Because I have been tooling around the state of Washington giving a talk on the subject of the alien-invasion movies of the 1950s, the Shout Factory DVD release of a Roger Corman triple comes as a welcome refresher on this title. Attack of the Crab Monsters and War of the Satellites will have to wait their turn, because it’s been a while since Not of This Earth (1957) was available on a decent home-vid format.
When Roger Corman won his honorary Oscar, the gesture was received with a great deal of affection and much fond talk about Corman’s savvy business techniques and his tutelage of future Hollywood stars and filmmakers. Along with all that stuff, his own directing skills are authentic, and should be acknowledged when talking about the good ol’ days of shooting two movies in a week. Corman treats the zany storyline of Not of This Earth (screenplay by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna) with his calm, “why couldn’t this actually be happening?” hand, complete with nondescript yet nicely chosen locations and an alien menace who looks like an insurance salesman, albeit with funny accent and sunglasses.
In fact, the plainness of the presentation is why it succeeds. Opening scene: two lovebirds necking in a convertible parked at an everyday sidewalk (it costs too much to get the whole crew up to shoot in a scenic lovers’ lane); the chick gets out by hopping backwards over the passenger door – the way a cool kid would – and turns to enter one of those California low-bungalow apartment clusters. When the boyfriend’s jalopy is gone she pauses to look down the sidewalk, and Corman cuts to a long, empty, nothing sidewalk, and by god if it doesn’t raise the gooseflesh a little – because it looks like your sidewalk in your hometown, and the light is fading, and it doesn’t have a movie-luster. She goes inside the gate, saddle shoes skipping, and (following an obligatory cheap scare involving an owl) there he is: a man in a fedora and sunglasses, solid as a truck. He takes the glasses off, gives her the hoodoo look, and she drops. Something here is not of this earth. Great dreamy Rorschach-y credits follow.
Paul Birch plays the visitor; supposedly he left the production after an argument with Corman, and a body double filled in his role. The visitor, who calls himself Paul Johnson, comes from the usual dying planet and requires blood transfusions, which he mind-warps a doctor into providing; Beverly Garland plays the nurse hired for live-in duty, Jonathan Haze (future Little Shop of Horrors star) plays Johnson’s chauffeur, a vaguely beatnik/j.d. type. Corman may have the soul of a mogul, but he clearly had an appreciation for 1950s sick humor, and so the appearance of a desperate vacuum-cleaner salesman (Dick Miller) at Johnson’s front door becomes a five-minute vaudeville routine with a murderous punch-line.
Johnson communicates with his otherworldly commander by sitting in the armchair in his living room and speaking with a contraption inside a hidden bureau. Who needs a secret lair? This is much more sensible. Get a Coke from the fridge, sit in your favorite chair, and receive orders from your intergalactic masters. This is what works in the movie – the mundane made weird, an appealing trait of low-budget moviemaking.
On the B-movie resonance scale, Not of This Earth falls shy of A Bucket of Blood and Masque of the Red Death, but well above a score of other Corman projects. If the alien-invasion scenario is in vogue, and you can’t afford special effects of flying saucers, this is exactly the way to get in the game. There is a monster-movie monster, a flying thingie that lands on people and makes their heads bleed. But most importantly, there is a final scene in a cemetery, with a fantastic final shot that seems to predict Night of the Living Dead‘s opening sequence. A great opening, a great finish – the movie is half-earned already.
Opening sequence and more, here.