Invaders from Mars is a 1953 American science fiction film independently produced by Edward L. Alperson Jr., directed by William Cameron Menzies, and developed from a scenario by Richard Blake that was based on a story treatment by John Tucker Battle, who was inspired by a dream recounted by his wife. The film stars Jimmy Hunt, Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke and was distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Awakened by a loud thunderstorm, young David MacClean witnesses a bright flying saucer disappear underground in the large sand pit behind his home. When his father goes to investigate, he returns a changed man; soon David's mother, a young neighbor girl, and others begin to act the same way. While begging the police for help, David's panicked story is overheard by Dr. Pat Blake; she takes him to astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston. After listening to the boy's detailed account, he is convinced: This is an invading vanguard, likely from Mars. Dr. Kelston alerts his contact at the Pentagon, who then marshals U.S. Army forces to investigate the alien threat.
Late one night, young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) is awakened by a loud thunderstorm. From his bedroom window, he sees a large flying saucer descend and disappear into the sandpit area behind his home. After rushing to tell his parents, his scientist father (Leif Erickson) goes to investigate David's claim. When his father returns much later in the morning, David notices an unusual red puncture along the hairline on the back of his father's neck; his father is now behaving in a cold and hostile manner. David soon begins to realize something is very wrong: one-by-one he notices certain townsfolk are acting in exactly the same way. Through his telescope, David sees child neighbor Kathy Wilson walking in the sandpit, when she suddenly disappears underground. David flees to the police station for help, and he is eventually placed under the protection of health-department physician Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), who slowly begins to believe his crazy story.
With the help of local astronomer Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz) and Dr. Blake, David soon realizes the flying saucer is likely the vanguard of an invasion from the planet Mars, now in close orbital proximity to Earth. Dr. Kelston contacts the U. S. Army and convinces them to immediately investigate: an important government rocket research plant is located nearby. In short order the Pentagon marshals its forces and sends troops and tanks under the command of Colonel Fielding (Morris Ankrum). An alien sabotage plot at the plant is soon uncovered, leading back to the sandpit, and the army surrounds the saucer landing site.
Standing well away from the army search, Dr. Blake and young David are suddenly sucked underground. They are captured by two tall, slit-eyed green humanoids and taken through underground tunnels to the flying saucer. Army troops locate and blow open an entrance to the tunnels, and Colonel Fielding and a small detachment make their way to the saucer entrance. Inside they confront the Martian Mastermind: it has a giant green head with a humanoid face atop a small, green partial torso with several green arm-tentacles, and is encased in a transparent sphere. The Martian Mastermind is served by the tall, green, silent mutants (oddly pronounced "mu-tants" in dialog). Under their master's mental commands, the mute humanoids have implanted mind-control crystals at the base of the skull of their kidnapped victims, forcing them to attempt sabotage at an atomic rocket project being built at a military plant near the town; if they are caught the mind control devices implode, causing a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. The troops and Colonel Fielding, with Dr.Blake and young David in tow, open fire on the pursuing mutants as their group escapes the saucer. After a short running battle in the tunnels they climb their ladder back to the surface. Orders are given for everyone to quickly leave the sandpit area: Fielding's troops have planted timed explosive charges aboard the saucer.
In an extended montage, David runs downhill (towards the camera), away from the sandpit. As he does so, flashbacks of the film's important events are superimposed over a close-up of his face, including several scenes played backwards for surreal effect. These are inter-cut with alternating shots of the army artillery opening fire on the sandpit or close-ups on the ticking timer slowly approaching zero. Over this climactic montage plays the wavering, ethereal choral score that has punctuated prior scenes, now indicating the saucer's drive is powering up to depart.
Following a large explosion, David is suddenly back in his bed. Thunder and lighting are heard again, as in the beginning of the film. His runs into his parents bedroom confused and frightened; they reassure him he was just having a bad dream, telling him to go back to sleep. Having returned to his bed, more wind and loud thunder is heard. David then climbs out of bed again, goes to his window, and witnesses the very same flying saucer of his dream slowly descending into the sandpit; the screen then holds on young David and dissolves to the film's "The End" title card, as the film's ethereal music plays.
