No one would have believed in the middle years of the twentieth century that humanity was being watched from across the gulf of space by the envious eyes of the denizens of planet Mars. Their world was growing uninhabitable and they searched for another home, rejecting the other planets in our solar system as being unsuitable - Earth, however, was a more promising proposition. And so it was that in the Californian countryside a large meteor shot across the skies and landed in a remote area. The community of the nearby small town saw this occur and hurried over to see what had landed, unaware that it was the first sign of an invasion...
Cecil B. DeMille wanted to film it, Sergei M. Eisenstein reportedly wanted a go at the H.G. Wells novel, even Alfred Hitchcock's name was linked to the project but it was the will power of fantasy film producer George Pal who got the whole caboodle off the ground and brought it screaming into the cinemas of the fifties. Much indebted to the Orson Welles radio production of the thirties, Barré Lyndon's adaptation dispensed with the original British settings and effectively updated and Americanised the venerable tale, less a typical Hollywood science fiction substitute for the Red Menace and more a depiction of the whole globe under threat and pulling together to fight awesome weaponry (read: the terror of The Arms Race).
Although, naturally it's Washington D.C. that escapes the worst of the onslaught and becomes the centre of Earth's operations. Before that happens, the film starts in a lower key, despite the unreal, garish colour, settling for a small town invasion like so many other sci-fi shockers of the era. Once the meteorite has been located, a vacationing party of scientists judge the object too hot to touch and leave it to cool, with a three man guard keeping an eye on it. However, the chief watchword for this version is cruelty as they find out to their cost.
George Pal might be as well known for his religious angles as much as his imagination, and there's an unavoidable Christian theme to this War of the Worlds as many are keen to highlight, but there's a decidedly un-Christian strain of callousness running through this. Once the Martian war machine, with their unbeatable weapons of mass destruction in full force, sets about their harrowing business, the film invites the audience to revel in the death and general annihilation with buildings ground to dust, vehicles evaporated and people reduced to greasy spots. It's as if the appetite for seeing civilisation laid waste was almost impossible to quell.
In amongst all this mayhem are our two leads, scientist Dr Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), an oddly calming influence for much of the film, and his love interest and supplier of coffee, Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson), who tends towards the hysterical when stressed. Their romance takes place against a society in ruins and provides practically the only reason that we should want to see the Martians vanquished, representing as they do the best of humanity. When the vividly staged apocalypse reaches its later stages, it is Forrester who keeps the flame of decency alive as all about are losing their head and acting with vicious selfishness, stumbling through the remains of the city searching for Sylvia. The famous ending suggests God intervenes with His backup plan, yet rather than reassuring you it prompts the question, "Where were you before? Eh?" What kind of God oversees all this massacre, anyway? Music by Leith Stevens.
American director, cinematographer and special effects pioneer. Entered Hollywood in 1919 as an assistant cameraman, and was director of photography for several John Barrymore films. Haskin directed a few films in the late 1920s and worked in England as a technical advisor, and in 1937 became head of Warner's special effects department. In the 1945 he joined Paramount to resume his directing career, where he worked for the next 20 years, turning in such sci-fi classics as The War of the Worlds, From the Earth to the Moon and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, plus the adventure yarn The Naked Jungle.