Saturday, September 30, 2017

Not of This Earth (1957) 3 of 4

not of this earth 
** spoiler warning **

In a society based on assimilation, infiltrators need only learn language and behaviors, but terror unfulfilled eventually yields to laughter.  As the paranoid decade cracked a smile, Hollywood sci-fi enjoyed its first golden moment: 1956's Forbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1957's The Incredible Shrinking Man, and 1958's The Blob, The Fly, and I Married a Monster From Outer Space.

Garland posing for Corman's Gunslinger
Unlike those, Roger Corman's original Not of This Earth is overtly comic.  It settles an alien vampire in Southern California, his predatory habits escaping notice of suburbanites working their own angles.  They include teens with their insistent slang (a new phenomenon, meriting extended notice).  Charles Griffith and Mark Hanna's script is witty and inventive, yielding a hybrid of The Outer Limits ("The Duplicate Man," maybe) and Mad Magazine.

The alien passing as businessman "Paul Johnson" (Paul Birch) has the power to cloud men's minds.  His easiest mark is the 40ish blood-bank doctor; later, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman (Dick Miller) provides lunch: as paperbacks and magazine articles warned, (aging) corporate men were at risk of dehumanization.  Stalwart resistance comes from the margins: a free-spirit chaffeur (Jonathan Haze), a motorcycle cop and his love interest, nurse-with-moxie Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland).

Garland was a pistol, and the droll center of the movie.  Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia notes Garland's career was "hampered by frequent confrontations with producers and the press"; collating with her persona, she had a backbone before fashionable.  In any case, Garland is more alive than anyone else (there's a pall over Johnson), and credible as alien fighter: she's used to deflecting predators.

There's inherent humor in a beautiful woman, e.g., the only thing creepier than an old man advancing on a beauty is one (like Johnson) who refrains completely.  He hires Nadine, charging her with "seeing to it I do not expire" -- he always talks that way.

His troubled planet is Davanna.  Like the ottoman Dick Van Dyke tripped over, "divan" could suggest a xenophobia of objects.  As in The Invaders a decade later, these aliens are collectivists who literalize pejoratives: anemic, bloodless, dead-eyed, death-warmed-over.  Their quasi-vampirism has scientific causes, as in I Am Legend (published 1954).  Finally, like the Vidians in Star Trek: Voyager, the Davannans will sacrifice others to save themselves from disease. 

Nadine isn't quite a final girl, requiring male assistance to survive.  Old weird Johnson's mission is evaluating humans for "pasturing," i.e. as livestock (compare Daybreakers), with transport to Davanna, evidently, via a mirror frame outfitted with ping-pong balls.  The enthralled Nadine is the beta-test, but the cop runs Johnson into a ravine and fiery death.  The tag seems to tease a never-made sequel.  Not of This Earth was remade in 1988 (with Traci Lords) and 1995; it's past time for another.     


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