Friday, January 15, 2016

Stranger From Venus (1954)

A real oddity, often dismissed as simply a low budget knock off of 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still, Stranger From Venus, when I finally caught up with it the other week, turned out to be somewhat more interesting than that.  Granted, Stranger From Venus uses the same basic plot formula of a human seeming alien from a technologically advanced civilisation being sent to earth as an emissary to warn this planet's inhabitants against continuing their war-like ways and development of weapons of mass destruction, or face extermination.  Like Klaatu, The Stranger (as he is referred to in the movie) has superhuman powers - he has no heartbeat, can heal serious injuries and can apparently walk through locked doors.  Also, like Klaatu, he is greeted with suspicion by the authorities, who regard him as a potential threat with his talk of imposing world peace through his race's superior firepower.  However, whereas Klaatu merely faced destruction by the US military, The Stranger finds himself the victim of a plot to entrap the spaceship of which he is an advance scout, in order to steal his people's advanced technology - a plot twist which seems to owe something to The Man From Planet X.

The resemblance to The Day The Earth Stood Still is emphasised by the presence of that film's female lead, Patricia Neal, playing essentially the same role - the woman whose trust in the alien ultimately rescues his mission.  That said, the ending of Stranger From Venus feels somewhat darker, with none of the hope that disaster for humanity can be averted inherent in the earlier film's climax.  Although we're aware that Klaatu's resurrection is only temporary, he is, at least, still alive at the end of the film, flying off in his saucer, presumably to inform his superiors that there are earth people receptive to their message and capable of compassion toward strangers, his demise safely off screen.  By contrast, Stranger From Venus ends with the alien mothership narrowly escaping a trap and a despairing Stranger vanishing (he has already told Neal that when his race die, their physical form simply vanishes) as he clutches Neal's cardigan.  There is no indication that he has told his superiors that there are 'good' humans who helped him and no hope that the now angered Venusians won't return to wreak havoc on the earth.

The most intriguing aspect of Stranger From Venus lies in its the details.  Whilst it appears to be set in the UK - there are plenty of establishing shots of London and, specifically, Whitehall as the seat of government - it doesn't appear to be the familiar UK of the fifties, but rather some kind of sinister authoratarian regime.  For one thing, the police uniforms are distinctly paramilitary and, at one point, a character (wearing an even more paramilitary looking uniform) is introduced as the 'Chief of Police', a rank unknown in the UK.  It is implied that he is a national police chief which, again, is an alien concept in the UK: police forces are regional with Chief Constables (or Commissioners in the case of the Metropolitan Police) as their senior officers.  There is also a 'Ministry of the Interior', a continental term - the Home Office is the nearest equivalent in the UK, spellings and terminology are Americanized ('railroad' instead of 'railway', for instance) and all the radio announcers have American accents.  The feeling of dislocation is underlined by the interior of the country inn where most of the action takes place which more closely resembles the kind of continental hostelry seen in horror films than an English pub.  All-in-all, it gives the impression that the script was originally set in the US, or on the continent.  Indeed, some aspects of the script give the impression that the original intention might have been to set the movie in some fictional middle European, probably communist, country.  The characters representing the establishment certainly behave in what, at the time, would have been seen as a very un-British manner - whilst British films of the era might have portrayed government officials as being bumbling jobsworths, here they are out-and-out villains, plotting against the aliens and endangering the future of mankind for purely nationalistic reasons.

The film's low budget is betrayed by the lack of any real special effects.  Unlike Klaatu, The Stranger doesn't have a ten foot tall robot companion and his spaceship doesn't land in the middle of a major metropolis.  Instead, all we see of his ship is a glowing light and he lands in a rural location, taking up residence at a country inn, (in this aspect, the film follows the British science fiction film convention of having most of the action consist of people talking in the saloon bar of a pub, so as to save on budget).   The obvious budgetary restrictions, however, have the effect of  giving the film a low key, yet intense, feel.  Overall, it provides seventy five, or so, minutes of reasonable entertainment, with the plot taking a few unexpected turns.  There are some effective performances, particularly notable is Laurence Naismith as a sympathetic doctor and the introduction of The Stanger - he is seen only from behind until he formally announces himself as a visitor from Venus, when the camera pans around to reveal his apparently normal human face - helps to build him up as a mysterious, Messianic, presence.  Stranger From Venus might not be hugely original, but it is more than just a knock off of Day The Earth Stood Still.



Blogger Jimbo said...

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2:26 am  

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