This Island Earth

This Island Earth, 1955. Dir. Joseph Newman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. The title sequence starts with blaring trumpets and trombones. It’s not an easy sound, but at least it shuts the audience up, or wakes them up, depending. To be fair, it does segue pretty quickly into a kind of thin, nervy organ sound to accompany the shots of space, and that lurch from blaring to nervy is pretty unsettling, especially if you’re wearing a hat.
  2. One of the actors is called Rex Reason, which is my new favourite actor’s name, after Red Buttons and Timothy Olyphant.
  3. The first scene is an aerial shot of Washington, with even blarier trumpets. Next thing you know, a bunch of reporters with HUGE flashbulbs are clustered round Dr Cal Meacham, a nuclear scientist-pilot-adventurer-national hero hybrid, draped seductively on the wing of a fighter plane, parked back of the White House. They don’t want to keep him long. Dr Meacham laughs (they ALL laugh) and then he puts a flying suit over his business suit. Nobody thinks that at all strange. But maybe that’s because all male children in the US back in the 50s were born in a business suit. And when the nurse delivered them, she tied the umbilical cord in a windsor knot.
  4. Turns out, Dr Meacham is played by Rex Reason. He sounds exactly as you might expect a 1950s hero to talk, which is essentially Zapp Brannigan on steroids. I’m going to call this character Rex from now on, because it’s quicker to type.
  5. Rex flies off in an airfix model of a jet fighter, blowing the reporters’ hats off. Next thing you know he’s buzzing a control tower in the desert. Would it be too much just to land, Rex? I suppose it shows his recklessness, sense of adventure, love of all things phallic.
  6. Turns out, Rex has fucked the plane up with his daring aerobatics (why they ever lent him the plane, I don’t know. I’m guessing he’s probably done this before). Rex is about to crash – but he’s saved by a mysterious green light that takes control of his ship, flashing on and off and waggling his joystick. Rex stares at his lap. He can’t believe his luck.
  7. Turns out the station is a nuclear research facility. Rex isn’t just a pilot, he’s a nuclear scientist. He shucks off his flying suit and gets straight to work, lowering a hunk of lead into a cylinder with one of those grabby claws you see at the fair. SIDE NOTE: I’m obsessed with Rex’ hair. It’s so thickly gelled he must brush it with a trowel.
  8. There’s a nuclear meltdown. Explosion and fire. Rex and his assistant Joe don’t seem that bothered, though. Joe shows him the reactor core that burned out the day before. They don’t have to go far. It’s sitting on his desk. Rex strokes it lovingly. Don’t worry, says Joe. I ordered another one. This is Three Mile Island all over again.
  9. More hokey science shit. It’s quarter of an hour into the film and the only sign of an alien is a green light and a vibrating joystick. I’d be throwing popcorn. We waste another five minutes watching Joe sign for an Amazon delivery he didn’t order. SIDE NOTE: Rex’s suit is not the same one he had on under his flying suit. When did that happen? Maybe he had to change it after the nuclear meltdown – although there wasn’t any splashback, so why would he need to?
  10. Spooky music (oboes, the only blowy instrument that doesn’t suck). Turns out, the Amazon package is a manual printed on metal paper, with impressive electronic instructions. Joe reads it over Rex’ shoulder. ‘Here’s something my wife could use in the house’ he says. ‘An interociter incorporating an electron sorter’. Rex smiles and replies: ‘Yes, Joe, but she’d gain twenty pounds while it did all the work.’ So they should rename the film This Sexist Fucker Island Earth.
  11. Based on the manual they order a shit-load more stuff from Amazon. Turns out it’s flatpack, self-assembly. 2,486 parts says Rex, checking the document, no mention of an allen key. (Or alien key – pause for laughter). Rex takes his jacket off, rolls his sleeves up. This is where we get to see how much of a hero he REALLY is.
  12. Montage. You gotta love a good montage. And this is a great one. With xylophones. Despite this, my favourite montage is still Ashley Judd getting in shape for her escape and revenge in the hit movie Double Jeopardy.
  13. Basically what they end up with is a twin tub with a nuclear symbol on the front. ‘Plug it in Joe and see what happens,’ says Rex, as flip with his gadgets as he is with his jet aircraft. However, you can’t help but notice Rex is holding a spare part in his hands. That’s never a good sign with flatpack. You should never have anything left over except an allen key. And maybe a large measure of self-loathing.
  14. The twin tub starts flashing and talking to them in a patronising way (it’ll fit right in on Earth). ‘Use the intensifier disc,’ says the voice. ‘The one in your hand’ it says. I’m guessing the alien has been around the galaxy a few too many times and it’s running out of patience with lower life forms. Even ones as perfect as Rex.
  15. Rex inserts the disc, turns it 18 degrees to the left, as per. The screen lights up (turns out the whole thing was just a primitive flat screen TV). At last! An alien – which turns out, disappointingly, also to be wearing a suit. It also has an unearthly tan and ludicrous hair, so prefiguring Trump by a good few years. The alien congratulates Rex on completing the task. The alien says he’s a scientist, just like Rex. He’s called Exeter. (Maybe they’re all named after the cities and towns of Devon & Cornwall, for some reason. Maybe later on we’ll meet his sister, Paignton.)
  16. This whole twin tub thing was a kind of interview, to see if Rex was good enough to be given a job. He passed, so Exeter says to meet the plane they’ll be sending Wednesday at 9. Then he disintegrates the manual and blows up the twin tub. Which is a great way to end any interview.
