Eve Of The War

"War of the Worlds" (1953) Personal View
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Author:  morrisvan [ Sat Jan 27, 2007 4:51 pm ]
Post subject:  "War of the Worlds" (1953) Personal View

Here's a review I wrote for myself. It's dated 30 October 2004

The 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds" produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin has very little to do with H G Wells' novel. The location is changed from London and the Home Counties in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century to contemporary California and throws in the atomic bomb among the weapons used against the Martians. It is often seen as an example of science-fiction where the emphasis is on effects and spectatcle and dialogue and charaterisation are wooden. I see complaints like these as lazy pigdeon-holing. The effects work, supervised by Gordon Jennings - who sadly died after the film's completion - are still impressive after fifty years and received a well deserved Oscar. Ranging not just from the large-scale set pieces such as the US Amy's battle with with the Martians - from which they come off the worst - to the Martians laying waste to Los Angeles, but also to small scale "floor" effects; optical work and, just as memorable, the astronomical art work that accompanies the opening narration lifted in part from Wells' novel and adapted to include the Martians considereing other planets than Earth to colonize. Often ovelooked is the detail ranging from the momentary flash of light as the heat ray turns on the spectators, to a light winking on top of a distant Martian city as a dust storm blows in the foreground. The undisputed jewels are the Martian war machines, changed from striding tripods to sinister, streamlined manta-ray shaped craft with wing-tipped flamethrowers and the snake like heat ray projectors mounted on top.

Another stick used against "War of the Worlds" are the apprantely flat dialogue and peformances. Granted Barre Lyndon's screenplay leaves a lot to be desired and often states the obvious, but personally I feel he performances are good. What should be borne in mind is that the majority of actors often had to create characters from vague sugestions in the script to stage directions. Also the high turnover of films from Hollywood at that period mean't that actors would have to create deft characters economically. Gene Barry's granite jawed features and deadpan delivery in his role of Dr Clayton Forrester may not be to critical tastes, but he makes up for it with his physical expressions and his eyes. Notably when hiding in a trench, he cradles the sleeping Sylvia while looking anxiously round. Looking down at the sleeping girl, Clayton's expression softens and he smiles. Also Clayton is somewhat complacent who, despite his best efforts, is overtaken by events. He can also be somewhat careless; making a lot of noise clearing away debris in the ruined house next to the Martian encampment, to driving his truck into a rioting crowd. At the end he is reduced to fighting against a frightened mob and trying to reason wih them. He gets a punch in the face for his efforts.

Ann Robinson fares better as Sylvia Van Buren. Quiet fetching - she was only eighteen/nineteen at the time - her best scene is when she recounts to Clayton an incident when she got lost as a child. "Finally I went to a church. I stayed right by that door, praying for the one I loved the most to come and find me." Her face falls: "It was my Uncle Matthew." It is very moving and conveys very well a young woman brought up in a sheltered envoirment. It is not surprising she has hysterics; seeing her beloved uncle killed, besieged and then accosted by a Martian in a very frightening scene. Earlier the two had been caught by a Martian scanning device which glides up behind Sylvia.. Later the device is tested in a laboratory. "Lets see why they were so interested in you Miss Van Buren" one of the scientists says cheerfully; pulling her in front of it. Sylvia's traumatised face fills the lens and Clayton has to gently pull her away.

Les Tremayne's General Mann is memorable with his set features, piercing eyes and clipped delivery. It's an underplayed performance which makes Tremayne's lines memorable. "Once they start to move no more news comes out of that area," is one example and Tremayne then takes a sip of his coffee as though letting this piece of information sink in. His composure breaks slightly after the Martians survive the nuclear strike. "Guns, tanks, bombs; they're like toys against them!" he says: showing the character's desperation and frustration. You get the impression that General Mann is determined to fight to the bitter end when he mentions fighting the Martians all the way to the Californian mountains. Another memorable, underplayed performance is Lewis Colins as Pastor Collins. An open-minded and likeable man who wants to communicate with the Martians not just to avoid bloodshed but also that they may be "closer to the creator." "Shouldn't you be trying to communicate with them first," he askes Colonel Hefner, "And shoot later if you have to?" "It's always been a good persuader," Hefner replies. In one of the film's many memorable scenes, Collins walks out to the approaching Martians in a last ditch attempt at peaceful communication: reciting the 23rd Psalm and holding up his missal. The Martians respond by killing him. Also memorable are the three men co-opted into guarding the first Martian cylinder and who are present when it opens. "We'll be in all the papers," declares a be-suited southern gentleman. "Don't fool around with something when you don't know what it is," urges an anxious Mexican - with good reason - while a boyish looking young man suggests "Welcome to California," as a greeting. There's also some nice gallows humour from one of the Pacific Tech scientists: "If it's Martian blood youre after you'll get plenty of it after they drop the bomb."

