Cast & Crew
After what appears to be a meteor crashes in a gulley in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles, scientist and Pacific Technical professor Clayton Forrester drives to the site. The blackened, cylindrical object has attracted a crowd of onlookers, including Sylvia Van Buren, a library science teacher from the University of Southern California, who knows Clayton by reputation. Unable to use his Geiger counter on the fiery hot object, Clayton decides to spend the night in the area and return to the gulley the next day. Sylvia and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins, offer Clayton their home and invite him to a square dance that evening. While Clayton and Sylvia are enjoying the dance, three locals who have been assigned to watch the object are startled when a previously hidden lid unscrews and a long-necked, metallic probe with a pulsating red "eye" emerges from the object's top. Although terrified, the men attempt to greet the probe, carrying a white flag and declaring their friendship. The probe studies the men for a few seconds, then shoots out a death ray, obliterating them. At the same moment, the power goes out at the dance and all the guests's wristwatches stop. After Clayton determines that everything has become magnetized, the sheriff drives up to announce that a fire has broken out in the gulley. Clayton, the sheriff and his deputy rush to the site and are immediately targeted by the probe. Sensing danger, the deputy races off in the patrol car, while Clayton and the sheriff dive behind some rocks. The probe shoots some rays, annihilating the patrol car, but missing Clayton and the sheriff. After a second object streaks across the sky and lands nearby, soldiers and ordnance from El Toro Marine Base are called to the scene and arrive with a radio reporter and other scientists. When an Air Force plane flies over the gulley, the probe begins firing at it, convincing Clayton that the object is the product of extraterrestrial intelligence, probably Martian. Later, reinforcements from the 6th Army Command, led by Gen. Mann, roll in, and Mann reveals that space ships have landed all over the world and that once they become active, phone lines and other means of communication are rendered useless. Noting that the two southern California sites are the only ones that have been militarily surrounded, Mann tells Clayton that their operations will be a guide for the rest of the world. At dawn, as the Army prepares to attack, a disc-shaped craft, to which the probe is attached, rises out of the gulley on invisible magnetic legs and starts "walking" toward the soldiers. Disregarding protocol, the pacifistic Matthew steps out to meet the craft and two others that have emerged from the gulley and, while reciting the 23rd Psalm, is disintegrated by death rays. Army tanks and artillery then bombard the discs, but enshrouded in an electromagnetic force field, the discs prove impenetrable. After many soldiers are killed by the advancing crafts, Mann orders a retreat and heads for Los Angeles. Clayton, meanwhile, escapes with Sylvia in his airplane, but is soon forced to crash-land. Clayton and Sylvia flee and hide while the discs encircle the downed plane. Sylvia falls asleep in Clayton's arms, and later, after they have found refuge in an abandoned farm house, Clayton reassures Sylvia that they will find a way to destroy the Martians. Suddenly, another space vessel crashes into the side of the house and Clayton is knocked out. When he revives hours later, a terrified Sylvia informs him that more ships have landed in the hills, and they are blocked in. Another probe, this one with a red, green and blue "eye," thrusts itself into the house, and Clayton hacks it in two with an ax. After Sylvia catches a glimpse of a small, long-armed creature outside, the creature sneaks up behind her and touches her with its spindly, three-fingered hand. Clayton hurls the ax at the creature, and the creature, whose wide, flat head boasts a single, three-colored eye identical to the probe, scurries off, screeching in pain. In the confusion, Clayton and Sylvia slip away, and later, while world leaders meet to discuss the plight of the planet, stagger into Pacific Tech with the hacked-off probe and a scarf stained with alien blood. An examination of the blood reveals that the Martians are anemic, and the probe, which the scientists speculate mimics the aliens' actual eyes, is dissected to demonstrate how their vision works. Government and military leaders in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, decide to drop an atomic bomb on the California invaders, but the aliens' force fields again prove impervious. Calculating that they have only six days to stop the aliens, the Pacific Tech scientists prepare to leave for Colorado, where they hope to devise an effective attack strategy. As Los Angelenos frantically evacuate, Clayton sends Sylvia off on a school bus with the other scientists, then follows in a truck. In the downtown area, however, the truck is beseiged and stolen by hysterical citizens, desperate to get out of the city. Clayton is abandoned on the street and, after finding a torn-off school bus sign, begins to search for Sylvia. Recalling a story she told him about her childhood, Clayton goes from church to church looking for her, while the alien ships begin their assault on the city. The churches are filled with frightened people, and when Clayton finally locates Sylvia, they embrace as a minister prays for a miracle. Just then, one of the ships crashes into a neighboring building, and silence fills the air. Outside, Clayton and the others see the craft door open and a Martian arm flop down. The alien then dies, and other ships begin to crash around it. The Martians, who have contracted bacterial infections from the Earth's atmosphere, expire, and to the world's relief, the invasion ends.
