Stranger from Venus (1954)

Rating:

aka Immediate Disaster

UK. 1954.

Crew

Director – Burt Balaban, Screenplay – Hans Jacoby, Story – Desmond Leslie, Producers – Burt Balaban & Gene Martel, Photography (b&w) – Kenneth Talbot, Music – Eric Spear, Makeup – Nel Taylor, Art Direction – John Elphick. Production Company – Princess Pictures, Inc./Rich and Rich Productions

Cast

Helmut Dantine (The Stranger), Patricia Neal (Susan North), Derek Bond (Arthur Walker), Cyril Luckham (Dr Meinard), Willoughby Gray (Tom), Marigold Russell (Gretchen), Kenneth Edwards (Charles Dixon), Arthur Young (Scientist)


Plot

A stranger turns up at an English country pub and asks to stay, although reveals that he has no money. He even claims to have no name. The police become suspicious when he reveals details about Susan North, a local girl who has gone missing. However, when the police try to take the stranger in for questioning, they find that they are unable to lay their hands on him. Susan then turns up, revealing that she has been in a car crash and how the stranger saved and miraculously healed her. The stranger tells them that he is a visitor from the planet Venus. The authorities block off all exits in and out of the town. The stranger tells government representatives that he wants a meeting with heads of world governments for when his people arrive in their ship in four days time. As he waits for this to be set up, the stranger discovers that the authorities instead plan to lay a trap to capture his people’s ship – something they do not realise could have disastrous consequences for Earth.


Alien visitor and in particular alien invasion films were huge in the US during the 1950s. There were a smaller nevertheless significant handful of these that also came from English shores – see the likes of Devil Girl from Mars (1954), The Quatermass Xperiment/The Creeping Unknown (1955), Quatermass II/The Enemy from Space (1956), The Trollenberg Terror/The Crawling Eye (1958), Village of the Damned (1960), Unearthly Stranger (1963), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), The Night Caller (1965), Invasion (1966), Night of the Big Heat (1967), They Came from Beyond Space (1967) and The Body Stealers (1969), as well as tv’s UFO (1970-1) and various episodes of Doctor Who (1963-89).

Stranger from Venus incorporates many of the themes that ran through these British alien invasion films – the recurrent image of small sleepy country villages being closed off and isolated from the outside world. There is also the theme of British authority that sits between being benevolent and a facelessly sinister force. Like Devil Girl from Mars, Stranger from Venus is almost entirely contained within the environs of a British country pub for the duration, featuring a crosscut of regular everyday characters.

Stranger from Venus has largely been construed as a British version of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a US-made effort that was one of the first films of the 1950s science-fiction boom, featuring Michael Rennie as an alien visitor who arrives to offer a dire warning that humanity should stop nuclear proliferation, only for his entreaties to run up against trigger-happy US military. Indeed, the connection between Stranger from Venus and The Day the Earth Stood Still is made overt by the casting of Patricia Neal who plays the role of the woman who befriends the alien visitor in both films (although here this is made into more of a romantic connection). There are very similar scenes in both films where the alien visitor asks for a meeting of government heads and delivers the same message that humanity’s inherent capacity for atomic self-destruction must be halted. There is a slight difference of focus when it comes to the theme of military paranoia – in The Day the Earth Stood Still, the trigger-happy military shoot first and the rest of the film is about Michael Rennie defusing their distrust; here all of that occurs at the end where the government heads agree to the alien’s terms but are then more duplicitously revealed to be plotting to steal the alien’s technology when they arrive.

Stranger from Venus suffers from a pedestrian and plodding dullness to its direction. It is like a very talky, domestic version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. There is a lack of large scale to the action – all the conferences with the military and heads of government take place with the parties sitting around a table in the pub, for instance. There is a dreadfully unconvincing UFO model that turns up at the end.



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