The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)
As Nate pointed out in Devil Girl from Mars, the history of Martian-human relations has been a troubled one. According to that infallible source, the makers of B-movies, Mars has tried many, many times to conquer us, and they always want something of ours. Sometimes they want our women, sometimes they want our men, sometimes they want Santa Claus. Today's movie is concerned with an attempt made back in 1962, and we'll see what is is the Martians wanted that time.
The movie gets down to business right away with a rocket taking off. I was hoping this was a Martian rocket heading our way, but a closer look shows American insignia on it, so it must be one of ours going to Mars. For once there's no voiceover (a good sign), so I have to figure out the action myself, but it looks as though once on Mars, the rocket ship sent out a small robot to explore the surface. Something goes wrong with it almost immediately, though, and it starts smoking, then bursts into flames. So far, a whole two minutes into the movie, I'm rather impressed. As I mentioned, there's no voiceover, so we've got some suspense set up. Did the robot malfunction, or did something on the planet destroy it? For that matter, where was it? Based on the movie's title, I assumed it was on Mars, but possibly not. I actually want to keep on watching the movie to see what happens next.
Exterminate! Wait, wrong show.
The next scene opens with a closeup of a tired-looking handsome man. We can tell he's a scientist, because he's wearing a white lab coat. This is Dr. Fielding, who seems to be the head of the space project. (He's played by Kent Taylor, an actor with a strong resemblance to Errol Flynn, top contender for Handsomest Man in Hollywood IMHO). Unfortunately Kent Taylor never achieved anything like Errol Flynn's success. He was, however, not nearly as self-destructive and lived a lot longer. He's dictating to his secretary, and we learn that the rocket was indeed sent to Mars from Earth. He goes on to say that the robot sent out to explore the surface stopped transmitting, and he's as ignorant as I am about the cause. He's discussing the mission with another scientist, also properly white-lab-coat-clad, when his face goes blurry and he freezes in place long enough for the other scientist to notice. When questioned, he says he's just tired. Will this mean anything?
Perhaps a bit of Vincent Price in his face, as well.
You can fast-forward through the next minutes, as he calls his family: wife Claire, teen-aged daughter Judy, and pre-adolescent son Rocky (a name which must have laid him open to teasing, since the Rocky and Bullwinkle show was still being broadcast when this movie was made). This scene contains boring family chitchat and is important only because it introduces his family and lets us know that he hardly ever sees them, since they live in California, and the project is in Florida. Notice that we've seen Marie Windsor, the actress who plays Claire, in Cat-Women of the Moon. That movie was made about ten years before this one, but Marie Windsor is holding up well, despite an unflattering short blonde hairstyle. Presumably the project is of such urgency that Dr. Fielding can't go home very often, but it's not explained why his family can't move to be with him. He must make a lot of money, since they live in Beverly Hills. Maybe the accommodations at the project aren't good enough, or maybe they don't want to have their kids change schools. But why is exploring Mars so urgent?
Claire orders a cheese pizza and breadsticks.
Maybe it's not that urgent, after all. His friend tries to talk him in to taking some time off to see his family, and Dr. Fielding is considering it as they walk out the door together. Up to now it's been a pedestrian movie about space exploration, but that's going to change. So far there's been no background music, but as the door closes, it starts. It gets louder as the camera pans back across the office to Dr. Fielding's desk, and as it crescendos, we see...Dr. Fielding sitting at his desk!
White lab coats = science!
The movie wants to keep us in suspense a while longer, and the next scene shows Dr. and Mrs. Fielding (only one Dr. Fielding) driving up to a very impressive gate set in a tall stone wall complete with a gatehouse. Good grief, how much money does Dr. Fielding make? This is an estate, not a house! I should have gotten a Ph.D...My envy diminishes when Claire mentions that they'll be staying in a small guest house, so it seems they don't own the place themselves, although it turns out that it belongs to Claire's aunt. Still, if I had this kind of a place to live in, I'd make it a point to come home a lot. It really is an impressive estate (although probably not actually privately owned, since there's an "Exit" sign on the road), and it's a fairly long drive on a winding road to the guest house, which has several bedrooms and is by no means a mere cottage. Once there, we learn that having a fancy place to stay isn't enough to make them happy. The reason they're in the guest house is that they sold their own house with the expectation that Claire and the children would move to Florida. However, Claire is reluctant to move, since with the demands of his job, she wouldn't be seeing much of her husband. He points out that he can't quit his job, since he's vital to the project (and, although he doesn't say this, he might not be able to find a comparable job, since the aerospace industry is pretty specialized). Claire says that she told her aunt she'd live in the guest house until the estate is sold, and halfway promises to move to Florida once that happens. With that there's a heavy silence, broken when Dr. Fielding carries his suitcase into the bedroom, and as he does I hear him call his wife "Cathy." She doesn't say anything, and I wonder if this was a blooper nobody bothered to correct, or if it's a hint of something to come.
