Million Dollar Movies

Films of Interest I Have Recently Seen

"The War of the Worlds" - Paramount, 1953.

One of the "Year I was Born" films, War of the Worlds still holds-up relatively well, unlike many of the previously-considered "classics" of the 1950s (Forbidden Planet springs to mind).  The first "hardware" science-fiction film (which won Gordon Jennings an Oscar for his special effects, a fact unmentioned in the DVD commentaries) despite obvious wire-work (Ann Robinson once commented on a screening of the film she attended, and said the print was so bad you could see the wires.  Actually the reverse is true: the better the print, the easier it is to see the wires).

That aside the highlites also include gorgeous Technicolor photography and the usual melodramatic and heavy atmosphere common in those days.  "Invasion" films usually were subtexts of Cold War concerns about possible Soviet or other Communist trappings.  Leith Stevens music score is terrific, and the actors all do excellent jobs.

Speaking of actors, it is interesting how the film was a reunion of sorts for some of the actors in the magnificent RKO production of The Thing From Another World: Robert Cornthwaite, brilliant as Dr. Carrington in Thing plays the much-smaller part of Dr. Pryor; Voice-Over and Cartoon Voice legend Paul Frees who earlier had played Dr. Vorhees now plays the pre-title voice and "Second Radio Announcer" in his best Orson Welles impression (Welles had of course panicked the nation in his 1938 dramatization of the novel in 1938), and James Young -- who had played Lt. Eddie Dykes in Thing, here played an uncasted and uncredited role of General Martin's aide without dialouge!

One of the interesting elements about the film is the heavy dose of religious trappings.  A church provides the santuary for Forrestor and Sylvia, and the final shot shows a church standing prominatly in the foreground with the rest of the city in ashes.  Religious piety also shows up in Forbidden Planet ("We're all monsters in our subconcious, that's why we have laws and religions" and "It is after all to prove we are not God").  During the final assualt on the last church, a white family: father and mother and two children, one a boy the other a girl, are shown preparing for the end quite calmly.  With the exection of several Hispanics, no other ethnic group is represented.

Another intriguing tidbit is Cedric Hardwicke's opening narration of the novel set against Chesley Bonestell's marvelous astronimical art: all of the planets are considered but one: Venus, as apparently so little was known about it due to its dense cloud cover the screenwriter dared not to even speculate about it!

Certain to make any "Best of" lists when considering the seminal cinema efforts of 1950s science-fiction, War of the Worlds is still grand entertainment.



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