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Vincent Di Fate

Infiltrating the Sanctity of the Home: The Invaders From Mars

Timing, they say, is everything. In October 2003, a full half-century had passed since George Pal’s movie adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic alien invasion novel The War of the Worlds opened in theaters around the country. Then, as in 2003, Mars was in opposition to the Earth—meaning that it was at its closest point to our planet as its long, irregular orbit would take it. But even then, back before the days of artificial satellites, deep space probes and Hubble telescopes, serious scientists believed that Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, was an unlikely candidate to harbor life. Only in the public mind did such a thing seem possible, thanks to the mistranslation of Giovanni Schiaparelli’s statement in 1877 that the surface of Mars was crisscrossed with canali– meaning grooves or channels, not canals. Its thin atmosphere, its barren deserts, its great distance from the Sun, and its extremes in temperature argued persuasively against the possibility that life could thrive there.

Thankfully, that did not stop pioneering filmmakers like Howard Hawks, George Pal and William Cameron Menzies from imagining that world as being inhabited, or that beings from Mars might be hostile toward us; might journey here across the vast millions of miles of naked space to lay claim to planet Earth.

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Life Stirs on the Blood-Red Globe: The War of the Worlds

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the famous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. In honor of that, please enjoy this in-depth piece on the 1953 movide adaptation.

In 1925, H. G. Wells sold the movie rights to The War of the Worlds to Paramount Pictures with the expectation that Cecile B. DeMille, the person at whose request the studio first acquired the property, would be the defining force behind its translation to the screen. Wells and DeMille met only once, in 1935, when Wells came to the United States while Things To Come was still in post-production. Wells had been lured into participating in the filming of his novel The Shape of Things to Come by producer Alexander Korda, who promised him virtual autonomy over its making. Wells’ experience on that film, although enormously frustrating for Menzies, its director, had given Wells hope that motion pictures might ultimately prove a viable medium in which to direct his creative energies. By the time of their meeting, at a party thrown in Wells’ honor at DeMille’s Tujunga Canyon ranch, DeMille had long abandoned any serious interest in making The War of the Worlds. In fact, as early as 1930 the studio had felt free to offer it to the great Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein to lure him to Paramount, but Eisenstein eventually abandoned the property, choosing instead to work on Que Viva Mexico, a film he started in 1931 but never finished.

Thus, it lay dormant at Paramount for two decades until, in 1951, George Pal, recently contracted to the studio as a feature film producer, discovered it and scheduled it for production.

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The Strange Creature of Topanga Canyon: Paul Blaisdell, His Life and Times

The author wishes to acknowledge the significant aid of Bob Burns in providing information and photographs in the preparation of this profile. Clearly, without Bob’s indispensable assistance this article would not have been possible.

The story of monster maker Paul Blaisdell—his meteoric rise in the field of low budget motion pictures, and his equally precipitous fall from grace as trends and production methods changed—is, I’m sure, not unlike the story of scores of others who struggled to make their mark in the film business.

In Blaisdell’s case, however, there is a qualitative difference. His monsters were more outlandish and imaginative, his talents greater, his limitations of budget and time often more severe, and his hardships and ultimate undoing more devastating to a fragile ego that rightfully craved a need for greater recognition and better treatment. But to appreciate his story more fully, it is necessary to also understand, to some degree, the odd, out of kilter world of low budget filmmaking of the ’50s and ’60s and the men and women who made them.

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A Massive Mummy Movie Filmography

There have been many more motion pictures of varying lengths and qualities about the reanimated, mummified dead than appear in this filmography.  These films range from a handful of amusing silent shorts in the teens and twenties, to the Mummy Dearest hardcore pornographic comedies of the early ’90s. Like any motion picture subgenre, mummy movies tend to expose the inherent flaws and limitations of the premise, but in this instance, and after nearly a century, they also point to its broad appeal and tenacious durability.  To be sure there is greatness and near-greatness here, just as certainly as there are embarrassing wastes of celluloid.

The following is offered as a highly selective reference checklist of 45 cinematic efforts with which any self-respecting mummy movie lover should be familiar.

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The Fantastic Mystery of Milicent Patrick

She went by the name of Milicent Patrick, appeared in 21 motion pictures over a span of 20 years (1948 to 1968), acted in dozens of television shows, worked as a costumer, character designer, and illustrator on countless other films, and took a significant role in creating the SF cinema’s most distinctive character of the 1950s, yet today she is a mystery woman in the most literal sense of the term.

Her real name is (or was) Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi and, according to some sources, she was born an Italian baroness—the Baronesa di Polombara. She was/is a multi-talented, statuesque beauty who, remarkably, shied away from the limelight, and received screen credit for only a relative handful of the many pictures she worked on, both in front of and behind the cameras. The Screen Actors Guild currently lists her among the missing, and no definitive record of her life, her death, or her whereabouts seems to exist beyond the early 1980s.

[A beauty who created a beast]

Series: Monster Mash on

Death’s Incurable Romantic: The Mummy in Egypt

He was a dark and tragic figure. In life he loved deeply and perhaps insanely. His was a love so profound that it dwelled in his still beating heart 3,000 years after fate had forsaken him and callously taken his lover away. Even in death the woman he idolized radiated an angelic beauty he could not resist. Once a man of the gods, a high priest charged with a sacred trust, he abandoned his calling, taken privileged knowledge and, defying his gods, he attempted to restore her to life. Some knew him as Im-Ho-Tep. Others called him Kharis, a prince rather than a priest. Perhaps they are one, or maybe they are two with a common calling, a mutual weakness and a similar fate. They (he) may have been mere movie monsters, the fabrication of a studio system more focused on quantity than quality, but when I was young they filled me with fear—and yet their quiet vigilance was, in an odd way, comforting. They lurked in the putrefying dankness of the forest, in the cool swamp, among the fallen leaves and the dead things and the thousand other terrors, not so dead, that creep and crawl and slither in the dark places where gentle, God-fearing folk never tread.

[The making of the classic Mummy movie series]

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