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From the DVD case: H.G. Wells’ chilling novel of a Martian invasion of Earth becomes even more frightening in this 1953 film adaptation that’s widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. An Oscar winner for Best Special Effects, The War of the Worlds delivers eye-popping thrills, laser-hot action and unrelenting, edge-of-your-seat suspense. No one who has seen the film’s depiction of the swan-shaped Martian machines – ticking and hissing menacingly as they cut their path of destruction – will ever forget their ominous impact. (1953, color)

Mark says: It would be hard to estimate how many times I’ve watched The War of the Worlds. This George Pal production was not only a favorite when I was a kid, but it still holds its charm these 50 plus years later.

Gene Barry plays the male lead, Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist on the scene when the first spacecraft lands. Ann Robinson plays pretty Sylvia Van Buren, the love interest. I’m still amazed that Miss Robinson was only seventeen years old when this movie was made.

I admit that The War of the Worlds can get a little corny at times, and it certainly won’t inspire the panic Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast created, but it still holds its own when it comes to plot and production values. Of course, when you base a movie on a novel by H.G. Wells and then have George Pal (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide) produce it, you really can’t go wrong.

The War of the Worlds is a visually fascinating film. I love the vivid colors, the shape of the Martian war machines, Los Angeles in flames, and the distinct feel of a 1950s America. Some of my favorite scenes:

1. A Martian war machine slides into a rural farmhouse upon landing.

2. Dr. Forrester and Sylvia are trapped in the farmhouse, and a Martian surprises Sylvia by placing its creepy, tentacled hand on her shoulder.

3. LA is under attack and we see a church silhouetted by a burning sky.

I also like the unapologetic religious connotations this film offers. Especially the final narration, which I quote in part below (“line to listen for”).

Still, there are a few laughable moments. For instance, when we see the firefighters battling the fire started by the first spaceship, they are using what amounts to squirt guns and jackets to fight the flames.

Also, the Martians themselves (though possessing creepy arms and hands) look rather ridiculous when we see them in their full glory. You would think a movie with such great special effects could have thrown a few bucks into making more convincing creatures. Of course, the main focus is on the Martian machines, and the few scenes where the Martians are viewed fully can be forgiven.

All in all, I highly recommend this movie, especially to those of you who have only seen the more recent Spielberg production.

The War of the Worlds also stars Les Tremayne (The Monolith Monsters, The Angry Red Planet) as Maj. Gen. Mann.

Directed by Byron Haskin (Conquest of Space, Robinson Crusoe on Mars).

Scene to watch for: Three yokels form a welcoming committee only to find the Martians less than gracious guests.

Line to listen for: “The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall. After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

Bonus: Movie screens to The War of the Worlds, 1953.

Extra Bonus: War of the Worlds Online (a fan site).

Trivia: The H.G. Wells’ estate was so impressed with The War of the Worlds that George Pal was offered his choice of any other Wells’ property. The result was 1960′s The Time Machine.

Personal Note: I watched the Steven Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds when it was first released. Though the film was not as horrible as I expected (the Martian machines redeemed the movie for me) I still prefer the 1953 version. Attribute it to nostalgia, but the George Pal production still holds more awe in my view. However, I was happy to find that Spielberg gave Gene Barry and Ann Robinson cameos in his production.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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2 Comments

  1. Re: George Pal. My father (an architect) worked briefly in the 40s for Warner Bros in Burbank. He had been introduced at some party to George Pal (from Eastern Europe who created animated “Puppetoons”) and he brought him to the bosses at W.B. They hired him almost immediately,after which Pal got a swelled head and never spoke to my dad again!
    Hollywood is like that. A very talented man, though.

    will

    • Wow, that would have been amazing if George would have kept in contact. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at one of his films that same way again. I find these little tidbits fascinating, Will. Feel free to share anything that comes to mind. ~mark


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