High Strangeness: Flying Saucers From Outer Space

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flying Saucers From Outer Space

Sometimes my UFO research goes off in odd, unexpected directions. For instance, I never would have thought that writing a book about astronomer and UFO expert Dr. J. Allen Hynek would lead me to reading about 19th century mystics and philosophers, but that's exactly what I've been doing all week...

Then there are the times I don't think I'm doing any research for the book and it turns out I am. Last night, for instance, I sat down to watch an old 1955 science fiction movie with the wonderful title, "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers." How was I to know that it would have any bearing on my UFO research?

What makes "EvFS" interesting to me is that the invading flying saucers and the aliens who pilot them were rendered in the film by stop-motion animation genius Ray Harryhuasen, who died just a few weeks ago. I've always been a fan of his charming, wacky science fiction and fantasy films, so when my wife got me the movie for my birthday this week I had to drop everything and watch it. As a tribute to Ray, and because I'm a flying saucer nerd.

I hadn't seen the movie in many years, and I expected it to be pretty silly, which it was, but there was a huge surprise in the opening credits. After the listing of the scriptwriters, a title said:

"Suggested by 'Flying Saucers From Outer Space' by Major Donald E. Keyhoe."

I had no idea that this or any other 1950s alien invasion movie had ever been "suggested" by an actual mass-market book about UFOs, so this was big news to me. Would that make the movie more realistic? More believable? More sensational? Keyhoe, after all, was pretty much the first person to start writing best-sellers about flying saucers, and the first to form a civilian UFO investigation organization, NICAP. And he was a retired Marine pilot, so the guy's got some cred.

With my interest level thus raised a few notches, I let the movie roll. The grim opening narration informs the viewer that flying saucers have become a global problem, and that we'd better figure out what they're up to before we find ourselves being placed on display in extraterrestrial zoos, or ground up into human sausages for the aliens to put out at parties with hot sauce (human hot sauce!).

Then the movie showed a dramatization of what goes on at the Air Force Technical Intelligence Command in Dayton, OH. I really sat up at this, because what they were talking about was Project Blue Book, the real-life UFO study that got Hynek involved in the whole business in the first place. Sadly, the movie's portrayal of the Project Blue Book offices was way off base... It showed a modern, airy, brightly-lit office with a long row of a desks, perhaps a dozen, each manned by a diligent, attentive, neatly-pressed Air Force UFO researcher, taking testimony from excited UFO witnesses. There was no sound to the scene, but from the way the UFO witnesses were all dramatically swooshing their hands through the air, there was no doubt in my mind what they were describing to the Air Force people.

In reality, Project Blue Book was always woefully underfunded and understaffed. They worked out of a broom closet at the Air Force Base, and they were issued a desk, a phone, a pencil, a wastebasket and an illustration of the solar system to tack to the wall (but they were not issued a thumbtack). Also, I'm pretty sure nobody ever came into the Blue Book offices and started dramatically swooshing their arms through the air.

So, the movie kind of got that wrong, although I appreciated the earnest attempt to whitewash the truth

A dramatic scene from "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers." Could this be the perfect moment for the first "High Strangeness" photo caption contest?
I give the movie one big point for differentiating between UFOs and flying saucers, which no one even today ever takes the trouble to do. "Are you saying the UFO you saw was actually a flying saucer?" an incredulous General asks a scientist. "Yes," says the scientist, "I am." Cool.

From there, the movie becomes pretty generic and ordinary, in a goofy, charming way. Major Kehoe could not have been pleased with the final result, but even he must have grinned at the climactic moment in the film when the Generals and scientists are discussing the country's response to the imminent alien attack on Washington, D.C.:

Scientist: "Then, it's been decided that we're going to fight?"
General: "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capital, we don't meet them with tea and cookies."


alanborky said...

'Could this be the perfect moment for the first "High Strangeness" photo caption contest?'

"Now hey just because I said I saw a flying saucer doesn't me you've got the right to look at me as if I'm a complete dickhead!"

Mark UFO'Connell said...

Yes, we have an entry!