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Invaders from Mars (1953) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • A young boy learns that space aliens are taking over the minds of earthlings.

  • One night, young David McLean sees a spaceship crash into a nearby sandpit. His father goes to investigate, but comes back changed. Where once he was cheerful and affectionate, he's now sullen and snarlingly rude. Others fall into the sandpit and begin acting like him: cold, ill-tempered and conspiratorial. David knows that aliens are taking over the bodies of humans, but he'll soon discover there have been far more of these terrible thefts than he could have imagined. The young doom-monger finds some serious help in a lady doctor and a brilliant astronomer. Soon they meet the aliens: green creatures with insect-like eyes. These beings prove to be slaves to their leader: a large, silent head with ceaselessly shifting eyes and two tentacles on either side, each of which branches off into three smaller tentacles. It's up to the redoubtable earth trio to stop its evil plans.

  • Little David MacLean has a problem--all the adults in town begin acting strangely shortly after he sees strange lights settling behind a hill near his home. As more and more adults are affected, he must turn to the pretty Dr. Blake for protection. Eventually, he must confront his fears in the unusual conclusion.

  • David was a normal kids suffering from normal problems. But he had good friends and loving parents. All that is about to change one fateful night as David wakes up and sees a UFO landing just beyond the fence. He awakens his parents, his Father thinking it was just a bad dream goes and looks anyway. But when he doesn't return, David's Mother calls the Police. He returns the next morning with a lame excuse and a strange mark on his neck. But George is no longer a loving Father, he is a top of the line jerk. David begins to feel that the aliens did something to it. When the local Police and his Mother also falls into the alien trap, as well as several other people in town. He entrust his secret with a local Doctor. She believes him and together they try to convince others before it's too late.

  • In the early hours of the night, young David Maclean sees a flying saucer land and disappear into the sand dunes just beyond his house. Slowly, all of the adults, including his once loving parents, begin to act strangely. All have a telltale injection mark on their neck. Not surprisingly, no one believes him until he manages to convince Dr. Pat Blake of the city health department and Dr. Stuart Kelston from the local observatory, that something is amiss. They manage to mobilize the army for a confrontation with the invaders.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Psychologically terrifying space-invader movie made at the height of McCarthyism centers around 10-year-old boy astronomer betrayed by most of the adults he knows, including his parents. Small and cheap, but brilliantly and boldly helmed by William Cameron Menzies -- the production designer of Gone With the Wind -- "Invaders from Mars" had enough of a timeless paranoiac jolt to be remade, albeit poorly, by Tobe Hooper in the 1980s. Back in the 50s, while Hollywood and Congress panicked and did some pretty cruel and crazy things in reaction to an alleged invasion of commies, Little Jimmy is figuring out who do you trust after learning that everything he's been told about authority -- family, the church, even the chief of police -- is a big fat lie. Interestingly, the person who defends and leads Jimmy in his insistence on conspiracy is a true alien for the time, a creature who somehow wafted through the cracks in the well-wrought PC system to become a "lady doctor." The choice of such an underground avatar is reminiscent of George Romero's use of Duane Jones as the unambivalent protagonist in "Night of the Living Dead (1968). With Hillary Brooke as mom, and Bert Freed as the top cop.

    I think it worth pointing out that there are two versions of this film ...one for the American market and one British. As I understand it the films ending was not well recieved by British audiences {a fate shared by the dream season of the TV series Dallas} so some pick ups were quickly reshot to give the film a more hard edged real world conclusion rather then the nightmareish endless loop of the American original.

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    [Note: There are two versions, the familiar American version and a British version that runs about 5 minutes longer. The British version includes a longer exposition between David and Dr. Blake and Kelston at the observatory, and the end of the movie is different. Both versions are presented.]

    We open with title and credits in red font running over a black star field with planets. A narrator (Arthur Franz) tells us, "The heavens. Once an object of superstition, awe and fear. Now a vast region for growing knowledge: the distance of Venus, the atmosphere of Mars, the size of Jupiter, and the speed of Mercury. All this and more. We know, but their greatest mystery the heavens have kept a secret. What sort of life, if any, inhabits these other planets? Human life, like ours? Or life extremely lower in scale, or dangerously higher? Seeking the answer to this timeless question, forever seeking, is the constant preoccupation of scientists everywhere. Scientists famous and unknown. Scientists in great universities and in modest homes. Scientists of all ages."

    David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) set his alarm for 4:00 a.m. to see a rare stellar event. The alarm wakes his father, George MacLean (Leif Erickson). He thinks its time to get up for work, which wakes his wife, Mary (Hillary Brooke). She points out the time, but George correctly assumes his son set his own alarm and goes into check on him. David is at the window with a telescope, and apologizes for waking his Dad. Mary breaks up the party, sending her son back to bed. David falls asleep but is awakened by a thunderstorm at 4:40 a.m. He goes to the window and sees a spaceship on the horizon that appears to land behind the house. He wakes his father and reports, "Dad. Dad. Something landed out beyond the trees in the sand pit. A big, bright light." Father and son look out David's window but see nothing. They agree to investigate at morning's light. George puts his robe and slippers on and goes outside to investigate, explaining to Mary, that the work at the plant is secret and they have orders to report anything unusual. George walks up the path along a wooden rail fence that ends in a sand pit. We hear an ethereal, eerie choir of voices and see the sand part leaving a hole that grows larger. George disappears behind a tree and the hole in the sand fills back.

