The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
Sunday, July 31, 2011

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writers: Paul Mayersberg, Walter Tevis
Stars: David Bowie, Rip Torn and Candy Clark Music by John Morris
Cinematography: Lauro Escorel
Editing by Anne Goursaud
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Genre: Sci-fi - Drama
Country: UK
Language: English
Release Date: May 26, 1976 (Netherlands)
Filming Locations: Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA
Also Known As: A Földre pottyant férfi
Plot: Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet.
Tagline: Thomas Jerome Newton; We'd have probably done the same to you, if you'd come 'round our place.
Company Credits: Production Co: British Lion Film Corporation, Cinema 5
Runtime: 139 min

I originally saw this movie on TV somewhere during the early 1980s. Subsequent to that, there was a made for TV production of it in the early 1990s which lacked the dramatic atmosphere and seriousness that Bowie and the rest of the cast brought to the original.

I saw a review of it recently online and forwarded it to the CFT Meetup group, and last night several of the members and I went to see it at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque. This film was not exactly the same one which I saw on TV. It was much longer, a little too long, and contained heavily sexual scenes removed from the network TV showing.

Thomas Jerome Newton is an etxraterrestrial whose misison is to come to earth and find a way of transporting water from the Earth's seas to his drought-ridden dying planet. As his ship enters earth atmosphere, there is some sort of accident. The outer hull of his ship catches fire and he ejects himslef in the inner hull and crash-lands on our planet.

Newton now has a dual goal; not only must he devise a way of getting some water to his planet; he must also construct a new space ship to get himself home.

In order to do so, he enlists the aid of the best scientific and business minds that he can find and founds a high technology company to get the billions of dollars he needs to build a return spacecraft.

In the interim, he meets and becomes involved in a romantic relationship with MaryLou, a hotel clerk who falls in love with him. Although he returns the love he is beset with feelings of guilt because of his unfaithfullness to his dying wife and children. MaryLou surmises that he is married but doesn't seem to mind.

Eventually, one of his chief scientists, Nathan Bryce, begins to suspect that Newton is not of this world. In one scene, Bryce confronts Newton, demanding to know if he is the first alien to come to earth preparing the way for others to come. He asks if the ship they are building contains any weapons and declares that if he finds that Newton has military aims in mind, he will resign from the company. Newton assures him that his people have no invasion plans and that there probably have been other alien visitors to earth before him since he knows of alien visitors to his own planet.

Due to loneliness and depression despite MaryLou's attention and affections, Newton finds himself drawn more and more to drinking, eventually becoming an alcoholic.

Bryce, discovering Newton's alcohol problem and his involvement with MaryLou, seeks an advantage of wealth and noteriety and reveals Newton's extraterrestriality to the U.S. government. Newton, already a rich and famous industrialist, envied by the powerfull, comes under survellience by the government.

Newton goes into the bathroom of his apartment and removes his earthling disguise, exposing his real face and body, and shows himself as he really is to MaryLou. She goes into a panic and begins to scream - but Newton holds her and tells her not to fear him. She calms down and Newton goes into the bedroom, feeling depressed, to rest. After a while, MaryLou lies down beside him and embraces him.

Bryce continues to instigate the government into arresting Newton with the intention of experimenting on him to discover how he is different from humans. Finally Newton is arrested and subject to torture, humiliation, and degradation, all the while being encouraged to fall deeper and deeper into his alcoholism.

Newton's whole world falls apart. The film shows montages of his family and his entire planet dying from lack of water. Newton realizes now that he will never be allowed to return home. His constitution and mind abandon him and he descends into madness.

Unaware of what is happening to him, MaryLou assumes he has simply abandoned her and she takes up with Bryce, becoming his girl-friend.

Upon completion of government experiments on him, Newton is allowed to "escape" from the institution where he has been held for several years. Bryce and MaryLou have grown old while Newton remains as young as he was upon his arrival on earth.

One day, MaryLou asks Bryce what happened to Newton and Bryce tells her where Newton is living. MaryLou visits Newton and they engage in violent sex during which it becomes apparent that both of them have lost their minds, he from abuse and she from love and longing for him and from her assumption that he willfully left her.

In the final scene, Bryce runs into Newton at a local cafe where he is becoming completely inebriated. Newton drunkenly tells Bryce that he still has lots of money and wonders if anyone would be interested in building him a spaceship so he can go home to his dead world.

Bryce tells him that no one will help him do that. Newton drops into a drunken slumber and the film ends.

Despite the low budget feel of the film, the actors are magnificent and the movie won several awards.

