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It Conquered 

the World

Part Four of The IT-athon!

      "He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature, and because of it, the greatest in the universe..."

--  Dr. Paul Wilson waxing philosophically   

 

     

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Sights &
Sounds:
It Conquered
the World
(1956)
 Sunset Productions /
 American International
Fast, Furious
& Really,
Really Cheap:
The Early Films
of Roger Corman.

Monster from the Ocean Floor

The Fast and the Furious

The Beast with a Million Eyes

It Conquered the World

Teenage Doll

Machine Gun Kelly

A Bucket of Blood

The Wasp Woman

The Last Woman on Earth

 
 

Apparently, Dr. Paul Wilsonís repeated attempts to send a space-probe to Venus haven't been going very well ... In fact, if we wanted to be brutally honest about it, they've been a total cluster-[expletive deleted]. Not one to give up so easily, even though all the previously launched satellites malfunctioned and cracked-up in orbit, another $9,000,000 probe is launched. (Hell, itís only the taxpayerís money. Why not.) Meanwhile, in Washington DC, a frantic Tom Anderson implores to the head brass of such things that all attempts to explore outer-space must be aborted immediately. Once considered a brilliant scientist -- and an important part of Wilson's Venus program -- until revealing he was in direct communication with certain extraterrestrials, it really should come to no one's surprise that Anderson's repeated warnings about his alien friends putting up a NO TRESPASSING sign, and how all further probes will meet with the same fiery fate, arenít taken all that seriously.

Despite his former colleague's shaky mental state, Wilson (Peter Graves) remains close friends with Anderson (Lee Van Cleef) and his wife, Claire. And when the Andersons invite the Wilsons over for dinner, despite Claire's protests, her husband plans to reveal his alien communication equipment to his guests after desert. With her husband deaf, blind and dumb in his obsessions, all Claire (Beverly Garland) can do is woefully shake her head and prepare for the evening.

After Wilson and his wife, Joan (Sally Fraser), arrive, and the ladies excuse themselves to the kitchen, Anderson smugly confides to his friend how he has been in communication with the planet Venus for quite some time, and, being in constant contact with this friend from another world, Anderson has completely bought into the Venusian's way of life. Unsure of what to make of all of this, Wilson doesn't have long to contemplate before receiving an urgent phone call from the Space Probe Command Center. Sure enough, just as Anderson predicted, the latest probe has disappeared, too. (And another $9,000,000 goes down in flames.) After the Wilsons leave, Claire letís her gloating husband know their current situation has made her very uncomfortable. She still loves him, but is at her wit's end with all this alien stuff and just wants her old husband back. Told not to worry, Claire is promised big things are in the works for the both of them, and if she'll wait just a little while longer, then, all will be revealed.

Meanwhile, over at the Command Center, Wilson is informed the lost space probe has fortuitously reappeared on radar. All seems nominal at first as the command crew tries to guide it safely back down -- but then they quickly lose control again, and then helplessly watch as it crashes. (Accomplished by an extremely funny F/X shot of the probe gently gliding down, but then quickly accelerating at a 90-degree angle straight into a cliff!) And emerging from the smoldering wreckage, something sinister scuttles out...

A short while later, Anderson receives a transmission from his Venusian buddy. Seems the alien hijacked and commandeered the probe, and then road it back to Earth! Promised that, together, they will take over the world and create a new utopian society, Anderson happily pulls a Benedict Arnold and reveals all the local authority figures who will have to be brought under control. With that, the Venusian basically poops out several control devices -- resembling a genetic cross between a stingray and a maple-glazed cruller -- that flutter off to do their insidious deeds. With phase one complete, the alien then sets phase two into action by somehow shutting down all forms of energy in the immediate area, causing everything to slowly decelerate to a complete halt.

As the locals go into a panic, the control-critters place implants in the Sheriff (Taggert Casey) and General Paddock (Russ Bender), the commander of the military base attached to the Space Probe Command Center, turning them into mindless slaves. Enthralled by the Venusian, Paddock blames a Communist uprising for the power outages and quickly declares martial law. But after the base is also locked down, Paddock sends the entire garrison out on patrol -- about ten soldiers all told, including the Sarge and Ortiz, the carcinogenic comic relief (-- played by Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze, respectively), who march out about two-hundred yards, set up camp, and await further orders.

