Monday, 2 January 2012

Not of This Earth (1957)

Roger Corman really hit his stride as a film-maker with the first of his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, The Fall of the House of Usher, in 1960. His movies prior to that are a mixed bag. His early science fiction efforts were notable for the ingenious ways in which he contrived to make science fiction movies with virtually no money, but some of them do suffer from being just a little bit too low-budget. Not of This Earth being a good example.

Paul Johnson (played by Paul Birch) is a rather odd fellow who turns up at a clinic asking for a a blood transfusion, but refusing to take the obligatory blood test first. Luckily he has mond-control powers so he’s able to persuade the doctor to do the blood test but not to reveal the results to anyone. In fact Paul Johnson has a refrigerator full of blood. He’s an alien and he’s studying the inhabitants of Earth, starting with their blood.

Johnson’s blood is like nothing the doctor’s ever seen before. He can’t figure out how this guy is still alive. Johnson’s strange blood disease explains his mission to Earth. All his people are afflicted and they’re looking for a cure. But they’re looking for more than that, as will later become apparent.

Johnson is assigned a full-time nurse, Nadine Storey (played by Beverly Garland). He has another employee, a rather disreputable character, a petty criminal. As it happens Nadine is dating a policeman, a circumstance which will cause Johnson some inconvenience. Both he and Nadine suspect that strange things are going on at the Johnson house. Johnson invites three bums to dinner, but the bums are never seen again. Johnson is collecting more than blood samples.

Not of This Earth follows a rather typical pattern for 1950s alien invasion movies - the aliens are as much victim as villains. Their planet, Davana, has been devastated by nuclear war (another all too familiar trope in 50s sci-fi). Johnson’s mission is their last chance for survival, but will the survival of the people of Davana come at the expense of the people of Earth?

Making a science fiction movie when you don’t have the budget to cover such desirable things as special effects, spaceships and fancy alien makeup is quite a challenge, and Corman does a pretty fair job of it. How do you make aliens seem alien without expensive makeup effects? You give them strange eyes, mind-control powers and telepathy, all of which have the advantage of costing nothing.

You also give the aliens a teleportation device, much cheaper than having to provide spaceship models!

None of that would suffice without the right acting performances, and that’s where Paul Birch comes in. He’s disconnected enough to seem truly alien and he’s sinister whilst also being rather tragic. Anna Lee Carroll is equally effective as a Davana woman trying to flee her doomed home planet.

Beverly Garland gives a solid performance as well although the human characters are oddly enough on the whole much less interesting and less sympathetic than the aliens.

The rash of sympathetic alien movies is one of the mysteries of the 1950s, presumably a reaction to the nuclear war hysteria of the time. Not of This Earth is a reasonably good example of the breed, and a good example of Corman’s ability to make surprisingly intelligent movies for a drive-in audience. It looks very cheap, which it was, but it’s worth a look.

The Region 2 DVD from In2Film is at best a barely acceptable transfer. At least it’s incredibly cheap!

1 comment:

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I agree with your sentiments about the Corman/Poe pictures representing the moment at which he matured as a filmmaker. But of his 1950's efforts I think NOT OF THIS EARTH is the one that stands up to scrutiny the best.