Judge Neil Dorsett contemplates the redundancy of "married" and "monster."
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is not to be confused with the similarly titled I Married a Monster from the Louisiana Bayou by A. Arcane (in which the marriage fares somewhat better), nor the demi-pornographic I Married a Gonzo from Outer Space by C. Camilla, which many critics said was just chicken-scratchings.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is that old black and white sci-fi movie from Paramount that used to be in all the books and get a lot of late-night TV play, but seemed to fade out as it never seemed to get swept up into the home video revolution. Now it's back, in all its paranoid '50s good-bad-movie glory.
Facts of the Case
Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon), en route back home from his bachelor party after having had a few, is too slow to avoid hitting a prone body in the road. A visual clue alerts the audience to possible horseplay, as the body is obviously fake, but Bill never sees it. When he leaves his car to investigate, the body is gone, an alien accosts him from behind and zaps him into unconsciousness, and a strange, hard-edged cloud envelops Bill. When he arrives the next day, late, for his wedding to Marge Bradley (Gloria Talbott), Bill seems distant. Though he goes ahead with the wedding, Bill remains emotionless and inaccessible to his young wife—and he can see in the dark. Marge, increasingly frustrated with the uselessness of the enterprise she's undertaken, begins to suspect Bill of…well, something. Investigating, she finds many of the town's males curiously soothing and believing of her claims—but they don't follow up. When Marge seeks help outside the town, the telegraph operator destroys her message instead of sending it. At last she must admit that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot, but good golly, what is it? Fortune gives the game away when one of the men, unconscious from near-drowning, seems to be killed by the oxygen administered by the town's doctor. Armed with this knowledge, and after following him back to the spacecraft that serves as the aliens' base of operations, Marge finally confronts her "husband" who levels with her: He is one of a race of beings who populated a defunct planet and is searching for a new home—without the aid of their own females, all dead from the cataclysm. Their intent: to find a new home and breed successfully, perpetuating their own species. Hey, seems like a noble goal, but their means are a little questionable, what with the whole abducting men and impregnating their wives under false consent. How rude! The pure male humans, once finally convinced by Marge, have their typical reaction to such breaches of interstellar manners. Neither side considers negotiation in any way, even though "Bill" is making some inroads toward understanding, and there you got your 1950s science fiction type feature film. It's slow and somewhat clumsy, as one would expect, but there's a little more to I Married a Monster from Outer Space than one might expect. At first this was only due to its wild title, now we have the general '50s sci-fi stigma too—only enhancing the level of contrast between the expectations and the realities of this half-decent movie.
Gloria Talbott (whom Mystery Science Theater viewers and other psychotronic aficionados may remember as the judo expert from Girls Town) balances out the oppressively hunky Tom Tryon (The Story of Ruth) with her portrayal of a young woman in a progressive state of fray. It's unfortunate that her better nature is mostly established via comments from other characters ("I'd never doubt your sanity") rather than onscreen, because the net effect is to have her come off as something of a twit. A simple hobby would have been enough to establish her character a bit better—sure, the idea for this movie is to have a woman who lives for her husband and for women in the audience to identify with her romance (hence the male sex object)—but what the heck is she doing with herself all day other than suspecting her husband to be a monster? I mean, you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you know? Anyway, Talbott barely manages to handle the weight of this movie, which rests mostly on her shoulders—she stays afloat, but that's about all you can say for her. No name actress would touch a movie with this title in the '50s, though. Tryon, with less to do overall, has a part that's both easier—in that it requires almost no emotion, with Bill only established in a single short scene before his conversion to cold alien—and more fun, in that Bill-alien's scenes get most of the satire and humor. The standout performer, though, is Alan Dexter in his role as Bill's friend Sam. Sam is also taken over by an alien, but of a more sanguine mentality; he, perhaps realizing that the overall mission may prove fruitless, is determined to enjoy the moment, even in human form—quite unlike the grim "Bill," who seems to be almost as skeptical of the interspecies breeding as his wife. Dexter blows everybody else right off the screen in his few scenes.
