Friday, October 14, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 9: I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958)

The thing about marriage, or even cohabitation, is that it has a tendency to reveal things about your romantic partner that you would have never realized when you were simply dating. Oftentimes, it's fairly innocuous if annoying stuff like the fact that they put the toilet paper on the holder the opposite direction from how you do it. Sometimes you find out about a weird hobby, quirk, or kink that you hadn't guessed of before, which can be good, bad, or just odd.

However, sometimes you'll discover that they're hiding a very dark secret indeed.

Usually that dark secret is not that they are an alien that is looking to mate with human women, but I suppose that's better than finding out they have a closet full of fedoras.

We open as a few gentleman stagger into a relatively fancy club, laughing at the couple necking in a convertible out front. At the bar, two women lament that the table of men in the corner hasn't even looked at them once. They scornfully declare those clods must be married, since this is 1958 and that was the only acceptable reason a man could not be interested in a beautiful woman in movies.

Naturally, they're sort of right. At the table, they're celebrating Bill Farrell's (Tom Tryon, which I can only read as "Tom Tryin'" and that inordinately amuses me) looming wedding in the morning with lots of booze. As Sam Benson (Alan Dexter) tells the waitress, very man at the table is either married or going to be and they need as much alcohol as they can swallow. After all, in order to properly respect the sanctity of marriage you must hate being married.

Over the objections of Sam and Harry Phillips (Robert Ivers), Bill excuses himself since he intends to visit his bride before going home to get some sleep. Harry quips that it's bad luck, but Sam corrects him that it's bad luck to see the bride on the day of the wedding, not the day before. However, Harry turns out to rather have the right of it, though he couldn't imagine how right he was.

As he drives home (yay for driving under the influence!), Bill suddenly sees a man lying in the road ahead. He hits the brakes but still bumps the poor bastard before the car comes to a stop. Yet, when Bill gets out, there's no body in front of his car. Bill only has a moment to be confused before a glowing hand lands on his shoulder and he turns to see it belongs to a strange creature that's also glowing. As Bill recoils, he is suddenly surrounded by a strange cloud of smoke and when it dissipates, he is gone.

"Sir, I'm going to need you to recite the alphabet backwards while walking a straight line."
Well, at the wedding the next day, Bill is a no-show. His bride, Marge Bradley (Gloria Talbott), snaps at her mother for humming a dirge, which her mom points out was actually Wagner's wedding march. I mean, my girlfriend is fond of reminding me that it's not really a happy song every time I suggest she walk down the aisle to Queen's version, but that's taking it a bit far. Marge is understandably pissed at Harry and Sam, but Harry insists that Bill went home early the night before to see her so they don't know where he ended up.

Helpfully, Bill walks in the door just then. He's acting a bit odd, but he's dressed in his tux and seems to be fine. Marge happily kisses him, while her mother objects that they need to have the ceremony first before they get down to that.

Well, the wedding night gets off to a rocky start because on the way to their hotel, Bill almost runs into another car because he forgot to turn on his headlights. Marge, who had been asleep, asks how he could even see in the dark and he snaps at her that it's fine. then, when they get to dinner he forgets to open her car door for her as he heads toward the building. My God, she could have been trapped in the car for days!

At dinner, he's distant and when she tries to get him to engage in conversation, he asks why they have to talk at all. There's a nice transition as she points out how lovely the view out the restaurant window is and then the camera zooms in to the view and pulls back to find us on the balcony of their room. Bill is confused by the sound of thunder and Marge heads back into the room, so she misses the fact that the lightning reveals his true face...

Nobody could ever have guessed Trump's October surprise!
We fade to black, with the clear implication being that not-Bill and Marge consummated their marriage. A year passes and Marge starts to write a letter to her mother about how Bill has changed and she's afraid of him, but she crumples it up. While out for drinks at another bar, Sam and Harry see Bill walk past the windows without coming in. Harry complains that they never see Bill anymore, but the heavily inebriated Sam writes it off as nothing before playfully calling Max the Bartender (Maxie Rosenbloom) a homewrecker and staggering off for home.

