Thursday, February 15, 2024

A Lost UFO Film: Attack of the Flying Saucers

 From Fliegende Untertassen to Attack of the Flying Saucers

This is a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” story, one about flying saucer movies.

The 1951 movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still, was a bit of bait and switch, advertised as being about space invaders, while the real mission of the aliens was to promote peace (by force if necessary).

There was one scene of a newspaper illustration sensationalizing flying saucers, depicting the planet under siege by fleets of alien invaders. The headline asked, “Are We Long For This World?” It’d be a few years before such an attack made it to film, but one step in that direction was an obscure short documentary made in Germany.

Walther Johannes Riedel 1903-1974

Following World War II, one of the Nazi scientists brought to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip was “Dr. Walther Riedel, international rocket authority and father of Germany's World War II V-2 program…” An Associated Press story from March 14, 1949, quoted Riedel as being certain of the future of interplanetary travel.

The La Crosse Tribune, March 14, 1949

There was no mention of flying saucers, but he later revealed he’d been interested in aerial phenomena reports since the mid-1940s. Working for the North American Aviation company, Riedel met some professional scientists and aeronautical engineers interested in the mystery of UFOs.

In The Flying Saucers Are Real, Donald Keyhoe wrote that while he was doing his initial research in 1949, he met a key source, a “private engineer’ who:

“asked that he not be quoted by name. The name I am using, Paul Redell, will serve that purpose. Redell is a well-known aeronautical engineer. He has worked with major aircraft companies and served as a special consultant to government agencies and the industries.”

UFO historian Jerome Clark identified Redell as Walther Riedel in his 2003 book, Strange Skies, but it’s also possible “Redell” was a fictional or composite character chiefly based on Riedel. Keyhoe also wrote that “Redell” thought saucers were of interplanetary origin and “was convinced that the earth had been under observation a long time.” When Keyhoe asked about the power source of saucers, Redell speculated about the “use of electromagnetic fields” for propulsion:

“there must be some way to tap this force and go from one planet to another without using any fuel. You’d use your first planet’s magnetic field to start you off and then coast through space until you got into the field of the next planet.”

In late 1951 Edward J. Sullivan, a technical writer for NAA, formed the Civilian Saucer Investigation group of Los Angeles, a serious but part-time UFO organization. Riedel was described an honorary member and vice-president, but served as the leader of CSI’s board of scientific and aeronautical experts.

Chiefly due to his association with the group, Riedel was featured on national television programs and in the famous pro-UFO article in Life magazine April 7, 1952, "Have We Visitors from Space?" He gave Life his view on flying saucers. "I am completely convinced that they have an out-of-world basis."

The topic of the NBC television show, We, the People, on Aug 1, 1952, wasThe Flying Saucers." It was a half-hour news magazine show produced by the editors of Life magazine. (See: UFOs on TV: The 1952 Washington, DC Saucer Flap For links to clips from the show.

Riedel was interviewed, and his position was summarized in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 5, 1952 (Part 1, Part 2).

"[Dr. Walther Riedel]… Said flat out the saucers were real; that they were in fact piloted by residents of another planet, and that there, was nothing very surprising about the whole thing because we could build similar space platters "if we put enough money into the job during the next 15 years or so."

During the next year, Riedel was involved with a film project, an effort to present the UFO topic factually and scientifically. Later, novice ufologist Jim Moseley was conducting interviews for a proposed book on flying saucers, and in Dec. 1953, he interviewed Riedel. From his unpublished notes:

“In Los Angeles I interviewed Dr. [Walther] Riedel… an honorary member of Civilian Saucer Investigation... According to Riedel, the interplanetary answer is highly probable but not proven.... However, Riedel believes none of the [Contactee] stories of space-men landing, etc…

In Germany, Dr. Riedel made a short documentary film on flying saucers. This film does not contain or pretend to contain any actual film of flying saucers, but it has a good running commentary on saucers, and by animation, shows the various types that have been seen. The film in its present form runs about 18 minutes, and was shown to me by Mr. Martin Nosseck, a friend of Riedel’s who is a motion picture producer in Hollywood; He has an independent studio, and operates on a very small scale. He told me that the documentary will be built up to a half hour in length and sold to T.V. - The film is particularly interesting in one part which explains scientifically the magnetic theory of propulsion.”

The title of the film was Fliegende Untertassen, German for “Flying Saucers,” made in 1953. Based on the available evidence, the short’s special effects were very good, creating cinematic flying saucers to rival anything that Hollywood was producing at the time. The flying saucers are depicted via stop-motion animation, not only zipping across the sky, but also interacting with the environment, moving over cities and flying behind buildings and clouds.

The film included scenes of people reacting to the arrival of flying saucers, their emotions ranging from amazement to fear.

