Death Of A Salesman… NOT OF THIS EARTH Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Nouveaux Pictures. PG.

“You are about to enter into the dimension of The Impossible. To enter this realm you must set your mind free from the Earthly fetters that bind it. If the events you are about to see here are unbelievable it is only because your imagination is chained! Sit back, relax and believe… so that YOU may cross the brink of time and space… into that land you sometimes visit in your dreams”.

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One of the many self-aggrandising tall tales Don Van Vliet liked to tell concerned an alleged stint as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Finding himself demonstrating said appliance to a clearly underwhelmed Aldous Huxley, no less, the flustered future Captain Beefheart forgot his carefully prepared patter and after mumbling a few non sequiturs, blurted out: “Sir… this thing sucks!” to the bemused American Academy of Arts and Letters laureate. Or so the story goes…

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I’m always reminded of this fabled encounter when watching a particular scene in Roger Corman’s hugely entertaining Not Of This Earth (1957). Dick (here “Richard”) Miller, as salesman Joe Piper, talks himself into the basement of the mysterious Paul Johnson (Paul Birch) to demonstrate the superiority of the Airwaves vacuum cleaner. Joe’s not at all flustered, in fact he’s kinda pushy and obnoxious. No problem for Mr Johnson, who whips off the shades that he wears throughout the movie and kills the uninvited caller with a single look, then siphons off his blood before sending samples through a Star Trek-like transporter to his home planet Davanna, where Johnson’s kinsfolk are all dying from blood diseases triggered by an ongoing nuclear war.

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Johnson is acting under specific and somewhat harsh instruction but, y’know, “Davanna must endure!” His mission, as imparted by a Davannian big wig who sometimes materialises in that transporter, is “to be accomplished in 5 out of 6 phases”. I’m still not quite sure what that means but Johnson seems clear enough. Phase 1 is to study the characteristics of the Earth’s subhumans (that’s us). Phase 2 is to increase the quantity of blood he transmits to his home planet (so far he’s managed only 30 measly cupits, whatever they are). Phase 3 requires a live Earthling specimen to be transmitted to Davanna for vivisectionary research. Johnson himself apparently is Phase 4, which means that his survival or death from imbibing Earth blood will determine the mission’s success or failure. If he does thrive on that red, red krovvy, Phase 5 will involve the conquest, subjugation and pasturing of the Earth’s subhumans. If at any point Johnson anticipates the failure of the mission, Phase 6 will kick in, i.e. the utter obliteration of planet Earth.

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Realising that 30 cupits is hardly gonna cut it, Johnson steps up Phase 2 by extracting blood from, among others, the aforementioned Joe Piper, various vagrants and a teenage girl who it’s difficult to feel too sorry for on account of the following jive-talking exchange with her lame-ass boyfriend (“I think it’s time I cut out now” “Don’t be a drag, you know how you flip me” “I’m hip” “So?” “If my father dug this scene, he’d put small round holes in your head!”) He even visits the local blood bank in an attempt to buy some but sassy nurse Nadine Storey (Beverly Garland) advises him that “we don’t just hand it out like gasoline”. After Johnson has brought her boss Dr Rochelle (William Roerick) under his psychic control, Nadine is redeployed as Johnson’s personal nurse. Her cop boyfriend, Harry Sherbourne (Morgan Jones) finds all of this not a little fishy…

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Johnson also has a hipster driver / manservant / whatever, Jeremy Perrin (Jonathan Haze). Christ knows what agency he was recruited from but after a bit off ill-conceived “comic” business with him, things pick up again when Johnson decides that Dr Rochelle has outlived his usefulness. As well as blood draining equipment, his bag contains a dessicated thingy which, when water is added to it, transforms into… well, into a rubber bat / lampshade kind of thing which flops over the doc’s head and suffocates him.

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A Davannian female (Anne Carroll), in mandatory shades, is sent to assist Johnson in his mission but after she scarfs down some rabies infected blood (what were the odds on that?) the hospital report on her death blows things wide open. With Harry in hot pursuit on his police bike, Johnson drives away and perishes in an auto crash, just in time to break his psychic hold over Nadine, who was about to transport herself to Davanna for a spot of vivisectional research.

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At Johnson’s graveside, Harry expresses empathy for this stranger in a strange land but Nadine’s heart is hardened against him.  Both are relieved that the Earth is no longer under threat. Or is it! As they reflect on what has happened…

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“He’s behind you!”

A meaner spirited Man Who Fell To Earth, this is reportedly among Corman’s least favourite of his own movies and an uncharacteristically sloppy spot of admin (the copyright year was not mentioned on the release print) saw it consigned to the public domain, hence this exploitive bare bones edition from Nouveaux, who went to a lot more trouble with their editions of Fellini and co. It can’t even boast a menu and the only other DVD in my collection missing one of those is the DVD, Ltd (yes, “DVD, Ltd”) release of Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House (1979), one of the first discs I ever acquired. Still, Corman’s caveats notwithstanding, the film is enough fun to stand on its own considerable merits. I’ll certainly be watching it again, which is more than I can say for Jim Wynorkski’s 1988 remake, starring Traci Lords in her first “legit” role.

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Not Of This Earth is great fun but also has an indisputably melancholy quality to it. Occasionally misfits and marginals (e.g. Don Vliet / Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart, in his final incarnation as an avant garde painter) manage to parlay their perceived “weirdness” into financial gain. The rest of us have to muddle on as best we can. Still, I can think of worse epitaphs…

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