The 1950s were a unique time when many aggressors, real and imaginative, seemingly threatened not only the people and the political system of the United States, but Earth itself. One product of these anxieties were science fiction movies that more often than not gave (not so pretty) faces and (not so nice) names to the various invaders of all shapes and colors possible.
Bill Warren, an outstanding expert on that genre of this particular decade, was the first to compile a very detailed catalog of the many movies with a sci-fi topic. However, his Keep Watching the Skies! – a title chosen with the intention to clearly name the place where those invaders from outer space would surface first – is not just a simple survey. It is rather a huge collection of elaborate information on almost 300 films released between 1950 and 1962 on more than 1,000 pages.
Warren makes it clear, that the reviews and comments on the movies are truly his own interpretation and do reflect nothing but his own opinion. That is, readers interested in a psychological, feminist or any other academic theoretical approach to American science fiction movies of the 1950s will not find anything satisfying here. Nevertheless, this huge work convinces with an incredible amount of standard data such as cast, production and distribution, plot, year of release; plus production, distribution and marketing details, behind-the-scenes information and links to other movies.
In that manner Warren creates a very competent – and often a very funny – impression of the films the readers will have missed. (Chances, that the majority of the movies will be total strangers are very good, since not all the sci-fi movies mentioned were successfully saved to DVD. Some may only exist on half-forgotten, beaten reels of old celluloid that probably had their last public screenings in the 1980s).
This edition of the two volumes at hand was fully revised in 2010 by the author himself and now has been published in two new soft cover parts, each about 500 pages strong and 8.5 x 11 inches tall. (The titles were originally published as vol. 1, in 1982, followed in 1986 by vol. 2).
There are about 280 photos, 35 in high-quality color, that give a good idea of the respective films, usually portraying an alien monster or a film still. But this is definitely not a book that has the emphasis on the visual quality of movies and hence presents mostly pictures and movie ads; still I would call it a coffee-table book, simply because it is very tempting to browse through it.
The last part of volume 2 consist of altogether nine appendices listing films that did not make it into Warren’s survey, science fiction serials of the period, those pictures announced but never released and other useful lists that one would hardly find anywhere else.
This is a very useful reference book that totally sticks out from other movie surveys, since it has some kind of “individual style and humor” to it.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2016
Bill Warren. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (The 21st Century Edition). 2 vols., McFarland, 2016, 1040 p.