Story Notes for The War of the Worlds

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Monday through Thursday, AMC presents Story Notes — real-time on-air trivia about your favorite movies. Tonight’s movie was the original version of The War of the Worlds.

Award Note
The movie was nominated for three Oscars: Film Editing, Special Effects and Sound Recording. It won for Special Effects.

Beauty Note
Ann Robinson is wearing a wig. The producers thought her short red hair would date the film.

Biographical Notes
In the ’50s, producer George Pal was the king of sci-fi movies (When Worlds Collide, Destination Moon).

In 1983, Gene Barry was nominated for a Tony Award for his role in La Cage Aux Folles.

The War of the Worlds isn’t the only H.G. Wells novel that producer George Pal adapted for film. He later directed H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1960).

Gene Barry did two sci-fi movies under his contract with Paramount. The other was The Atomic City (1952).

Composer Leith Stevens also wrote music for Gene Barry’s TV series, Burke’s Law.

Director Byron Haskin was also a technical wizard who helped bring sound to the film industry. He had four Oscar nominations over his career for his work with Special Effects.

Blooper Note
They are all much too close to the atomic bomb. The effects of radiation can spread hundreds of miles.

Casting Notes
Ann Robinson (Sylvia) broke into the business as a stunt horse rider. This was her first leading role. Producer George Pal wanted the actors to be mostly unknown so the Martians were the stars of the movie. Gene Barry was unknown, but eventually became a big TV star on Bat Masterson and Burke’s Law.

Dr. Forrester was almost played by future Oscar-winner Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou).

Paul Birch (on the right) was the original Marlboro Man in TV commercials in the ’50s.

Character actor Ned Glass, from West Side Story (1961) and Charade (1963) is seen in the film.

Radio actor Les Tremayne (Gen. Mann) was alleged to have done 45 shows a week in the ’30s and ’40s. He had one of the most recognizable voices in the country at the time.

William Phipps was the voice of Prince Charming in Walt Disney’s Cinderella (1950).

The reporter is played by Paul Frees, one of the biggest voice actors of the time. He was the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy, Boris Badenov and Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

Canadian-born Jack Kruschen was nominated for an Oscar for The Apartment (1960).

Historical Notes
The first Geiger counter was developed in 1908 by German physicist Hans Geiger.

Notice that neither Russia nor Cuba are mentioned in the movie. This is because The Cold War was in full effect at the time of the film.

The footage of the collapsing buildings comes from the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in Naples, Italy in 1944.

The largest evacuation in U.S. history was during Hurricane Irene in August 2011. Over 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate along the entire East Coast.

Jets were very new in 1953. The U.S.’s first jet bomber was introduced just five years earlier.

The Northrop YB-49 “Flying Wing” was the precursor to the Stealth Bomber. Two were made; both crashed.

The atomic bomb was developed between 1939 and 1945, under the code name “The Manhattan Project.”

Location Notes
The movie is set in southern California partly because there had been a lot of UFO sightings there. 

Pacific Tech is actually the administration building at Paramount Studios. It’s still there today. Pacific Tech is also the name of the fake college in Real Genius (1985).

The movie is set in the modern day, but the original book took place in Victorian England.

The army scenes were shot at the Arizona National Guard base in Florence, AZ.

Plot Notes
It’s a feat for Dr. Forrester to excel in both nuclear and astrophysics, two very separate fields at the time. 

The number three is a recurring theme: The Martians have three lenses in each eye and three fingers on each hand.

Dr. Forrester is a nuclear astrophysicist and a pilot, who somehow has free time to go on fishing trips.

Pop Culture Notes
H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel has been adapted numerous times for radio, TV, and film. This was the first movie version, released in 1953.

Some fans consider Dr. Clayton Forrester to be a forerunner to Indiana Jones.

Ann Robinson reprised the role of Sylvia Van Buren in the 2005 B-movie, The Naked Monster.

Orson Welles broadcast a radio version of The War of the Worlds on the night before Halloween in 1938. Thousands of listeners were convinced Martians had actually attacked Earth, causing a nationwide panic.

