The War of the Worlds in Film & Television, part 2
The War of the Worlds and especially the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast have a special place in American folklore, so it is no surprise that references pop up in the most unusual of places. The earliest such example appears to be of all things a Porky The Pig cartoon from 1946, In Kitty Kornered, Porky is throwing his cats out for the night, but the cats have other ideas, hatching a plan to get back into the warm, which includes faking an invasion from Mars.
Then in 1965, America's most famous cartoon family got in on the act, spoofing the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast. The Flintstones episode The Masquerade Party saw Fred Flintstone and Barny Rubble embroiled in a radio station hoax to promote a new rock band, The Way Outs. It's a fun little episode and worth seeking out.
In 1984, a very curious science fiction film was released, called Buckaroo Banzai, or to give it its complete title, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. Starring Peter Weller, it tells of a maverick super scientist (and rock star) and his encounter with a group of aliens who have been sheltering in a little out of the way backwater of America called Grover's Mill. This of course is the place chosen as the Martian beachhead in the 1938 broadcast.
The broadcast was again featured in a movie in 1986, this time in the superb Woody Allen production, Radio Days, a loving homage to the early days of radio drama. Essentially a series of short inter-connected stories revolving around a family of new Yorkers in the 1930's, one of the stories tells of a War of the Worlds like broadcast and the panic that ensues.
Probably the best ever homage to the 1938 broadcast came in the 1988 War of the Worlds television series. Largely and unjustly forgotten, this excellent series attempted to follow on from the George Pal movie, speculating that there really had been an invasion in 1953, but that mass hysteria (and perhaps a helping hand from the Martians) had contributed to a sort of world-wide blanket amnesia and denial of those events. In an early season 1 episode, the team fighting a renewed Martian offensive discover that there was an even earlier attack, at Grover's Mill. The entire episode is set in Grover's Mill, (not the real one) where a group of disgruntled old timers who fought off the Martians in 1938 are recalled to duty one last time.
1988 also saw the arrival of another homage to the War of the Worlds, in this case the George Pal movie. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a supremely low budget tongue in cheek cable television show that each week unmercifully lampooned old science fiction movies. One of the two co-hosts was named Dr. Clayton Forrester, which was of course the name of Gene Barry's character in The War of the Worlds.
The 1938 broadcast surfaced yet again in 1990. In Spaced Invaders, a wacky and somewhat confused comedy, a bunch of inept Martians pick up the Orson Welles broadcast and assuming it is the real thing, decide they better go help their comrades in the battle.
Several more nods to the broadcast (and what weird ones) followed in 1993. The cartoon show Taz-Mania was a showcase for the Warner Brothers character Taz, the verbally challenged Tasmanian devil. In the episode The Man From M.A.R.S, Taz is listening to a War of the Worlds like broadcast on the radio, when Marvin The Martian turns up.
That same year, the bizarre Warner Brothers cartoon series Animaniacs did its own War of the Worlds parody. One of the regular elements of Animaniacs featured the misadventure of two characters called Pinky And The Brain. A pair of talking mice living in the ACME labs, Brain was a super genius with designs on world domination, while Pinky was his intellectually challenged co-plotter. In the 1993 story Battle For The Planet, Brain hatches a plan to fake an alien invasion, but as always, it all goes horribly wrong.