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The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast S3E2

Short story and Movie review: Target Earth and Deadly City.

By Edward GermanPublished 2 years ago 14 min read

Hello, and once again, welcome to my podcast. I hope you are still listening to the show regardless of long the show is between episodes. I have moved into my new house, and hope to have a greater frequency of shows in the coming months. I hope everyone has been patient with the slow production of episodes and will remain a loyal listener.

Now on the show. Today's topic with be a double review, both a short story and a movie based on the short story. The story is titled Deadly City by Ivar Jorgensen, AKA, Paul W. Fairman. The story is a Science Fiction short story first published in IF magazine in the March 1953 issue. Target Earth was a 1954 sci-fi b-movie based on Deadly City and produced by Herman Cohen. Both the movie and short story have their similarities and differences. I will discuss how both are alike and how they are different.

Deadly City

The short story, Deadly City, written by Paul W. Fairman, who used the pseudonym Ivar Jorgensen, was a prolific writer. He wrote in different genes: including noir and sci-fi. His noir background will manifest itself in the character's backstory.

The story starts when a woman wakes up one morning to discover the city inhabitants are all gone except her. Her name is Nora King, and she lives in Chicago. Nora had slept very soundly thru the night due to the large dose of sleeping pills she took: she took an overdose. Nora attempted suicide the night before by taking 7 of 10 tablets, however, the dosage was not lethal enough. Despite this, Nora gets dressed and goes outside, only to find the building and streets devoid of people. She then decides to start walking away from her apartment complex.

At the same time, a man named Frank Brooks is lying in the street in another part of town. Last night he had a few drinks at a local bar and hoped to end the evening with an attractive female who sat across from him. The last thing he remembers is passing out and then waking up in an alley minus all his money and valuables. Frank also sees the city of Chicago as lifeless and appears to be the only one around. Frank decides to walk down the street to find out what is wrong.

The City.

As both Nora and Frank explore the city, they find nothing but deserted streets and no person in sight. But then Nora hears footsteps, and the sound gets closer and closer. Nora is terrified and runs away, fearing for her life. She is not sure who is and what it is. The footsteps continue to get closer then the pursuer catches up with Nora. The purser is Frank, but Nora is still terrified and doesn't know him. Frank introduces himself and ensures Nora that he means no harm. Frank asks Nora if she knows what is going on and states she doesn't know either. Frank explains to Nora how he woke up in an alley after a few drinks the night before, likewise, Nora explains to Frank how she woke up from long sleep and found the city deserted.

Another Couple.

Frank and Nora look at their situation and decide to keep going. Frank believed the city was evacuated by the milliary for some reason, while Nora suggests the Russians used a Bomb on the city. It was not uncommon for mass evacuations of city populations for civil defenses during the 50s. The couple continues to explore the deserted city, and decide to find a hotel. They do find a hotel, however, another couple is hiding there, both a man and woman. The man tells Frank to come in and join them.

Frank and Nora walk into a restaurant where they see a man eating food with another woman. The man introduces himself as Jim Wilson and his companion's name is Minna. Jim explains how he was arrested for assaulting a man accused of cheating on cards, while in a holding cell; everyone was evacuated while he hid. Latter he finds Minna and she agrees to accompany him wherever he goes. She is a cleaning lady for an apartment complex not far from the restaurant. She was at a local bar waiting for her paycheck just before the evacuation.

The Killer.

There is another person inside the city hiding as well. He also avoided the evacuation by choice. This young man is from a wealthy and well-connected family, but it seems he has some mental health issues. The young man sits in the back seat of the limousine and is about to be evacuated. Before the driver can start the car, he is struck in the head and killed by the passenger. The killer takes the body of the chauffeur and stages in the garage. How he positions the dead body suggests the young man is a serial killer, at a time with the behavior was known but not defined as such. The killer then drives the car into the city but sees a roadblock up ahead and stops. He leaves the automobile and hides in the nearby woods while the military searches the car.


