Keep Watching the Skies Book Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, December 20, 2009
The 1950s was the golden age for Sci-Fi films. It’s the era that gave us a multitude of giant monsters, alien invasions, and treks into outer space. From the cerebral The Day the Earth Stood Still, to the sublime The Thing from Another World, to the downright silly Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, the 1950s had it all. Bill Warren’s newly revised and expanded Keep Watching the Skies is literally the bible of 1950s Sci-Fi films. This is no mere film guide, listing cast and credits with a brief synopsis of the film. You get all that and much more…Sci-Fi historian Warren provides a detailed assessment of each film with his own critical analysis as well as period critic’s comments. He also includes anecdotes about each film’s production, often drawing upon comments from the filmmakers or the stars themselves.
At over 1000 pages, each film is given at least 2 – 3 pages or more for some of the more notable films of the era. The book lists films alphabetically but includes an appendix that lists them chronologically. For the record, the film that draws first blood in January 1950 is the nearly forgotten The Flying Saucer. Coming out just months after initial sightings of UFOs, Warren notes that the film is ”thuddingly unimaginative” but never the less, does earn the honor of being the film that kicked off Sci-Fi’s golden age.
The Day the World Ended was “B” film maven Roger Corman’s first entry into science fiction, an early apocalyptic tale of life on Earth in the aftermath of an atomic war. The film feature the makeup talents of Paul Blaisdell who created some of the decades most memorable creatures.
One of the era’s best, but little-know films is The Day the Earth Caught Fire. Released in 1962, this was a very dark film for the time period. The detonation of a pair of atomic bombs throws the Earth off its axis and sends it spiraling towards the sun. Much of the film centers on people dealing with the rapid climate change as the Earth grows hotter and hotter, with riots soon breaking out all over the world in response to dwindling resources. As Warren notes, the ending of the film is left up in the air. The government attempts a counter explosion to try and set the Earth back on its proper rotation and the ending shows differing headlines proclaiming that the world is either “Saved” or “Doomed”. Warren rightfully gives the film several pages of coverage and notes its importance as one of the first great Hollywood disaster films.
Warren leaves no film uncovered. The classics are here: Forbidden Planet, Them!, Godzilla, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds; The unabashedly awful are here: Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Beast of Yucca Flats, Cat-Women of the Moon; and the totally forgotten films are here as well: The Cosmic Man, The Giant Claw, Konga, Lost Planet Airmen. What you must love is that Warren treats the films equally. Sure the major films might get a few more pages of coverage, but even on the worst of the worst and lowest of the low budgets, you’ll discover more information than you would have ever thought possible.
Warren is an expert on the subject but he never comes off as haughty. His tone is reader friendly and fanatical. This isn’t the kind of book you pick up and read in a setting. It’s a fantastic reference tool particularly since so many of these films are not on DVD. Other appendices include a list of the films that have been remade, 1950s Sci-Fi serials, notable movie posters, and more. Yes it’s a cool hundred bucks but if there’s a book that’s worth the price, this is it! It’s a beautiful package from McFarland…printed on high-quality glossy stock with hundreds of full color and B & W photos, this is the only book the fan of classic Sci-Fi Films will ever need.
Mania Grade: A+
Book: Keep Watching the Skies!
Written By: Bill Warren
Publisher: McFarland Books