  17. Cut to: Rex and some guy in a hat driving in the fog in a jeep with the shonkiest looking windscreen wipers ever to appear on film. Is Rex working them with his foot? I’m guessing it’s nine o’clock or thereabouts, because where’s the value in seeing what Rex and Joe did to fill the time between the twin tub blowing up and Exeter landing the plane. Although actually I can think of a whole film that might satisfy that. The point is, it’s foggy. Which adds to the mystery (and eases the special effects bill).
  18. The plane lands despite the fog. Rex looks inside. A bare interior with a simple chair. No frills. A bit like EasyJet. There’s no pilot, either, just a nuclear symbol on the dash and a Robbie the Robot air freshener. Rex makes himself comfortable, manspreading to his heart’s content.
  19. The plane lands at a backwoods strip in Georgia. He’s met by Ruth Adams, a doctor, who says Exeter asked her to meet him. Rex is happier to see her than Ruth is to see him, for some reason. She mentions a conference they both went to a few years ago – thermo problems in nuclear reactors – but the way she says it sounds more like she’s talking about something else entirely. ‘Boston, wasn’t it?’ she says. ‘Vermont!’ says Rex, sounding angry. They’re definitely talking about another kind of problem.
  20. On the drive to meet Exeter, Ruth tells Rex all about the club that Exeter has set up for their work. It’s all beginning to sound a little culty, but Rex doesn’t mind. He still can’t get over the fact that Ruth thought it was Boston when it was obviously Vermont.
  21. Ruth shows him around the club house. The is the hallway. This is the living room. This is the lift down to the laboratory and slave quarters.
  22. After a bunch of international scientists stroll by to say hello, a guy who looks exactly like Exeter goes to the lab lift and gives Rex a meaningful look, a bit like Joe but not as wholesome. ‘Who’s that?’ says Rex, straightening his tie. ‘That’s Brack’ says Ruth. ‘One of Exeter’s assistants.’ Honestly, they look exactly alike. The least they could do is wear t-shirts or name badges.
  23. Exeter calls them into his office. They sit whilst he explains the mission – to end war, with the help of scientists. Rex strokes his chin. He’s interested but not convinced. Ruth gives him a sideways look. She’s remembering what he was like back in Boston.
  24. Actually, Exeter sounds a lot like Kelsey Grammar. Which would be a great casting choice for the remake.
  25. Exeter takes them on a virtual tour of the club using another one of the twin tub flat screens. He shows Rex the lab he’ll be using – ‘Still under construction,’ says Exeter, which is a classic estate agent ruse, and not to be trusted. They catch Brack in there, fiddling about. ‘Everything in order?’ says Exeter. ‘Yes,’ says Brack. Actually, I take it back about Brack. He looks like Tom Hiddleston made up to look like Donald Trump. Which is another casting suggestion for the remake.
  26. Everyone dresses for a formal dinner. Afterwards, Ruth and her friend Steve (er hem) takes Rex to look at the underground labs. Ruth has a cat in her lab. It’s called Neutron. ‘We call him that because he’s so positive.’ And as all the trivia forums are at pains to point out: NEUTRONS HAVE NO CHARGE. Which I have to say is still true for most cats, most of the time.
  27. Another casting suggestion for the remake: Eddie the dog from Frasier could totally nail the part of Neutron.
  28. Rex admires the lab – particularly the big lead slab hanging from chains. ‘That’s the same size lead I use in my lab,’ he says, flicking it suggestively with his finger. Steve looks uneasy.
  29. Exeter and Brack have a scene together (but not in that way). In some fine alien exposition we learn that they need all these scientists to help them find more energy (for some reason – aren’t they more advanced than us?). Brack is more hawkish. He wants to electronically lobotomise the subjects so they’ll be more submissive; Exeter thinks that’ll make them less able to hold a test tube, although they’ll be savings on the entertainments bill. Exeter and Brack are interrupted by an important message from Orson or someone – their superior, anyway. Their planet is in immediate danger from a failing layer of hokey science business. There’s no more time. They must fly back home and bring the scientists with them. Brack is thrilled; Exeter, less so.
  30. Ruth, Steve and Rex sneak out in a dreadful old car, escaping to the airport or something. They’re bombarded with neutron beams (nothing to do with the cat), that entirely miss every time until Ruth and Rex bail into a river so that Rex’ competition can be safely incinerated. Another scientist waves from the bank. He’s also zapped. So from this we can only assume it’s easier for a neutron beam to hit a scientist than a dreadful old car. Maybe the scientists have higher densities of chalk.
  31. Finally! A flying saucer. VERY much like a hubcap. Satisfying in the way only hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers can be. Cheap, but unaccountably satisfying. A bit like the whole film.
  32. The way Ruth runs. Honestly. She has to fling her arms about and stagger endlessly, looking distressed and tearful, while Rex plods with his suit and chin and comfortable shoes. It’s not easy being a female scientist, then or now.
  33. Rex and Ruth hotwire a small plane and take off. But the saucer pulls them up into its hatch with a tractor beam. Even though they’re a small plane and not a tractor (pause for laughter). ‘They’re pulling us up!’ says Rex, helpfully. Ruth looks like she’s going to scream, although I’m guessing that’s less to do with the beam and more to do with Rex.
  34. They jump out of the plane and stare in awe at the throbbing interior. Rex runs his hand up and down the wing stanchion. Maybe the Director wanted some action to suggest that here is a man who appreciates impressive machinery, but it also back-references nicely the incident with the joystick. An alien even more miserable than Brack with something horribly like a condom stretched on his head waves them to follow him. He reminds me of the people working in the Covid Testing centres.