In town, the zombified Sheriff orders everyone to evacuate on foot, and when everyone leaves except for the local newspaper publisher, who refuses to go, the Sheriff shoots him dead. Witnessing this execution, Wilson confronts the shooter but is quickly subdued. However, the Sheriff doesnít hurt him and quickly lets him go, ominously intoning how the retreating  Wilson is to become one of them!

Confronting Anderson with the cold facts about what he's seen and what kind of utopian society the invading monster is really proposing does Wilson no good. His friend stubbornly refuses to be swayed and urges Wilson to just give in to the inevitable. When he refuses, promising to put up a fight, Wilson leaves to do just that. After he's gone, Anderson contacts the Venusian and sadly reports that he was wrong, and his old friend will have to be implanted like the others to bring him in line. And when Wilson gets home, to his horror, he finds Joan has already been taken over and zombified. Releasing the control-critter meant for him, she then locks them in a room together. But Wilson manages to kill the thing before it can zap him, and when his wife returns, Wilson, rather bluntly, shoots Joan right where she stands.

I can't begin to describe how brutal this scene is. Wilson doesn't even make an attempt to help her, or reach her, or encourage her to resist. He just quickly rationalizes how he must be saving her from an emotionless future, and then matter-of-factly plugs her. Damn, but if that ain't some cold shit. 

Crushed, Wilson heads back to the Andersons with every intention of biblically avenging his wife. Proving to be too dangerous, the constantly monitoring Venusian orders Anderson to eliminate him. Overhearing all of this proves the last straw for Claire. Stealing Tomís rifle, she heads for the caves where the creature is hiding out. Back at the house, when Wilson arrives, the two have it out -- not physically, but verbally. And just when it appears that Wilson might finally be getting through to Anderson the communicator kicks on ... Claire has arrived at the caves and has flushed the Venusian out -- and here, we finally get a good look at the giant turnip thatís trying to take over the world and breath a huge sigh of relief. *whew* Meanwhile, Claire scolds the monster, saying its ugly, and demands her enthralled husband's release. She fires at the thing repeatedly, but the bullets have no effect as the monster closes in, wraps its claws around her neck, and strangles her.

Hearing all of this over the communicator, Anderson finally snaps back to reality. Switching sides to avenge his wife, the two men quickly devise a plan to bring about the Venusian's demise. Splitting up, Anderson will head for the caves, while Wilson will go to the military base for more help. Elsewhere, while scrounging for some food, when Ortiz hears Claireís death-screams, he investigates, discovering both her body and then the monster! Hightailing it back to the bivouac for reinforcements, a flustered Ortiz finally manages to convince the Sarge that the monster is real -- who then barks an order for the squad to mount up and prepare for an attack.

At the Command Center, two of the command crew have been taken over by the control-critters, who then kill the third crewmember. Seems there are a few more Venusians left on the mother-planet, so another probe is to be sent to bring them all back to Earth. When Wilson arrives, he deduces theyíve been converted and kills them all. (A little fast on the trigger, there, aren't ya Pete?) Finding the rest of the base deserted, Wilson heads for the caves. Along the way, he runs into Paddock, and, after a brief struggle, Wilson dispatches him, too. (Geez. What's this guy's body count up to now? Six or seven?) Not to be outdone, Anderson runs into the Sheriff, who gets gruesomely dispatched with a blow-torch. Back at the cave, the soldier's first attack ends in failure, when the creature still proves bullet resistant, and Ortiz is killed while trying to run a bayonet through it. And its only when the Venusian forces the troops to retreat back outside, and the bazooka team goes to work, do they finally manage to at least slow the creature down.

When Anderson arrives and confronts the creature face to face -- well, face to kneecap, he chastises the killer turnip for lying to him, and then sticks the blowtorch into the creatureís eye -- itís only vulnerable spot, I guess, as the monster soon keels over. But before the monster expires, it manages to strangle Anderson to death first.