They need some marriage counseling.
After changing into casual clothes, Dr. Fielding goes out and wanders through the enormous, beautifully landscaped garden, which takes a little longer than it should, probably to pad out the run time a little. But just as I was getting bored, he stops, and his face (only his face) goes all blurry again. After it clears, he smiles a little and calls to Claire, who has just appeared nearby, but she turns away and hurries off. He follows but he can't find her, which isn't surprising as the garden is huge. He appears to be a little put out, as who wouldn't be, but he's distracted by the arrival of Rocky and Judy, who appear in a snazzy vintage convertible driven by a boy who seems to be Judy's boyfriend (man, these people are loaded...). Claire shows up to greet the kids, and Dr. Fielding wants to know why she avoided him in the garden. She looks him straight in the eye and says she hasn't been out of the house all morning. More mysterious stuff, what does it mean?
Only real "special effects" all movie.
The family has a nice quiet evening together. The only thing of note is watching Claire putting the dirty dinner dishes into what looks like a top-loading washing machine. At first I thought she'd been taken over by an alien lifeform and made a mistake, but I'm pretty sure it's in reality a 1962 version of a dishwasher. Hmm, maybe I was right -- her face goes all blurry, and then Rocky walks in. He tells he that the door to the big house is open, and she and Rocky go to investigate. When you listen closely, Rocky seems quite deadpan, but in the next scene, when Dr. Fielding calls Rocky, he pops up out of another room in the house, all bright and chipper. Does Rocky suffer from rapid mood swings and can he move really fast, or is something else happening? Claire finds nothing in the big house, and also doesn't seem to notice that Rocky isn't with her anymore, but the front door slams shut, making her jump, and she goes outside. We've been told that it's January, and the family has finished dinner, but it looks sunny outside, the day-to-night effect is really bad here if they even bothered with any. Claire spends some more time running on the paths through the garden, but finally comes upon her husband and collapses tearfully into his arms. All she can say is that suddenly she was very frightened, but neither she nor we have seen or heard anything that could scare her. After all, it isn't that unusual for an open door to shut, especially in an older house where the floors often aren't quite level.
Proper place for a housewife in 1963...
Although the garden is unquestionably very beautiful, and so big it probably should be called a park instead of a garden, I'm getting a little tired of it. I wonder if the filmmakers were desperate to add a little run time, or could it have been that they had to pay a lot to film on this estate and were determined to get their money's worth? Anyway, Dr. Fielding leads his distraught wife back to the guest house, and he knows just how to soothe her nerves: with a tray loaded down with alcoholic beverages. He also calls Rocky in to explain himself, but it seems Rocky will have to content himself with ginger ale. In any case, Rocky has no nerves that need soothing. Rocky is as cheerful as a ten-year-old can be, and he firmly claims to have been in his bedroom all evening. His parents believe him and send him back to his room to study. Now alone, the couple agree that there's something strange going on, and Claire feels that it's harmful. Okay, now how did they decide that something strange is going on? Dr. Fielding didn't say anything about spotting Claire in the garden and then claiming she'd never left the house. Couldn't he have made a mistake, or couldn't she have stepped outside briefly and forgotten about it when he asked her? And Claire didn't actually see anything in the garden. Couldn't Rocky have been fibbing that he spent the entire evening in his bedroom, knowing his parents probably wouldn't like it if he had gone wandering through the garden in the dark? Nobody asked Rocky if he told his mother earlier that he saw an open door at the main house, and if anybody's noticed the face-blurring, nobody has said anything about it. There's been quite a leap in coming to a conclusion here. A little less wandering through the garden and a little more conversation would have been nice. Dr. Fielding, it seems, has been thinking for quite a while that the strange events have something to do with his space project. Here again, why would he assume that? I mean, couldn't it be ghosts, or evil spirits? Actually, isn't one of those more likely than inhabitants of another planet being able to duplicate humans, assuming something strange really is going on? Because this is a science fiction movie -- I mean, because he's such a brilliant scientist, he naturally concludes it must be space aliens, and he goes to call his office. Wouldn't he get a surprise if he spoke to himself!
Claire's cute, she has nice eyebrows.
