“He isn’t the man I fell in love with…”
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) is an impressive science fiction movie with simple but great effects, efficient and powerful storytelling, intriguing and mature themes, plenty of disturbing scares, humour and unpredictable plot twists. It’s a fun 78 minutes of pod people, a paranoid bride who can’t get anyone to believe her and the fate of the planet in the balance.
Gloria Talbott, recently seen at this blog in The Cyclops (1957) and The Leech Woman (1960), plays a newlywed who insists that her husband (Tom Tryon) is not the man she fell in love with. He’s become a stranger, cold, snappy, uninterested in her, in alcohol, in how the car headlights work. He’s far too serious and literal, and he suddenly scares dogs and cats. Her concerns go unheeded because most of the people she complains to are similarly “different.” As we soon discover, an alien spacecraft has landed in the nearby countryside and has replaced most of the men in the town with clones. These aliens are refugees from a planet whose dying sun has wiped out the females of their race and so they seek new mates to perpetuate their species. The glitch is that they find human female DNA incompatible, so they wait for their experts to work it out while they continue to clone, spend time with Earth women, and, to their surprise, begin to feel emotions like love.
The handsome Tryon puts on a vacant, preoccupied stare for most of his screen time which makes for a convincingly empty physical duplicate. As the clone, he has superhuman strength, crushing metal, knocking down doors with a mere touch, not even feeling punches that break the attacker’s knuckles; he looks like he’s doing a screen test for a Superman movie. The “real” Tryon, along with the other captured humans, hang in the spacecraft, suspended by cables like meat in a freezer, plugged into contraptions that broadcast their images out to create their impostors, like high tech voodoo dolls. When those stations are unplugged, the impostors all over town instantly deflate into foam that pours out of shirt sleeves, collars and pant legs and then evaporates. It’s such a fabulously disturbing effect that likely cost little to create but doesn’t look cheesy. And speaking of disturbing, a warning for the sensitive: there are some dead pets here, two that are only shown as bodies, and one disintegrated in a heroic death while mauling an alien. This violence isn’t gratuitous, and shows the aliens’ lack of feeling and determination to wipe out anything that might expose or endanger them.
The simple effects and the power of suggestion work. They convince, scare and disgust, whether it’s the plume of smoke that consumes stunned humans, the dashes of laser beams the aliens fire or the bodies of glowing jelly that absorb bullets. The alien face is a mess of exposed ligaments barely covered by droopy skin flaps, and revealed in glimpses as the “real” face of the humans they’ve taken over. One knockout bit has the town floosie approaching a lone man transfixed at a maternity store window. He’s wearing a hoodie and staring at a dolly, and when he turns to face the floosie, the viewer’s guess that it’s a scary alien face doesn’t make it any less scary.
He’s obsessed with that doll for good reason. The aliens badly want to procreate and, from their glum faces in the bar, to Tryon’s own admission near the end, they’re more depressed about their inability to make children than Talbott is when she thinks it’s her fault and goes to the doctor to be tested for infertility. Those are pretty deep characterizations and creative reversals for a monster movie. The script also plays with the idea of men changing when they get married, which is the natural topic of jokes and mockery at Tryon’s bachelor party. It’s a fun setup for his drive home when he’s intercepted and possessed by the alien cloud. He sure changes, but the smart writing then has the alien Tryon change too, as he tries to figure out what his new feeling of desire is all about, as he studies how other couples show affection and as, knowing his time on Earth is over and he’s about to dissolve, he has a touching moment with Talbott and then tells her to look away.
There are lots of memorable little touches as well, like the clever transition that has the painted cityline backdrop seen from a restaurant become the same one Tryon stares at from his honeymoon suite as Talbott begs him to pay attention to her. The fantastic opening credits have text radiating as rays pointing toward the Earth as the aliens approach, a style repeated at The End, when it’s set against the fleet of disappointed spacecraft fleeing our planet after their failed colonization.
In Tom Weaver’s book Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, Gloria Talbott said that the movie’s title, however self-explanatory and popular it may be, was a negative because its silliness led audiences to expect a comedy. She praised the writer Louis Vittes and recalled his habit of hanging around the set mouthing every word of the script along with the actors. Of director Gene Fowler, Jr., a skilled editor who directed seven films, including I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Talbott said he was a dream to work with, an actor’s director whose dedication to this movie nearly wore him out. That dedication shows, not only in those big themes and set pieces, but in the smallest jokes and details, in all the scares and surprises that make I Married a Monster from Outer Space a fine and very fun sci fi specimen.