A sci-fi film with a mixture of comedy and horror that does not take itself too seriously.
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Produced by Robert J. Gurney Jr., James H. Nicholson
Written by Robert J. Gurney Jr., Al Martin
Based on the short story, "The Cosmic Frame" by Paul W. Fairman
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography: Frederick E. West
Edited by Charles Gross, Ronald Sinclair
Production company: Malibu Productions
Distributed by American International Pictures
Running time: 69 minutes
Steve Terrell as Johnny Carter
Gloria Castillo as Joan Hayden
Frank Gorshin as Joe Gruen
Raymond Hatton as Larkin
Lyn Osborn as Art
Russ Bender as Doctor
Douglas Henderson as Lt. Wilkins
Sam Buffington as Colonel
Jason Johnson as Detective
Don Shelton as Mr. Hayden
Scott Peters as 1st Soldier
Jan Englund as Waitress
Kelly Thordsen as Sgt. Bruce
Robert Einer as Soda Jerk
Patti Lawler as Irene
Calvin Booth as Paul
Ed Nelson & James Bridges as Boys
Roy Darmour as Sgt. Gordon
Audrey Conti & Joan Dupuis as Girls
Buddy Mason as Policeman
Angelo Rossitto, Floyd Dixon, Dean Neville & Edward Peter Gibbons as Saucer Men
The narrator, Artie begins to tell us his story (“I gotta’ play it square with ya’”) as he turns each page of the book. It’s night time right after a rain storm (”spooky, eh?”) in front of the Larkin farm house.
A car drives by on the way to Lover's Point situated on the Larkin property. Old farmer Larkin runs out brandishing a shotgun and grumbles, "I'll get the law after them,"
The local town is called Hicksburg (“scouts’ honour!”) where there’s “nothing much for the young people to do.” A perfect recipe for young people to find things to entertain themselves with, not always approved of by adults of course!
Back in town at the Soda Shop, a group of teenagers witness the same flash of light. Lt. Wilkins, USAF who has been recruiting for the air force seems to be impressed when one of the teenagers states, “I tell ya’, I saw a flying saucer!”
Joan Hayden and her boyfriend, Johnny have a date, but her father doesn't approve of Johnny. Like many teenagers when told not do something or faced with prohibitions which they see as being unreasonable, Joan lies about who she is seeing.
“Another load of those consarn kids on my property!”
Seeing that “most of the gang’s at Lovers Point,” Joan and Johnny both head off to Lover's Point via old man Larkin's house for a night’s worth of necking before their planned elopement.
A boozy bull named Old Walt, surprises a couple in their car at the Point. The girl screams and her boyfriend throws the bull a can of beer after exclaiming, “You nearly stunted my growth!” (seriously?!)
Lt. Wilkins waits for Col. Ambrose to get dressed before they are to take a group of military personnel to the reported landing site. Ambrose grumbles about the fact that it seems as if “all these saucers wait till night time to make an appearance.” He knows that Wilkins was once a publicist but his main concern is to prevent a “nation-wide panic.” Wilkins is told not inform anyone. Nothing like a dose of adult world secrecy to fan the flames of misinformed speculation. The Colonel then orders Wilkins to get some of his men and have them load their weapons.
Johnny and Joan get out of the car to investigate. At first Joan thinks that they have hit “a little boy.” A flash of lightning reveals the sight of a small alien body with an oversized cranium. Joan exclaims in horror, “It’s disgusting” and demands, “get me away from here."
Meanwhile back at the Larkin house, Joan and Johnny let themselves in and use the telephone to call Police Headquarters. The Desk Sergeant does not believe their story, putting it down to “Saturday night, that’s official!” It wouldn’t be the first or last time that young people are not listened to, dismissed or disbelieved out of hand by adults in authority.
Larkin does not listen to the teenagers’ explanations of why they are in his house. He smells the odour of alcohol and accuses them of drinking. He thinks they are up to no good and warns them that if he sees any of those “smoochin’ kids” they’ll “get their backsides loaded with rock salt!” Larkin then calls the operator and tells her to get the police out to his place.
Later on Joe stops off at the Larkin house while Larkin is out checking on his livestock. He calls Artie at “Watkins 01536” to tell him that he has “proof” about the alien, but Artie does not believe it. Joe tells Artie to clear everything out of the fridge as he's about to bring home something “perishable” which they’ve got to keep “on ice." It almost sounds like Hicksburg is about to have its own little civilian version of Roswell!
But 10 years after Roswell, these aliens have other ideas……
As Joe once again attempts to retrieve the alien’s body, he is jumped by some aliens who were watching and lying in wait for him in the woods. The aliens then repeatedly inject an already half-sozzled Joe with their alcohol venom before carrying his body away.
As Johnny and Joan approach Johnny's car, they hear a strange pounding sound. They soon discover the source of the sound: an alien doing a spot of what looks like panel beating on the car. Of course it is assumed that the aliens are stupid and primitive and are furious at the car and hold it responsible for killing their comrade. Oh Johnny, it’s the aliens who are interstellar travellers, not humans! Who’s dumb? Kids!
“Go ahead corporal, fire a few rounds.”
Back at the UFO landing site, the USAF personnel do their military thing: surround the craft, inform its occupants that they are in fact surrounded (“We have you surrounded!”) by yelling at them with a bullhorn and then indignantly but futilely firing off a few rounds at the craft when they dare to have the effrontery not to respond to the hails.
Now remember kids, if you come across something you don’t understand and yelling at it or throwing things at it doesn’t produce the required results, then there’s nothing else for it but to…….
…..Cut it with open with an acetylene torch!
“Did you ever hear such a cock ‘n bull story?”