Byron Haskin's direction uses a lot of craning n panning shots from the camera moving over the cylinder in it's pit to the crowds gathered on the edge, to an impressivly long take panning from Clayton and Slyvia clearing away debris in the ruined house to an oposite wall where, unseen, the grotesque shadow of a Martian appears; looming larger as it approaches the couple. Despite the spectacle there s plenty of time for nice touches. As a forest ranger 'phones a report of the first cylinder landing, his colleague sneaks a look at his cards. Later, the same man tells Clayton about the cylinder while cheerfully wolfing down a sandwich. The Martian covering it's face with it's hands after Clayton shines a torch at it - the creature is on the screen very briefly so we get the impression of a squat, wide-eyed monster with pulsating veins and long, spindly arms. The three guards walking into the camera which mometarily goes black before being lit up again, this time by a close up of the pulsating heat ray projector as it turns to face them. A little boy and a dog helping themselves to the contents of an ice cream stall during the evacuation of Los Angeles. Perhaps in a nod to Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast, a radio reporter is describing the army's arrival when the heat ray is turned on the spectators. Diving for cover he finds that his radio car has been blown up. The unkindest cut! Haskin also builds the tension to the first appearance of the Martian machines with alert, watchful troops in the dark, culminating in a perfect long shot of the first machine rising gracefuly and menacingly into view. Also, the scene with Clayton and Slyvia trapped next to the Martian encampment. Dimly lit with strob lightening coming from the hovering Martian mchines - another memorable shot has one settlig outside the house in a farmyard with a barn and cart in the background. Prior to their brief enounter with the Martian, the couple are stalked by the snake-like scanning device which is on a flexible stalk and pocessing three, multi-coloured eyes. First see in silouhette through a broken window, it is sensitive to the slightest sound. "Maybe they're just as curious about us as we are of them," Clayton ponders. "Maybe they want to take us alive!" is Sylvia's concerned response. In this sene, Clayton comes close to Wells' original narrator; alternating between wanting to escape from the Martians and yet curious about them.

At an hour and ten minutes nothing is wasted and "War of the Worlds" should be a lesson in how to make a potentially complex and atmospheric story fast moving. Despite deviating from the text the film does retain some of it's spirit in mankind's desperate attempts to deal with the Martians and later, the riots that Clayton is caught up in during the evacuation of Los Angeles: an echo of the panic-stricken stampede out of London in Wells' original. A major addition is a relgious overtone. When one of the Pacific Tech scientists reveals that the Martians will complete their conquest in six days, Slyvia responds "The same time it took to create it." The scenes of refugees packed into Los Angeles churches are quite moving, and at the climax, Clayton and Sylvia are saved as the Martians are struck down by God after they desecrate a church. It replaces the irony of the original. The Martians are able to overcome Man's technology and disrupt his society, but are defeated by common germs that they are vunerable to, so that Mankind, in the end survives. However the image of Clayton and Slyvia holding one another as the stained gass windows shatter and the roof falls in is memorable. Two people find one another as the world (apprantely) comes to an end.

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Sat Jan 27, 2007 7:39 pm ]
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An interesting and informative review morrisvan =D>
You probably already know that both Ann Robinson and Gene Barry appear in Spielberg's 2005 version as the kid's Grandparents.

Author:  morrisvan [ Sun Jan 28, 2007 11:55 am ]
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Thanks very much Lonesome. A lot of the reviews I wrote were just for my own amusement and for mental exercise. Its hard to talk about something you've seen and liked when most people are intrested in the soaps or "Big Brother". Just imagnine what it would be like if the Martians got their tentacles on the format. Haven't decided whether Jade Goody should be incinerated, suffocated or have her blood drained.