  35. They end up on a flight deck that looks just as ‘under construction’ as Rex’ lab. Still, Exeter welcomes them aboard. Apologises for having to blow up the rest of the scientists. ‘We’re not all masters of our destiny’ he says. ‘I learned that on earth.’ Rex is pretty cross about it. Exeter appeals to Ruth. ‘Surely as a woman you’re curious about our destination,’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’ says Ruth. (She must have really loved this script).
  36. Apparently they’re going to a planet called Metaluna, which sounds more like an 90s rave duo, but they didn’t know that then. The hubcap zings away into space. They pass through the thermal barrier, and things get hot. ‘What’s to stop us all bouncing around like a lot of balloons when we leave Earth’s gravity?’ asks top scientist Dr Ruth. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Exeter. ‘We make our own gravity.’ (Why they ever had to come to Earth for any kind of advice is beyond me).
  37. There’s a procedure they have to go through to avoid being crushed to death on Metaluna. It involves being put in a tube and bathed in fog. The lunks that Exeter releases from the tube aren’t all that reassuring, though. When the tubes are fully up they all have mini-fits and stagger off looking sick. Exeter asks Brack to prepare Rex n’Ruth for the tubes. They’ll also have to change into the unflattering overalls that Exeter reassures them are vital to life on Metaluna.
  38. When Rex goes into the tube for conditioning, the camera focuses on his groin. Actually, it’s supposed to be his hands grabbing the handrails, but still, a bet’s a bet. When the tube comes down and fog rises around him, Rex says he ‘feels like a new toothbrush,’ which is brave, if a little weird. They both get x-rayed, we see all their internal organs, except for Rex’ brain, which is too small even for alien technologies. Exeter shows them the problems his people are having back on Metaluna, aside from the dreadful fashion. Apparently ‘the Zygon meteors are beginning to get through the ionised layer’ – which isn’t a good thing and nobody wants.
  39. Coming into land, Rex n’Ruth look at the screen as horrified as two people who booked a weekend away in an Airbnb and find out it doesn’t have WiFi. Exeter leads them outside to the monitor, stopping to point out the lovely view, if you ignore the apocalyptic destruction, flaming meteors etc, etc.
  40. They get introduced to Orson. He explains they needed them to come because all their own scientists are dead, their laboratories destroyed, Zygon will invade soon and there ain’t a thing they can do about it. Their intention is to relocate to Earth – as our superiors, naturally. He scorns humans, saying they’re like children looking through a magnifying glass thinking that’s their true size (although I’ve never met a child who did that). ‘Our true size is the size of our God,’ says Rex, folding his arms – which is an even weirder thing to say than the toothbrush jibe. Orson orders Exeter to take Ruth n’Rex to the Thought Transference Chamber. Which by this stage I’m thinking pretty much everyone needs.
  41. On the way there Ruth says her mind’s her own and no-one’s going to change it, which is signs of recovery. She goes to run – but is stopped by a creature so horrific I can barely describe it. The best I can do is to ask you imagine a traffic warden with a comedy brain cycle helmet, welding goggles and lobster gauntlets. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Exeter. ‘I had hoped to prepare you somewhat beforehand. This is a mute-ant. We’ve been breeding them here for ages to do menial work’. Ruth cannot look. (My reaction would be to speak to the thing and ask if it’s in a union, because really – this is unacceptable).
  42. Rex punches Exeter. The mute-ant shuffles hopelessly towards them in response, but unluckily for the mute-ant (and I’m guessing nothing much that’s lucky has EVER really happened to this mute-ant, number one being cast in this film), one of the meteors hits the building and it gets buried beneath a half pound of polystyrene rubble. Rex and Ruth run on.
  43. Exeter catches them up, forgives Rex for all the punching, offers to help them get back to the spaceship before the planet and the whole cinema goes up. They fly off together, just escaping the Zygon attacks (which look like meteors on wires). They watch Metaluna get transformed into a sun, then get in the tubes ready for the journey back to Earth. But whilst the tubes gas-up, the door opens and the poor mute-ant staggers in. Ruth screams. Rex asks if the tubes are strong enough to keep him out. ‘Possibly,’ says Exeter. ‘He’s badly injured. The pressure should crush him soon…’
  44. Despite this, Ruth raises her tube up, immediately putting herself at risk from both the mute-ant and / or crushing. But hey – it’s done. ‘Run, Ruth. Run!’ says Rex. She does, screaming. The mute-ant staggers after her. She could definitely outrun this thing. There’s probably even time to cook a sit-down lunch, clear up afterwards, and still escape it. But no – she trips, the mute-ant shuffles over, she ends up twisting and screaming helplessly in its gauntlets. Rex jumps out of the tube to do some more punching, but he needn’t have bothered. The poor mute-ant collapses and disintegrates from a basic lack of understanding or proper care.
  45. When they’ve reached Earth again, Exeter says he’ll drop them off and then go exploring the universe. ‘You’re a liar,’ says Rex. ‘You’ve run out of power.’ Exeter doesn’t deny it, and even shifts uncomfortably onto his left side, as if all this punching and planetary disintegration has given him gas. Rex n’Ruth run down to the little plane, Exeter drops them out of the hatch, then hurtles off over the ocean where he bursts into flames, ending the film in much the same way he liked to end job interviews.