Houseley Stevenson Jr.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Morton C. Thompson
Frank Freeman Jr.
Stanley W. Orr
Charles J. Stewart
Monroe W. Burbank
C. Kenneth Deland
Frank Freeman Jr.
Thomas B. Middleton
Michael D. Moore
Loren L. Ryder
Best Special Effects
The War of the Worlds (1953) - The War of the Worlds (1953)
The War of the Worlds was one of the most popular novels of British author H. G. Wells; it was first published in 1898 and told of a global invasion of Earth by "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" from the planet Mars. The focus of the book was an unnamed narrator who first witnesses explosions on Mars through the telescope of an Observatory in Ottershaw, England. He is nearby when a cylinder crashes outside London and tentacled Martians emerge to build war machines. The man takes his wife to safety in the nearby town of Leatherhead, and becomes separated from her when more cylinders land around the countryside. The Martians conduct their invasion inside giant metal tripods which walk strategically throughout the area, firing heat rays to destroy lives and property.
One who recognized that Wells' story would make an exciting motion picture was director Cecil B. DeMille, one of the most influential film makers of the silent era. Soon after the epic-making success of The Ten Commandments (1923), DeMille's studio, Paramount Pictures, bought the film rights to the Wells book - in perpetuity - in 1925. A script was written by Roy Pomeroy, but it went unproduced. In 1930, the noted Russian director Sergei Eisenstein (The Battleship Potemkin ), traveled to Hollywood to make a picture; Paramount offered him the property and another screenplay was written, but Eisenstein opted for another studio's offer. Finally, in 1938 a version of The War of the Worlds was produced in the United States which created a media sensation. It was not a motion picture, however, but the Mercury Theater on the Air radio play conceived by Orson Welles and written by Howard Koch as a series of modern-day news bulletins detailing an invasion force landing in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. The Halloween broadcast was a sensation and brought the story to the forefront of the public's consciousness. Paramount, however, was not keen on producing a movie depicting violent war from outer space at a time when real war was being waged in Europe.
In 1952 George Pal tossed aside the scripts he found in Paramount's files and hired screenwriter Barre Lyndon to tackle the story. Lyndon had recently worked with Pal's booster at Paramount, DeMille, on the epic circus film, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and had written a suspense thriller, The House on 92nd Street (1945) that Pal greatly admired. There was no question for Pal that Wells' Victorian story should be updated to modern times. As the producer told Steve Rubin (for Rubin's 1977 retrospective on the film for Cinefantastique magazine), "The War of the Worlds was no longer as ancient as Wells had once believed. With all the talk about flying saucers, it had become especially timely. And that is one of the reasons we updated the story to the present and placed it in California - the other being the obviously limited budget and the costliness of a London period film."
In Lyndon's update, a calm night in the small California town near Los Angeles is disrupted by what appears to be a meteor crashing into a gulley. Professor Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) of Pacific Tech is on a fishing trip nearby and drives to investigate. The cylindrical object that crashed has attracted many local onlookers, including library science teacher Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who invites Prof. Forrester to stay with her and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). That night most of the town attends a square dance, but three curious locals approach the object when a hatch begins to unscrew. Waving a flag of friendship, the men are incinerated by a heat ray emitted from a cobra-shaped metallic appendage from the cylinder. Power in the town is disrupted as are, apparently, magnetic fields. Forrester and other townspeople return to the crash site to witness large alien spacecraft rising from the Gulley. A second cylinder crashes nearby as soldiers from the El Toro Marine base arrive. The Martian firepower is overwhelming and more reinforcements from the 6th Army Command under General Mann (Les Tremayne) enter the fray, to no avail.
