Today’s movie is the surprisingly original and effective Paramount science fiction horror film from the 50’s. Tensely directed by Gene Fowler, Jr. who helmed I Was A Teenage Werewolf the previous year, this is one of the best and most well made of the 50’s sci-fi B-Movies and has a surprising amount of subtext to it.
We are introduced to Bill (Tom Tyron) at a hopping nightclub that seems to be in the middle of nowhere and packed with single babes, where his friends are throwing him a bachelor party. It’s Bill’s last night of freedom and his drunken comrades are all lamenting to their buddy about how much marriage sucks. It doesn’t matter though because Bill’s ready to leave the sausage party behind and get home to his fiancé for the wedding tomorrow.
However, on the way home he narrowly avoids hitting a body laying in the road that looks suspiciously like a dummy to me. Getting out to check, he’s accosted from behind by a glowing alien with tentacles on its face. It engulfs Bill in an eerie, black cloud causing him to vanish then takes his form. Looks like Bill’s going to miss his own ceremony but hey, why not Zoiberg?
At the wedding the next day, his wife Marge (Gloria Talbot) is worried when Bill shows up late and when we get a look her, it’s obvious why his friends couldn’t persuade him to call it off. Marge is one stunning 50’s babe.
Soon after tying the knot, Marge notices some really odd behavior from Bill. He doesn’t show any affection towards her, their new dog growls at him and Bill kills him with a really weak cover story to assuage her fears and most tragically, she can’t seem to get pregnant although her doctor assures her she’s perfectly healthy.
Meanwhile, Sam; one of Bill’s marriage hating buddies is wandering home sloshed from the bar where he too is attacked and replaced by another alien and surprise! The next day, this dude proposes to his girl. What’s up with this guy, right?
Soon after, Sam makes a house call at Bill’s place where they share their mutual distaste for Scotch but still don’t seem to have a problem with a good smoke in the living room. Sam tells Bill that they’re modifying the human bodies to take in more methane and that he has to report to the ship tonight. Bill checks to make sure Marge is asleep and sneaks out but of course, Marge is just playing possum and follows after him. In the middle of the woods, she sees that strange black cloud leak out of Bill’s body and take the form of the alien, leaving his body behind. She quickly discovers that Bill’s form is an inert shell that falls over with a lifeless thud and horrified, she runs through the town finally coming to a bar with a really creepy lounge lizard and an incredibly hot floozy who looks like a slutty Sherylin Fenn and just wants an escort home. Of course, no one believes her so she stops a police car, which takes her to the chief who happens to be her godfather.
Too bad the entire police force has already turned into pod people and talk her down. This turns out to be a good thing though because that creepy guy from the bar has tracked Marge down and is totally stalking her and Bill calls his alien police buddies to take care of it. After casually explaining to them that he’s indeed stalking Bill’s wife, creepy guy shoots one of the cops to no effect and takes a couple rounds from the extra terrestrial flatfoots himself. Problem solved.
Oh and remember that smoking hot bar floozy? Well, even though she dresses nice and looks like Ava Gardner’s long lost twin sister, she STILL can’t get a guy to go home with her. I guess the aliens really have taken over. She’s so desperate in fact that she ends up trying to pick up one of the aliens who disintegrates her with his ray gun for all her trouble. You know, it doesn’t matter if I’m watching a 50’s flick or an 80’s slasher film, I just never like seeing pretty girls get rubbed out in these movies. Maybe someone should make one of these films where all the pretty girls make it out okay. That would make me very happy.
After coming to the inescapable conclusion that her town is being put through the Invasion of the Body Snatchers playbook, Marge finally confronts ET Bill who tells her that he comes from a dying world and that their only hope of survival is to figure out a way to breed with human women. Ain’t that always the way? Oh, he’s also become too human and is starting to fall in love with her. Damn these human emotions!
While flattered, Marge still goes to the last man who might believe her. Her doctor. He wastes no time in getting a posse together since every town in the 50’s probably had one standing by for that black guy who looked at a white woman in an unfavorable manner. Lynching an alien probably sounded like a nice change of pace for them.
The mob does the trick, attacking the spaceship, killing the aliens and freeing their citizens duplicated by the aliens. Finally, the Bill Alien disintegrates just as he laments that he just started to learn how to love. But that’s okay because the real Bill shows up and a lifetime of cooking and rearing children await Marge’s bright future.
I can’t express enough how much enjoyment I get from these 50’s B movie, Sci-Fi thrillers. And it’s not just the cool science fiction and monster elements. These movies have the strange effect of making me nostalgic for a time I’ve never experienced. I know this isn’t the real 50’s but an idealized version where the rampant racism, misogyny and lead poisoning are nowhere to be seen but in the end, they’re like kitschy time capsules of a simpler time. It’s fun to see the high wasted pants, the giant two-ton cars that lurch to a stop (honestly, how did people parallel park in those things) and the casual drinking at all hours of the day.
Then there’s always the unintentional humor to be found in the situations and attitudes when viewed 60 years later, like hot women at every bar that no one gives the time of day to or Bill’s over the top buddies who can’t stop talking about how miserable marriage is. There’s one scene in particular that goes so far it hilariously wanders into gay subtext. Two of Bill’s friends are out getting drunk with their prospective others presumably waiting patiently at home YET AGAIN, when this exchange comes:
Ted (referring to Bill’s marriage): Even a coalminer gets time off.
