“This Island Earth” (1955)

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047577/]

Atomic scientist Doctor Carl Meacham (Rex Reason) is selected to join a very secret scientific research organization, based on his ability to assemble a device beyond any human science. What he discovers is more than just baffling, and the people running the organization are strange, including the leader, Exeter (Jeff Morrow). Even more strange, the other scientists are acting oddly, with a few exceptions like Doctor Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue), Doctor Carlson and Doctor Engelborg, but even those exceptions are acting conspiratorially.

But things don’t stay that way: as Doctors Meacham and Adams flee in a small airplane, a spaceship rises from beneath the manor where the research was located, destroying all evidence of the aliens’ existence on Earth, including the other scientists who fled before the manor was destroyed. As for Meacham and Adams, they are brought on board the spaceship where they are told the truth: Exeter and his companions are from the planet Metaluna, here on Earth seeking scientific answers to aid in the defense of their planet.

Brought to Metaluna, it is obvious that the planet is close to destruction, and there is nothing the two scientists can do to help. Even the leader of Metaluna seems to understand that, and intends to move the population of the planet to Earth. Disaster strikes before that can happen, and Exeter manages to return the two scientists back to Earth before perishing himself.

And where is the mind control? While not a major plot point, it was used by the Metalunans to make the scientists more cooperative, with a corresponding loss of some of their intelligence. It was that loss that caused Exeter to resist using that technique on several of the scientists, including the Mecham and Adams, which is probably why they escaped the original destruction of the manor.

Commentary: While this movie combines elements of a mystery and a travelogue, with a little bit of horror thrown in, there is one thing it is lacking: a real story with any kind of defined character development or much sense of real conflict. I guess that’s why the whole ‘Metalunan mutant’ monster element was thrown in, but its too little, too late.

However, it is still visually very intriguing, especially for the time it was made. The use of comets as missiles against the planet of Metaluna as a military tactic is one that is both physically sound and remarkably prescient: Robert Heinlein wrote about something similar is “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Its enough that asteroids can strike the planet by accident, but quite another if they’re guided missiles.

Trivia: If Doctor Carlson’s appearance seems familiar, despite the few times seen on screen, it is that the actor, Russell Johnson, is more famous as the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island”.

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