Saturday, April 12, 2008

LITTLE KNOWN "STRANGER FROM VENUS" is basically a British rehash of "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL". In fact, it even features one of that film's stars: Patricia Neal. Helmut Dantine (who appeared unbilled as the young newlywed who is trying to get himself and his wife out of "CASABLANCA") plays "The Stranger": an alien from the planet Venus who arrives on Earth as sort of an advance-guard ambassador for his planet's impending first contact with us. The film is directed by Burt Balaban; whose only real other film of note is 1960's "MURDER, INC.".
The film opens with Susan North (Patricia Neal) driving her car at night. Her car radio experiences interferance and she then loses control and crashes her car into a tree. The camera pans from her unconscious, battered body to the feet of an approaching man who looms over her car as the opening credits roll. This, of course, is "The Stranger" from Venus. Later, police find her crashed car but there is no sign of Susan. The Stranger shows up at the inn where a bevy of great British character actors have assembled: Derek Bond ("Nicholas Nickleby"), Cyril Luckham (the evil mage Drexil in "THE OMEGA FACTOR" discussed a couple months ago in this blog here), Willoughby Gray (Hammer's 1959 "THE MUMMY"), Nigel Green (Hercules in the Ray Harryhausen spectacular "JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS" as well as countless genre outings such as "COUNTESS DRACULA", juvenile delinquency classic "BEAT GIRL", Roger Corman's Poe flick MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH", heroic Sir Nayland Smith in "FACE OF FU MANCHU", and Amicus/Robert Bloch scarefest "THE SKULL"). Hell, even John LeMesurier ("DAD'S ARMY") makes a brief appearance!
Susan eventually enters the inn and her terrible injuries from the car accident have miraculously healed. The Stranger is handy like that. As the government learns they have a visitor from Venus in their midst, they cordon off the entire town so no one can get in or out. The Stranger is revealed to have rather strange, inhuman fingerprints as well as having reconditioned his respiratory system to exist in the Earth's atmosphere. Temporarily. If he does not return to Venus when his flying saucers buddies get here, he will die. Much like Michael Rennie's Klaatu in "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL", The Stranger offers the Earthlings certain technological innovations but warns them that messing around with atomic bombs can play havoc with Earth's neighbours -- and they're not gonna stand for it. Of course, the government powers that be manage to steal The Stranger's Venusian communication device so he cannot contact his mother ship and prepare a secret ambush for the landing saucer (high-powered magnets to ground the Venusians when they land) in order to steal the high tech gadgets of the Venusians. The Stranger (with the help of his new human friends) recapture the communicator just as the saucer is attempting to land and warns the Venusians off -- thus stranding himself on Earth to certain death. The Stranger then goes off, sits under a tree and fades away (that's how Venusians die, in case you didn't know).
"STRANGER FROM VENUS" is a very minor 50's science fiction flick with a very modest budget, an abundance of great British acting talent and not much action. The film is EXTREMELY talking and pretty much the only action in it consists of Patricia Neal's car plowing into a tree, The Stranger chasing after a car on foot and the landing and skedaddling of the Venusian saucer. The film also seems to alternate "science fiction" dialogue scenes with violin-laden romantic encounters between Patricia Neal and Helmut Dantine. It almost becomes comical when you can accurately predict a mushy romance scene is coming because you've just finished with a talky plot-related one. "STRANGER FROM VENUS" isn't really a bad film; it's just not got nearly enough budget to do anything with. If you're a completist for all 50's science fiction films then seeking out a copy won't break the bank. However, I can't really urge anyone to run out and find this film. Just pop in your copy of "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" instead.


Weaverman said...

This is one of those titles that bounces around in your mind for years without you knowing anybody who has actually seen it! Now I'm only two degrees from STRANGER FROM VENUS!!!!!!! I never even knew it was a British film. What a great cast

Cerpts said...

Oh yes, the cast is really the one thing that saves it and makes it watchable.