Our film opens with a slow, cosmic pan of our solar system. But then things start to accelerate as we speed toward the third planet from the sun, through the atmosphere, and zero in on a city.
I believe this was supposed to be Chicago, but it's never verified as we continue to zoom in closer; to a street; to a building; and finally, a window, revealing a small apartment behind the glass.
Keeps on moving, the camera does once we switch to inside, where we see a woman sprawled out on the bed before finally settling on an alarm clock, which reads 1:30pm. And while we ponder if this woman is just some lazy late sleeper, we move back to the bed and spy an empty bottle of sleeping pills right beside a prone hand. But despite these clear signs of a suicidal tragedy, the woman stirs, fitfully, and then wakes up, groggy and disoriented, with an enormous headache.
Trying to pull herself together, this woman crawls off the bed and attempts to wash her face, but no water comes out of the spigot. Turns out the lights won't work either -- there's no electricity. Looking out the window, the city streets appear deserted and abnormally quiet for that time of day. Checking on her neighbors, she finds no one home -- but between their door being unlocked and the uneaten food on the table, all evidence shows the occupants must have left in one helluva hurry. But where? And why?
Heading outside, there is still no traffic, no movement, and no signs of life to greet our protagonist; it's also very quiet, too quiet -- he typed ominously, and thinking maybe she did die after all and this is her own version of purgatory, sheer panic starts to overwhelm this poor woman. And as her frantic search intensifies, she rounds a corner and trips over something.
And once she recovers her footing, the girl is shocked to see what she tripped over was the dead body of a woman! Slowly, she backs away from the corpse -- right into a man. And thinking he must be the killer by his proximity, the woman screams and runs away for him. But this mysterious stranger quickly gives chase, determined to catch her before she gets away...
When he was 14-years old, Herman Cohen got his older sister’s help in writing a letter to John H. Thorpe, who was the current Labor Commissioner for the State of Michigan. Seems young Cohen had been working nights at the Dexter Theater in his native Detroit since he was 11, assisting the janitors and guarding the exits for free movie passes for him and his family. Apparently, this was in violation of State Child Labor Laws at the time and Cohen had been caught working after hours on more than one occasion. And so, he intended to plead his case to Thorpe, asking for a special permit to continue working at the theater because, even at that age, Cohen knew working for the movies in some capacity was destined to be a lifelong career choice.
Impressed by the passionate letter, Thorpe delivered Cohen’s permit personally after summoning the boy to a meeting with him and the Superintendent of Detroit’s Board of Education, which allowed him to work until 10pm. Now in the clear, Cohen would often stretch that curfew until well past midnight, seven nights a week, where he graduated from janitor’s assistant to usher, to acting as a gofer for the projectionists, where he learned how to properly run all of the equipment -- in a later interview with Tom Weaver in Double Feature Creature Attack, Cohen recalled how “one operator drank a lot, and I remember that many times I used to get up on a chair and make the changeovers for him on nights when he was drinking too much!"
His first career move came at the age of 18, when he left the Dexter and went to work for the massive, 5000 seat Fox Theater, where he quickly became an assistant manager. After graduation and a stint in the Marines, Cohen moved back to Detroit in 1949 to take care of his ailing mother, landing a job with Columbia Pictures as a sales manager in their Detroit branch. When his mother passed away, Cohen pulled up stakes and moved to Hollywood, using connections he’d made to land a job in Columbia’s publicity department for Lou Smith, who had helped turn Rita Hayworth into a star in the 1940s.
Around this same time, fellow Detroiter Jack Broder decided he wanted to start producing movies. And the germ of this notion began back in 1946, when William Goetz took over Universal and rechristened it Universal International. Wanting to bring more prestige to the brand, Geotz ceased operations on the studios fabled B-unit, which essentially pulled the plug on their comedies, westerns, mysteries, serials, and their long-running horror franchises. And since the studio chief had no interest in Universal’s sizable back catalog, Broder, along with his partner, Joseph Harris, signed a deal with Goetz, leasing the rights to his inventory for the next 10 years, and formed Realart Pictures in 1948, which specialized in rebranding and repackaging these old films as revival double-bills.
