It Conquered the World (1956)

This low-budget gem from Roger Corman and AIP is one of my favorite sci-fi films of the 50’s which is to say it’s one of my favorite films of all-time. Everything clicks (including the alien), beginning with solid acting with Lee Van Cleef as wacko physicist Dr. Tom Anderson, who communicates with “It”, Peter Graves as logical Dr. Paul Nelson, and Sally Fraser and Beverly Garland as the love interests.   We also have Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathon Haze as barely competent soldiers who encounter the alien presence.  Dick Miller is always fun in this sort of role.

The story goes something like this:  U.S. launched satellites are blowing up in space.  Eccentric physicist Tom Anderson believes an alien presence is monitoring the U.S. space program. Anderson warns the government ilk not to launch anymore satellites, but they do anyway, and the satellite vanishes.  Tom reveals to his friend and space program leader Dr. Paul Nelson that he is monitoring signals from Venus using a home-made radio-telescope.  Paul and his girlfriend think Anderson is nuts.  Anderson converses over the radio with a Venusian, which sounds like an out-of tune Theremin.  The alien takes control of the lost satellite and uses it a as vehicle to invade Earth. The satellite blows up, but not before the alien intelligence  lands on Earth near Bronson Cave.  Resultant mayhem ensues.

The alien has telepathic powers and the ability to disrupt power transmissions.  It also sends out curious bat-like flying finger creatures that serve as surveillance drones.  The drones attack people and implant electronic control devices in the necks of it’s victims.  The mother alien controls these victims, which include various military, government and police types.  The alien controls these folks, including the Major and a General.

I love the flying finger creatures.  Check out the creature by the Texaco sign (above). They were designed and constructed by Paul Blaisdell.  A total of four “bats” were made out of latex and rubber. Blaisdell named them Manny, Moe, Mack and Sleepy.  Three of the bats were rigged for flying using monofilament wire described by Blaisdell as similar to operating a marionette (Palmer, 1997).  Sleepy was a stationary prop rigged to breath or pulsate by means of a bladder coupled to a regulator and CO2 tank.

Look ma no wires! The flying drone effects are effective and well staged. At times the flying fingers appear to me to be cartoon animated, but they’re suspended on wires.  Here’s one swooping down to attack Peter Graves. Where are the wires?  You don’t need CGI to hide wires.  Just hire Paul Blaisdell.

Peter Graves, Sally Faser, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef appear to be having fun.

Of course the real star of It Conquered the World is the Venusian “Beulah” (nick-named by Blaisdell).  Paul Blaisdell went through a few different conceptual designs before settling on a squat conical beast with elongated crustacean claws.   Beulah was made out of a lattice-work of plywood mounted to a swivel base capable of 90º movement. The wooden skeletal frame was covered with panels of foam rubber and touched up with multiple layers of liquid latex to create the finished Venusian (Palmer, 1997). Beulah was painted with red lacquer paint and highlighted with black, but the finished film is black-and-white (year’s later FilmFax published some color photograph’s of Beulah).  The prop was eventually destroyed in 1969 during a devastating flood that occurred in Southern California.  In the film, Lee Van Cleef pulls out a trusty blow torch…

It Conquered the World still hasn’t received an official DVD or Blu-Ray release.  I only have a crappy VHS copy several year’s old.  This is one of the films that Susan Hart (widow of James Nicholson) refuses to sell for a reasonable cost for release.  It’s a shame.  Along with Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It Conquered the World perhaps showcases Paul Blaisdell’s finest monster creations.

Further Reading:

Mark Thomas McGee, 1984. Fast and Furious, The Story of American International Pictures, McFarland & Company, Inc.

Randy Palmer, 1997. Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker, McFarland & Company, Inc.

4 Responses to “It Conquered the World (1956)”

  1. I love ‘It Conquered the World’. I have only a VHS tape of it recorded off AMC in 2002, but have seen it many times and enjoyed it, and also enjoyed the remake ‘Zontar, the Thing From Venus’ from 1966.

    I wonder whether this film might have inspired the Star Trek TOS episode ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ (1967), written by Stephen W. Carabatsos, which involved flying, amoeba-like, malevolent, parasitic creatures which attach themselves to crew members.

    Beverly Garland is very good here, in the Claire Anderson rôle. Peter Graves is excellent as Dr. Paul Nelson. My only complaint is with Lee Van Cleef, whom I felt was miscast as physicist Dr. Tom Anderson–I thought the rôle required an actor who was more likeable; maybe a John Agar, or maybe even Roger Corman himself.

    A great favorite. Enjoyed reading your comments about it here, Barry.

  2. whoah this weblog is magnificent i really like studying your posts. Stay up the great work! You recognize, lots of persons are looking around for this information, you could aid them greatly.

  3. IT CCNQUERED THE WORLD (1956) efficiently recycles ideas from a number of previous 1950s SF films including THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), INVADERS FROM MARS (1953), IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956).

    Interestingly it may have served as a partial inspiration for THE OUTER LIMITS (ABC 1963-65) pilot episode “The Galaxy Being” (16/09/1963) which also involves a lone scientist who makes communication contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence. Have you noticed that IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956) has a similar cinewave-like bar in its main opening titles not unlike THE OUTER LIMITS’ titles?

    As far as ownership is concerned everyone readily assumes that Susan Hart has legal rights but outside of having this film in her possession what other proof is there to substantiate this?

    The American-International Pictures film library has changed hands three times since Samuel Z. Arkoff eventually sold the company. It has subsequently been passed over to Filmways Incorporated, then Orion Pictures and finally MGM.

    Surely MGM has (or should have) all the legal documentation connected with AIP and they should get their company lawyers (who are on the payroll anyway) and sift through everything pertaining to contracts and agreements. Maybe MGM may prove to be the legal owner afterall?

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