Battle of the Worlds (1961, Antonio Margheriti), the American version

Battle of the Worlds is, thankfully, fifteen minutes or so shorter in its dubbed American version than the original Italian. While the film’s got its low budget, early sci-fi charms… another fifteen minutes would’ve been long. Though they might have sorted out Umberto Orsini’s seeming love triangle with Maya Brent and Carol Danell, which actually starts the film.

Brent is running around the island astronomy observatory where she’s stationed with Orsini; she just got permission to leave with him to get married. They start making out, then Danell interrupts them and then asks them to continue so she can watch.

Later on, Orsini and Brent break up so they can have human conflict for the finale—and give Brent a chance for girl talk with another wife, Jacqueline Derval—but when they’re on the outs, Danell can’t keep her hands off Orsini. Then there’s the whole “is twenty-something Brent supposed to be in love with sixty-something boss Claude Rains” question. Brent spends the movie making eyes at him, but she’s pretty bad, so it’s unclear what they’re supposed to mean.

Worlds has some impressively bad acting, both the dubbing actors and the physical ones. Brent’s somewhat sympathetic even though she’s bad. Second-billed Bill Carter is not, and he’s seemingly dubbing himself. Rains too, and a handful of the rest of the cast appears to have been speaking English. Brent and Orsini not.

Orsini seems like he’s going to be pretty bad in the first act, but once Carter starts getting more to do, it’s clear he’s going to be the worst. It’s also clear every scene with Rains, as a blowhard math genius who can predict the future’s future, is going to be delightful. At least for Rains. He consumes the scenery, chewing through it with barely a bite, then on to the next thing. There’s this whole subplot about him hating everyone about Brent, and he tells everyone what he thinks of them, so it’s this cheap, silly, sci-fi movie with “mean” Rains. Quotation marks because whenever he starts a scene, the music’s cute and cartoonish. It’s strange and just what the movie needs to maintain.

Ennio De Concini’s script is terrible, but the plot’s all right. He’s got a decent enough sense of an action sci-fi story. In the future, when Earth has colonized the moon and Mars, a rogue asteroid travels to Earth, surprising everyone when it goes into orbit around the planet. Oddball genius Rains warns them to blow it up before something bad happens—he can tell it’s inevitable from the calculus—and they don’t listen to him until it’s too late.

By then, they’re all going to have to go to the asteroid with a collection of ragtag deep sea miners to blow… wrong movie.

There’s a big, thoughtful sci-fi finish, terribly executed because they don’t have anywhere near the budget for the story if the technology even existed.

It’s bad, sure, but it’s not insincere. Great music by Mario Migliardi, who ranges from Rains’s goofy themes to jazzy otherworldly ones to plain old melodrama. Worlds gets very melodramatic. But De Concini’s good ideas also extend to some of the scenes; director Margheriti doesn’t direct them well, but there’s clearly wasted potential.

But, whatever, Rains is an absolute hoot.

Plus, Worlds's future appears to be one where the Soviets won.

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