This Sunday at Film Forum: The Original “War of the Worlds”


This Sunday, April 10, 2016, at 11am the Film Forum in New York will be showing the 1953 George Pal version of War of the Worlds. 

When I was a kid, this was my fourth favorite movie, right behind The Wizard of Oz, The Poseidon Adventure and The Ten Commandments. Of course, as with these other films, I initially saw it at a young age, when the impact was greatest. To this day, this movie gives me that old fashioned queasy feeling you want from a horror movie; it still has greater power to affect me than most any other “alien invasion” film, including and especially modern ones. It has this wonderful apocalyptic tone to it. When I was a kid I was especially hard hit by the scenes toward the end where people are seeking refuge in a church — and it wasn’t a protection. It was merely where they went for the end. Then there’s the gorgeous Technicolor (and how the aliens see color ends up being important plot point). And that amazing sound effect of the alien death device, which is so distinctive. I conjure it in my brain immediately whenever I think of the movie. And that POWERFUL scene at the end, where we finally see an alien — at least a portion of an alien: its dying, three-fingered hand. As a cinematic moment, it reminds me a lot of the withering of the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz. 

Like my other three favorite movies (and of course most of the Great Universal horror classics) it was based on a work of literature, and it was thus one of the first times I had the opportunity to compare and contrast a Hollywood movie with its source material. To this day, I think this adaptation is ingenious in how it updates H.G. Wells’ Edwardian era novel with contemporary (1950s) fears and realities and technologies.

The cast, of course, (with the exception of Cedric Hardwicke’s voiceover) are completely forgettable. As many times as I’ve seen it, I have to struggle to summon Gene Barry’s undistinguished features. In fact, a few months ago when Rod Taylor passed away, I misremembered him as the star of this picture. But of course, he was not. He was the star of The Time Machine, another great one. At any rate, as we all know, this film has no star, at least no human star. The stars of this film…are not of this earth.

War of the Worlds must be great projected onto the big screen. I’ve only ever seen it on TV! More info and tickets here. 

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