Friday, August 28, 2009

NICAP's Statement About the Movie

Several years after "U.F.O." debuted in theaters, eventually relegated to TV late-late show environs, where it generally became an amusement for viewers who didn't know better and for television sales departments and sponsors merely on the hunt for films to cut-and-splice in order to sell a nebulous array of products, the private UFO organization NICAP (check out the archives) released a statement for the curious. Reproduced here, the information sheet accurately explains something of the motion picture's history. The only clarification I would make regards Maj. William Coleman's official statement in which he mentions "professional actors" involved in the film. While it is true that a handful of familiar actors were involved, either as narrators or on screen (veteran character actor Bert Freed may have portrayed an Air Force officer, for instance, as researcher Barry Greenwood reminded me), most "actors" were members of Los Angeles law enforcement.

(Thanks to Barry Greenwood for this submission.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tom Towers: Five Years After the Movie

On previous occasions, we noted Tom Towers' intense interest in diminishing the noise caused by sophisticated aircraft entering the "jet age," and at last we have further evidence via the 1961 letter scanned here. In fact, as director of the Los Angeles Sound Abatement Coordinating Committee at that time, Towers was actually responding to a letter and other documents regarding UFO sightings over Hollywood. Of even more historical interest, his reply was directed to the NICAP (see link in margin) Los Angeles Subcommittee, headed up by Idabel Epperson, a name well known to UFO research during its early years.

Unfortunately, standing out like a very, very sore thumb is Towers' typo about photography, where he actually meant to type how unfortunate it was that some "were not" able to obtain photographs.

Note, too, his postscript reference to the death of Edward J. Ruppelt, former Project Blue Book chief and off-screen advisor for the movie, "U.F.O." Not only does this indicate Towers was likely a regular reader of NICAP publications, but illustrates as well that he respected Ruppelt highly -- and he continued to do so while corresponding with me in the seventies.

Once again, I need to thank author and researcher Barry Greenwood for locating and sending along another piece of Tom Towers' legacy, shown here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fade to Black - UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 17)

The final script changes, usually designated informally in Tom Towers' copy, are noted to have been made on March 7, 1955. However, considering there are numerous changes whose origins I can't determine, it's a safe bet that little alterations continued throughout production time. "U.F.O." opened in theaters across the U.S. in May, 1956.

A word, please, to all the talented people who currently inhabit the motion picture industry, and I guess I'm also addressing those of you who aren't part of it yet, but perhaps expect to be in the future. You see, when Greene-Rouse productions took on "U.F.O." in the fifties, they were already successful, but this movie was low-budget and a little too strange for its time -- that is, the scary monsters leaping out of popular sci-fi and horror movies in that era simply weren't present in "U.F.O." No screams, no homicides, no blood, no sex, not even "saucers" attacking earth whilst stealing away with every buxom young woman within sight of a Cyclopean eyeball -- in other words, this was a celluloid anomaly of the fifties if ever there was one.

Knowing, as some of you probably realize, that the evidence for UFOs is abundant out there, maybe someday one of you will consider remaking this 1956 documentary. But this time you'll likely have a huge budget, a thorough knowledge of special effects (and, I beg of you, the wisdom not to overuse them), connections with the finest actors in the world and access to the latest updates on all the cases and information presented in the original movie (people and organizations exist with files stuffed full of pure UFO history, the "real deal" variety, and it's all out there, waiting to be incorporated into a documentary feature). I don't know, maybe somebody out there can do justice not only to Clarence Greene's dream of alerting and informing the public, but that person might also compassionately and respectfully inject the drama, the action, and a measured dose of the "Hollywood touch" that Al Chop and Tom Towers openly suggested would have pushed "U.F.O." into the range of high success. Some of the government's better UFO cases of the period could be substituted, too.

The thing is, "U.F.O." wasn't some cheesy alien movie. It was historical fact, destined to become a relic, yet also an artifact consistent with the UFO phenomenon's endurance, and was easily a tribute to the military and government personnel who did their level best to track and solve an enigma which continues to intrigue folks the world over to this very day. UFOs never went away, but "U.F.O." did. Its meaning and place in history and the cinema must not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, so many remakes of old motion pictures fall flat on their face, sometimes because the audience isn't there, and sometimes because the producers, directors, writers or others just don't know what the heck they're doing. But if the right cinematic wizard is out there reading this, I'd say go for it. Remake "U.F.O." Clarify history, remind people everywhere that the late forties and early fifties exposed us to scientific anomalies which persist. Relish the knowledge that this was the last time the U.S. government was so honest and open about UFO evidence. Photographically luxuriate in a presentation of old UFO films that certainly weren't faked during this age of government integrity. Show your generation through the magic of film that there was a moment in time when extraordinary things happened, and government didn't respond instantly with a reflexive cloak of secrecy.