Meanwhile, to go to a more cheerful couple, Judy and her boyfriend are necking in that awesome convertible. That car is enough to make me think about taking up a career as a golddigger...Okay, enough envy. I'm betting they haven't seen or heard anything spooky, or not spooky, for that matter. But all good things must come to an end, and Judy is getting ready to go into the house, when out comes her father, but not in anger at the man who's been fondling his little girl. No, he wants to ask the boyfriend, whose name is Frank, a favor. He'd like Frank to take Claire, Rocky, and Judy to Claire's aunt's house tomorrow. Frank agrees and drives off, and now that I'm looking closer, the convertible doesn't seem quite so classy, since there seems to be a good-sized spot of paint missing on the hood. Maybe I won't be a golddigger after all. And, oh, good Lord, we get yet another extended look at the garden as Frank drives, but before too long the monotony is broken by the sight of a frozen-faced Judy standing in the middle of the road. Frank swerves to avoid her, although to me it looked as though he had plenty of time to put on the brakes, especially as the "night scene" looks exactly like broad daylight. Judy continues to look blank as Frank goes off the road. The next scene opens with a blanket-covered body being loaded into an ambulance. The police officer investigating the accident is baffled, since there's no sign of anything that could have caused the accident, but Dr. Fielding knows better, even though there was no way he could have known there was a duplicate of Judy standing in the road. Probably wisely, he doesn't confide his explanation to the police officer. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Frank could have swerved to avoid a squirrel or a cat or something.
Shouldn't you two be studying?
It's been an exciting evening, and as Claire and Judy prepare for bed, we hope they get a little sleep to knit up that ravell'd sleeve of care. Somehow I have the feeling, though, that this is not to be, and sure enough, at a quarter to three according to Judy's bedside clock, she opens her eyes and turns on the light as her face goes blurry. (Does the face-blurring cause a physical sensation, or did Judy just happen to wake up?) She gets quite a shock as she looks up to see her double standing at the foot of the bed. RealJudy pushes her double aside and runs out of the room screaming. All she can do is gasp out that something's in her room, and I'm sure nobody will be surprised to hear that when Dr. Fielding goes in, nothing's there. However, the window's open.
Eeek, spooky, early J-Horror girl.
Now I'd think the logical thing to do is ask Judy exactly what she saw, just to rule out the possibility that an all-too-human intruder broke in, but since he's a rocket scientist, Dr. Fielding knows that this is all part of the mysterious occurrences, and he doesn't even consider she might have dreamed the whole thing between beginning to wake up and being fully awake. Once having come to this conclusion, it seems to me the smart thing to do would be to load up everybody and move to a hotel, if for no other reason than to see if the peculiar occurrences are limited to the house, but Dr. Fielding calmly says they'll stay put until his assistant from the space project shows up, which he does with commendable promptitude. Dr. Fielding called him sometime after dinner, and he arrives bright and early the next morning (look at the tailfins on the cab he comes in!). Wonder what Dr. Fielding told him to get him to come so quickly?
Face-mashing their way back into love.
The assistant, Dr. Web Spencer, has come with some important documents. Could they document similar cases where Martians have disguised themselves as humans? It would seem not. It's a transcript of the last fifteen seconds of the robot's broadcast, showing that the power increased, peaked, then fell off just before transmission stopped. To me this isn't surprising, since it suggests there was a power surge as the robot malfunctioned, but they both agree that the power should have decreased steadily. Was the robot designed to last only a short time, then? Or did they know that under the conditions on Mars, it would fail very quickly? It was moving for only about a minute, it seems a waste of money to send something all the way to Mars when it's going to give you information for such a short time. And from what we've seen, all that particular rocket did was send the robot to Mars. By the way, both men were smoking during this scene, which isn't uncommon in movies made around this time. Was smoking done to give an air of realism to the movies, since anybody who was alive in the sixties can tell you that most adults smoked anytime and anywhere, or did the actors get so crabby from nicotine withdrawal the director had to allow them to smoke if filming dragged on too long?
The Doctors check out the script rewrites.
Dr. Fielding then tells his assistant what's been going on, and they must be good friends, because he believes Dr. Fielding right away and doesn't even suggest that maybe he ought to get his eyes checked. However, Dr. Spencer thinks it's ghosts, not Martians. Dr. Fielding insists that it must have something to do with their project, reminding Dr. Spencer of the time when he was dictating to his secretary and froze up, then saying he felt the same way when he saw the person he thought was Claire, and that Claire felt the same way in the garden the night before. Dr. Spencer makes a weak attempt to convince him that he was tired from overwork, but he doesn't press the matter when Dr. Fielding refuses to believe that that's the reason and says that the main house is the center of all this. Maybe Dr. Fielding does know best. After all, there must be a reason why he's the head of the project and Dr. Spencer is his assistant, and Dr. Spencer acknowledges this. Also, I'm thinking that Dr. Spencer may be dependent on Dr. Fielding's continued good will to keep his job, and as I mentioned earlier, upper-level research jobs in the aerospace field don't grow on trees.
