The War of the Worlds (1953)

85 mins | Science fiction | October 1953

Director:

Byron Haskin

Writer:

Barré Lyndon

Producer:

George Pal

Cinematographer:

George Barnes

Editor:

Everett Douglas

Production Designers:

Hal Pereira, Albert Nozaki

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

Voice-over commentary, spoken by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, is heard at the beginning, middle and end of the picture. The film opens with a montage of shots created from matte paintings, depicting some of the planets in the solar system. As the planets are seen, the narrator describes how the Martians, in need of a new home, chose Earth for their invasion. The credits on the viewed print appeared to be modern or from a reissue, and were preceded by newsreel footage of World War I, World War II and a rocket launch. In onscreen credits, Houseley Stevenson Jr.'s name was misspelled as "Housely."
       According to modern sources, in 1925, Paramount purchased the rights to Wells's novel, which is set in England at the end of the 19th century, and assigned producer-director Cecil B. DeMille to film it. Roy Pomerey prepared an outline for DeMille, but the project was eventually shelved. Modern sources claim that Alfred Hitchcock, who was associated with Gaumont-British, approached Wells about filming the story in the early 1930s. An unidentified contemporary source in the AFI Library indicates that Gaumont-British expressed interest in the property and possibly acquired rights to it.
       According to modern sources, Paramount then briefly assigned Sergei Eisenstein, who was under contract at the studio, to the project. In the late 1930s, British producer-director Alexander Korda expressed interest in adapting the novel, according to modern sources. George Pal, who also produced Paramount's successful 1952 release When Worlds Collide (See Entry), was assigned to the project in Jul 1951, according to a HR news item. Modern sources note that Pal wanted to have the ... More Less

