#48: I Married A Monster From Outer Space


1958

Director:  Gene Fowler, Jr.

Cast:  Tom Tryon, Gloria Talbot

Introduction     Plot Summary     Impressions     Wrap-up

My rating:  Class O (1/7, super-hot giant blue star).  It’s got a B-movie title, and for that matter B-movie sensibilities, but it’s also got a heroic young bride, a heroic doctor, and heroic dogs!  It’s surprisingly good—perhaps the best of the alien-invaders-replace-humans movies of the fifties or any other era.

Introduction

I Married a Monster From Outer Space is often dismissed as a B movie, and derivative of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, or two years before this movie was released).  The publicity stills and art are lurid and sensational, showing the female lead screaming while dressed in a wedding gown.

The setup is pretty simple: aliens arrive on earth and begin replacing hapless townsfolk.  One of the people replaced is Bill; his new bride Marge slowly realizes something is wrong.  However, she cannot convince anyone that there is a problem…will she survive her discovery?  What is the evil aliens’ ultimate aim?

In spite of all the macabre B-movie trappings, I Married A Monster From Outer Space is a romantic, almost sweet, little thriller with nifty visuals and surprising depth.  The film transcends its roots because of a good performance by Gloria Talbott, the female lead, as well as a well-reasoned thoughtful script which pays attention to details.

Plot (Contains Spoilers) (Skip ahead to Impressions)

Short summary:  Boy meets Alien.  Alien replaces Boy.  Alien marries Girl.  Alien takes Girl on honeymoon.  A year passes.  Girl discovers that Boy is an Alien.  Girl tries to warn people.  Girl gets her doctor to believe her.  Doctor leads posse in an attack on the aliens.  Aliens are forced to release their human captives.  Girl is reunited with Boy.

More details:  I don’t know that a full, play-by-play exposition is necessary to an understanding of this film.  On the other hand, without some details you’ll never understand just how important Man’s Best Friend can be in the event of an alien invasion.  That’s right, I’m talking about dogs, the animals that save the day in this film.  Well, dogs, virile he-men who’ve managed to get their wives pregnant, and a kindly doctor…

Key Scene:  The film opens with Bill’s bachelor party, and it’s not exactly a humdinger of a party.  It’s a bunch of guys sitting in a bar drinking too much and talking about how getting married is a terrible thing.  Bill, understandably, leaves early, saying he wants to see his bride-to-be before the wedding tomorrow.  He’s driving over to Marge’s place when he spots a man lying in the road and slams on the brakes (good thing he didn’t have more to drink).  He gets out to check on the body, but it’s not there…and then an inhuman hand grabs him from behind!  He collapses, and black mist covers his body.  When the mist vanishes, Bill is gone.

Key Scene:  Not to worry, though:  Bill shows up just fine, if a little late, for his wedding to Marge.  After the ceremony the newly-weds take off on their honeymoon, and we get a few indications that all is not well:  Bill either sees in the dark or doesn’t know how to turn on the car’s headlights; he forgets to open the car door for his new bride; he seems afraid of a thunderstorm; and he won’t drink champagne with Marge.  A lightning flash reveals a hideous alien face superimposed on Bill’s face…and the alien imposter joins Marge in the bedroom.  Fade to black.

A year passes while the screen is dark.  Now we get into some not-so-crucial scenes.  The important facts are that Sam, one of Bill’s drinking buddies, has gotten sober and is marrying Helen;  Marge wants to get pregnant and is worried that she hasn’t yet;  according to her doctor, there’s nothing wrong with Marge but he’d like to see Bill.

Key Scene:  Marge buys a little dog for the couple’s anniversary, but the dog doesn’t like Bill—at all.  Bill has Marge take the dog down to the basement and put it on a leash until the little guy can get used to Bill.  Later, Bill goes downstairs and the dog goes berserk again.  Bill picks up a hammer…but then he puts it down and walks toward the dog bare-handed.  Marge rushes downstairs when she hears the dog going berserk, but by the time she arrives, Bill has to tell her that the dog has strangled himself on his own leash.

