Universal-International’s first 3D feature is also the first science fiction film directed by Jack Arnold, who would go on to make TARANTULA, THE SPACE CHILDREN, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and others.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, released in 1953, is one of Richard Carlson’s best performances in a genre film, possibly because he’s playing a character more interesting than the typical stoic scientist. Much of the film was lensed on appropriately creepy desert locations, and the marvelously art-directed soundstage “exteriors” match the mood perfectly.
A spaceship crash-lands near a small Arizona desert town. Amateur astronomer John Putnam (Carlson), considered something of a flake by the unsophisticated locals, and his teacher girlfriend Ellen (a brunette Barbara Rush, who looks stunning) believe the flaming ball to be a meteor and check out the crater. John finds an unusual craft at the bottom of it, but it’s quickly covered by an avalanche, and nobody—especially the sheriff (Charles Drake), who’s also carrying a torch for Ellen—believes his story. He also learns that the creatures are capturing some of the locals and replacing them with duplicates. But for what purpose? It’s a rather intriguing one unusual to 1950s space creatures, which were usually on Earth for sinister reasons.
Ray Bradbury (FAHRENHEIT 451) wrote the screenplay, and it was polished by Harry Essex (THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER). It’s a terrific script with obvious Cold War allusions (and some equally obvious plot holes, I’m afraid), and masterfully directed by Arnold, who spices the story with visual flair. Sets and special effects are very good too (I’m particularly fond of the laser blasts that annihilate the cave wall behind Carlson). An important picture not just for Arnold, who directed so many more important SF movies, but also Carlson, who kind of became synonymous with this type of movie. Henry Mancini, Irving Gertz, and Herman Stein composed the original score.