Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (also known as Invasion of the Flying Saucers, Flying Saucers from Outer Space, and Invasion of the Flying Saucers) is a 1956 American science fiction film from Columbia Pictures, produced by Charles H. Schneer and Sam Katzman, directed by Fred F. Sears, and starring Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor.
The film's storyline was suggested by the bestselling, non-fiction book Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Maj. Donald Keyhoe.
The stop-motion animation special effects in the film were created by Ray Harryhausen.
Scientist Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his new bride Carol (Joan Taylor) are driving to work when a flying saucer appears overhead. Without proof of the encounter, other than a tape recording of the ship's sound, Dr. Marvin is hesitant to notify his superiors. He is in charge of Project Skyhook, an American space program that has already launched 10 research satellites into orbit. General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), Carol's father, informs Marvin that many of the satellites have since crashed. Marvin admits that he has lost contact with all of them and privately suspects alien involvement. The Marvins then witness the 11th falling from the sky.
When a saucer lands at Skyhook the next day, soldiers open fire, killing one exposed alien, while others and the saucer itself are being protected by a force field. The aliens then kill everyone at the facility but the Marvins; General Hanley is captured and taken away in the saucer. Now too late, Russell discovers and decodes a message on his tape recording from the aliens: they wanted to meet with Dr. Marvin and had landed in peace at Skyhook for that purpose. Now impatient to conduct that meeting because everything has gone sideways, Marvin contacts the aliens and steals away to meet them, followed closely by Carol and Major Huglin. They and a pursuing motorcycle cop are taken aboard a saucer, where they learn that the aliens have extracted knowledge directly from the General's brain; he is now under their control. They claim to be the last of their species and have destroyed all the launched satellites, fearing them as weapons. As proof of their power, the aliens then give Dr. Marvin the coordinates of a naval destroyer that opened fire on them, and which they have since destroyed; the Marvins are then released with the message that the aliens want to meet the world's leaders in 56 days in Washington, D.C., to negotiate an alien occupation.
Dr. Marvin's later observations uncover the fact that the aliens' protective suits are made of solidified electricity, and grant them advanced auditory perception. From other observations, Marvin develops a counter-weapon against their flying saucers, which he then later successfully tests against a single saucer. After doing so, as they escape, the aliens jettison Gen. Hanley and the motor cycle cop; both fall to their deaths. Groups of alien saucers then attack Washington, Paris, London, and Moscow but are destroyed by Dr. Marvin's sonic weapon. The defenders also discover that the aliens can be easily killed by simple small arms gunfire once they are outside the force fields of their saucers.
With the alien threat eliminated, Dr. Marvin and Carol quietly celebrate the victory by going back the beach and resuming their regular lives.
Hugh Marlowe as Dr. Russell A. Marvin
Joan Taylor as Carol Marvin
Donald Curtis as Major Huglin, the liaison officer
Morris Ankrum as Brig. Gen. John Hanley
John Zaremba as Prof. Kanter
Thomas Browne Henry as Vice-Admiral Enright
Grandon Rhodes as General Edmunds
Larry J. Blake as a motorcycle policeman
Charles Evans as Dr. Alberts
Paul Frees as Alien (voice)
Harry Lauter as Cutting - Generator Technician
Special effects expert Ray Harryhausen animated the film's flying saucers using stop-motion animation. Harryhausen also animated the falling masonry when saucers crash into various government buildings and monuments in order to make the action appear realistic. Some figure animation was used to show the aliens emerging from the saucers. A considerable amount of stock footage was also used, notably scenes during the invasion that showed batteries of U. S. 90 mm M3 guns and an early missile launch. Stock footage of the destruction of the warship HMS Barham during World War II was used for the U. S. Navy destroyer that is sunk by a flying saucer. Satellite launch depictions made use of stock film images from a Viking rocket launch and a failure of a German V-2 rocket.
The voice of the aliens was produced from a recording made by Paul Frees (uncredited) reading their lines and then hand-jiggling the speed control of an analog reel-to-reel tape recorder, so that it continually wavered from a slow bass voice to one that is high and fast.
During a question-and-answer period at a tribute to Ray Harryhausen and a screening of Jason and the Argonauts held in Sydney, Australia, Harryhausen said he sought advice from noted 1950s UFO "contactee" George Adamski on the depiction of the flying saucers used in the film. He also noted that Adamski appeared to have grown increasingly paranoid by that time. The film's iconic flying saucer design (a static central cabin with an outer rotating ring with slotted vanes) matches descriptions given to Maj. Donald Keyhoe of flying disc sightings in his best-selling flying saucer book.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was well received by audiences and critics alike, with Variety noting that the special effects were the real stars of the film. "This exploitation programmer does a satisfactory job of entertaining in the science-fiction class. The technical effects created by Ray Harryhausen come off excellently in the Charles H. Schneer production, adding the required out-of-this-world visual touch to the screenplay, taken from a screen story by Curt Siodmak, suggested by Major Donald E. Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers from Outer Space."
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers has reached an iconic status in that many films in the "flying saucer" subgenre that followed, imitated and incorporated many of the elements established by Ray Harryhausen. In an article for The New York Times film reviewer Hal Erickson noted that, "Anyone who's seen the 1996 science-fiction lampoon Mars Attacks may have trouble watching Earth vs. the Flying Saucers with a straight face." The later campy film could be seen as an homage to the era and especially, to the contributions made by Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.