain Curtis) and Bud Cort (Dr. Mark Weinstein).

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