It Came From Outer Space (1953):

It arrives early, before the titles even, a comet hurling at the camera to remind viewers of the 3-D gimmick. Then traveling shots, surveying the Arizona stretches where Richard Carlson, the amateur-astronomer hero, has set up tent and telescope, away from urban bustle, closer to the largeness of space. Girlfriend Barbara Rush wishes upon a star, then a reprise of the pre-credits lens-smashing, culminating in a smoldering crater; a vessel for intergalactic visitors, as meteors are wont to be in '50s sci-fi, here one-eyed, levitating squids that leave trails of crystal-dust. Soon the mandatory crowd of media doubters is circling Carlson, chief among them sheriff Charles Drake: "What frightens them, they're against," he says of the town, though to director Jack Arnold it could just as well be about Eisenhower-era America, regarding not so much the threat of aliens as the threat of individualistic thinking. The creatures come up with dead-eyed replicas of the townspeople, though their quest is benign next to Siegel's later predator-pods -- indeed, these aliens are less invaders than explorers, out to discover more about other planets, stuck on Earth by accident yet finding uneasy bond with Carlson, a fellow searcher. Carlson is Arnold, or possibly Ray Bradbury (via Harry Essex, who adapted his outline for the screen), pronouncing "It's alive" to the endlessness of the world, wonder and openness at odds with the decade's gung-ho isolationism. It's no accident that the aliens, more than aware of the human race's penchant for destructive xenophobia, insist on keeping the species separated till further notice -- it is Arnold's master stroke that the visitors' POV shots, the bottom of a glass jar scored to quivering theremin, turns out to be one of the clearest glimpses of all-American paranoia in the '50s. With Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, and Kathleen Hughes. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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