First in a series of six previously unpublished profiles.
Once called “the Val Lewton of 1950s sci-fi/horror,” William Alland (1916-97) produced several classic SF films directed by Jack Arnold at Universal-International (U-I). Also an actor and screenwriter, he had appeared in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as Thompson, the dogged reporter, and received the story credit on Flesh and Fury (1952) and several of his own productions.
His stint at U-I began with The Black Castle (1952), a Gothic melodrama marking the debut of Nathan Juran, who went on to direct Alland’s The Deadly Mantis (1957). Alland’s output there was divided relatively evenly between SF and such Westerns as The Stand at Apache River (1953) and Chief Crazy Horse (1955), both of which portrayed Indians in an unusually favorable manner.
Before directing Alland’s Four Guns to the Border (1954), actor Richard Carlson met equally sympathetic aliens in Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953), U-I’s first 3-D feature. Based on a treatment by author Ray Bradbury, the film concerns a crew of “Xenomorphs,” who impersonate the residents of a small southwestern town to buy time while repairing their spaceship.
According to Bradbury, his treatment, “The Meteor,” amounted to a full script that was only slightly revised by screenwriter Harry Essex, who returned for Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Also shot in 3-D, this provided the decade’s only addition to Universal’s stable of classic monsters, the Gill-Man, which remains one of the genre’s most convincing make-up effects.
Alland produced U-I’s first full-color SF film, an epic adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s 1952 novel This Island Earth (1955), directed by the otherwise unremarkable Joseph M. Newman. Arnold reportedly lent an uncredited hand, probably limited to the climax on the embattled planet of Metaluna, to which the studio insisted on including a bug-eyed mutant, over Alland’s objections.
In Arnold’s Revenge of the Creature (1955), the last Hollywood 3-D film of the 1950s, the Gill-Man is captured and put on display in a Florida oceanarium. While he was somewhat less effective outside his natural Amazonian habitat (in reality the Everglades), the film is head and shoulders above many sequels, and notable in marking the screen debut of a young Clint Eastwood.
Eastwood also had a bit part in Arnold’s Tarantula (1955), which concerned an eponymous arachnid made monstrous by an “atomically stabilized” nutrient. This combined human actors with footage of a photographically enlarged spider much more believably than the other “big bug” films of the same era, thanks largely to the work of cameraman and special effects wizard Clifford Stine.
Several of Alland’s colleagues advanced under his aegis, such as Virgil Vogel, who edited This Island Earth and was elevated to director on two of his lesser efforts, The Mole People (1956) and The Land Unknown (1957). When Arnold declined to direct the third and final Gill-Man film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), he recommended his erstwhile assistant, John Sherwood.
Alland made his last two genre films—Eugène Lourié’s The Colossus of New York and Arnold’s The Space Children (both 1958)—for Paramount. The former features a scientist who places the brilliant brain of his deceased son into a huge robot, with predictable results, while the latter concerns a giant alien brain that controls a group of children to foil a nuclear satellite project.
On the small screen, Alland produced World of Giants (1960); ironically, this series about a six-inch-tall spy was inspired by Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), produced by Albert Zugsmith after Alland left U-I. He and Arnold enjoyed occasional changes of pace like The Lady Takes a Flyer (1958), a romantic comedy, and The Lively Set (1964), a teen-oriented rock musical.
Alland directed one film, the psychological drama Look in Any Window (1961), and left the industry after producing the Western comedy The Rare Breed (1966). At his best, he shared Val Lewton’s ability to create intelligent, atmospheric genre films within the constraints of limited budgets and studio control, and will be remembered as that rare producer with a true affinity for SF.