Blast into the past, and maybe, to borrow words from General John A. Samford's famous 1952 press conference, you can do something great on behalf of all those "credible observers of relatively incredible things." -- Robert Barrow, August 2009

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 16)

General Samford's press conference begins and, according to Francis Martin's script, in scenes not shown in the movie, a reporter asks, "Is it all right to ask if the Air Force thinks that these objects the other night were a result of temperature inversion?"

Chop would then narrate: "The General gave a brief outline of two opposing scientific theories on temperature inversion and its effect on radar, then answered:"

General Samford says, responding to the reporter's question: "It's supported by some people. Other people who have equal competence, it would appear, discredit it. So the gamble as to whether that is a cause or not is about a fifty-fifty proposition."

None of this is in the final production, nor is anything from the final two pages of script. What Martin next intended would be a news reel shot of General Twining, covered by two narrators, and occurring two years further in the future than events shown by the movie, which covered the situation only to the summer of 1952:

FIRST NARRATOR: On May 16th, 1954, General Nathan Twining, Air Force Chief of Staff, said:

SECOND NARRATOR: Today the Air Force is vitally interested in flying saucer reports. Flying saucer reports runs in cycles, but some very reliable people have made reports -- they aren't all screwball by any means.

Then, finally, after dissolving to a series of shots, including -- for reasons unknown -- a WAC (Woman's Air Corps) corporal, a final narrator checks in:

"We shall not attempt to sway you in your judgement. You, as separate individuals, will make your own interpretations of the Newhouse and Mariana films of the unknown objects, as well as the rest of the documented evidence presented in this motion picture. But, could we be on the threshold of a new era? Could we be entering wonderful vistas where problems and fears and prejudices fall into nothingness? Could we be entering a great era of enlightenment?" (FADE OUT)

Wow. Well, I would suggest that almost anybody who had an opportunity to see "U.F.O." would agree -- the movie's actual ending scenes were far better than this. What a great touch to have Towers complete the final scene as Chop, walking in contemplation through the streets of Washington, D.C., expressing his sentiments about UFOs, just before the Montana and Utah UFO films are presented for the last time. Martin's suggested fade-out narration in the previous paragraph was surprisingly "new age" for its time, and similarly as disappointing and presumptuous as it would have appeared to audiences then, as now. Far better it was, I think, to let Tom Towers as Al Chop wrap the movie up in an aura of mystery, with legitimate questions left unanswered. Chop, the former rock-solid skeptical Marine, had shifted his opinions 180 degrees based upon his relationship with the government. "To me," Towers' narration about UFOs concludes, leaving no doubts and surely approved by Chop himself, "the evidence indicated intelligence behind their control, and by now the belief that their source was interplanetary was no longer incredible."

Oh, I do have one peculiar little observation to make before we depart the movie vs. script issue. The next time you see "U.F.O." (if ever?), watch carefully as Tom Towers strolls the avenues of Washington toward the end. I've long found intriguing those little white things on different sidewalks or streets as his walking scenes change. Each stands alone and would seem intended to either mark the spot from which he begins walking, or to indicate in what direction he should go. They appear to be little pieces of paper, or maybe tissues. The entire paved areas seem clear, except for one -- just one -- of these little things per scene. Even in a scene with his car, there's a little white something to mark the spot for Towers. Wrong or right, that's my impression. Show biz sure is a strange critter, what?

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 15)

In the radar room, as up to 14 unknown objects seem to maneuver above Washington, D.C., all personnel are engaged in conversation among themselves and with various pilot and technician voices transmitted via radio. A considerable amount of communication within the radar room seems to have been added later, because it isn't in Tom Towers' copy of the script. I suspect it is, however, available in copies used by other actors.