Pal met with great resistance when he first brought Lyndon's script to the front office. Don Hartman, vice-president of production at Paramount, tossed the script in the trash. Pal later described Hartman as "a former writer who was very good at developing different types of films but who had no appreciation whatsoever for science fiction. He didn't understand it." Pal was so angered by the executive's response that the normally calm Hungarian grabbed Hartman by the lapels and subjected him to a barrage of expletives. Fortunately, Pal had the support of not only Cecil B. DeMille, but also Paramount chief Y. Frank Freeman who gave Pal the go-ahead for the film.
Pal hired his director early on during story development. Knowing that his picture would be dependent on the success of the special effects, he hired Byron Haskin, who once headed up the effects department at Warner Bros. As Haskin later told Gail Morgan Hickman (in The Films of George Pal), "George and Frank Freeman, Jr., the associate producer, and Barre Lyndon, the writer, and I would all sit around and discuss the thing. And then Barre would put the thing together. Barre was a very pragmatic writer. We came up with some pretty far out things, and Barre would use them as the kernel of something good. He really knew his theater. His scenes played well. It was very challenging to try to update the story into a modern situation."
One of the keys to the success of The War of the Worlds was the striking design work by art director Albert Nozaki. Nozaki worked on the film at every stage of production, coming up with concept drawings at the outset, storyboards for the set pieces in the film, and most importantly, the final designs of the Martians and their fearsome hardware. After a few preliminary sketches, it was decided to depict the Martian war machines as flying craft rather than as the walking tripods of the book. In 1977 Nozaki told Rubin that "if the idea came from any place it came from something like the Manta Ray and originally that cobra-like control arm was coming out of the rear of the machine, like the tail of the Manta Ray. It was one of those ideas that instantly you know is right."
Nozaki's designs were actualized for the movie by the head of the film's special effects, Gordon Jennings. Three of the all-important Martian war machines were manufactured by the prop department, headed by Ivyl Burks. The machines were 42 inches across, and had movable cobra necks. They were made of copper to give them an ominous, reddish tint. Lighted green wing tips and devices to turn the cobra heads meant that each machine contained thousands of dollars worth of wiring and circuitry. The machines glided on overhead tracks, connected by 15 wires both for support and to carry needed electricity--at times the wires are visible in the finished film. Jennings used multiple exposures to depict such effects as the heat ray (filmed as sparks from a burning welding wire) and the protective shields of the machines (which were simply small glass domes made for display cases). Other effects, such as the startling result of the wing-tip rays, which turn human beings to skeletons before vaporizing them, were achieved through matte paintings - sometimes done a frame-at-a-time in the same fashion as cel animation.
Albert Nozaki also designed the Martian itself, seen briefly during the tense scene in which a cylinder crashes next to an abandoned farmhouse where Prof. Forrester and Sylvia have sought refuge. The elaborate alien prop was outfitted with an enormous three-color eye, long arms with suction-cup fingers, and pulsating veins throughout. The unforgettable alien suit was built by Charles Gemora, who was a veteran of the Paramount makeup department since 1932, although he was best known in Hollywood for his many film roles in a gorilla suit. Gemora's daughter Diana helped with the building of the alien and with the on-camera performance; it isn't obvious on film, but the Martian was a rush job made from chicken wire, latex rubber, and tubing, and it barely held together during the shoot.
The War of the Worlds was filmed in 3-strip Technicolor to great advantage. The Martian eye itself is broken into primary red-green-blue, and great attention is paid to color detail in the film, from the copper-red hues of the Martian war machines and the vivid green "skeleton ray" it emits, down to the red horn-rimmed glasses worn by Prof. Clayton and the multi-colored chalk-talk in which General Mann explains the Martian tactical maneuvers.