These packages were a smash hit, sometimes even out-grossing Universal International’s newer product, and Realart prospered. But not quite enough to suit Broder. Seems theater owners would not pay premium rental prices for reissued films. And seeing a chance to make even more money, Jack Broder Productions was formed to create new product for Realart to distribute. And one of Broder’s first hires was the always opportunistic Cohen, who became Vice-President in Charge of Production.
First up was Curt Siodmak’s Bride of the Gorilla (1951), where a plantation owner (Raymond Burr) is cursed to turn into a hairy beast when the sun goes down, whose production would prove far more interesting than the film itself, including the tragic tale of lead actress and Hollywood Bad Girl, Barbara Payton, who was under contract at Warners but was currently loaned out to Broder as punishment for, and I quote Jack Warner, “@#%*ing everybody on the lot” -- including and not limited to Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Woody Strode, Guy Madison, George Raft, John Ireland and Steve Cochran.
Currently embroiled in an illicit ménage à trois with actors Tom Neal and Franchot Tone that ended violently shortly after the film was in the can, neither Neal nor Tone, Payton’s fiance at the time, were actually in the film, but well aware of the brewing trouble one of Cohen’s responsibilities was to run interference if both men ever showed up on set at the same time. In the aftermath, it was declared Tone lost the battle but won the whore.
Next was William “One Shot” Beaudine’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952), which featured the horribly -- make that painfully, unfunny comedy antics of a couple of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis knock-offs, Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, which seemed to ignite Cohen’s life-long obsession with men in monkey-suits.
Money was tight on these productions because Broder was notoriously cheap, and neither Broder nor Cohen really knew what they were doing. But unlike his boss, Cohen was anxious to learn the nuts and bolts of producing and production on films like Two Dollar Bettor (1951), The Basketball Fix (1951), The Bushwhackers (1952), and Battles of Chief Pontiac (1952), absorbing everything he could. But even after taking on more responsibilities, Cohen’s reward at Realart was never a pay bump but a switch in job titles or film credits. Thus, seeing where the money was really being made, Cohen was almost ready to cut ties with Broder, strike out on his own, and make a film for himself.
Now, it was also around this same time that Cohen met and formed a friendship with James Nicholson. Nicholson’s career had kinda mirrored Cohen’s up to this point. A long time lover of science fiction and fantasy, Nicholson started out as an usher at the El Rey Theater in San Francisco and soon graduated to projectionist. From there, he moved around the country, managing theaters in Omaha, Nebraska, where he was shot while being robbed of the box-office receipts. After recovering, he moved to Los Angeles in 1944, where he ran several revival houses with Joseph Moritz, where he showed great skills in promotions and ballyhoo, and eventually purchased the Academy Theater located on Hollywood Boulevard.
But then Nicholson got very sick, and after a lengthy stay in the hospital nearly bankrupted him, he lost his theater. Here, Broder threw him a lifeline and hired the ace promoter on at Realart, where Nicholson became Cohen’s assistant and thrived in the publicity department, showing a talent for coming up with snappy new titles and ad campaigns for all those re-releases. And when Cohen inevitably left Realart, Nicholson was promoted to take his place.
Once on his own, Cohen immediately formed Herman Cohen Productions and struck a three-way deal with Robert Lippert and his Lippert Productions and Nat (no relation) Cohen and his British-based Anglo-Amalgamated to produce a series of low-budget films in London, which Cohen would then distribute in America through Lippert, which included the supernatural thriller Ghost Ship (1952), the spies and intrigue of Undercover Agent (1953), and the crimes and misdemeanors of River Beat (1954). And with all of this cumulative experience, Cohen was finally ready to make a movie all on his own.
Then, in March, 1953, as the legend goes, Cohen and Nicholson met for lunch one fateful day, where they passed a newsstand on North Las Palmas and a certain magazine caught Nicholson’s eye -- or Cohen’s eye, depending on who was telling the tale. Either way, what drew them both to this particular issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction was a short story by Ivar Jorgenson called The Deadly City.
