History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, September 23, 2013

1953 "War of the Worlds" (George Pal) the real deal

Boomers sat transfixed watching the 1953 "War of the Worlds" movie. We sat transfixed not in theater seats but in our families' living rooms. The heralded movie turned up on TV during that medium's first major decade of existence: the 1960s, when color got ushered in.
The '60s were also when my generation by sheer force of numbers began shaping entertainment tastes. Our parents didn't really eat up sci-fi. We did. Sci-fi movies that had already had their run on the big screen got a whole new lifespan. Once boomers discovered this fare, it became timeless. It made such a stamp, re-makes were considered a must years later when boomers were in middle (or much older) age.
We started coming into the world in 1946. So the oldest boomers were a mere seven years old when George Pal's "The War of the Worlds" came out. Television is where we really discovered this gem. Same for "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) and "The Time Machine" (1960).
Television gave us its own sci-fi fare, "Star Trek" atop the list. Remember the sound of the "photon torpedoes?" That sound might have seemed familiar. It's the same sound we heard when the Martian war machines in "War of the Worlds" fired the "green ray" from wingtips. It was created by striking a high-tension cable with a hammer.
The 2005 re-make of "War of the Worlds" has not seemed to have staying power. I remember looking forward to that movie, traveling to Alexandria to see it, and not being much moved. The 1953 George Pal version is the one continuing to stick in our minds. It had inspiration, first of all as an unabashedly Christian movie, not that I say this as some sort of Pat Robertson. I don't, but the tone of the movie reflected conviction, not merely an assemblage of Hollywood ideas to try to garner box office.
I admire conviction. A church is a true sanctuary at the end of the movie. The weak and the hurt are comforted. Humanity finds a new wellspring of hope.
George Pal was the producer of the cinema classic. Lest there by an doubt about its staying power, it was chosen for the National Film Registry in 2011. The movie was inspired as a reflection of the apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age. Here you are probably instantly reminded of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" also.
The world was still in the recovery spasms from World War Two. The forces of good had to crush the menacing Axis powers. Was the conflict truly behind us for the foreseeable future? We couldn't be sure. The Cold War meant that evil was still hovering over us. We weren't sure of the true nature of our enemies. The paranoia set the stage for the incredibly horrible and unnecessary Viet Nam War.
"War of the Worlds" showed us how a foreboding and mysterious enemy could surface. It was the Martians. The template would have been useful for other enemy entities. How about the "Klingons" from "Star Trek?" In real life, were our "enemies" really as sinister and threatening as the popular conception suggested? I mean, we learned that the "domino theory" that propelled the Viet Nam conflict was empty. We learned that Communists in Hollywood were a weird sort of boogeyman, convenient as some sort of political dart board used by the political right. Communism imploded on its own.
The Martians on the screen were done in by bacteria, not by military might. The military could do nothing vs. the Martian war machines. Was Hollywood trying to tell us something? The military was impotent in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." And in the comedic "Mars Attacks!" we see the invading Martians done in by yodeling! Again the U.S. military was impotent.
The military hasn't had the solution for lots of things. What if we took all the money we've spent on military intervention in Afghanistan, and spent it instead on lifting the standard of living and education in that country? Ignorance as opposed to education probably caused a lot of problems we had in the Deep South up through Jim Crow. Ignorance and poverty.
Conflict resolution minus guns
"War of the Worlds" projected hope and triumph without the strong arm of the military playing a role. We see the U.S. Air Force "Flying Wing" take flight in Pal's movie, dropping an atomic bomb. We admire the technology. The atomic bomb might have helped end WWII early, or was it dropped as a warning shot to the Russians?
The bomb did nothing to the Martians in the movie. Those war machines had protective "blisters." We learn the Martians can conquer the Earth within six more days. So, someone responds by making a comparison to how long it took God to create it! The religious tone prevails, not in a hectoring way but with a purposeful vision.
The Martians are extremely weak and anemic. Their machines cannot overtake us. People emerge out of the church as quiet takes over. The "crawling hand" of the dying Martian is a signature scene.
"H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds"
The movie is considered a "loose adaptation" of the classic novel by H.G. Wells. Wells was truly a genius ahead of his time. Both this movie and "The Time Machine" were promoted in many instances with H.G. Wells' name at the beginning, e.g. "H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds."
The movie departs from the book in that Wells was a secularist. A divine presence was not part of his construction. Wells gave us a 19th Century journalist who journeys through Victorian London during the attack. Eventually the journo is reunited with his wife. The story is set in 1898.
Roger Ebert in his review of the 2005 movie said the "tripods" (war machines) were "state of the art" for Martian technology in 1898. Trying to revive those images for a contemporary movie doesn't necessarily work well, Ebert continued. He talked about "clumsy retro design."
