This Island Earth is an American science fiction film directed by Joseph M. Newman. It is based on the novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones. The film stars Jeff Morrow as the alien Exeter, Faith Domergue as Dr. Ruth Adams, and Rex Reason as Dr. Cal Meacham.

In 1996, This Island Earth was edited down and lampooned in the film Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. When initially released, the film was praised by critics, who cited the special effects, well-written script and eye-popping color (prints by Technicolor) as being its major assets.

This Island Earth was released in June 1955 and by the end of that year had accrued US$1,700,000 in distributors' domestic (U.S. and Canada) rentals, making it the year's 74th biggest earner.

This Island Earth Trailer

The New York Times review opined, "The technical effects of This Island Earth, Universal's first science-fiction excursion in color, are so superlatively bizarre and beautiful that some serious shortcomings can be excused, if not overlooked."

"Whit" in Variety wrote "Special effects of the most realistic type rival the story and characterizations in capturing the interest in this exciting science-fiction chiller, one of the most imaginative, fantastic and cleverly-conceived entries to date in the outer-space film field. "

Since its original release, the critical response to the film has continued to be mostly positive. Bill Warren has written that the film was "the best and most significant science fiction movie of 1955… it remains a decent, competent example of any era's science fiction output.."

This Island Earth Soundtrack

In Phil Hardy's The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction the film was described as "a full-blooded space opera complete with interplanetary warfare and bug-eyed monsters…the film's space operatics are given a dreamlike quality and a moral dimension that makes the dramatic situation far more interesting."

Danny Peary felt the film was "colorful, imaginative, gadget-laden sci-fi." However, of the 14 reviews included in a Rotten Tomatoes survey of internet critics regarding the title, 28% reflect negative reactions. Greater Milwaukee Today described it as "An appalling film…"

This Island Earth
Universal Filmscripts Series
Classic Science Fiction

Editor Philip J. Riley

References and Excerpts:,

This Island Earth - Story and Screenshots

Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) gives an interview to a handful of reporters, just before he boards his Lockheed T-33A jet fighter at Andrews AFB, just outside Washington, DC. He was in Washington for a conference on atomic energy, and he offers tantalizing details of his area of research: electronics, and alchemy. (Though he can't say so out loud, he's working on transforming lead into uranium.)

Then he boards his plane and takes off. His route takes him across country, including the Grand Canyon and the Sierra Nevada range, until he makes final approach at the airfield of the Ryberg Electronics Company, his employers, just outside Van Nuys, California. He chats briefly with his research assistant, Joe Wilson (Robert Nichols), before he buzzes the control tower and makes a steep climb.

Then--whether because he was being too much of a showboater or for other, non-obvious reason, his plane flames out. Without power, he will certainly crash--but then he hears a high-pitched howl, and his cockpit turns bright green. (Joe Wilson watches as Cal's plane also turns green.) Then, despite the engines being powered down, the landing gear lowers, and the plane makes a picture-perfect landing.

Any landing's a good landing, as long as you can walk away from it, and Cal knows he's had a good landing--which does not change the fact that it was clearly impossible. The two men forget about the landing as they concentrate on their research. Their next experiment reveals no change, and they burn out one of their huge condensers.

Then Joe tells Cal that he ordered two replacement condensers, and their regular supplier sent them several small beads instead. The remarkable thing about them is that each of them could take a load of 30,000 volts before abruptly disintegrating.

Cal calls the supplier to find out about the beads--and hears that they haven't had an order from Cal's company for six weeks! Joe definitely placed it, but the supplier never got it. He also reveals that the beads came from an "Electronic Section, Unit 16."

Joe assumed that was part of their supplier, but that is obviously not the case. Next day, "Unit 16" sends them a strange-looking parts catalog. It leads with a selection of bead condensers, like the ones they received, then with several versions of a device called an "interociter," and finally with a complete line of parts for this device.

Cal suggests ordering every part listed, using the same channel through which they tried to order the condensers. Obviously "Unit 16," whoever they are, intercepted the condenser order, so they'll get this one. Cal is right. The parts arrive, more than 2,000 of them, in several wooden crates, with each part cross-indexed to the part it joins onto.

Using the supplied documentation as a crude schematic, Cal and Joe assemble the interociter--a metal cabinet with an inverted-triangular screen on top. When they plug it in, nothing happens at first--until a voice (Jeff Morrow) advises them to "clear the screen" and tells them how.

When they do, the owner of the voice appears: Exeter, a man with an obvious case of acromegaly, which has given him a head like that of a Chinese god--with extra room for more brains--and covered with white, stringy hair. Exeter tells them they have passed an aptitude test, and that Cal Meacham must prepare to "join our team." A plane will land, wait five minutes, then take off again.

Before breaking off the conversation, Exeter orders Cal to set the catalog on a worktable, and stand back. Whereupon three bright red rays shoot out from the corners of the screen and incinerate the catalog. After this, the interociter blows up, catches fire, and burns, leaving a pile of slag a fraction of its original size. Cal agrees to board the flight, over Joe's strenuous objections.