In addition to being a colorful and frightening science fiction film, The War of the Worlds is an expertly constructed action picture. The lulls are few and timed as breathers between set-piece action and suspense sequences, and the storytelling is clear and concise. Pal felt that the clarity of the film had to do with two creative decisions made early on in the planning stages with director Haskin. "First, Byron and I decided that we would never show the point-of-view of the Martians, despite the pleas from the front office which kept demanding that we shoot something of how they see us....Secondly, to add realism, ease the logistics and simplify the effects, we had Los Angeles always in the west and the Martians always in the east. All of the movement between the Army and the invaders was east to west. This made a complicated story easier to understand visually."
The critical notices for The War of the Worlds were overwhelmingly positive. The New York Times said that the film is "...an imaginatively conceived, professionally turned adventure, which makes excellent use of Technicolor, special effects by a crew of experts and impressively drawn backgrounds....Director Byron Haskin...made this excursion suspenseful, fast and, on occasion, properly chilling." The trade magazine Boxoffice called it "...possibly the most impressive all-time entry in its field....Pal went all out for spectacle, scope, fantasy, action, suspense and chills. His special effects, trick photography and results thereof defy description. They'll scare the jeans off of youngsters, and frequently adults." Variety had similar praise for the action and effects in the "socko science-fiction feature," but also found that "...the story finds opportunity to develop a logical love story between [Gene] Barry and Ann Robinson. Both are good and others seen to advantage include Les Tremayne as a general [and] Lewis Martin, a pastor who faces the invaders with a prayer and is struck down."
The War of the Worlds won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Special Effects for Gordon Jennings. Sadly, Jennings did not live to see the Oscar®; he died of a heart attack shortly after completing work on the film.
Paramount revisited some of the concepts, designs and even characters of the Pal film for a syndicated TV series, also called The War of the Worlds, in 1988. The series was a semi-sequel and ran for 44 episodes, from 1988 to 1990. The newest Paramount adaptation of the Wells novel is Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds (2005), starring Tom Cruise. This version is also updated to the present day, but it convincingly depicts the Martian war machines as walking tripods.
Producer: George Pal
Director: Byron Haskin
Screenplay: Barre Lyndon, based on the novel by H. G. Wells
Music: Leith Stevens
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: Everett Douglas
Art Direction: Albert Nozaki, Hal Pereira
Set Decoration: Sam Comer, Emile Kuri
Costume Design: Edith Head
Astronomical Art: Chesley Bonestell
Cast: Gene Barry (Dr. Clayton Forrester), Ann Robinson (Sylvia Van Buren), Les Tremayne (Maj. Gen. Mann), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Pryor), Sandro Giglio (Dr. Bilderbeck), Lewis Martin (Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins), Paul Frees (Radio Reporter), Cedric Hardwicke (Narrator).
by John M. Miller
The War of the Worlds (1953) - The War of the Worlds (1953)
The War of the Worlds, 1953 (Special Collector's Edition) - The War of the Worlds (1953) - Special Collector's Edition DVD
He would be proven wrong in 1938 when young upstart actor/director Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater on the Air would present an hour-long radio play of the story, transplanting it to present day New Jersey, that would prove so compelling that during its broadcast it caused a nationwide panic. The success of the radio play would amply demonstrate that the story could easily be reworked to the present, but the outcry in the aftermath of the notorious radio broadcast (Orson Welles was forced to make a public apology the next day, and the FCC took action against CBS, who had broadcast the program) may have made the story a bit too hot to handle. It would be another fifteen years before the novel would finally make it to the screen.
Producer George Pal, who had made a name for himself with his legendary stop-action animated Puppetoons, had already scored a hit with another end-of-the world saga, 1951's When Worlds Collide, and was the obvious choice to shepherd the making of this visually challenging movie. In adapting the novel to film, screenwriter Barre Lyndon (The Lodger, The House on 92nd Street), would again change the location of the story, this time to Southern California, and the end result would owe more to Orson Welles than to the author. And the prospect of animating the tripod killing-machines described in the novel would prove too costly, so Art Director Al Nozaki came up with his own design, resembling a manta ray with a cobra head from which the death-dealing heat ray would emanate: Nozaki's war machines are haunting and soul-less, gliding with maddening elegance through the air, slowly and deliberately, as they cut a swath of destruction. While little would remain of Wells' original story (including its social commentary involving European colonialization), the naked terror of Wells' vision would remain intact.
