skip navigation
The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds(1953)

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (1)


powered by AFI

Voice-over commentary, spoken by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, is heard at the beginning, middle and end of the picture. The film opens with a montage of shots created from matte paintings, depicting some of the planets in the solar system. As the planets are seen, the narrator describes how the Martians, in need of a new home, chose Earth for their invasion. The credits on the viewed print appeared to be modern or from a reissue, and were preceded by newsreel footage of World War I, World War II and a rocket launch. In onscreen credits, Houseley Stevenson Jr.'s name was misspelled as "Housely."
       According to modern sources, in 1925, Paramount purchased the rights to Wells's novel, which is set in England at the end of the 19th century, and assigned producer-director Cecil B. DeMille to film it. Roy Pomerey prepared an outline for DeMille, but the project was eventually shelved. Modern sources claim that Alfred Hitchcock, who was associated with Gaumont-British, approached Wells about filming the story in the early 1930s. An unidentified contemporary source in the AFI Library indicates that Gaumont-British expressed interest in the property and possibly acquired rights to it.
       According to modern sources, Paramount then briefly assigned Sergei Eisenstein, who was under contract at the studio, to the project. In the late 1930s, British producer-director Alexander Korda expressed interest in adapting the novel, according to modern sources. George Pal, who also produced Paramount's successful 1952 release When Worlds Collide , was assigned to the project in July 1951, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. Modern sources note that Pal wanted to have the story revolve around the scientist's search for his wife, as in the novel, but Paramount production head Don Hartman demanded the boy-meets-girl plot line.
       The War of the Worlds was Paramount special effects creator Gordon Jennings' last production. He died on January 11, 1953 of a heart attack, ten months before the film's release. The film's special effects were uniformally praised by critics and won an Academy Award. The picture also won the first annual Motion Picture Sound Editors' award, given to the "most dramatic use of sound effects in 1953." According to a November 1952 Popular Science article and a July 1953 International Photographer article, the spaceships in the film were constructed from three 45-inch copper models, weighing 31 pounds each and sporting neon and incandescent lighting. Two motors controlled the movement of the ship's snake-like probe. Fire effects were created from magnesium, and the ships "flew" with the aid of overhead wires. Animated overlay drawings, superimposed over live action footage, helped create the illusion of the ship's bomb-proof hood. The Martian's arms and fingers were controlled by wires inside the actor's costume, and the pulsating action of its body was created with air pumps. According to modern sources, Pal originally wanted all scenes from the atomic bomb blast on to be presented in 3-D.
       Modern sources state that Cecil B. DeMille was asked to do the film's narration, and Lee Marvin was considered for the male lead. Hollywood Reporter news items add Jim Meservy, Dan Dowling, Abdullah Abbas and the Mitchell Choir Boys to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, in addition to associate producer Frank Freeman, Jr., who is listed in the CBCS, Pal appears in the film as a bum. Modern sources add the following names to the crew list: Lovell Norman (Sound Editing); Howard Beal, Dan Johnson and Walter Oberst (Sd staff); Milt Olson, Charlie Davies, Lee Vasque and Romaine Brickmeyer (Props); Walter Hoffmann (Explosives); Chester Pate, Bob Springfield and Eddie Sutherland (Special Effects); Aubrey Law and Jack Caldwell (Spec optical eff); Soldier Graham (Gaffer) and Gae Griffith (Production Assistant). In addition to its special effects win, the film received Academy Award nominations in the Sound Recording and Film Editing categories.
       On February 8, 1955, Dana Andrews, Pat Crowley and Les Tremayne, in the role of "Gen. Mann," appeared on a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film. Wells's novel was first adapted for radio and was broadcast on producer-director-actor Orson Welles's CBS Mercury Theater on the Air program on October 30, 1938. In the Mercury Theater adaptation, written by Howard Koch, the invasion takes place in New Jersey. The broadcast, which simulated a regular program with "break-in" news reports, was perceived as real by some of its listeners, particularly those in the New York, New Jersey vicinity, and caused considerable hysteria. Welles directed and co-starred in the program with Frank Readick and Stefan Schanbel.
       On October 30, 1968, radio station WKBW in Buffalo, NY, enacted an updated version of the Welles's broadcast, and on October 30, 1988, National Public Radio presented a fiftieth anniversary broadcast of the original radio script, modified by Koch. The War of the Worlds was re-released with When Worlds Collide , on September 7, 1977. Triumph Entertainment produced a syndicated television series based on the novel that was directed by Colin Chilvers and starred Jared Martin, and broadcast from 1988-1990. In 2005, DreamWorks SKG and Paramount Pictures released a new film adaptation of H. G. Wells's story. That film, entitled War of the Worlds, was produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Cruise and Dakota Fanning. Gene Barry, who portrayed "Dr. Clayton Forrester" and Ann Robinson, who portrayed "Sylvia Van Buren" in the 1953 film, appeared briefly in the 2005 version as Fanning's grandparents.