Sam doesn't make it home, however. As he stumbles into an alleyway, fighting not to be sick, he is suddenly surprised by something and stumbles backwards in horror before he, too, is consumed by a glowing cloud and vanishes.

Marge visits Dr. Wayne (Ken Lynch) the next day. She's concerned because it's been a year and she hasn't gotten pregnant, but Dr. Wayne assures her she's fine and not worry, but she should have Bill come see him just in case. Marge stops at a pet store on the way home and is pleasantly surprised when her friend Helen Alexander (Jean Carson) drives up with Sam in the passenger seat and advises that Sam has finally proposed,  joking that he has finally saved her from the fate of Florence Nightingale and Joan of Arc, "you know, career women."

I can't decide if the makers of this film had an astoundingly negative view of heterosexual marriage or if this is just how marriage was supposed to be viewed at the time.

At any rate, Marge has brought Bill an anniversary gift: a puppy she knew he would love, since he grew up with dogs. However, the puppy does not love Bill and growls and snaps Bill whenever he approaches at the carrier. Bill tells her to just leave the dog in the basement and hopefully it will have time to adjust to him. However, later Bill goes down into the basement to see the dog, where it has been chained to the walll. He first grabs a hammer but then settles for simply strangling the dog. When Marge comes to investigate its dying whimpers, Bill rather coldly tells her that its color must have been too tight and strangled it.

Later that evening, Marge gingerly tries to bring up the subject of her doctor's visit. When Bill wonders why she seems to think discussing it would upset hi, she nervously points out that she never knows what will upset him any more. And then Sam comes to visit, under the pretense of discussing an insurance policy with Bill. Once Marge is out of earshot, Sam first subtly and then directly lets Bill know that he's one of them now. (One of the hints being that he doesn't imbibe the drink Bill gives him, because apparently these aliens can't consume alcohol) He tells Bill that he's expected back at the ship later that night, as they've improved the methane reservoirs in the bodies they're using. Then Sam drops the disguise on his face briefly and based on the sounds emanating from him, this is presumably some way of transmitting a nonverbal message.

Meanwhile, two cops stop to investigate a bum passed out in the alleyway where Sam was taken. One cop asks if he did something to offend his partner, since he's been acting peculiar but the partner just directs him to investigate the bum--before knocking him out. The bum was in on it, too, and the unconscious officer gets kidnapped by the smoke, too.

Marge hears Bill sneaking out later and decides to follow him. To her horror, he murders a cat on the way--off screen, but she hears it shriek and then finds its body--and then makes his way to the woods. Following close behind she sees him stop and stand before a door that opens seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly, a cloud flows forth from him and takes the form of a glowing alien dressed only in capris, which then walks into the door and leaves Bill's body standing stock still. Marge runs up and tries to wake Bill, but he falls to the ground like a mannequin and then doesn't even react to a bug crawling on his staring face.

It's important to maintain that healthy glow.
She makes the mistake of first running to the bar in desperation, where Max is skeptical of her monster story and some creep sitting at the bar decides to play like he believes her as an excuse to hit on her. Marge leaves in disgust while Francine (Valerie Allen) slinks up to the creep to try and get him interested in her monster story. Francine is clearly implied to be a lady of the evening, but the creep rebuffs her because he's more interested in who Marge was and Max tells him without thinking about it.

Marge encounters the two cops we already know to be aliens and they take her to Captain H.B. Collins (John Eldredge), whom she is sure will believe her since he's her godfather. Well, Collins assures her she isn't crazy but he does tell her he doesn't believe her story--however, he is going to take it seriously and tells her she needs to go back home to her husband lest Bill figure out that she knows. Marge very reluctantly goes along with his advice. Too bad that she isn't there to see when a flash of lightning reveals that Collins isn't human, either...

