The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds

Synopsis of Movie

Loosely adapted from H.G. Well’s classic novel of the same name, this 1953 doomsday sci-fi was billed as a “mighty panorama of Earth-shaking fury as an army from Mars invades.” The War of the Worlds hit movie screens smack dab in the middle of the Cold War, preying insidiously upon America’s fear of anything foreign and red, be it Russian or Martian.

An ominous monologue describes the Martians as a civilization on the brink of demise. Stranded on a withering planet, they’ve got no choice but to look for colonization on the lush, ready-to-stake-your-claim canvas we call Earth. And as decades of sci-fi have taught us, there's nothing scarier than desperate, homeless aliens.

Like Orson Welles did in his famous 1938 radio adaptation of H.G.’s book, producer (and former animator) George Pal sets the stage in contemporary America, specifically a small Southern California town called Linda Rosa. A meteor crash-lands in the hills, and the kindly townspeople are curious. Scientist Clayton Forrester, however, is much more interested in square dancing the night away with the local minister’s niece, the lovely Sylvia.

Three deputies are sent to watch the glowing rock that night, and unfortunately for them, a hatch unscrews and venal Martians pop out. The deputy triptych is evaporated, and soon the Martians are wreaking havoc in their mushroom-shaped space ships. Sylvia’s minister uncle is also vaporized, so she and Barry run away together in an attempt to get help.

The two take off in a sputtering airplane, which crash-lands and forces them into hiding at an abandoned farmhouse. Three alien ships soon surround them and a creepy Martian puts his arm on Sylvia’s shoulder, only to be clubbed by Dr. Forrester for his advances.

Meanwhile, the military and all its fancy WWII weaponry, even a detonated atom bomb...none of it seems to make a dent in the Martian attack. And the worst thing is, these skinny bad guys don't have an ounce of sympathy or remorse. For a good part of the movie, ruthless world destruction—the likes of which only a Martian can properly inflict—is the order of the day.

There is a little something, thank goodness—a very little something—that can stave off the extraterrestrials, but everyone knows it's poor form to reveal those kinds of Martian secrets. We don't want them coming back around.

War of the Worlds was the anti-The Day the Earth Stood Still. The aliens had no message for humanity, no noble purpose. They just wanted the world, and they wanted it now. Making the creepy invaders even more ominous was the fact that the movie never showed too much of them (a technique later used to great effect in 1975's Jaws).

What audiences did see were the aliens' hovering war machines, the scariest on the silver screen yet—definitely not the bobbing saucers of old-school sci-fi. Special effects maestro Gordon Jennings won a posthumous Academy Award for his artistry, and the film went on to influence countless "alien invasion" films of the ensuing years, from 1956's Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to 1996's Independence Day.

Movie Release History

1953 - The War of the Worlds

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Clayton Forrester   Gene Barry
Sylvia Van Buren  Ann Robinson
General Mann   Les Tremayne
Pastor Matthew Collins  Lewis Martin
Dr. Pryor (Pacific Tech)  Robert Cornthwaite
Dr. Bilderbeck (Pacific Tech)  Sandro Giglio
Wash Perry William Phipps
Alonzo Hogue  Paul Birch
Salvatore  Jack Kruschen
Colonel Ralph Heffner  Vernon Rich
Aide to General Mann  Houseley Stevenson Jr.
Radio Reporter  Paul Frees
Cop at Crash Site with Spot Light   Henry Brandon
Blonde Carolyn Jones
Man Pierre Cressoy
Sheriff Bogany   Walter Sande
Martian Charles Gemora
Dr. James (Pacific Tech)  Alex Frazer
Dr. Duprey (Pacific Tech)  Ann Codee
Dr. Gratzman (Pacific Tech)  Ivan Lebedeff
Forest Ranger at Crash Site  Robert Rockwell
Zippy (Square Dance) Alvy Moore
Fiddler Hawkins (Square Dance)  Frank Kreig
Well-Dressed Looter (L.A.)   Ned Glass
Reverand Bethany Russell Conway
Spanish Priest  Edward Colmans
Minister, First Church   David McMahon
Elderly Woman News Vendor (L.A.)  Gertrude Hoffman
Secretary of Defense   Freeman Lusk
Fire Chief, Crew #3   Sydney Mason
Pine Summit Fire Watcher   Peter Adams
KGEB Reporter  Ted Hecht
Japanese Diplomat Teru Shimada
Chief of Staff  Herbert Lytton
Buck Monahan  Ralph Dumke
Professor McPherson   Edgar Barrier
Reporter Walter Richards
Red Cross Official (L.A.)  Ralph Montgomery
Staff Sergeant  Douglas Henderson
MP Office (L.A.)  Anthony Warde
Injured Civil Defense Worker  Bob Morgan
MP in Jeep (L.A.)  Joel Marston
Bum #1 Listening to Radio  George Pal
Bum #2 Listening to Radio  Frank Freeman Jr.
Looter (L.A.)  David Sharpe
Looter (L.A.)  Dale Van Sickel
Looter (L.A.)  Fred Graham
Commentary Cedric Hardwicke
Dr. Carmichael  Russ Bender
Civil Defense Official   Jimmie Dundee
P.E. Official   Bill Meader
Police Chief   Al Ferguson
Boy Rudy Lee
Boy Waldon Williams
Elderly Man  Gus Taillon
Mother Ruth Barnell
Elderly Woman  Dorothy Vernon
Brigadier General  Hugh Allen
Marine Major  Stanley Orr
Marine Captain   Charles J. Stewart
Marine Lieutenant  Fred Zendar
Marine Commanding Officer  Jim Davies
Marine Captain  Dick Fortune
Cameraman Edward Wahrman
Marine Sergeant   Martin Coulter
Screaming Woman   Hazel Boyne
Old Woman  Cora Shannon
Young Man  Mike Mahoney
Man John Mansfield
Man Eric Alden
Young Wife   Nancy Hale
Girl  Virginia Hall
Girl Patricia Iannone
Doctor  John Maxwell
Colonel  Don Kohler
Reporter Morton C. Thompson
Reporter  Jerry James
Burning Soldier at Pit Mushy Callahan
Deputy George Cisar
Bomber Pilot  James Seay
Rescuing Civil Defense Worker Bud Wolfe

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