The film is surprisingly slick for a '50s sci-fi entry; Paramount either spent a dime or two more than one would expect on this one, or producer/director Gene Fowler Jr. was good with budgets. The effects are right on par with those seen on Star Trek, only there's a few more of them and it's ten years earlier. The creature itself (which resembles the Salt Monster from an early Trek) is only so-so for its day, so it's enhanced with an optical flashing effect by longtime optical master John P. Fulton. The ray blasts are reasonable, and they match up well to the prop used to throw them—a three-pronged gun for a three-beamed laser. It sounds rudimentary, but that's exactly the kind of detail missing in a lot of sci-fi from this era. The star of the effects, though, is a darned nice matted smoke effect used to portray the aliens' takeover of human bodies. It's just a simple overlay effect, but it gives this nice hard-edged cloud. I liked it! A lot of simple matting effects can look great in black and white and this is one of them. There's also some juicy self-destructing on the part of the aliens, some really effective attack dogs, a bunch of screen drunks including a soused bartender caricature, and more! Also, there are a lot of exclamation points on the packaging! Just like there used to be on the posters for these movies when they were new! Annoying, isn't it! Just kidding, it's all part of the charm.
One thing you do not get in this movie, contradictory to my dim memories of having seen it on the tube in 1980 or so, is a horrific "wedding night" scene—implied so thoroughly by the poster and packaging that it insinuates itself into the memory without even being in the movie. Seems like a real missed chance—show Bill carrying Marge to bed, settling her gently down on it, track into a close-up of Bill, then flash lightning to reveal the alien face to the audience (but not to Marge)…that'd have been a real ovary-tightener, especially in 1958. David Cronenberg would give us the back half of this idea in vivid, gooey detail in his version of The Fly, but Married… chickens out on the whole concept, leaving the "screaming bride" image oblique. Come to think of it, I don't think Marge screamed even once through the whole movie. One could take that as proto-feminism, or it might just be because her horror is of the "slow realization" variety rather than shocks.
A problem is the movie mentality of the '50s, which leads to a literal presentation of a marriage that goes a full year in twin beds with no action. Now I'm aware of the social stigma of divorce in the '50s, but it does seem like the lady could have taken a trip to the doctor and gotten that document annulled. This is a problem, since Marge is clearly interested and "Bill" has a front to maintain, yet their marriage is little more than sharing a room, right from the very beginning—also, the dialogue's wording is more ambiguous regarding the pair's sexual activity, so the Ozzie and Harriet beds work not only against external logic but are slightly contrary to the script. And just what the heck is this movie trying to examine anyway? Well, it's highly flexible—you got your communism, you got your homosexuality within a hetero marriage, you got your general fears about marriage, and personally I had the most fun comparing the whole thing to Cuba. The aliens are refugees seeking a friendly shore, after all (okay, maybe the movie's just a bit too early for that, but it was still fun). But they're refugees operating under false pretense and with the desire to make more of their own ("Bill" does specify this at one point; the goal is to make pure aliens from alien/human crossbreeding. No wonder he's pessimistic!). I think the real question initiating this movie is "Can we make Body Snatchers for girls?" The further value in the piece seems purely a question of care and attention on the part of the movie's actual creators—in other words, it's a classic example of a low-expectation, low-risk genre piece from a large studio, serving as fertile ground for creators like Fowler and writer Louis Vittes because the bigwigs don't care enough to keep 'em in line.
Talbott and Tryon reprised their characters, in name only, for a 1998 TV remake of this movie, minus the "from Outer Space" in the title. They appeared as the parents of the bride.
This transfer of I Married a Monster from Outer Space is crisp and clear, if a little light in the black department. Motion compression is not a problem, and the film's monaural soundtrack is faithfully reproduced—although it seems a tad low on volume as a whole. I had to have my amplifier up about 30% over its usual movie-viewing volume in order to get a normal speaking level of dialogue. Paramount has put the disc in one of those annoying keep cases with the clasp tabs, which is annoying. More annoying, extras on this disc are a dream as shattered as Marge's dream of a happy marriage. Parmenides claimed that we cannot conceptualize nothing, the empty set. Now we have no need to form an abstract concept; the concept of "nothing" has been fully realized in this disc's selection of extras. Them bones, them bones, them bare bones, now hear the word of the Lord.
This is one of the better science fiction styled movies of the 1950s, with actual entertainment value as well as that of the artifact. It's great to finally see it out on DVD in a decent transfer, although at $14.99 with no features this disc is overpriced.
I Married a Monster from Outer Space is hereby granted a marriage license with the blood test waived. This movie has blindsided a lot of folks with its combination of attention-getting kitsch title, disturbing new combinations of schlocky old pulp ideas, and above-average film quality, and it's free to continue doing so. Paramount will be levied their usual fine for blowing off extras, and I can see them preparing the rubber stamp already. They're used to it.
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