The credits for Fliegende Untertassen we’ve been able to find:

Directed and written by Georg Zauner and Friedrich Wollangk.

Scientific consultant: Walther Riedel.

Music by Horst Dempwolff.

Sound effects: Werner Schlagge.

Studio: Filmaufbau GmbH (Göttingen), Hans Abich, Rolf Thiele.

Producer: Friedrich Wendt.

The French site for Boulevard du CinĂ© has a listing for 16mm print of the film but is described as “unavailable,” and carries a brief description, including three still images. They state the project was, “filmed according to testimonies collected in the USA by Walther Riedel.” It’s unknown if it was part of the original promotion, but it goes on to say:

“Do flying saucers come from the Moon? From Mars? Is a squadron of flying saucers observing the Earth? What would be the reactions of Earthlings if they found themselves face to face with these extraterrestrial machines? These are many points that this film will address.”

The film was probably shown in Europe before feature attractions in theaters, but it’s not documented how it was exhibited in the U.S. It’s likely that it was shown at private gatherings, Dr. Riedel’s flying saucer lectures, and possibly at club meetings and conventions. Who knows, Hollywood filmmakers may have seen the short and been inspired to make movies of aliens attacking the planet, from Earth vs the Flying Saucers, to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.


Attack of the Flying Saucers

Martin Nosseck’s plans to sell the film to television didn’t pan out. A few years later, he sold the film (or at least the US rights) to a show biz couple, June and Ron Ormond there. June had been a singer and dancer, Ron was a B-movie writer and director. Both were interested in the paranormal and attended and lectured at flying saucer conventions. As Ron Ormond Enterprises, their day job was making low budget exploitation films for drive-in theaters.

Their son, Tim Ormond was quoted in Psychotronic Video magazine, no. 26, 1997, in “The Ormonds - Into the Strange Unknown: The Untamed Story of Nashville's First Family of Film by David D. Duncan and Jim Ridley.

"Since June was interested in flying saucers and had quite a few contacts in the UFO field, she met Reinhold Schmidt and Dan Fry," Tim says. "In conversations with the group, June found out that this film [Fliegende Untertassen] was made and that a mother ship was portrayed. At that time, to her knowledge, this hadn't been shown before. So when she saw it, she bought it from a Mr. Nosseck for $1,500 from Germany. Mr. Nosseck was acting as the film's agent and was soliciting it for a company in Germany."

The original title planned for the movie, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, was Attack of the Flying Saucers, and while it was changed, they still used “Flying Saucers Attack” prominently in their ad campaign. That film was released in May 1956, and it seems the Ormonds attempted to cash in. They edited and repackaged the German short into their Attack of the Flying Saucers, copyright July 4, 1956, by Ron Ormond Enterprises. June Ormond was quoted in Filmfax no. 27, 1991, about how the film was marketed, as part of a triple feature with a UK documentary on palm reading they’d re-edited.

“We did a terrific campaign with a big, hairy, Hitler hand in the middle of it and called it The Eternal Question. We triple-billed it with Attack of the Flying Saucers and Fire Maidens from Outer Space. They made a lot of money."

Attack of the Flying Saucers debuted in Nov. 1956. The imagery used to promote the short was similar to the art used to advertise Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, an assault on earth from alien invaders.

The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), Nov. 11, 1956

1957, source unknown

 Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 12, 1958

The narration for the film’s trailer was likewise sensational:

“Watch for the date, it's coming to this theater, the most unusual featurette ever made…”

 A question bursts on the screen,

“Is it possible?”

Attack of the Flying Saucers," below it, 
"A Ron Ormond Enterprise Picture”

Do we have visitors from space? Are the many sightings, fact or fiction?

Is this a prediction of things to come, of flying saucers bent on conquering the world?

How will mankind react to spacecrafts?

Was Air Force Captain Mantel really killed by flying saucers?

[Dialogue] “Captain Mantel to Godman Tower - I’ve sighted the thing. It looks metallic, and it's a tremendous size.”

Now for the first time, learn the truth about this awe-inspiring subject.

See Attack of the Flying Saucers, the most gripping short ever photographed."

The Bellingham Herald, Bellingham, Washington, January 6, 1957, carried a brief and garbled description of what the film was supposed to depict:

“In ‘Attack of the Flying Saucers,’ showing a simulated attack on a real city, Captain Mantell’s pictures of flying saucers are used.”

Attack was packaged with various other films until 1960, such as Untamed Mistress and Lost/Outlaw Women.  

As far as we can tell, Attack of the Flying Saucers is a lost film. Ron Ormond died in 1981, June in 2006. Somehow, an outside party staked a claim on the film. From Motion Picture Copyrights & Renewals, 1950-1959 by David Pierce, 1989:

ATTACK OF THE FLYING SAUCERS. Copyright 4 July 1956, PA - 233-371, by Ron Ormond Enterprises. Renewed 17 September 1984, RE - 259-431, by Wade H. Williams, III.

