In the town of Norrisville, Bill Farrell’s pals throw him a bachelor party on the eve of his wedding, but Bill leaves early to check on his fiancée Marge. While Bill is driving, he brakes suddenly to avoid a body lying in the middle of the road. When Bill gets out of the car, the body has disappeared and he is surprised by a shimmering, alien figure. After Bill faints, a cloud of smoke engulfs him. The next morning, Marge is worried because Bill is late for the wedding, although his friends, Sam Benson and Ted Hanks, assure her that he left the bachelor party in fine spirits. After Bill arrives and apologies for his tardiness, the couple is married, and then leaves for their honeymoon. As the evening progresses, Marge is bewildered by Bill’s odd manner and unsettling questions, such as when he asks what the noise is during a thunderstorm. Bill stands on their hotel balcony after Marge retires and, unseen by her, the alien who took over his body is revealed by the lightning. A year later, Marge writes a letter to her mother, explaining how unhappy she is because Bill is so changed, but crumples it up in frustration. Meanwhile, Sam and Ted are drinking at Grady’s bar when the intoxicated Sam decides to leave. He leans against an alley wall to steady himself, and while he is defenseless, is also attacked and possessed by an alien. Soon after, Marge goes to family physician Dr. Wayne for tests to explain her childlessness, but he assures her that she is physically capable of having a baby. On her way home, Marge runs into Sam and his longtime girl friend, Helen Rhodes, who announces that Sam has finally proposed to her.
At home, Marge gives Bill a puppy as an anniversary present, but because animals can sense the alien within him, the dog reacts violently to him and Bill secretly kills it. Sam then comes over and, after revealing to Bill that he is an alien now also, instructs him to report to their spaceship, as their scientists have discovered how to increase the needed methane reserves in their human hosts. Late that night, a sleepless Marge watches Bill leave the house and decides to follow him. Marge trails him to the forest where the alien spaceship is hidden, and after the alien exits Bill’s body, it stands erect but lifeless as the alien goes into the ship. Marge accidentally knocks Bill’s body over as she attempts to revive him, then, shrieking in terror, runs to town. Unable to find anyone to believe her, Marge demands that policemen Schultz and Frank Swanson take her to police Chief H. B. Collins, who is her godfather. Collins assures Marge that he believes her strange tale but cautions her to keep quiet while he investigates, so that the aliens are not alerted. Unknown to Marge, Collins, as well as Schultz and Swanson, has been taken over by aliens.
Later, on the day of Sam and Helen’s wedding, Marge pleads with Helen to postpone, but just as she is about to tell her why, Bill interrupts and the wedding continues. Afterward, at their home, Bill talks oddly about how he is becoming sentimental and is beginning to understand, but Marge merely replies that she is tired. Bill then meets with Sam and Harry, who has also been inhabited, and Sam, who likes being human, comforts his disgruntled comrades, saying that soon their scientists will determine how to mutate human female chromosomes so that they can have children with them. Later, the couples are enjoying a lakeside picnic when Sam falls out of the boat in which he and Helen are rowing. Although Sam is an excellent swimmer, he begins to drown, so Ted rescues him. Dr. Wayne arrives in time to administer oxygen to Sam and is baffled when, instead of saving him, the oxygen kills him. Soon after, Marge again pleads with Collins for help, but he warns her that people will think she is insane if she continues to talk about monsters taking over Norrisville. Marge then attempts to telephone Washington, D.C. from a pay phone but is told that the lines are busy. Her attempt to telegraph the FBI is also stymied, and when she tries to drive out of town, she is sent home by Schultz and Swanson. At home, she confronts Bill, revealing that she knows that he has been possessed. Bill explains that his people are from the Andromeda constellation and were forced to flee their planet because their sun became unstable. Before they could construct enough spaceships, the sun’s hostile rays killed all of their females, and the males are now attempting to save their race by procreating with human females. Although Bill states that they inherited human feelings along with the bodies, and that he now loves her, Marge retreats in horror. She goes to the hospital, where she tells Wayne what she has discovered. Because of his strange experience with Sam, Wayne believes her and agrees that they must destroy the spaceship before the aliens take over. As they puzzle over how to tell the human men from the aliens, Ted appears and proclaims that his wife has just given birth to twins.