So what have I learned from watching This Island Earth? Other than what a curse it can be to have too much time on your hands and no project to work on. Well – a few things:

  1. Neutrons have no charge
  2. You can make gravity if you really want to
  3. To avoid getting zapped by alien beams, jump in a river. Or eat some chalk.
  4. Science is cool
  5. Trump is an alien.

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps, 1935. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

1.  The credits are all at the beginning. Which seems like a chore, until you think that nowadays you have to wade through a half dozen production company logo animations – and then the same production names in simple black and white – even before you get to the main actors and whatnot, and then the obligatory looking-down-from-a-drone-on-New-York-at-night, even if it’s a film about turtles or whatever. So all in all, I think The 39 Steps wins on that. 

2.  Maybe they put the credits at the beginning because people were still in the lobby buying cigarettes. When it’s over, they wouldn’t wait for the credits, because they’d be rushing out to buy more cigarettes. In the film, EVERYONE smokes. EVERYWHERE. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a baby toss a rattle out of the pram and reach a hand out for someone to pass it a Woodbine. Maybe that could’ve been an early Hitchcock cameo. He’d be a shoe-in for the role of: ‘sinister smoking baby in pram’. 

3.  The production crew is pretty limited, given today’s enormous list. Back in 1935 they made a film with about ten people, including wardrobe, lighting, sound and fish handler (there’s a lot of fish in The 39 Steps). 

4.  I read a little about the film before I saw it. Apparently they blew most of the budget on Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, so that explains a lot of the shade and fog, stock footage of trains, people pretending to be sheep &c.  

5.  The film starts in a music hall. Hannay goes in to watch the show in an enormous great coat. He’s GOT to be hot in that, but he doesn’t seem bothered. I’d want to roll it up and stuff it under my seat, whether or not it got covered in ash. No doubt people then were used to things being covered in ash. No doubt at the end of an evening out you’d have to beat yourself off with a carpet brush before you went in the house. Which sounds more fun than it probably was.

6.   Everyone in the film talks either RP or cockney. It’s a handy device. You can tell immediately what class they are. The middle class detectives try to talk proper but no-one’s fooled. They talk poshney, which is basically cockney, but with your chin up.  

7.   Almost immediately the MC comes on the stage with Mr Memory. They’re both dressed and move like robot butlers with worrying, clip-on moustaches. The MC has some banter with the audience, who are rowdy in a beery, knees-up, cor blimey kinda way. 

8.  There’s some chippy shit about whether Mr Memory has prodigious feet, or whether he is capable of prodigious feats of memory. (It’s the latter).

