BOOTLEG FILES 462: “The 1950 Montana UFO Film” (1950 footage of two unidentified flying objects above Great Falls, Montana).
LAST SEEN: The footage is on YouTube and other sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: It has been included in a 1956 docu-drama that was once on VHS.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A landmark moment in UFO history.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Too short for its own release.
Every now and then, a well-meaning individual happily introduces me as the guy “who knows everything about movies.” I cringe when I hear that, because I cannot seriously claim to know “everything” there is to know about film history. Indeed, I am constantly learning about films that I never knew existed.
For example, the other week I was listening to a radio talk show that focused on the subject of UFOs. One of the guests on the program blithely referred to “the famous Montana UFO film,” and that statement left me puzzled.
“What famous Montana UFO film?” I said to myself. “I never heard of any ‘famous’ film out of Montana about UFOs.”
Yeah, see what I don’t know? Quickly diving into research mode, I discovered a story that is very well known to the good folks who spend their nights searching for intelligent life in the distant skies. However, I suspect the majority of film historians are unaware of the footage and its convoluted history.
In the years following World War II, America seemed to become obsessed with the notion of “flying saucers.” However, claims of UFO sightings were mostly ignored or dismissed by the scientific community and the military.
But UFOs were taken seriously thanks to an event that occurred on the morning of August 15, 1950. Nick Mariana was the general manager of the Great Falls Electrics, a minor-league baseball team in Great Falls, Montana, was inspecting the team’s baseball stadium with his 19-year-old secretary, Virginia Raunig. Much to their wonder, they looked up and spotted a pair of objects moving across the sky. The objects did not resemble any known aircraft – Great Falls was not far from Malmstrom Air Force Base – and they were moving at a speed that Mariana estimated to be close to 400 mph.
Mariana remembered that he had a 16mm camera in the glove compartment of his car. He raced to the vehicle, grabbed the camera and aimed it at the sky. Mariana was able to capture 16 seconds worth of footage showing two objects as they moved in perfect unison on a horizontal route across the sky. Mariana’s footage had no sound recording, but he used Daylight Kodachrome film that allowed the silvery-white objects to appear clearly against the blue summer sky.
Mariana had the film developed, but initially had no plans to exploit it beyond sharing the news with the local daily newspaper and hosting a few screenings for Great Falls-area civic groups. However, a newspaper reporter contacted the Air Force about the film, and Mariana was asked to forward the film to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio for analysis.
Initially, the Air Force dismissed the objects in the film as the reflection of fighter jets based out of Malmstrom. Mariana acknowledged seeing fighter jets that morning, but only after the mysterious objects disappeared from the sky. Mariana also noted the objects he saw had no fuselage and made no noise during their flight.
What happened next only served to intensify the long-running conspiracy theory about how Washington views UFOs. Mariana received his film print back from Wright-Patterson, but then complained that the first 35 frames of the footage had been removed. This part of the film, according to Mariana, “showed larger images of the UFOs with a notch or band at one point by which they could be seen to rotate in unison.” The Air Force vigorously denied that any footage was removed.
The government would contact Mariana again in 1952 and in 1966 for further review of the footage. The first review repeated the initial official conclusion of reflections from fighter jets, but the second review did not jump to an obvious conclusion.
For the most part, the American public only knew of the film from news reports that the footage existed. No effort was made to bring it to a wide audience until independent film producers Nicholas Greene and Russell Rouse acquired the big screen rights to the Mariana footage for their 1956 docu-drama “Unidentified Flying Objects.” Mariana was interviewed for the film, along with other individuals that claimed to witness UFOs in flight. Although United Artists picked up this production for release, it made relatively little impact with the general public.
In some ways, Mariana’s footage became a mixed blessing. Beyond his appearance in “Unidentified Flying Objects,” he also appeared on the TV game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” where a celebrity panel failed to guess his “secret.” However, there were many people who insisted that his film was a hoax and he was a fraud. Mariana sued Cosmopolitan Magazine writer Bob Considine for slander after the publication called his footage into question, but the lawsuit was eventually dropped. His relation with his former secretary Raunig became strained after she insinuated that his claim that the Air Force confiscated film frames was not true. Mariana died August 20, 1999, and the public was barely aware of his passing.
Today, a print of the Mariana footage is in the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Mariana’s son claimed that his family had the original 16mm print for years, but that he no longer knows where it is. One website claims to have located the footage that Mariana says was removed by the Air Force, but this cannot be confirmed.
From a rights standpoint, the Mariana film presents a puzzle. Mariana never copyrighted the film, so it was always in the public domain. The producers of “Unidentified Flying Objects” acquired the theatrical rights to the footage, and their production was released on VHS video by MGM/UA in 2000. To date, that title is not on an authorized DVD release. However, collector-to-collector DVDs duped from the VHS version are sold across the Internet, and unauthorized clips of the Mariana footage that were taken from that release can be found on YouTube and other sites.
As for the footage itself, the silvery objects gliding across the sky were clearly not airplanes (and certainly not a reflection of aircraft), nor were they birds or balloons or meteors. What did Mariana film? Well, let’s just say Mariana, for better or worse, shot the most mysterious bit of film of all time.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!