Realizing that in the maternity waiting room he can find a posse of human men to fight the aliens, Wayne sends Marge home to deflect Bill’s suspicions. As the men approach the ship, however, it sends out a signal alerting the aliens in town, who rush to join the battle. Aliens attack the men but are killed by two German shepherd dogs, and after gaining entry into the ship, the men discover the bodies of the humans who had been possessed. The captives, kept alive in suspended animation, are hooked up to a broadcasting circuit through which the aliens can access their memories. Although he fears that disconnecting the men from the circuitry will kill them as well as the aliens, Wayne does it anyway, and soon Schultz and the other alien imposters are killed. Just before he dies, Collins broadcasts a message to all the alien spaceships to retreat, as their mission is a failure. Marge comes upon the alien Bill in the woods, and he sadly tells her that her people have won, and then dies. The real men are revived, and soon Marge is being comforted by Bill as the spaceship self-destructs.
Gene Fowler, Jr. made his debut as a “cutter” on the Dick Powell comedy Thanks a Million (1935) and within a few years was editing Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and The Woman in the Window (1944). By 1950, Fowler was itching to direct features and accepted the luridly-titled I Was a Teenage Werewolf because he thought no one would go see it. (Fowler had previously helmed episodes of the Dan Duryea series China Smith.) The surprise success of that Herman Cohen production encouraged Fowler and partner Louis Vittes (a TV writer with credits on the Gunsmoke, Medic and Waterfront series) to try something similar using a title of their own construction. I Married a Monster from Outer Space had a slightly higher budget ($125,000) than he was used to but Fowler also enjoyed more creative freedom. The producers handed down only one non-negotiable demand: the Martians had to glow.
I Married A Monster From Outer Space was released near the end of the fifties saucer scare, after the American movie-going public had been paying to see outer space tales of terror for nearly a decade. The story, even though it was in many ways similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), with its emotionless “aliens impersonating humans,” was not the crass rip off of the earlier film that it might have been. Fowler and Vittes’ shocking twist on the theme was that the aliens planned their takeover of the earth not only by taking over the bodies of their victims but also by mating with human females: the second wave of the invasion would then spring directly from humankind itself.
Despite its horrendous title. I Married A Monster From Outer Space is a science fiction film of unusual mood and atmosphere. Smoothly directed in 1958 by Gene Fowler. Jr. (a former editor for Fritz Lang), the film manages to be both shocking and subtle.
On its lowest level, the movie can be classed as a ’’monster picture.” since the aliens are revealed almost immediately. The physical aspect of the invaders is inventive and quite horrible, complete with ponderously long arms, convoluted heads, and great, exposed arteries which crisscross the face and run into the chest. The film features a plethora of fine special effects, and a nicely designed spaceship set. I Married A Monster From Outer Space is most disturbing, however, in its less obvious moments. The aliens have no emotions, causing the human hosts to be curiously distant and aloof. The invaders are allergic to alcohol. But most importantly, they are clever and ruthless.
Fowler and scriptwriter Louis Vittes consistently emphasize the weak and even subservient position of women. Because she lacks the authority of a man. Marge’s appeals are laughed at in the bar where she goes for help after seeing what her husband has become. One of the patrons, in a triumphantly frustrating moment, goes so far as to make a thinly veiled pass at the panicked wo man. It can be seen that Marge’s predicament exists on two levels: she is vulnerable not only to physical harm, but to groundless disbelief, as well. That Vittes tells the story largely from Marge’s print of view adds immeasurably to the feeling of constricting horror. The framework of human society proves to be almost as much an obstacle as the alien invasion! (It is interesting to note that Gloria Talbott appeared in another ”woman’s-point-of-view” horror film. (DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL 1957).
