It Came from Outer Space is a 1953 American black-and-white science fiction film, the first in the 3-D process from Universal-International. It was produced by William Alland, directed by Jack Arnold, and stars Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, and Charles Drake. The film's script is based on Ray Bradbury's original short story The Meteor.
It Came from Outer Space tells the story of an astronomer and his fiancee who are stargazing in the desert when a large fiery object crashes to Earth. At the crash site, he discovers an alien spacecraft just before it is completely buried by a landslide. When he tells this story to the local sheriff and newspaper, he is branded a crackpot. Before long, strange things begin to happen, and the tide of disbelief turns hostile.
Author and amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and schoolteacher Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) watch a large meteorite crash near the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona. At the crash site, Putnam notices a strange, partially buried object lodged in the large crater; he comes to the realization that it wasn't a meteorite that crashed but a large alien spaceship. After a landslide completely covers the mysterious spacecraft, his story is later scoffed at by the townspeople of Sand Rock, including its sheriff (Charles Drake), and the local media.
Even Ellen Fields is unsure about what to believe but still agrees to assist Putnam in his investigation. Over the next several days, local people disappear; a few return, but they act distant or appear somewhat dazed. Convinced by these and other odd events, Sheriff Warren comes to believe Putnam's story that the meteorite is actually a crashed spaceship with alien inhabitants; he then organizes a posse to hunt down the invaders at their crash site. Putnam, however, hopes to reach a peaceful solution to the looming crisis. Alone, he enters a nearby abandoned mine, which he hopes will eventually connect to the now buried spaceship and its alien occupants.
Putnam finally discovers the spaceship and learns from its crew that they crashed on Earth by accident; the aliens appear benign and only plan to stay on Earth just long enough to repair their damaged craft and then continue on their voyage. The aliens' real appearance, when finally revealed to Putnam, is entirely non-human: they are large, single-eyed, jelly fish-like beings that seem to glide across the ground, leaving a glistening trail that soon vanishes. They are also able to shape shift into human form using a mental telepathy screen in order to appear human and move around, unobserved, in order to collect their much needed repair materials. To do this, they copy the human forms of the local townspeople they've secretly kidnapped to help them repair their crippled spacecraft. In doing so, however, they fail to reproduce the townspeople's exact personalities, leading to suspicion and eventually to the deaths of two of the aliens.
To protect the aliens from the sheriff and his advancing posse, Putnam manages to seal off the mine in order to protect the aliens and to give them the time they still need to finish their repairs; they finally do so and leave Earth but not before releasing, unharmed, all of the missing townspeople that "assisted" them.
Richard Carlson John Putnam
Barbara Rush Ellen Fields
Charles Drake Sheriff Matt Warren
Joe Sawyer Frank Daylon
Russell Johnson George
Dave Willock Pete Davis
Robert Carson Dugan, reporter
Virginia Mullen Mrs. Daylon
Kathleen Hughes Jane, George's girl
Paul Fix Councilman (uncredited)
Robert "Buzz" Henry Posseman (uncredited)
The screenplay by Harry Essex, with input by Jack Arnold, was derived from an original screen treatment by Ray Bradbury; screen legend says Bradbury wrote the original screenplay and Harry Essex merely changed the dialogue and took the credit. Unusual among science fiction films of the era, the alien "invaders" were portrayed by Bradbury as creatures without malicious intent toward humanity. The film can be interpreted as a metaphorical refutation of the supposedly xenophobic attitudes and ideology of the Cold War. Bradbury said "I wanted to treat the invaders as beings who were not dangerous, and that was very unusual." He offered two story outlines to the studio, one with malicious aliens, the other with benign aliens. "The studio picked the right concept, and I stayed on." In 2004 Bradbury published in one volume all four versions of his screen treatment for It Came From Outer Space.
Filming took place on location in and around the California towns of Palmdale and Victorville, and the Mojave Desert.
The uncredited music score for the film was composed by Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, and Herman Stein.
Universal's make-up department submitted two alien designs for consideration by studio executives; the rejected design was saved and then later used as the "Metaluna Mutant" in Universal's 1955 science fiction film This Island Earth.
The special effects created for the in-flight alien spacecraft consisted of a wire-mounted iron ball, with hollowed out 'windows,' with burning magnesium inside.
The Arizona setting and the alien abduction of telephone lineman and two other characters are fictionalized story elements taken from Bradbury's younger life, when his father moved the family to Tucson.
Urban legend has it that an extra in an Army corporal's uniform seen at the "meteor" crash site is comedy writer-performer Morey Amsterdam. While the briefly glimpsed extra does indeed resemble Amsterdam, no hard evidence (e.g., cast call bureau records, interviews with Amsterdam) has ever confirmed this is actually him. The most recent DVD re-release of It Came from Outer Space comes with a documentary, "The Universe According to Universal." It was written and directed by David J. Skal and has audio commentary by Tom Weaver, in which Weaver notes the extra's similarity to Morey Amsterdam.
It Came from Outer Space was released in June 1953 and by the end of that year had accrued US$1.6 million in distributors' US and Canadian rentals, making it the year's 75th biggest earner.[Note 1]
Barbara Rush won the Golden Globe award in 1954 as most promising female newcomer for her role in the film.
The film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.
The New York Times review by Armond White, noted “the adventure…is merely mildly diverting, not stupendous. The space ship and its improbable crew, which keep the citizens of Sand Rock, Ariz., befuddled and terrified, should have the same effect on customers who are passionately devoted to king-sized flying saucers and gremlins." "Brog" in Variety opined that "Direction by Jack Arnold whips up an air of suspense in putting the Harry Essex screenplay on film, and there is considerable atmosphere of reality created, which stands up well enough if the logic of it all is not examined too closely…story proves to be good science-fiction for the legion of film fans who like scare entertainment, well done."
Since its original release, the critical response to the film has become mostly positive. Bill Warren has written that “Arnold’s vigorous direction and Bradbury’s intriguing ideas meld to produce a genuine classic in its limited field.” Jonathan Rosenbaum described the film as “[A] scary black-and-white SF effort from 1953.” Phil Hardy’s The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction observed “Dark desert roads and sudden moments of fear underline Arnold’s ability as a director of Science Fiction films, and Essex’s/Bradbury’s lines match his images superbly.” Of the reviews included on Rotten Tomatoes regarding It Came from Outer Space, 81% of critics liked the film. In one of the negative reviews, FilmCritic.com opines that the film “moves terribly slowly (despite an 80 minute running time) because the plot is overly simplistic with absolutely no surprises."
It Came from Outer Space is one of the classic films mentioned in the opening theme ("Science Fiction/Double Feature") of the musical The Rocky Horror Show and its film adaptation.
The film is mentioned in a Codec call in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Excerpts of this film are featured in the movie The Nomi Song.
The narration in the Siouxsie and the Banshees song "92 Degrees" from the 1986 album Tinderbox contains dialog from the film.