Voice-over commentary, spoken by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, is heard at the beginning, middle and end of the picture. The film opens with a montage of shots created from matte paintings, depicting some of the planets in the solar system. As the planets are seen, the narrator describes how the Martians, in need of a new home, chose Earth for their invasion. The credits on the viewed print appeared to be modern or from a reissue, and were preceded by newsreel footage of World War I, World War II and a rocket launch. In onscreen credits, Houseley Stevenson Jr.'s name was misspelled as "Housely."
       According to modern sources, in 1925, Paramount purchased the rights to Wells's novel, which is set in England at the end of the 19th century, and assigned producer-director Cecil B. DeMille to film it. Roy Pomerey prepared an outline for DeMille, but the project was eventually shelved. Modern sources claim that Alfred Hitchcock, who was associated with Gaumont-British, approached Wells about filming the story in the early 1930s. An unidentified contemporary source in the AFI Library indicates that Gaumont-British expressed interest in the property and possibly acquired rights to it.
       According to modern sources, Paramount then briefly assigned Sergei Eisenstein, who was under contract at the studio, to the project. In the late 1930s, British producer-director Alexander Korda expressed interest in adapting the novel, according to modern sources. George Pal, who also produced Paramount's successful 1952 release When Worlds Collide (See Entry), was assigned to the project in Jul 1951, according to a HR news item. Modern sources note that Pal wanted to have the story revolve around the scientist's search for his wife, as in the novel, but Paramount production head Don Hartman demanded the boy-meets-girl plot line.
       The War of the Worlds was Paramount special effects creator Gordon Jennings' last production. He died on 11 Jan 1953 of a heart attack, ten months before the film's release. The film's special effects were uniformally praised by critics and won an Academy Award. The picture also won the first annual Motion Picture Sound Editors' award, given to the "most dramatic use of sound effects in 1953." According to a Nov 1952 Popular Science article and a Jul 1953 IP article, the spaceships in the film were constructed from three 45-inch copper models, weighing 31 pounds each and sporting neon and incandescent lighting. Two motors controlled the movement of the ship's snake-like probe. Fire effects were created from magnesium, and the ships "flew" with the aid of overhead wires. Animated overlay drawings, superimposed over live action footage, helped create the illusion of the ship's bomb-proof hood. The Martian's arms and fingers were controlled by wires inside the actor's costume, and the pulsating action of its body was created with air pumps. According to modern sources, Pal originally wanted all scenes from the atomic bomb blast on to be presented in 3-D.
       Modern sources state that Cecil B. DeMille was asked to do the film's narration, and Lee Marvin was considered for the male lead. HR news items add Jim Meservy, Dan Dowling, Abdullah Abbas and the Mitchell Choir Boys to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, in addition to associate producer Frank Freeman, Jr., who is listed in the CBCS, Pal appears in the film as a bum. Modern sources add the following names to the crew list: Lovell Norman ( Sd ed ); Howard Beal, Dan Johnson and Walter Oberst ( Sd staff ); Milt Olson, Charlie Davies, Lee Vasque and Romaine Brickmeyer ( Props ); Walter Hoffmann ( Explosives ); Chester Pate, Bob Springfield and Eddie Sutherland ( Spec eff ); Aubrey Law and Jack Caldwell ( Spec optical eff ); Soldier Graham ( Gaffer ) and Gae Griffith ( Prod asst ). In addition to its special effects win, the film received Academy Award nominations in the Sound Recording and Film Editing categories.
       On 8 Feb 1955, Dana Andrews, Pat Crowley and Les Tremayne, in the role of "Gen. Mann," appeared on a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film. Wells's novel was first adapted for radio and was broadcast on producer-director-actor Orson Welles's CBS Mercury Theater on the Air program on 30 Oct 1938. In the Mercury Theater adaptation, written by Howard Koch, the invasion takes place in New Jersey. The broadcast, which simulated a regular program with "break-in" news reports, was perceived as real by some of its listeners, particularly those in the New York, New Jersey vicinity, and caused considerable hysteria. Welles directed and co-starred in the program with Frank Readick and Stefan Schanbel.
       On 30 Oct 1968, radio station WKBW in Buffalo, NY, enacted an updated version of the Welles's broadcast, and on 30 Oct 1988, National Public Radio presented a fiftieth anniversary broadcast of the original radio script, modified by Koch. The War of the Worlds was re-released with When Worlds Collide (See Entry), on 7 Sep 1977. Triumph Entertainment produced a syndicated television series based on the novel that was directed by Colin Chilvers and starred Jared Martin, and broadcast from 1988-1990. In 2005, DreamWorks SKG and Paramount Pictures released a new film adaptation of H. G. Wells's story. That film, entitled War of the Worlds , was produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Cruise and Dakota Fanning. Gene Barry, who portrayed "Dr. Clayton Forrester" and Ann Robinson, who portrayed "Sylvia Van Buren" in the 1953 film, appeared briefly in the 2005 version as Fanning's grandparents. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Feb 1953.
---
Daily Variety
2 Mar 53
pp. 3-4.
Daily Variety
18 Mar 1954.
---
Film Daily
9 Mar 53
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 52
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Feb 52
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 52
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 52
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 53
p. 3.
International Photographer
1 Jul 53
p. 16, 20.
Los Angeles Times
7 Sep 1977.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
28 Feb 53
p. 1742.
New York Times
14 Aug 53
p. 10.
Popular Science
Nov 1952.
---
Variety
4 Mar 53
p. 18.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Bob Cornthwaite
Russell Conway
Edward Wahrman
Douglas Henderson
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Astronomical art
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (London, 1898).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1953
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 August 1953
Production Date:
mid January--late February 1952
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 October 1953
Copyright Number:
LP3999
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
85
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

After what appears to be a meteor crashes in a gulley in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles, scientist and Pacific Technical professor Clayton Forrester drives to the site. The blackened, cylindrical object has attracted a crowd of onlookers, including Sylvia Van Buren, a library science teacher from the University of Southern California, who knows Clayton by reputation. Unable to use his Geiger counter on the fiery hot object, Clayton decides to spend the night in the area and return to the gulley the next day. Sylvia and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins, offer Clayton their home and invite him to a square dance that evening. While Clayton and Sylvia are enjoying the dance, three locals who have been assigned to watch the object are startled when a previously hidden lid unscrews and a long-necked, metallic probe with a pulsating red "eye" emerges from the object's top. Although terrified, the men attempt to greet the probe, carrying a white flag and declaring their friendship. The probe studies the men for a few seconds, then shoots out a death ray, obliterating them. At the same moment, the power goes out at the dance and all the guests's wristwatches stop. After Clayton determines that everything has become magnetized, the sheriff drives up to announce that a fire has broken out in the gulley. Clayton, the sheriff and his deputy rush to the site and are immediately targeted by the probe. Sensing danger, the deputy races off in the patrol car, while Clayton and the sheriff dive behind some rocks. The probe shoots some rays, annihilating the patrol car, but missing Clayton ... +


