Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 4)

Clearly, writer Francis Martin intended to invoke something resembling a "panic in the streets" atmosphere -- or make that a panic of curiosity -- during the early minutes of the movie. Instead, a dramatic non-dramatic change ensued during production when Clarence Greene and director Winston Jones played the scenes softly, low-key and ultimately comedic with televised banter involving a character boasting of a "man from the saucer" contact vs. his inability to describe the color of an interviewer's tie. Why? By now, knowing why specific things were done is probably impossible. We must keep in mind, though, that the final script was reviewed and approved by principals such as Al Chop, Dewey Fournet and former Project Blue Book chief Edward Ruppelt, so perhaps there was a consensus dictating something light in format. More likely, however, is the fact that producer Greene remained far more concerned with accuracy than dramatic effect -- a critical observation noted by both Chop and Tom Towers, who recognized that a little of the "Hollywood touch" might have helped out tremendously at the box office without sacrificing the facts.

For me, as much as I cherish the movie's very existence, the segment about the death of pilot Thomas Mantell while chasing a possible UFO was simply agonizing for its length and preoccupation with who said what, what whomever said to whom, and at what time of day it was said. It's a shame, but perhaps inevitable, that even the motion picture's publicity campaign was highly dependent upon the Mantell incident, whose precipitant was as controversial then as it is today.

The script doesn't vary in significant depth from the production, but there is an excluded scene where military guards and state police at the airplane wreckage site are holding back a collection of "morbidly curious civilians." Ambulance attendants are observed closing doors on their vehicle and driving away. Meanwhile, three or four Air Force officers comb through the wreckage inside a roped-off area, and one picks up a piece of tail structure containing, in aviation terms, the "trim tab." As the officer shows this fragment to the others, who are busily inspecting, making notes and photographing the area, the narrator's voice speaks the following words, which are not in the final film cut:

"The inspectors were able to determine conclusively from the wreckage that Mantell's plane was trimmed to climb when he crashed -- that he had blacked out from lack of oxygen at extreme altitude. With Mantell unconscious, the propeller torque pulled the plane into a slow left turn, which developed into a shallow dive. The dive rapidly became steeper and faster. At some point, the terrific speed tore off a wing of the plane."

The original script devotes 13 pages to the 1948 Mantell case, and 13 pages can seem like a lifetime once translated to the silver screen.

(To be continued. . .)