Albeit a Sci-Fi classic, The War of the Worlds (1953) is a multi genre film. Based on H.G. Well’s classic novel about a Martian invasion of Earth, the film represents America’s fear of Bolshevik communism in the 1950s. The film opens with a narration sequence which tells the audience why the Martians began looking across the vast sea of space looking for a new world in order to colonize. Of all the planets that were examined by the Martians, Earth was the only suitable planet for their needs.
Screenwriter Barre Lyndon substitutes Well’s England for southern California where the opening stages of the invasion begin. Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is a scientist who is called in to examine a meteorite that has made an unusual landing in the hills outside a small town. At the crash site, he meets a young woman who is familiar with his work. Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her pastor uncle invite Dr. Forester to stay with them for the time being while the meteorite cools off and can be examined.
Keeping an eye on the meteorite and insuring that it doesn’t start any more fires, three men discover that the meteorite is in fact a Martian ship that emerges from the crash site. The three men are quickly vaporized from the heat ray of the Martian war machine.
Dr. Forrester and the town sheriff return to the crash site and discover the emerged Martian ship that has killed the three deputized men. Forrester and the sheriff take cover when they are almost killed by the Martian ship. Forester warns the sheriff to keep the townspeople away from the site and that the military be alerted in order to contain the ship in the area.
The Marines arrive and surround the landing site while Forrester and other scientific colleagues try to examine the craft and try to predict what it will do next. General Mann (Les Tremayne) arrives on the scene to gather evidence for U.S. Army Intelligence. He informs Forrester and others that more craft have been sited all over the world and that whatever happens here will act as a guide for other military operations around the world.
The Martians ships emerge from their positions at dawn and being vaporizing everything in site. Forrester and the military discover that the Martians are cloaked with an impenetrable force field. Forrester convinces General Mann that their technology is no match for theirs and that he inform Washington immediately. General Mann orders an immediate retreat of his staff and tells the Marines to hold as long as they can.
Forrester and Sylvia escape the carnage in an army spotter plane. The plane crash-lands in a field as the advancing Martian war machines surround them. The two find an abandoned farmhouse where they hold up and have some breakfast. Sylvia asks Forrester if they can be stopped and Forrester replies, “If they’re mortal then they must have mortal weaknesses.” Another ship crashes close by and Forrester and Sylvia escape the Martians once again.
My favorite part of the film is when the film’s narrator Sir Cederic Hardwicke informs the audience about the advancing meteors of Martian ships which land on Earth and begin their wave of destruction against humanity. Governments of the world are powerless to stop the Martians and it seems that all is lost. It is a very well done montage, which uses a lot of World War II footage to display the carnage committed by the Martian invaders.
The U.S. government has one more trick up its sleeve when they attempt to drop a new type of hydrogen bomb on a series of Martian ships on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The bomb proves useless as the scientists determine that the world has just only six more days until the Martians fully conquer the Earth.
The film’s conclusion is genius in which Wells shows that no matter how advanced the Martian were, they still had a weakness, which was finally exploited, and mankind was saved.
The War of the Worlds was an instant hit with audiences across the U.S. and it went on to earn over two million dollars at the box office. The film was also nominated for three 1953 Academy Awards which included Film Editing, Sound Effects, and Sound Recording. The film was selected in 2011 to be added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry to help preserve it as a film that is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
The War of the Worlds is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video and can be rented via Netflix.