After dinner, both couples retire to the hotel room of their choice. Frank and Nora checked into a room while Jim and Minna stayed in a nearby room. Nora tells Jim that she doesn't want to be alone and stays in the room with her. They both hear a strange noise coming from outside the hotel, the window had been left open so the sound was somewhere in the distance. They both had heard it before while outside wandering the city. Frank seems to think it could be a signal of some kind.

Frank says good night to Jim Willson while Nora is in the shower. Fanks hears footsteps in the corridor and before he realizes it, someone puts their hands on the room door to prevent closing it. Frank struggles with the door for a few moments but can push the door against the frame with the person's knuckles between the frame and the door. Frank lets the door go and the would-be attacker leaves in a hurry.

In the morning, Frank ventures out into the hallway to find signs of the attacker. He follows a trail of blood down the stairs and into the lobby. He finds the trial stops at the hotel Pharmacy. Frank sees where the attacker helped himself to bandages and other supplies. It seem like he was badly hurt by the door pressed against his hand.

Frank leaves the hotel while the others slept. He goes out into the street and hears only silence. He makes his way thru the streets and finds the building of one of the local newspapers. Once inside he looks for a report of the evacuation of the city. He does find various reports of the situation and collects the hard copies, then goes back to the hotel.

Once he is back at the hotel, he meets with Jim Willson along with the two women to discuss what he found. The reports explain how the military is reacting to an alien invasion that hasn't been experienced before. One of the fastest urban evacuations ever conducted; occurred while they were left behind. Frank explains to Jim the importance of finding a way to join the rest of the evacuees located south of the city.

Frank wants to leave the city as soon as possible; however, Jim is more comfortable staying in the city. He wants to take advantage of everything the city has, such as free food, a free place to say, and just about everything else he could want. While they are discussing the current situation, they hear the roar of military jet fighters outside the city. To their astonishment, the jet fighters are destroyed by the alien invaders. This prompts Frank to decide to leave the city now and Jim Willson decides to leave but changes his mind at the last moment. Frank believes that Jim is abusing Mina and an argument ensues, then a fight between Frank and Jim. Frank knocks Jim out cold however, Mina protest Frank's action and tells him that she is just fine being with him.

The Killer is back.

When the fight is over between Frank and Jim, the killer walks thru the door just after he heard the scuffle between Jim and Frank. He introduces himself as LeRoy Davis and holds a revolver in his hand while he threatens the group. He is indeed the person who attacked Frank last night, this is proven because the killer is wearing a bandage on his wounded hand. Davis further explains that he was going to be driven out of the city but killed his driver and hid. He even boasts about how he has killed before and how his father hired an excellent attorney to get him leniency in court.

A person is killed.

The killer orders the group to go downstairs to the lobby, and they comply. However, they are all nervous and don't know what to expect. They do know they are in danger and Frank tries to think of a plan while the killer taunts them. Mina panics and tells the killer to go ahead and do what he wants, at that point, he shoots and kills her. Before he can fire again, Willson lunges toward him, grabs the gun with one hand, and the killer's throat with the other: Willson strangles Davis to death. Willson lets the dead body fall to the ground, then goes to cover Mina's face. In the meantime, Frank and Nora head outside to summon help; they had heard a military car pass by after Mina's death.

When they go outside, both of them hear that strange wailing noise that sounded last night. As they walk down the street, at a distance, three humanoid figures are in the middle of the street and appear to be in distress; then all three figures collapse onto the asphalt. Just at that time, a military serviceman approaches in a jeep. He explains how the Army had the aliens contained to the city, and Earth's atmosphere had a toxic effect on their systems. The service man explains they would not be penalized for missing the evacuation due to the current situation. Jim Willson comes out of the hotel and confesses to killing Davis to the soldier. The soldier states that he will have the matter investigated, and they are under the jurisdiction of the Army.


Finally, everything is settled down in the city of Chicago. The aliens have been defeated and more citizens have come back to Chicago. Businesses are starting to open back up, and things are more or less getting back to normal. The three survivors meet each other in a restaurant. Jim Willson is cleared of murder charges after the Army investigated the matter, however, he thinks an escape charge will come from the night of the evacuation so he decides to turn himself into the local police. Frank says he wants to get back to his job and get some money in his pocket. They both say goodbye to Nora and they all part ways. Nora leaves the restaurant and walks up the street to find a place to work her trade, Nora was a sex worker. Now that concludes the story, I will discuss the movie Target Earth.

