IT CONQUERED THE WORLD/1956/ROGER CORMAN/BEVERLY GARLAND
1956/Director: Roger Corman/Writer: Lou Rusoff
Cast: Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef, Sally Fraser, Dick Miller, Taggart Casey
Today’s post features a film that is surely among the classic of great American cheese. It Conquered the World may be one of the best example’s Roger Corman’s amazing ability to squeeze everything possible from a low budget and tight production schedule. Like many low budget horror/sci-fi films from the period there is a lot of dialog to carry the film. Now you either love all this dialog or you hate it. Many people find it all unbearably boring while other, like you humble reviewer here, find the corny dialog, crazy scientific explanations and pompous messages more enjoyable than the action scenes. Just look at this sample from the film’s ending where hero Paul Nelson (played by the late Peter Graves) muses over the actions of his misguided friend Tom Anderson (Lee Van Cleef):
He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature… and because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can’t be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. And when men seek such perfection… they find only death… fire… loss… disillusionment… the end of everything that’s gone forward. Men have always sought an end to the toil and misery, but it can’t be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from Man himself.
I think he could have added “Goodnight sweet Prince” at the end there and it would have become as immortal as anything the Immortal Bard himself would have written.
Paul Wilson and Tom Anderson were one on the same space program whose mission it was to send one doomed space probe after another to the planet Venus. Anderson lost most of his credibility after he informed the program members he has been in contact with aliens on Venus. In many films from this period Venus was the subject of space missions and the visions of life there were varied. Some involved aliens played by Zsa Zsa Gabor even (Queen of Outer Space) and more often than not there were colonies of man hungry curvy,giggly girls just looking for a space ship full of beef cake from Earth. As we already know we are treated to any sort of aliens of the nubile nature in this film. In fact the aliens on Venus are not prone to warming up to intrusions from other planets and they have been in radio communication with Anderson in order for him to tell his fellow earthlings to cool it. Paul has stayed friends with Paul despite his rantings and he and his wife Joan (Sally Fraser) still go by to see Tom and his wife Claire (played by the always wonderful Beverly Garland in one of her most memorable performances) for dinner and small talk. A lot of the small talk between Paul and Tom takes place around Tom’s ‘high-tech’ radio equipment where he has been in communication with the Venusians for some time. Claire is at her wits end with Tom and his chat sessions with what sounds like nothing but static. Paul is a little more than a bit skeptical himself. Lee Van Cleef plays the obsessed Anderson perfectly. He tries to smooth things out with Claire by promising her soon all things will become clear and she will be rewarded in some way or another.
The command center calls Paul to inform him that a missing Venus probe has returned to Earth and crashed, conveniently, not too far from the base and Paul and Tom’s house. Imagine if that thing had crashed in northern India or Greenland. Paul is soon contacted by a Venusian who piloted the space probe back to Earth. While a superior race we soon realize that they lack the opposable thumbs required to turn little screws necessary in the construction of a space ship. They just stow away on them and then once they arrive on the planet they want to conquer with an invasion force of one they slither off into a dark cave which become the headquarters of their planetary assault. Here the film is a bit reminiscent of Robot Monster, another movie featuring and invasion force of one who hides out in a cave in southern California and wrecks havoc on the entire planet. And how better than do this than to have weird little bat like creature emerge out of your alien rectum and fly off to nip people and turn into submissive slaves who will do all your bidding.
Panic ensues and the locals run down the street of the small town like the citizens of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla. The people who have been nipped by the space bats are fairly easy to detect after a few moments of conversation as they robotronic in their thinking. Paul dispatches anyone and every one who is under alien control and this includes his wife in one of the strangest scenes in b-movie history. The scene has to be seen to be understood. Her death is completely unnecessary as far as I am concerned. But don’t go thinking I am tangled up in some sort of moral struggle over the scene because it is actually pretty cool to see Peter Graves put a slug in the gut of his once doting house wife and then run down to the military base and blow away everyone on duty there as well. Claire has had enough of her husbands delusions. In a frustrated fit at pint she announces to him that …”for a few dollars you can hire a woman who’ll fulfill all your fetishes. And when you get tired of her you can run down to the employment agency and hire another.” Not really sure how that fits into the context of the film as a whole but it is great line. She runs down to the cave to confront the monster on her own. Outside the cave area is a highly trained of wise cracking soldier that include dogfaces Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze providing some comic relief. Of course the real comic relief comes in the form of Paul Blaisdell’s most infamous monster creation. The monster has been iconic actually and represents what is the most enjoyable about the films of Roger Corman and classic low budget sci-fi in general. The comparisons to a stalk odfcelery are not unwarranted. One stort has it that the original creature was so short that Beverly Garland, in a joking mood, basically told it to “take that” and kicked it over. Blaisdell added some extensions to the monster to make it at least a little taller than the lady it is terrorizing.
Now this creature had nearly brought the world to its knees from the dank confines of its cavernous hideaway, but in the end a solitary human with a blow torch ends its reign of destruction. Of course the human is Lee Van Cleef in a pissed off mood now because the celery stalk from Venus killed his wife. It seemed fine to let the creature destroy the rest of humanity but once things get a little personal Tom quips “I made it possible for you to come here… I made you welcome to this Earth… You made it a charnel house”. A really enjoyable film and one of Corman’s most well known low budget efforts. The entire film was shot in less than one week. The creature came to be known on the set as Beluah and is actually supposed to be a fungus type of life form. Most fans consider it to be their favorite of Blaisdell’s collection of imaginative creations (It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Invasion of the Saucer Men, She Creature). Blaisdell did the effects on Teenagers from Outer Space as well though he is uncredited. If you notice the space ship landing in both films appear to be the same footage. A great cast with immortal dialog and an even more immortal monster. Not to be missed.