I don’t know what television was like when all of you young Turks grew up; but, back in my glory days of Saturday morning TV, our cable TV set only had about twelve channels … and that was on a good day! There were only three major networks – CBS, ABC, and NBC – but there were a handful of smaller market stations I was lucky to receive as I grew up in a small town in Nowhere, America. These local stations didn’t have the scratch (i.e. money) to pony up for real movies, so they’d scarf up every cheesy B movie (as well as a fair supply of C, D, and F flicks, too), and they’d put them on at all hours, hoping to get, maybe, a handful of viewers in order to sell some advertising.
A film like BATTLE OF THE WORLDS – released in 1961 – was exactly the kind of thing they’d air on Saturday or Sunday morning. They couldn’t afford cartoons, so they’d put on anything sci-fi, knowing they just might dupe a couple of wayward kids flipping the channel. I tuned in to hundreds of motion pictures of this variety. It used to be MST3K tapped into this similar library, satirizing and riffing on them endlessly, but, when I was a kid, these were the stuff of my celluloid dreams.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
There’s a stray meteor on a course to collide with Earth, when, lo and behold, it insteads decelerates and establishes orbit about us. Professor Benson (played by the legendary Claude Rains) races against time to uncover the aliens’ secret agenda … before it’s all too late!
This is exactly the kind of film kids (when I was a kid) loved to watch on Saturday morning. It had aliens and spaceships and lasers and spacefights, but, to be honest, the effects were barely above those belonging to the FLASH GORDON serials of three decades earlier. (This means they were downright silly at times, folks.) There was always a scientist, and there’d also be a handful of astronauts and/or explorers to serve in the titular role of ‘action hero,’ and there’d undoubtedly be a gal or two on hand to fulfill the script needs of a ‘damsel in distress.’ There’d be a handful of moments of budding love for the men and women, but none of it ever really made that much sense. And it all would be wrapped up – happily or not – within ninety minutes to two hours’ time maximum.
Think what you will, but there’s a wholesome charm in motion pictures like BATTLE OF THE WORLDS. They were clearly made on a shoestring budget, but there’s still something ‘worthy’ about all of it. In particular, Massimo Tavazzi does wonders at creating some interesting sets for the actors to play out this sci-fi fantasy on (the science compound interiors are kinda/sorta nifty, and the alien base interiors have an interesting skeletal property to it all); and whoever handled the lean, mean animation effects (space lasers and alien spacecraft) actually did a pretty nice job considering the time and budget constraints. And what’s not to love about a closing line as prescient as this: “If they opened his chest, they’d find a formula where his heart should’ve been”?
You may not like it. There were parts of it I chuckled out loud at. But it was always interesting and well-staged. It’ll never be as revered as STAR WARS, but to this big kid with a little kid’s imagination it tried as hard as it needed to back in the day.
BATTLE OF THE WORLDS is produced by Ultra Film and Sicilia Cinematografica. DVD distribution for this release is being handled through Cheezy Flicks. As for the technical specifications, meh. It ain’t all that grand, but it’s always visible, and the audio is surprisingly crisp throughout much of the action. Sadly (but not surprisingly) there are no special features to speak of.
RECOMMENDED. No, it ain’t gonna change your life. No, it probably isn’t going to inspire you to pursue a career in film, acting, or special effects. And, no, it may not be something you watch ever again. But there’s plenty to love in a harmless curiosity like BATTLE OF THE WORLDS. There’s some wonderfully hammy acting; there’s some immeasurably horrible scripting; and there’s some unimaginably tacky effects work. Still, it manages to be a bit of a delight to this film nerd who grew up on a steady diet of passable black’n’white pictures that nobody cared about after they were made. Plus, it’s got Claude Rains!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cheezy Flicks provided me with a DVR-R copy of BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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