In what is probably the film’s most impressive and frightening sequence, Fowler elaborates on the low status of women, as well as the coldness of the invaders. Inside the town’s bar, an extremely attractive but gaudily dressed young woman has met with silence after propositioning Bill and his companions. They leave shortly, but the hooker does not follow. She finishes her drink and steps onto the deserted, rain – slick night street a few minutes later, where she spots a man standing on the opposite sidewalk, gazing into a window. In a ritually useless gesture, she hikes up her skirt to adjust her stockings, then slides across the empty pavement, the camera shooting from below eye level. The deserted panorama fills the screen as the woman approaches the man. He wears a hooded parka and does not turn around as she draws to his side, but we hear an ominous humming. She spies a baby doll lying in the window (a particular irony) and tries to make coy small talk, but gets no response. After a few moments, she is angered and her voice rises. She thumps the man’s shoulder and shrilly says, “Hey you! Look at me when I’m talkin’ to you!” The humming abruptly becomes louder and as the man slowly turns from the window, the woman sees that it is not a man at all but a terrible monster. She falls back in terror and tries to stumble away, but is vaporized by the alien’s pulsating ray gun before she can round a nearby corner. The invaders, so concerned with mating and reproduction, have no desires or lusts, and this revelation adds a new dimension to their malignity. Fowler paced this scene slowly; emphasizing the prostitute’s suddenly pointless and wasted tricks of the trade. The deserted street with its streetlamps reflected in its watery surface is most disconcerting, and offers a haunting visualization of lonesomeness and vulnerability.
The film works better as horror than as science fiction, which is the case with most of the better science fiction films. Radical science fiction concepts have proved unacceptable to the mass movie going audience, so fine films like THEM! and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS are exceptional more for their style and directorial flair than for their rather ordinary themes, ordinary, at least, in what is being done in the literature of the genre.
“I Married A Monster from Outer Space was the story of desperate men and/or creatures from an outer galaxy who were in danger of racial extinction,” says Fowler, outlining the simple story of survival at the heart of the film. “They escape from their planet, looking for something which could perpetuate themselves. They were desperate, not really bad, but good men, good “monsters” if you will, who landed here and found that they could mate with our women. It was, we hoped, an honest, if fanciful story.”
Like Body Snatchers and Invaders From Mars (a film excellent for its sense of an ever-constricting sense of paranoia), I Married a Monster from Outer Space shares the same sort of humans, or rather, shares the same sort of things walking around, faking humanity, The audience though, along with the heroine, Marge Farrell, knows that these folks have really lost all human qualities, love, sympathy, and understanding, to the invaders who have invaded nothing less than their bodies and souls. This, of course, is what scares the hell out of poor Marge; after the evidence of her husband. Bill’s in humanness has become so great
Like other good SF shockers before it, I Married a Monster from Outer Space relied on mood, atmosphere, and psychological elements, rather than reel after reel of special effects, for its power. In that its purpose was to tell a good story that would make an audience think, rather than numb them with light and sound, it resembles some of the more intelligent and modest films from Great Britain like Village of the Damned (1960). and the fine Quatermass series.
Fowler’s interiors are equally impressive. Set designers Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira (veterans of a number of Hitchcock’s films, e.g. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, VERTIGO) create large, unusually shadowed rooms which host uncomfortable, tense conversations and confrontations. Only the hospital, the environment of the doctor, is fully lit and comforting.
From Marge’s point of view, as she learns the truth and sets out to do something about it, we find the film’s message. In her attempts to mount a counterattack on the aliens, she meets with condescending and patronizing attitudes that Kevin McCarthy, even at his most hysterical and seemingly crazy moments in Body Snatchers (remember him standing in the middle of the busy highway screaming, “They’re here! They’re here! You’re next!”) never had to contend with. The reason for those obstacles in Marge’s path, comes down to one fact she’s a woman. And women, like children, (said the society of the 50’s) should be put on hold. But what I Married a Monster from Outer Space goes on to say is that we treat women this way at our ultimate peril. The film, predating bra burning, women’s lib, ERA, and all the rest, says that if we don’t listen to them, we could lose them, and the whole ball game as well. With its minimum of special effects, its touch of the Val Lewton tendency of terror, and a generous helping of the noir aspects of Fritz Lang (“my mentor,” as Fowler calls him) there is a real feeling of terrible frustration as Marge’s efforts to warn her friends is thwarted at every turn. But perhaps what gives one “the creeps” as much as any other aspect of the film, is the average American small town setting . . . too real to be a fantasy, yet too horrible to be real. It’s the outwardly innocent. friendly and “untouched” small town environment where “the creatures walk among us.” It’s the town where nothing ever seems to go wrong, and a town we’ve seen before in Body Snatchers, and Invaders From Mars where things go very, very wrong. No one could argue with Fowler when he says that I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a film about the aliens’ fight for survival. But turn the glass another way, and we see it is also a woman’s (and through her, all women’s) fight for survival in their own familiar and “friendly” environment. Part of the beauty of this and other genre films of the fifties that they crystallized not only the hopes, but also the fears, of an en- tire generation, who outside of film portraits would appear mostly ambiguous, if not somewhat mysterious in retrospect.
