Peter Graves made this for a Wilder in 1954, the year before he had made ‘Stalag 17' for a Wilder. What a different a Wilder makes. More on this enigma at the end.
First the IMDb facts, it runs for 1 hour and 11 minutes of Dali time, and the 1566 ratings average to 3.1/10. That is right at the Mendoza line.
Grave Peter is abducted by aliens, a frequent occurrence for those from Minnesota, but instead of the anal probe that St Paul of ‘Paul’ (2011) made (in)famoius, they bring him back from the dead with a heart transplant. He never says ‘Thank you.’
A lobby poster straight out of Faux News
What happened? Grave Peter is a nuclear scientist who knows as much as Kevin about nukes, and is participating in above ground nuclear testing in Nevada (which then as now is not much good for anything else). Since the tests are atomic bomb drops and the technicians, politicians, generals, grunts, journalists, and scientists stand around with sun glasses on to watch, there is also plenty of longer term killing right there. In addition, everyone smokes.
The plane Grave Peter is in mysteriously crashes and is incinerated. The assumption is that he was barbecued in the pile of ash. Grieving Wife sheds a tear. Wooden colonel stiffens his upper lip. The next test is scheduled. Must not hold up progress to Armageddon.
Then Grave Peter in a ragged jumpsuit walks home in a daze. Whacko! He survived! But how? He is stunned and remembers nothing. Not even the massive butchers’ scars on his chest. The fraternity brothers were sure they would remember something like that no matter how OBs they drank.
He is physically fit after a shower, shave, coffee, and a pipe (being a tweedy scientist he smokes a pipe so he can leave a trail of ash for the plot). Yet he remembers nothing. Mondayitis? While the examining doctor remarks on the scars, he does not investigate them in any way. Guess it was a short 15-minute consultation on the Medicare scale and there was no time for more.
The shadow of the Cold War falls with a thump. What if this Grave Peter is a substitute planted by you-know-whom. The real Grave Peter could not have survived the crash. Ergo this one is an imposter. What other explanation could there be, Erich? This possibility does not explain the scars but no one seems to care about that. He is sequestered in the base hospital under observation, i.e., hospital arrest to await the Good Doctor to come and fix him up. But he is compulsive about carrying on. This arouses more suspicions by the wooden FBI man on the scene.
With the touching faith in drugs of B-movies, they shoot up Grave Peter with a truth serum, and he tells all. This is one blabber mouth. It goes like this:
He awoke on an operating table just as a heart, he says his, but he would wouldn't he, was stuck back in his chest by a mechanical arm attended by the losers of a Ping Pong match.
Grave Peter in post-op.
He raves about those eyes. ‘Those eyes!’ He does this a lot.
Then the drug wears off and he wakes up in the hospital to find the doctor, the colonel, the stooge, and the FBI staring at him liked he just confessed to liking the Osmond Family’s music! Disbelief isn’t the half of it.
Conclusion: He’s no commie plant; he’s crazy. They change the locks on the hospital door. Well, no they don’t. And he is now determined to clear his name alone! Not only is he not a commie, he is not crazy, though why else did he accept this part? Grieving Wife is nowhere to be found. Another abduction? We’ll never know.
He breaks into the top security military base, he breaks into the top security safe, where he leaves pipe tobacco ash (was this an unconscious plea to be stopped?) and steals the nuclear test data.
He drives into the night, since the budget did not run to lighting, and sticks the top secret results under a rock. Oops! This is the very rock the FBI man is standing on in Bronson Canyon. Of all the rotten luck! There is punch up and Grave Peter flees. For a tweedy scientist he can hit below the belt with the best of them.
While I was raiding the refrigerator, he got himself into the aliens’ den where the Bug Eye in Chief talks to him. ‘We speak all languages,’ replies bug-eye numero uno Grave Peter’s amazement that he speak English. Polyglot, uh, a sure sign of someone up to no good. BEiC then explains to him in detail the nefarious plot in the best Dr No fashion.
They have destroyed their own world thanks to the climate change deniers and now have to relo. Earth will do, but first they have to rid it of us humans. To do this, sparing Occam’s razor, they will use the radiation from nuclear tests to charge the batteries in the hot house where they are breeding giant spiders and ants (some of which escaped to ‘Them’  - much the better film) and once they have enough creatures for a feature, they will unleash them to devour humanity. Gulp! One suspects a sequel in the works.