Jorgenson was a pen name for author Paul Fairman, who had been writing and editing for the pulps since his first short story, Late Rain, was published in the February, 1947, edition of Mammoth Adventure Magazine. His first novel, Invasion from the Deep, came along in 1951, and he was the founding editor for If before switching over to Amazing Stories Magazine, where he stayed until 1958.
Within the raised type of The Deadly City, Fairman weaves us a mystery, which focused on five people -- a suicidal prostitute, a lost traveler, a drunken hooligan, his submissive girlfriend, and an escaped psychopath, who were all left behind for some reason or other in the seemingly abandoned city of Chicago. Where once stood 3.5 million people, now there were only five, moving through the deserted streets, trying to find someone, anyone, else, while trying to figure out what exactly happened here.
But while the grist of this tale is more concerned with the melodrama of the crisis within this small disparate group of people than the tempest without, there is still a sense of foreboding and impending doom in Fairman's prose as to what caused all of this that seems to be circling ever closer -- this was a tale of science fiction after all, which kicks off with a stellar opening prologue, setting the stage for what was to follow when that cause finally revealed itself: “You're all alone in a deserted city. You walk down an empty street, yearning for the sight of one living face -- one moving figure. Then you see a man on a corner and you know your terror has just begun…"
Which is where we came in, as the woman flees for her life from this stranger, who calls after her, promising no harm, until she’s finally cornered in a dead-end alley. Caught, when she becomes hysterical, he resorts to some manhandling (-- rather roughly), and finally has to slap the girl to snap her out of this fit.
Asked why she ran away, her reply is simple: because he's a murderer. The stranger denies this and, talking slowly and calmly, he gets her name, Nora King (Crowley), and rationalizes that he couldn't be the killer until she at last settles down. (If not, I guess you could just slap her silly again, ya big bully.) Introducing himself as Frank Brooks (Denning), he then relates his own tale of woe:
Seems while waiting out a train layover, our traveling salesmen mistakenly flashed a large bank-roll in a bar to the wrong people. A couple of thugs then rolled him after several drinks, knocked him out, and dumped him in an alley, where he didn't wake up until sometime after noon. Nora offers that she, too, woke up late, but doesn't mention the overdose of pills. And now they're together. Alone. Meaning somehow, in the last ten hours, while they were both out of it, the entire city has been evacuated without them.
Frank feels it must’ve been some kind of natural catastrophe, while Nora fears an H-Bomb attack is imminent -- or worse, some kind of germ warfare. But he doesn't think that's very likely; surely an enemy wouldn't give enough advance notice to evacuate this many people before unleashing the gas. Regardless, with all the stray bodies he's come across, Frank feels they face certain death unless they get out of town, too.
And so, quite inexplicably, and counter-intuitively, they head downtown, where they come across an electronics store. Here, Frank stops and breaks in, hoping to find a portable radio and a news broadcast. Once inside, Nora tries the phone but they aren't working either. Finding only one portable radio, this is one too many because there are no batteries to be found. But before they can get too frustrated by this development, the sound of music slowly filters into the store.
Tracing the tune to a nearby nightclub, they find a woman inside playing a piano, who, after finishing the song, and her drink, calls the bartender for a refill. Answering this call, another man pops up from behind the bar with a bottle of champagne. Now, despite the drunken couple's heated bickering, Frank and Nora risk talking to them in hopes of finding out what's been going on. They prove friendly enough, but turns out these two lushes have been on one helluva bender since the night before last; and so, both Jim Wilson (Reeves) and Vicki Harris (Grey) are blissfully unaware that anything has gone wrong and are ecstatic that all the booze is now free.
After Frank gets them up to speed, he suggests they should all head outside the city to safety. But the sozzled couple are more than content to just stay put and drink their way through this supposed apocalypse. Not wanting to leave them behind, Nora suggests they should all hit the famous Club Royal together. Catching on to Nora's plan as Wilson scoffs, saying that joint's five miles outside of town, Frank plays along, offering there are plenty of other drinking establishments for 'pit stops' along the way. With that option, Wilson and Vicki happily agree to a pub-crawl their way toward the city limits and, hopefully, safety.
