The Thunder Child
Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Call of Reviews: Reviews by Matt Sanborn
A Chevrolet rests in every driveway in the neighborhood. Your 2.5 children are healthy and well behaved. The President is extremely popular. The economy is booming. America is at the height of its power. Everyone knows never to trust a Russian. Moxie is an energy drink. It is the 1950s and life is good, (well, as long as you are white and have some cash – but some things never change).
In the movie theaters and drive-ins films with titles like Angry Red Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I was a Teenage Frankenstein, Indestructible Man, The Wasp Woman, and Konga. Fear comes in the form of It Conquered the World, Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing From Another Planet, Fiend Without a Face, Devil Girl From Mars, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Phantom Planet and The Killer Shrews. These black and white films flicker on the silver screen across all 48 (and eventually 50) states.
These films are helping Americans, especially teens, come to terms with some of the things happening in the world that everyone is trying to ignore, (and now have forgotten): Some fears imagined such as Commies are coming for you, polio in every swimming pool; Some fears real such as racism and segregation strangling civil rights, Free speech and thought under attack by high levels of the Federal Government.
It is a fascinating and amazing time for America and its movies. A time needing to be chronicled by someone who was there.
James Whitmore as Police Sgt. Ben Peterson,
Sandy Descher as Ellinson Girl, and Chris Drake as the unfortunate Trooper Ed Blackburn
That someone is Bill Warren and his marvelous tome is Keep Watching the Skies, The 21st Century Edition.
Originally published in two volumes (1982 and 1986), McFarland Publishing has brought both works together, and the author has updated the work, forming a 1004-page college education on sci-fi from the genre's golden age from 1950 to 1962.
This encyclopedic work lists every sci-fi film shown in America during that period in alphabetical order, with intense critique and commentary lovingly written about each title.
Warren has used every available source from magazines to books to personal interviews to his own movie going experiences to bring the reader not only honest and well-researched pieces, but a flavor of what seeing the film in the theaters during that time was like. New and fascinating information about the talent in front and behind the camera is included in almost every review.
One of the more interesting parts of many reviews is Warren's inclusion of the opinions of the critics of the time on these films. Some of these might surprise you, such as Variety enjoying the comical The Alligator People; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, now a considered a classic, was given poor marks all around; The Fly was actually reviewed, and reviewed favorably, in the New York Times; and Plan Nine from Outer Space, received almost no attention (!).
There is nothing left on the cutting room floor here, so to speak, as Warren includes any fact imaginable about each film and its participants.
The knowledge and care that has been undertaken here is quite amazing, and I can only imagine just how long it took to research and compile all of this information. It is hard to believe that anything has been overlooked . (Although Warren does choose not to share the rather unseemly parts of some of the talents' lives, especially Bunny Breckinridge, but perhaps that is to his credit).
This is a fantastic book, but it is not without a few flaws.
There are some small errors here and there, such as his claim that actress Barbara Valentin (Horrors of Spider Island (1960)lived with Queen front man Freddie Mercury for the last few months of his life (when he was dying from complications from AIDS). She did not, but was left property in Mercury’s will.
In the review of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, there is a minor mistake about the plot. Other reviewers have stated there are errors in his review of the plot of The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. These are a few of some pretty small things that overall do not take away from the work as a whole.
Warren is, almost to a fault, humorless about these films. He absolutely detests Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and It Came from Hollywood (which pokes fun at some of the lesser films of the genre). The campiness of some of the films he reviews is not to be mocked, but to be looked at as nothing more than limitations of either budget or talent, but a strong try by the film makers nonetheless. Warren cherishes these films so much that ridicule of them is almost taken as a personal attack on his love, his passion, and his childhood.
Purists might question the presence of some of the films contained within; the most obvious being the Sinatra classic The Manchurian Candidate. However, Warren makes a convincing argument about the science fiction strains in these films. There is not a stone overturned in this work, and the more the merrier to be honest.
This is a hardcover with a great dust jacket design by Kerry Gammill, gloriously internal illustrations by Frank Dietz, has its own ribbon bookmark and a sewn binding for long life. There are nine appendices, a large bibliography and index, 273 black and white photos, and two sections of color prints showing the wonderful movies of the times. The color prints could be a little sharper, but the quality is still quite good. It totals out for almost one hundred dollars, although Amazon usually sells it for $79.00. It is a steal for below eighty and worth it at $100.
Keep Watching the Skies is the culmination of one man’s life’s passion. (Although he did have editors, researchers and friends, along with a very supportive wife, helping him along the way). Warren is a writer with an enjoyable style and although writes long, never overwrites. He treats each film with respect, sometimes more than it deserves, but realizes that each of these movies took hard work, (though sometimes you wouldn’t know it). Even Plan Nine From Outer Space receives a thorough critical review…
There are other excellent movie books which touch upon some of these films, like the Psychotronic Video Guide and Sleazecreatures, but nothing comes anywhere close to KWTS’s scope and understanding of them. If you have the money to spare, and want a book so good you’ll be able to smell that awful butter from the popcorn in the lobby, then this is the one for you.
So wax the Chevy, polish your “I Like Ike” pin, stay out of public pools, fly your American flag, and above all - Keep Watching the Skies! .
It Came From Outer Space
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