This Island Earth
Universal International, 1955, 86 minutes, NR
actors: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Russel L. Johnson, Robert Nicholes
director: Joseph Newman
writers: Franklin Coen and Edward G. O’Callaghan; based on the novel by Raymond F. Jones
producer: William Alland
Taxonomy: Sci-Fi; alien invasion flick; space opera fans
Plot: A mysterious organization is recruting the worlds best atomic scientists to put an end to war. The Hook: They’re aliens!
Electronics expert, atomic scientist and pilot Dr. Cal Meacham (Reason) gets some new toys delivered to his California lab. He and his colleague Joe Wilson (Nicholes) use the included plans to build what turns out to be a very sophisticated comminication device. And bingo! They get a video message from a guy with white hair and a big head who calls himself Exeter (Morrow). Exeter tells Meacham that he has passed a test and is needed on Exeter’s team. A plane will arrive to pick him up the next morning. Then the device zaps the plans with a laser and self destructs. Dr. Meacham is intriqued and, over the objections of Joe, boards the crewless plane and flies away to…
Georgia! Where he is met at the airfield by Dr. Ruth Adams (Domergue). Meacham insists they have met, but Adams says he is mistaken. Dr. Adams takes takes Dr. Meacham to “The Club” where he meets Exeter who simply says that he is working to put an end to war. Dr. Meacham also meets the other scientists in attendence including Dr. Steve Carlson (Johnson). Meacham is suspecious about the whole set-up and Adams and Carlson soon confide in him that they are playing dumb. Adams has met Meacham before. Adams and Carlson tell Meacham that Exeter has a device that can control peoples thoughts! They also point out how big Exeter’s head is and that “The Club” also seems to include a large secret underground facility. Exeter spies on the three scientists and asks Meacham to trust him. Exeter’s assistant Brack (Fuller) wants to use the “thought transformer” on the trouble makers, but Exeter says that would be counterproductive.
Well, Exeter’s boss thinks he has been doing a crappy job and orders Exeter to come home and destroy all evidence of his work. So, as Drs. Meacham, Adams and Carlson try to drive to the airfield, Brack tries to kill them with neutrino rays! Meacham and Adams bail out of the car and end up in a lake, but poor Dr. Carlson gets zapped and blows up real good in a technicolor explosion. Dr. Meacham and Dr. Adams – oh hell, Cal and Ruth – hoof it cross country to the airfield. Their clothes and hair dry almost immediately, naturally. They find a small plane and Cal flies them away from Exeter and his “Club.” This is surprising because Cal already knows first hand that Exeter can control aircraft from afar.
Meanwhile, a big old flying saucer takes off from “The Club” and intercepts Cal and Ruth. “The Club” then blows up real good in a technicolor explosion, killing all the other scientists left behind. Exeter knows he has done wrong, but tells Cal and Ruth that they will soon see why such extreme measures were necessary. You see, Exeter is from another planet. Duh! Didn’t they see his huge head! That is a sure sign of an alien, especially in a 50s b-movie!
Turns out that Exeter and his folk are from a planet called Metaluna. Yes, a little Latin is a dangerous thing. Not to mention Greek. Anyway, Metaluna has a much higher atmosphereic pressure than Earth, so the crew must go through pressure conversion in big glass tubes. Cal and Ruth get some Metalunan duds, that do great things for Ruth’s ass by the way, and go through the conversion. When they come out of the tubes, they are near Metaluna.
Exeter explaines that Metaluna has been at war with the planet Zegon for many years. Zegon ships bomb Metaluna with meteors. The Metalunans (sounds better than Metalunies) moved their civilization underground and have an defensive ionic shield. This shield requires huge amounts of power. Ah ha! The Metalunans went to Earth in an attempt to help replenish their power supply. Once they land, they all go to see the leader of the Metalunans, who tells them that they suck and orders Exeter to transform Cal and Ruth’s thoughts. He also mentions that the Metalunans are going to procede with their alternative plan – the invasion of Earth. Exeter Cal and Ruth are then imperiously dismissed. It seems that the Zegons have launched an all out attack and Fearless Leader has little time for inferiors.
On the way to the thought transformer they meet a Metalunan Mutant. This is a way cool critter that the Metalunans developed from insects. The Mutants act as labor and guards. The bombardment gets quite bad and Exeter, Cal and Ruth decide to escape. As they make their way back to the flying saucer, Ruth plays against the typical 50s helpless female role she had adhered to so far and drives the alien car while the guys cower at the destruction. They make it to the flying saucer and get away, zapping a Zegon ship that gets too close. Metaluna is toast. The bombardment creates so much heat, it actually turns Metaluna into a small star! Could this really happen? No, but it is a cool effect.
