William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957), was one of the great influential production designers in cinema; indeed, the term “production design” was coined for his work on Gone with the Wind (1939). Yet, he was less prepossessing as a director because of failings common to art directors turned directors: he tended to use actors as design elements rather than encourage performances from them, and he tended to pay more attention to “the look” than the story and pace. Even so, he directed two remarkable if imperfect examples of ‘50s Cold War paranoia: Invaders from Mars (1953) and the earlier The Whip Hand (1951), which is now on demand from Warner Archive.
A blandly pretty, young Elliott Reid plays Matt Corbin, a reporter who goes fishing near a small town and smacks his head against a boulder. Late in the movie, he’ll smack the other side of his head against a branch and start bleeding all over again from a fresh wound. What a clumsy fellow! When he goes for help, he finds himself a prisoner of taciturn, falsely friendly, or just openly hostile locals who have taken over the town since all the lake fish died from a mysterious virus. What’s going on? It has something to do with the lodge across the lake, and Matt smilingly blusters his way into trouble while romancing a nervous local sweetheart (Carla Balenda).