Hmm...maybe Rocky is Spencer's kid?
However, I have to disagree with Dr. Fielding's conclusion that the strange occurrences are connected with the main house, and so should Dr. Spencer if he was paying attention. What about his blank moment in his office back in Florida? For that matter, Judy's intruder isn't necessarily connected to the main house, and Frank's accident may very well have nothing to do with it. (He mentions that the time he thought he saw Claire, she was coming out of a small building connected to the main house, which I missed. This whole place is so big, I didn't recognize it as the main house.) And if these occurrences really have something to do with the Mars project, isn't it likelier that they're centered around him, not the house? However, once his family is off to Claire's aunt, he announces his intention to check out the main house. This seems rather reckless, although to be honest, I don't know what else he could do. If he'd thought about it earlier, he should have called the police when Judy came running out of her room, so they could investigate and at least rule out the possibility of it being a physical intruder. Although Judy's double was able to grab Judy and hinder her from getting out of the room, and might have needed an open window to get in, so maybe she really did have a physical form?
Please, rent this mansion, the maintenance upkeep is killing us--people who banked this movie.
As we should all know by now, in any self-respecting B-movie, the hero always has to investigate the spooky house by himself. Sure enough, Dr. Spencer says regretfully that he won't be able to come along, he's expecting an important call from Washington. Dr. Fielding doesn't see any reason to wait for him, possibly having forgotten that his daughter was attacked and a young man killed only hours ago, and he walks off in the direction of the main house, confident that his family is safe. However, unbeknownst to him, he's wrong. It seems their car didn't get any farther than the front gate, which refuses to open. Claire calls the main house and asks Dr. Spencer to push a button that will open the gate, but the gate still won't open, and it seems the designers never anticipated this happening and didn't plan for a way to open it manually. Also it seems that once inside this massive estate, there's only this one way out, because without any discussion they decide to return to the guest house. Now, recall that Claire was terrified of...something the night before, Judy's boyfriend was killed a little later, and just a few hours before, Judy was woken up by her double and had some difficulty escaping from it. You'd expect them to be scared to death and frantically trying to open the gate, or at least determined to stay as far away from the house as possible, but instead they shrug and drive back. Rocky appears to be sitting in the car, although all you can really see is a dark figure in there, but he doesn't weigh in to express an opinion.
Everyone's always on the phone in this movie.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fielding continues on his way and arrives at the main house, whose front door is open again. We're treated to a few shots of him walking through the empty house, but mercifully we soon switch to the guest house, where Claire has arrived and is somewhat concerned to hear that her husband has gone to the main house by himself. When she tries to call the maintenance man, all she gets is a peculiar humming noise on the phone. Dr. Fielding continues to walk through the main house, which is completely empty of furniture. This place just has to be some famous estate in real life, but nothing written about the movie mentions what it was. He pauses briefly in a two-lane bowling alley when a bowling ball rolls down a trough, and I'm surprised he doesn't consider this more evidence of an alien presence, but maybe all the walking has tired him out a little.
For a second it looked like he was going to roll a frame or two.
Anyway, he resumes walking. You know, it seems to me that the house is so big that even if a Martian is in it, chances are Dr. Fielding won't ever come across it. And no sooner did I think this than a wall panel rises to reveal a man, the back of whom is perfectly normal. I can't speak for his face, because at first all we can see is his back. Then the camera moves to show us his front, and without much surprise I see that it's Dr. Fielding's double. The double, who is remarkably articulate for a visitor from another planet, calls himself "a manifestation of intelligence." Whereupon Dr. Fielding, who has firmly believed in the face of Dr. Spencer's scoffing that this is what's been following him and his family around, suddenly declares that he doesn't believe it. The being claims that he rode back to Earth on the robot's transmission just before the Martians destroyed it -- which seems kind of stupid, because how does he plan to get home? Well, actually, it looks as though he doesn't intend to. The Martians regard the Earth rockets as an invasion, and they want to stop it. In order to do this, Dr. Fielding has been duplicated, and the Martian copy will take his place and sabotage the project, I suppose. Since the copy doesn't think he can fool Dr. Fielding's family, they've also been duplicated. The copy seems very sure of himself and scoffs when Dr. Fielding unexpectedly pulls a gun on him (we didn't see him get the gun, how long has he been carrying it around?) The copy hints that he may not be content with just ending the project, he and his fellow Martians might be here to stay. With that, the copy walks off, leaving Dr. Fielding crestfallen.
