What was "U.F.O." all about? In conjunction with the movie's 1956 release through United Artists, a "Fact Sheet" was issued by the studios as one of numerous attempts to publicize "U.F.O." (I'll post part of it today and the remaining pages in the next post.) Just about the only aspect not highlighted prominently is the fact that the Washington, D.C. UFOs were observed not only on radar, but visually as well (per Lt. Patterson, portrayed in the film).
Even if you haven't seen the documentary, the fact sheet alone should emphasize the unique qualities of this motion picture, depicting the years 1947-1952, now more than a half-century old. Despite the director, writer and others involved with the technical facets of the production -- the movie-makers themselves -- it was producer Clarence Greene who brought this vision to the screen, complete with assistance from the absolutely key military, government and civilian personnel "who lived the story of the UFO."
To date, I've written four magazine and journal articles about "U.F.O." However, when I first conducted research back in the seventies, much of the information I can offer here now was unavailable to me, or I just wasn't aware of it. Because of this, I did make a major error in the first article, written for Official UFO Magazine, and that was my insistence that former Project Blue Book chief Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt played his own role -- and he did not. Though Ruppelt was intimately involved in assuring accuracy of the script, his part was played by an actor. During my research, I simply didn't have access to many photos of Ruppelt; in addition, other information directed my way convinced me that Ruppelt went before the cameras. Actually, many of the "actors" in "U.F.O." were members of Los Angeles law enforcement.
And this brings me to the acting in the film. The casual observer, like many reviewers who initially watched "U.F.O." on the silver screen, couldn't help but notice a dearth of acting quality. Again, many who performed were L.A. cops, with only a few professional actors present. A major problem which principals such as Al Chop and Tom Towers readily agreed upon was Clarence Greene's concern for accuracy over dramatic effect. So determined was Greene to portray the evidence as truthfully as possible that dramatic effect took a back seat, and the lack of (as Chop stated) "the Hollywood touch" probably helped significantly to cost Greene-Rouse Productions and United Artists dearly at the box office.
Yet, I don't really care about the acting quality, and never did. For me, the revelation that a major Hollywood studio released a serious, documented film regarding the UFO enigma in 1956, during a decade noted for science-fiction movies, many of them just plain silly, was a bombshell event. Yes, it's true that the Capt. Mantell incident, integral to the film's beginning, has been dismissed and un-dismissed as a balloon chase and not a UFO, and even as I write this there is again controversy about that balloon explanation that some researchers seemed to settle upon years ago. Jerome Clark, in his excellent book, Strange Skies: Pilot Encounters With UFOs (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., NY, 2003) discussed the controversial Mantell incident and also lends doubt to the Lt. Gorman case, also portrayed in "U.F.O."
Nevertheless, the old 1956 film stands up well as a monument to the UFO mystery's longevity. In a breathtaking manner, stilted though the acting often appears, the movie itself bears witness to the fact that it isn't just some farmer out in a field who reports "flying saucers," because high-ranking military and government personnel see them, too -- and in many instances high-ranking authorities who investigate UFO reports are themselves shaken by the evidence.
"U.F.O." exemplifies this and exudes a timeless charm, not because the acting suffers, but because the producer's wish to tell the people the truth is so evident and so welcome. We long for such integrity, the sort of thing we can't even expect from our own government anymore. But for a brief time between 1947 and 1952, U.S. government personnel entertained a growing belief in a somewhat open atmosphere that the likely source of "saucers," apparently under intelligent control, was extraterrestrial. By 1953, the government censorship lid had come crashing down, and the official openness about UFOs as expressed in "U.F.O." would never be seen again. Thus, the 1956 motion picture we note so fondly here isn't only a monument to the film industry's abilities, it's a time capsule of used-to-be as well.