9.  The questions are all pretty low class, about football and horse racing and whatnot. One elderly guy wants to know what causes pip in poultry (I think that’s what he says – I don’t know anything about chickens). His wife digs him in the ribs because she doesn’t want to look common. Too late. They smoke.

10.  Every time Mr Memory answers a question he does a little shoulder-duck, finger-pointy thing and says ‘Am I right, sir?’, which is quite cute and v quotable. You can use a catchphrase too much, of course, although shooting to death is probably an over-reaction.

11.  The gig ends with someone firing a gun and everyone scrambling for the exit. There’s a fight, too. ‘Gentlemen, please! You’re not at home…’ says the MC. Says more about him, I think.

12.  Out in the street, Hannay is just about to light up (because it’s been at least five minutes and he’s gasping; I’m guessing his great coat is stuffed full of cigarettes; he’s like a walking kiosk). He’s grabbed by a Dietrich wannabe who’s mysteriously direct: 
‘May I come home with you?’ she says.
‘What’s the idea?’ says Hannay. 
‘Well – I’d like to’ she says.
‘It’s your funeral’ says Hannay.
They jump on a bus that takes him straight to his front door.

13.  The Mysterious Woman doesn’t like the fact that there are no curtains in Hannay’s flat. I’m guessing he’s decorating, although maybe he’s just an exhibitionist (which might explain the coat). 

14.  ‘Would you think me very troublesome if I asked for something to eat? I’ve had nothing all day.’ says the Mysterious Woman. Hannay gets out a haddock and a loaf of bread. Starts frying the haddock, standing over the pan with a fag on. (Again – they were probably all used to a quantity of ash in their food back then; they didn’t have much in the way of seasoning). 

15.  The Mysterious Haddock-Eating Woman tells him her story, all about spies and stolen secrets, professors with missing digits and whatnot. She says there are some spies down in the street if Hannay doesn’t believe her. He goes back into the lounge to check. There are – a couple of them – standing under a streetlamp, which is like Chapter 1 in the basic handbook for spies. Hannay is smoking (of course). When he comes back into the kitchen to see how The Mysterious Woman is doing with the haddock, and does she need another loaf, he puts the lit fag in his pocket. No joke. I replayed it a couple of times. So of course the rest of that scene I’m waiting for him to burst into flames.

16.  This is a plot point I don’t get. Later that night The Mysterious Woman ends up staggering into Hannay’s bedroom with a knife in her back. Hannay spends the next few scenes wondering how to leave the flat without being caught by the spies. But they’ve already been in the flat! They killed The Mysterious Woman! Why didn’t they get him then?

17.  Hannay has to think quickly. He grabs a milkman down in the lobby (ouch), and tells him the truth – there are spies after him, a woman has been murdered, he’s completely out of haddock. The milkman doesn’t believe him (especially about the haddock – it’s 1935 after all). Hannay changes tack. Says he’s been seeing a married woman and her husband and brother are waiting outside. ‘Why dincha say so!’ says the milkman, giving Hannay his hat and coat. ‘Leave the pony round the corner…’

18.  Hannay makes it to the train station. He’s sitting in a carriage halfway to Scotland (The Mysterious Woman had given him a map with Scotland circled). The other people in the carriage are underwear salesmen, so there’s some gratuitous flashing of bras and corsets for a minute or two, to lighten the tone. Hannay couldn’t act more suspiciously if he was wearing a huge badge on his lapel that says: Looking for a Murderer? Stop me and I’ll Confess. He borrows the salesmen’s newspaper to read about himself, then stares anxiously over the top at them. They stare back. One of them smokes a pipe, which is different. 

19.  About a hundred police and a couple of detectives get on at Edinburgh. They go from carriage to carriage, looking for Hannay. In desperation he climbs out of one carriage and into another where he tries to persuade a glamorous blonde woman that he’s not a murderer by kissing her. Of course, she shops him to the cops. Someone pulls the emergency stop and the train screeches to a halt on the Forth Bridge. Hannay hides behind a girder. The train and the plot moves on. 

20.  Hannay walks about a hundred miles whistling annoyingly till he comes to a crofter’s place. The Crofter, (is Crofter a word? What’s a Crofter? I’ve said it too much now. It’s lost all its meaning). The Crofter is a crazy looking geezer with lowering brows who rolls his eyes suspiciously at everything – especially the croft – but despite that seems quite happy to take a stranger in off the moor at night, no questions asked, all in for 1 and 6. 

21.  The Crofter is married to Peggy Ashcroft, who tells him all about Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, and how full of life it is there, and how she’d like to know if London women paint their toenails, as she gets out a pan the size of a small paddling pool ready to cook some herring. 

22.  Before they tuck in, The Crofter says Grace like a warlock casting a death spell. Then he goes outside to peer at them through the window.

