This Island Earth (1955)
“2 1/2 Years in the making!”
Director: Joseph Newman
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason
Synopsis: Aliens come to Earth seeking scientists to help them in their war.
It has to be said that macho scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) comes across as something of an incompetent show off in the opening scenes of This Island Earth, Joseph Newman’s didactic sf movie. First of all, he crocks a jet fighter after cockily performing a victory roll, causing it to lose all power, and is only saved by a mysterious green glow that takes control of the craft and safely lands it for him. Then, on arriving at a large but strangely under-manned lab — just Cal and his puppy-like assistant Joe (Robert Nichols) — Cal immediately embarks on a scientific experiment that sees him burn out a condenser. Joe informs Cal that he ordered some replacement condensers but was supplied instead with some strange beads that can handle a load of 33,000 volts before blowing. Instead of taking Joe’s word for it and making use of this incredible device, Cal decides to test it to destruction and — guess what! — Joe was right! It does blow up at a load greater than 30,000 volts! Shame they don’t have any more of them…
It turns out that the lab’s supplier never received their order and that the beads were actually supplied by the mysterious ‘Electronic Section: Unit 16’ from whom, the following day, Cal receives a technical manual for the construction of a complex, futuristic device called an Interociter. Intrigued, Cal instructs Joe to order every item on the Interociter’s parts list (to hell with the budget), and when they arrive complete with a schematics diagram, the two boffins set about assembling the machine. After an unspecified amount of time, they succeed in constructing a bulky machine with an inverted triangular screen on which eventually appears the form of a striking middle-aged man named Exeter (Jeff Morrow). Exeter is deeply tanned, has an unnaturally high forehead and a dazzling shock of pure white hair.
Exeter informs Cal that by assembling the Interociter he has passed a mysterious aptitude test and is invited to board a plane which will wait only five minutes for him after landing before taking off again. Jeff’s dead against it, but as we know, Cal’s a bit more gung-ho and is impatiently waiting on the fogbound runway when the plane arrives. Jeff’s even more nervous when it transpires that the plane is remote-controlled, but Cal is undeterred and climbs aboard, leaving Joe behind.
The pilotless plane arrives on a private runway in Georgia, where Cal is greeted by fellow scientist Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) with whom he went skinny-dipping at a conference the year before. Strangely, however, Ruth insists that Cal has mistaken her for somebody else, even though it’s obvious from her body language that she is, in fact, the same woman. She takes him to a hilltop house where he’s introduced to a few other eminent scientists before meeting Exeter in person. It’s immediately clear that something isn’t right about things at the house, and that Ruth and her colleague Dr Steve Carlson (Russel Johnson) are nervous about something. However, Exeter is an accommodating host and informs Cal with breathtaking vagueness that the scientists there are working on a project that will astonish the world and put an end to all war. What he fails to reveal is that the particular war he wants to stop is actually taking place on his home planet of Metaluna. Yes — what we, the audience, surmised the first time we saw Exeter’s gigantic head has yet to penetrate Cal’s thick skull: his new employer is an alien!
Even Cal finally figures out that something isn’t quite right about the set up on the hill, however, and quizzes Ruth and Steve about just what is going on. Ruth confesses that she was, in fact, the girl with whom Cal went skinny-dipping, and also that any scientist who fails to toe the line in their new job soon finds themselves having a session under an attitude-changing ‘sun lamp.’ Almost immediately, the three rebel scientists plan their escape, but two of them at least (I’ll leave it to you to work out which two…) soon find themselves aboard a flying saucer bound for the war-torn planet of Metaluna.
This Island Earth contains some neat ideas but its tone is more than a little preachy. Made in an era when America and the world was highly conscious of the devastation that could be wreaked by nuclear power, This Island Earth sought to emphasise the moral responsibility of those in control of such awesome power and to highlight the global ruination that is the consequence of the misuse of our intelligence and ingenuity. It’s a noble cause, no doubt, but it sits a little uneasily with the otherwise pulpy b-movie sf plot.
Oddly, the movie is at its weakest when it’s set on Metaluna. The sets look cheap — about the standard of the original Star Trek sets: all plain silver-grey walls — while the artwork for the planet’s surface looks like just that — artwork, as if painted for some ambitious stage play.
This Island Earth is fairly unique amongst movies of its era and genre in that its aliens aren’t attempting an invasion of our planet — at least not when the story takes place — and its more intellectual approach, which is probably a consequence of the fact that the story is built around the message rather than having its message shoehorned into a standard sf story, a fact belied by its lurid and entirely inappropriate US reissue title of Bloodlust in Outer Space.
(Reviewed 14th September 2013)