Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is an American black and white science fiction film, directed by Fred F. Sears and released in 1956. The film is also known as Invasion of the Flying Saucers. It was ostensibly suggested by the non-fiction work Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Donald Keyhoe. The flying saucer effects were created by Ray Harryhausen.
The film is set in 1956, one year before the first satellite, Sputnik I, was launched into orbit around the Earth. "Project Skyhook," a proposed American space-exploration program to launch a dozen satellites, is visited by an alien flying saucer. A misunderstanding by the Earthlings leads to the aliens being fired upon, and they retaliate by destroying the project site, killing everyone except the two principal characters, Dr. and Mrs. Marvin (a scientist and his wife & secretary). The sequence of events quickly spirals out of control and leads to a full scale invasion. Flying saucers attack Washington, D.C., Paris, London, and Moscow. In the end, the alien saucers are defeated over the skies of Washington by a device using high-power sound coupled with an electric field that stops the saucers' propulsion systems.
- Hugh Marlowe as Dr. Russell A. Marvin
- Joan Taylor as Carol Marvin
- Donald Curtis as Major Huglin, the liaison Officer
- Morris Ankrum as Brig. Gen. John Hanley
- John Zaremba as Prof. Kanter
- Thomas Browne Henry as Vice-Admiral Enright
- Grandon Rhodes as General Edmunds
- Larry J. Blake as a motorcycle policeman
The movie special effects expert Ray Harryhausen animated the flying saucers in this movie. That may have been considered to be easier than the animated dolls used for the usual S.F. monsters, but Harryhausen also animated the falling stones when saucers crashed into buildings in order to make the action appear more realistic. Some figure animation was used to show the aliens emerging from the saucers. A considerable amount of stock footage was also used notably scenes during the invasion which showed batteries of U.S. 90 mm M3 guns and an early rocket launch, presumably standing in for the recently introduced Nike Ajax missile. Stock footage of the explosion of the warship HMS Barham during World War II was used to fill in for a U.S. Navy destroyer that is attacked by a flying saucer.
The voice of the aliens was produced from a recording of Paul Frees reading the lines by jiggling the speed control of an analog reel-to-reel tape recorder, so that it continually wavered from a slow bass voice to one high and fast.
During a question and answer period at a tribute to Harryhausen and a screening of Jason and the Argonauts held in Sydney, Australia, Harryhausen said he sought advice from George Adamski on the depiction of the flying saucers in the film, but he thought that Mr. Adamski grew increasingly paranoid as time went by.
- The aliens kill a relative of one of the main characters.
- The aliens go out of their way to use their ray on a wooden water tank atop a building.
- The defeat of the aliens is shown by having their vehicles crash into buildings (in this film's case, the Washington Monument, Union Station, and the Capitol Building).
- The aliens required apparatus to see (and hear) adequately; this was acquired by the scientists, who tested it and noted that the aliens were sensorially degenerate.
- In both films, the initial encounter between the alien(s) and humans ends in violence through a misunderstanding.
- Both films involve alien spacecraft visiting Washington, D.C., a situation that has since become a science fiction cliché (exploited notably in the 1996 film Independence Day).
- Actor Hugh Marlowe appears in both films, and in both films his character at one point decides on a course of action that his love interest tries strenuously but unsuccessfully to dissuade him from taking.
- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers even uses some stock footage from The Day the Earth Stood Still. The borrowed footage portrays the public apprehension and disruption caused by the alien(s) all over the world; in the British segment, the same actor can be seen mouthing the words "It's that spaceman—that's what it is!" although, of course, his voice is only heard in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The film by Edward D. Wood, Jr., Plan 9 from Outer Space released in 1959, was finished in 1957 after the release of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and shares many similarities, including the extensive use of military stock footage to depict clashes between the military and the saucers. The comparison of production values is striking.
Scenes of the flying saucers were later re-used in The 27th Day, Orson Welles' F for Fake, The Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man, and the Three Stooges short Flying Saucer Daffy (1958). The scenes of destruction were used in a 1957 film called The Giant Claw.
Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (1996) consciously spoofs several aspects of this film, especially in the design of its flying saucers, as well as aspects of other films of the 1950s invaders from space genre.
The film has shots of several 1950s technologies in action, including paper tape communications, a telautograph and a differential analyzer. The Project Skyhook in the film (released 1 Jul 1956) reflects the public interest in annoucements about the earth satellite projects of the International Geophysical Year (1 Jul 1957 to 31 Dec 1958; first satellites in orbit included Sputnik 1 on 4 Oct 1957 and Explorer 1 on 31 Jan 1958.)