Without checking line by line through the next several pages of script, but rather by making a general overview, I believe script and movie pretty much connect, perhaps with minor word changes. The only thing causing me to perk up a bit occurs the morning after the pilot of "Red Dog One" (the voice of veteran actor Harry Morgan, best know as Col. Potter on TV's "M*A*S*H"), Lt. William Patterson, visualizes and is surrounded by unknown objects over D.C. The script, unlike the movie, tells us that Chop spoke with Patterson at 6:00 a.m., thus continuing the previous night's drama at a very early hour. The script also notes that by morning, in addition to relentless phone calls, thousands of telegrams had been received at the Pentagon from an anxious and curious public.

Progressing, the script lists the names of various national newspapers whose real headlines about the second wave of Washington UFO encounters will appear to enhance the segment, and the movie includes a montage of front pages.

As Chop (Towers) narrates and informs viewers that a press conference was set up because of intense public interest in the latest UFO story, the script tells us something the movie did not -- that the conference was organized by General Nathan Twining.

The camera dissolves to the press conference, conducted by General John A. Samford, and at this point movie and script take a differing course. While the movie shows only a brief news reel snippet of Samford speaking, the script originally featured questions by reporters, presumably at the actual press conference. "It was the biggest press conference the Air Force had held since the end of World War Two," explains unused narration by Towers, "and the press hammered relentlessly for a clarification of the temperature inversion theory." Capt. Ruppelt offered this explanation personally in a morning phone call to President Truman -- shortly before Ruppelt himself was informed that Lt. William Patterson had actually achieved visual contact with the UFOs, thus throwing the temperature inversion theory seriously into question.

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 14)

UFOs move into Washington's summer skies for the first time . The script sets the stage for Al Chop's most hectic moments with the press so far, but he's fast asleep at home. The scene: "Chop, breathing deeply, is sound asleep. There are twin beds; one is nearly made up. In the other, with the bedclothes twisted around him and the pillow rolled into a small ball, is Chop." As this sight hits the movie screen, narration by Chop (Towers) explains that the Newhouse film was only the "overture," and that a few minutes before 1:00 a.m. on July 20, 1952, unknowns moved in for the first time over the nation's capitol. Unlike the movie, the script depicts Chop's wife bringing a UFO-headlined newspaper to her sleeping husband in the company of their son and daughter, who are noticeably absent as this brief dramatic scene plays out.

Once Chop leaps out of bed, dresses and reaches his office in the public information area, Francis Martin's script conveys a far more chaotic scene than the audience observes. Indeed, as a mob of inquisitive reporters begs for answers, a throng of military officers shuffle in and out of Maj. Fournet's office in the back. Telephones ring non-stop, mailbags are brought in and piled behind Chop's desk, and all of this happens as he attempts to deal with an untidy stack of telegrams, made even more unmanageable as Western Union messengers arrive intermittently with more telegrams demanding answers.

Sometime after the script's initial draft, reference to the Washington Daily News interview with the Civil Aeronautics Administration 's senior air traffic controller, Harry G. Barnes, was included with a fascinating quote from Barnes himself regarding ten objects moving above Washington that "were not ordinary aircraft."

A week later, UFOs return to D.C., and Chop frantically races to his office again on the evening of July 26. Since the previous week's excitement, script and movie generally agree, but one significant change occurs during Chop's encounter with a LIFE Magazine reporter and photographer. When one announces in the movie that they're going over his head, Chop tells them to call Col. Searles at "Metropolitan eight, nine-eight, nine-eight." However, the script, perhaps allowing us a genuine phone number, depicts Chop responding, "Colonel Dick Searles. You can reach him at Plaza five-two-seven-oh-two."

Chop reaches the radar room and joins a half dozen other officials. The radar scope appears a little different in the script, where 14 plastic markers with question marks on them are placed behind each "blip," and when a blip moves the marker is likewise placed in a new position. An aircraft designated Flight 316 has its own marker, and it's obvious that markers identifying unknown blips are being moved around much faster than the marker for Flight 316. In the movie, there are no question marks, nor references to them.

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 13)

Newhouse's film of multiple UFOs is shown to a room filled with high-ranking military officers accompanied by Al Chop. The script calls for Chop (Towers) to narrate extensively about technical details, but most of this, wisely, was put into words on the screen toward the end of "U.F.O." for the audience to read before viewing the Utah and Montana films for the last time.

