It is undeniable, a truth for the ages, a fact of such stunning obviousness that it is scarcely worth mentioning but the poster for the film Invasion of the Saucer-Men is truly one of the greatest pop culture images ever. Just looking at it, you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is no way this movie can live up to the image of giant headed, bulging-eyed space monsters carrying off earth women; their massive fleet of alien saucers blasting everything that moves with death rays! Your inner child is cautiously optimistic but your adult brain knows the score. It’s like the carnival sideshow, the reality never measures up to the awesome posters outside that advertise lovely mermaids and doe-eyed two-headed cows. You step inside to find the lovely mermaid is a mummified monkey torso stitched to a stuffed fish tail; the two-head cow, instead of frolicking, is taxidermied and sad looking. It’s not what you hoped for, but it’s still pretty marvelous in its own way.
Yeah, if you look at the poster for this (or most films for that matter) and think that it accurately shows what is going to happen in the movie, you had better prepare for massive disappointment. If, on the other hand, you go into the movie expecting something fun and kitsch, you’re in for a little treat with Invasion of the Saucer-Men.
The most important thing about the story here is that there isn’t one. Invasion of the Saucer-Men is a collection of loosely related subplots revolving around the landing of a flying saucer outside of a generic small town. First, we have some very campy teens on their way to elope, stopping off for a quick game of tonsil hockey at the local “lover’s lane.” Next we have two Army officers who are part of an elite unit that covers up flying saucer landings. Lastly, we have two comedic con artists who roll into town looking for a quick buck.
Based on “The Cosmic Frame” a short story by Paul Fairman, what more or less happens is that Saucer-Men kill one of the con men and frame two teens for the death. It’s a silly idea that could have been played out more cleverly than it is here, but happily we’re not relying too much on the plot. Instead the movie stands on the campy characters and Paul Blaisdell’s marvelous alien costumes. The “gee wiz” stereotypical white 1950′s teenager is lovingly captured here by the two twenty-something leads who attempt to foil the alien plot by using nothing more dangerous than car headlights. If Invasion of the Saucer-Men was made now, the teens would gun down the little green men, then vandalize the saucer by spraying rude graffiti all over it. They’d have the spacecraft dismantled and sold off as parts before the Army even had a chance to look at it.
The Army, on the other hand, is shown to be both ham-handed and slightly sinister. The commanding officer is a typical caricature of a Cold War general, full of bluster and eager to shoot. He’s a buffoon and I wouldn’t trust him to manage a child’s lemonade stand, much less entrust him with the task of making first contact with an alien species, regardless of how ridiculous they were. His assistant is a bit more circumspect, and seems amused by his boss’s total “Hooha!” attitude. When the General gloats about how their unit has just destroyed the saucer and covered it up, the lieutenant wonders aloud whether there are other special units running around covering up other things of the same magnitude. In the 1950s, and even to a degree today, a little subversiveness can go a long way.
The remainder of the cast are less like characters than they are like props who talk and help push the film along. Frank Gorshin plays a minor role and is totally wasted (ha!) in this picture.
The real stars of the movie are Paul Blaisdell’s totally awesome aliens. They’re smaller and far less menacing than they appear in the poster, but as I pointed out earlier, that is to be expected; this is a movie with a very tiny budget and most it of probably went into designing the poster. Blaisdell, known for making movie monsters that looked better than either time or budget would normally allow, created in the Saucer-Men the iconic image of the “little green man from space”; an image etched into pop culture so deeply that it remains clear long after the memory of the movie has faded.
Director Edward L. Cahn was handed a lot of low budget dog assignments in his long career; Invasion of the Saucer-Men was one of the few that he was able to transform from a sow’s ear to . . . nearly a silk purse.
Note: It would only take a nudge to push this movie from 1950′s earnestness into Larry Blamire-land. If you enjoy Blamire’s Lost Skeleton of Cadavara, you’ll get what’s to like about Invasion of the Saucer-Men. If you have never seen a Larry Blamire film, you need to fix that, like, now!
Edward L. Cahnis
Robert J. Gurney Jr.