Sam gets up to leave.
Ted: All right, what’s wrong with you? The evening’s still got braces on its’ teeth.
Sam: I’m worried about Caroline.
Ted: Who’s Caroline?
Sam: You’re wife.
Ted: Oh, her.
I’m pretty sure that sometime in the 70’s, Ted did the decent thing, got a divorce and moved to Fire Island where he spent the rest of his days cruising the bars in jean shorts.
There’s also Sam’s fiancé that is thrilled that he finally proposed and saved her from becoming a “career gal” and the one character with a southern accent that is constantly the butt of clichéd Civil War jokes. Then there’s the doctor who suddenly becomes an expert scientist when it’s time to spout theoretical exposition about what the aliens are up to. He is the only intellectual in town so I guess it’s him or no one.
None of these things however, undermine the wonderful subtext of the film. While most alien invasion films of the time had the martians stand in for communists, this one turns “the reds under the bed” trope on its’ ear and uses the alien metaphor as a surprisingly self-aware commentary on marriage in the 50’s and the danger of the conformity that was so accepted at the time.
There’s a lot to be read into the fact that the men in the town only completely accept their marital status once they’ve been replaced by the invaders who all act with a single purpose just like the stifling conformist culture of post war America. Marriage is just something you are expected to do by a certain age and never question and the aliens use this unquestioned, unexamined view of marital bliss to their full advantage.
From the personal point of view of the lead character, Marge’s growing terror of her husband’s odd behavior is a great stand in for what happens when people get married primarily due to social pressure and not for love. After all, this is why Alien Bill walks down the aisle and soon after closes himself off emotionally, has mood swings and starts sneaking out at night when he thinks Marge is asleep which leads her to conclude after their first anniversary that he “has changed and not the man I married”. A woman in the 50’s and even today doesn’t have to marry a space alien to experience these emotions and it’s only after Alien Bill starts to learn what love is that he goes from just being a monster to a tragic character.
I also found it clever how this film goes against the grain of having Marge sneaking around and trying to escape and instead has her confront Bill directly which leads to a very candid and non confrontational discussion between the two that’s a refreshing change of pace from movies of the time.
Aside from the unexpected depth this film has, there’s all the usual fun monster, sci-fi stuff. A cool rubber monster, ray guns, an exploding spaceship, human victims in a state of suspended animation, cool shots of the aliens skin absorbing bullets, the small town takeover, creepy sound effects lifted right from War of the Worlds and slightly nauseating alien disintegration where their bodies turn into Jell-O that oozes out of their clothes when they kick it.
The direction by Gene Fowler Jr. is very good. He was a television director and later became quite a well-known editor. If you’ve seen I Was A Teenage Werewolf then you may realize that the unexpected depth of this B movie was probably because of him as this quote illustrates: “I guess the other producers must have been spending just about the same amount of money that we were, but their pictures were such shit. I did not try to make just an exploitation picture. I was trying to do something with a little substance to it.” He need not worry because this movie was well received and put on a double bill with The Blob but was later removed only because this black and white chiller just couldn’t compete with the vibrant Technicolor of that classic.
Gloria Talbot does a great job building sympathy for her character while still making Marge feel intelligent and thoughtful. She did a shitload of television back then and already starred in another sci-fi B movie The Cyclops and will take one more stab at the genre as the nurse in The Leech Woman.
The real treat for me here is seeing Tom Tryon in action as the alien possessed Bill and not for his acting talents. Tryon would gain true recognition in his second career later on. You see, Tryon eventually quit acting after shooting The Cardinal directed by Otto Preminger. Preminger abused the hell out of Tryon; even firing him on the day his parents came to visit the set only to hire him back later when he thought he had humiliated Tryon enough. Tryon would last only about ten more years as an actor. In 1971 he tried his hand at writing and found his true talent. Not everyone is aware of it but Tryon became one of the most talented supernatural horror writers ever. Even Stephen King has admitted to being very inspired by his work. After reading Rosemary’s Baby, he was inspired to write his own horror novel, The Other, which became a national bestseller in 1972 and also became one of the best horror films ever made, a film which I reviewed here:
He would go on to write Harvest Home (1973), another great horror novel which was adapted into a TV mini series called The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, starring Bette Davis in 1978. His best work is considered Lady (1974). He wrote two other novels, The Night of the Moonbow (1989) and Night Magic (1991), published after his death. One of his novellas called Fedora was also made into a movie by Billy Wilder and is considered a minor horror classic by many. All in all, we’re really lucky that Preminger drove this guy out of the business and onto his second career where he found his true success and created the stories for some of the best horror films ever made. It’s a real hoot seeing this guy in his acting prime in which he does actually give a wonderfully tragic, solid performance as an alien becoming all too human.
The other recognizable actor here is Ken Lynch playing Marge’s doctor who many may remember as the leader of the Janus 4 miners in the Star Trek episode Devil In The Dark. That’s the one with the Horta.
IMAMFOS is definitely worth watching for the fun 50’s vibe, awesome subversive subtext, creepy sci-fi horror vibe and to see one of the 20th century’s great horror writers in his acting prime. Take a look. This one won’t disappoint.
The DVD is pretty cheap to order but the whole film is also available on Youtube here: