The issue of Unidentified Flying Objects has arisen in recent years, and although most can be explained away, there remain three percent of sightings which are inexplicable. The military begin to take these reports more and more seriously, and with good reason as scientist Dr Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) finds out as he drives across the desert with his new wife Carol (Joan Taylor). He is recording his latest research onto a tape recorder when there is a curious noise - then to the couple's amazement, an actual flying saucer zooms by overhead!
This little item of alien invasion paranoia was perhaps the purest expression of the form during the nineteen-fifties, as everything here fitted the template of what most people nowadays saw as the typical fifties sci-fi movie, from its solidly dependable, all-American cast to the villains seeking to take over our planet for their own devices. But the reason this endures so far when many of its contemporaries were forgotten by all but the cultists was the special effects work of Ray Harryhausen; this was not among his favourite projects, mainly because he struggled to get much personality into the saucers, but he did a sterling job nevertheless.
It was the grand finale as the aliens attack Washington D.C. that stuck in many minds, and often if you wanted a clip for a video or TV show, even a film, that depicted that kind of action it would be imagery of Harryhausen's saucers either letting rip with the death ray or crashing into a national landmark which they would use. Testament to the stop motion animator's skills, naturally, that they remained entertaining for the right reasons even all these decades later, but there was more to this film than that, though you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise. That's because producer Charles H. Schneer had the rights to credit an important book in the titles.
That book was Major Donald E. Keyhoe's Flying Saucers are Real, which caused a stir because though retired by this time, he was an actual, proper United States military man, and therefore his opinions on a subject few were sure whether to believe in or not were more likely to be given credence. Of course, just because he was offering his thoughts didn't mean he knew any more about the subject than the layman, but he had access to genuine reports and if in the next century we remained none the wiser about what was really going on no matter what the ufologists would tell you, audiences at the time must have sat up and taken notice when the major was mentioned.
That said, all that was taken from that book was the opening narration, as you may have noticed the national capital of the U.S.A. was never attacked by space aliens, but it was films such as these which helped to keep the subject in the popular consciousness. Marlowe's other important sci-fi movie of this era was The Day the Earth Stood Still from five years before, better thought of perhaps but that was cerebral and contemplative, whereas this effort wanted to get to the threat and thrills. Funnily enough, a trigger happy soldier or two is what makes the aliens react pretty badly, echoing the groundbreaking earlier work but with a different outcome as it gives the visitors all the excuse they need to start zapping earthlings. Ostensibly they were on a mission of peace, but as Dr Marvin finds out when taken aboard one of the ships, they utilise their technology with sinister application - Carol's General father (stalwart of the genre Morris Ankrum) is brainwashed and dispatched with to underline this. You likely won't take most of it seriously, but you will like the effects.