On the appointed day, pea-soup fog reigns--but the promised aircraft, a Douglas DC-3 Dakota, lands anyway. The twin-engined turboprop has its cockpit windows painted over, and no side windows. Inside, the cockpit incorporates another interociter. Exeter's voice sounds again, advising him to sit in the single seat, recline, and relax. He does, and the plane takes off for parts unknown.

When he lands, Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) greets him. He remembers her from a conference and a midnight swim, but she insists that he is mistaken. Nevertheless, she drives him to the hilltop house on the compound. There she introduces him to Dr. Steve Carlson (Russel Johnson) and Dr. Adolf Engelborg (Karl Ludwig Lindt), two other famous scientists at "The Club." Then Exeter comes out to greet them and calls them into his office.

There Exeter tells Cal that he represents a group of scientists hoping to dazzle the world with high technological achievement and thus put an end to war. Naturally his office has an interociter, through which Exeter shows Cal a laboratory outfitted just for him. But in the middle of this virtual tour, the screen gives an obvious signal of an incoming call. Exeter must take this call alone, so he ushers Cal and Ruth out.

The call is from The Monitor (Douglas Spencer), who in this scene appears only as Exeter's superior officer. The Monitor is displeased: Exeter is not moving fast enough. Exeter protests that "certain methods" that "The Council" told him to use were not practical. The Monitor will hear of no complaint, and instructs Exeter to get cracking on "Plan A," whatever that is.

In the next scene, Exeter and Braack host a formal dinner for all the members of The Club: Cal, Ruth, Steve, Enjgelborg, Dr. Hu Ling Tang (Spencer Chan), Dr. Marie Pitchener (Lizalotta Valesca), and a Dr. Borfield (Manuel Paris). Here, Engelborg excuses himself, saying (in German) that Mozart is not to his taste, and bidding them good evening. (The house' sound system is playing Mozart's "A Little Night Music" in the background.)

Cal turns to Exeter and asks him what he thinks of Mozart. And Exeter makes a major mistake. "I don't know the gent..." he begins. Then, catching himself, he says, "Ah. My mind must have been wandering. Your composer, of course." Cal, shocked, follows up: "'Our' composer? He belongs to the world!" "Yes, indeed," says Exeter--lamely. And Cal does not miss that.

So he announces that he will take some fresh air himself, and invites (or rather, almost orders) Ruth and Steve to join him. Exeter grants permission, but Braack is instantly suspicious. Outside, Cal notes to Ruth and Steve the lack of representation of any scientific discipline except for nuclear physics. Then he leads them downstairs and to his assigned laboratory. There he takes a thick lead plate and places it in front of his assigned interociter.

Assured (as he thinks) of privacy, he demands that Ruth and Steve tell him what's happening. Ruth confesses, first of all, that she *did* take a midnight swim with him in Vermont, but needed to know that she could trust him. Then they tell him the reason for their concern: Exeter has been known to place some of their colleagues (except Ruth, Steve, and Adolf) under a "sun lamp" that does a noninvasive leukotomy on the subject, making him robot-like.

Exeter and Braack (Lance Fuller) debate the use of the "Transformer," their name for the "sun lamp." Braack has a typical "police mentality," which Exeter does not share. But Exeter tries to tune the interociter to spy on Cal, Ruth, and Steve. The lead plate is no protection, but a tabby cat named Neutron (Orangey) gets into the beams and yowls at the three, alerting them that they are not so private after all. Exeter and Braack give up; they will learn nothing more.

The next morning, Exeter and Cal have a conversation that starts out friendly and colleagual enough, but then turns threatening as Exeter sets up a demonstration of what an interociter can do--cut a neat hole in that lead plate! His message is plain: don't talk to his colleagues except through "channels." But Cal is not inclined to obey.

Using Neutron the Cat as an indicator, the three have one last chat, in which they share what they know: sketches of the interociter (annotated with Steve's best guess at what its controls do), sketches of Exeter and Braack, and a sketch of a hillside, two miles south of the compound, that looks hollowed out and covered with canvas. Then they leave the laboratory and the house, never to return.

In Exeter's office, Exeter and Braack take one more call from The Monitor: Plan A is out, and Plan B is in effect. An emergency plan. It means full evac, and destroying the house and everyone in it, except for Cal and Ruth, who might prove useful. So that as the three try to escape, Braack uses the interociter to fire neutrino beams at the car. Steve tells Cal and Ruth to get out of the car, and then tries to draw the fire of the interociter.

Tragically, he is killed, as is Adolf Engelborg, who tries to talk to Cal and Ruth, except that he speaks only German, which they don't speak. Cal and Ruth continue on foot to the airstrip, where they get into a single-engine plane (a 1949 Aeronca 11 Chief) that Exeter has always kept for the amusement of the staff. But as the Chief takes off, something else takes off: a saucer-shaped hovering craft, which fires a ray that destroys the house.