Of special interest to UFO researchers: This wasn't at all made clear in the movie, but there were two generals portrayed, each sitting in during the Newhouse film's airing, and though neither was identified, the actors were playing the roles of Generals John Samford and Roger Ramey. That, above all, indicates how important official Washington believed the Newhouse film might be to national security. Samford and Ramey, almost certainly, served among other architects (leading to 1953's "Robertson Panel" report) regarding the government's future clamp-down on UFO publicity passing through official channels. 1952 was the last year when the U.S. government openly kept the public informed about substantial UFO activity and sightings of impressive integrity. In fact, after the film's final airing in the room, the only words spoken ("How about that?") were spoken by General Samford, soon to officiate at an energized press conference following the later-depicted Washington UFO chase.

The script and movie progress to a brief but chilling meeting between Chop and Maj. Fournet, where the latter informs public information officer Chop that the Newhouse film's final analysis is in, and the official conclusion is "unknowns."

Before further exploration of the script, I should mention a couple of names I've really not paid any attention to at all. One is movie director Winston Jones and the other is Clarence Greene's partner, Russell Rouse. Not to be unkind, but director Jones, formerly a Hollywood movie prop manager, likely did exactly what Greene wanted him to do, and Rouse seems to have been totally hands-off. From everything I've seen, I believe this was strictly Greene's "baby," and after writer Martin and others did the research and whipped a reasonable portrayal of official UFO history together they were off and running -- under Greene's thumb. This is not a criticism of Greene, for I think he did a superb job with a low budget spread among a few highly dedicated people -- and to have gained the trust and cooperation of Chop, Ruppelt, Fournet, Swanson, Mariana, Newhouse, Sperry and others who truly "lived the story of the UFO" is simply phenomenal.

We'll get back to the movie next time, but for now I wanted to make these things clear, and to express how saddened and disappointed I remain that no movie industry or government officials ever gave "U.F.O." the profound historical tribute it richly deserves. Yes, I truly believe that Greene's production is the most important motion picture ever made.

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 12)

If some major participants, Chop and Towers high among them, were disappointed that the movie spent too much time on details, it's good that the Utah UFO film concerned only Newhouse's personal account and airing of the footage. Just prior to the first Utah film showing, Francis Martin's script goes off on a tangent, depicting a military film analysis lab featuring white-gowned technical analysts equipped with microscopes and checklists. As extreme close-up shots and panning of the Newhouse film's individual frames are accomplished, with highly magnified still images of objects in the film, Chop's (Towers') narration is heard -- again, none of this is in the movie, nor was it scratched out in Towers' copy of the script:

"Ruppelt's organization was staffed by good men," Martin wrote. "Every detail that might be a clue to the solution of the baffling saucer problem was put through Project Bluebook's analysis and investigative staff. Step by step, the Newhouse film moved through the minds and machines of the photo analysis lab, until the final report was ready. Then the film was taken by an Air Force courier and hand-carried to Washington to be viewed by the Director General of Air Force Intelligence."

This segment also shows film images of the UFOs being transferred to paper enlargements and another scene exhibits two men putting a new slide of the Newhouse UFOs into a slide projector and then using a special grid to make chalk outlines of "saucer" positions on the screen.

Elsewhere, according to the script, an Air Force pilot wearing a flight suit is given a metal can containing the important Newhouse film by Capt. Ruppelt himself, and the pilot signs a receipt indicating responsibility and acceptance. As this elaborate scene continues, the pilot, having apparently flown from Dayton to Washington, D.C., departs a plane and meets Major Fournet nearby. Fournet then signs a receipt for the canned film, gets into an official staff car with an enlisted man waiting behind the wheel, and the car "rapidly" drives off. Officials are anxiously waiting to see the Newhouse UFO film. In the motion picture, we only see military officers and Chop waiting in a room as the film is about to role, with no hint whatsoever of all the behind-the-scenes efforts written into the script.

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 11)

Radar becomes an issue with Chop (Towers), who, until now, erroneously thought radar returns provided solid evidence of UFO contact. As the Ruppelt character begins dialing a phone to connect with a radar expert, he states in the film that Air Phenomenon Branch relies upon three radar analysts, whereas the script states there are four. The real Ed Ruppelt probably corrected this small error, though, again, Chop and Fournet -- and perhaps radar expert Wendell Swanson, who plays his own role -- all had input as they reviewed the script.

Chop visits Swanson as air traffic controllers guide a plane from sky to runway amidst rain and a heavy fog. The script vs. movie dialogue is difficult to follow with some people talking over others, but at any rate this is another too-lengthy scene, intended here to demonstrate that radar is a useful tool in the hands of experienced personnel. The script contains written notations here and there where Chop's and Swanson's dialogue changes a little to clarify details.

