Thursday, August 1, 2019

Short Take: Not of This Earth



(1957) Directed by Roger Corman; Written by: Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna; Starring: Paul Birch, Beverly Garland, Morgan Jones, William Roerick, Jonathan Haze and Dick Miller; Available on DVD (Out of print)

Rating: ***½

“Throwing in some tongue-in-cheek humor paid off: the picture took in close to $1 million in rentals. It was a definite turning point because it proved that mixing in some offbeat humor only increased the appeal of science fiction.” – Roger Corman (excerpt from How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome)

Roger Corman Month has illustrated the diverse output of the producer/director (The Intruder, The “Poe Cycle,” etc…), whose resume spans far beyond drive-in schlock. Sometimes, however, all you want is drive-in schlock, and Corman’s got you covered. Not of This Earth* was shot in two weeks for under $100,000, and released on a double bill with Attack of the Crab Monsters.
           
* Fun Fact #1: According to the DVD commentary, the title sequence was by animator Paul Julian, who worked on the Oscar-nominated short “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1953), and provided the voice of the Roadrunner in the Warner Brothers cartoons.

An anemic human-like alien, Paul Johnson (Paul Birch),* comes from the war-torn planet of Davanna on a mission to determine the viability of using human blood as a means of preserving his dying species. He conveniently outlines his six-step plan for world domination, using a secret communication/teleportation device hidden behind a panel in his den. The fifth phase is the “conquest, subjugation and pasturing” of the “subhumans” (aka: Earth people) for their blood. If their blood isn’t viable, the sixth phase involves obliterating the Earth (I’m guessing he compared notes with Marvin the Martian). Any way you slice it, humanity is screwed. If his plan works, we’re only there to provide a constant blood supply. If it doesn’t, kaboom!  

* Fun Fact #2: Paul Birch was the original Marlboro Man, debuting in the mid-50s.

Beverly Garland does a nice job as Nadine Storey, Johnson’s plucky live-in nurse. She’s smart, funny, and doesn’t take any guff from anyone, especially Jeremy (Jonathan Haze), Johnson’s handsy ex-con personal assistant. Birch is memorable as the emotionless Paul Johnson, who fries people’s brains with his eyes. Birch was replaced halfway through production by Lyle Latell, who had similar features (of course, wearing a hat and dark glasses helped). Depending on which version of events you believe, Birch was fired from the production due to his problems with alcoholism or walked off the set, because he was required to wear cloudy contact lenses that caused severe discomfort. Corman stalwart Dick Miller (credited in the film as Richard Miller) makes a lasting impression in his short but memorable role as door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman Joe Piper. Miller ad-libbed his dialogue, based on his prior experience as a door-to-door salesman (“Hey, man, you wanna purchase, you purchase, you don’t wanna purchase, you don’t purchase.”).  

Corman gets the most for the money in Not of This Earth, even when the effects are less than convincing. It’s hard not to snicker at the briefly seen flying umbrella creature, dangling from a fishing line (designed by Paul Blaisdell who also created the silly but distinctive pickle monster that terrorized Beverly Garland in 1956’s It Conquered the World), but it has a certain DIY charm. Not of This Earth was remade not once, but twice, in 1988, featuring Traci Lords as Nadine, and again in 1995, with Michael York as Paul Johnson. The film, with its simple yet venerable premise, lends itself to low budget interpretations. The original version successfully incorporated themes of Cold War paranoia and fear of nuclear obliteration into an entertaining drive-in flick. Perhaps it’s ripe, once more, for another generation to discover and re-tool for current salient issues.

Sources: DVD commentary by Tom Weaver, John Brunas and Mike Brunas; How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, with Jim Jerome

2 comments:

  1. I have shamefully only seen the one with Traci Lords.

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    1. I'll just keep that our little secret. ;)

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