Invaders from Mars (1953) is an excellent example of how execution can overcome a mediocre plot. This story of the inhabitants of a spacecraft that lands in a small town taking over the bodies of its residents isn’t novel, but everything about the way it’s presented is unusual and artfully done. This is entirely due to the influence of director and production designer William Cameron Menzies. I recently enjoyed a 4K restoration of the film on a new DVD release from Ignite Films.
While Menzies had directed several films before this production, he had been most celebrated and prolific as a production designer. In this late career work he uses his distinctively bold style to mold the tone of the film, using eerie blue night lighting, stark, oversized sets, and dramatic perspective to create an unsettling, otherworldly tone. The film’s hero is a boy (Jimmy Hunt) who tries in vain to get the grown ups around him to believe that aliens are invading, and the sets are made to express the intimidation and rigid conformity that the adult world represents for him.
As with many of the sci-fi flicks of the era, Invaders from Mars can be read as an allegory for any number of societal ills people of the day were experiencing. It doesn’t need another read though, the effect of those amazing sets, the goofy look of the aliens in a late film reveal, and the actors who know just how much to give in a production where everything around them is already giving a lot makes it work as pure entertainment. It also perfectly evokes the feelings and fears of being young and relying on your parents for safety and support when the rest of the world feels overwhelming and mysterious.
Special features on the disc are robust and include a new and vintage trailer, interviews with the film’s star Jimmy Hunt, Menzies’ biographer James Curtis, and Menzies’ granddaughter Pamela Lausen, a featurette about the production, director John Sayles’ introduction for the film at TCM Classic Film Festival, restoration comparisons, a press image gallery, and a 20-page booklet with essays about the restoration process.
Many thanks to Ignite Films for providing a copy of the film for review.