Scrambled Eggheads: “This Island Earth” (1955)


NOWHERE MEN (AND WOMAN): Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) and Metaluna envoy Exeter (Jeff Morrow) rocket through space in a severely truncated adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’ novel, which is reminiscent of taking an extended field trip and never getting off the bus as the destination is closed, in Universal’s first Technicolor SF epic, “THIS ISLAND EARTH”.

    “This Island Earth” may be the first American SF film to be firmly grounded in the not-so-scientific concept of hubris. If there is a central theme to the film, it is that the scientific mind might be regarded as superhuman by those in the scientific community (we mere mortals may refer to it as “egoism”) and that a scientist’s capacity for reason and caution are entirely secondary to the pursuit of reckless experimental projects which seem to have no benefit to Mankind except to create laboratory fires and explosions of vivid neon colors happily compatible with the use of saturating Technicolor. The blatant  concession to the concept of the scientist as unquestioned authoritative figure is boldly expressed in the opening scene in which chief smartypants Cal Meacham (square jawed and stalwart Rex Reason, not to be confused with square jawed and stalwart Rhodes Reason) appropriates the personal use of an Air Force jet with the smiling, fawning approval of the press corps, shamelessly panting for the tiniest morsel of news concerning his scientific conference, as if such meetings didn’t occur dozens of times a week within the Washington D.C. city limits. Nor does the Fourth Estate even pretend to comprehend what Meacham is talking about, devaluing the reason for their unexplained excitement, but making it very clear that this exhibition of groveling is only a device used for the benefit of the audience to immediately establish Meacham’s status (if not credentials). This genuflection toward the scientist above all others is a fundamental trope of the 1950’s American Sf film, though this is usually expressed after the emergence of a catastrophic situation- whether alien or of terrestrial origin -in which they appear as the sole savior (usually ably assisted by a female assistant- happily disguised in the form of a buxom starlet -to run important errands like making coffee or making out with the hero of the film) to develop a solution to the imminent crisis. This, however, goes hand in hand with another familiar, though less pronounced, theme of 50’s SF in that science is usually blamed for the crisis in the first place.

To read the complete review, click the following link to: http://chandler-swain-reviews-drive-in-cinema-2/chandler-swain-reviews-nites-at-the-natick-drive-in/

About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
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2 Responses to Scrambled Eggheads: “This Island Earth” (1955)

  1. Cliff Burns says:

    “This Island Earth”–I can imagine a young boy back in the 1950’s waiting in a line up, small fists sweaty with excitement because of the great poster, the fantastic trailer…only I think even back then it wouldn’t take the kid long to figure out he’d been conned, William Castle style. And the movie commits the very worst sin of all: it’s bloody DULL (that’s unforgivable).

    Good cinematic SF was hard to find back in the 1950’s–most of the films show their pulp origins and D-budgets. The good ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand: “Forbidden Planet”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Invaders From Mars” and “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” are among the few that come to mind.

    By coincidence, I watched “It Came From Beneath the Sea” last night, featuring Faith Domergue in another co-starring role. All I can say is that, as an actress, Ms. Domergue filled out a blouse nicely…

    • I imagine that same child would be really steamed to find the promoted mutants in “This Island Earth” have nothing to do with the plot and are only inserted for decorative purposes. Dull is especially unforgivable in SF films where the imagination has the fullest arena to flourish with stimulating ideas. The sameness of the 1950’s SF is puzzling, though I think it has been given too much of a fond remembrance either through childhood nostalgia (“Famous Monsters of Filmland” was very indiscriminate in regarding a great deal of trash as anything but a classic.) or through misapplied assurances that all of the SF product of that decade was somehow imbued with an elevating subtext of allusions/metaphors/allegories on the Cold War/the Communist Menace/McCarthyism (Does anyone really think “Invasion of the Saucer Men” was about anything deeper than randy teens and goofy looking Martians?) when in fact, most of the productions were mindless formulaic antecedents of the mindless formulaic blockbusters of today. The same tired mentality applies, only with the addition of CGI, IMAX and improved (though still irrelevant) 3-D. Perhaps I’ve been too harsh on the uselessness of the SF sexpot assistant. At least there was something there for grown-ups. Great quartet of films you mention. I have a real fondness for “Invaders From Mars” which I credit with fueling my suspicions of sand dunes which continues to this day.

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