Bill is waiting for her at home and she tries to tell him she just went for a walk. Bill, for his part, is not hostile or accusatory--he just seems concerned but in the cold manner of someone who either lacks emotion or buries it deep. They go to bed--and Marge is probably very thankful this is the 1950s and they have separate beds. However, the next day at what is either a very stripped down ceremony or just a rehearsal for their wedding, Marge pulls Helen aside and tells her not to go through with the wedding to Sam. Helen will hear none of it, since she finally got the oaf to agree to marry her. Marge clearly suspects that Bill isn't the only alien in town and is about to tell Helen what she saw when Bill interrupts.

Later, at home, Bill makes Marge a drink and she demands to know where his drink is. Bill tries to dodge the question, claiming he developed an allergy to alcohol, but Marge isn't buying it. Marge decides to go to bed alone, but Bill notices the creep from the bar earlier is loitering outside. Bill telepathically calls over the alien cops, who confront the man. He tells them the truth, which is that he got the impression the marriage Marge had was in trouble and he wanted to hang around to swoop in at the first chance he could to snag her. Well, he's just admitted to stalking but I guess it is a bit extreme that the cops then tell him he's under arrest--especially since he doesn't have a license for the gun he's carrying.

The creep only momentarily wonders how the cop knew he had a gun, before he mentions Marge's story about monsters and how she said they could look like any of us--and then he pulls the gun out of his jacket. It appears to be a revolver with a silencer on it (!) and he's apparently decided shooting one cop in the middle of a residential street, while his partner stands behind him, is the best strategy to take. Unfortunately, his bullets have no effect and the other cop clocks him. The two debate whether he could be any use to them before deciding he's not worth anything. So one of them pulls out his revolver and shoots the man in the street.

Hard to imagine a time when American police publicly executing someone in the street was supposed to be unusual,
Marge hears the gunshot and wakes up, wearing a pretty flimsy nightgown for the time. Bill tells her it was just a car backfiring. Sensing how uncomfortable Marge is in his presence, Bill tells her he will start sleeping in the guest bedroom.

Later, Bill meets Sam and Harry at the bar, with all three apparently having been turned by now. Francine puts a song on the jukebox and tries to flirt with them by asking the time. However, they would rather stare at their untouched drinks and so she sits at the bar alone. The three are discussing the challenges they're encountering, and Sam explains that their scientists are close to working out how they can successfully breed with human women. Harry is disgusted by all this, but Sam rather gleefully says the process of practicing is quite fun. Bill remains neutral, arguing that whether they like it or not, they have to live with the humans and they need to get used to it.

However, Max confronts them, angry that they keep coming in, buying drinks that they never touch and barely talking to each other. To Francine's inexplicable delight, it comes to blows when Max begins punching Bill. However,all he succeeds in doing is bloodying his own knuckles. The three aliens depart and Francine mocks Max for losing his touch before she follows them out. Seeing a figure in a hooded coat staring at a shop window, she goes over and tries to flirt with him but quickly becomes angry that he doesn't even acknowledge her presence. She makes the mistake of hitting him, and then recoils in horror when she sees his inhuman face beneath the hood. She turns away, screaming, but he vaporizes her with a raygun before she can flee more than a few feet--and then goes back to staring forlornly at the window display of baby toys and cribs.

"I miss my dolly."
Things are about to take a turn that isn't in the aliens' favor, however. Several human couples we haven't seen before are enjoying a picnic along with our human and alien couples. There's some amazingly bawdy dialogue that implies one man's wife almost pitched for the New York Yankees but she failed the tryouts because her arm was too sore from giving him a handjob the night before. And you may think I'm reading into it, but it's not subtle at all. Meanwhile, Helen and Sam are having a fun canoe ride on the nearby pond when Sam falls in.

