John Jos. Miller’s CREATURE FEATURE

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IT CONQUERED THE WORLD

Okay, not really. It was stopped by a squad of soldiers (who beforehand were the movie’s comic relief) and a mad scientist (and by mad I mean angry) with a blowtorch the size of a water pistol. But It tried.

This film gets a lot of disrespect, and, yes, some of it is deserved, but there’s some good stuff in here.  It has to be one of the best films ever shot in ten days. A Roger Corman quickie from 1956, IT starred Peter Graves and Lee Van Cleef as long-time scientist pals whose friendship is on the rocks because Van Cleef has been acting mightily peculiar for awhile. He’s got notions, and he’s also got a radio set that he insists puts him in contact with super-intelligent aliens from Venus who are going to come to Earth and turn it into a paradise. Unfortunately, no one else (not even the audience) can hear the alien’s side of their conversation.

[This scene actually never appears in the movie; notice flappy thing, top left.]

But, guess what? He’s right. There are these aliens (eight of ‘em, if I remember right, but only one makes the trip) and somehow Van Cleef diverts a rocket test (or maybe the aliens do; the point is unclear), enabling It to hitch a ride back to Earth and, yes, try to conquer it. To achieve this victory, It sends off these hideous little flapping things that attach themselves to the back of their victim’s neck, bite, then die and fall off, leaving their target under It’s mental control. As far as I know, this is the first time this particular sf trope was used in a movie. Also as far as I know, the concept was invented (and certainly used to great effect) by Robert Heinlein in THE PUPPET MASTERS (1951), one of his superior early efforts and was then used numerous times in movies and tv, including an episode of Classic Trek.

Anyway, Van Cleef is all for It and agrees to carry It’s water, to the point of shooting his old friend, Graves, who is vehemently anti-It. This leads to a lot of talking. There is a lot of dialog in this movie, between Graves and Van Cleef, Van Cleef and his wife Beverly Garland (perhaps the 1950’s most eminent scream queen; this is one of her superior efforts), between Graves and his wife, between Garland and It (though It, as always, remains silent). (There is also a lot of driving — and bicycling, once It shuts down technology — around in this movie. Graves to the base. Graves to Van Cleef’s house. Graves back home from various places. It does get tedious.) Some of the dialog is (like the movie’s title) a little bombastic, but Graves and Van Cleef in particular do have some worthwhile conversations about the nature of society and rule — not something that appears in many sf movies of the time.

[Van Cleef and Garland discuss the state of their marriage.]

Garland also has a choice role as a woman who clearly loves her husband but at the same time realizes he’s going off his nut. She gets a little testy at times with Van Cleef, but in the end rightfully blames It for taking over his mind, and grabs a rifle, damnit, and goes off to do something about It — also not something that occurs in many sf movies of the time.

Graves and his wife also have a loving relationship, which makes its resolution authentically shocking — again not something that occurs in many sf movies of the time.

Which brings us to It, itself. Supposedly when Garland first saw It on the set she went over to It and kicked It over, which led to certain modifications which may have made It taller, but also more ludicrous. Look, it was 1956. The movie was made in ten days on a budget that wouldn’t even buy the average Hollywood lunch nowadays. What do you want? Personally, I find It’s appearance kind of charming. YMMV, but it would be a mistake to miss this movie just because It looks like a giant carrot with an attitude problem. Though some say, a celery stalk.

Rating: 8

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