Saturday, March 06, 2010

Not of this Earth (1957) – review

posterDirector: Roger Corman

First released: 1957

Contains spoilers

This is the original Not of this Earth and it would be remade in 1988 and then again in 1995. This version is, without a doubt, the best of the three and I’ll get to why later.

The film begins with the alien Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) communicating with his home planet of Davana. The speech used by himself, and that of his contact, is unusual in tenor and sentence construction. As we go on to hear Johnson speak through the film there is almost an Eastern European feel. Not accidental, one guesses, there is a definite attempt to capture the paranoia of the cold war.

Following the scene we get a legend explaining that we “are about to adventure into the dimension of the impossible!” Simply how much more 50s can we get? It is classic stuff and this explains part of the marked difference between this and the later versions. To one degree or another the later versions are cheesy, but this isn’t, it is authentic 50s sci-fi and brilliant for that.

siphoning bloodA couple of teens are in a car, their speech is awfully beat in style. She goes in through her gate and is walking up the garden path when Johnson appears before her. He removes his glasses and she screams. He gets out equipment through which he siphons her blood. We see he has horrifyingly white eyes.

Beverly Garland as NadineJohnson parks in a no parking zone as he attends a doctor's clinic. The nurse Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland) sees he has an appointment, but when she suggests he needs a blood test he refuses saying he has attended for a transfusion only. The doctor, Rochelle (William Roerick), takes him through and tries to persuade him that he must have a test first. Johnson takes over his mind.

Nadine and JeremyHe then, whilst having his transfusion, asks Nadine to work for him. She is doubtful at first but Rochelle persuades her to accept. Outside a cop, Harry (Morgan Jones), spots the parking violations but Nadine convinces him to drop them. When she reaches Johnson’s house, later, she discovers that the only other occupant of the house is the somewhat sleazy Jeremy (Jonathon Haze). Later Harry recognises him as a petty crook he has run in a few times.

the link to DavanaThe world Johnson comes from seems very different to those later described in the remakes. This is a world that has suffered devastating nuclear wars (which is what has caused their blood disease), a world in which they farm other races for their blood. One criticism of the film is that, when he sends a ‘live sample’ to Davana, it is a man of Chinese origin (Harold Fong). It is suggested that there is a level of racism within the film as the Davanans call him a subhuman. Not so. If you actually listen to the dialogue the Davanans call all humans subhuman. They see themselves as superior to earthmen.

recieving instructionsJohnson has 6 instructions, the first 5 of which are those that the success of his mission relies on. 1. observe the planet and its inhabitants, 2. send more blood to Davana, 3. send a live specimen to Davana, 4. survive, if he does not die then the earth blood is suitable, 5. subject the earth to conquest, subjugation and put the inhabitants to pasture and, finally, if he should be on the brink of dying (i.e. 4 has failed) he must destroy the earth.

the female of the speciesHe meets a female of his species, who has escaped the social disruption and thirst for blood on Davana and, as would be copied in the future versions, he tries to give her a transfusion. The blood he uses is, unknown to him, contaminated with rabies and she dies. Her death is less dramatic than it will be in future versions of the film. In respect to the vampiric aspect, the cops worry that the press will put the various murders by exsanguination together and come up with “vampire headlines”.

alien eyesAll in all though, this is a much stronger version of the film. The dialogue Beverly Garland was given was stronger. Birch makes a fine Johnson and there is an earnestness with the whole film. The soundtrack lends the film a paranoid edge, the sensitivity Johnson has to loud noises is used more appropriately in the ending and the whole thing is played with an earnestness that belays the cheese that would garnish the future versions and make this a great piece of 50s sci-fi. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

This looks so cool.

I love that cover art!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Yeah, the poster art is fabulous isn't it...