In retrospect, introducing "U.F.O." with scenes of clouds interspersed with the credits and less exciting footage than Francis Martin originally scripted was probably a wise choice, because it set the theme for something intangible, yet vitally important.
After leading with the Kenneth Arnold story and showing how teletype machines across the country raged about Arnold and a succession of new saucer reports, the movie delves briefly into public reactions, both sober and comedic. However, the initial script calls for the camera to linger upon specific witnesses and events. For instance, though we see about one second of a man in a hard hat, apparently a saucer witness, his role would have been expanded per Martin's intentions. The scene called for an upward camera shot of a power pole carrying high-voltage wires, showing a HIGH VOLTAGE sign on a cross-arm. Two linemen, suspended by safety belts and anchored via climbing spurs on their work shoes, wear heavy rubber gloves as they work on a wire adjacent to an insulator. "One of them pushes his hat up and wipes perspiration from his brow -- starts to pull his hat down again -- when his attention is suddenly frozen by something up and out of scene," the script states.
As this prolonged scene continues, the lineman follows the audience-unseen object with his eyes, then alerts his fellow worker who sees the object. "They exchange a brief, apprehensive glance, then look off again. Their heads move in unison as they watch the object, which is OUT OF SCENE."
Then attention is diverted to a ship at sea, where the first mate scans the sky with binoculars and is startled to encounter "an object sweeping in, up and over the ship." An accompanying signal man on the deck sees the odd binocular movements, looks up and "suddenly stiffens, and his eyes move in unison with the arc of the binoculars."
Arguably, producer Clarence Greene might have been better off leaving such scenes in, rather than whittling the early aura of mystery aspect down to quick shots of folks looking up in the sky. Indeed, writer Martin wasn't finished after the ship at sea event. He next paints the chaos on two busy city streets somewhere in America. As "pedestrians scramble for something," two cars crash into one another, the drivers jump out and, ignoring the damage to their vehicles, "start scrambling." Some members of the city crowd stare skyward, shielding their eyes from the sun as they watch something strange. Simultaneously, a man in the crowd is holding an "aluminum-like" paper saucer with the words, "EAT AT JOE'S -- THIRD AND PINE STREET."
The movie glossed over the majority of bedlam intended for these early scenes.
While traffic is blocked in one area of a city, two teenage boys hiding on a rooftop mischievously insert pinwheel fireworks into a half dozen old chrome auto hub caps, then light and hurl a spinning hub cap toward the street below. This unrealized scripted segment then concludes with two young men staging a fake UFO photo using garbage can lids on invisible threads and a Leica camera. At this point, the intended narration would have been: "The situation at this time was in a sort of half world -- an Alice in Wonderland aura overlaid hundreds of reports." Huh? Wow.
The script, like the movie, then slips into the Mantell incident, focusing too long on the case of a pilot who died while chasing a UFO-balloon-UFO-balloon-etc., etc., and the debate rages on even today about the object's true identity, though the movie, unaware at the time that other possibilities would come to light in future years, postulated that a true UFO was responsible. One interesting variation between the script and movie is that the script used several last names for the military personnel involved, but the final cut refers to most by only their positions or rank. Maybe Greene found the names unnecessary or too confusing to add to the eventful Mantell mix. At any rate, while filmed dialogue varies frequently from the script, the content remains essentially the same -- that is, until the wreckage of Mantell's plane is found. (To be continued. . .)