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I Married a Monster from Outer Space was initially praised for being better than its silly title, that clearly was meant to ape the drive-in zeitgeist of the previous year's I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Viewers expecting low-grade dreck instead found some good acting and okay plotting in a cheaply made but not embarrassing Paramount attempt to horn in on the field dominated by American International and Allied Artists.
This title was also a favorite of feminist film critics of the early 1970s. They ate up on its fore-grounded theme of domestic trauma. Poor Marge knows her husband is really some Thing from another world, but who will believe her? Every new wife has that problem.
The movie develops its way-out concept in a deceptively rational manner. The night before his wedding, Bill Farrell runs afoul of a hideous alien on a country road and is enveloped in a sinister black cloud. He goes through with the ceremony but his new bride Marge (Gloria Talbott) is convinced that he's not the man she was engaged to. Naturally nobody will believe her, especially after she follows Bill into the woods and finds him consorting with creatures from outer space.
Yes, critics looking for evidence of sinister sexual politics in genre films had plenty of ammunition in I Married a Monster from Outer Space, which lifted ideas wholesale from Invaders from Mars and particularly Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of which it is a virtual re-think. These invaders are kinder, gentler aliens who have lost their own females, which as we all know are a scarce commodity in Outer Space: ask those lonely guys of the cosmosphere The Mysterians. These particular aliens are here to run a few tests to determine if Earth women can bear children with ping pong balls in their mouths and spidery tubes connecting their heads with their bodies. 1
Instead of killing, possessing or duplicating Earth males, these visitors merely kidnap men and hang them in rows inside their plywood spaceship, using what look like Nintendo machines to borrow their appearance and minds as disguises. Soon eight or nine aliens have taken over key males in the community, mostly the police, as in It Conquered the World. Alien individuals impersonating married males are learning interesting lessons about Earthly carnality -- sex is not bad at all, take it from ZxenOth! To identify one other, the aliens can let down their projected disguises and reveal their snarly-twisted faces. Also, lightning storms interrupt the disguise broadcast, causing the face of Bill Farrell's imposter to flicker back and forth between Tom Tryon and the icky Outer Space Monster.
Frantic wife Marge finds this out by an interesting means -- her alien husband eventually confesses all. By imitating a human this particular foreign invader has learned human compassion and developed sympathy for Marge. Instead of going on a rampage, Alien-Bill is humbled by the unpleasantness of his mission and his deception of an innocent Earth female.
This is better treatment than most of Marge's girlfriends were getting from their real human husbands and boyfriends. They habitually hung around Maxie Rosenbloom's bar to gripe about their servitude to the stifling institution of marriage. Sam Benson's alien marries Sam's girlfriend, although we aren't given the physical details of their mating experiments. No babies seem to be on the way, which has to be a disappointment to the armada of spaceships waiting out in orbit around the Earth, Mars Attacks! style. 2
Frankly, this is actually a pretty feeble invasion: these are the nicest aliens ever to focus their ray guns on our humble world. The impostor Aliens must periodically return to their spaceship (hidden up in Griffith Park!) for injections of their home atmosphere or something. Sam Benson's imposter (Alan Dexter) is asphyxiated when the kindly Dr. Wayne (Ken Lynch) gives him a poisonous hit of oxygen after a swimming accident. As the other aliens watch the doctor put on the respirator mask, we wonder why they don't object.
The real effect of the invasion is the domestic inconvenience suffered by the local wives. Finding out about the mating experiment, Dr. Wayne organizes a bunch of fathers of proven potency (!) to go wipe out the alien nest. Although armed with disintegrating ray guns, the aliens are defeated by a German shepherd that pulls their facial tubes apart as if they were made of licorice. So much for having a technological edge. If you're going to invade Earth, ya gotta shoot first and woo the females afterwards. As they say on The Simpsons, ray guns are no match for our puny Earth Weapons.
The intriguing I Married a Monster from Outer Space indicates Paramount wanted to tap the teen monster market. The film benefits from souped-up production values only a studio can provide. The monster suits look good, and Universal optical outcast John Fulton provides some expressive ray blasts, strange glows to augment the aliens and victim-enveloping clouds of inky boiling gas. But the cityscape looks like an unadorned back lot and the rest of the town was clearly filmed in Savant's Paramount-adjacent Hollywood neighborhood, judging by Marge and Bill's house number. Several road scenes are filmed on the upper reaches of Bronson Avenue. If you ever visit Bronson Caverns, the police roadblock is set up right where one must park to walk further up the hill.
The most elaborate scene appears to be a sunny picnic. A second unit could handle sidebar action with bargirl Valerie Allen being disintegrated for getting too nosy over a window-shopping alien. front of a maternity store, and the alien-cops murdering a pushy gangster in cold blood. That scene and an interrupted attempt to contact the F.B.I. give I Married a Monster from Outer Space the feeling of a retread stolen from Roger Corman and Don Siegel. The movie generates some suspense but never the desired level of paranoia.
Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott enjoy nice showcase roles. Tryon had a fitful career, working for Disney in television and reportedly being abused by director Otto Preminger in his biggest role in The Cardinal. He later became a successful novelist. Gloria Talbott had a varied career with a notable highlight as the thoughtless daughter that gives Jane Wyman a television set for Christmas in All That Heaven Allows. Yet she's more frequently cited for this feature and the Allied Artists cheapies The Cyclops and Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Both she and Tryon were featured in film clips from I Married in a 1998 remake entitled I Married a Monster. It slipped by me somehow.
Paramount's DVD of I Married a Monster from Outer Space looks great, with a properly framed enhanced widescreen image that has been perfectly transferred. The main titles no longer look lost with acres of empty space above and below. The punchy audio track recycles electronic noises from The War of the Worlds. The sound mix in the final attack on the spaceship becomes unusually busy and dynamic for a studio film of this vintage.
There aren't any extras, although the lively trailer was featured on laserdiscs of When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds back in the early 90s. Somebody needs to get Paramount interested in putting at least some extras on average library titles. They are becoming more fan oriented, as seems to be happening with the upcoming special edition of Danger: Diabolik and a rumored special edition of War of the Worlds (Stereo audio, pleeze.)
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
I Married a Monster from Outer Space rates:
1. That description is a little harsh. The alien costumes in I Married a Monster from Outer Space are imaginatively conceived things that seem to be made of fleshy driftwood. Charles Gemora is said to have played the main alien.
2. With its thousands of saucers in military formation, the design of the title scene in Mars Attacks! is a brilliant enlargement on the crude visuals in I Married a Monster from Outer Space.