Karen: The 1950s gave birth to a ton of science fiction films, and some of these are among the finest ever made. Most of the films, good or bad, reflect the concerns of that era: fear of "the Bomb", paranoia over communism, and wonder at new scientific and technological achievements. But the best of them takes these concepts and make something special out of them.
I'd like to name my contenders for the cream of the crop from the 50s. This is in no particular order:
The Thing From Another World (1951): Howard Hawks produced (and some say directed) this suspenseful film about military men and scientists dealing with an alien invader at an Arctic base. What could have been a run of the mill monster movie is turned into an outstanding one by the excellent cast -I love the way they talk all over each other, just like real people do -and intelligent writing. The shot of the flying saucer frozen below the ice and the men forming a circle above it is still inspired. The blood bags hanging up, feeding the alien plants/fetuses, and their cries (even though unheard) always make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Keep watching the skies!
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): How can you not love a movie with a gleaming UFO and a giant robot equipped with a disintegration ray ? But that's really just the superficial part of this film; the beauty of it lies in the character of Klaatu, the undercover alien played wonderfully by Michael Rennie, and his relationships with the different humans he meets. Klaatu allows us to ourselves from a new point of view, and with that we see both the best and worst of our natures. Yes, the Christ-like overtones may sometimes be less than subtle; still, I find myself riveted to this film whenever it is on. Am I the only one who thinks that the Destroyer of Thor fame looks something like Gort?
Them! (1954): Yes, it's a giant bug picture, but it's the best giant bug picture ever made. Just like the Thing, it has a great cast and a solid story which elevates it above standard monster fare. The movie actually feels very much like a police procedural, with a policeman (James Whitmore) and an FBI agent (James Arness, who also played The Thing) investigating a series of mysterious disappearances and break-ins. We soon find out it's all due to ants who have been mutated to gigantic size thanks to atomic testing in the desert. Edmund O'Brien is delightful as an ant expert, and his daughter, played by Joan Weldon, is presented as beautiful but brainy too. Sure, the ants themselves may look a bit hokey today, but they were effective. I can still hear that strange high pitched racket they made!
Forbidden Planet (1956): One of the few color sci fi films of the era, Forbidden Planet has a lush design and is wonderful eye candy. Like Day the Earth Stood Still, we get an impressive spacecraft and an amazing robot. But that's where the similarities end. Set on the planet Altair IV, whose sole surviving occupants are Dr. Edward Morbius and his lovely daughter, Altaira, this movie is much more of a psychological drama. It's a bit odd seeing Leslie Nielson in a serious role, after so many years of Airplane and Naked Gun movies, but he does a good job as the square-jawed ship's captain. Beware the monsters from the Id!
War of the Worlds (1953): Another color-rich extravaganza, with super-cool Martian death ships, atom bombs, and the Flying Wing! We've also got Gene Barry as one of the roughest, toughest scientist-heroes ever, Dr. Clayton Forester. The design of the Martian ship is one of the most unique in all of science fiction films, with the sleek, curvy main body and cobra-like neck extension. The utter destruction wreaked in this movie must be seen to be believed. No landmark is left standing! The ending is a bit hokey but all in all a classic.
So that's my choice for the best of the 50s. Some obvious films left off the list: This Island Earth, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I like them but I just don't think they quite make the top tier. One of my personal favorites is It! Terror from Beyond Space, but I can't honestly argue that it is one of the best films of the decade -I just like it a lot.
OK, batter up: what are your contenders for best sci fi films of the 50s?
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