The War of the Worlds (1953):

Technicolor planetarium shows crammed with incandescent pop imagery for the cautionary H.G. Wells tale, a Cold War property if there was ever one. Frugal b&w footage of previous wars sets the stage, then the rings of Saturn and the lava of Jupiter, watched by Mars with "envious eyes" until the space locusts choose Earth as their new habitat. A meteor crashes into the California of square dances; science and media gather around, and one night the hatch is unscrewed so a blinking, one-eyed prod can emerge from the crumby surfaces. A trio of lunks approaches the alien peeper with a white flag and best-wishes only to be vaporized by the death ray, the camera positioned behind them so the decimating laser is aimed at the audience. "Better give word to the military." Jack Arnold sees '50s sci-fi for mind-expanding awe, while producer George Pal and director Byron Haskin mine anxiety and spectacle, the visual first -- the Army's greens are no match for the glowing lime of the sleek Martian spaceships, aerodynamically equipped for destruction and protected from missiles by glassy shields. Stolid scientist Gene Barry (his name, "Clayton Forrester," to be later saluted by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 bards) and Ann Robinson are posited as the ideal Eisenhower couple amid Armageddon, but their farmhouse interlude is interrupted by interplanetary invaders, a serpentine, three-lens mechanized eye sneaking through the house before the place is disintegrated by a hovering craft, Barry and Robinson fleeing in the foreground. A knitting old lady hawks doomsday headlines, a flattened Eiffel Tower materializes on a still-wet picture, Martian ships glide past atomic mushrooms against scarlet skies -- Bosch and Munch are among Haskin's references, possibly Picasso, definitely Bacon. Hysteria mounts until the pulverizing creatures are defeated by that ol' time religion, a flaccid veiny arm sticking out of the fallen saucer, declared God's will by Cedric Hardwicke's narration. Evangelical biology triumphs, though not before humanity's stability is revealed to be as shaky within church walls as the anemic aliens are within their stainless steel. With Les Tremayne, Lewis Martin, and Robert Cornthwaite.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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