Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not of This Earth (1957)

Not of This Earth is a 67-minute, 1957 American black-and-white science fiction film co-written by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna and produced and directed by Roger Corman via Los Altos Productions, on contract for distribution by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. A humanoid agent is transported to Earth from the planet Davanna, where a blood-degenerating plague is killing the populace. His mission is to find compatible blood in Earth humans to send back to his home planet for transfusion purposes; to achieve his ends, he is empowered by death-ray emitting eyes and a nightmarish flying octopus-like creature with vampiric capabilities.

When one of thinks of Roger Corman’s best films, it is often his 1960’s work that comes to mind. He had estab­lished enough of a rep­u­ta­tion by that time that he could mar­shal bet­ter writ­ers, actors and resources to make bet­ter films — and he had honed his skills enough that he was ready for the task. As films like House Of Usher, X — The Man With The X-Ray Eyes and The Wild Angels proved, he estab­lished a com­bi­na­tion of tal­ent and col­lab­o­ra­tors dur­ing that decade that made him a highly suc­cess­ful filmmaker. In com­par­i­son, his 1950’s-era out­put doesn’t get as much love from b-movie fans but there are some gems in there worth hunt­ing down. The best of these might be Not Of This Earth, a clever and atmos­pheric blend of sci-fi and hor­ror that remains a cult favorite with his fan­base. The plot focuses on “Paul Johnson” (Paul Birch), an alien from the war-torn planet of Davanna who has come to Earth incog­nito to study its peo­ple (and their blood) for his planet’s nefar­i­ous pur­poses. He gets a nurse named Nadine (Beverly Garland) to admin­is­ter blood trans­fu­sions as he goes about his secret fact-finding mission. Nadine is a smart and independent-minded type who quickly real­izes there is some­thing wrong about her eccen­tric, creepy employer. She does some snoop­ing with the help of Paul’s equally curi­ous valet, Jeremy (Jonathan Haze). As she edges closer to the truth, the trou­ble on Paul’s home planet grows big­ger and thus makes his mis­sion that much more urgent. This sets the stage for a human vs. alien bat­tle that will deter­mine the fate of the entire planet. Simply put, the 1957 ver­sion of Not Of This Earth is exactly what you hope for from a sci-fi quickie of this vin­tage.  The script, penned by reg­u­lar Corman cohort Charles Griffith with Mark Hanna, sets up its premise in a smart, eco­nom­i­cal style that favors char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and imag­i­na­tive sto­ry­telling over spec­ta­cle.  It also weaves in a like­ably quirky sense of humor that no doubt had an influ­ence on future Corman disciples-turned-directors like Joe Dante and Jim Wynorski Better yet, Corman’s direc­tion is more than just tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient — it’s fre­quently quite styl­ish. He effec­tively uti­lizes John J. Mescall’s sharp black and white cin­e­matog­ra­phy to inject a noir-ish feel­ing of mys­tery into the film’s sci-fi/horror mate­r­ial. He also keeps the story mov­ing at a nice clip, off­set­ting creepy moments with scenes of odd, often dark humor to keep the audi­ence on their toes. Best of all, he gets effec­tive per­for­mances from a game case: Birch makes a qui­etly creepy vil­lain, Garland offers a spir­ited and like­able per­for­mance as the resource­ful hero­ine and Jonathan Haze steals a few scenes as the thug­gish yet funny valet. Corman’s skill with the actors really helps to sell the film’s sto­ry­line — and this oft-overlooked area of his tal­ents deserves praise.
The end result is one of Corman’s all-time clas­sics and per­fect fod­der for a b-movie view­ing ses­sion. In fact, it could be argued that Not Of This Earth was his first real clas­sic as a direc­tor — and it def­i­nitely set the tone for the blend of imag­i­na­tion, crafts­man­ship and humor that would take Corman to the next level. - From Schlockmania

71 MIN

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