Jimmy Hunt as David Maclean
Helena Carter as Dr. Pat Blake, MD
Arthur Franz as Dr. Stuart Kelston
Morris Ankrum as Col. Fielding
Leif Erickson as George MacLean
Hillary Brooke as Mary MacLean
Max Wagner as Sgt. Rinaldi
Milburn Stone as Capt. Roth
Janine Perreau as Kathy Wilson
Barbara Billingsley as Secretary (Uncredited)
Bert Freed as the Police Chief
Robert Shayne as Professor Wilson
Luce Potter as Martian Intelligence (Uncredited)
Clifford Dove as Martian Mutant (Uncredited)
Invaders from Mars is notable for telling its story from the point of view of an older child in an adult world heading into crisis.
The production makes use of a unique, outre music score composed by Raoul Kraushaar; it consists of an ethereal, rhythmically wavering tonal composition sung in unison by a choir. It is used as both a sound effect and as the scenic score associated with the Martians.
An Eastmancolor negative was used for principal photography, with vivid SuperCinecolor prints struck for the film's initial theatrical release to provide an oddly striking and vivid look to the film's images; standard Eastmancolor prints were used thereafter on later releases.
While some film sources have claimed that Invaders was designed for the early 3-D process (it was already in production before the breakthrough 3-D film, Bwana Devil, was released), it was not filmed in or released in 3-D.
Despite being a quickly shot, low-budget 1950s feature, Invaders uses occasional camera angles set lower or higher than usual to enhance the dramatic and visual impact of key scenes.
Some of Menzies' set designs (notably those in the police station, the observatory, and the interiors of the Martian flying saucer) consist of elongated structures with stark, unadorned walls, sometimes much taller than necessary, adding touches of dreamlike surrealism.
The Martian heat-ray effect showing the bubbling, melting walls of the underground tunnels was created by shooting a large tub of boiling oatmeal from above, colored red with food coloring and lit with red lights.
The cooled, bubbled-up effect on some areas of the blasted tunnel walls was created by first using inflated balloons pinned to the tunnel walls. But in film tests they looked like balloons stuck to the walls, so the effects crew tried smaller inflated latex condoms. Further testing showed these looked much more convincing, and the crew wound up inflating more than 3,000 and then adhering them to portions of the tunnel set's walls; in some completed shots the condoms can be seen moving slightly as the Martian mutants rush down the tunnels.
The sandpit sequences showing the sand closing access to the Martian tunnels below were created by simply reverse optical printing the gravity-fed, sand-trap collapsing effects used for opening the various holes. (The same type of physical effect was used in MGM's 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet to create the ground tracks left by the moving invisible Id monster).
A new ending and additional scenes were added in response to various objections raised by the film's British distributor. Portions of Invaders were re-edited, and the original U. S. "was-it-all-just-a-nightmare?" ending was dropped in favor of a more straightforward conclusion. New scenes were filmed several months after the U. S. release, including one showing the destruction of the Martian flying saucer in the sky when the Army's charges finally explode. The British release also included a re-shot and greatly expanded planetarium scene: Framed pictures can be seen hanging on the planetarium set's walls that were not there in the U. S. release; they appear to vanish and then reappear at times as the expanded and restructured scene plays out. While the adult actors had not changed significantly, child actor Jimmy Hunt has grown in height and looks older and has shorter hair in these new scenes. Hunt also wears a sweater vest in them (the vest materializes about 3 minutes into the scene, at which time Dr. Kelston's necktie also appears to be retied) while he and Dr. Kelston discuss various flying saucer accounts: the Lubbock Lights and the Mantell UFO Incident; Dr. Kelston also identifies the various saucer models as "Type 1", "Type 2", etc.
Critic Patrick Legare wrote of the film: "Originating during the science-fiction/Red-Scare boom of the '50s, Invaders From Mars is an entertaining little picture that holds up reasonably well."
In 1986 Invaders from Mars was remade using the same title; it was directed by Tobe Hooper and stars Karen Black, Hunter Carson and Timothy Bottoms. The original film's child star Jimmy Hunt plays the part of the police chief.