As an old poorly colorized movie fought its way though my HDMI cables and the mostly red and blue images lit up my flat screen, I thought back to the state of movie-watching, decades past, as compared to now. It’s hard to believe that there was such a thing as “pre-cable.”
Movies were such precious things back in the day. The only way that you could see a beloved film would be to return to the theater again and again. Popular ones could run for years and at times it seemed they would never find their way to the small, home screen. I guess after the money that Hollywood and theater owners could squeeze out of patrons had been exhausted, we couch potatoes could finally get to see our favorites. That is, after they cut the film to pieces with commercials, parental restrictions and made-to-fit your-television formatting, of course.
I remember a particular TV show, which came on only in the evening, in New York on Channel 9. It was called The Million Dollar Movie. It would run only movies, some pretty old, others pretty bad. There was one in particular that made me have nightmares and the fear stayed with me for years. By today’s standards, the flick might be considered pretty lame but it had enough of a strong theme to scare the crap out of a particular ten year old. By the time the movie got to the small screen, in 1963, I was ten. The movie I’m talking about was called Invaders from Mars and it was made back in 1953.
When the film premiered in theaters, Americans were still healing from the open wounds of World War II, which ended in 1945. The country was also dealing with the creeping fear that insidious forces might still attempt to influence and overcome their way of living. The not so unreal paranoia of take-over caused many to relate to this film and similar ones of the era.
I’ve read countless reviews about Invaders from Mars and the common thread was always the same. The fact that scary movies easily instilled fear in those of us who were of an impressionable age goes without saying. But the fear that a more ominous threat was on the way helped the more adult audience to identify on a level that they all knew too well.
The belief that the Black man of the 1950s might be someone to be uncomfortable around was not so quietly being used in this film. For some, having this person’s face, as the leader was probably a little more than disturbing, especially since he was described as, “Mankind developed to its ultimate intelligence.” He was of ultimate intelligence on Mars but still fighting for rights on Earth. I guess the movie producers decided to use a Black guy to mess with the movie-goers heads. In actuality, this “guy” was an actress named Luz Potter born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her name was never mentioned in the credits but neither were any of the other Martians in the movie for that matter.
As seen today as a horror flick, it’s hard to understand what all the fuss was about. The visible zippers down the backs of the Martians made me laugh and the long lectures by the scientist about space travel were drawn out and boring. But regardless of how rationally we can look at things today, the ten year old in all of us will always have a reason to fear the unknown. I guess it’s just a matter of perspective.
I love my New York home. Its diversity inspires me. I would not for the world trade my multitude of experiences there.