Despite the fact Sam is supposed to be able to swim like a fish, he immediately starts drowning and has to be fished out. Dr. Wayne arrives on the scene in order to tend to the unconscious man, but to the shock and confusion of everyone, Sam dies when the doctor pumps oxygen into his lungs. If Dr. Wayne didn't know better, he'd say that the oxygen killed him. Well, Bill and Harry know even better than the doc, and so does Marge.

However, she has no idea how deep it all goes. Captain Collins routes her again. She tries to call Washington but the operator tells her all circuits are busy. She tries to send a telegram to the FBI, but she sees the Western Union rep tear it up as soon as he thinks she isn't watching. And then the cops stop her at a roadblock when she tries to leave town. They assure her the road was been washed out, despite her repeated objections that it hasn't been raining.

Marge figures she has nothing to lose at this point and just flat-out tells Bill that she knows what's going on. Bill, for his part, decides to go ahead and tell her the whole story since she surely has nowhere to turn at this point. He explains that his people come from somewhere near Andromeda, and that their sun became unstable so they began construction on spaceships to evacuate their planet. Unfortunately, the construction took time and during that time the sun's rays became lethal and somehow killed off all the females of his species. Why the rays wouldn't kill off the males, too, is not explained. Life is very rare in the vast coldness of space, so Earth was their best hope--despite the fact that they can't breathe the atmosphere and they can't currently mate with human women.

On his planet, there was no emotion between males and females, they simply came together for breeding purposes. However, the human bodies came with human emotions. So now, Bill has begun to love Marge. Even so, he has an obligation to his species first and Marge is going to bear him children. "What kind of children?" she asks, tentatively. "Our kind," he responds.

"But just think: they'll be super popular at Coachella!"
They don't make them like this any more, sadly. What I mean by that is that this is clearly a second-tier picture from a major studio, and yet it very rarely feels cheap or tossed off.

This film is shot beautifully, for starters. Excellent use is made of shadow and contrast in the black and white film, and the shot compositions are marvelously put together. Honestly, if you walked into this film and missed the introduction of the aliens, you would think it was a solid Noir film.

The acting is also wonderful, with not a single bad performance to be found in the picture. Sure, some of the character choices don't make sense in a modern world where marriage is much less likely to be considered the grand goal of a person's life, but I'm willing to let that slide.

The film is not perfect, however. In order to keep itself at a suitable length to be the bottom half of a double feature, a film that had been very steadily paced suddenly becomes a headlong rush to the end credits. Marge happens to find the one human man who will believe her and who knows how to find other human men so they can go after the alien spaceship with a posse and two German shepherds. It's a fun climax, no question--I particularly love the awesome close-up shots of the aliens' torsos as the posse's bullets puncture holes in them but then the holes instantly fill themselves back in--but it speaks way too much of the period's need to let men be the ones to fix the problem. I mean, why wouldn't Marge seek out other women when she knows with absolute certainty that none of them are aliens?

The other issue is the aliens themselves. Aside from the fact that monsters wearing pants are almost always inescapably silly, they're pretty cool suits. However, either the filmmakers did not have faith in the suits or decided they somehow did not look "alien" enough, because while the creatures are alive they have an animated "glowing" effect awkwardly super-imposed over them. It ends up making them look cheesy.

Also, while the film does a good job of helping us to see the horror of this experience from Marge's point of view, it really doesn't quite dig deep enough into how horrifying it would be to discover that the man you married has been replaced by an impostor. I realize the film couldn't delve too deeply into it, but essentially every loving moment between Marge and her husband has been turned into a violation and not nearly enough is made of that. Nor, indeed, of the fact that should she ever regain her husband, how can she ever get past what someone with his face did to her?

All that said, and keeping in mind how painfully of its time this film is, it is really, really good. I'm sad it took me so long to finally get to see it because it is delightful. Thankfully, the official Paramount YouTube Channel has made the film available for free in its entirety. If you love classic horror movies, I highly suggest you check it out right away. It may not be perfect, but is a damned good, very satisfying film that moves a long at a nice clip and never wears out its welcome.

And considering the film I watched for H, I could use a pleasant surprise.

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