Phantom From Space

Phantom From Space.
Planet Filmplays 1953.

Before watching the movie:

When I came across this movie, I wasn’t sure if I’d already reviewed it, because I thought I remembered a movie about invisible space beings. I was remembering Invisible Invaders, a body-snatching movie where a small town is taken over by aliens hijacking men’s bodies.

The brief synopsis of this one that I have read suggests that the titular alien might be harmless if left alone, as, after killing two attackers frightened by his suit, he takes it off to escape. I notice that’s an inciting incident, not a plot, but this has the potential to go to interesting places.

After watching the movie:

After an unidentified object is tracked through the atmosphere from the North Pole to crash landing in the San Fernando valley in only a few minutes, reports begin to come in of disrupted radio and television signals, and the FCC sends a team of investigators to try to find the source of the interference. The investigation quickly stumbles across people with reports of violent attacks from a man wearing a diving helmet and radioactive suit, and curiously, people who have seen inside the helmet report that it appears to be empty. The combined FCC and police investigation soon finds the mystery man’s suit and helmet discarded, as it seems that he is otherwise invisible, but they theorize that he must need to return for his helmet soon to breathe the gases it supplies.

It’s an unusual choice to enter this story through FCC investigators. The FCC is, controversial regulation decisions aside, one of the more boring federal regulatory agencies, and certainly a fast-moving UFO would normally attract the military or at least the FAA first. Their contribution to the story as agents of the FCC seems to begin and end with driving around in cars with mounted antennas trying to triangulate the source of the interference, so it’s not like the movie makes the FCC exciting.

I was concerned by the opening narration about “a town holding back terror” or something, that this was going to turn out to actually be an invasion story, but I was glad to find that it is revealed that the Phantom is basically just a scared crashed pilot on a physically and culturally hostile planet, and though he and the humans try to communicate rationally, they just can’t understand each other, and the ultimate tragedy is that by the time they realize that, it’s too late.

It’s too bad that the interesting concepts of the physical oddities of the alien and the cultural and communication barriers were drowned in 72 minutes of clueless characters talking about how baffled they are. It’s not a compelling mystery because it’s clearly sci-fi, but it’s not compelling sci-fi, because the characters are just going around in circles trying to come up with mundane explanations for extraordinary observations. The movie only finally caught my interest in the last 20 minutes or so. This had some potential, but it was just not well executed, which is perhaps more tragic than the story itself.

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