    The next morning, Mary calls for her husband, George. She too walks up the path to the sand field and hears the strange sound that accompanies a disappearance. She returns to the house and calls the police and talks to the two officers that respond to the call. The older policeman, Blaine (an uncredited Charles Cane) and younger, Jackson (an uncredited Douglas Kennedy) listen to the story, then walk out on the sand to investigate. Jackson spots George's flashlight, and Blaine finds a slipper. Jackson falls into the hole, and when Blaine searches for his partner, he too falls into a hole. The hole disappears. While mother and son talk at the window, George walks back into the house and asks, "Any chance for a cup of coffee?" George looks a bit disheveled. When questioned, he angrily responds in a tone that is very uncharacteristic, "I wish you'd please learn to mind your own business." David asks his father if he saw anything, noticing a scar on the back of his father's neck. When questioned he strikes his son sending him to the floor. The two policemen show up at the house and promise not to report anything. David notices the marks on their necks also. With telescope in hand, David looks at the sand pit and notices a neighborhood girl, Kathy Wilson (Janine Perreau) disappear. Another encounter with his father scares him. He is told, "I want to warn you. Don't go spreading stories about things you imagined out in those fields. Understand?" Mary, now dressed, joins her husband for a trip to town. George takes her to the sand pit and her fate.

    David goes to the Wilson home to report Kathy's disappearance. Mrs. Wilson (an uncredited Fay Baker) is incredulous at David's story. Her concern changes from fear to anger when Kathy appears at the door behind David holding a bouquet of flowers. She chastises David for such a cruel hoax. David notices smoke coming from the Wilson basement. A neighbor helps with a hose, but concedes the fire is spreading too rapidly to control. When asked if she was playing in the basement, Kathy lies and denies any involvement, but smiles slyly. David runs to the general store to phone Prof. Kelston at the observatory, but his secretary (an uncredited Barbara Billingsley) tells him Kelston is out and won't be back until later in the afternoon. He stops at a gas station to tell his story to the station attendant, Jim (an uncredited Todd Karns). Jim makes a phone call, but David runs to the local police station and demands to see the Chief. The police desk Sgt. Finlay (an uncredited Walter Sande) listens to David's story as the Police Chief listens from his doorway. Chief Barrows (an uncredited Bert Freed) invites David into his office to talk alone. When Barrows turns to call David's father, David sees the "X" shaped scar on Barrow's neck. David tries to flee but literally runs into Finlay who stops him and takes him to a detention cell for holding. Barrows goes out to find David's father, while Finlay decides to call Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter). She visits David in his cell. David confides his story after checking her neck for the tell-tale scar. She departs David's cell and asks about the police report on David's father. When told there was none, she asks to use the Chief's phone to call Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz). Mary comes to collect her son. Kelston vouches for David as honest and level headed. Mary takes David to the door of the police station where George is waiting. Before the parents can spirit David away, Dr. Blake orders the boy held and she tells the MacLeans that David may have polio. The parents leave, and Pat takes David into her custody. Pat and David visit Kelston at the Observatory (Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles, California). They speculate on which planet is the most likely to be inhabited. Selecting Mars, Kelston observes that their cities may be underground or they live on space ships.

    [British Version (About 7 minutes of footage): After they get up from Kelston's desk, he and David explain to Pat where the spaceship could have come from and how. Once Mars is chosen as a likely candidate, David explains to Pat that Mars has oxygen in its atmosphere and water vapor. Kelston concludes, "That some form of life exists on Mars." He adds, "Its the firm belief of many scientists that the Earth has been under systematic and close range observation for more than 200 years." They review UFO sightings and the various newspaper clippings on sightings. Kelston then pulls out various models of UFO types. Kelston pulls a green, saucer shaped model from the cabinet and David exclaims, "That's it! That's exactly what I saw Dr. Kelston. Same shape, color, even the bubble." Kelston volunteers, "Our research radar has plotted a ship like this twice in the past six weeks."]

    They walk up to the telescope to looks at the rocket project and the sand pit. They further speculate that the Martians are here to sabotage the project to protect themselves from us. They witness George MacLean push General Mayberry (an uncredited William Forrest) into the hole. Kelston calls Col. Fielding to report what he saw. Col. Fielding (Morris Ankrum) and his aide, Sgt. Rinaldi (Max Wagner) take the call and jump into action. They call Washington and get orders from the Pentagon Chief of Staff (an uncredited Frank Wilcox) to take charge at the arms plants being threatened. The police have been ordered to arrest those suspected of mind control by the Martians. Tanks and other armament are delivered to the area. David tells his story to Col. Fielding. They talk to the neighbor, Mr. Turner (an uncredited John Eldredge). Pat asks about Kathy's cause of death and is told cerebral hemorrhage. She goes to the hospital for the autopsy.

    On the roof of the MacLean house, David shows Col. Fielding where everyone disappears. This piques Rinaldi's curiosity and he steals away to investigate on his own. An army unit arrives and Maj. Clary (an uncredited Gil Herman) and Capt. Roth (Milburn Stone) are briefed by the Colonel. Rinaldi is captured by the Martians, but not without a fight. Search lights are placed around the sand pit. Pat returns from the hospital and brings them a crystal and platinum device that was in Kathy's neck. Roth speculates it can be used to track the Martians. Tank battalions arrive and are deployed around the sand pit area. Col. Fielding receives a phone call informing him that the Armstead Plant was destroyed. The two police officers, Blaine and Jackson are surrounded by plant security, but before they can be taken into custody, both collapse and die, the explosive component in the control device in their necks activated by the Martians. At the Rocket facility, Police Chief Barrows and General Mayberry are confronted by the Military Police. They try to escape but are blown up by nitroglycerine they were carrying. Dr. Bill Wilson (an uncredited Robert Shayne) is working late in the lab, mourning the death of his daughter Kathy. Outside the gate, the MacLeans are planning an assassination. While Mary pretends to have car trouble, the guard is distracted long enough for George to knock him out, gain access to the facility and attempt to shoot Dr. Wilson working in his lab. The attempt fails and they are chased by the Military Police. They lose control of their speeding car and crash. They are taken into custody and transferred to the hospital for surgery to remove their implanted devices.

    The demolitions unit of the army has blown a hole through the sand into a chamber below. Col. Fielding is first in the hole. They conclude that this chamber is no longer active and has been sealed off from the rest of the tunnel system. They retreat back to the surface, where Capt. Roth has completed his detection device to locate the Martians. He starts his search. A call for Dr. Blake informs her that David's parents are in the hospital and ready for surgery. She takes David for a walk to inform him of his parents. As they talk they hear the eerie choir of voices sound that always presages the abduction of humans by the Martians. The pair fall into the hole. Kelston sees this and alerts Roth and Fielding. Towering over the dazed pair are huge, green clad mutants. Two body guard mutants carry the Martian Intelligence (an uncredited Luce Potter) and place it on a pedestal. The Intelligence is encased in a clear glass sphere. It has an oversized skull, human looking face, but the body is just a partial chest with branching, fork-like appendages that move like octopus arms. David and Pat are carried back to the Martian ship through the tunnels the Martian mutants created with an Infrared Ray gun that melts and fuses rock with ease. On the surface, Roth explains, "There's nothing here Colonel. They've already gone." Inside the ship David and Pat are presented to the Intelligence. Roth has located the source of the signal and a charge is set to gain access to the tunnel outside the ship. Sgt. Rinaldi, under mind-control, questions the pair. A mutant places Dr. Blake on the table that installs the mind control device. She is rendered unconscious by a light ray, then turned over exposing her neck. Rinaldi carries David back into the tunnels as the troops invade the ship. David cries for help allowing Fielding to track him in the tunnels. The Intelligence marshals his mutant force to attack the human troops. Dr. Kelston rescues Pat from the operating table just before the mind control device is inserted. The Martian ship activates for departure. Demolition charges are installed and set for six minutes. The troops exit the ship and destroy the tunnel leading to the ship's entrance. Unfortunately, their exit to the surface has been blocked and they can't go back and delay or defuse the bomb on the Martian ship. The troops rescue David and take Rinaldi captive. David assists the troops on using the IR Tunnel Gun to get back through the chamber to the exit to the surface.

    Back on the surface they run for safety. The ship pushes its way to the surface as the bomb ticks down to the final seconds until detonation. As David runs to safety a montage of earlier scenes flashes before us. The bomb goes off destroying the ship as David wakes in his bed from the sound of thunder in the distance. He runs to his parent's room. They are there, perfectly normal and he is told it was all just a nightmare. He is put back to bed, but again sees the Martian ship crash land in the sand pit. We close with the star field and closing theme.

    [British Version: We see everyone running from the sand pit area. Kelston and Pat Blake take shelter behind a tank. David runs towards them, falls, and is helped to his feet by Kelston and Blake. They embrace and watch as the Martian ship gets airborne. It blows up and the flash of light is shown on the three still huddled behind the tank. The subsequent blast wave knocks down a tree behind them. Pat reassures David, "With the control point destroyed, nothing can possibly happen to your mother and father now. They are going to be all right." Acting as surrogate parents, they bid David good night from his bedroom door. "The little man has had a busy day," remarks Pat as David sleeps. We close with a flash of lightening over the sand pit, then the star field and closing theme.]

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