Arriving too late to shoot anybody else, Wilson views the carnage, and then goes into a big speech about what makes mankind so great that rivals Tom Joadís speech at the end of The Grapes of Wrath (-- later lovingly lampooned in the MST3k episode featuring this film.)

"He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature, and because of it, the greatest in the universe. He learned too late for himself that men have to find their own way, to make their own mistakes. There can't be any gift of perfection from outside ourselves. When men seek such perfection they find only death, fire, loss, disillusionment and the end of everything that's gone forward. Men have always sought an end to our misery but it can't be given, it has to be achieved. There is hope, but it has to come from inside, from Man himself."

The maudlin score triumphantly swells and escorts us to...

The End

The following is an excerpt from Roger Cormanís biography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime about the making of It Conquered the World:

"Before shooting, Beverly [Garland] ad-libbed a few sharp lines of her own. From my engineering and physics background, Iíd reasoned that a being from a planet with a powerful field of gravity would sit very low to the ground. So with my effects man, Paul Blaisdell, Iíd designed a rather squat creature. But just before we were about to shoot the climatic showdown with Beverly and the monster, she stood over it and stared it down, hands on her hips. 'So,' she said with a derisive snarl, making sure I heard her, 'youíve come to conquer our world, have you? Well, take that!' And she kicked the monster in the head. I got the point immediately. By that afternoon the monster was rebuilt ten feet high. Lesson one: Always make the monster bigger than your leading lady."

This wasnít Cormanís first attempt at science fiction, but itís probably his most notoriously infamous. And this reputation is based mostly on the monster that looked like an inverted turnip with teeth. If you believe the oft contested tale, you can see the basic shape of the original monster and what was allegedly added on to appease the leading lady. Corman realized the overall goofiness of it and wisely kept it in the shadows because you didnít really see the monster until the very end when it gets killed. But then again, in his efforts to keep things quick and cheap, he might not have even cared. In truth, the only reason the monster came out into the light of day was because the generator to run the lights inside the cave broke and they couldn't afford to fix it. Once outside, when they rigged up the creature with blasting caps for the bazooka hits, the interior shell soon filled up with the resulting smoke. When the shot was completed, Corman called a cut, not realizing the creature was still smoldering from the inside out. Actor Dick Miller noticed and told him to keep rolling, figuring they could use it. But Corman didn't notice the F/X gone awry, and started swinging his director's stick around until he noticed the unintended side-effect, too. 

Turning to the cameraman, he asked "Did you get it?" 

Of course, the cameraman shook his head no. "You said cut." 

"Well, shit," said Corman.

And for more on the film's technical difficulties, I'll point you over to my tribute to creature-maker extraordinaire, Paul Blaisdell.

The monster aside, as far as rest of the film goes, I think its lofty script ambitions were sold a little short by production costs. Corman was always big on the tell don't show method of filmmaking, and there's an awful lot of talking in this movie -- a lot of talking that really isn't all that interesting, so that gonzoidal monster is a much welcomed relief whenever he shows up. Scripted by Lou Russof, with an uncredited assist by Corman regular Chuck Griffith, the film sorely lacks the sardonic, comedic touches that was just starting to bloom in Corman's other pictures. Griffith was brought in to salvage the script and was only given 48 hours to rewrite it, and it shows. And I think author Mark Thomas McGee summed the film up best in that "The picture, in essence, would be one end of a radio conversation."  

It is kinda amazing when you realize that half of this bug-eyed monster from outer space feature is nothing more than stock-footage and extra-loooong scenes of Van Cleef and Graves just talking. Not arguing. Talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Talking. Talking ... And the communistic red scare overtones arenít very subtle, either, borrowing heavily from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Okay, they ripped them off. Yet another Corman trademark, exploitation at its best/worst.

It Conquered the World (1956) Sunset Productions :: American International Pictures / EP: James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff / P: Roger Corman / D: Roger Corman / W: Lou Rusoff, Charles B. Griffith / C: Fred E. West / E: Charles Gross / M: Ronald Stein / S: Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, Sally Fraser, Russ Bender, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze

Back to the IT-athon!

Originally Posted: 03/24/00 :: Rehashed: 04/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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