I did recognise Gene Barry and Ann Robinson at the end of Spielberg's version, and my respect for Robinson has increased from hearing her contributions to the WoTW special edition. She had a lot more to say in the commetary than Barry and in "The Sky is Falling" had a funny story about when she went to see WoTW in New York. She explained who she was at the box office and that Paramount said she could see it for free. The staff didn't believe her even when she produced her drivers licence but they let her go in just to get rid of her. The reason for this was that Robinson's hair was short and for the film she wore a wig. She also paid tribute to Les Tremayne (who was actually born in England), provided an analysis of the film and also had a few ancedotes about her life in California and that she collected wartime memorabilia.

Robinson also had roles in "A Place in the Sun", "An American in Paris" (apprantlyl) and Douglas Sirk's "Immitation of Life."

Author:  morrisvan [ Sun Jan 28, 2007 3:49 pm ]
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Sorry I'm back again but I don't think I made myself clear. Another reason why I wrote the reviews was also to see if I could do it myself. Des Lyman has complained that a lot of "criticism" are essays written by people who feel they're better than films/plays/TV shows they're reviewing, so I was just trying to write what I thought was a review but trying to be fair and without parading my ego. I also have a very battered and dog-earred edition of "Halliwell's Hundred" where the legendary Leslie Halliwell wrote about his favourite films quoting dialogue, describing scenes, directorial styles and shots while expressing his opinions. I was trying to imitate him as well.

If I don't like something I'll say so but I'll also try and point out the good parts. "War of the Worlds" whatever it's faults is a good film and it's also one of my favourites.

A little titbit. The film was completed in November 1952 and was previewed at a cinema in Weschester, a suburb of Los Angeles - during a childrens matinee! While the kids enjoyed it their parents didn't and dragged them out. Spoilsports

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Mon Jan 29, 2007 8:38 pm ]
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When they announced that Ann Robinson was to be in the new version of WOTW they mentioned that she had only appeared in two or three films after making the 1953 version of WOTW, I wondered whether She couldn't get roles or whether she decided to quit acting.

On the subject of Jade Goody (A girl who is so thick, she had to ask one of her fans how to spell her own name :a103: ), one of the best descriptions I've heard of her was on 'Top Gear' last night were Jeremy Clarkson called her "A racist, Pig-faced waste of organs and blood" so maybe the latter of your suggestions would be best, it would be a shame to waste all that blood. :D

Author:  McTodd [ Mon Jan 29, 2007 10:25 pm ]
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morrisvan wrote:
The film was completed in November 1952 and was previewed at a cinema in Weschester, a suburb of Los Angeles - during a childrens matinee! While the kids enjoyed it their parents didn't and dragged them out. Spoilsports

Ha ha! :lol: Nice one!

I enjoyed that, MV - do you have a website or blog of your reviews?

Author:  morrisvan [ Tue Jan 30, 2007 10:51 pm ]
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Thanks very much. No I don't have a blog or a webpage but I'll certianly think about it.

From what I can gather about Ann Robinson's career was that WoTW was her her only starring role. Her film work mainly consisted of supporting characters. The reasons being that she was a product of the Hollywood studio system - that is under contract to Paramount who would build her up through various films - and after making WoTW her contract was terminated so when Paramount came to promote the film Robinson found herself re-hired by the studio that had let her go. Also in the late fifties Robinson eloped to Mexico to marry matador Jaime Bravo which, as she said, "blew my career out of the water," although she worked extensively in television from the 1960s onwards. She had a son, Jaime Bravo Junior who went on to become a director at ABC Sports.

You may be interested in that Robinson has set up a website detailing her career. It's still being built but can be found at http://www.annrobinson.com/

Author:  Loz [ Sat Feb 03, 2007 8:58 pm ]
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Great review. You could make a career of it for sure. lots of nice details.

Author:  oever532 [ Sat Feb 23, 2008 6:31 pm ]
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I agree with what Loz said. At least you look more into detail instead of judging the part at first sight. There are some movies which have bad reviews, but I personally find them really good.

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