Director – Sherman A. Rose, Screenplay – Bill Raymor, From a Screenplay by James Nicholson & Wyott Ordung, Based on the Short Story Deadly City by Paul W. Fairman, Producer – Herman Cohen, Photography (b&w) – Guy Roe, Music – Paul Dunlap, Special Photographic Effects – Howard A. Anderson Co., Special Effects – David Koehler, Makeup – Stanley Orr, Art Direction – James Sullivan. Production Company – Abtcon Pictures Inc.
Kathleen Crowley (Nora King), Richard Denning (Frank Brooks), Virginia Grey (Vicki Harris), Richard Reeves (Jim Wilson), Robert Roark (Davis), Mort Marshall (Charles Otis), Arthur Space (General Wood), Whit Bissell (Scientist)
After having taken a heavy dose of sleeping pills, Nora King wakes up in a hotel room to find the whole city outside deserted. She eventually encounters another man Frank Brooks who was lying unconscious after being mugged. In turn, they find other survivors. As they puzzle over the reasons for the city being deserted, they come across a robot that blasts deadly rays from its single eye. Taking refuge in a hotel, they realise that a beachhead has been established north of the city for an invasion by robots from Venus. Elsewhere, the military attempt to bomb the invaders to no effect and desperately search for a means to stop the invasion.
Target Earth was one of a host of B-budget alien invasion movies that came out in the 1950s. In fact, it was one of the first films to jump onto the alien invasion trend following the success of The War of the Worlds (1953). Target Earth was produced by Herman Cohen, who would become one of the biggest genre B movie producers of the decade ahead with the likes of I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and Horrors of the Black Museum (1959). The screenplay was originally co-written by Wyott Ordung who wrote the Golden Turkey classic Robot Monster (1953) the previous year and had directed Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) for Roger Corman several months earlier. Target Earth was the first of only three films directed by editor Sherman A. Rose.
The film has a great opening. It sets up a classic deserted city scenario with Kathleen Crowley awaking in a hotel room after what appears to be an overdose of sleeping pills, finding there is no power or water, nobody else in the hotel, and then walking out into the deserted city and finding dead bodies littered about, before eventually encountering other survivors.
There is an extremely good sense of mystery created in these scenes, in the film leaving us wondering what is going on. [The set-up may well have been inspired by the similar opening in John Wyndham’s then recently published The Day of the Triffids (1951)]. The first appearance of the robots, seen only as a giant shadow outlined against the entire wall of a multi-story building, is also effective.
Alas, once we see the robots – about 30 minutes into the film – Target Earth takes a nosedive. The robot is no more than a man in a clunky suit with accordion arms that shoots a series of poorly double-exposed raybeams. Despite concerning itself with an alien invasion of overwhelming force, the film is so cheap that only one of the robots is ever seen throughout.
Moreover, the film also chooses this 30-minute point to cut away to a series of scenes with the military standing around plotting the counterattack. These scenes explain everything that is going on, whereupon all the mystery that has been built up to that point dissipates. Target Earth would have been much more effective, one suspects, if it had kept the robots and invading aliens as merely shadowy figures on the wall, had dropped the military scenes and focused on the mystery about what is going on.
Outside of the military scenes, the rest of the film is taken up with the survivors sitting around in a hotel room. All the alien invasion takes place off-screen and is only relayed through what the characters tell us. There is a competent cast but the dramas involving them are dull – moreover, we learn almost nothing about any of them as characters throughout. The eventual attack back is represented by stock footage of bombers, with the day eventually being saved by a last minute techno-babble solution involving a sonic oscillator.
There have been a number of other films with similar titles – the UFO film UFO: Target Earth (1974) and the alien conspiracy tv pilot Target Earth (1998) – although none of these are related to this film.