The War of the Worlds (1953)


This is an interesting film adaption to H.G Wells original classic, with the plot and the setting having been adapted to 1950’s California. As expected the film is somewhat dated and takes a very long time to get good (for a given value of good). In true 50’s style pretty much all the characters are morons and the hero and heroine of the film are satisfactorily obvious from word go due to their slightly elevated common sense levels, compared with the idiots who wave white flags at murderous aliens – the aliens will know EXACTLY what that means! (I hasten to point out that the only racial minority appearance comes in the form of a Mexican chap who is a member of said flag-waving gang)

It’s good to see some extraordinarily traditional ‘female’ behavior from the heroin, Sylvia, where we are dazzled with plenty of subservient coffee-serving, screaming on cue and generally pathetic freaking out. She also has the ability to remain flawlessly made up and pristine throughout – surviving alien attacks, plane crashes, collapsing houses and a whole whirlwind of distress without gaining a hair out of place. It is, however, good to see that her hair is unable to withstand a nuclear bomb. For a moment Feminism seems to be getting a look in through the fact that Sylvia is very well qualified, having a Masters degree in something sciencey, and works as a teacher. However, she fails to live up to her education in any meaningful way, preferring to swoon, scream and look to the hero of the film (Dr Clayton Forrester) for protection and guidance.

I actually quite like Dr Forrester. Minus his being a slight flirt, he seems like quite a nice, sensible chap. He kicks a bit of ass, spurts quite a bit of science jargon and takes very good care of ole’ wailing Sylvia, even going so far as to risk getting himself annihilated by the aliens in order to find her and spend his remaining few moments of life clutching her to his bosom. Forrester does, however, lose major points for thinking he can fly a plane and never fully regains them, later getting his arse handed to him by some looters.

The Aliens are pretty hilarious. I love them minus their eyes, and the bit where Sylvia is attacked by one is genuinely quite good – if maybe for the wrong reasons (comedy rather than terror) They are quite amusing little critters and I wish they had more screen time – the highlight of this film for me has to be the moment where one of the aliens runs away scared (followed closely by the most dramatic drinking of coffee I have ever seen – watch out for it!)

I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing that I don’t understand science too well, else I may have watched this film weeping silently into my hands as they explain about magnetic polar fields and disintegration rays and magnetic force-fields, ionizing beams and lots of things that actually sound pretty convincing but are probably a load of crap. Their military is shit, even by movie standards as, although they are unable to defend against the alien ships, they could at least have helped evacuate LA to stop all the looters and miscreants from causing chaos. I think, by 50’s standards, they did the destruction of LA incredibly well, and I was genuinely interested in the film for the penultimate 15 minutes, where we see explosions, fights and lots of fire and fun things like that (if you get bored easily just fast forward to that bit!)

I was surprised by the amount of religious content the film had which I really wasn’t expecting. We see the traditionally slightly dumb vicar who thinks he can reason with the aliens and bring peace by holding out a bible and I thought this would set the tone for the rest of the film – with a slightly mocking stance on religion. However the end of the film, with it contributing the salvation of the human race to God and his wisdom, rather than evolution and survival of the fittest like one would expect in modern movies, was quite refreshing  and unexpected – one of the many reminders that this film was made in the 1950s, pre-antitheism.

If I’m honest I didn’t enjoy this film that much. It was long and fairly dull and for a fair amount of the time I just wanted to punch the various inept characters. The introduction to the film is atrocious and a lot of screen time is given to really long shots of really boring bits. However the film had its moments, and as said, the penultimate 15 minutes are pretty darn good, and are worth a watch.  Much amusement can be gained from the dated effects, language and science and the nuclear bomb scene is pretty funny. If you like old horror movies then certainly watch this one and I’m glad I did, as I can now draw a lot of links between this film and more recent hits like Mars Attacks, Independence Day and the newer War of the Worlds. Who would have thought films copy other films?

Post written by Liz 🙂


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