This pioneering science-fiction outing emphasises suspense and atmosphere, rather than the shock special effects of John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, in a tense story of Arctic scientists trying to cope with the first of Hollywood’s Cold War aliens.
A US Air Force crew led by Captain Pat Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) is ordered to fly to the North Pole where the scientific Polar Expedition #6 base – headed by Dr Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) – has reported something very unusual.
A strange unidentified aircraft that conforms to no known design has crashed in this frozen wilderness and is now trapped in the ice.
The Polar Expedition team and Air Crew duly head out to the windswept Arctic location of the crash site and find a huge saucer-shaped craft buried beneath the freezing ice.
The sequence where the men fan out around the crashed saucer trapped below the ice – to gauge how big it is and where exactly it lies – is a truly great and iconic scene.
An attempt by the team to release the craft with explosives fails and merely destroys it – but they do retrieve a body which they take back to the base frozen in a block of ice.
Hendry orders the body to be placed under guard until he receives further instructions but Sgt Barnes (William Self) unwittingly thaws the block of ice by accident and the mysterious occupant escapes, slitting the throats of several men in the process and hanging them upside down in the greenhouse.
The only glaring weakness with this enjoyable slice of fifties horror/sci-fi is that the alien monster can’t help but be a little disappointing when it is finally revealed to the audience as it is essentially a big man with some garish face make-up.
Howard Hawks is only credited as producer, but the film is suspiciously full of his signature flourishes (camaraderie in the face of ambush, for instance, and his trademark overlapping dialogue) and director Christian Nyby never made anything half as good again.
Captain Patrick Hendry
Lt Eddie Dykes