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Invaders From Mars (1953) at UW Cinematheque

March 17 @ 7:00 pm - 8:25 pm

The amphibious-looking Martians cradle an incapacitated David (back left) and Dr. Patricia Blake (center).

The amphibious-looking Martians cradle an incapacitated David (back left) and Dr. Patricia Blake (center).

Invaders From Mars (1953) follows one of the biggest trends of 1950s horror films, reflecting the fears of Communist invasions and rampant McCarthyism of the era. Directed by William Cameron Menzies and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, it clocks in at just under 80 minutes, which is a beautifully approachable length for a B-movie.

Predating even The Twilight Zone series, the film opens with narration over footage of the cosmos, which declares that, thanks to science, we know more about the other planets in our solar system. Science is still breeding curiosity about the likelihood of other forms of life.

Following this, the camera follows young David (Jimmy Hunt) after he sees a flying saucer crash in a sandpit. The nameless town’s residents, including his parents and classmates, start acting strangely when they investigate the crash site. They all soon begin disappearing into a mysterious butthole in the sand. The multicolored backdrops here in the shots of the elusive sandpit evoke similar images of scenes of the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard Of Oz, while other sets use exaggerated proportions, stark symmetry, and geometric framing ripped from German Expressionism. Filmed with Eastmancolor stock, initial prints of the film used SuperCinecolor, which is showcased towards the end when the townies eventually explore underneath the sandpit.

After David’s parents fall under the influence of the invaders, David gets taken in by two scientists as his surrogate parents (Dr. Stuart Kelson and Dr. Patricia Blake, played by Arthur Franz and Helena Carter), the only two adults who believe something funny is happening in their town. One of the scientists gets the U.S. Army on the horn and convinces them to send in the troops.

During the climax of the film, David and Dr. Blake plummet through one of the sand’s many buttholes and into the arms of the Martians, whose costumes look more like frogs than creatures from another world, only adding to the tonal whimsy. Luce Potter, the actor playing the Martian inside the glass (as seen gracing the front cover of the latest paper edition of the spring Cinematheque calendar), had previously played a Munchkin in The Wizard Of Oz, which perhaps implies the similarities to the classic film were intentional.

Seeing the new restored 4K version of this film with all its vivacious colors and practical effects on the big screen is guaranteed to be a delight!

C Nelson-Lifson


March 17
7:00 pm - 8:25 pm
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UW Cinematheque
821 University Ave / 4070 Vilas Hall
Madison, WI 53706 United States
+ Google Map
(608) 262-3627

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