While not what we typically think of as a “Woman’s Picture,” I Married a Monster from Outer Space is an interesting exploration of women’s fears about marriage in 1950s America. It’s a 1958 horror/science fiction movie directed by Gene Fowler Jr., and is a great example of how a B movie can transcend low-budget origins. It’s got ruthless aliens, hapless damsels in distress, cheesy-but-fun special effects, and a space-age soap opera plot. It’s also very well paced, with engaging actors and a good script. On the surface, the story is a stereotypical alien invasion tale, but underneath that, darker messages about women’s roles in marriage and society lay. It’s a surprisingly good film where scares are derived less from the aliens and more from the powerlessness of its central character.
Our story opens the evening before the wedding of Bill (Tom Tryon) and Marge (Gloria Talbott). Bill and his buddies are out drinking when he is accosted on his way home by something strange. (We know not what it is.) Although Bill is late for his wedding the next day, the ceremony eventually takes place, and Marge’s deepest ambitions have been fulfilled. Her passion for Bill is intense, and she is eager to get things started. (If you know what I mean.) They go on their honeymoon, where things go as planned, but Bill seems a little out of sorts. During a thunderstorm, the audience—but not his bride—can see that there is something vastly wrong with Bill’s face; when the lightening flashes, he appears distorted and skull-like.
During the first year of their marriage, Marge notices that Bill is different. He is distracted and forgetful, with a lot of personality changes. Once loved by animals, all dogs seem to loathe him now. He appears loving towards his wife, but without any passion other than physical. She jokes to him that he has been replaced by a twin brother no one knew he had. As his behavior gets stranger and stranger, Marge gets more confused, and follows him one night when he leaves the house. They go deep into the woods, where she discovers that he is in fact an alien masquerading as her husband. She finds his ship and tries to get help from her godfather, the town’s police chief. It turns out, however, that Bill is not the only alien in town, and as Marge attempts to get the news of the invasion out, she is stymied on every front by those who want to keep the invasion quiet. She confronts her “husband,” who informs her that the women of his planet have all died, and they hope to be able to breed soon with human women and repopulate their species. Marge is horrified, but is there anyone left in town who can help her escape a forced alien pregnancy?
This is a pretty awesome movie, and I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more love. I’ve seen a lot of B horror and sci-fi from the fifties and sixties (a lot more than I probably should have), and this one is a standout. Gloria Talbott is great as the suspicious wife, and Tom Tyron is perfectly stilted as the alien who is trying to fit in. The film moves along at a brisk pace and offers a great story told with panache. I watched Creature From the Black Lagoon the other day and felt it was overrated. I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a much better movie, but doesn’t get half the mentions. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
In addition to being a fun watch, this film also has some pretty bleak things to say about marriage and women’s power in and out of the home. At Bill’s bachelor party, his friends make several disparaging comments about marriage, and most of the relationships shown in the film leave a lot to be desired. Marge is excited to consummate her love for Bill (her comments lead one to believe that she’s more than ready to shed her virginity), and the movie leaves no doubt that she and Alien-Bill have had sex when she goes to her doctor and complains that she has not gotten pregnant after a year of marriage. But sex is not the main part of marriage, and she knows something is off with Bill: “he isn’t the man she fell in love with.” This goes to the heart of many women’s fears about marriage—that the person they fell in love with isn’t real, and an abusive monster may take his place once the wedding vows have been spoken. (Or, in Marge’s case, her beloved Bill turns into an alien rapist who wants to impregnate her with his unholy spawn.) In a time when a divorce was hard to get, shedding an abusive spouse was not easy. Many women were stuck with no way out. Marge’s situation is made much more difficult by the fact that all her authority figures are male, and she doesn’t know who she can trust.
The only two women in Marge’s life are her silly mother and her girlfriend Helen. She tries to communicate her concerns to her best friend, but Helen is only concerned with her upcoming wedding and is annoyed when Marge tries to disrupt her carefully-laid plans. Friendship and safety take a back seat when the ultimate prize, marriage, is on the line. Marge’s life is centered on her home, and when she can no longer go to her husband for guidance, she seeks help from her godfather and her doctor—both of whom are men and could be aliens in disguise. Every avenue of escape for her is shut down, and being that she has no agency of her own, she can only appeal to others to act for her. Will she get lucky and find a man who hasn’t been taken over? Well, you’ll need to watch and find out. But she doesn’t save herself, and the only action the film allows her to take is to tell her story. She is living in a man’s world where her only value is to bear children. Without that ability, she might just as well be a child herself.
Availability: While currently out of print, Netflix does carry the DVD, and you can rent the film via Instant Video on Amazon.com. It is also available at finer video stores, such as Scarecrow Video in Seattle.