When Mr. Hayden, the city attorney arrives he tells his daughter that he'll try to get her out of trouble, but that “young punk” and “rough neck” Johnny is on his own.
“The man you killed is a nobody”
Joan’s father is about to give is daughter another of life’s really ‘valuable’ moral lessons. When they go down to the morgue to identify the body and see that it is Joe Gruen, Johnny exclaims, "I didn't run over this man!" Hayden then tells Johnny and Joan, "Now get this, both of you. We're lucky in one respect. The man you killed is a nobody. There will be only one person interested in the charges brought against you. That's his room-mate."
Back at the UFO site, engineers are trying to cut the craft open with acetylene torches. Suddenly, the metal skin of the craft ignites and the craft explodes.
At Police Headquarters Johnny works out that the aliens have been planning to frame him for Joe's murder. He and Joan conclude that they need more evidence so they exit the room they are in via an open window and purloin the police detective's car.
Johnny and Joan drive back to Johnny's car and as they search the surrounding woods, unknown to them they are being observed by the aliens. As they walk back to the police car, the severed alien hand enters the car through an open back window and plops down onto the back seat.
As Johnny and Joan drive off, Joan is feeling a bit chilly, so she reaches back to close the back window. As she does so, the alien hand inches its way up the back seat towards her. Joan suddenly catches sight of the menacing needle-brandishing digits of the hand, screams, jumps out of the car with Johnny and closes the door thereby trapping the freakish phalangeal fiend. The teenagers now have their evidence and all they need now is a credible witness…….Artie.
In the meantime, a stoush has erupted between Larkin's inebriated bull and a bad-tempered alien spoiling for a fight. The bull manages to give a good account of himself by gouging one of the alien’s bulbous eye balls. However, the bull loses the pub brawl when the alien hypodermically harpoons him with its needle-like claws sending the beast into a kind of alcohol-laden coma.
When the three arrive back at the police car, we find the aliens engaging in a bit of breaking and entering in order to get their dead compatriot’s animated body part. After the aliens clear off, Johnny, Joan, and Artie notice the hand on the floor board of the car. Artie manages to take a picture with his flashbulb camera, just as the hand evaporates in a cloud of smoke. No-one in town will believe the teenagers, but they will have to pay attention to a witness like Artie.
As the trio begin to drive back to town, Joan's car battery starts to go through its death throes. The aliens advance towards their car and it isn’t long before they conclude that “bullets don’t hurt them” but instead “It’s the light that hurts them.”
Calling from Larkin's farm. Johnny tells the police that they are ready to surrender. However, he is told that he is no longer wanted for murder because Joe died of heart failure due to his blood's dangerously high alcohol content and that Joan's father has taken care of all the legal matters. With no help forthcoming from the police, where else can they turn? The “gang at Lover's Point, that’s where.
After grumpy old Larkin arrives on the scene, blasting rock salt into the air and telling the kids to get off his property, Artie finishes his narrative, (of course as he’s being helped by two lovely young ladies!):
"So that's my story. Johnny and Joan helped me remember a little of it. But I wrote it you understand. A true story? Well that's the nice thing about all this book writing business. You pay before you read."
Points of Interest
In the case of Joe and Artie, we have a couple of adult figures who can’t see anything beyond the next big scheme, the next opportunity to make a quick buck, not realizing that they are just a couple of losers with big dreams and no talent with which to achieve those dreams. For them, “this town’s a cinch for a quick buck.” Look and learn young people….
“(They) think we’re drunk or crazy just ‘coz we’re young.”
“After all, we’re just crazy kids.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise when people decide to act in the very way they are perceived or expected to behave. While many young people do display anti-social behaviours, the overwhelming majority of adolescents are well-adjusted and decent young people who respond well to respect given to them by adults; who thrive on praise and being paid due attention to; who need to take risks in order to grow; who need to be given responsibility; who love to have fun in life and learn best when they are having fun. After all, the health of any society is determined by how it values and treats both its elderly and its youth.
The whole affair surrounding the death of Joe, brings up three interesting points concerning the effect that the adult world can have on the ethical and moral development of the young as well as on young people’s view of their role and place in society;
1. The ease with which a young person’s testimony can be ignored, disregarded and disbelieved, based on prejudice and preconceived notions concerning their trustworthiness.
2. How labels can be so easily applied to people as a way of demonising them and avoiding any kind of fair, considered and deeper appraisal of their thoughts, actions and motives.
3. Young people learn quickly from adults, even to the extent of picking up a distorted ethical and moral framework. For instance, how easily recourse can be made to the use of parental influence to clear up any real or perceived negative actions on the part of their offspring. Although it is right and proper to have the support of one’s family in times of strife as in Joan’s case, at some point in other normal instances, young people need to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Joan’s father ought to have extended his assistance to Johnny as a matter of fairness and justice in the circumstances. He failed to provide a sound ethical and moral lesson to his own daughter.
Paul Blaisdell's flying saucer was also used in the opening scene of The Outer Limits episode, “Controlled Experiment.” (1964)
Even the film’s plot has been a major influence on successive sci-fi films like, The Blob.
“Our job is to prevent a possible nation-wide panic by keeping the information from the public.”
Of relevance even (especially?) today is the way the film briefly deals with the idea of governments hiding information from the public. Witness how Colonel Ambrose bulldozes evidence of aliens right into the ground to hide information from the public who have the right to know that they are under threat by those very beings. The colonel even declares to Lt. Wilkins, “makes you proud….being part of a show like this.” Lt. Wilkins then suggests that “there might be other units covering up other things” and as far as the “good job” they have done, they can get some sleep and “read about a jet crash in tomorrow’s papers.”
Makes you proud, indeed and….makes you think……
©Chris Christopoulos 2016