During the trip back to Earth, a Mutant attacks while they are all in the pressure conversion tubes. Ruth screams real good. Faith Domergue had some pipes! Ruth’s conversion ends first and the Mutant chases her around for a while until the low pressure now in the control room makes it go poof!
Once back on Earth, Cal and Ruth try to convince Exeter to come with them, but he refuses. Cal and Ruth cuddle as they fly home and the flying saucer, now with little power left, crashes into the sea. The End.
Babeage: Faith Domergue! Yowza! This Howard Hughes discovery was quite the looker. Rumor has it that the pants of her Metaluna outfit were so tight that she could not wear undies!
Beasts, Freaks and Weirdoes: Exeter and the other Metalunans and the great Metalunan Mutant! This creature, like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet has become a sci-fi icon. The publicity pic of Faith Domergue, in her tight pants, being carried by the Metalunan Mutant is one of the most famous sci-fi images of the 50s. In fact, I’ll bet that many of you have seen this pic before even if you have not seen the film.
Violence: Neutrino rays, meteor impacts, a couple of fight scenes. Tame by today’s standards.
Gore & FX: The FX range from silly (the Metalunan’s make-up) to breathtaking (the alien landscapes and the Metalunan Mutant). There is a funny scene on board the flying saucer when the camera pans past the viewscreen and we see the stars outside the ship move opposite to the direction of the camera!
Hey! That’s what’s his name!: Russel L. Johnson is most famous for playing the part of Dr. Roy Hinkley, better know simply as “The Professor” on Gilligan’s Island.
50s Sci-Fi B-Movie Checklist:
a aliens played by humans with big heads
a spaceship either a rocket or flying saucer
a helpless female character who screams often
a Earth and other planets depicted without clouds
a use of the word “atomic” as opposed to “nuclear”
a scientists who seem very socially sophisticated and or rich
a flames in space
a sound in space
a stock footage
a cute animal or kid
Dr. Cal Meacham to the press, “You boys like to call this the push button age. Well, it isn’t, not yet. Not until we can team up atomic energy and electronics. Then we’ll have the horses as well as the cart!”
Joe Wilson describing the communicator, “Ya know what my kids would say? ‘Dig this crazy mixed up plumbing!'” Somehow, I doubt even 50s kids would say that!
Dr. Ruth Adams referring to a cat, “It’s only Neutron. We call him that because he is so positive!” Uh … no. Neutrons are neutral, electrons are negative and protons are positive.
Exeter, “I suppose the neutrino could be described as the missing link between energy and matter.” Yeah, neutrinos could be described that way – by a dumbass!
Exeter, “Ruth, don’t tell me as a woman you’re not curious about our destination?” Yeah, she’s curious because she is a woman, not because she is a scientist. Even the aliens were sexist in the 50s!
Exeter, “Metaluna lies far beyond your solar system – in outer space.” Well duh!!
Dr. Cal Meacham referring to being in the pressure conversion tube, “I feel like a brand new toothbrush!” What!?
Dr. Cal Meacham mouthing off to Fearless Leader, “Our true size is the size of our God!” Very scientific Doc.
Dr. Ruth Adams while being led to the tought transformer, “My mind is my own and nobody is going to change it! I’m not going into that room!” Emotional, ain’t she?
Exeter on the fate of Metaluna, “Yes, a sun! Warming the surface of some other world. Giving light to those who may need it.” Sounds like Exeter may have had a hit of thought transformation himself!
Moral: Turn off those lights when you leave the room! Do I look like I’m made of electricity?
Conclusion: This Island Earth is an odd combination of big ideas and silly execution. Which I guess could describe many sci-fi films. The concept of an alien civilization looking to man for help with an energy shortage was quite novel in the 50s. The fact that the Metalunans are caught up in a war without end that they are losing to a seemingly technologically inferior species is a neat idea too. Usually aliens are depicted as snobbish technocrats or monsters. So, well done in the big picture department. However, the lack of scientific soundness is aggrivating – even for a 50s sci-fi flick. Faith Domergue, bless her heart, is okay, but Rex Reason is horrible! His voice sounds fake, almosy like a cartoon character, say Space Ghost or Oxnard Montalvo. There is no kind way to say this, the man can’t act! Still this is a fun movie you should check out. Great for a rainy or snowy Sunday afternoon. The Metalunan Mutant kicks ass!
This is me at age nine baby!: An F-80 Shooting Star! Cool! What’s with that guy’s voice? Ha, ha! Look at that old car! Flying saucer with lasers! Cool! Underground city getting bombed with meteors! What a cool monster! I got to tell the guys at school about this one!