I might suggest as one solution to have the movie actually set in 1898. I read this same suggestion in connection with the movie "The Lost World" based on a long-ago novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A remote plateau with dinosaurs might have been believable for Sir Arthur's time, not so much for 1960 when the movie was made.
So, should sci-fi classics be left in the time when they were written? The late Ebert certainly made us think, as he always did. Ebert's "gut reaction" to the 2005 movie (with Tom Cruise): "I do not like the tripods."
Three legs as opposed to four (or any number divisible by two) certainly seem a defective proposition, based on rudimentary engineering. The 1953 movie did not present the three legs in such direct form. Let's credit Pal for how he avoided this bothersome detail or at least shrouded it. His war machines essentially "floated in the air" on three invisible legs.
Steven Spielberg gave us the 2005 movie. Ebert described it as "big and clunky, lacking the zest and joyous energy we expect from Spielberg." Was Tom Cruise the best he could do? The actor brings baggage. He's shallow in the movie, an immature, divorced hotshot who has custody of the kids for the weekend.
The Martian invasion in the Cruise version is nothing but "malevolent, destructive and pointless" (Ebert's words).
In the 1953 release we at least appreciate the metaphors with the Cold War, and the wellspring of hope that humanity finds with Christianity. I wouldn't care if the wellspring had been Muslim, if it at least painted a picture of optimism vs. mysterious adversaries. We still hadn't gotten the Nazis out of our head. We still hadn't moved beyond that spectre when "Indiana Jones" resurrected it.
The military saved us in the 1940s. We call it "the good war" in a perverse sort of way. The scenario since then has been more foggy. It's how us boomers got disillusioned. 
Showcase for Barry and Robinson
We watched Gene Barry and Ann Robinson act in the George Pal movie. The movie's director was Byron Haskin. The Martians scrutinize our lush, green and blue Earth. Their preparation is meticulous in all versions of the story. Somehow they miss the bacteria. 
The setting is southern California in the early 1950s. Gene Barry plays "Dr. Clayton Forrester," and Ann Robinson is "Sylvia Van Buren."
A large object crash lands near a town called Linda Rosa. Dr. Forrester, a scientist, is out fishing at the time. He meets Sylvia at the crash site. Also present is Sylvia's clergy uncle, "Pastor Matthew Collins." The religious tone gets stamped.
Pastor Collins eventually recites Psalm 23 in the face of advancing war machines and is vaporized in a riveting scene.
Dr. Forrester waits in town overnight as the fallen object cools. The movie gets scary for kids when late that night, a hatch on top unscrews and falls away, and we see a pulsating mechanical cobra-shaped head piece emerge. Three volunteer "night guards" approach with a white flag in a scene that I remember my father laughing at. Dad probably figured the three were just volunteering to be toast. Indeed, these forlorn guys meet the Martian "heat ray." They're goners.
Three of the manta ray-shaped war machines rise from the gully and advance. Reports come forth from around the world. Our civilization is imperiled. Forrester and Van Buren, undaunted, take to the air in a spotter plane. The plane crash lands, the two heroic characters emerge unhurt and end up in a farmhouse, a scene reflected in the 2005 movie's much-derided (and long) "basement scene."
The 1953 movie has suspense in the farmhouse scene, the kind that might have kids getting nightmares. It works. We get our only real glimpse, fleeting, of a Martian. So, much is still left to the imagination.
Forrester and Van Buren get separated amidst all the panic as the story nears conclusion. They're in Los Angeles now, surrounded by ruins. Forrester remembers something Van Buren told him and realizes she might be found in a church sanctuary. There we find huddled refugees looking as though they were plucked right out of Europe at the end of WWII. The ruins are similarly haunting.
A war machine crashes just as the church seems about to come down. Viruses and bacteria have vanquished the Martians - "the smallest creatures that God in his wisdom put on this Earth," an unseen narrator tells us.
Disturbing as the Cold War was, the movie reminds us that man is an instinctively optimistic creature.
Spielberg's 2005 movie had a $135 million budget and didn't seem as interesting. Plausibility is an issue. The 2005 movie has Martian machines buried in many places including big cities. How could they have gone undetected? Tentacles suck our blood. "To what purpose?" Ebert asked.
Another review felt the Spielberg movie had potential but was "ruined by the 'I'm a bad father' subplot." And still another makes the cogent point: "Spielberg blew it by once again making the meat and potatoes of the film take a back seat to some sort of dysfunctional family crisis reunion."
I have hardly given another thought to the 2005 movie since seeing it. It was just a nice excuse to visit Alexandria where of course many Morris residents go to spend money without feeling any shame.
The 1953 George Pal movie is deservedly in the ranks of classic sci-fi films, filmed with genuine inspiration and not just with an eye toward opening weekend box office "pop."
They don't movies like they used to. Boomers know this full well.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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