The eyes have it
Half the fun in watching Roger Corman‘s series of shoestring-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s is to spot the ways Corman cut corners to the bone, but still delivered watchable movies.
He achieved this by assembling casts and crews on the cusp — talented enough to do good work, but little-known enough to work for peanuts.
“Not of This Earth” is a perfect example. If you’re inclined to judge sci-fi films by FX alone, “Not of” gives you exactly two: “white eye” contact lenses on star Paul Birch, and a small alien creature that looks okay at first glance, but in execution resembles an evil flying napkin.
Though somewhat underwhelming, “Not of” has flashes of cleverness that hold your interest. The cast is a Corman aficionado’s dream: Birch as an alien invader in human form who conceals his weird (and deadly) eyes with dark specs; Beverly Garland as the wisecracking nurse he hires to administer transfusions; Jonathan Haze as a petty hood who becomes the alien’s chaueffer; and Dick Miller in an all-too-brief bit as a vacuum cleaner salesman who knocks on the wrong door.
Driving Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hana‘s script is that Birch, in the cause of gathering precious human blood, attempts, however awkwardly, to learn the ways of Earthlings. It makes for some subtly comic moments, such as when Birch repeats the Miller-ism “flip-flops” in his otherworldly deadpan.
If you were feeling generous, you could call “Not of” a dark comedy. Miller’s death scene is an instance of flat-out slapstick. (Describing it would be a disservice, except to say that Miller breaks the fourth wall in an almost Lou Costello way.)
Silent-era comedian Hank Mann, once a star in his own right, does a hilarious bit as the ringleader of three drunks who hang out at a park. Birch asks Haze to lure them to his house for dinner (and blood extraction). It’s played for laughs, and broadly at that. Mann was a favorite foil of Charlie Chaplin. He appeared with Chaplin in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” (1914), “Modern Times” (1931), “City Lights” (1936) and “The Great Dictator” (1940). Mann also worked with Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges and Our Gang. How did Corman find him?
In 1988, Corman produced a “Not of This Earth” comedy remake starring Traci Lords in the Beverly Garland role. The newer version is virtually beat-for-beat true to the original, recreating much dialogue verbatim. Michael Delano does an out-and-out Dick Miller impression! Another update, of course, is the film’s generous infusion of female nudity, something Corman always called the “cheapest special effect” in the movies.
‘NOT OF THIS EARTH’
Starring Paul Birch as Paul Johnson; Beverly Garland as Nadine Storey; Jonathan Haze as Jeremy Perrin; and Dick Miller as Joe
Written by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna
Cinematography by Frederick E. West
Produced and directed by Roger Corman