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H Entries
Earl Hamner, Jr.
Tom Hanks
George Harrison
Ray Harryhausen
Byron Haskin
Howard Hawks
Ben Hecht
David Hedison
Robert A. Heinlein
Charlton Heston
Sir Alfred Hitchcock
Inoshiro Honda
Ron Howard
Rock Hudson
Gale Anne Hurd
Martha Hyer
 
HASKIN, BYRON
(1899–1984). American director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: The War of the Worlds (1953); The Naked Jungle (1954); Conquest of Space (1955); From the Earth to the Moon (1958); "Death Trap" (1959), episode of World of Giants; Captain Sinbad (1963); "The Architects of Fear," "The Hundred Eyes of the Dragon" (1963), "A Feasibility Study," "The Invisible Enemy" (and co-wrote), "Behold, Eck!," "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1964), episodes of The Outer Limits; Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964); The Power (1967).
 
Somehow, despite some impressive achievements, Byron Haskin has stubbornly resisted elevation to the status of a major science fiction film director. In assessing directors, we look for evidence of some consistency of effort, a search for scripts to match their strengths and a determination to shape their material to reflect certain issues and themes. But Haskin never struggled to express himself: if he was handed a script that was ideally suited to his talents, he could make it a masterpiece, but he would also take a miserable script and calmly proceed to create a miserable movie. It is hard to believe that the director of The Outer Limits' best episode, "Demon with a Glass Hand," had recently presided over its worst episode, "Behold, Eck!"—but lofty peaks and deep valleys are characteristic of Haskin's career. Perhaps his long apprenticeship as a special effects artist and cameraman made him a naturally unassertive director; perhaps he never realized his own special affinity for stories about unlikely loners who emerge to play heroic roles.

Haskin was at his worst in directing stories of groups of men who are engaged in collective projects, since these tend to become stilted and slow-paced, filled with long speeches and expository dialogue, and overly reliant on contrivance, rather than character or conflict, to keep the plot in motion. This would be a good description of his two dullest films, Conquest of Space and From the Earth to the Moon, the latter perhaps qualifying as the worst adaptation of Jules VERNE's works ever filmed. To an extent, these flaws are also surprisingly evident in The War of the Worlds, surely the most overrated science fiction "classic" of the 1950s. While the special effects are colorful and dynamic, the film is otherwise a strangely lethargic and undramatic account of an alien invasion of Earth, with an added subtext of religious piety that would have been repugnant to the story's original author, H. G. WELLS.

At the other extreme, Haskin excelled in directing a type of film that is often problematic and awkward: the story of a solitary hero, struggling against natural forces and inarticulate foes, who must communicate his story with voice-over narration. Although evidence of Haskin's skill with such stories first surfaced in The Naked Jungle, the thrilling saga of a jungle-bound Charlton HESTON battling against ferocious ants often cited as an influence on science fiction film, his two finest efforts along these lines were Robinson Crusoe on Mars and "Demon with a Glass Hand." The former convincingly depicts a marooned astronaut's grim effort to survive in a harsh alien environment, and clever casting makes it an effective tale of role reversal. In the opening scenes, handsome Adam WEST is the confident commanding officer while homely Paul MANTEE is his inexperienced, unsure subordinate. But West is killed, and the surviving Mantee must now prove his own abilities. After finally finding water, his bath in a pool is a baptism rite, as he is purged of self-doubt, and West's appearance in a nightmare as a voiceless zombie emphasizes his new confidence. Then, when he recruits the alien Victor Lundin—who closely resembles a swarthy West—as his Man Friday, the reversal is complete: the underdog is now the master. Yet the film still shows some nagging signs of directorial indifference: for such a somber story, the colors are too bright and cheery, as would be more appropriate for a mindless entertainment like Harry LEVIN's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). And the brief scene that reveals the malevolent aliens to look just like humans is unnecessary and thoughtless—it would have been far better to leave the aliens unseen and mysterious. As for "Demon with a Glass Hand," Haskin directs this fast-paced, claustrophobic story intelligently and intensely; even the ever-unhappy Harlan ELLISON had only a few mild complaints about his direction.

Falling somewhere between these extremes is The Power, a film with effective moments that never really rises to the white heat of frenzied paranoia that the story demands and is handicapped by a meandering pace and the miscasting of an insufficiently passionate George Hamilton as its star. As a director, Haskin undeniably had the Power, but one wishes he had chosen, or had been prodded, to exercise it more often.

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