Movie of the Week: They Came from Beyond Space (1967)
Revered for its portmanteau films, Amicus Productions seemed just as interested in science fiction during its early years in the mid-1960s… with mixed to mostly negative success. Dr. Who & the Daleks (1965) was a big hit in the UK, but not in the United States where the popular British character and series were unknown. It’s sequel, Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) was a hit in neither place. Already establishing its legacy with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), Amicus nevertheless gave sci-fi a final effort with the 1967 double-bill: The Terrornauts and They Came from Outer Space.
In the book, “Amicus the Friendly Face of Fear,” author Allan Bryce says:
Not surprisingly in the year that first saw the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both films disappeared from cinemas pretty quickly and Amicus just as swiftly abandoned its brief flirtation with space opera.
While I can’t recommend you hurry to locate and watch They Came from Outer Space, I don’t think it’s an awful movie. Its biggest flaw at the time may have been the fact that it was old-fashioned when compared to the evolution of science fiction in film. Now, though, we don’t have that roadblock; we can pretend it was made a decade earlier when sci-fi was silly, fun, and often produced on a shoestring budget. According to Bryce, director Freddie Francis complained that Amicus “used up most of the money on The Terrornauts, so we had no money to spend to give They Came from Beyond Space any style.”
Bryce says that Francis was not entirely correct in his assessment:
The Terrornauts cost 80,000 pounds and They Came from Beyond Space was budgeted at 120,000 pounds.
Considering we’ve all seen miracles performed with low budgets, I’m not sure it really matters here. There are probably techniques Francis could have used to give the movie more style. Instead, we get a lot of 1960’s style. That is to say, we hear a hip, “modern” soundtrack (by James Stevens) and experience minor whiplash from some trombone zooms. Most noticeable, when someone is zapped with an immobilizing ray gun, we see a colorful spiral rotating on the screen. These effects were better utilized at about the same time by Byron Haskin in producer George Pal’s The Power (1968).
One-half of the Amicus team, Milton Subotsky, who wrote the script based on the novel, “The Gods Hates Kansas,” by Joseph Millard, suggested another reason for its failure:
It was a good science-fiction film that lacked only one ingredient for box office success – a star. We tried to get a slightly larger budget, but couldn’t. The result was a good film with no names – and box office failure.
I’m more inclined to blame Subotsky’s script than I am the movie’s star, Robert Hutton. Hutton’s first credited role was in Destination Tokyo (1943). With a resemblance to Jimmy Stewart, Hutton was supposedly cast in movies during World War II that Stewart would ordinarily have played. He maintained steady work in movies throughout the 1940’s, in television during the 1950s, then, like many other stars, began appearing in horror and sci-fi movies into the 1960s, starting with The Man Without a Body in 1958. Prior to They Came from Beyond Space, he starred in films like Invisible Invaders (1959) and The Slime People (1963).
Hutton is fine in his role as Dr. Curtis Temple, although he’s perhaps a little old for the part. Again, the script cripples him, literally excluding him from some initial action due to a plot point that is obvious and heavy-handed from the start. Portrayed as a daredevil with a metal plate in his head due to a car accident, he’s medically restricted from investigating the crash of nine meteors in perfect formation on the Roberts farm in Cornwall. However, the very reason for the restriction will prove to be fortuitous for all of mankind: the metal plate prevents members of an alien invasion from occupying his brain.
The women, both actors and characters, fare worse than the men. Jennifer Jayne (The Crawling Eye, 1958) plays Lee Mason, Temple’s “assistant”/love interest. She at least has the excuse that her brain has been occupied by an alien to explain her wooden acting. Luanshya Greer (I think; I can’t verify) plays “Girl Attendant” (I think; I can’t verify), a mysterious platinum blonde that Temple meets while filling his car with petrol. Her role promises something more than ever develops. Ultimately, neither heroine nor villain, she’s discovered as just another “frozen” human body on its way to the moon to be revived as a slave to the aliens.
Temple becomes a stowaway on a rocket to the moon to confront the big bad, “Master of the Moon,” played by Michael Gough. Strapped to a star-shaped table so the aliens can remove the metal plate from his head, Temple eventually escapes to participate in an old-fashioned fist fight that concludes with the enemies shaking hands. It turns out that “the people of Earth will help (the aliens), not by force, but willingly.” All they had to do was ask. Without the anticlimactic ending, They Came from Beyond Space, might have been a poor man’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With it, though, I’m not sure what it is.
Written by Milton Subotsky
Based on the novel, "The Gods Hate Kansas," by Joseph Millard
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Robert Hutton, Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin, Bernard Kay, Michael Gough, Maurice Good Released May, 1967 (US) RT 85 min. Home Video Amazon Prime (streaming)
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