The War of The Worlds (1953 Film) - Plot


Following the credits, the film begins with a series of color matte paintings by astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell depicting the planets of our Solar System (except Venus). A narrator offers a tour of the hostile environment of each world, eventually explaining why the Martians find our lush, green and blue Earth the only world worthy of their scrutiny and coming invasion.

Wells' novel is updated to early 1950s southern California. Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a scientist with the Manhattan Project, is fishing with colleagues when a large object crash lands near the town of Linda Rosa. At the impact site, he meets Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). Van Buren says she saw the meteorite come in at a shallow angle, and Forrester observes it appears far lighter than normal for its very large size; his Geiger counter also detects it is slightly radioactive, but the object is still too hot to examine closely. Intrigued by these anomalies, Forrester decides to wait in town overnight for it to cool down.

Later that evening, a hatch on top of the object slowly unscrews and falls away; a pulsating, mechanical, cobra-shaped head piece emerges, supported by the long goose-neck of a Martian war machine. The three men who remained behind at the crash site as night guards approach, waving a white flag, and the cobra-head fires a heat-ray, vaporizing them; it also damages a nearby electrical tower, knocking out the power to Linda Rosa. Dr. Forrester notices that his and other people's watches have stopped running, having become magnetized; he then observes the sheriff's compass now points towards the meteorite crash site, away from magnetic north. Forrester and the sheriff go to investigate and are attacked by the Martian heat-ray; both manage to survive and then raise the alarm.

Amid reports that other large meteorite-ships are landing throughout the world, the Marines surround the original landing site. Three large, copper-colored, Manta Ray-shaped war machines rise from their gully and begin to slowly advance. Pastor Collins approaches them, reciting Psalm 23, his Bible held up high as a sign of peace and goodwill; the Martians disintegrate him instantly. The large Marine force immediately opens fire with everything in their heavy arsenal, but each war machine is protected by an impenetrable force field that resembles, when briefly visible, the glass jar placed over mantle clocks: cylindrical and with a hemispherical top. The Martians then use both their heat and pulsing "skeleton beam" rays to send the military force into full retreat.

Forrester and Van Buren escape the carnage in a small military spotter plane, but later crash land, barely avoiding colliding with other Martian war machines now on the move. They eventually hide in an abandoned farmhouse, but are trapped inside when another meteorite-ship comes crashing down, half-burying the farmhouse. Later, a Martian electronic eye attached to a long, flexible cable inspects the ruined farmhouse's interior but fails to notice them, finally leaving the ruins. When a lone Martian explorer later confronts Van Buren, Forrester quickly wounds it with an axe. Forrester saves a sample of Martian blood on Van Buren's scarf after quickly using the axe to sever the thick, long cable of the returned electronic eye; he then grabs up the undamaged camera housing, and they quickly exit. The hovering war machine soon blasts the farmhouse, but Van Buren and Forrester have safely made their escape. They eventually rejoin Forrester's co-workers at Pacific Tech in Los Angeles. From the blood sample and the electronic eye's optics, the scientists make deductions about Martian eyesight and physiology, in particular that the creatures are physically weak and have anemic blood.

In a desperate bid to stop the invaders, a United States Air Force Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing bomber drops an atomic bomb on the three original war machines, but to no effect, due to their protective force fields; the Martians continue to advance and the government orders an immediate evacuation. The Pacific Tech group must now come up with something, because they estimate the Earth can be conquered in just six days. As they evacuate, widespread panic among the populace scatters the Pacific Tech group; a mob steals their trucks and wrecks their equipment, and in the chaos Forrester and Van Buren are separated.

All seems lost; humanity is helpless against the Martians. Forrester searches for Van Buren in the burning ruins of Los Angeles, now under attack. He remembers something she told him, and he eventually finds her in a church with other refugees, waiting for the end. An approaching war machine suddenly crashes into a building, then another one falls nearby. Forrester soon discovers that the invaders are dying. As in H. G. Wells' novel, the Martians have no biological defenses against the Earth's viruses and bacteria. The smallest creatures that "God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth" have saved mankind from extinction.

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