23.  Hannay tells Peggy Ashcroft everything (in mime). The Forth Bridge is tricky, but he improves with a coat hanger. 

24.  Peggy Ashcroft wakes Hannay up in the night. The police are coming and he has to go. She gives him The Crofter’s coat, because she knew as soon as she saw him that here was a man who appreciates a really big coat. 

25.  About a hundred cops and two detectives chase Hannay across the moors. Mostly in silhouette, mostly speeded-up. Some of the cops fall into streams, some into bogs. It’s fair to say they’re not at their best in the country. No doubt if they were chasing Hannay through Piccadilly they’d be on him in a second. 

26.  Hannay knocks on the door of an isolated mansion. There’s a cocktail party going on where all the women have names beginning with H. It’s quite niche. Maybe a country thing, who knows. 

27.  Hannay talks to The Professor, a sly, slow-talking man who is missing a digit – exactly as The Mysterious Woman had said. Hannay suddenly has the same expression on his face as he had on the train. Think constipated llama. With a tache.

28.  The Professor produces a teeny tiny gun that looks about as threatening as a cigarette lighter, shoots Hannay in the chest, and Hannay falls down dead. Which seems to throw the film off a bit. I mean – what?  

29.  Next thing you know, we’re back in The Crofter’s croft. He’s furious because he can’t find his bible. The bible was in the breast pocket of his jacket. His jacket isn’t on the hook. Peggy Ashcroft admits she gave it to Hannay when he ran away. The Crofter’s eyes pretty much roll out of his head and off down the street. 

30.   Cut to: Hannay in an office saying how the crofter’s bible stopped the bullet. Apparently, after Hannay was shot, The Professor dragged him into another room and left him there whilst he went away to attend to something or other. I don’t know what. I’m guessing The Professor isn’t a Professor of anything medical, because it turns out Hannay was only stunned like a …. like a herring. He came to, jumped in a car and drove to Edinburgh? Glasgow? I’m not sure. The thing is, he went straight to the authorities – which was a bad move, as they immediately called the police. About a hundred cops come through the door with two grumpy detectives. 

31.  Hannay jumps through the window. The next thing you know he’s giving an impromptu political speech at the town hall, which goes down well with everyone but the police. For some reason the blonde from the train – whose name is Pamela – is there, too. Hannay appeals to her to ring the Consulate and warn them about all the spy stuff, but she says no. She’s probably come all the way to Scotland in the hope she might run into him again so she can say No. The police take them both away for questioning in Stranraer (I think – can’t be bothered to check). 

32.  The two cops who take them both away aren’t cops at all but spies. One of them punches Hannay in the mouth for being smart, which confirms his suspicions, although of course normal police will do that, too. When the car gets stopped on a bridge by some sheep – although what the sheep are doing out on a bridge at night in the fog is anyone’s guess. The spies handcuff Pamela & Hannay together. So naturally, as soon as the spies have got out of the car to confront the sheep, the two of them haul it out of there. 
‘Where the devil could they have gone?’ says one of the spies, looking over the side of the bridge. In the dark. In the fog. Surrounded by sheep. 

33.  Pamela and Hannay check into a hotel as Mr & Mrs Henry Hopkinson of The Hollyhocks, Hammersmith. More H’s. Maybe this is a Hitchcockian thing. Haddock. Herring. All these are probably clues but really I’ve no idea. 

34.  After eating an enormous sandwich and drinking some milk and whisky, and after a long and chippy monologue about how Hannay is related to pirates and how he’ll end up in Madame Tussaud’s and whatnot (where’s the punchy spy when you need him?) Pamela ends up totally believing his story. They have to get to London to stop the plan from working! Although I still don’t get how they know to go there. I was never good on plot. Or fish. But in my own defence, I’m not as dumb as The Professor, who shoots a guy then doesn’t bother to check if he’s wearing kevlar, or a bible, or both. 

35.  Back at The London Palladium. Somehow, the police know that Hannay will try something (see no. 34). They’ve flooded the place with about a hundred cops, some of them lounging in the expensive boxes, laughing at the comedy dancers, generally oblivious to the fact that Hannay is sitting in the stalls wearing the giant badge that says: Looking for a Murderer? Stop me and I’ll Confess. With a spotlight on him. Pamela, who’s only just come into the theatre, sees him straight away. So I take back what I said in point no. 25

36.  Mr Memory is brought back onstage – to the tune Hannay has been whistling all this time! Hannay borrows someone’s opera glasses to look up at the top box. He sees a hand on the balcony with a missing digit! The Professor!

37.  Just before the cops arrest Hannay, he shouts out ‘Where are the 39 Steps?’. Mr Memory glazes over (which I totally sympathise with) and starts saying something about secrets, whereupon The Professor shoots him (not that we think he’s any good at THAT), then leaps down onto the stage, where he’s surrounded by about a hundred cops, who finally and miraculously get their man.

