Thursday, June 8, 2023

The First Flying Saucer Invasion Movie

The public’s fascination with the flying saucer mystery began with the media coverage of Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of nine UFOs on June 24, 1947. At the time, the notion taken most seriously was that flying saucers were technologically advanced aircraft, either developed by the USA in secret or from an enemy nation. The super-aircraft idea was not so far-fetched, and it had already been done in the movies.

Three World War II movie serials from Republic Pictures paved the way for the saucer invasion movie. Spy Smasher was released in April 1942 and featured an exotic Nazi aircraft in chapter 4, “Stratosphere Invaders.” (Link to synopsis.)


The special effects for Republic were made by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, and they built a life-sized prop and miniature for the villain’s aircraft. The Bat Plane was a silver blunt manta-shaped flying wing capable of near vertical takeoff and landings, but it was strictly of terrestrial origin.


Spy Smasher lived up to his name and managed to destroy the weapon by the chapter’s end, and the story moved on to other fights.

But the Bat Plane would fly again.

According to Republic serial historians, the full-size prop was remodeled for another serial released later the same year, King of the Mounties. Chapter one was titled, “Phantom Invaders,” with Canada under siege from unexplained explosions, soon revealed to come from bombs dropped by a silent silvery unidentified aircraft.

King of the Mounties, “Phantom Invaders” on YouTube

We learned it was the “Falcon,” a technologically advanced boomerang-shaped plane from Japan. It took 12 chapters, but Sgt. Dave King defeated the enemy spies. The Bat Plane would be seen again, but before that, there was an alien invasion.

The Purple Monster Strikes was a 1945 Republic movie serial, and it started with a UFO crash. It happened near where a scientist was developing an interplanetary “jet plane.” He rushed to investigate the crash and found the pilot had survived. It was a man from Mars who revealed, “We've watched the progress of your work and I've come to you for help... I’m very anxious to see the plans for your jet plane.”

On YouTube: The Purple Monster Strikes

The friendly act was dropped and “The Purple Monster" soon revealed he came to conquer Earth: “The invasion is only being delayed because of our inability to build ships who could land safely and return to Mars. Your plans have supplied that mean.” The Martian had the alien ability to kill then inhabit a body, and he used the scientist’s corpse as disguise to complete the spaceship plans. However, he’s discovered along the way. When he launched the ship for Mars our hero managed to use Mars’ technology against him to shoot it down. (Link to synopsis.)

That was the end of the Martian invasion – until…

 

The Coming of the Saucers

The notion that flying saucers were secret advanced aircraft was popular from the outset in 1947. As months and years went by without it being proven, the man-made idea began to lose some luster. Another early idea, primarily promoted by cranks, was that saucers were from Mars or another planet. In the meantime, the first few appearances of flying saucers in low budget movies depicted them as man-made secret weapons. Donald Keyhoe’s 1950 article and later book, The Flying Saucers Are Real, sold well enough to prove that the public would buy the idea of UFOs as spaceships from other planets.

Republic went to work, retooling some footage and gear from previous films. The Purple Monster’s costume was used for another Martian invader. An old prop was recycled for the first flying saucer from outer space in the motion pictures. It was a “semi-disc,” a bat-like wing like one Kenneth Arnold reported, or the one seen in the William Rhodes photos from 1947.


Menace from Mars

In Oct. 1950, Republic released Flying Disc Man from Mars, the first alien invasion "flying saucer" movie.

In chapter one, “Menace from Mars,” a UFO had been seen around the factory where scientist Dr. Bryant was working on an atomic-powered weapon, a “radar ray gun.” He told his security man, Kent Fowler, that someone was spying on the project.

“I know all this talk about flying saucers and discs sounds like hysterical illusions, yet every night I pick up that image at from 60 to 80,000 feet elevation then it descends vertically to 30,000 thousand feet and stays in the same place for an hour or more. Do you know of any plane that can do that?”

The heroic Kent Fowler took the gun on his plane and shot down the intruder. Dr. Bryant rushed to where the UFO crashed and he made contact with a survivor. Mota from Mars told him:

“Ever since you people started working with atomic power and explosives, we have been watching you closely. We keep large atomic-powered patrol ships permanently stationed just outside your field of gravity and we make our closer inspection in small flying discs such as the one I was flying when you had me shot down.”

The small saucer was a semi-disc, portrayed by the Bat Plane prop last seen in King of the Mounties.


Mars was worried by what we savages were doing. Mota said,

“With unlimited atomic weapons your people might easily end by destroying this world which would be fatal to the whole solar system including our own planet. So I am here to see that your world is put under the control of a supreme dictator of the universe.”

Dr. Bryant (who’d been a Nazi sympathizer) kept the secret and went along with the plan. He hired two henchmen and their little gang put things in motion for a management change for our planet. Mota built a replacement “semi-disc” craft and they relocated to an abandoned Martian base in a volcano.

Mota and the semi-disc

Chapter 3 ends with a scene reminiscent of the 1948 Thomas Mantell incident. Kent Fowler took his plane to chase Mota’s disc high into the air, but he lost consciousness from lack of oxygen. His engine failed and the plane crashed. This being a movie serial cliffhanger, he revived and bailed out just in time. Fowler went on to defeat the enemies in their volcanic lair, save the girl and even capture the Martian saucer. Unfortunately, it was damaged, but before it exploded, Kent and Helen bailed out just in time.

In the discussion afterwards, Kent mourned that all details on the Martian technology perished in the volcano. Helen said, “Well, it’s just as well. Those weapons were too dangerous anyway.” (Link to synopsis by Todd Gault)

There wasn’t much of an alien nature in the serial other than Mota’s Martian clothing and saucer. Mota never called for reinforcements from the large Martian “patrol ships permanently stationed” above the earth. We were never shown those, so maybe that was a bluff, not a plot hole. Story wise, things would have worked as well if Mota was a foreign conqueror with a super plane. Like a lot of movies, the most exciting part was the theatrical poster with its imaginative depiction of the Martian flying saucer invasion that never happened in the film.

Flying Disc Man from Mars on YouTube

The next year, feature-length motion pictures got into the UFO business, but Mota eventually flew again in a rerelease. In 1958, was edited down to a 75-minute movie, Missile Monsters to be a double-feature with Satan’s Satellites.



The trailer for
Missile Monsters advertised a UFO dogfight:

"For the first time on the screen, men battle a disc plane in the clouds. You'll be thrilled by this amazing, incredible prediction of things to come."

False advertising, by 1958 it was old hat. But in 1950, Flying Disc Man from Mars was ahead of all the rest in bringing aliens and UFOs together in the movies.

. . .


For a look at how the first popular depiction of aliens coming to prevent Earth’s atomic self-destruction, see our 5-part examination of the influential 1948 short story, “The Outer Limit” by Graham Doar:

Flying Saucers, the Atomic Bomb and Doomsday: The Outer Limit (Part 1 of 5)


 

 

 


3 comments:

  1. Curt; You're the Best !!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The later Republic serial 'Zombies of the Stratosphere' is famous as seeing a young Leonard Nimoy in his first set of pointed ears! It's also as far as I can tell the last of the 'UFO' serials.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And like the UFO alien in the earlier serial, his character’s name was Mota (Atom, spelled backwards.)

      Delete

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