Alien visitation

Warning from Space

Friendly star-shaped aliens try to warn Tokyo’s inhabitants of a planetary collision. Humans flee in fear at the sight of the alien starfish, so one of them shape-shifts and infiltrates. This 1956 colour spectacle is entertaining but contrived. 5/10

This Island Earth

With a more adult angle than most fifties SF movies, Universal’s 1955 big-budget splash dazzles both with wonderful visuals and clever ideas. That the screenplay mismanages these ideas prevents its inclusion with the bona fide classics. 7/10

Stranger from Venus

Patricia Neal reprises her role from The Day the Earth Stood Still in this cheap British knock-off from 1954. Plodding and derivative, the film manages to hold the viewer thanks to a decent cast and some interesting script quirks. 3/10

It Came from Outer Space

Ray Bradbury’s story is poetically put on screen in this 1953 classic. Richard Carlson stars as a mediator between body-snatching aliens and gun-happy townsfolk. Intelligent, well-filmed and thoughtful, it may be too slow for some tastes. 8/10

Phantom from Space

Agents and scientists chase an invisible alien around Griffith Observatory in this 1953 cheapo by Billy Wilder’s brother. Decent effects and some nice ideas aside, the film is brought down by its leaden pace, dull, talky script and cramped sets. 1/10

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The fate of the world hangs in the balance as the mysterious alien Klaatu arrives on a diplomatic mission to Earth with his deadly robot. Oscar winner Robert Wise’s “subversive” 1951 classic was a radical call for world peace in the midst of McCarthyist blacklistings. Possibly the best of the fifties SF films, this one holds up surprisingly well today. 10/10.

Tales of Tomorrow

The first SF anthology TV show aired live in the US from 1951 to 1953. With material by some of the greatest SF authors of all time, its adult-oriented, intelligent scripts are often unsettling to watch even today. The cast boasts Leslie Nielsen, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, Eva Gabor, James Dean, Joanne Woodward and many more. 6/10

The Man from Planet X

Director Edgar G. Ulmer turns this 1951 low-budget movie about an alien visitor to a small village into a visually atmospheric, intelligent Expressionist moral tale, as Hollywood brings the first alien invasion film to the big screen.  Unfortunately the low budget, pacing problems and a mediocre script hamper this minor classic. 6/10

Lights Out

The first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Lights Out sports an impressive roster of actors and writers, but it struggles somewhat to transfer what was so great about the radio program to the screen. 5/10

Superman

History was made in 1948 when the first live-action Superman graced the screen. The 15-part serial from Columbia is obviously made on a tight budget, somewhat hurting credibility, but it’s respectful to the source material and Kirk Alyn is a believable man of steel. The real star of the serial is Noel Neill as Lois Lane, though. 5/10.

Der Herr vom andern Stern

Comedy star Heinz Rühmann shines as an alien who falls in love with an Earth woman while marvelling at the cruelty of the Earthlings. Made by artists who worked in Germany during the Nazi rule, this 1948 “mea culpa” is a stylishly filmed, but slow-moving, preachy and incoherent effort. 5/10

Algol

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (6/10) Sci-fi inspired melodrama with political undertones, this 1920 film is an early, but slightly clumsy, example of German expressionism. Occasionally stunning visuals and camera work are hampered by […]

A Message from Mars

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ (6/10) Britain’s first sci-fi feature film from 1913 is a variation on Dicken’s Christmas Carol, with a Martian instead of spirits. Visually dull and unambitious, but a rather entertaining […]