It seems like just another clear, starry night in the Arizona desert near the small town of Sand Rock, and on the outskirts of the town astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) is enjoying the pleasure of his girlfriend's company. Ellen (Barbara Rush) makes small talk about horoscopes as he takes her outside to see the view through his telescope, but just as they share a moment and are about to kiss there is a deafening roar from the skies above and a blazing ball of fire shoots across the heavens, landing with a boom near the site of the old mine. Electrified, the couple drive over to the airport to persuade their friend Pete (Dave Willcock) to take them up in his helicopter to investigate; reluctantly, he agrees and so the mystery begins...
One of the most famous titles in all of nineteen-fifties science fiction, the developments in It Came From Outer Space, watching them now, seem like clichés such are their familiarity. However, this film was not the typical evil alien invader B-movie, perhaps because it was based on a story by Ray Bradbury, who was not the typical science fiction author. Adapted by Harry Essex, who would co-write director Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon the following year, here the aliens are not invaders but the victims of an unfortunate mishap, although we don't find that out until much later on in the plot.
During the fifties, flying saucers had captured the imagination and this film reflects that with its resemblance to one of the crashed UFOs legends such as the Roswell incident - although that tale would not really take off until much later. Once John and Ellen reach the impact site, they find a large crater that John bravely ventures into, thus creating the classic image of the figure dwarfed by the huge, glowing, honeycombed globe when he stands before the ship. There's a hatch open in its hull and John peers inside to catch a glimpse of... something inside, something that we only get brief views of throughout the film.
Then a rockfall occurs, leaving John to flee, and when he gets back up to the rim of the crater no one really believes him about what he says he's seen, not Ellen, not Pete, and not the local police. Even the professor from the observatory tells him he's been mistaken, but driving back home with Ellen they are stopped in the middle of the road when a hulking, one eyed shape looms up in front of them. There's nothing to be seen when they take a look around, but we know this is the same shape that John saw in the ship, mainly because of the point of view shots we get of the thing spying on our protagonists.
It Came From Outer Space was made in 3-D for that extra futuristic touch, one of a handful of pictures so made by Arnold, who was the man to go to for economically fashioned fantasy adventures with a genuine sense of strangeness about them. This is possibly his eeriest film, and the desert locations, which the characters wax lyrical about, add immensely to the atmosphere. It also features the humans as the aggressors, as the aliens are revealed to simply want help to repair their spaceship, which they do in a now-hackneyed fashion of making exact doubles of the cast to do their handywork. In fact, us humans are shown to be singularly unprepared to accept the possibility of life on other planets, and when proof is offered, violence is on our minds. Only the unassailably reasonable John, with Carlson solid in his most iconic role, sees the truth of the situation and that the visitors mean no harm. Portions of the music, which features a theremin of course, were by Henry Mancini.