Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Movie Review: I Married a Monster from Outer Space

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) 7/10
On the eve of his wedding, Bill Farrell's body (Tom Tryon) is taken over by an alien. Marge Farrell (Gloria Talbott) quickly realizes she is married to a stranger, and gradually is able to confirm her fears, but how to get others to believe her?

I absolutely watched I Married a Monster from Outer Space for the giggles, and ended up impressed by its subtlety. It doesn't deserve its campy title.


In the opening moments, Bill is overtaken and the cheesy alien costume and special effects are revealed: No Cat People here! Instead, the horror is personal and romantic. The young newlywed was so in love, but this man is not loving; her life is isolated and hellish, but not in a way she can explain. Meanwhile, cold, unfeeling aliens take over this small town. When we see that cops are among the aliens we know that help will be hard to find.

There is a surprising amount of sexual and social subtext in this film. Long before we learn that the aliens have breeding as a goal, there are long camera pans to one or the other of the Farrells going upstairs to bed, there are hookers and party girls trying to gain interest from both normal men and aliens, and finally, there is a visit to the family doctor; Marge is concerned about her fertility. Which means, yes indeed, that she is having sex with the unfeeling stranger who terrifies her; enough sex to expect that she'd be pregnant by now. That's creepy.

The whole thing is put together with subtlety and intelligence, although there are also gaps and missed opportunities in the narrative. Certainly this is not Invasion of the Body Snatchers; despite a very similar theme, it lacks the power of a true classic. But it is thoughtful, and tense, and has all sorts of lovely grace notes. Music is one: Most B movies tend to abuse music in a way that may well violate the law; this movie hits the right balance of expression without hammering a point home. The ending was satisfying and exciting, and not at all what I expected.

There's also an enormous amount of sexual politics that the writer never intended. It's just there, like the classic fifties cars. Aliens only overtake male bodies. Ultimately, we learn the aliens themselves are all male, but why does that matter? Our human, oxygen breathing lungs are no problem for the methane-breathing aliens, why should it matter whether or not they overtake bodies with penises? It's simply the writers who cannot visualize a male in a female body, even a tentacled, glowy male. Similarly, if only male bodies are being overtaken, why not rally the women to fight back, rather than risk approaching men who may or may not be compromised? It never occurs to anyone in the film. How could it? Women are helpless creatures good only for love and sex, both the human and alien males agree on that.

Am I underestimating screenwriter Louis Vittes? Is the gender role thing there on purpose? I doubt it; surely a moment of dialogue would have been dedicated to it if it was really a part of the theme. Yet it is one of the films most fascinating components.

(I Cross-posted an Alien!)