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Target Earth: 50s SciFi Movie Review

IN THE December 6 ISSUE

FROM THE 2010 Articles,
andBooks & Tales,
andContributors,
andLarry Ham
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by Larry Ham
Welcome to a brand new feature here at Kings River Life! I am a fan of 1950s sci-fi movies. A big fan. I guess it’s a hereditary thing. My late father was a fan of the same movies, so I got an early start. Thanks to DVD, I can now watch almost every sci-fi movie from the fifties, and they’re as much fun now as they were back then — maybe more so! If you’re into nostalgia in general and sci-fi from the fifties in particular, I hope you’ll enjoy my reviews!
I want to make one thing clear before my first review. I am NOT going to trash the quality of the special effects. It’s simply not fair to compare the available technology back then with what’s going on today. Besides, the funny monsters and the cheap effects are part of the charm, so let’s keep it light, all right?
First up, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at my favorite sci-fi offering from the fifties — 1954’s Target Earth. Let’s look at the Plot, the Players and the Production!
The Plot
Nora King wakes up in her room and discovers the entire city she lives in (presumably Chicago), has been evacuated. She wanders through the empty city streets until she trips over a dead woman’s body. She then discovers she’s not alone, when Frank Brooks suddenly appears. They set off on a quest to find out what’s happened by breaking into a radio repair store.
Unable to find a working radio, they soon discover Vicki and Jim, another couple left behind, whooping it up in a fancy downtown night club. After champagne and turkey, the four begin a trek back to the center of town, only to see the frightening shadow of a robot on the side of a building. They take refuge in a hotel along with another new friend, Charles Otis.
The five new friends finally find out from a newspaper headline that the city has been invaded by an unknown army. Otis tries to make a break for it and is zapped to death by a robot death ray. Seeing this, Frank, Nora, Jim and Vicki hightail it to the fourth floor of the hotel to wait for help.
An escaped murderer shows up, threatens everyone, makes a pass at Nora and after shooting and killing Vicki, gets strangled by Jim. As Vicki lies dying in his arms, Jim is heard to exclaim “Crazy Dame!” Just then, a robot bursts through the hotel window, chases the three survivors upstairs and prepares for one final confrontation.
While all of this is going on, scientists are trying to figure out a way to stop the robot army.
The Players

Richard Denning

Richard Denning as Frank Brooks — Richard Denning was an accomplished actor both in film and on television. He appeared in some other great sci-fi films from the fifties, including The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Creature With The Atom Brain, and The Black Scorpion. He gives a really good performance in Target Earth. Frank Brooks is almost always the voice of reason as the harried quartet encounter dilemma after dilemma. Frank Brooks has an annoying habit of pontificating and making wild assumptions, but that’s the way the part was written. If you love sci-fi from the fifties, you gotta love Richard Denning, who passed away in 1998.

Kathleen Crowley

Kathleen Crowley

as Nora King — Kathleen Crowley had a very long career in movies and television. She appeared in some really great movies in the fifties, including The Flame Barrier and The Rebel Set. Her character in Target Earth is sad, pessimistic and the perfect foil for Frank Brooks. Of course, the two fall for each other as they dodge robot rays and dead bodies. Kathleen Crowley is the only one of the four main actors still alive. She still makes the rare appearance at sci-fi conventions.

Virginia Grey

Virginia Grey as Vicki Harris — Virginia Grey was born to be an actress. Her dad was one of the original Keystone Cops. She had a long and successful career in film and television, and even dated Clark Gable after Carol Lombard died. Target Earth is the only fifties sci-fi movie she appeared in, but she was absolutely great as the erratic but brave Vicki Harris. Virginia Grey died in 2004 at the age of 87.

Richard Reeves

Richard Reeves as Jim Wilson — Richard Reeves was typecast as a bad guy in most of his movie and television appearances, and when you see his face, you know why. He also had a distinctive tough-guy voice to go along with his bad-guy face. Reeves had the distinction of appearing five times in the Superman series in the fifties (as a bad guy every time, of course), and in the very first episode of the classic Batman series in the sixties. He died in 1967 at the age of fifty four.

There are some other nifty characters in Target Earth, including Robert Roark as the crazed killer, Mort Marshall as the freaked out Charles Otis and sci-fi movie veteran Whit Bissell as the scientist trying to find a way to stop the robots.
Production
Target Earth is my favorite sci-fi movie from the fifties for several reasons. When I saw it as a kid, it frightened me half to death. The scenes at the beginning when Nora is wandering the empty streets are accompanied by the rhythmic beating of a drum and really set the mood for a fun film-watching experience. The robot is really cool. He has a TV screen for a face, a tapered metal body, arms and legs that look like they were stolen from a clothes dryer exhaust and a menacing clink-clink-clink when he (it?) walks. Of course, there was not enough money in the budget for more than one robot, but in this case, one is enough.
Once the characters take refuge in the motel, there’s not a lot of action, but there is a tension throughout the movie that makes it worth sitting through the talky parts. In my opinion, the fact that it’s shot in black and white adds to the presentation, especially the gritty scenes of abandoned city streets. I also think this is one of Richard Denning’s best performances.

Robot

Target Earth is available on wide-screen remastered DVD and is well worth adding to your collection, or being the first of your collection!
Larry Ham is an ongoing contributor to our
Everything Education section, having covered many an area school game through the years.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diana B. December 13, 2010 at 12:15pm

Great article Larry–I look forward to many more. I so remember those scary B/W sci-fi thrillers.

Reply

2 Bob Abbott March 21, 2012 at 12:51am

Larry, can you tell me the name of the 50’s scifi movie where a spacecraft returned from outerspace and crashed in Nova Scota. The movie ended with a decoded signal being sent that turned out to be “our father, who aren’t in heaven….” (the lords prayer). I have been searching for this film for over 50 years but cannot find any reference to it.

thanks
Bob Abbott

Reply

3 Larry Ham June 6, 2012 at 9:35pm

Hi Bob, I think the movie you’re thinking of is called “Red Planet Mars” from 1951. It stars Peter Graves. There isn’t a spaceship involved, but there are radio transmissions received by the scientists at the end of the film that are morse code for the Lord’s Prayer. The implication is that God is sending a warning of some type and it causes all sorts of tension between Russia and the U.S. A great flick. And if you can’t find a copy anywhere, let me know and I’ll try to dub a copy of the one I have.

Reply

4 Ken November 17, 2018 at 12:10pm

Target Earth, along with The Brain that wouldn’t die, and The Cyclops were favorites from the 50’s

Being a kid during those days of ” Nightmare Theater” in Seattle were the days! Double feature’s on Friday night, and having friends over for all the Science fiction fun is what i’ll always remember from my youth.

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