Outside, they spot an abandoned car -- well, not quite abandoned because the owner is still inside it, dead, with no sign of violence -- just like the woman in the alley. And while the keys are still in the ignition it won't start; and a quick check under the hood finds the distributor cap is missing.
Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, another wretched refugee pops up, who warns all the cars left in the city have been sabotaged that way. Remembering a similar tactic used during the war so enemy combatants couldn’t usurp any abandoned vehicles, Frank and the others keep listening as the shell-shocked Otis (Marshall) describes how he came from the southern part of town, which had been torn apart and razed to the ground, with hundreds if not thousands of casualties amongst the ruins.
But before they can ask who attacked the city, Vicki screams and points to a strange and menacing shadow looming large on a nearby building -- and whatever is casting this silhouette is most definitely not human!
Scrambling to get out of sight, Frank herds them all into a nearby hotel, where they find the lobby littered with newspapers screaming of an INVASION! by unknown forces, which apparently landed just outside the city. Further reading reveals it was the military who ordered the strategic evacuation that missed them all. Meantime, the half-crazed Otis feels they’re not safe and should keep moving; but the others want to hole-up here, regroup, and plan the most effective escape route.
Out-voted, Otis strikes out on his own but doesn’t get very far. No, he barely reaches the street before a large, metallic robot stomps its way outside of the opposite building.
And as the others helplessly watch out the lobby window, the robot zeroes in on his target and fires some kind of death-ray from its large cyclopean eye, which strikes the fleeing Otis, who quickly falls dead. Ordering everyone to flee upstairs, Frank brings up the rear as they all quickly get out of sight before that metal monstrosity, that is most definitely not of this Earth, targets them, too...
And so, just like with Fairman’s short story, turns out our protagonists face an extraterrestrial invasion. On the page, it all began two days prior when a battalion of belligerent aliens landed and leveled half of Michigan. And as they moved south, the military began to evacuate everyone below the Illinois-Missouri border as part of a plan to surround these invaders and keep them trapped against the Great Lakes. Nicholson got first crack at adapting The Deadly City into a screenplay, which Cohen bought off of him for $250.
Changing the title to Target Earth (1954), he then turned the script over to William Raynor and Wyott Ordung, who knew a thing or two about writing screenplays for low budget science fiction films with the likes of Phantom from Space (1953) and Killers from Space (1954) on Raynor’s resume, and Robot Monster (1953) and Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) lurking on Ordung’s.
And since this was to be Cohen’s first solo film production, he had to scrounge up all the financing on his own, too. To that end, he took his spec-script and a proposed budget of $100,000 to Walter Mirisch and Steve Broidy, who had just rebranded the old Monogram Studio as Allied Artists in an attempt to elevate them out of Poverty Row status. And this strategy had worked with the release of what Mirisch called B-Plus pictures as budgets expanded for their top bills, including color film stuck, but they still needed dirt-cheap product to fill the bottom bills like Target Earth.
Liking Cohen’s enthusiastic pitch, Allied Artists agreed to fund half of the film’s budget if the young producer could match the amount. With that, Cohen flew to New York for a meeting with Alan Freidman, the head of Deluxe Labs, who agreed to put up the other half of the money and cover the costs of the prints until the film went into circulation. However, despite this success, which allowed the picture to go into production, money was still very tight and a lot of compromises were made for a tale about a group of people caught in the crossfire between unstoppable robotic invaders and the U.S. military.
We’ve already seen one sterling example of how talking is cheaper than action as we never see the invasion -- which we get second hand as our hero reads it verbatim from a newspaper, nor the aftermath of the alien’s devastating attack -- just a first hand account by a rather convenient plot device, Otis, who doesn’t last long after taking his plot dump.
