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).