War of the Worlds 1953

Produced and distributed in 1953 by Paramount Pictures, budget of $2 million, Technicolor 35mm negative, 1.37:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 85 mins.

1953 poster




This film is the 1953 Technicolor narrative of the story created by H. G. Wells in 1896 England and published as a novel in 1898. Locations and names are changed to update the story for a modern American audience. There are no flashes from cannon on the surface of Mars to start the film. Rather, following a prologue by narrator Cedric Hardwick, a fireball streaks over Linda Rosa, California, a few miles east of Los Angeles. Scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and a young woman Sylvia Van Buren meet while looking at the crater, and the film focuses on their relationship. Forrester changes from a self-absorbed intellectual to a man who falls in love with Sylvia and wants to save her from the Martians. The film uses a triad motif: 3 men are killed by the first heat ray; the Martians have 3 long fingers on two long arms rather than tentacles, and their remote viewing eye has 3 lenses. As more cylinders land, flying saucer-like machines with 3 green lights and a viewing eye neck spray heat rays. Pal tried to create the long-legged tripods but was unsuccessful, so he used 42-inch models suspended by 15 wires. The UFO craze was popular in 1953 so the models are built to resemble flying saucers. The military tries everything to stop the machines: jet fighters, rockets, and an atomic bomb dropped from a Flying Wing. George Pal filmed the military scenes with the National Guard near Phoenix. He obtained special permission from the U. S. Army to use a film clip of the Northrop all-jet YB-49 Flying Wing that had last flown in April 1951 and was being replaced by the B-47 Stratojet. The film makes reference to Oak Ridge and the simulates an atomic explosion with a 75-foot explosion of colored powder, but the message is the inadequacy of any military power. The saucer machines continue to advance protected by a transparent dome-like force field. An 8-foot model of Los Angeles City Hall is destroyed by the Martians and people riot in the streets, killing each other to escape. A real traffic jam on the new Hollywood freeway was filmed for the mass exodus from the city. The film keeps the themes from Wells's novel of mass destruction, fleeing masses of refugees, the failure of humans to stop the invasion, and the final death of the Martians from bacterial infection. It eliminates the curate and artilleryman, but introduces a strong religious theme. Sylvia's uncle is the pastor Collins, who is tragically killed early in the film for bravely standing up to the Martian attack. At the end, Forrester finds Sylvia in a church, and bells ring as the people praying in the church for a miracle witness the crash of the saucers as the Martians begin to die.



revised 7/13/05 by Steven Schoenherr at the University of San Diego | Filmnotes | trailer on reserve