And this tell don’t show trend continued as we cut away from the hotel to the forward HQ of the gathered military, where we find out they really don’t know much more than our refugees. The running consensus is these rampaging robots are of extraterrestrial origin -- and probably from Venus. And after an entire crack airborne division was completely slaughtered by these Venusian automatons (-- once more completely off-screen, *yawn*), General Wood (Space), who's in charge of this operation, changes strategies and calls in an air-strike. (Cue the stock footage!)
Back at the hotel in their commandeered suite, the noise of the attack bombers draws everyone's attention to the window, raising fears they might be sitting on ground zero. But, before a single bomb can be dropped on them, that alien death-ray sweeps the sky clean.
Twice witnessing these awesome destructive capabilities, our stalwart group tries to plan their next move until they slowly realize here is no move to make: they came from the north; Otis came from the south; the aliens landed to the east; and the Air Force just got obliterated coming from the west; thus, they're completely surrunded by the enemy with no means of escape.
Finding this situation rather ironic, Nora says yesterday she wouldn't have cared about dying today. When asked to explain, she confesses to her failed suicide attempt. Turns out Frank had suspected as much, and then asks if she's changed her mind about not having any reason to live. She says yes, and they both exchange a smile. Yep. She's fallen for the big lug-nut -- and I don't mean the robot!
Back at army HQ, General Wood receives word that the atomic field-artillery pieces have finally arrived; but it will take some time to get them operational before they can, hopefully, bloody the invaders’ noses a bit. Obviously, the General doesn't like using atomic weapons on American soil but he has little choice in the matter because nothing else seems to be working. And knowing full well his beleaguered forces can't hold the line much longer, allowing the enemy to break out of the city, Wood is about to sign the order to fire-when-ready just as word comes they've finally captured one of the invaders!
Here, Wood is told his P.O.W. is just a robot, and not some alien encased in body-armor. Completing his initial examination on the defunct machine, the head scientist (Bissel) sadly concludes the only reason they caught this one is because it most likely malfunctioned somehow, with the only visible damage being a cracked faceplate.
Even a cursory look at the robot's exterior shows that it's far beyond our own terrestrial technology (-- I know, just roll with it). Further deduction shows it must be remote-controlled by electromagnetic impulses keyed to a cathode-ray tube socked somewheres inside the head piece, which proves out when further study of the "corpse" reveals the tube which processed these control signals somehow broke, rendering it useless. (Cheap Venusian crap!)
Thus, the gathered experts try to determine how far away the transmitting aliens could be, hoping to triangulate the source signal, and then wipe it out. Not as easy as it sounds for they can find no attanae, meaning they could be anywhere -- even back on Venus. Stll, Wood takes this as a good sign; the seemingly invincible invaders can be stopped. But the scientists remind him that the robots are still bullet proof, so another frontal attack would be just as fruitless as the last until they figure out what cracked that tube.
Later, at the hotel, after scrounging some food and candles, the two couples spread out a bit, allowing Nora to confess to Frank as to why she tried to kill herself. Seems she and her husband were involved in a car crash six months ago. They were arguing over something stupid. She survived. He didn’t, and the guilt and loneliness finally caught up with her last night. Assuring this wasn't her fault, Frank encourages Nora to get some rest.
Indubitably, since this is the 1950s, Vicki and Nora will tak the bedroom while Frank and Wilson sack out in the living area. But come the dawn, Nora hears someone trying to break in and screams. Alerted, the men try to hold the door but two gunshots convince them to open up, revealing a very greasy-looking assailant named Davis (Roark).
Assuming he's a looter, the intruder claims valuables aren't what he's after and turns a lecherous eye toward the women. Bullying his way inside, Davis takes them all hostage and constantly reminds them he's in charge because of the gun, which Vicki notes sure looks like a standard police revolver.
Ignoring her, he follows Nora into the kitchen area and tries to get friendly, saying she can be safe with him or be dead like the others. Yeah, it seems Davis plans to use them all as decoys, bait, to lure the robots away so he can sneak into the sewers and then walk under the enemy to safety scot free. Nora counter offers with a slap across the face, calling him crazy. With that, Davis just shrugs off this rejection, and then forces everyone down to the lobby.
