Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)

Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon), up to this point a man seemingly very much in love with his fiancé Marge (Gloria Talbott), comes too late to his own wedding. His sudden tardiness is only the first of the changes Marge discovers about her husband. He's getting absent-minded and confused about everyday things and doesn't act like a decent honeymooner at all on his honeymoon.

A year of marriage later, Marge is getting increasingly puzzled by her husband's strange ways. Good gawd, he's even given up drinking! Worst of all, Marge still isn't pregnant (oh, those 50s Americans must have been fertile like rabbits) although her Doctor gives her a clean bill of health. It's as if something were wrong with Bill.

When Marge - who is a real romantic, it seems - gives Bill a dog as a present for their wedding anniversary, the animal doesn't take to him at all, and Bill, who has always been a dog person, hates the animal right back. Just a few hours later, the dog is dead. (You'll learn a bit later that Bill doesn't like cats, either, so no gloating, dog-haters). This really awakens Marge's distrust, so she follows Bill when she sees him sneaking out one night, only to realize what the audience has been prone to from the beginning: Bill isn't Bill anymore, but a creature from outer space that has taken on the form of Marge's husband.

Marge, not the kind of girl prone to thinking things through, goes to the police with her story. Fortunately, the chief of police knows her, and so does at least not put her into the loving care of 50s psychiatry, but he doesn't exactly do anything about Marge's problem either. His inaction just might have something to do with the fact that the chief isn't the chief anymore either, but another alien. Turns out that this peaceful American small town has been infiltrated by the scouts of an alien invasion force. Their goal: make lots of little alien babies with Earth women.

Despite the rampant silliness of its plot  and a bit of a melodramatic streak, Gene Fowler Jr.'s I Married A Monster From Outer Space isn't half bad, at least when you like the more paranoid parts of 50s SF/horror as much as I do. Sure, the film is lacking the comparative subtlety of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I imagine that it's nearly impossible for a film to be subtle when it isn't only just tapping into the zeitgeist of fear of communist infiltration and/or fear of the loss of individuality, but also adds an extra helping of the type of marital alienation that belongs into a time when women didn't know the men they were going to marry as well as they generally do today into that mix of emotionally loaded issues.

What's most interesting about I Married is how close to the surface these fears of white, "middle-class" (read: rich) US Americans lie here. Most genre films of the 50s at least have a thin surface veneer that tries to paint them as films not being about any particular fears (and many of them are certainly only subconsciously taking on the problems of their time), but I Married's script by Louis Vittes doesn't even try to pretend being harmless. It's as if Vittes and Fowler had decided they might as well use their cheap little b-movie as a window into the things 50s WASPS feared the most; as long as they used aliens for their experiment, nobody would care. Which turned out to be quite true. The film is even allowing itself to use ironic reversals like showing a woman whose troubles reveal themselves through her man not going out with the boys for a drink, among other things.

When it comes to the more textual than subtextual pleasures - though I Married's subtext tends to overwhelm its text - the film is not as fascinating. For every dense scene of paranoia - usually overacted in a good way by Talbott and Tryon - the film features another one that is just plain silly. The silliness of oxygen-allergic aliens invading Earth, or of the astonishingly bizarre scene in which the town doctor has the brilliant idea of finding a fighting force of men who aren't aliens by grabbing them out of the maternity ward, are undermining that sense of paranoia enough to bring the film out of balance, so that what could be classic of 50s paranoia becomes half a classic of 50s paranoia and half a masterpiece of unintentional comedy.

Still, a film that's half great and half unintentionally funny should make for fine 70 minutes of entertainment for anyone who has a heart and an interest in 50s alien invasion films.



Sean Grey Hanson said...

Extremely ridiculous title! Hope to see this movie at my internet tv classic channels..

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I suspect the title's an allusion to I Married A Communist. Which fits the film's sense of irony nicely.