Paramount bought the rights to the novel The War of the Worlds from author H. G. Wells in 1925 at the request of Cecil B. DeMille, who was by then one of silent-era Hollywood’s most successful directors. DeMille originally planned to make the film himself but ultimately abandoned the project.
In the years to follow, several other highly regarded filmmakers, including Sergei Eisenstein and Alfred Hitchcock, became interested in adapting the novel for the screen.
Ray Harryhausen also wanted to make The War of the Worlds and created concept sketches and a 16 mm stop-motion-animation test reel several years before producer George Pal undertook to make his 1953 version. (Harryhausen’s first commercial animation job was on Pal’s “Puppetoons.”)
When Pal decided to make the film in the fifties, he found that Paramount had licensed only the silent film rights. By this time, Wells had died, so Pal went to his estate, at the time run by the writer’s sons, to secure the rights for a sound version.
Pal originally wanted DeMille to be the film’s narrator, but DeMille felt the job should go to someone English, given that the source material was written by the Londoner Wells. The prolific British character actor Cedric Hardwicke was ultimately cast.
Pal’s chosen director, Byron Haskin, had worked as a cinematographer and director in the silent era before a lengthy and award-winning career in special effects. After The War of the Worlds, Haskin went on to collaborate with Pal on three other films, and to coproduce the original Star Trek TV pilot.
The movie’s soundtrack is monaural, but on its release select theaters showed the film with “Panaphonic” sound, an early attempt at stereo. The Panaphonic system essentially doubled the mono track through the addition of extra speakers.
For The War of the Worlds, stuntman Harvey Parry—who had by that time doubled for James Cagney, John Wayne, and even Shirley Temple, among many others—performed a scene where he was fully engulfed in flames, an early example of this pyrotechnics stunt.
In 1989, Saturday Night Live aired a Brooklyn-set spoof called “Da War of da Woilds,” featuring Phil Hartman as the president, Dana Carvey as Einstein, and guest host Tony Danza as “Rudy,” who warns that Martians have landed.
Orangey the movie cat—an animal performer who made many on-screen appearances throughout the fifties and sixties, including in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s—appears to survive the destruction of Los Angeles near the end of the film.
10 Things I Learned: The Gunfighter
The producer of our edition of Henry King’s brooding western shares interesting facts he uncovered about the veteran director’s career, the origin of the film’s protagonist, and a Bob Dylan song inspired by its story line.
10 Things I Learned: Town Bloody Hall
The producer of our edition of Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker’s landmark documentary shares what she learned about the galvanizing figures at the center of the film.
10 Things I Learned: Scorsese Shorts
The films showcased in our new collection of early works by Martin Scorsese are deeply influenced by the director’s life in New York City and the experiences of his family and friends.
The Grand Budapest Hotel Lobby Travels Back in Time
Watch the lovingly crafted setting of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel transform from its faded glory in the 1960s to its peak opulence in the 1930s.
You have no items in your shopping cart