If the pan-and-scan cut wasn't so lousy, you'd see some nice split-screen effects here.
As Dr. Fielding (the original) is wandering around, he sees Dr. Spencer, Claire, Judy, and Rocky lined up. At first he, and we, assume that these are the duplicates, but not so. Dr. Fielding suggests they go back to the house, where they brainstorm, although Claire's contribution is mostly to look worried. They conclude that the Martian is pure energy which has been cut off from its source on Mars (although they don't explain how it can create physical forms), and that probably the best thing to do is head back to Cape Canaveral and get some help. Rather anticlimactic, but probably the smart thing to do. Dr. Fielding says he can unjam the gate and sets off to do just that. However, Dr. Spencer tells him to pack, he'll open the gate instead. He drives off in the Fieldings' car (this estate is much too big for him to walk to the gate), and after some effort pries the gate open and goes back to pick up the Fieldings. However, he sees a Dr. Fielding in the road on the way back, but he knows this is the duplicate because it's wearing a suit while the real Dr. Fielding is wearing an open-collared shirt, slacks, and a sweater. Besides, this Dr. Fielding just stands there blankly. Dr. Spencer's face goes blurry. Is this what happens when a human is near a Martian? Then why didn't it happen to Dr. Fielding when he encountered his double in the main house? It happened when his double appeared in his office back at Cape Canaveral, remember? Dr. Spencer blinks his eyes, drives a few feet, sees the double behind him but keeps going, only to be stopped by the doubles of Claire, Judy, and Rocky. Judy's and Claire's doubles have changed their clothes since we last saw them to match what the originals are now wearing. Odd that when the double appeared in Judy's bedroom she was wearing what Judy had been wearing earlier, not the nightgown Judy was wearing at the time, and Dr. Fielding's double is wearing different clothes than the original. The Martian, and it's not clear if there's only one or if there's more, has remarkable fashion sense for pure energy. Back in the house, the duplicate Dr. Fielding talked as though he was the only Martian who came to Earth, and I wonder how many duplicates one Martian can make and control. This might explain why the duplicates are so expressionless, the Martian doesn't have enough energy to animate them more than absolutely necessary.
Creepy how they always line up like that. Stop it.
Instead of gunning the car and trying to get through them, he jumps out and runs, only to be caught between the three Fielding duplicates and Dr. Fielding's duplicate, who has appeared behind him. I'm on the edge of my seat. There's only two minutes left, what's going to happen? Oh, dear. Somehow the duplicate Dr. Fielding can beam energy at Dr. Spencer, causing him to smolder, then gasp and fall backward into the dry swimming pool. The duplicate walks over and looks expressionlessly into the pool, to see only some ashes in the shape of a man.
Clearly, not so peaceful Martians.
In the next scene, Dr. Spencer, or presumably his double, is standing by the Fielding car. In contrast to the other doubles' stiff expressionless behavior, his double is leaning against the car, smiling, cleaning his glasses, and looking perfectly natural. The Fieldings all get into the car, and they drive off. I'm worried about the Fieldings, but I'm too late, because as the car leaves, we switch to the swimming pool and see that now there are several burnt remnants of humans in the pool. And as the Martians set off to conquer Earth one human at a time, the movie ends.
Watch out, pleasant suburban dwellers!
Not too bad for a B-movie. The acting is good, which is not surprising, since Kent Taylor and Marie Windsor were old pros even though they never became real stars. The estate, of course, makes an excellent set, and I'm still wondering whose it was. If anybody knows, E-mail me. [Editor Nate: That would be the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, lot of movies shot there over the years.] And the movie avoids giving away the whole thing in the first few minutes of the movie, so there's genuine suspense. Too bad so many pieces of the plot don't make much sense, and there are so many inconsistencies. That's the worst thing about this movie. That, and all the walking and driving. It's possible that this movie started out to be a movie about a haunted house but was made into science fiction, which would explain the fixation with the main house for part of the movie. It's a pretty good movie, and it's only 69 minutes long, it's not a bad way to pass the time.
[Editor Nate: Surprisingly good movie, even if half of it was a real estate advertisement. A lot of genuinely spooky moments and a fairly satisfying climax, nicely done.]
Written in September 2012 by Pam Burda.
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