I’m a life-long fan of Fifties science-fiction films, so I was surprised when Netflix suggested Target Earth: I had never seen or even heard of it. So, I put it in my queue, didn’t really expect much, and found myself very pleasantly surprised.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, first: the alien robot is laughable, the situation stretches credulity to the breaking point, some of the dialog is right out of a 50s Civil Defense film, and the short length of the movie creates a few forced coincidences.
Granted all that, this is a very good movie. The set-up recalls some of the best Twilight Zones in its eeriness: a few people wake up to discover they’re the only ones left in a city that’s been evacuated overnight in the wake of an alien invasion. They find themselves trapped between an American Army growing desperate enough to use atomic weapons, alien hunter-killer robots — and a murderer on the lam! In the empty concrete jungle (downtown Los Angeles), the question they face is not only one of escape, but even of survival.
This movie works because it focuses much more on the dilemma of average people caught in a terrible situation than on the science-fictional aspects. The characters could have straight from any film noir of the period: the “regular Joe” from out of town who becomes a hero; the good-hearted heroine who needs rescue; the boozy blonde and her likeable lunk of a boyfriend; the desperate gangster; and even the little weasel “who gets it.” The acting is much better than what one would expect from a low-budget alien invasion flick, but the cast was composed of many fine studio contract players from that time, notably Richard Denning and Virginia Grey.
The only real problems I have are the cutaways to the military sequences and the showing of the killer robot. The first detracts from the isolation of the characters in the abandoned city, for we know help is on the way. We see the military trying to find a way to defeat the enemy, and we just know the scientists (lead by the great Whit Bissell) will find a way to defeat the aliens before we have to break out the a-bombs. It detracts from the horror inherent in the helplessness of the main characters. It would have been better to keep the military as distant figures from the main characters’ point of view and leave them (and the audience) to wonder if they’ll be killed in a crossfire, or if the military can even stop the invaders at all.
As for the robot itself, while it’s fun to see in a campy sort of way, it would have been better if it had only been shown via its shadow and in half-glimpses, never a full shot. The audience’s imagination can conjure monsters far more horrifying; again, the robot rather detracts from what could have been a five-star science-fiction/suspense/noir film. In both cases, however, these scenes are what movie-going fans of the time and genre would have expected.
In the end, however, I highly recommend Target Earth to all fans of science fiction’s first cinematic “golden age,” and to anyone interested in good low-budget film-making in general.
(Netflix allows only 300 words in a review, so I thought I’d post full-length original here. What is a blog but a vanity press, after all?)