38.  Instead of giving poor Mr Memory any kind of first aid, he’s dragged backstage, where Hannay asks him again about the 39 Steps. Mr Memory reveals that he memorised a bunch of plans about a new kind of jet engine, says Am I right, sir? then dies. 

39.  The last scene is a close-up of the handcuff hanging from Hannay’s wrist. I’m expecting Pamela to grab his hand fondly, but she doesn’t. I guess she’s not that fond of haddock after all. 

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World, 1951. Dir. Christian Nyby. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

Last night we watched the 1951 film The Thing from Another World. We’d all seen the remakes, but not the thing itself, er-hem. And a drama about a bunch of people under lockdown running around with axes felt about right.

So we settled in, and all in all liked it a lot, with a few caveats. Here’s a point by point response (in no particular order, because I must admit I became a little deranged, and had nightmares, and at this point who cares):

1: The Title. The Thing from Another World. I think the remakes were right to drop the subtitle. It’s clunky. You may as well call it The Thing (It’s Not From Round Here). Like the producers were scared you wouldn’t watch it if you thought there was a chance it was just the kind of Thing you’d see in a MAGA hat buying duck tape at the thrift store. To cut them some slack, though, and put it in context, I think UFOs were an expanding market in the 50s, what with the Russians and everything, so maybe it was just a marketing ruse that hasn’t aged well. We’ve had so many aliens since you can’t move for them. I could name fifty right off, and that’s not even touching the box sets

2: It’s mostly guys. Guys in big coats, guys in big trousers. Guys in flying hats and cute leather jackets. Guys holding guns, axes, Geiger counters, hands of cards. Guys smoking or talking very very very quickly with no punctuation or pauses for intonation or inflection and talking over each other too because there doesn’t seem to be time for anything other than guys saying guy things and giving and receiving orders and taking care of business. Or talking about wild nights in Singapore. Or blowing shit up.

3: Even the alien turns out to be a guy. Except he’s the logical extension of ‘guy’, being 100% vegetable – but not in a wholesome, Vegan way – and only able to communicate through irritable grunts. How Grumpy Alien Guy ever got round to building a sophisticated space ship and making the trip in the first place we never get to know. You just have to imagine back on his planet everyone’s like that, 100% vegetable and just enough brains to run when they’re attacked by dogs or on fire. Mind you, it’s clear he landed the flying saucer with very little finesse, ploughing it bonnet-first into the North Pole so only the fin sticks out of the ice when the guys get there. I can imagine Grumpy Alien Guy, legs up on the console, flicking through a potato magazine, bored out of his gourd, watching the gauges after a five millenia commute, then grunting fuck it that’ll do.

4: The set-up is pretty clear. Some kind of army base in Alaska. A reporter goes there looking for a story – although you’d have to think he must be desperate, choosing such a remote location. Maybe he specialises in snow. Maybe he had relatives in the area so was combining the trip. Anyway, almost as soon as he gets there Hero Captain – an actor with such deeply heroic grooves down the side of his face you could lie him on the ground and park your bike – Hero Captain and his band of guys are ordered to fly to the North Pole to help with a plane that went down, or something. So they fly off in a plane with snowboards for wheels, and end up in another godforsaken snowy outpost, where everyone shouts ‘Shut the door’ as soon as you walk in. You get to meet the people there – a guy who looks like a rockabilly DJ, someone tall with a small voice who looks like Lurch from the Addams Family, an old guy chuffing on a bendy pipe, a bunch of interchangeable characters with no dialogue who are there to make up numbers and maintain body heat, and a Professor type in a sinister smoking jacket and white roll-neck jumper and hair and goatee made of Italian meringue who takes every opportunity to make a portentous speech – the human race… rah rah … evolution rah rah …. with everyone gathered round, one hand in his pocket (to be clear, it’s the professor who has one hand in his pocket – not everyone else – the professor doesn’t have a pocket big enough for that, and anyway, it’d be difficult to choreograph).

5: There are two women in the film. One is a secretary at the first outpost, with weaponised breasts and an arch manner with a pencil, who has some kind of history with Hero Captain, only he’s got a drink problem and doesn’t remember. Singapore? Anyway, when they fly to the second post they need a secretary, and she soon realises her value by making coffee. Twice. Although Hero Captain doesn’t take her up on the offer, presumably because it doesn’t involve alcohol. The other woman is a scientist at the outpost. You can tell because she has plaits.