Now the Earth will be overrun with big bugs, but not to worry, then the bug eyes will spray DefCon to kill the insects, whose rotting bodies will fertilise the soil. See, a grade A plan with KPIs galore. In this case of McKinsey speak KPI means Killing People Immediately. Grave Peter is impressed with the grantsmanship of the plan, but instead of throwing in with them as a nuclear expert and getting promoted to Honorary Bug Eye, he escapes.
No gratitude has he. While babbling Geordie-speak he rushes to the one power planet in the place and brandishing a pistol that came with the elbow patches on his tweed coat, he throws all the switches to Off, including the MASTER Switch. Darkness fell. Iron lungs stopped, ‘I Love Lucy’ went blank. Surgeons said ‘Oh Oh.’ Nine months later there were surprises. But the power is off only a ten seconds, so maybe not so much of the latter.
The wooden ones, the colonel, the FBI, the stooge, Grieving Wife are now looking for a net to throw over Grave Peter when KABOOM! That was the sound of the aliens’ den blowing up, just as Grave Peter predicated! The mere sound of the explosion clears everything up and he is welcomed back on the road to Armageddon.
Seen today there is a message about destroying one's own world by electing idiots, and another about the dangers of radiation. But neither of these was intended at the time. Just plot devices though a few films like 'Rocketship X- M' (1950), reviewed elsewhere on the blog, do have an ever so carefully put case about the dangerous of nuclear radiation. Enough to get the screen writer a mug shot it was. But that was exceptional. In 1954 any doubts about the safety of nuclear energy and weapons were Commie tweets.
The only thing a sensible viewer remembers from this celluloid is the bug-eyed aliens. There are conflicting stories about this effect was achieved. The budget did not run to having anything made by a optician. They look like Ping Pong balls and that is the usual explanation, cut in half, with a black dot painted on them in which is a pin hole so the actors with them glued to his eye sockets does not stumble over a paycheque.
Though there is another story according to which Wilder himself came up this idea. He opened the refrigerator at home to get a beer and noticed the white egg rack built into the refrigerator door. Hmmm.
He yanked the rack out, cut the egg cup receptacles off, and ‘Voilà!’ alien bug eyes without the expense of Ping Pong balls. Because this is a difference without any significance, it heats up cyber space as adherents to the Ping Pong ball explanation dispute with Egg Rack believers. The tweets fly. Good thing they don’t have nukes.
Ping Pong balls or egg cups? You must decide.
Peter Graves went on and on. His last credit was in 2010, the year of his death. This man seldom said no. Witness ‘Airplane!’ (1980). In the latter part of his career he often played, parodied, himself, grave, stalwart, gravelly voiced, and wooden. In 1954 he was impossibly handsome and trying very hard. But maybe he should have said no now and then.
Lee Wilder produced and directed ‘Killers from Space; hot on the heels of the ‘Snow Creature’ (1954). Since a Lee Wilder movie took no more than a week to film, he could turn them out when there was coin. Coin? The story goes that Lee left his native Austria and migrated to New York City where he became a very successful hat maker. Whether for men or women is a question only further research could answer. His younger brother Billy was cinema-struck as a boy and had gone to Berlin to learn the business.
Reading the blood signs on the street in Berlin, Billy wanted to go the Amerika, and brother Lee paid his way. Billy said thank you and took train to Lost Angeles where talking movies were the go, and he saw his future in that. Off he went, and the string of commercial and artistic successes is now legend. He made one of his masterpieces, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ in 1950. By then he was so well established he could defy Tinsel Town conventions, command extraordinary budgets, attract great stars out of retirement, make a star out of an also ran..…
Is this a case of inverted sibling rivalry? Older brother Lee then sold his New York City business and moved to Lost Angeles and set himself up as an independent film producer with his son Myles, who did not have to be paid, as the screen writer.
My five minutes of web research indicates that there was no rupture between the brothers, but though they both made films and lived in Lost Angeles they never met there and when they bumped into one another, they exchanged nods, not words, and went on.