Don’t Open That Door!

#6 - 'This Island Earth' (1955)

by David Maine

26 July 2012

Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950's horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: a raging cosmic hurricane crashes against the sandy shores of This Island Earth
cover art

This Island Earth

Director: Joseph M. Newman
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

US theatrical: 1 Jun 1955

Alternate titles: I Never Metalunan I Didn’t Like; What Is It About Aliens and Bad Hair?

Big-budget production features lavish sets and good special effects
Committed cast turns in a solid performance
Sense of wonder engendered by what’s going on “out there” (and reinforced by the title)
Very cool monsters and an unexpected ending
It’s in color!

Monsters, although cool, are thin on the ground
A great deal of setup is necessary for the plot, but drags a bit
SYNOPSIS: Ruggedly pretty Dr Meachum is an expert in a.) electronics, b.) nuclear energy, and c.) snappy banter with reporters. He’s bewildered when a catalog shows up at his lab, however, selling parts for wacky machines that he’s never heard of. Being the cautious, play-by-the-rules type, he orders one of everything and sets about trying to put it all together. When he’s done, he has something called a “velociraptor” (I may have the name wrong) which is apparently a machine designed to test his ability to make rash decisions. Before you can say, “Are you sure this is such a good idea, Doc?” Meachum is chatting with a fellow named Exeter, who is cagey about his background but looks suspiciously like a space alien who has arrived on Earth looking for a decent haircut. He offers Meachum a ride on his plane, and Meachum—a pilot whose last flight ended in a green glowing aircraft that landed itself after losing power and steering—agrees. Maybe the doc figures he has good luck in abundance.

Meachum is taken to a secret facility, where he meets up with old flame Dr Adams, who pretends not to know him at first, and a pile of other science types, including Dr Adams’s pal Steve. They set about trying to turn lead into uranium, which I’m pretty sure is something they outlawed in the Dark Ages, until an unforeseen turn of events leaves the secret facility in flames and Drs Meachum and Adams aboard a flying saucer, zipping through space along with Exeter and some other guys who share the same barber. Turns out these fellows are a.) from a distant planet called Metaluna, b.) at war with another planet called Zaygon, and c.) losing. Their planet needs an energy shield to protect it from attacks, and that means uranium, which they don’t have, so that means lead-into-uranium. Everybody keeping up? To show their good will, the aliens have a.) abducted the scientists, b.) killed their colleagues, and c.) blown up the lab. Hey, maybe it’s a cultural thing.

But it may all be academic for our professors, as Metaluna is in the process of getting thoroughly hosed by the evil Zaygons (weapon of choice: meteor). Metaluna has seen better days, and all the scientists want to do is a.) leave, b.) leave fast, and c.) get the hell out of Dodge while the gettin’s good. Unfortunately, there’s a large-brained but dim-witted mutant insect-crab-biped with other ideas, and even if the humans manage to escape, what’s the point? Exeter is still in charge of the flying saucer, and it’s not like he can go back home. The again, maybe he can fly to a.) another planet, b.) another galaxy, or c.) Hawaii.

Best line of dialogue: “In this place, I wouldn’t trust my grandmother!”

What gets blasted to smithereens: A car and driver; a guy; a scientific facility full of scientists; a planet; a civilization; some guys with really bad haircuts; a spaceship; another guy with a bad haircut, who should’ve taken his hairdresser along with him.

What gets saved: In an interesting twist, the evildoers make it through just fine and are still out there, lurking.

It’s on the Internet so it must be true: According to the Internet Movie Database, the German scientist who speaks after dinner at the research facility says the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, the meal was excellent, but after Mozart’s marvelous music I need to be alone with myself for a while. Good evening.” We will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Party game: Play “Meteor.” Balance a child’s playground ball on top of a paper or syrofoam cup. Players sit on the couch and take turns throwing balled-up wads of newspaper at it. First player who topples the ball off the cup is named honorary Zaygon. If this is too easy, try increasing the challenge by moving further away, standing on one foot while throwing, etc.

Moral of the story: Sometimes Super Cuts really is the best option.

Somehow their careers survived: Jeff Morrow (Exeter) was a veteran of many films, such as Siege at Red River and Roman drama Sign of the Pagan (both 1954), and would soon star in uber-turkey The Giant Claw along with the much better Kronos (both 1957). 1955 was a busy year for Faith Domergue (Dr Adams), who starred in this movie plus Cult of the Cobra and It Came From Beneath the Sea; the following year would bring Timeslip. Her career would continue until 1974’s So Evil, My Sister and The House of Seven Corpses. Both Morrow and Rex Reason (Dr Meachum) would appear in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956); Reason would also star in westerns like The Rawhide Trail (1958) and The Miracle of the Hills (1959), before going on to a supporting role in TV’s The Roaring ‘20s (1960-61). Russell Johnson (Steve) had been in It Came From Outer Space (1953) and would be seen in Roger Corman’s 1957 weird-fest Attack of the Crab Monsters, as well as TV western Black Saddle (1959-60).

BOTTOM LINE: An early ancestor to Star Wars, this far-above-average space opera still holds up today.

NEXT WEEK: The Mole People

This Island Earth


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