The Martians from The War of the Worlds were number 27 on AFI’s list of the Top 100 Villains of All Time.

In 1989, Saturday Night Live did a parody of the movie called Da War of Da Woilds.

In 2011, The War of the Worlds was one of 25 films added to the National Registry in the Library of Congress.

Prop Note
The triple‑lensed scanner seen in the film was based on the red, green and blue color model used in TV sets.

Quotation Notes
Ann Robinson: “This Geiger counter really peps up when he aims it towards my left bosom. My left bosom is certainly radioactive!”

Ann Robinson: “When I went in to see the first dailies, I saw how flat-chested I was [so] they put falsies in me. They said, ‘this girl has no sex appeal whatsoever.’”

Gene Barry: “At first the thought of doing a science fiction movie did not excite me but when I got involved in it, it became one of the most important things I ever did.”

Gene Barry: “The subject will be there till the end of earth. It’s universal, there’s hope for all of us.”

Script Note
In an early version of the script, Dr. Forrester and Sylvia were engaged. In this version, according to Ann Robinson, there’s no real romantic interest between them.

Set Notes
The paintings seen in the beginning of the film were done by Chesley Bonestell, whose art hangs in the National Air & Space Museum. Bonestell also helped design the Golden Gate Bridge and the Chrysler Building.

Throughout the movie, the cast is seen drinking Coke because Ann Robinson’s contract forbade her from appearing to drink alcohol.

Reportedly, real army men would salute actor Les Tremayne, thinking he was a real General.

To create the mushroom cloud, a metal drum filled with explosive gas was detonated which blew colorful explosive powders resting on top of the drum 75 feet into the air.

Makeup artist Charles Gemora had to create two Martians because the original was too big.

Most of the soldiers in the movie aren’t actors; they’re actual National Guard troops going through real procedures.

Makeup artist Charles Gemora and his daughter built the Martian out of papier-mâché and sheet rubber. They didn’t have time to make new arms, so this Martian has the giant arms of the original.

Art director Al Nozaki modeled the Martian periscope after a cobra’s head. It’s now an iconic scifi image. He also based the shape of the war machines on a manta ray.

Most of the filming took place on Stage 18, the largest stage at Paramount Studios.

The miniature sets were exact duplicates of real L.A. buildings. Robinson: “It looked like Gulliver’s Travels.”

An 8-foot-tall miniature of City Hall was blown up from the inside and filmed on high-speed cameras.

Symbolism Notes
Although there is a lot of religious symbolism in the movie, author H.G. Wells was a noted agnostic.

Most of George Pal’s movies contain an undercurrent of the producer’s own religious faith.

Tech Notes
Recordings of real artillery shells was used to created the sound of the meteor landing.

Prod. George Pal originally wanted the audience to put on 3-D glasses when the actors put on goggles. The rest of the movie would have been in 3-D.

For the force fields, they filmed plastic bubbles against a black screen and layered that over the war machines.

The Martian death ray sound is chords from three electric guitars played backwards with added reverb.

Any vaporizing in the movie was created by rotoscoping, which is tracing animation over live-action footage.

The vibrating noise the machines make is the feedback from a magnetic recorder.

The sound of the spaceships shutting down was made by vacuum cleaners being turned off.

Fifty actors were actually filmed for the scene on the hill, then their images were copied and pasted to create hundreds.

To create the Martian death ray, they sprayed blowtorches across melting welding wire. The sound effects created for The War of the Worlds were used over and over in other movies.

Trivia Notes
The world’s largest meteorite is the Hoba meteorite, located near South Africa. It weighs nearly 60 tons. 

Henry Ford helped to revive square dancing in the 1920s to counteract the “evils” of jazz dancing.

The tradition of waving a white flag to signal surrender originated separately in ancient China and in Rome.

Even a mild electromagnetic field from a stereo speaker can effect a watch’s operation.

Dr. Forrester was almost played by future Oscar-winner Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou).

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