It's the month of May, 1956, and the lights of a sparsely lighted theater somewhere in the U.S. begin to dim as the projectionist lets a reel of film role, most likely containing previews of coming attractions or a brief review of current news stories. Following these celluloid teasers, the moment every audience member waits for arrives at last: The main attraction begins.
The movie's full title fills the screen: "Unidentified Flying Objects - The True Story of Flying Saucers." The credits begin to flash by, and in the background we view ever-changing scenes, including a stock shot of the Wright Brothers' famous flight, breathtaking film captures of jets flying head-on toward the camera, astronomers utilizing their giant telescope and, finally, exciting footage of earth as seen from a camera attached to a flaming rocket as it ascends high into the atmosphere. . .
But wait, wait, what's going on here? If you ever saw "U.F.O." you instantly realize there were no such scenes behind the opening credits. In fact, the background throughout the first couple of minutes consists only of still shots depicting gray, billowing, pillow-like clouds filling the sky with a sense of mystery, generating thoughts of enigmas unknown. What happened?
The script is what happened -- or, rather, script changes, and I suspect they were numerous in the interim before theater audiences around the world had an opportunity to judge the final contents.
Writer Francis Martin (whom I never had a chance to interview) originally envisioned running credits over that famous footage of the Wright Brothers' virgin airplane flight, joined by scenes of three jet aircraft -- one at a time -- flying at supersonic speed toward the camera, the sounds of their roar delayed until each had passed out of the picture. Next, the intent was to show astronomers engaged with the two-hundred inch telescope at Mount Palomar, followed by a voice-over countdown to the launch of a rocket. As a ground-based camera tracks the rocket's disappearance toward the stratosphere, a camera attached to the rocket "gradually begins to show the contour and curvature of the earth."
All of these would have been "stock shots," essentially making use of film footage that already existed in various files, freely available for film producers and journalists. While none of this footage made its way into Clarence Greene's proposed epic, a long (distant) stock shot of the Pentagon was used quite effectively to herald a theme of official proceedings as the story begins.
Just as scenes were shifted at the beginning, a change of opening narration also occurred. Anybody who viewed "U.F.O." multiple times easily recognizes this introduction: "Many times in the history of our civilization, the introduction of a new thought has brought skepticism, even ridicule. Despite this, there has always been the duty and inalienable right to tell the people the truth. The motion picture you are about to see is true, it is not fiction. Much of the information in it has never been told. You will see it here for the first time."
However, Martin's original passage for this section reads: "In any free democracy, the free dissemination of news is the very keystone of the republic. A motion picture accurately presenting facts to the people is an important, vital source of public information. The picture you are about to see is not fiction. Much of this material has never been presented to the public in any form of news medium. You will see it here for the first time."
Minor changes continue as the 1952 press conference held by General John Samford is highlighted, and then the viewer's attention is directed to the Kenneth Arnold sighting of multiple objects, at that time considered (though wrongly) the start of the UFO era in the U.S.
(To be continued. . .)