The Movie Target Earth.

Now I will discuss Target Earth, the movie in which Deadly City was its source material. Target Earth is a 1954 science fiction movie independently made by Abtcon Pictures, Inc and distributed by United Artists. The movie was produced by Herrman Cohen and directed by Sherman A. Rose. It was shot in black-and-white and has a run time of 75 minutes.

The principal players are Richard Denning as Frank Brooks and Kathleen Crowley as Nora King. Richard Reeves as Jim Willson, Virginia Grey as Vicki Harris (Mina in the original story). While Actor Robert Roark plays the part of the psychotic murderer Davis. Some other characters were created for the movie but do not appear in the short story. I will mention more about that later.

The movie's screenplay does follow the story for the most part. It starts with Nora wakening up in her room however, in the story, Frank is the first one to be heard. Then the action moves to Nora and goes from there. In both versions, Nora tried to commit suicide, but Franks was a bit different: Frank doesn't mention how he tied to pick up a woman at the tavern but says he got beaten, robbed, and thrown into an alley. This was just one of the many changes from the story to the screen in place due to code. This will be seen later on in the movie. The original story does contain some mature content: parts of the story were modified for the Hayes code, which still dominated the Motion Picture Industry.

Another modification from the story to the movie, is the relationship between Jim Willson and Mina, Vicki in the movie. In the movie, Jim was already in a relationship with her, and they avoided the evacuation by bar hoping most for Chicago. Jim was never arrested for assault and put in jail. While Nora was a widowed spouse and became depressed and then tried suicide in the movie; in the story, she was depressed and suicidal to abusive men.

The biggest difference between the movie and the story is robots and aliens. The movie had robots controlled by Aliens move about the city and use a death ray to kill or destroy anything that moved. While the short story had the Aliens make a few appearances but did not use robots. The same was true with the military; in the movie, you saw actual soldiers outside the city working on a captured robot. In the story, they only are seen when jets fly overheard and toward the end of the story. In the movie, army scientists discover a way to disable the robots. While the story states they died while exposed to Earth's environment.

As well in the story and movie, the killer Davis is shown toward the last moments of the motion picture. He makes one appearance in the movie and not two. He does shoot and kills Vicki, while Jim strangles him to death. At that point, a robot burst thru the window, and all three head to the roof. Once on the roof, Jim Willson tries to shoot the robot but is killed, one more difference between the story to the movie.

My Thoughts.

Now here are some final thoughts I have on both the movie and story. I watched the movie version of the story back in the late 90s and owned a VHS copy of it. I bought it at a movie and record store, at the mall not long after I finished college. The cover art on the box attracted me to purchase the movie which I had never seen until then. I did enjoy watching this movie but only thought of it as fair, not quite as good as some of the other 50s sci-fi movies I had seen previously. It was very low budget and the plot was a good story, it just seemed like it didn't have that charm the other movies had.

Within the original short story that Target Earth is based on, Deadly City, I only recently learned about it via a blog post. I became interested in reading it and downloaded the story from the internet archive site. The story was an easy read and more in-depth on its characters that the movie. The author tends to look into human nature in a survival situation than elements of sci-fi. However, the sci-fi is there, and some mentions of Flying Scaurers and aliens are contained in the dialogue. However, it is still a very good story, and I enjoyed reading it more than watching the movie. Deadly City combines the elements of science fiction, mystery, and crime drama to create a very engaging story.

If you want to read the story, you can download it for free at Achive.org. As I have already mentioned, the story was published in the March 1953 issue of IF, a short story publication that has dozens of issues uploaded on the site. Target Earth can be watched on YouTube and can be bought as a DVD.

Well, that is all for now. This episode has been very long and has taken me a good while to complete. I will be back on the feed with a new episode as soon as possible. I do ask all of my listeners to be patient. I can't always devote as much time to podcast production as many other podcasters can.

Thanks for listening.

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About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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