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  • Ravi Swami

"Stranger From Venus", Dir: Burt Balaban, 1954

"Stranger From Venus" (Alt titles : "Immediate Disaster", "The Venusian") represents my occasional deep dive into "B" movies that can turn up unexpectedly on streamings services, in this case on Amazon Prime, which has from the beginning been a repository for all sorts of oddball offerings that were usually second feature fodder

Touted as being "rarely seen", it naturally attracted my attention and so I gave it a shot.

it being a film I'd never heard of before.

Film posters are great, aren't they ? - certainly those of the era that the film was made where distributors applied varied approaches to hook audiences, in this case at a time when there was already a heightened awareness of flying saucers and an atmosphere of Cold War unease, and in the examples above poster artists threw together everything related to the subject, from saucer invasions through horror to god-like saviours from outer space.

The film itself is a different matter being essentially a re-tread of the far superior "The Day The Earth Stood Still", shot entirely in the U.K in monochrome at a fraction of the budget but curiously boasting the same female lead, Patricia Neal, and who was by then the wife of the British writer Roald Dahl, which perhaps partly explains her appearance in the film.

Why Neal took on this role is mystery since it must have required very little from her given her role in the Hollywood Robert Wise film and her track record of films show that she certainly wasn't so desperate as to take on anything that came her way, but then I guess that's just the actor's life.

There's really very little to the plot - opening with an aerial view of flying low over fields and farmland to represent the POV of the flying saucer and appropriate unearthly sound effects.

The saucer crashes (sound effect) as Neal is driving through deserted country roads as the day draws to a close with her radio on. Suddenly the transmission is interrupted by interference, she loses control of the car and crashes into hedgerows that line the road.

Someone, who is seen from behind and waist down, wearing boots and a loose fitting tunic, approaches the crashed car and discovers Neal lying unconscious.

The story shifts to a country inn where the landlord and his daughter are discussing a sighting of a fireball in the sky and a short while later Neals' fiancé arrives for a rendezvous with her only to be told that she hasn't arrived yet, which causes concern.

The stranger of the title enters the inn, again always viewed from behind, and clearly human, and asks for a drink. Moments later a dazed Neal turns up and wounds from her accident have been healed, something confirmed by a doctor who just happens to be in the inn and fulfills the role of an intermediary for the audience to understand what is going on.

So you get the picture, if you know "The Day The Earth Stood Still" - the Venusian, played by German actor Helmut Dantine (cue foreign accent) is on a mission to save Earth from nuclear weapons etc since they pose a threat to the Solar System and in a variation to the earlier film, the authorities take an interest since they want to use alien technology, something the alien views as a threat.

The film ends with the Venusian deciding that being on Earth is too great a risk and he vanishes, presumably beamed up by an approaching mothership.

In visual effects terms the film doesn't live up to the lurid poster art, with a brief shot of the "flying saucer" that looks like a light bulb in a shade viewed from below and his "communication disk", though an interesting idea that anticipates smartphones, looks like a powder-compact with a light bulb inside it.

I couldn't help thinking that there is some interesting stuff to be mined in the film for contemporary audiences more attuned to the subject than audiences were in the 1950's but the overall impression is of a low-budget knock-off of "The Day The Earth Stood Still", a film which wears its' pulp sci-fi magazine origins on its' metallic "Lurex" sleeve compared to this film and is possibly the better for it.

"Stranger From Venus" was by no means the only British sci-fi film of the 50's that peddled the idea that aliens might be both a threat and saviours of humanity, armed with psychic powers and importantly, who looked just like us, rather than the monstrosities of American sci-fi films of the period.

After watching the end credits it all became clear as it was revealed that the co-writer of the film was Desmond Leslie, writer of "Flying Saucers Have Landed" and something of a UFO evangelist besides being the inventor of one of the earliest multitrack recording systems and a designer of synthesizers, alongside the rather dubious reputation of taking a swing at the TV pundit Bernard Levin on live TV.

And that connection reminded me of the time that Leslie's daughter - a film producer - took a swing at me in the bar of the Martinez hotel on the Croisette in Cannes for no other reason than that I wasn't smiling, before giving me her business card, so living up to her families' eccentric reputation :)

The film appears to be the only one made by the production company by a director I've never heard of and therefore qualifies as being a largely independent effort, perhaps as a vehicle for Leslie's ideas on the subject.

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