Key Scene:  Marge tells Bill about her doctor’s appointment, and while he doesn’t seem happy about it, he agrees to go in to get checked out.  Then Sam stops in for a visit.  Marge retires for the evening, leaving the menfolk to talk.  And what a talk it turns out to be!  Sam complains about the body he’s gotten, the two trade stories about the mistakes they’ve made so far, and comment that the master plan is proceeding well.  They’ve replaced the entire police force…as Sam is leaving, he tells Bill that Bill is running low on methane and that he needs to drop by the ship for some more.

Key Scene:  Bill sneaks off, but Marge secretly follows him out of town and into the woods.  He goes to a spaceship, and black mist pours out of his body, becoming a hideous alien.  The alien enters the ship, leaving Bill’s motionless body standing alone.  Marge runs up to her man, but he won’t wake up, and in fact falls over flat on his back.  Marge flees the woods; once in town, she goes to a bar and tells the patrons that her husband is an alien.  They don’t believe her, so she goes to the chief of police.  He says she’s not insane, but she might be hysterical, and that she needs to return to her husband—if he is an alien, the chief argues, they don’t want him to realize that Marge suspects.  After Marge leaves, the chief is standing at the window when a lightning flash reveals an alien face over his own.

Once again, a lot of stuff happens that’s really not that important:  Marge tries to talk Helen out of marrying Sam; Bill and Marge have their first fight (“You’ve changed!” takes on a sinister meaning here, and Marge means it exactly the way it sounds); and a creepy guy spies on Bill and gets killed by the police, but also shows us that the aliens are immune to bullets.

Key Scene:  Bill meets some of his alien friends at the bar.  There, they drink water and reveal their plans:  they want children.  So far, their scientists haven’t been able to match human chromosomes, but they’re working on it.  The drunken bartender throws the aliens out, because they’re not buying anything.  After the boys leave the bar, so does a woman of easy virtue.  She attempts to pick up a man who turns out to be an alien, and he unceremoniously disintegrates her for her presumption.

Key Scene:  At a picnic, Sam falls in the water, and is rescued by Ted, whose new wife is pregnant.  Sam dies when the paramedics administer oxygen.  Marge is increasingly worried at this point: Bill and Sam are both strong swimmers, so why did the accident happen, and why didn’t Bill help?  Of course Marge knows the truth, and she even knows why the oxygen killed Sam.  She goes back to the police chief, but he refuses to do anything because he claims she has no evidence.  Marge tries to call the FBI, but she can’t get through.  Her attempt to send a telegram is blocked as well, so she tries to leave town, only to be turned back by the police.

Key Scene:  Returning home, she sits in the dark until Bill comes home.  He asks her how much she knows, and she tells him she knows everything.  Bill confesses that he and the rest of his people come from the Andromeda galaxy.  All of their women have died, and they need to find women so they can reproduce.  That’s why his scout ship came to earth.  They don’t have human emotions, but the bodies they wear are contaminating them and Bill thinks he may be learning love.

Marge turns once again to her doctor, who puts Sam’s death together with Marge’s story and believes her.  But what can they do?  Who can they turn to?  At that point Ted, who was at the picnic, enters in a state of joyous excitement because his wife just gave birth to twins.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Marge?  Yes, Doc, I think expectant fathers make the perfect army for rounding up some aliens!

Bill figures out something is up, though.  Doc’s posse is on the way to the space ship, and Bill and the police are not far behind.  Marge trails along last, but certainly not least.  This could get ugly; the humans don’t know about the disintegrator beams or the immunity to bullets (though the film has done a good job of conveying that information to the viewer).  Fortunately enough, however, one man brought his two german shepherds.  The dogs attack in flying leaps, biting at large tubes on the aliens’ necks.  Though one dog and one man are killed, both aliens are brought down to dissolve into messy goo, and the space ship stands unguarded.

Doc enters the ship, discovering humans held in some kind of forcefield.  He unplugs them, moving them out of the ship.  When he unplugs one of the policemen, his double, one of two policemen with Bill closing in on the space ship, collapses and dissolves into goo.  Doc unplugs the police chief next.  The chief has time to radio the alien fleet, explaining that they have been discovered and to destroy the ship, before he, too, dissolves into goo.  When Doc unplugs the second policeman, Bill takes pity on him and disintegrates the dying monster to put it out of its misery.

