1. In literature, authors sometimes use science fiction to reflect on contemporary issues. Can the same be said of science fiction filmmakers in the 1950s? If so, what kinds of issues influenced their films?
|Klaatu warns Earth in The Day|
the Earth Stood Still.
One fascinating aspect of how 50s sci-fi flicks reflect social attitudes is how they also anticipate issues that would later become prominent---one being feminism. Many of these films have strong female characters, who are often professionals: Women who are not just wives and mothers, and are not working as secretaries, but are frequently scientists and doctors. Faith Domergue in This Island Earth is a major example. Even Zsa Zsa Gabor in Queen of Outer Space is a scientist! She's working in a lab outfitted in an evening gown and high heels; later, she leads the revolution decked in gold lamé and an Uzi. You can't get more progressive than that!
|Grant Williams and former pet in The|
Incredible Shrinking Man.
Chris: I personally wasn't around back then, but it's clear to me that the era's problems were frequently reflected in popular entertainment of the day. From the subtextual exploration of McCarthyism in Invasion of the Snatchers to how films like Them! commented on atomic age fears, sci-fi was the genre that was consistently commenting on real world issues.
2. In terms of impact on the genre, what's the most influential science fiction film of the 1950s?
|Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy|
discover pods in Invasion.
|The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was|
a surprise boxoffice hit.
Chris: My pick would be The Day the Earth Stood Still, which remains the most exciting--and ultimately human--cautionary tales of the era.
3. What would you rank as the three best science fiction films of the 1950s and the single most underrated one?
|Alien spaceships from The War|
of the Worlds.
For underrated, my pick is Invaders From Mars (1953). Again, it's another old favorite of mine. I love its child-point-of-view narrative, how everything is told through the little boy's comprehension. That makes events more chilling, as when the parents become inexplicably cold and angry. The set design reflects this beautifully, particularly that all-white police station with its vertiginous, non-ending corridors. And the film's starting-all-over-again ending is unusual. Plus, frankly, what's not to like about that tentacled Head in a bubble!
Tom: The three best of the genre appeared at the beginning of the decade. First out of the gate was Destination Moon. Strange as it may seem they got many of the details right. Filmmakers later in the decade didn’t care, as long their pockets books were filled. The Thing from Another World would be my second choice as one the best sci-fi films of the fifties. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms would round out my choices. For the simple reason it showed what you could do with film, and that I enjoyed it. I think the most underrated film of the fifties was Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers. It was an ok film, but I think it could have been better.
Chris: (3) The Thing from Another World; (2) The War of the Worlds; (1) The Day the Earth Stood Still. As for the most underrated, I really have a soft spot for Invasion of the Saucer-Men. It's an incredibly fun romp that is highlighted by some truly great creature design.