Saturday, October 23, 2010

I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) - all that an alien marriage will allow

Gloria Talbott is my kind of woman. You can have your big bosomed blondes and what have you. I'm going with Gloria's blend of squared off angular beauty and ravishing elegance. While mostly remembered as a proto scream queen of sorts (what with starring roles in this film, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, and Bert I. Gordon's The Cyclops, a movie about some big asshole with one eye that growls a lot) she, perhaps most importantly, had a fairly major role in Douglas Sirk's masterpiece All That Heaven Allows. She also did a lot of television and, amongst other roles, some low budget westerns. Check her out in
Oklahoma Territory playing an Apache chick named "Ruth Redhawk", with her bullet bra and faintly erotic brown shoepolish complexion. Wait, "faintly erotic"? Gloria dressed up as a sexy Native American? Who am I kidding? Drool is hitting the keyboard on my laptop as we speak just thinking about it. Oh shit, I think it's shorting out. I, uh...(four days and a hefty repair bill later). Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, Gloria is pretty smoking. I think that's where I was headed.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space
is essentially a wedlock version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As this was 1958, star Gloria Talbott is no doubt royally stoked that she's about to get married, looking forward to the two and half kids and the dog and the white picket fence and the super deluxe washer and dryer and the dental insurance and the leisure wear and the matching luggage. The cracks immediately start showing in this beautiful fantasy, what with her fiancee AWOL on the morning of their wedding. Her mother enters the room humming that wedding song (whatever the fuck it's called), agitating Gloria. What was once sweet music to her ears as quickly turned sour. "Mother, will you stop that dirge?" she snaps, standing there in her wedding dress, feeling as if she has been taken for a fool, by both man and institution.

Well, her husband-to-be (Tom Tryon, future author of
The Other and others, horrible pun intended) was having a bachelor party at a bar the night before with his friends. Ironically (or maybe not), Gloria's romantic view of marriage contrasts harshly with the male perspective showcased during Tom's last night of freedom. They all act as if he's going off to prison, spending the rest of his life behind bars. I don't think this equal partnership is best consummated from such polar opposite directions.

Tom leaves the party early, perhaps a bit turned off by the bleak view of marriage being voiced, and drives home through what looks to be Griffith Park. He thinks he sees a body in the road and slams on the brakes, and he is quickly ambushed by...AN ALIEN FROM ANOTHER WORLD! Figures. With all of these sci-fi movies partially taking place in Griffith Park (Ro-Man from the immortal
Robot Monster had his defacto headquarters in Bronson Cave), you'd think people would take their picnics and what have you elsewhere. I used to visit Griffith Park as a kid and, while I didn't run into any spacemen with ray guns, I did once fall out of a tree (don't ask). Anyway, the alien takes over Tom's body, the "soul" of the alien transferring in the form of some cool looking black smoke. The special effects in the film, while certainly inexpensive, are still pretty effective and creepy. As I have said many times, CGI can go eat a dick (I'm paraphrasing myself).

Well, Tom eventually shows up to his own marriage (every bachelor party throughout cinematic history has forced to groom to be late to his own ceremony), but under a completely different light (not the Bangles album, although it's pretty darn good). He is now an alien who is using Gloria as part of his big alien plan (one that is a bit better thought out than plan 9). The females of his alien race have gone extinct, so they have to integrate into the society of earth and figure out how to procreate with human women to keep their species afloat. While they figure out the reproductive logistics, they have to tolerate relationships with their new significant others (and VERY other to boot).

This creates a paranoia situation not unlike
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but instead of a society being infiltrated and taken over by stand-ins for communism, we have a single woman finding herself trapped in a male dominated society via the institution of marriage. Gloria was led to believe, by her friends and her parents and her television, that marriage was the only proper thing to do for a young woman like herself, and she completely bought in. This beautiful dream she envisioned for herself ends up as all nightmare, what with her husband being cold and distant (light years away distant), using her for his own ulterior motives. When she finds out that her husband is indeed an alien, she attempts to alert any and all male authority figures in her life, to help her out of this peculiar trap. However, it is all for naught, as most of these men are now aliens as well. She was looking for a lifetime of love and ended up being put in her place, as it were (at least until the final showdown rolls around). Maybe we're all better off working it like the gays, staying out of deadening marriages and working societal angst out on the dance floor. Or not.

It's pretty clear that I Married a Monster from Outer Space is attempting a sort of proto-feminism, using the sci-fi genre to turn this idea of the perfect fifties wife (cleaning during the day, having a warm meal on the table when her husband gets home, making sure there is always fresh ice in the bar so her husband can unwind with a scotch on the rocks any time he pleases, etc.) on it's pretty little head. While the script is a bit clunky and it lacks the taut direction of a Don Siegel, I Married a Monster deserves a rightful place among the classics of social commentary-based science fiction. Unfortunately, I think it historically suffers a bit on account of the campy title, just like I Walked with a Zombie (a horror masterpiece also with a misleadingly silly title).

I can't help but think back to All That Heaven Allows, which was also considered a piece of fluff on it's original release. Gloria plays the daughter of Jane Wyman, another woman trapped in her societal role. Gloria gives her mother a present, a television set. She can finally escape the shackles of her life and be free to explore the world from the comforts of her living room (after all of her chores are finished, of course). As the salesman explains to her how it works, and that "the world is at your fingertips", we see Jane's reflection in the empty screen, a sad, blurry ghost imprisoned in a wasteland of domestic bliss. Just as many audience members at the time saw the television set as an awesome gift, they too may have watched I Married a Monster and left the theater thankful that aliens don't really exist.

P.S. This is part three of the "Lazy Baker's Dozen Halloween Horror Marathon". Only eight more to go. I hope my math is right.

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