Wade Williams died in 2023,   If he owned a print of the film, maybe his heirs will unearth and release it one day. Until then…

The trailer for Attack of the Flying Saucers surfaced in 2022 on YouTube, so we can at least get a glimpse of it.

 Some additional pictures from the film, displaying the different types of UFOs depicted.

Epilogue: Getting out of the Flying Saucer Business

Ron and June Ormond

An article in the San Mateo Times of Oct. 9, 1958, reported that June Ormond would be speaking at a UFO club, discussing “The Real Flying Saucer Story” film project, also called, “Crusade to New Horizons.” Several prominent figures were to be on board. "The talents of George Van Tassel, Kenneth Arnold, Dan Fry, Ray and Rex Stanford, Dana Howard, Carl Anderson, Buck Nelson, Reinhold Schmidt and many others will be utilized.” 

It never happened, but Ron and June Ormond did go on to make a UFO movie, Edge of Tomorrow debuted on May 28th, 1961, based on the first encounter of Reinhold O. Schmidt. His story is examined in: The Trial of a UFO Gold Digger.  

Dr. Walther Riedel

The Los Angeles Times, Feb. 21, 1954, announced a lecture by Dr. Walther Riedel for the American Legion Hall on Feb. 25, 1954, “Rocket Expert to Give Flying Saucers Lecture.” His presentation was to “be illustrated with a motion picture and a series of slides on the subject of flying saucers.” As far as we can find, it was Riedel’s last public involvement with the UFO topic.

Donald Keyhoe’s “Redell” surfaced again as a major character in his book about 1953-54 events, The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, 1955.

Jim Moseley’s unpublished book notes contained a 1954 update on Riedel, but didn’t describe where he’d gathered the information:

“Some time between talking to me in December 1953, and leaving for a vacation in his native Germany, Riedel unaccountably changed his position on saucers, and now professes to believe they are all natural phenomena, etc.”

Moseley printed something similar, that Riedel, "now says that they do not exist." on page 4 of (Saucer NewsNexus, Feb. 1955.

That was essentially the last the UFO world heard from Dr. Riedel, and in time, he moved permanently back to Germany. However, his old quotes on saucers continued to be quoted by UFO advocates, even today. Fans think he "Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers," and was silenced.

It’s mostly speculation, but trouble had been brewing for some time before that. A CIA memorandum (CIA PDF  – Transcribed textfrom Feb. 9, 1953, based on Riedel’s statements of his CSI activities in Los Angeles:

“Of incidental interest may be the fact that NAA (National Aeronautical Association) suggested politely and perhaps indirectly to Dr. Riedel that he disassociate himself from official membership [in] CSI.”

UFO historian Michael Swords thinks that after CIA’s Robertson Panel (chaired by Dr. Howard P. Robertson), the U.S. government was responsible. From UFOs and Abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge, David M. Jacobs, ed., 2000, p. 115:

“Within a month, the FBI was investigating Los Angeles’s Civilian Saucer Investigations, and [Walther] Riedel was being pressured to resign. Robertson shortly wrote to [CIA Assistant Director] Marshall Chadwell: “That ought to fix the Forteans.”

CSI had also received some negative press, and besides, their work had stagnated in 1954 due to it being a part-time endeavor. They shut it down. Jerome Clark wrote in The UFO Encyclopedia, “[The CSI leadership and] associates left the field and were not heard from again. 

The science fiction magazine, IF: Worlds of Science Fiction , Dec. 1956, featured “This Lonely Earth” by Dr. Walther Riedel, a 9-page essay about the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the challenge of traveling to find it. He was confident that, “The existence of intelligent life within the Universe, and within our own Milky Way galaxy is beyond doubt.” However, he made no mention of flying saucers.

. . .


Additional Sources and References

Thanks to Jeff Knox and Issac Koi for their help in researching Riedel and the film.

Profile on Civilian Saucer Investigation from The Eugene Guard, Aug. 17, 1952, UO Graduate Convinced Saucers Are Real After Study.

The Exotic Ones: That Fabulous Film-Making Family from Music City, USA - The Ormonds by Jimmy McDonough, 2023

Post by “doctor kiss,” Sept. 24, 2010, on “a late 1950's Ron Ormond release called Attack of the Flying Saucers.”

Luis Ruiz Noguez wrote a series of articles in 2016 on Ron Ormond and Fliegende Untertassen at Marcianitos Verdes (Spanish) Part One Part Two Part Three

Forgotten Ufologist: Journalist James Phelan

  In the series, The Ufologists That Time Forgot , we focus on obscure figures in flying saucer history. The subject of this article is famo...