6: When Hero Captain and his guys make it out to the crash site they realise they’ve got a bonafide flying saucer on their hands. Stuck in the ice, fin-up. They decide the best way to proceed is to blow the shit out of it with ‘thermite’, which I think went on to be used in the manufacture of gloves. Anyway, surprise surprise, it doesn’t work that well, accidentally completely destroying the ship. Although – weirdly – what happens is that Grumpy Alien Guy is blown out of the ship, then instantly refrozen in the ice. (Which doesn’t improve his mood). To be fair, Hero Captain learns from his mistakes. They won’t use thermite again. This time they’ll chip him out with picks, and load him onto the plane in a block of ice like so much tuna.

7: Back at the outpost, they put iced GAG (Grumpy Alien Guy – it takes too long to type) in a storeroom. The Professor wants to defrost GAG immediately, but Hero Captain says no, the military authorities have to say it’s okay, and for now the radios are out, so they’ll have to wait. Instead they post a guard to keep watch over frozen GAG, breaking a window to keep the place cold (although why they couldn’t just open the window I don’t know). They give the guard an electric blanket to keep him warm, which is nice. But the guard is spooked by the way GAG is sneering at him through the ice, so he puts the blanket over the ice so he doesn’t have to put up with so much attitude. (In retrospect, not the brightest guard to sit there in the first place). Turns out the electric blanket is very effective at defrosting aliens, not shorting out in all that water, because no-one’s having any luck at all in any of this, especially not the alien. When GAG climbs out the guard shoots him six times and runs away. GAG doesn’t follow him, quite sensibly, I think. The signs aren’t good he’ll be well received. GAG runs out into the snowy storm and immediately gets set on by the huskies. He fights them, killing a few and only losing an arm. Then he runs off into the night.

8: The guys (plus The Secretary and Plait Woman) realise that GAG is dangerously grumpy and is bound to come back for his arm. They stand around as The Professor dissects it (presumably there’s a blooper reel – the actor under the table making some unscheduled gestures). The Professor is very impressed by the level of vegetableness. He makes another portentous speech about venus fly traps and carrots and things. There starts to be a measure of disagreement between The Professor and Hero Captain. The Professor wants to learn from our strange, highly-intelligent visitor; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of it

9: They all split up to search for GAG. The Professor and his team go to the laboratory, which is basically a fancy greenhouse. They find the bloodless corpse of a husky in a storage bin and guess that GAG put it there, for some reason . The Professor asks two guys from his team to hang around whilst he goes off to do some other shit. Fairly soon after, they’re hung upside down by GAG and have all their blood drained, too, which is a shame. The Professor is pretty sanguine, though. He’s prepared to give GAG the benefit of the doubt, especially as GAG’s new to all this, and probably jet-lagged.

10: Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary, and Plait Woman) get ready for GAG’s next attack by hiding in another room, nailing posts against a door that opens the other way, so that’s not great. They know you can’t shoot a carrot with any degree of effectiveness, so maybe they should burn it instead, like they did with the thermite, and how well that ended. Plus, they’re in a wooden building, so… Anyway, they go ahead with this plan. When GAG breaks in, the idea is one person chucks a bucket of kerosene over it while another tosses a cigarette or a pipe or something. The Secretary offers round coffee, then hides behind a mattress. GAG runs in, rah, rah, rah, fire, flames, terrible…. runs out again… Hero Captain and the guys put out the fire and wonder what to do next, and reminisce about Singapore.

11: Turns out, GAG isn’t so stupid after all . He’s disabled the outpost’s heating system, so they’ll all freeze to death, especially The Secretary, as she only has a light summer jacket and a pair of driving gloves. They decide to rig up a trap and electrocute him.

12: Meanwhile, they find out The Professor has been growing some GAG pods, a bit like pulsating alien cannabis, except with blood plasma instead of hydroponics. The Lurch character listens to the pods with a stethoscope and weirds everyone out by saying they sound like mewling children, which is an insight into his parenting experience. The Professor wants to grow lots of these pods; Hero Captain wants to blow the shit out of them. The Secretary is worried GAG has only come to Earth to make more of itself and take over the world, treating us all like so many cabbages. The Professor shrugs. It’s a risk he’s prepared to take.

13: They’re all standing in the corridor. GAG one end, holding a piece of wood, Hero Captain and the guys (and The Secretary – I’ve lost track of The Plait) holding axes and guns at the other. Just before GAG rushes them, the Professor breaks through and stands in front of the monster to make a speech, appealing to his better nature, which is a brave move, considering. GAG shows his appreciation by knocking him halfway through a wall. Then he rushes the team, and immediately gets flash-fried. Although they overdo it with the heat and he ends up completely inedible.


14: The film ends with the reporter on the radio to somewhere else, everyone gathered round to listen except for Hero Captain and The Secretary, who are canoodling on a bench in the background. ‘Watch the skies!’ says the Reporter. ‘Keep watching the skies!’ Which is good advice, although you might want to glance down now and again, for health & safety reasons.