Marge catches up with Bill, now alone, but armed and dangerous.  Alien Bill says he wishes Marge had never found out about him (well, duh!), but there’s a wistfulness to his tone, as if he’s less concerned about his personal danger and the danger to his species’ plan for survival and more concerned about the emotional aspects of his situation…But Doc unplugs the real Bill, and alien Bill collapses; he tells Marge to look away as he dissolves into goo.

Marge goes on to the ship to be reunited with the real Bill.  The alien ship hums louder and louder, so all the humans flee, and the ship explodes.  The alien fleet leaves earth.

Impressions

Surprisingly good.  If there’s a central motif to the I Married A Monster From Outer Space experience, that’s it.  The plot is better than it should be, the effects work better than they should, and Gloria Talbott’s performance is probably better than good.  The film may not have any deep meaningful message, but it’s entertaining and that’s what counts.  Plus there are heroic dogs.

The plot of I Married A Monster From Outer Space is simply amazing.  I’ve looked around the internet a bit, as well as thought about all the science fiction I’ve read, and I think this might be the first “aliens want our women” story in film or any other media.  It’s silly and it’s stupid, but on the other hand, why else would aliens come to our planet and infiltrate?  We don’t have superior technology to steal, and there are plenty of resources there for the taking in space, so our genes might well be the only thing of interest to alien invaders (unless they need food or slaves).  So…maybe the plot isn’t quite as dumb as it seems on the surface.  It’s just one of the ways that this film manages to be surprisingly good.

The plot develops slowly enough, with enough shocks (both visual and emotional) to develop a fine sense of suspense.  It may be clear from the outset that Marge is marrying a monster, but that’s all to the good, because the suspense isn’t about what’s going on; it’s about what Marge knows, and once she knows it, what she can do about it.  Each new plot point is carefully delivered in proper order and time, foreshadowing the next development, and we learn about the aliens’ strengths and vulnerabilities in time to set up a rousing climax in which the dog (excuse me, deus) ex machina tears open the aliens’ breathing tubes, exposing them to the poisonous oxygen.

There are some plot problems, of course, which I didn’t pay much attention to because I was enjoying the movie so thoroughly.  The dogs may actually be the biggest plot hole in the entire romp.  I don’t understand why alien technology can stop bullets, but not dogs.  On the other hand, I like dogs, and their success at killing aliens gives a little sweet revenge for Bill’s killing of the dog in the basement (the only truly reprehensible thing the aliens do, aside from masquerading as human men and having sex with our women, of course).  The lightning flash revelations don’t make much sense from the standpoint of science, but I’m willing to give them this one on the grounds that it is a neat image and it moves the plot along without actually wrecking it.

The effects also qualify as surprisingly good, especially for the time period.  The aliens themselves are men in rubber suits, but the film was edited—don’t ask me how, because this was way before CGI; maybe someone painstakingly added animation to each film cel—to give them a bit of a shimmer or glow that stands out about two inches from their bodies.  The black smoke the aliens use to take over human bodies is also a pretty good effect.  Even the disintegrator beams manage to look impressive.

Gloria Talbott’s performance steals the show, probably as intended.  While poor Tom Tryon got stuck playing a stone-faced emotionless alien from outer space, Gloria Talbott got to tear up the screen as she runs the gamut of human emotion:  a shy, blushing bride deeply in love with her husband;  a married woman who slowly realizes that something is wrong with her husband;  a fearful, Cassandra-like figure who can’t convince anyone of the truth;  and a betrayed, righteously angry woman confronting her powerful but erring husband.  Talbott’s range is easily the equal of the film’s demands.  Her performance is (you knew this phrase was coming, didn’t you?) surprisingly good for a scream queen.

The film did have some problems with day and night.  The outdoors-at-night scenes were simply too well-lighted, and sometimes shifted from dark to light and back again without explanation.  Fowler paid a lot of attention to light and shadow during most of the film—shooting Bill in the dark while watching Marge in a well-lit area of the room—so it may be that technical issues contributed to this problem.

The aliens’ motivations and techniques, as always in this sort of film, are important and somewhat thought-provoking.  They’re methane-breathing, monstrous appearing entities with advanced technology but no women, and they want their race to survive.  And so, like all aliens, they resort to deceit and subterfuge to accomplish their aims.  I think we can accept as fact, however, that mankind would not be willing to share its women with another species, even to save it from extinction, and that womankind would not be sexually interested in the aliens.  At this point we can cue up the standard sophomore philosophical debate about ends, means and morality.  You could make a decent argument either way, except for the fact that the aliens are dog-killers and therefore obviously evil to the core.