Gene Barry stars as Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist on a fishing trip who is called to the scene when a meteor crashes outside a small nearby town. He finds the townspeople delighted at the prospect of a new tourist attraction, and decides to remain in town until the meteor cools off to give it a closer examination, staying at the home of attractive librarian Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her Uncle Matthew, the local minister. But the object from outer space proves to be something other than a meteor when the top "unscrews" and alien war machines emerge. As more of the "meteors" come crashing to earth, the Martian war machines make their way out of their protective shells and begin a course of mass destruction, killing everything that moves and destroying anything in their path.
The military proves alarmingly ineffectual in battling the Martians, whose machines are protected by an invisible "blister" that protects them from any outside attack, and the initial encounter is disastrous, leaving Forrester and Sylvia on their own. Cut off from everyone else, the pair desperately try to make their way back to Los Angles amidst the chaos being wreaked across the countryside by the aliens, and as news spreads that the invaders are landing all around the world. A stop at an abandoned farm house will prove particularly dangerous, as Forrester and Sylvia come face to face with one of the Martians themselves: an encounter that will fortunately leave them with a sample of Martian blood. When everything, including an atom bomb, proves to have no effect against the alien ships, the military leaves it up to the scientists to hopefully find some biological means to destroy the invading foes.
With taut direction by Byron Haskin, thoroughly sincere performances by the entire cast, and the spectacular, Oscar-winning special effects, the landmark novel would become an equally landmark film. War of the Worlds is amazingly effective, and surprisingly grim for its period. At a time when America was still basking in the afterglow of our triumph in the Second World War, the film offers a cautionary tale that warns us against becoming too complacent: here we are faced with an enemy that is impervious to all the best equipment that man has been able to devise. The film is a dark vision in which man does not triumph over evil: evil loses by default.
War of the Worlds has always presented some problems on home video: the increased clarity of each new generation of video technology would expose more of the seams of the film's special effects, most noticeably the wire system holding up (and operating) the war machines. Paramount's original release of the film to DVD made the wires even clearer, much to the dismay of the film's legion of fans. And as much as I dislike the idea of tampering with classic films, I had hoped that Paramount would perform a digital clean up to this aspect of the film for their new special edition. Unfortunately, they have not, and the wires are even more visible than they have been in the past incarnations. The wires, painted blue due to the fact that for the bulk of the film they would be seen against a background of sky, are particularly evident when the ships are seen against other colors (particularly when the first ship is about to emerge from the gully).
However, this is the one drawback to the splendid new transfer of the film. The image on the new DVD is clean and crisp, doing full service to the film's glorious three-strip Technicolor. There is so much depth to the image that at times it seems three dimensional. But the biggest improvement in the new edition is the restoration of the film's stereo/surround soundtrack, which was unaccountably missing from the original DVD release (even though it had recently appeared on the Laserdisc). The surround track is showing no deterioration, and offers an incredibly robust listening experience: although there is little in the way of directional effects in the track (except for some minor ones across the front speakers), the music and effects are spread to the rear speakers, surrounding the viewer with the eerie sounds of the Martian machines. The new transfer clarifies the film's vibrant background score, and exposes the subtle ambient sound effects in a way that will make you feel that you are hearing the film for the first time. A treat for fans of the film, this transfer is not to be missed.
The Special Edition includes a wealth of extras, including two feature-length commentaries, one by stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, and a second by director Joe Dante with film historians Bob Burns and Bill Warren. There is a new 30 minute "making-of" documentary with new interviews with the stars, as well as the original, hour-long radio broadcast by The Mercury Theater of the Air.
For more information about The War of the Worlds, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order The War of the Worlds, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
The War of the Worlds, 1953 (Special Collector's Edition) - The War of the Worlds (1953) - Special Collector's Edition DVD
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
Jack Kruschen (1922-2002)
He may have not been a household name, yet his career consisted of over seventy-five films, spanned over six decades, and displayed a strong versatility in playing either dramatic or comic roles with equal effectiveness. He was the definitive, "I can't quite remember the name, but I remember the face" character player who enlivened many films with his robust frame, cherubic face and infectious smile. His name was Jack Kruschen, a superb performer who died on April 2, 2002 at the age of 80, leaving behind a strong body of work that was impressive as any character actor of his generation.