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA
1977 Won  Golden Scroll Best Actor
David Bowie Nominated Golden Scroll Best Science Fiction Film
Berlin International Film Festival
Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)
1976 Nominated Golden Berlin Bear Nicolas Roeg
Hugo Awards
Year Result Award Category/Recipient(s)
1977 Nominated Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation

Wikipedia reports:
Since its release in 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth has grown to a cult status. On the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes the film has earned an 86% "Fresh" rating with a consensus of: "Filled with stunning imagery, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a calm, meditative film that profoundly explores our culture's values and desires."[12] It was entered into the 26th Berlin International Film Festival.[13] Bowie would win the Saturn Award for Best Actor for his work in the film. The film has received mixed reviews from critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 2½ stars of four, writing in his review that the film is "so preposterous and posturing, so filled with gaps of logic and continuity, that if it weren't so solemn there'd be the temptation to laugh aloud."[14] When the film was re-released in 2011, Ebert gave the film three stars, stating that readers should "consider this just a quiet protest vote against the way projects this ambitious are no longer possible in the mainstream movie industry." [15] Richard Eder of The New York Times praised the film, writing, "There are quite a few science-fiction movies scheduled to come out in the next year or so. We shall be lucky if even one or two are as absorbing and as beautiful as The Man Who Fell to Earth."

Also from Wikipedia:
In popular culture

The film was used as one of the key elements of the novel VALIS by Philip K. Dick, with David Bowie appearing in the novel as "Mother Goose" and the film represented by the titular film "VALIS", although plot elements were changed dramatically, so that the film became something very different in Dick's novel. The novel also incorporates a - fictional - incident in which Dick visits David Bowie and Brian Eno, who turn out to be harbouring a small child who may be the messiah.
The music video to Guns N' Roses's 1987 "Welcome to the Jungle" was partially based on The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The music video to Scott Weiland's 1998 song "Barbarella" uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The music video to Marilyn Manson's 1998 song "The Dope Show" uses themes from The Man Who Fell to Earth.
In 2001, David Bowie starred in an XM Radio commercial where he fell through the roof of a motel. Upon standing, he looks up and states "I'll never get used to that."
Dr. Manhattan´s apartment and Ozymandias' Antarctic retreat in the 2009 film Watchmen were mainly based on the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth.
The 2009 song "ATX" by Alberta Cross is based on David Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth.]
The episode "Grey Matters" of the television series Fringe features a character who uses the alias Thomas Jerome Newton. The series had previously used a character named David Robert Jones, which is David Bowie's real name.
A movie poster for The Man Who Fell to Earth can be seen in the 2011 film Green Lantern.

Cast overview, first billed only:

David Bowie ... Thomas Jerome Newton
Rip Torn ... Nathan Bryce
Candy Clark ... Mary-Lou
Buck Henry ... Oliver Farnsworth
Bernie Casey ... Peters
Jackson D. Kane ... Professor Canutti
Rick Riccardo ... Trevor
Tony Mascia ... Arthur
Linda Hutton  ... Elaine
Hilary Holland ... Jill
Adrienne Larussa ... Helen
Lilybelle Crawford  ... Jewelery Store Owner
Richard Breeding ... Receptionist
Albert Nelson  ... Waiter

Trivia: James Sallis, writing in the The Boston Globe, describes "The Man Who Fell To Earth" as a Christian parable, not only about the corruption of an innocent being, but as being highly critical of the 1950s conventionalism which Tevis grew up with, along with environmental destruction and the Cold War. See more » Goofs: Continuity: When Newton lifts up the cookies in the desperate moment before the transformation, there were only twelve cookies on the plate, then, when they were shuffling in the air, it's easily possible to count at least sixteen of it.
Connections: Referenced in On the Edge of 'Blade Runner' (2000)
Soundtracks: "Love is Coming Back", Written by John Phillips, Performed by Geneviève Waïte

Other User Review:
Bowie's entire idea of himself?
13 March 2006 | by Polaris_DiB (United States) – See all my reviews
I went into this film expecting something more like Walkabout, because that is all I had seen of Nicholas Roeg's work previously, and the thought of David Bowie being in it enticed me. Really, though, I had it backwards... It's David Bowie's creation with a little bit of Nicholas Roeg in it.

The whole "human alien" thing is very much Bowie's schtick, and to a degree I found it hard not to imagine that this was Bowie's entire idea of himself. A sort of silent tragedy encompasses his character, expressed mostly in the scene with the eye-test where Bowie says very smally and pathetically "Oh... now I'll never get them out." Bowie sees himself as an alien that just can't escape being human.

On a broader sense than this one artist's idea, however, this is a fascinating science fiction film because it points out a side of human nature not often developed very well in other science fiction films. Instead of dissecting the alien, which is what everyone always expects humans will do, the humans do everything in their power to make him more human. Where not actually working towards constructing this "other" as a human, they try to own him, via capitalism or politics or, yes, even love.

It's interesting then the space they put him in, with all of the various rooms like different human-empathetic places. On one hand, it's a self-reflective look at the "set" of the movie, showing that we are designing this alien to look human, but secondly a lot of it is surreally natural, as if to imply that even nature is forced to be human at our hands.



Bowie has acted in several other films but remains best known as a vocal artist.

We were also treated to the trailer from BARBARELLA - LOL!

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