Author and amateur astronomer John Putnam (Carlson) and schoolteacher Ellen Fields (Rush) watch a meteorite crash near the small town of Sand Rock, Arizona. After visiting the crash site, John notices a strange object in the crater and believes that it wasn't a meteorite that crashed after all, but an alien spaceship. After a landslide covers the mysterious craft, John's story is ridiculed by the townspeople, sheriff (Drake), and local media. Even Ellen is unsure of what to believe, but agrees to assist John in his investigation. Over the next several days, a number of local people disappear. A few return but they seem distant and dazed. Eventually, Sheriff Warren becomes convinced that a meteorite wasn't involved and he organizes a posse to hunt down the invaders. Alone, John hopes to reach a peaceful solution, so he goes into a mine which he hopes will lead him to the buried spacecraft and its occupants. It ends up that the aliens are benign beings whose spacecraft crashed because of malfunctioning components. They planned to stay on Earth long enough to replace the parts, then continue their voyage. They temporarily took control of a few humans since they looked so different than humans and could not move about inconspicuously, since humans would panic. When they finally repair their ship and leave, all of the missing and controlled townspeople returned to normal.
The screenplay was by Harry Essex, with input by Jack Arnold, and was derived from an original screen treatment by Ray Bradbury (although it is said Ray Bradbury wrote the original screenplay and Harry Essex merely changed the dialogue and took the credit ). Unusual among sci-fi films of the day, the alien "invaders" were portrayed as creatures without malicious intent. The film has been interpreted[who?] as a metaphorical refutation of supposedly xenophobic attitudes and ideology of the Cold War."I wanted to treat the invaders as beings who were not dangerous, and that was very unusual", Bradbury said. He offered two outlines to the studio, one with malicious aliens, the other with benign aliens. "The studio picked the right concept, and I stayed on." He has called the movie "a good film. Some parts of it are quite nice."
The uncredited music in the film was by Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, and Herman Stein.
The Universal make-up department submitted two alien designs for consideration by the studio executives. The design that was rejected was saved and then later used as the Metaluna Mutant in Universal's This Island Earth (1955). The special effects created for the spacecraft in flight consisted of a wire-mounted iron ball, with hollowed out 'windows', and ignited magnesium inside. The Arizona setting and the telephone lineman occupation of two of the characters are elements from Bradbury's younger life, when his father moved the family to Tucson.
Urban legend has it that an extra in an army corporal's uniform at the "meteor" crash site is comedy writer-performer Morey Amsterdam. While the briefly glimpsed man does indeed resemble Amsterdam, no hard evidence (e.g. cast call bureau records, interviews with Amsterdam) has ever confirmed it is actually him. The most recent of Universal's 2002 DVD release of the movie comes with a documentary, "The Universe According to Universal," written and directed by David J. Skal, and an audio commentary by Tom Weaver, in which Weaver also notes the similarity of Morey Amsterdam.
It Came from Outer Space was released in June 1953 and by the end of that year had accrued US$ 1,600,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 75th biggest earner. The New York Times review noted “the adventure…is merely mildly diverting, not stupendous. The space ship and its improbable crew, which keep the citizens of Sand Rock, Ariz., befuddled and terrified, should have the same effect on customers who are passionately devoted to king-sized flying saucers and gremlins." "Brog" in Variety opined that "Direction by Jack Arnold whips up an air of suspense in putting the Harry Essex screenplay on film, and there is considerable atmosphere of reality created, which stands up well enough if the logic of it all is not examined too closely…story proves to be good science-fiction for the legion of film fans who like scare entertainment, well done.". Since its original release, the critical response to the film has become mostly positive. Bill Warren has written that “Arnold’s vigorous direction and Bradbury’s intriguing ideas meld to produce a genuine classic in its limited field.” Jonathan Rosenbaum described the film as “[A] scary black-and-white SF effort from 1953.” Phil Hardy’s The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction observed “Dark desert roads and sudden moments of fear underline Arnold’s ability as a director of Science Fiction films, and Essex’s/Bradbury’s lines match his images superbly.” However, of the 20 reviews included in a Rotten Tomatoes survey of critics regarding the title, 19% reflect negative reactions. FilmCritic.com opines that the film “moves terribly slowly (despite an 80 minute running time) because the plot is overly simplistic with absolutely no surprises."
Barbara Rush won the Golden Globe award in 1954 as most promising female newcomer for her role.
The film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Science Fiction Films list.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE
JACK ARNOLD (1953)
UNIVERSAL INTERNATIONAL PICTURES