Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Joseph Newman
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Russell Johnson
In the 1950s science fiction films – invasion flicks in partciular – were all the rave. They terrified and thrilled in equal measure, and just about every company with any relation to the film market wanted a slice of the pie. Even Universal, the house that monsters built. This Island Earth wasn’t a paralyzing picture, and it’s one of those rarities that deserves a sci-fi label more than a horror label (in my opinion, most “science fiction” films of the ’50s are just as well, if not better suited in the horror category), but its core still houses a boiling blackness that crawls under the skin when the wheels spin.
Dr. Cal Meacham is summoned by a stranger with an oversized head and some interesting abilities. He’s lured to a secluded mansion under the guise of scientific advancements, but he’s about to find himself in the middle of a war between two worlds completely unknown to those who call earth home. Does he have the moxy and wit to survive a trip through the galaxy, or will he become another casualty of an intergalactic feud?
There are a few surprises in wait here, but they’re relatively easy to spot coming. The film is indeed dated, and moviegoers have only gotten savvier as time continues to pass, but that doesn’t steal any of the picture’s charm. Extremely innocent by today’s standards, This Island Earth is light on violence (action in general), and leaves any risque idea at home, tucked away, out of sight. It’s a safe production, but it’s also got a lot of great things going for it. The monster we see introduced in the movie’s final moments is a bit cheesy today, but it’s a cool enough practical suit to say with confidence that in 1955, it was most likely a creepy thing to behold. Rex Reason is a big, handsome and confident guy destined to depict heroic figures, and Jeff Morrow is quite sympathetic as Exeter, the alien we’re not entirely sure we can trust. Russell Johnson also appears in a minor role, long before his days spent on Gilligan’s Island. Strong dialogue and a touch of mystery also function in the film’s favor. There’s a lot of awesome stuff here to take in.
This Island Earth has been seemingly forgotten by many, and remains undiscovered by many others, but that should change. This one is a lot more entertaining than half of the stories of similar theme released in the 1950s. You’re not likely to have any problems growing fond of the ensemble, and even if it isn’t yesteryear’s Die Hard, there’re enough interesting plot points to keep audiences engaged. If vintage fare is your bag, This Island Earth should be on your to-see list.