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Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers  (1956), starring Hugh Marlow, Joan Taylor, special effects by Ray Harryhausen

Synopsis of  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Dr. Russell Marvin heads up Operation Skyhook, which is tasked with sending rockets into the upper atmosphere to probe for future space flights. Unfortunately, all the rockets are somehow disappearing. While investigating this strange occurrence, Russell and his new assistant/wife Carol Marvin are abducted by a flying saucer, where the aliens demand to meet with certain people in order to negotiate. But it was a trick; the aliens only wanted to kill them. The invasion has begun and if Russell and Carol can’t find a way to get past their defenses and stop these creatures, it may be the end of the human race.

Review of  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

A flying saucer lands in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

I’m a large fan of the work of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, and I’ve been wanting to see  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers for a long time to admire his handiwork.   I was pleasantly surprised to find a movie that was actually very enjoyable on its’ own merits.   The basic story has aliens from another world interfering with our early efforts at space exploration, contacting humanity with a false story, planning to enslave us all.   It’s a story that has been told hundreds of times, on radio, TV and movies–so what makes this movie different, or special?

Scientists working in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Several things–first of all, the characters act like responsible adults.   They don’t run off half-ready, they react appropriately to the events in the movie, they behave responsibly, they feel fear but fight on anyway.   There’s a lot of destruction in the movie, especially in the final 30 minutes, but it isn’t gratuitous violence just to raise the audience’s adrenaline, as it would be if they remade the movie today.   Also, the special effects by Ray Harryhausen are very well done–unlike most 1950’s science fiction movies, they hold up fairly well even by today’s standards.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a surprisingly good movie, and I recommend it.   I rate it 4 stars out of 5.

Editorial review of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, courtesy of  Amazon.com

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers poster

A textbook example of ’50s-era science fiction, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers boasts not only a solid script and competent performances, but some genuinely impressive stop-motion effects courtesy of one of the industry’s uncontested masters, Ray Harryhausen. Scientist Hugh Marlowe (who faced a more benevolent invader from space five years earlier in The Day the Earth Stood Still) discovers that UFOs are responsible for the destruction of a series of exploratory space rockets launched by his space exploration project. The saucers’ helmeted pilots land on Earth and deliver an ultimatum to humanity via Marlowe: fealty or complete annihilation.

Harryhausen’s painstakingly intricate saucers and the destruction they wreak (particularly during an assault on Washington, D.C.) are the film’s unquestionable highlights, but Marlowe and Joan Taylor (as his wife/partner) are capable leads, and veteran B director Fred F. Sears doesn’t let the dialogue and expositional scenes fall apart in between the barrage of effects. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is a fun and effective slice of sci-fi that should please younger audiences as well as nostalgic return viewers. Sears later reused some of the effects footage for his jaw-droppingly awful 1957 effort,  The Giant Claw. –Paul Gaita

Movie quotes from  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Flying saucer attack in Washington D.C.

Russell Marvin: [into tape recorder] July 16, to Internal Security Commission, re: Sky Hook. Summary and progress report, from project director, Dr. Russell A. Marvin.  
Carol Marvin: And Mrs. Dr. Russell A. Marvin, without whose inspiration and untiring criticism this report could never have been written.  
Russell Marvin: Married two hours and already she’s claiming community property!  
[directs his attentions to her neck]  
Carol Marvin: Now that you’re married, Dr. Marlowe, you don’t have to sneak up on me.  
Russell Marvin: You always did have eyes in the back of your head.  
Carol Marvin: Besides, it’s not safe when we’re driving.  
Russell Marvin: But pretty …
Carol Marvin: I thought intellectual giants were supposed to be backward and shy.  
Russell Marvin: My third-grade teacher, Miss Hickey, said I was a quick study.  
Carol Marvin: You’re starting something you’re not going to be able to finish.  
Russell Marvin: [sighs] Yeah. Yeah, today I’ve got a hot date with a three-stage rocket.  


Gen. Edmunds: When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don’t meet him with tea and cookies!  


Dr. Russell Marvin: Both Carol and I are subject to the same atmospheric disturbances that may have affected other observers, but there is a qualitative difference, when you’re a scientist.  


Alien: People of Earth, attention … People of Earth attention. This is a voice speaking to you from thousands of miles beyond your planet …This is a voice speaking to you from thousands of miles beyond your planet. Look to your sun for a warning …Look to your sun for a warning.  


Brig. Gen. John Hanley: As you were, Sergeant.  
Sgt. Nash: Unidentified Flying Object reported flying due West, sir. Probably a buzzard.  


Carol Marvin: My father! What have you done to him?  
Alien: You’re addressing General Hanley’s mind, not General Hanley.  


Alien: We operate in a very different time reference. You might say all this is happening between the ticks of your watch or the beats of your heart.  


Maj. Huglin, Liaison Officer: [to Alien] What makes you think you can conquer us without a fight?  


Dr. Russell Marvin: [talking into tape recorder] To the best of my knowledge my wife and I are the only ones left alive since we have not seen or heard from anyone for hours.


Trivia for  Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

  • One of the buildings struck by crashing flying saucers is Union Station, Washington’s main train station. This may have been inspired by a 1953 accident when a runaway passenger train smashed into the station concourse.
  • This science fiction movie was ““suggested” by the 1953 non-fiction book ““Flying Saucers From Outer Space” by retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, who believed that certain aerial phenomena were interplanetary in origin.
  • Ray Harryhausen stated in his biography that this is his least favorite of his films.
  • One of the scenes of a saucer attacking jets is actually based on footage of an air show crash.
  • Columbia’s publicity department created publicity stills using the cut-and-paste technique. The resulting stills of the flying saucers were vastly inferior to the special effects in the film itself. In fact, one of the more infamous stills shows Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor standing on top of the water in the middle of the Potomac River.
  • This film originally played as the top half of a double bill with The Werewolf (1956), also directed by Fred F. Sears.
  • The supposed satellite launches are actually stock footage of Viking rockets, high-altitude probes that were the predecessors of the Vanguard, intended to be the first satellite launcher. The later shots of rockets crashing at takeoff are really German V-2s since none of the first 12 Vikings ever failed. Ironically, the 13th Viking, now called Vanguard, blew up on the launch pad, just like in the movie.