Attack of the cucumber!
Roger Corman was workin’ the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” vibe here. Goin’ for some paranoia. “It Conquered the World” is about a Venusian invader enabled by an admiring, welcoming, drinking-the-Koolaid Earthling scientist. Humans are being body-snatched by aliens. Who can you trust? Such was the zeitgeist of the Fabulous Fifties.
The cast has a cool anomaly for movie buffs. The second lead is played by Lee Van Cleef — the “Bad” in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” So looking back, the casting of Van Cleef (a Somerville native) was a real “get” for Corman. And it’s a meaty part. It’s not just a gee-whiz, exposition-spouting, sci-fi-movie nothing. Van Cleef is the aforementioned enabling scientist — a traitor to the human race, really. He thinks Earth will be a better place after the Venusians take over. This raises all sorts of ethical concerns for his best buddy, Peter Graves.
“Conquered” is famous, or infamous, for its titular monster, nicknamed “Beulah” by its creator Paul Blaisdell, and affectionately called “the Cucumber Monster” by fans. Bob Burns, who assisted Blaisdell on the film, has all sorts of stories about Beulah. It grabbed Beverly Garland‘s boob. It wasn’t supposed to be ambulatory, but only stationary in a dark cave with moody lighting, until suddenly, Corman insisted on staging a Venusian-Earthling showdown outside of the cave in broad daylight. Blaisdell was practically in tears, according to Burns. The scene, with Beulah impotently flailing its Venusian arms, never fails to get laughs. Even from people who are watching it home alone on television. They laugh out loud. Sitting by themselves.
Garland is, as always, terrific in the film as Van Cleef’s wife, who has a sickening feeling her obsessed hubby is colluding with Earth’s enemy. The scene where she tells off the alien and marches into the cave with a rifle is pure John Wayne stuff. You go, girl.
Corman mainstays Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze have incongruously humorous roles as Army guys. Miller is the Sarge. Haze is playing “Private Manuel Ortiz,” with a bad accent and a mustache to match. Don’cha wish there were a dozen Miller-Haze movies, like Hope and Crosby or Martin and Lewis?
Forty years later, co-stars Graves and Garland played the grandparents in “Seventh Heaven” (1997-2006), a cute dramedy about a whitebread preacher with five kids. At the time, no one pointed out Graves’ and Garland’s shared “It Conquered the World” past. Not the network, not the TV critics, nobody. Fail!
‘IT CONQUERED THE WORLD’
Starring Peter Graves as Paul Nelson; Beverly Garland as Claire Anderson; Lee Van Cleef as Tom Anderson; and Sally Fraser as Joan Nelson
Written by Lou Rusoff and Charles B. Griffith
Cinematography by Frederick E. West
Produced and directed by Roger Corman
[American International Pictures]