CULT Film Series

World 3-D Film Expo: “It Came From Outer Space” & “The Mad Magician”

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This past weekend, the World 3-D Film Expo wrapped up its third year at the Egyptian. As always, it was packed with golden age film luminaries, wonderful 3-D shorts, a bundle of nostalgia, all coming together with classic 3-D films made when the idea of 3-D didn’t make you shudder in terror.

What follows is an introspective on my experiences as well as a discussion of the films I saw. On this particular day, Friday the 13th, I was in store for two treasures: Jack Arnold’s IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) and Vincent Price in THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954). IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was one of four Arnold films screened for the Expo, along with CREATURE, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, and THE GLASS WEB

Before screening IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in its original dual 35 mm format (we got to wear the classic paper white glasses), the treat of the entire festival was bestowed on lucky filmgoers in a moment with Ray Bradbury captured on celluloid. The screening was dedicated to this wonderful man and his memory.

THE RAY BRADBURY INTERVIEW

bradbury

Perhaps the best experience of the entire Film Expo, for me, was the never before seen interview with Ray Bradbury that aired before IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. I never had the unparalleled pleasure to meet or see Ray Bradbury in person, but this wonderfully honest, hilarious, and candid interview made me feel as though I had, a feeling I’ve often had whilst reading old FM mags or the great author’s classic literature.

The interview took place in 2004, and the subject was IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and his experiences in Hollywood. The story for the feature came from an unpublished (at the time) short entitled “A Matter Of Taste,” that chronicled an alien world full of intelligent and cultured spiders, but humans couldn’t get past their ugly and terrifying appearance and built a gigantic boot to stomp on them: a brilliant, funny, and clever image.

He was approached to write a treatment for IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, and thanks to his unbridled enthusiasm and inspiration, delivered 90 pages of text with shot suggestions and the like (essentially a screenplay), far beyond what Universal Studios execs were expecting. As he says it, they got essentially a screenplay for a fraction of the price, allowing to pay the subsequent screenwriter less (Harry Essex, who would go on to write Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). One intriguing tidbit Bradbury mentioned was that while writing the treatment, he would go to the opera stage from Lon Chaney’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for inspiration. Can you imagine? Wow.

Ray Bradbury had many ideas and suggestions for the film, most of which were ignored when the film was made. As he put it, he’s “seen every movie ever made,” which includes all the bad ones. Bradbury wanted the film to be shot in the POV of the alien, so you don’t see it, and the film does a great job of using that idea, but Bradbury wanted it done exclusively. He wanted the film to invoke THE MUMMY and other classic Universal pictures, by showing as little of the monster/alien as possible, because he believed the less you see, the better the film (and scarier/more startling). He just wanted Universal to make IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE like they used to, and laughed at how they didn’t. There were several other ideas and subplots from the treatment that were mostly nixed, or cut severely, including a lot to do with the sounds over the radio signals. A friend, who I want to believe was Forry, had called Ray when watching the film and remarked, “Now THAT’s Bradbury,” which elicited a chuckle.

Bradbury discussed the “poverty of imagination” that the studios and Hollywood suffers from these days, and told a delightful anecdote about his first meeting with the studio. He arrived, and the man working at the studio, to look smart, hurriedly picked up a copy of THE NEW YORKER. Of course, little did he know that he had it upside down. Bradbury, ever the gentleman, didn’t blow up his spot, choosing instead to act like he had to tie his shoe. When he looked back up, the newspaper was right side up. He believed this was a metaphor for the entire studio, and was just one of many offhand comments he made that put the audience in stitches.

Ray had many difficulties with Hollywood over the years, mostly regarding promises made to him that were never fulfilled and about how he was going to be ushered “into the woods,” but never got there. That sentiment hit home with about everyone in the crowd.

While he was critical of the final product, Bradbury mentioned that he had recently rewatched the film and had been surprised. It was a better film than he remembered, and he grew to love it, like many classic sci-fi fans do.

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