Meanwhile, with the clock ticking down, General Wood opens this latest scientific briefing with a plea, saying this will be the last chance to give him a non-nuclear solution. With about five minutes left before the missiles are fired, the head technician starts cranking up an oscillator, bombarding the captured robot's head with sonic waves. And while the metal casing does begin to vibrate, the electronic innards stubbornly refuse to break. Desperate, they crank up the volume even further.
Things are also reaching a crucible back at the hotel, where Davis is threatening to shoot Wilson since Vicki refuses to check outside for any robots. When she at last concedes, the hostage spots one down the street, heading away from the hotel. Then, when Vicki finally recognizes Davis as a convicted killer, the creep cops to murdering a guard and stealing his gun during the evacuation before revealing his plan of using them all as bait.
But Wilson refuses to be his pigeon, and Vicki concurs, saying there are four of them and one is bound to get him -- and the whole thing is moot anyway, she says, because he hasn’t got the guts to shoot. (I pause to remind you, m'dear, that he has killed several people already!)
With that, Davis shoots Vicki dead. (I warned ya!) Then Frank lunges at him, and takes a bullet in the arm, giving Wilson the opening he needs to get a hold of the little creep and strangle him to death.
Alas, all that noise has alerted the robot to their presence; and as it crashes through the window, Wilson empties the revolver with no effect.
When the robot counters with its death-ray, our dwindling group retreats back up the steps, where they are chased all the way up to the roof (-- well, give him a second, Mr. Clunky-Pants is having some trouble negotiating those steps).
And while Wilson tries to hold it off at the door, the others try to find another way down. No go; they're stuck.
And after the robot bursts through the door, it blasts Wilson dead and then closes in on Frank and Nora!
Trapped for good this time, Frank embraces the girl and they wait for the end, together. But salvation comes when the air is pierced with a strange, high-pitched shriek. Then, the robot starts to falter as the noise gets closer.
Looking over the side, the couple spots a convoy of army jeeps mounted with loudspeakers moving down the street. And when the robot finally keels over and fritzes-out for good, Frank signals the convoy and they stop.
Asked if they know they're in a live combat zone, Frank gives them the quick version of their predicament, and then asks what that noise was. A Captain explains it's an oscillator, and the sound vibrations are disrupting the inner workings of the robots, knocking them out and rendering them useless.
Nora asks if it's over, then. To which the Captain replies, yes, they've stopped them -- this time! And they were lucky, too: for if the cathode-ray tubes were made out of the same metal as their armor, then all the oscillators in the world would’ve been useless. (I wouldn't say that very loud, amigo.) But he assures Nora not to worry, though, because their top scientists are already working on how to counteract that variable even as they speak. He then tells them to pile in and they'll get Frank to a medic. And after the oscillator cranks back up, sending out the world saving signal once again, they head for home.
One of the biggest changes that Cohen, Raynor and Ordung made to Fairmont's original story was subbing in those lethal, remote-controlled robots for the alien invaders. There were no robots at all in the story, and Fairman does better when his extraterrestrial menace is kept to the shadows and all our protagonists hear is a melancholy howl, or “a high, thin whine -- a wordless vibration of eloquence” that “needled out of the darkness and into their ears” as it echoed along the empty canyons of the abandoned city, where it was answered and amplified all around them.
It’s rather chilling on the page, and for something that could’ve been pulled off rather easily and cheaply on film it’s surprising this aspect wasn’t exploited further in Cohen's adaptation. Then, all of this atmosphere in the story is kinda ruined during the climax when the aliens are finally revealed: Humanoid in shape, honestly, Fairmont kinda drops the ball, here, as he doesn’t do much more to describe them beyond being rather thin and gangly, with a rudimentary description of the advanced weapons they carry. And to make matters even worse, the aliens are not defeated through military cunning or ingenuity but simply drop dead all at once with the barest of nods that they probably couldn’t adjust to something in our atmosphere.