But the script does alter a significant scene here. On paper Ruppelt, Swanson and Chop exit the radar room together, and once outside they stand near the building, protected from the weather as a light drizzle and fog cover persist:

"They all stand silently for a moment under cover, looking out. Ruppelt lights a cigarette and offers the pack to Chop and Swanson; Swanson takes one. As he searches for a match. . ." At this point, where Chop begins asking questions, the script is crossed out and a penciled notation scribbled in the margin reads, "See new scene 153." The new scene 153 appears on a revised page, this one dated 3-30-55.

Of course, per the movie, this new scene deletes Ruppelt's presence entirely outside the radar room, leaving Chop and Swanson to converse with one another, leading Chop to learn from the rather evasive radar expert Swanson of his personal familiarity with UFO blips moving at thousands of miles an hour -- punctuated by Swanson's chilling response, "I have an open mind, period," to Chop's question, "What are the chances of these objects (UFOs) having intelligence behind their control?"

It appears that part of deleted scene 153 remains in Towers' copy of the script and, while not crossed out, nor was it shown in "U.F.O." It progressed as follows:

SWANSON: "We have many unsolved cases where good solid blips appeared and no known objects (sic) in the area -- cases where speed was fantastic."

CHOP: "Swanson, what's your personal opinion of these sightings?"

SWANSON: "I believe there's something to them."

One obviously wonders whether Swanson himself, Chop or producer Greene decided to go with the "I have an open mind" ending in way of delineating Swanson 's personal attitude about UFOs. We should keep in mind, too, that Wendell Swanson, far from being merely a "radar expert," was instrumental previously in building an important U.S. radar defense installation in Okinawa. He knew the UFO issue was important, and his credentials and experience happened to be stone-solid long before Clarence Greene wisely included him in the motion picture to demonstrate a particularly essential meeting with both Chop and Ruppelt.

UFO: The Motion Picture Script (Part 10)

Chop enters Capt. Ruppelt's office at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton. In the movie we see only a rather routine office with desks and filing cabinets, but writer Francis Martin's script had originally envisioned a large room with one entire wall lined with file cabinets secured with combination locks similar to those "used on safes." All open wall space was consumed with maps of the United States and the rest of the world. Among the desks is Ruppelt's, with a "quite large" globe of the world standing beside it. Upon the desk, "edges lined in neat, geometrical precision, are several bound stacks of material relevant to UFOs."

Also native to the script, Chop hands Ruppelt an envelope, Ruppelt extracts an enclosure and scans it before smiling and shaking hands with Chop.

As Chop (Towers) narrates over the scene, I find one script sentence crossed out: "In many cases the speed of these UFOs had been clocked at over two thousand miles an hour." At this point, the movie appears to carry additional narration which, for a change, isn't present on paper.
One obvious error in the movie which I never detected for years occurs as Ruppelt's character begins to fill Chop in on an ultimately explainable UFO report. Ruppelt mentions the incident's date as December first, 1952, but by this time in the movie's progression the action actually takes place several months prior to December.

"U.F.O." eventually shifts to the film of numerous unknown objects taken by Navy chief warrant officer Delbert Newhouse in July, 1952 (another time shift presents itself here). Newhouse, like Nicholas Mariana, plays himself as he recounts the story of multiple UFOs filmed as he and his vacationing family passed through Tremonton, Utah.

The scene shifts back to Chop and Ruppelt, and in the script the actor playing Ruppelt starts to recount the story of Lt. Gorman's UFO encounter. However, as the Gorman case is depicted on screen, further narration intended in the script for Ruppelt instead is given to Chop (Towers). As years passed, speculation centered upon not a UFO, but rather a possible balloon as the source of Gorman's sighting. Whether this is true cannot be confirmed, but, of course, the movie was made long before this theory emerged. In any case, though not mentioned in the movie, the script describes L.D. Jenson as the air traffic controller with whom Gorman communicated during his experience.

Frankly, the sprinkling of names throughout the script, never mentioned in the movie, is of some interest, and we assume names were often left out simply because permission to include them could not be obtained or certain people wished not to have their names used. Based entirely upon my own speculation, I tend to believe such exclusions lend credence to these being real names and not merely script constructs.