Kruschen was born on March 20, 1922 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The son of a watchmaker who later set up shop in Hollywood, he was performing in an operetta at Hollywood high school when a talent scout for CBS radio discovered him. Kruschen was soon doing voice characterizations on popular network programs such as Dragnet, The Danny Thomas Show and Sam Spade. With his gift for dialects (he was most adept at playing ethnic types like Greeks, Yiddish or Italians - a skill finely honed in his radio days), Kruschen was a natural for the movies and soon made his film debut with a small role in the Betty Hutton comedy Red, Hot and Blue (1949).
Kruschen's early career is peppered with a variety of roles like a comical gangster in both Abbott & Costello Go to Mars (1953) and Money from Home (1953) starring Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin; a hard-nosed police detective in Confidence Girl (1952) and Julie (1956), an underrated Doris Day thriller; or doomed victims to alien prey in Sci-fi cult classics: the 1953 version of War of the Worlds (fans remember him as Salvatore, one of the first earthlings to be killed by the invading Martians) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). The roles offered steady work, but not much critical recognition. All that changed when Billy Wilder cast him in the key role as Jack Lemmon's bemused but caring neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss in The Apartment (1960). As the man who observes the steady stream of women in and out of Lemmon's apartment and the one who saves Shirley MacLaine from a drug overdose, Kruschen offered a wonderful performance - viewing his neighbor's proceedings with a jaundiced eye, yet never letting his disdain overtake his humor and humanity. He was justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
From this point on, Kruschen was seldom out of work, appearing in over 40 films (including a terrific dramatic turn in the original Cape Fear (1962) as Dave Grafton, a corrupt southern bigot) and nearly 60 guest roles on television for the next two decades. Kruschen would later find fame toward the end of his career when he was cast as Papa Papadapolis in the hit sitcom Webster (1985-1987) and would show pleasant variations of the "kindly old codger" throughout the remainder of his career - like his final role in the romantic comedy 'Til There Was You (1997). His death in April this year may have gone largely unnoticed by the movie-going public, but for those of us who treasure the art of the character player, Kruschen's passing was a loss that is fortunately compensated by his strong body of work that will be enjoyed for fans of the late show for many years to come.
By Michael T. Toole
SIGNE HASSO, 1910-2002
Actress Signe Hasso died June 7th at the age of 91. She was best-known for starring in A Double Life (1947) but played numerous Europeans in films during the 1940s. Hasso was born on August 15, 1910 in Stockholm, Sweden and began acting on stage at the age of 13. Ten years later made her first film appearance as Signe Larsson. She was married in 1936 and adopted the last name of her husband, cinematographer and later director Harry Hasso. After a dozen Swedish films, Hasso moved to Hollywood in 1940 where her first screen appearance was an uncredited role in Journey for Margaret (1942). A brief stint at RKO didn't lead to any more promising film parts so Hasso concentrated on her stage career in New York City. Eventually, her film career became more active, thanks to a quick succession of roles, most notably in Fred Zinnemann's The Seventh Cross (1944), Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946) and Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945). However it was her portrayal of Ronald Colman's wife in the Oscar-favorite A Double Life that solidified her fame. But as Hasso continued to act on the stage and TV, her film work began to taper off. She appeared in high-profile thrillers like Crisis (1950), several made-for-TV movies, a few European productions and even the cult murder mystery, Bert Gordon's Picture Mommy Dead (1966). In 1972, the king of Sweden decorated Hasso for her work. Her final appearance was in a 2001 documentary about Greta Garbo.