Which leads to the other major change made in the script, where the film cashes in on the burgeoning invasion by the “other” / Red Scare tropes of vigilance and paranoia of the 1950s, where our protagonists face off against something both inhuman and indestructible, with no fear or feeling, who will not stop until we and our way of life has been subjugated or obliterated. But fear not, because good old American know-how combined with American military might will always be there to save the day. But! As the soldier warns in the denouement, we must always be prepared and ever vigilant, because those Commies -- sorry, those aliens will inevitably be back.
Beyond that the movie stays fairly faithful to the story, whose true focus is on the characters and the rightful climax is when Wilson strangles Davis to death after he murders Vicki -- the alien invasion is basically just a framing device. There were a few minor changes to the characters, too, with Nora going through the biggest overhaul, changing her from a bitter prostitute to a lonely widower. In the story, when things get desperate and Frank and Nora look to each other for comfort, there are thoughts of marriage if they get out of this alive, which quickly dissipate once the crisis has passed. However, it does end cryptically, so a happy ending might be in order after all. In the film adaptation, there is no question our newly minted couple are in it together for the long haul.
Still, we do have some pretty atypical characters for this kind of genre piece: a heroine who tried to commit suicide; a hero who doesn't have all the answers -- and in point of fact, leads them into danger instead of out it; and the other two protagonists are both raging alcoholics. The late entry of the armed killer seemed a little forced, and works better in the short story because he’s introduced a lot earlier; but I guess they had to get them out of that hotel room somehow.
And the cast pulling them off is rock solid with future genre stalwarts Richard Denning -- Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Day the World Ended (1955), Kathleen Crowley -- The Flame Barrier (1958), Curse of the Undead (1959), and Virginia Grey -- Unknown Island (1948), Black Zoo (1963), anchoring things nicely. And it should be noted the one weak-link, Robert Roark, who played the creep, was the son of one of those financiers, which explains ah-lot.
As for the FX, I would qualify them as cheap but surprisingly effective even though they were under-utilized. Sure, upon first glance the refrigerator-box frame and spare air-duct parts origin of the arms and legs of the invaders war machines are hard to overlook, but if you can manage to get past all that and notice the Venusian robot's squat nature and odd body proportions, you realize it doesn't necessarily scream out, "Hey, look, there's a guy in a robot suit!"
Here is also where the adaptation breaks down a bit with the robot itself. I mean, these aliens have the technology to build these nearly indestructible machines, transport them to Earth, and can control them all the way from Venus, but their technology is still based on glass tubes and transistors? Ho-kay?!
Designed and constructed by David Koehler, the suit was worn by Steve Calvert, who also played the gorillas in both of Cohen's earlier films -- in fact, Calvert's entire career consisted of playing gorillas and other strange beasties in things ranging from Mark of the Gorilla (1950) to The Bride and the Beast (1958). And at some point you probably also noticed that we never see more than one of these automatons in action at a time. Well, there's a good reason for that, too.
See, with such a meager budget, Koehler was only able to mass produce one robot suit, and that's why we never see the advancing robot army -- just the "advanced scout." Most of everything else, combat wise, is never shown but recounted. And what little we do get to see is sourced from stock-footage -- most notably when the jets are wiped out. In the story they are hit by a beam of “blue fire” and disintegrate into atoms. In the film, more recycled footage and a quick optical.
To make all of this come together, Cohen hired Sherman Rose to both direct and edit the picture. Rose was a well-heeled editor at the time in both film and TV, including cutting a couple of pictures for Broder at Realart. Target Earth would be his directorial debut. Rose also worked in tandem with his wife, Kay, who would serve as the sound designer on the film, and Target Earth would be her first onscreen credit.
Sherman Rose would direct just two more features before sliding back into the editing booth, while Kay Rose would continue to work in sound and had quite the prolific career, working on things ranging from Roger Corman’s The Comedy of Terrors (1963), to Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969), to Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1973), while eventually winning an Academy Award for Sound Design on Mark Rydell’s The River (1984). And she had such an impact in the field, in October, 2002, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg endowed the Kay Rose Chair in the Art of Sound and Dialogue Editing at the School of Cinema-Television, USC.
