Based on a novel by Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth achieved cult film status for David Bowie's performance as Thomas Jerome Newton, aka "Mr. Sussex," and the imagery of director Nicholas Roeg, a former cinematographer. In this deeply allegorical science-fiction drama, Newton is an alien from a planet that is dying for lack of water, and he has been sent to earth to find a way to ship some of the earth's plentiful supply to his home planet. He arrives with a human-looking disguise, his knowledge of unusual technologies, his despair, and little else. Using his knowledge, he takes out patents on "his" inventions, aided by patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry). He skillfully parlays the money from these inventions and becomes a financial/industrial tycoon. These inventions, and others like them, along with his political and financial power, should make possible the transfer of water to his planet. But instead of pressing forward with plans to save his home planet, he becomes enamored of Earth's low-down ways and of his strange, passive relationship with his elevator-operator girlfriend, Mary Lou (Candy Clark). Meanwhile, his phenomenal rise from anonymity to power, and his eccentric behavior, spark the government's interest. Chemistry professor Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) also comes calling, fascinated by the alien's history. As gin and despair slowly cripple him, he becomes consumed by memories of life on his doomed planet. The longer (140 minutes) and sexier British version of this film was toned down for its American release. Roeg, whose work has received polarized responses, also directed such distinctively stylized movies as Walkabout (1971) and Don't Look Now (1973).
~ Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide