Target Earth (1954)

“Target Earth” is a a potential minor classic that falls short when the screenplay falters and the budget just can’t back up the proper execution of the scenario.

The director can be proud of the first ten minutes or so. The premise is set and the story is told with an admirable flow and economy – the impact of the eerie, deserted cityscape and the increasing unease of the heroine are well conveyed. When she finally bumps into the only other living human in the city (I liked this guy immediately – he had a intense eyes and a haunted expression that conveyed volumes) right after encountering her first corpse, and he chases her into an alley, it’s a very cool climax.

Then about 5 minutes later, we get our first glimpse of the invading alien.It’s ridiculous, and the mood collapses almost entirely.

The movie is still pretty good in fits and starts after that. But IMO it was a mistake to bring in the whole second story line with the army scientists looking for a miracle solution. Whenever the 1st story thread starts to build any momentum or atmosphere, the movie ruins it by stopping everything for marathon jabber/exposition sessions with a bunch of actors mouthing lines about cathode ray tubes and such. I think the movie’s creators wanted to add to the suspense, but instead this kept dispersing the paranoia and claustrophobia that the first story line was trying to create. (Yes, a couple of fine character actors, including Whit Bissell, are in these scenes, but they can’t save them.) Plus the fact that the characters in the second thread are completely disconnected from those in the first thread – they don’t interact with them at all, or even know they exist. That makes for some problematic narrative structure for someone like me who is accustomed to movies where all the characters in the screenplay are part of an ensemble dealing with a situation,from modern big budget mega pictures like “Independence Day” to creaky “classics” like “The Beginning Of the End” (where special effects included post cards).

There are some strange lapses in the plot now and then (for instance, the hero thinks of breaking into an electronics store to get a portable radio so he can get some idea of what is going on, but it never occurs to him to also break into a drugstore or a hardware store to get a battery for the radio). This doesn’t help, but I can understand the need to keep the cast in the dark about why they are alone in a deserted city.

Still, the climactic sequence at the end is pretty good, with the original couple are cornered by an alien and are about to be barbecued. But then the army up with its miracle science gimmick and easily disposes of it and the movie’s ending deflates like a balloon.