After what appears to be a meteor crashes in a gulley in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles, scientist and Pacific Technical professor Clayton Forrester drives to the site. The blackened, cylindrical object has attracted a crowd of onlookers, including Sylvia Van Buren, a library science teacher from the University of Southern California, who knows Clayton by reputation. Unable to use his Geiger counter on the fiery hot object, Clayton decides to spend the night in the area and return to the gulley the next day. Sylvia and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins, offer Clayton their home and invite him to a square dance that evening. While Clayton and Sylvia are enjoying the dance, three locals who have been assigned to watch the object are startled when a previously hidden lid unscrews and a long-necked, metallic probe with a pulsating red "eye" emerges from the object's top. Although terrified, the men attempt to greet the probe, carrying a white flag and declaring their friendship. The probe studies the men for a few seconds, then shoots out a death ray, obliterating them. At the same moment, the power goes out at the dance and all the guests's wristwatches stop. After Clayton determines that everything has become magnetized, the sheriff drives up to announce that a fire has broken out in the gulley. Clayton, the sheriff and his deputy rush to the site and are immediately targeted by the probe. Sensing danger, the deputy races off in the patrol car, while Clayton and the sheriff dive behind some rocks. The probe shoots some rays, annihilating the patrol car, but missing Clayton and the sheriff. After a second object streaks across the sky and lands nearby, soldiers and ordnance from El Toro Marine Base are called to the scene and arrive with a radio reporter and other scientists. When an Air Force plane flies over the gulley, the probe begins firing at it, convincing Clayton that the object is the product of extraterrestrial intelligence, probably Martian. Later, reinforcements from the 6th Army Command, led by Gen. Mann, roll in, and Mann reveals that space ships have landed all over the world and that once they become active, phone lines and other means of communication are rendered useless. Noting that the two southern California sites are the only ones that have been militarily surrounded, Mann tells Clayton that their operations will be a guide for the rest of the world. At dawn, as the Army prepares to attack, a disc-shaped craft, to which the probe is attached, rises out of the gulley on invisible magnetic legs and starts "walking" toward the soldiers. Disregarding protocol, the pacifistic Matthew steps out to meet the craft and two others that have emerged from the gulley and, while reciting the 23rd Psalm, is disintegrated by death rays. Army tanks and artillery then bombard the discs, but enshrouded in an electromagnetic force field, the discs prove impenetrable. After many soldiers are killed by the advancing crafts, Mann orders a retreat and heads for Los Angeles. Clayton, meanwhile, escapes with Sylvia in his airplane, but is soon forced to crash-land. Clayton and Sylvia flee and hide while the discs encircle the downed plane. Sylvia falls asleep in Clayton's arms, and later, after they have found refuge in an abandoned farm house, Clayton reassures Sylvia that they will find a way to destroy the Martians. Suddenly, another space vessel crashes into the side of the house and Clayton is knocked out. When he revives hours later, a terrified Sylvia informs him that more ships have landed in the hills, and they are blocked in. Another probe, this one with a red, green and blue "eye," thrusts itself into the house, and Clayton hacks it in two with an ax. After Sylvia catches a glimpse of a small, long-armed creature outside, the creature sneaks up behind her and touches her with its spindly, three-fingered hand. Clayton hurls the ax at the creature, and the creature, whose wide, flat head boasts a single, three-colored eye identical to the probe, scurries off, screeching in pain. In the confusion, Clayton and Sylvia slip away, and later, while world leaders meet to discuss the plight of the planet, stagger into Pacific Tech with the hacked-off probe and a scarf stained with alien blood. An examination of the blood reveals that the Martians are anemic, and the probe, which the scientists speculate mimics the aliens' actual eyes, is dissected to demonstrate how their vision works. Government and military leaders in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, decide to drop an atomic bomb on the California invaders, but the aliens' force fields again prove impervious. Calculating that they have only six days to stop the aliens, the Pacific Tech scientists prepare to leave for Colorado, where they hope to devise an effective attack strategy. As Los Angelenos frantically evacuate, Clayton sends Sylvia off on a school bus with the other scientists, then follows in a truck. In the downtown area, however, the truck is beseiged and stolen by hysterical citizens, desperate to get out of the city. Clayton is abandoned on the street and, after finding a torn-off school bus sign, begins to search for Sylvia. Recalling a story she told him about her childhood, Clayton goes from church to church looking for her, while the alien ships begin their assault on the city. The churches are filled with frightened people, and when Clayton finally locates Sylvia, they embrace as a minister prays for a miracle. Just then, one of the ships crashes into a neighboring building, and silence fills the air. Outside, Clayton and the others see the craft door open and a Martian arm flop down. The alien then dies, and other ships begin to crash around it. The Martians, who have contracted bacterial infections from the Earth's atmosphere, expire, and to the world's relief, the invasion ends. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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