I Married a Monster from Outer Space

One thing Rod Serling understood about science fiction in the 1950s was that it was a suitable genre for subversive thinking; it had yet to gain any respectability and was therefore considered unworthy of close scrutiny. Tired of network interference with his teleplays, Serling developed The Twilight Zone as a method of hiding issues from cowardly sponsors and timid programmers.

Despite the outrageous B-movie title, I Married a Monster from Outer Space is another example of social critique masquerading as science fiction. Its plot is straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Came from Outer Space: aliens take over human bodies (though in this case, only males). What is surprising is its critical tone toward marriage, at a time when the country was still very protective of its traditions and established institutions.

The movie opens with groom-to be Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon) out drinking with his male friends. It’s a typical scene of men joking around about the loss of freedom that marriage entails. And that mocking tone surfaces later in the film as well. But these male bonding cliches are misdirection. What quickly becomes clear is that it’s the women who give up so much when they get married. Considering the time period, it’s a far more daring claim.

After leaving the bar, Bill’s body is taken over by an alien and it’s this loss of control that causes him to act differently toward his new bride, Marge (Gloria Talbott). But much of the film’s first half plays out as a man who, having secured his homemaker, loses his sense of romance and compassion, the traits that had landed him a wife in the first place. On the night of their honeymoon, Bill is already snapping at his wife. He forgets to open the door for her – a real faux pas in the more etiquette-conscious 1950s – and, in the most telling scene, he responds to her desire to make small talk with “Why do we have to talk?”

The film jumps ahead a year, and in a letter Marge is describing her first year of marriage as “horrible.” She complains that Bill “isn’t the man I fell in love with;” he’s the type of male who, after having got what he wants, becomes cold and distant. But like a dutiful wife for whom divorce is not an option, Marge crumples up the letter and continues to suffer quietly. Her sense of isolation is further enhanced later when, aware of the alien plot to take over the men of the town, she is stymied in her attempts to phone Washington, send a telegram to the FBI, and drive out of town. The message is clear: she’s trapped in a marriage she no longer wants. (It’s no wonder that earlier in the film, Marge described the “Wedding March” as a “dirge”.)

This subtext is especially chilling when Marge tries to explain to the police chief what’s going on. In the end, he sends her home to her husband. Marge exclaims, “you’re sending me home to a …” As the line is never finished, it becomes more universal in its implications. It’s made all the more disturbing when one considers how often this scenario has played out in real life: a wife is sent home by an indifferent police force not willing to get involved in domestic “disputes.” (Tellingly, Marge always refers to the invaders as “monsters;” the words “alien” or “extraterrestrial” or “spaceman” are never used in the film.)

It’s ironic that Marge’s friend Helen (Jean Carson) is both happy and relieved that she’s convinced Sam (Alan Dexter), to marry her. In fact, she’s anxious to do it quickly, before Sam changes his mind. Helen doesn’t want to share the same fate as Florence Nightingale and Joan of Arc, whom she refers to as “career” women. When Marge tries to warn Helen not to get married, she attempts to do it without mentioning an alien that most likely has taken over Sam. Without the science fiction context present in the scene, it becomes one woman warning another of the trap that marriage is for them.

This less than romantic attitude toward matrimony is made more prominent by the death of two minor characters. One is a man who is rejected by the aliens and then killed, execution style, by two cops. He was stalking Gloria, in the hopes of catching the woman on a night when her dissatisfaction with married life became too much for her. The other is a woman, whom grandpa would have referred to as the “town floozy.” She is zapped by an alien when she tries to pick him up. Such is the fate of those who, in the parlance of the time, were home wreckers, who didn’t respect the presumed sanctity of marriage.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space lacks the polish of the science fiction classics of that era — like Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and War of The Worlds — as its low budget is evident in many scenes. But it shares the sincerity and appealing earnestness of those other films (things missing from many of the lower budget films, like the crud Roger Corman churned out). The actors are likable and convincing, as there is, for the most part, a lack of histrionics, and the obvious day-for-night scenes actually add to the film’s atmosphere. Some people may dismiss I Married a Monster from Outer Space as camp, but we’ll leave those people to wallow in their own self-conscious hipness.

– Paul De Angelis