found footage vs. the flying saucers

Last night was another double bill at the Aero, now my go-to for moderately-priced Friday night entertainment. Downside — it’s hard to meet women in a revival theater. Upside — if you do manage to meet them, they’ll probably be interesting.

I’d seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers before. It still holds up, although there are a few bizarre moments — hero Miles Bennell rushes over to girlfriend Becky’s house in the middle of the night to protect her, but rather than getting out on his own side of the car as any normal person would, he dramatically slides across the bench seat and jumps out the passenger side instead. And of course, there’s the unintentionally hilarious line: “I never knew fear until I kissed Becky.”

It’s also fun to watch how close the characters can come to talking about sex without ever mentioning it directly, and how carefully the screenwriter, Daniel Mainwaring, makes sure that Miles and Becky are always suitably chaperoned, at least until the final chase sequence, when they are presumably too busy hiding to have sex. (Although taken with the “I never knew fear” line, there’s an argument to be made the the whole movie is a paranoid virgin’s sexual nightmare. Don’t leave me alone in a cave with this beautiful woman! I don’t want to be transformed!)

Actually, divorce is even more carefully handled than sex. There’s a peculiar exchange at the beginning that establishes that both Miles and Becky are divorced (and therefore, presumably, know what to do when they’re alone in a cave). But the word “divorce” never surfaces:

MILES: How about some lunch?

BECKY: I can’t. I’m meeting Dad at the store.

MILES: When did you get back?

BECKY: I came back from London two months ago. I’ve been in Reno.

MILES: Reno?

BECKY: Reno. Dad tells me you were there, too.

MILES: Five months ago.

BECKY: Oh, I’m sorry.

MILES: So was I. I wanted it to work. I guess that makes us lodge brothers now.


MILES: Except I’m paying dues while you collect them.

Of course, everyone knows the famous climax: “They’re here! They’re here already! And you’re NEXT!” But it’s fun to see it again.

The really interesting thing about Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, apart from the fact that it was written by Curt Siodmak, is its effective use of stock footage. Everything from the rocket launches carried out by the film’s fictional space program to scenes of floods and other natural disasters is handled using cleverly selected newsreel footage or 2nd unit photography from other, higher-budget films. We tend to forget that back in the Fifties, science fiction films were the B-movies, not the big earners.

The battle scenes are particularly impressive — careful superimposition of flying saucer model shots over WWII combat footage gives a real sense of scale, perspective, and shared space. Our jaded modern eyes can spot the differences in texture between the two layers — the documentary footage is obviously much blurrier and shakier than the studio-shot model footage — but in terms of composition, this technique is brilliantly executed.

This is of particular interest to me, because recently I’ve been trying to figure out how to use stock footage in my own work. My fear in doing so is the potential for disastrous, unintended comedy, as in this clip by the much-abused Ed Wood:

But Fred F. Sears and Ray Harryhausen’s deftness with recycled footage gives me hope.

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