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War of the Worlds - 1953

Martians, Nukes, and Cold War Worries in a Sci-Fi Classic

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


War of the Worlds 1953

War of the Worlds VHS Cover

(c) Paramount Pictures
The mother of all Mars invasion movies, the 1953 War of the Worlds established many sci-fi invasion movie conventions. While it won an Oscar for special effects, viewers raised on today's movie magic may think War of the Worlds looks a little cheesy - but that’s part of the fun.

The movie inspired many young sci-fi fans, including Steven Spielberg, who made his own version in 2005. From a classic book by H.G. Wells, and brought to nation-panicking life in Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio broadcast, it’s a story that has entertained generations of fans across the planet.

The Plot

A fiery meteor crashes in the California mountains, the first of many that plummet down across the globe like shooting stars. A scientist on a fishing trip (Gene Barry wearing high-IQ tortoiseshell specs) investigates the strangely hollow body, which opens up to release a nifty Martian flying machine with a cobra-like head. Its deadly ray guns vaporize the first folks who approach, leaving only powdery human outlines eerily reminiscent of Hiroshima.

Of course, conventional military attacks fail. Escaping from the Martian advance, our intrepid scientist and a local gal just happen to shelter in a farmhouse…and moments later, a Martian ship plows into their doorstep. They get a creepy visit from a sort of seeing eye machine, and then a visit from an actual Martian - yikes! They manage to cut off the mechanical eye, and get some Martian blood on a hanky before hightailing it back to LA.

The brass calls in a nuclear strike, with observers standing so close to the blast that they’re left with a floury residue of ash on their faces. (It seems impossible now, but at the time science only vaguely understood the terrible effects of fallout - observers actually were that close to a-bomb tests in the ‘50s.)

Back in LA. the scientists scramble to get their equipment out of the way of the coming Martian annihilation, hoping to set up shop elsewhere and find a way to fight back. But the mobs are starting to take over the city, they hijack the scientists’ vehicles, the Martian flying machines are busting things up pretty bad -- is this the end for humankind?

I won’t spoil it for you.

The Cast of 'War of the Worlds'

Sir Cedric Hardwicke does a lovely narration, some of it straight from the Wells book, and Barry is creditable as the scientist, Dr. Clayton Forrester.

Unfortunately, Ann Robinson has a thankless role as the typical, wasp-waisted 1950s decorative chick. The plot gives her a library science degree, but she winds up serving coffee and donuts (!) to the troops in the tents fighting the Martians, and her main function in the film seems to be screaming at one thing or another. (The plot does provide a lady scientist in a minor role, so a couple of points there, but still.)

Robinson might have gotten away with it if she gave a better performance, or if there were an ounce of chemistry between her and Barry, but there’s not. War of the Worlds succeeds as sci-fi, but the love story falls flat. The rest of the cast is the usual invasion-movie mix of square-jawed military men, fleeing civilians, and a nice pastor who gets deep-fried for trying to make peaceful contact with the Martians.

The inventive Martian machines and the fab-for-their-day special effects are the real stars of this movie, and they’re still great fun to watch. The Martians are appropriately icky, but the effect is somewhat ruined by their eyes, which look like the spinning tri-color lights they used to illuminate those 1950s tinfoil Christmas trees.

The Backstory

War of the Worlds is a durable story that lends itself well to updates, and has held a mirror to the conflicts of the day for more than a century.

H. G. Wells was inspired to write the original 1898 novel by the devastation that colonial powers visited upon the colonized. Orson Welles’ superlative radio production, aired Halloween night in 1938, was faithful to the book, yet drew on the still-fresh memories of trench warfare in WWI, and foreshadowed American involvement in the coming conflict in Europe.

The 1953 movie version reflects the Cold War fears of Soviet invasion and radioactive fallout, and recalls the scenes of refugees fleeing shattered European cities, while Spielberg’s 2005 movie carries haunting reminders of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

'War of the Worlds' - the bottom line

War of the Worlds is a seminal science fiction movie (with fun special effects in glorious Technicolor) that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss.

Recommended For You:

If you like War of the Worlds, you might also like other influential sci-fi films, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, When Worlds Collide, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Omega Man

'War of the Worlds' at a Glance:

Year: 1953, Color
Director: Byron Haskin
Running Time: 85 minutes
Studio: Paramount
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
1953 war of the worlds, Member joeyloco

If you like 1950's era sci-fi movies this is the one that set the standard. Outstanding special effects and soundtrack. The plot is engaging and intriguing. Ranks with the original The"" Day the Earth Stood Still"" and ""Forbidden Planet"" Alien spaceships are believable as well as scary. Its hitchcockian in its minor depiction of the aliens leaving plenty for the imagination. Worth watching 1 or 20 times!

2 out of 2 people found this helpful.

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