PRODUCTION/PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY (Director Gene Fowler)
Fowler’s experience with I Married a Monster From Outer Space, which he produced as well as directed, was quite a bit different from his first horror feature. “I liked it when I was making it,” he says, “as opposed to Werewolf which I really had no faith in.”
Fowler collaborated on Married a Monster with a writer named Lou Vittes with whom he had worked before on the Charles Bronson Western Showdown at Boot Hill. “I was talking to him one time,” Fowler recalls, “about my surprise at the success of Teenage Werewolf. So we started saying, ‘Well, Christ, let’s make an exploitation picture.’ So we sat down and the both of us wrote this script and I came up with the title I Married a Monster From Outer Space because it was so exploitable. And we tried to make the best movie we could with this ridiculous title.
“There again, I tried to put characterization into the monster. The so-called monsters, the aliens, were very sad people. One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to accept the premise, regardless of how ridiculous it is. If you accept the thing as very realistic and very honest, then you can come up with very honest performances and make a fairly honest picture out of it. And this premise was kind of sad: these guys, all of their women had died off, and they were searching the galaxy for women to propagate their race. They were desperate. That’s how they came here and they were looking for these women. What they were doing, as far as they were concerned, was very honest and very necessary. The fact that they were kicking the shit out of the men here made no difference.”
The movie opens at a stag party the night before Tom Tryon is going to be married. When he drives home along a lonely country road, he suddenly brakes the car in order to avoid hitting a body lying in his path. He jumps out of the car to find the body has disappeared, but finds a strange hand on his shoulder, a hand that belongs to a monstrous alien. Tryon is enshrouded in an inky black cloud and then vanishes when the cloud dissipates. The next morning Tryon’s bride marries not a man, but an uncanny alien simulation. Fowler emphasizes that a crucial factor in creating the film’s suspense was the way in which he and Vittes allowed the story to unfold. “You had to figure exactly the point at which you introduced the monster. You have to bring it up to a certain point, certain mysterious things have to happen, and then the introduction of the monster is very brief, tremendously brief. Then you can go on without the audience knowing exactly what had happened, until the honeymoon night when the hero and heroine are about to make love; there’s thunder and lightning, and suddenly the thunder hits close and you see just a flash of the monster superimposed over the hero’s face. It all comes down to how you build these things up. You don’t do it promiscuously, you do it with a hell of a lot of thought.
According to Fowler, he had a “long schedule” for the production of I Married a Monster From Outer Space, eight days to be exact. The budget was also somewhat larger than that of Teenage Werewolf, a grand total of $175,000, but, as Fowler points out, this increase wasn’t terribly significant because he was “also going through Paramount and they dipped into that a little bit with their overhead.”
BEHIND THE SCENES (The Title)
The first question that we asked Fowler was the obvious one: How did he feel about the film’s infamous title? Did he like it? Did he choose it? And if so, why? “No, I didn’t like the title. Neither did Lou. On the other hand, we were making the movie for one specific reason, and that was exploitation. I don’t know whether Paramount would have made it if it hadn’t had an exploitation title.” Although Fowler had wanted I Married a Monster from Outer Space to be released as a package with another of his films, which would be made expressly for the double bill, (known in the business as a ‘‘programmer,’’) Paramount already had a mate for their Monster. It was a picture “floating around Philadelphia, that they bought for $75,000 called The Blob,”. Fowler claims that one of the major problems that faced him during casting, and one certainly traceable to his “exploitation” title, was getting his leading man, Tom Tryon, to work in the picture.
