Target That Explosion And Fire!

It! The Terror from Beyond Space, written by Jerome Bixby, directed by Edward L. Cahn, starring Marshall Thompson (Carruthers), Shirley Patterson (Ann Anderson), Kim Spalding (Van Heusen) and Ray “Crash” Corrigan (It) (1958): I salute the B-movie makers of the 1940’s and 1950’s for being able to make enjoyable movies that clock in at under 90 minutes. Actually, this one clocks in at less than 70 minutes. And that’s with a mostly unnecessary frame-narrative involving expositional press conferences back on Earth.

About 90% of this movie takes place on a rocket ship headed from Mars to Earth. It’s just picked up the last survivor of the first Mars manned mission (in 1973, no less!), Colonel Carruthers. He maintains that a mysterious monster killed the other members of his crew. Nobody believes him. Guess who’s right? Veteran science-fiction writer Jerome Bixby writes a solid script with some wackiness, while the direction is tense and suggestive rather than literal most of the time. The filmmakers do what they can with a very limited budget, and the suspense remains pretty tight for the entire movie.

Many moments anticipate Alien and Aliens and any number of other monster movies in which a seemingly indestructible creature stalks humans in an enclosed space. Almost every movie ever made along these lines seems to owe a debt to Canadian Golden-Age science fiction writer A.E. Van Vogt’s seminal 1940’s novellas “Black Destroyer” and “Discord in Scarlet” — indeed, the makers of Alien paid Van Vogt an out-of-court settlement because of the similarities between their movie and his novellas.

The monster looks about as good as any humanoid monster of the 1950’s ever looked — rubbery and a bit goofy, but fine as long as it remains in the shadows. The spaceship crew is hilariously trigger-happy, firing off wildly inside the spaceship (which ain’t that big), setting off grenades, setting off gas bombs, and in general doing things that should pretty much result in their immediate deaths, monster or no monster. One astronaut even fires off rounds from a bazooka during the final battle. Did I mention that the ship consists of four levels, each of them maybe 30 feet in diameter?

Hilarity will also probably ensue when you realize that the all-female medical staff of the ship is also in charge of serving food and beverages. This is what I went to medical school for?

The title is, of course, misleading — it should really be It! The Terror from Mars. Marshall Thompson, who plays Carruthers, bears an uncanny resemblance to Tim Robbins, who was in the much worse Mission to Mars movie decades later. Recommended.

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