HERMAN COHEN, 1927-2002
One of the key producers of B-movies, Herman Cohen, died June 2nd at the age of 76. Like most producers, his name wasn't generally known outside the industry or the realms of film buffs but most people never forget the titles of his films: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) and the not-quite-immortal Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952). Cohen was a Detroit native, born August 27, 1927. He entered the film business in the smallest possible way, as a 12-year-old janitor, often accepting passes for his family and friends instead of wages. Cohen served in the Marine Corps (several articles incorrectly say the Army) before becoming a publicist at Columbia Pictures. By 1951 he was working as a producer's assistant on low-budget independent films, mostly for Realart Pictures run by another Detroit native Jack Broder. Soon Cohen was producing his own movies, including Westerns and mysteries, until hitting big with the famous I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Starring a then-unknown Michael Landon (under personal contract to Cohen who later tore it up so Landon could appear in Bonanza), the film was made for $100,000 but in just a few months grossed over $2 million. Cohen didn't hestitate to turn out I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula by Thanksgiving of that same year and before long had made several films that continued to earn money for years to come. (One TCM writer remembers Horrors of the Black Museum turning up in a small Alabama town in the early 70s, over a decade after its initial release. The film is scheduled for a DVD release with a Cohen commentary from VCI Entertainment.) Cohen also made several films in England including The Headless Ghost (1959) and the cult favorite Konga (1961) where Cohen even paid RKO $25,000 for the rights to use the title King Kong in publicity for his own film. Cohen's later movies included a spaghetti Western and Joan Crawford's final acting role Trog (1970). In the 1980s Cohen ran a company, Cobra Media, that distributed some films and licensed material such as Teenage Werewolf to Landon for use in one of his Highway to Heaven episodes.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Jack Kruschen
They murder everything that moves.- Sylvia
If they're mortal, they have mortal weaknesses. They'll be stopped, somehow.- Forrester
All communications are out... which is why these tape recordings I'm making are for the sake of future history - if any.- Radio announcer
I have never seen blood crystals as anemic as these. They may be mental giants but physically, by our standards, they must be very primitive.- Duprey
What do we say to them?- Alonzo
"... welcome to California.- Wash
Reportedly, George Pal wanted to do the final third of the movie in 3-D, starting with the sequence in which the atomic bomb is used unsuccsessfully against the martians. The project was secured by Paramount in 1934. Both Cecil B. DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock were considered for directors. Orson Welles, who rose to prominence with his "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast of Halloween, 1938, was pressured into making this his first feature film, but he wanted no part of it. Filming was halted briefly, two days into filming, when Paramount discovered their filming rights to the novel had expired. It was quickly resolved through the kind permission of H.G. Wells's estate.
Originally, the Martian War Machines were supposed to "walk" on visible electronic beams. This was attempted by having electrical sparks emanate from the three holes at the bottom of the machine. This was quickly abandoned for fear of it becoming a major fire hazard. The shot of the first war machine emerging from the gully has this effect. During filming, the actors were under the impression that they were dealing with the walking tripod machines of the book. This explains the farmhouse scene when Gene Barry says, "There's a machine standing right next to us."
The Flying Wing depicted in the movie is the Northrop YB-49. Two were built and both crashed. Stock footage was used in the movie.
The Martian machines were models suspended from wires. For the final sequences where the machines "die", they are shown crashing into telegraph poles - this allowed the film makers to hide the suspension wires with the telegraph wires.
This film had a budget of $2,000,000. Of that sum, $600,000 was spent on the live action scenes while $1,400,000 was spent on the extensive and elaborate special effects.
Voice-over commentary, spoken by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, is heard at the beginning, middle and end of the picture. The film opens with a montage of shots created from matte paintings, depicting some of the planets in the solar system. As the planets are seen, the narrator describes how the Martians, in need of a new home, chose Earth for their invasion. The credits on the viewed print appeared to be modern or from a reissue, and were preceded by newsreel footage of World War I, World War II and a rocket launch. In onscreen credits, Houseley Stevenson Jr.'s name was misspelled as "Housely."
According to modern sources, in 1925, Paramount purchased the rights to Wells's novel, which is set in England at the end of the 19th century, and assigned producer-director Cecil B. DeMille to film it. Roy Pomerey prepared an outline for DeMille, but the project was eventually shelved. Modern sources claim that Alfred Hitchcock, who was associated with Gaumont-British, approached Wells about filming the story in the early 1930s. An unidentified contemporary source in the AFI Library indicates that Gaumont-British expressed interest in the property and possibly acquired rights to it.