“Tom Tryon was under contract to Paramount at the time when the studio said, ’‘We want you to do a certain picture,” remembers Fowler. “But when they told him the title he said, ’No way am I going to do that.’ And they said, ‘Well, you’re going to be put on suspension if you don’t.’ So, they tied him up and delivered him to me on the set. I think later on, however, he kind of got to like the picture.”
One might imagine that Fowler may have had some of the same problems with Michael Landon, the title star of his first film, the rightfully infamous I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). But while Fowler may have shied away from such projects, he soon became aware of the entertainment value (and money-making potential) of these films.
“I was doing a picture with Sammy Fuller, called Run Of The Arrow.” says Fowler. “And right in the middle of it I got a call from Herman Cohen he was a producer and he said, ’How would you like to do a picture for me?’ Naturally. I said I’d love to.”
But when he was getting down to business on what would be his first job as a director, the misgivings began. ‘’I damn near didn’t do it,” he says, because the script was just dreadful. But Herman Cohen insisted that it was going to be a success, and my wife said, ‘Oh, go ahead, do the darned thing, who the hell’s ever going to see a picture like that? You’ll get some experience.’ So. we made the picture in six days and it was a big success.
The vision behind I Married a Monster from Outer Space and the cinematic sense that the film displays can be traced to the fact that the story was born for the screen. Fowler and Vittes knew precisely what kind of film they wanted to make; an exploitation film, plain and simple. no apologies, no excuses.
During the film, warnings from animals are quickly stifled by the invaders. In one scene. Bill (the alien Bill) is forced to kill a pet dog that Marge has given him as a present, when the animal recognizes his alien nature and begins to growl viciously at him. But in the end, it is the animals that defeat the monsters. When all else has failed, trained attack dogs are set loose upon our extraterrestrial enemies. Viciously attacking the aliens’ one vulnerable area, the large exposed “veins” that run from their heads down into their chests, the dogs succeed in destroying mankind’s would-be invaders.
As effective and exciting as this scene may have appeared on screen, according to director Fowler the reality was something quite different. “When the dogs got on the set,” says Fowler, “they took one look at the monsters and hid behind the trainer’s legs; it scared the living hell out of them. So the monsters had to stand there in their suits and play with the dogs until they got use to them. It was a very funny sight watching these monsters sitting around with these ‘ damn dogs, petting them, playing with them, and so on. In the fight scene the monsters actually had to hold the dogs heads, guiding them, because by the time they became friends with the monsters, there weren’t about to bite them, or anything!”
Of course, it was this climactic scene that finally explains the strange ’’look’’ of the creatures. As Fowler explains it, “I was working with Wally Westmore at the time on the preliminary sketches of the thing, and there was a reason for the shape of the aliens’ head; that is, the exterior tubes from his head to his shoulders and the reason for that was that we wanted something that the dogs could grab hold of, something that would be very vulnerable.”
In light of these limited resources, the effects in Married a Monster are very impressive. Those watching the final scene in particular for the first time today will be especially impressed with the destruction of the aliens. Dogs jump at the heads’ of the monsters and tear away the monsters’ air tubes which causes the creatures to collapse into a gurgling, gelatinous heap; fairly strong stuff for 1958 that stands up well today. Fowler says that all of these effects were done on the set, using very common household items. “For the dissolving of the monster at the end,” he says, “my wife made me about five gallons of jello which I did the scene with. In other words I was pretty much my own effects man.” The optical effects used to create the electric aura that surrounds the monsters was supervised by the great veteran John P. Fulton, the man who gave you such classics as The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man.
“The monsters were photographed direct, and after we had finished cutting, we decided that they should have some kind of eerie effect. So we made a rotoscope, a very rough rotoscope of the monsters, and underexposed it I to give it a flicker. That was the extent of our special effects. Very cheap, and very effective. But difficult? Hell, no! It’s one of the easiest I’ve ever done.”
Charles Gemora (credited with make-up on I Married a Monster from Outer Space) came in and helped perfect the head appliance both in design, and how to gel in and out of it without wasting one hundred and nine hours . . . We only had a ten day shooting schedule.”
INTERVIEWS (Actress Gloria Talbott)
I Married a Monster from Outer Space gave you your most dramatic sci-fi role. How did you enjoy the experience?
