Watch The Skies!
UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico, I'll try and watch something this week that ties into the celebration. Roswell, N.M. is having their own celebration to coincide with the event. I've never been to the actual festivities, but I have driven through Roswell a few times. I lived in Odessa for many years, and drove north on vacations going to Santa Fe and Taos or further northbound into Colorado, where my sister lives.
Kenneth Arnold was the first (as far as I know) to encounter a UFO, which launched the modern age of flying saucers, and after that the UFO craze pretty much began, probably peaking in the 50's and 60's with all the glorious science fiction that was released during those decades, and is still prominent today. Heck, who doesn't like bug-eyed aliens, giant tin robots, and damsels in intergalactic distress?
Following Jung's lead, critics have suggested that movies like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) are political allegories or metaphors for cultural tensions. But as a kid who grew up in the 50's, I just thought those movies and others like them were cool!
One of my favorite and probably my first early remembrance of such movies was Invaders From Mars. I didn't see it at the theater, but saw it on our old back and white Magnavox set at home. It scared me to death! I had nightmares for weeks, but it didn't curb my cravings for such movies. In that movie a young boy about my age at the time watches the sky through his telescope one night. He sees a flying saucer go down behind his house out in a sandy field. A policeman in that area is investigating the glowing incident and the boy watches as the policeman is sucked down into the sand, similar to quicksand. He gets very frightened by what he has just seen, but the next day the same policeman comes for a visit to his house. Surely what he saw the night before was just a crazy dream, but the policeman acts weird, like a robot or something. There's also this weird X-shaped wound on the back of his neck. The boy tells his parents trying to get them to believe him, so they go to investigate the field, and sure enough they get sucked under too, only to return like robots. Talk about creeping you out as a kid! A YT streamer can be found here.
One of the things I find nostalgic about these older SF films is that there seems to be a sense of community in them. People know each other and care about each others' welfare. If something is wrong in somebody's household neighbors try to help them out, everyone knows the policemen or fireman, and the guy at the corner store or gas station. I guess that's just a part of that decade, but it seems charming in retrospect. Granted there's a downside to that, as also everyone knows the town alcoholic or floozie too, but still sometimes I miss that.
While on this same topic I've been reading a book by Robert R. McCammon called Boy's Life. It's been a great read so far. McCammon has a great writing style that's easy to read, which is always a great plus with me, but also if you happen to be a baby boomer like me or just want to read something good taking place during that era, check it out. In it McCammon also describes the same film, Invaders From Mars. The book, I believe, is marketed as horror, but so far has been more a mystery set in the 50's. The main plot has been a mystery about a car that drives off a cliff early one morning when a young boy, Cory, who is in the third grade is along with his dad on his milk route. His father upon seeing the car plunge into the lake dives in after it to rescue whoever might be behind the wheel. To his astonishment the male driver is handcuffed to the steer wheel, and he can't get the door open or the guy out of the car. His father reports this to the authorities. We find out the lake is too deep to dredge up the auto and it becomes a mystery as to who was behind the wheel and who may have done such a thing to him. From there, a bit of that plot is put on hold and we learn more about the small town of Zephr, where Cory and his family live. I've not finished the book yet, but it's been a good summer read.
Arnold's sighting received unprecedented coverage, and suddenly people everywhere were observing flying "dimes, hubcaps, and ice cream cones" in the skies. The public furor prompted the Air Force to establish "Project Sign," or more popularly "Project Saucer," in December of 1947. It's mission was to assess the potential threat of flying saucers to national security. One month after the Mt. Rainer incident, Arnold sighted another group of UFOs near Tacoma, which was detailed for Fate magazine publisher, Ray Palmer. It became known as the Maury Island Hoax. En route, Arnold saw and attempted to film a flock of brass-colored flying objects that looked like ducks. Many UFOlogists cite Arnold's Mr. Rainier encounter as the beginning of the "modern age" of flying saucers. Later, with the help of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold won the 1962 Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Idaho.
You can read some about the UFO case here. By 1950, the first round of saucer books were out and a film linking Russians and saucers entitled The Flying Saucer had been released. You can watch it on Youtube here. By mid-decade George Adamski and Buck Nelson had told of their contacts with saucer people. By 1956, arguably most of the best saucer films had been produced. By the late 50's flying saucers had invaded practically every aspect of popular culture.
As a side note, the other claim to Big Spring's fame is that they also shots parts of Midnight Cowboy there, another one of my favorite films. During that time I read in the newspaper they were hiring extras and although I knew zilch about acting or movie making, I went out to the Holiday Inn where they were conducting interviews for the film. I, along with everybody else, had no idea what type of extras they were looking for, so we just showed up in line for the short interviews. I was not hired, being the wrong type (that may be a plus if you've ever seen the film--they were looking for more rural Deliverance movie types), but I still have fond memories of the incident and talking to an actual talent scout.