According to modern sources, Paramount then briefly assigned Sergei Eisenstein, who was under contract at the studio, to the project. In the late 1930s, British producer-director Alexander Korda expressed interest in adapting the novel, according to modern sources. George Pal, who also produced Paramount's successful 1952 release When Worlds Collide , was assigned to the project in July 1951, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. Modern sources note that Pal wanted to have the story revolve around the scientist's search for his wife, as in the novel, but Paramount production head Don Hartman demanded the boy-meets-girl plot line.
The War of the Worlds was Paramount special effects creator Gordon Jennings' last production. He died on January 11, 1953 of a heart attack, ten months before the film's release. The film's special effects were uniformally praised by critics and won an Academy Award. The picture also won the first annual Motion Picture Sound Editors' award, given to the "most dramatic use of sound effects in 1953." According to a November 1952 Popular Science article and a July 1953 International Photographer article, the spaceships in the film were constructed from three 45-inch copper models, weighing 31 pounds each and sporting neon and incandescent lighting. Two motors controlled the movement of the ship's snake-like probe. Fire effects were created from magnesium, and the ships "flew" with the aid of overhead wires. Animated overlay drawings, superimposed over live action footage, helped create the illusion of the ship's bomb-proof hood. The Martian's arms and fingers were controlled by wires inside the actor's costume, and the pulsating action of its body was created with air pumps. According to modern sources, Pal originally wanted all scenes from the atomic bomb blast on to be presented in 3-D.
Modern sources state that Cecil B. DeMille was asked to do the film's narration, and Lee Marvin was considered for the male lead. Hollywood Reporter news items add Jim Meservy, Dan Dowling, Abdullah Abbas and the Mitchell Choir Boys to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, in addition to associate producer Frank Freeman, Jr., who is listed in the CBCS, Pal appears in the film as a bum. Modern sources add the following names to the crew list: Lovell Norman (Sound Editing); Howard Beal, Dan Johnson and Walter Oberst (Sd staff); Milt Olson, Charlie Davies, Lee Vasque and Romaine Brickmeyer (Props); Walter Hoffmann (Explosives); Chester Pate, Bob Springfield and Eddie Sutherland (Special Effects); Aubrey Law and Jack Caldwell (Spec optical eff); Soldier Graham (Gaffer) and Gae Griffith (Production Assistant). In addition to its special effects win, the film received Academy Award nominations in the Sound Recording and Film Editing categories.
On February 8, 1955, Dana Andrews, Pat Crowley and Les Tremayne, in the role of "Gen. Mann," appeared on a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film. Wells's novel was first adapted for radio and was broadcast on producer-director-actor Orson Welles's CBS Mercury Theater on the Air program on October 30, 1938. In the Mercury Theater adaptation, written by Howard Koch, the invasion takes place in New Jersey. The broadcast, which simulated a regular program with "break-in" news reports, was perceived as real by some of its listeners, particularly those in the New York, New Jersey vicinity, and caused considerable hysteria. Welles directed and co-starred in the program with Frank Readick and Stefan Schanbel.
On October 30, 1968, radio station WKBW in Buffalo, NY, enacted an updated version of the Welles's broadcast, and on October 30, 1988, National Public Radio presented a fiftieth anniversary broadcast of the original radio script, modified by Koch. The War of the Worlds was re-released with When Worlds Collide , on September 7, 1977. Triumph Entertainment produced a syndicated television series based on the novel that was directed by Colin Chilvers and starred Jared Martin, and broadcast from 1988-1990. In 2005, DreamWorks SKG and Paramount Pictures released a new film adaptation of H. G. Wells's story. That film, entitled War of the Worlds, was produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Cruise and Dakota Fanning. Gene Barry, who portrayed "Dr. Clayton Forrester" and Ann Robinson, who portrayed "Sylvia Van Buren" in the 1953 film, appeared briefly in the 2005 version as Fanning's grandparents.
Released in United States 1953
Released in United States March 1975
Re-released in United States on Video October 28, 1996
Released in United States 1953
Re-released in United States on Video October 28, 1996
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)