Talbott: I loved working at Paramount. I was very much at home there, the money was terrific, and I did like the role, although in a sense it really was written one-dimensional. I tried my best to put some dimension into her. There could have been more character development, and I was anxious to play with it.
One scene I liked was when I was trying to seduce Tom Tryon into bed; I was trying to be flippant and cute, and I was getting nada. So there was a change in character there, and there were lots of scenes where I was scared, and I can really play scared. I’ve been frightened in my life, horribly frightened. When I was a kid, I had an older sister who was gorgeous and the boys would follow her home and peek in our windows. We had six years of peeping toms scratching at our windows, but we were so poor we didn’t have a phone to call the police. It was like living in a horror movie, scary as belli
Did you like working with Tom Tryon?
Talbott: Tom and I had worked together in two or three Matinee Theaters, and we liked each other a great deal. One day we were at Lake Sherwood, which is where we filmed the scene where one of the aliens drowns. We were lying on the grass, between takes, and he was watching this great big plane being refueled in midflight by a smaller one. He must have watched for about 15 minutes. I looked up finally and started watching, too, and he said, (softly) “They just had sex. right up in the air…” Well (laughs], he didn’t say it to be funny, he was looking at it as a writer. He is a writer, of course. He wrote The Other, which still is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. That movie haunts me. It was wonderful. So he was very introspective, very into himself, but always professional, always gave 100 percent. But Tom didn’t like the monster outfits. Originally, they had tiny spangly jock straps for the aliens to wear, and Tom just freaked out when he saw that. He said, “This is ridiculous it’ll look like monster Rockettes!” He was absolutely right, and they did change them.
Gene Fowler. Jr. directed seven pictures, some of them very good (I Married a Monster, I Was a Teenage Werewolf), and then went back into editing.
Talbott: Gene Fowler put a great deal of himself into these pictures. He was worn out at the end of I Married a Monster, I could just see it physically. He took the picture home with him every night, he slept with the script it never came out in agitation, but I could see it coming out in tiredness. But I liked doing pictures with Gene, he was a sweetheart, and it was an actor’s dream to work with him.
So everything went smoothly on I Married a Monster?
Talbott: I enjoyed the whole experience, except for the first three days. One side of my face was swollen because I had an abscessed tooth, and for a few days, while we were shooting the scenes that took place in the living room, they had to shoot around that. Also, the man who wrote the movie, Louis Vittes, was so intense and so insecure that we weren’t going to do it right. When we’d be rehearsing a scene, he’d sit way back in a corner somewhere, but then just before we were ready to shoot, he’d get on the floor directly under the camera. He knew his script inside out, and he would sit there and silently mouth every word. And he went absolutely insane if we left out an “a” or a “the”! He was not being unkind, he was just scared. But it was driving both Tom and me crazy to have the guy down on the floor saying the lines. Finally, I had to go to the producer and ask him if this could be avoided. I didn’t want to hurt this fellow’s feelings, but it was distracting as hell.
Do you think that silly title helped or hurt I Married a Monster from Outer Space?
Talbott: The title killed it; people went in expecting to see a funny movie. Now that it’s so well-known, I can’t think of a better title in fact, now that title has helped make the picture! But, again, at the time, I thought it was sad that I Married a Monster from Outer Space was our title because I felt it was a better movie than that.
Was your shooting schedule quite a bit longer than on the other sci-fi jobs?
Talbott: We had almost three weeks, and it was an enjoyable experience because we were not rushed. We did do a lot in a short period, except this time we ended up with a picture that some people now call a classic. All in all, it was an excellent experience.
Producer: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Director: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Screenplay: Louis Vittes
Cinematography: Haskell B. Boggs
Wally Westmore makeup supervisor
Charles Gemora makeup artist (uncredited)
Cast: Tom Tryon (Bill Farrell)
Gloria Talbott (Marge Bradley Farrell)
Peter Baldwin (Officer Frank Swanson)
Robert Ivers (Harry Phillips)
Chuck Wassil (Ted Hanks)
Ty Hungerford (Mac Brody)
Ken Lynch (Dr. Wayne)
John Eldredge (Police Captain H.B. Collins)
Cinefantastique Vol 03 No 2 (Spring 1974)
Fantastic Films 29 June 1982