All the interior scenes for Target Earth were shot at the old Charlie Chaplin studios, while the exteriors were filmed on the streets of Los Angeles over several weekends, very early in the morning, without permission or permits, when everyone else was still asleep and the streets were empty. In that same interview with Weaver, Cohen later related how one shot was ruined when a church service ended and the congregation poured out onto the street in the middle of a take. But despite all of these limitations and difficulties, both Rose and Cohen got the film done in about eight shooting days and brought it in under budget for $85,000.
When Target Earth and Cohen’s follow up feature, Magnificent Roughnecks (1956) -- also directed by Rose, became modest hits for Allied Artists, when compared to their budgets, mind you, the producer, still in his 20s, soon drew attention from Max Goldstein at United Artists, who quickly signed him to a four picture deal. Cohen had little input on what these pictures would be as he was essentially a gun for hire. And so, he was assigned a couple of westerns, The Brass Legend (1955) and Fury at Showdown (1957), a musical comedy, Dance with Me, Henry (1956), which would be the last time Abbott and Costello would appear together on film, and a film noir, Crimes of Passion (1957), which received glowing reviews from the critics but absolutely fizzled at the box office.
Disappointed with these returns and disenchanted with the lack of choice and studio strings attached to his productions, when his contract ran out Cohen was anxious to go back into business for himself again. Needing to do a picture fast to stay relevant, Cohen wound up getting an offer from his old friend, James Nicholson. See, since Cohen had left Realart, Nicholson also aspired to leave and produce his own films. He talked to Cohen about forming an independent production company together but his friend had just signed on with UA, making him under contract and unavailable.
And then came that fateful day when Alex Gordon, Edward D. Wood Jr., and Gordon’s lawyer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, marched into Broder’s office, threatening him with legal action over stealing a title from one of Gordon and Wood’s proposed scripts, The Atomic Monster -- later filmed as Bride of the Monster (1955), and slapping it onto a re-release of the Lon Chaney Jr. vehicle, Man Made Monster (1941).
Here, Nicholson was impressed that Arkoff managed to secure a settlement from the notorious tightwad Broder and soon stuck up a friendship, which eventually led to a partnership and the formation of American Releasing Corporation (ARC) in 1954, which later morphed into American International Pictures (AIP), when the little studio that could really got to rolling in the mid-1950s. And one of the films that really put them on the map was Cohen’s first production for them, I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). But that, Boils and Ghouls, is another kooky tale for another full moon.
As for Target Earth? Well, I liked it a whole bunch despite its flaws. Like the source story, it starts really strong with a sense of desperate isolation -- so much so it borders on desolation despite the fact everything is still standing. Admittedly, it does fall apart in the third act a little, but it still works for me. Why? Well, that's easy:
I love vintage sci-fi movies with big clunky robots in them. I also like cosmic death-rays blowing things up; and square-jawed heroes who can think fast and use their fists; and I like pretty heroines who do more than scream and can handle themselves when shit goes down; and I really, really like it when the army comes to the rescue in the end and kicks a modicum of alien butt before the closing credits roll. Thus, I think Target Earth overachieves well past its budget limitations with a minimalist, no-nonsense approach that would become a staple for Herman Cohen’s entire career.
Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's 20 films down with SIX yet to go. Up next, Stop me if you've heard this one before but it happened to a friend of my cousin's cousin's uncle who swears it's all true...
Target Earth (1954) Abtcon Pictures :: Herman Cohen Productions :: Allied Artists / P: Herman Cohen / D: Sherman A. Rose / W: William Raynor, James H. Nicholson, Wyott Ordung, Paul W. Fairman (Short Story) / C: Guy Roe / E: Sherman A. Rose / M: Paul Dunlop / S: Richard Denning, Kathleen Crowley, Virginia Grey, Richard Reeves, Robert Roark, Mort Marshall, Arthur Space, Whit Bissell