The ship then hovers over the Chief, bathes them in green light, and somehow pulls them up and into a holding bay. (Whether it does this by drawing them in with focused energy like the "tractor beam" of Star Trek fame, or merely by taking over the Aeronca's controls, is not clear.) Exeter, of course, commands that vessel, which has a crew of beings that look like him: oversized brain pans, white hair, and all. (And Braack is his master-at-arms, in charge of security)

Cal strongly protests the "mass murder" of Steve, Adolf, and the others in the destroyed house. Exeter protests that he could have done nothing else, and asks them to accept that they are to fly to another world: Metaluna, Exeter's homeworld. The journey is an eventful one.

It means passing through a "thermal barrier," then going through a "conversion" process so they could live in an atmosphere with a pressure comparable to Earth's deep sea, and finally running a gauntlet of attack from another space power, named Zahgon, which has been at war with Metaluna--and is about to deal the coup-de-grâce.

They make it through, destroying several guided meteors as they pass, and then pass through the "ionization layer," then to the now-barren surface of Metaluna, and then down a hole into a vast cavern to which the Metalunans have had to retreat. The ship docks with a tall pylon, and Exeter gives orders for all to be made ready for Cal and Ruth to keep working.

Cal now knows why Exeter's project was so urgent: Metaluna needs uranium, and a lot of it, and fast, or else they'll lose their last shield. Exeter takes Cal and Ruth for a ride, past destroyed universities and recreation centers, to the center of government--a single building, surrounded by rubble. There sits the Monitor, on a bench-style two-handed interociter from which he is desperately trying to keep the ionization layer active.

The Monitor then announces that the relative handful of Metalunans left will fly to Earth for refuge! Cal does not like that one bit, and argues with the Monitor over whether he, as a mere human, ought to bow before a Metalunan. The Monitor then orders Cal and Ruth to be sent to a "thought transference chamber." At the last instant, Ruth and Cal refuse to enter. But when they try to run away, a Mutant (Regis Parton)--a walking insect with an oversized, convoluted brain--bars their way. Exeter admits that the Mutants are selectively bred slaves. Exeter begs them to cooperate. Instead, Cal decks Exeter, only to face the Mutant.

But a Zahgon meteor bomb strikes the building they are in, brings down a pile of rubble on top of the Mutant, and opens the way for them to escape. The problem: they could get to the spacecraft, but could never fly it off Metaluna. Ruth would rather die right then and not put it off.

But Exeter, who has crawled out of the now-destroyed building, begs them to let him help them get off Metaluna. (The Monitor, meanwhile, has been killed, and his interociter/throne totally wrecked.) Exeter drives them to the ship, only to find another Mutant (Regis Parton, playing another part) guarding it.

Exeter orders the Mutant to stand aside. But while Cal and Ruth can pass it, the Mutant abruptly turns on Exeter and injures him badly with the pincers that he has for hands. Cal grabs a fire extinguisher from the Aeronca Chief's cockpit, clouts the Mutant over the head with it, and helps Exeter aboard. Exeter, using one bench-style interociter, warms the ship up--but no one notices the Mutant climbing aboard just as the hatch battens down.

Exeter succeeds in piloting the ship out of the cavern, through the hole, and into space. He notes as they go that the ionization layer is now gone, and the ship barely has enough power to get them off. Sure enough, the Zahgon fleet send two guided meteors after them; Exeter fires at both, but can destroy only one and must evade the other.

But the Zahgon fleet pay them no more attention, and instead rain hundreds of guided meteors on Metaluna, making it so hot that it ignites and turns into a tiny star! Exeter then asks Cal and Ruth to take the "conversion" treatment in reverse, as Exeter also will. They do, but then the Mutant blunders in, his compound eyes on Ruth.

And because Ruth's treatment is the first to finish, she finds herself having to run from the Mutant before she is fully recovered. Fortunately, before the Mutant can do more than grab hold of her (and then have to let her go just as quickly), the differential pressures catch up to him, and he falls to the deck and disintegrates.

Exeter's ship limps back to Earth. (The film does not mention the thermal barrier again; this might or might not mean that the Zahgonians threw it up when the war started and have now taken it down.) Exeter charts a course for the Pacific coast, where Exeter will drop Cal and Ruth in their Aeronca Chief into the air. Exeter will not try to land. He says he will explore the galaxy for another Metaluna.

Cal knows that story is bogus: the ship is almost drained of power, and Exeter could never make another world even if he could find it. He and Ruth beg Exeter to come with them, but he refuses, saying that his wounds are fatal. So he drops the two off, in the Aeronca Chief, over the California coast (and specifically over Palos Verdes, near Van Nuys Airport and Catalina Island).

Cal and Ruth hold each other, and tell each other how glad they are to be home, and that they have a home to come back to--which Exeter does not. Exeter, meanwhile, steers out to sea, flying fast enough to start to burn up. He passes rapidly over Catalina Island and finally passes out at his interociter console. His ship ditches into the deep sea in a ball of flame.

50's SCI-FI - 1955 / OTHER > > >












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