One of the other things that stands out is the utter normality of the life depicted in the film.  It’s the fifties, and there are certain touches which may be surprising to modern viewers (the weddings are not huge extravaganzas orchestrated by professionals dancing attendance on Bridezilla, for example, and apparently drinking and driving wasn’t even a blip on the radar back then), but on the whole, it’s an ordinary town filled with ordinary people doing ordinary things.  The movie develops the contrast between what’s really going on and what appears to be going on, and that’s part of the suspense.  But it also gives us a glimpse of ordinary life in the late fifties.

I think there’s a lot you can say about this film’s themes, and certainly a lot of reviewers have done so.  That may say more about the fact that the viewer often brings his own prejudices and preconceptions to the film that it does about I Married A Monster From Outer Space, however.  To me, this was a rousingly good yarn intended to entertain, and not much else (though that’s enough).

There were a number of paranoid, suspense-driven thrillers which came out of the fifties, and popular wisdom holds that they were the product of McCarthyism and Cold War fears.  I Married A Monster From Outer Space certainly taps that well.  So it’s possible to view the film as an indictment of communism and the danger that secret societies pose to the established order.  I don’t think that’s true in this case, however.  First, by the time this film was released, the McCarthy era was dying (a series of key Supreme Court decisions had upheld the individual right to claim Fifth Amendment protections, prohibited the use of contempt to compel citizens to testify about their political beliefs before Congressional committees, and prohibited the revocation or refusal of passports on the basis of political affiliation).  Secondly, the aliens are actually supporting the established order, not defying it or seeking to destroy it.  The aliens are (literally) sober and seeking to marry and father children.  In a sense they are seeking the very foundation of the American way of life.  The aliens kill only two people in the entire film, one a woman of questionable virtue and the other a man who was spying on Bill—probably not because he believed in the alien invasion story but rather because he thought Marge was attractive and her marriage was on the rocks.

Contrast that to the other two alien invader movies I’ve reviewed, Invaders From Mars and It Came From Outer Space.  In Invaders, the aliens are overtly working against mankind, and the invasion is coming, which is exactly what we feared the Communists were doing in the fifties (the ambiguous “it was all a dream” ending might undercut the serious nature of the Communist threat, or it might not, depending on how you interpret the ending).  And in Outer Space, the aliens turn out to be friendly strangers who basically stopped to fix their car, and not invaders at all.

It could also be argued that the theme is a feminist one, but again, I think that’s reaching.  The film features a strong and intelligent female character, true, but strong and intelligent women had existed all around the world before 1958.  In fact, it’s a little insulting to suggest that the film is a feminist film simply because it’s got a woman in the protagonist role.  And Marge certainly never exceeds expected behavior of a woman in the fifties.  She’s a herald of the invasion, but she doesn’t physically fight the aliens.  On the other hand, a lot of science fiction movies use women as eye candy, love interests for the male protagonist, or appurtenances to the plot.  If feminism is simply viewing women as whole persons, then this is a feminist film—but so are a lot of others.

Still other reviewers have suggested that the film is a condemnation of, or metaphor for, homosexuality.  They point out that the aliens are emotionless, candy-assed non-drinkers who just need the love of a good woman and the experience of fatherhood to become…er…virile manly men, and that it’s the expectant fathers who (along with dogs, of course)  save the day.  Um…yeah.  I think that’s going a little far again.  It may or may not be the aliens’ fault that all their women are dead, but it’s clear that they want them back, and by the end of the film at least one of the aliens seems to have learned how to love human women.  That doesn’t sound very homosexual to me.  Also, if that’s the metaphor, then it’s okay for straight men to kill homosexual men.  I don’t know, it was the fifties, but even for that time, it seems like an extreme position.

Wrap-up

So…all thematic considerations aside, Director Gene Fowler, Jr., has given us a suspenseful ride which doles out information slowly, building up to an action-filled climax in which good triumphs, with some startling and interesting visual shocks along the way.  Don’t worry about the philosophical implications which may or may not be in the film, or the Cold War paranoia.  Just enjoy the ride for what it is, one of the best alien replacement flicks out there.  Oh…and take your dog for a walk!

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