Joan Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) was one of the Xenomorph’s many victims aboard the Nostromo in Alien, but she almost died quite differently. As eternally cool and compelling as the Xenomorph is as a villain, director Ridley Scott‘s 1979 classic Alien wouldn’t be nearly the film it is without its cast of human characters. While Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) would become the sole survivor and franchise lead, the rest of the Nostromo’s crew were all both interesting to watch and very well-acted.
Part of that is due to casting, as the entire Nostromo crew is comprised of actors who went on to make a mark on Hollywood over the course of their careers, whether that be as leading movie and TV stars, or consummate character actors. Cartwright is no different, still working today in her 70s, and boasting over 150 roles in movies or on TV. Alien wasn’t even her first big sci-fi/horror hit, as she also played a big role in 1978’s excellent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Cartwright’s Lambert isn’t always the most likable character in Alien, as she spends a good chunk of the running time opposing Ripley over how the latter is handling the situation. In her defense though, Lambert clearly wasn’t built for this kind of pressure, as she cracks fairly quickly after the Xenomorph starts picking off her colleagues. Lambert’s death in the final cut of Alien is a master class of less being more, as it’s offscreen, and conveyed through horrific sounds. However, that wasn’t always the plan.
Lambert is one of the last members of the Nostromo crew to meet their demise in Alien. However, despite her importance to the seminal sci-fi/horror movie, Lambert’s death was in a nearly constant state of flux throughout Alien‘s writing and production. One of the earliest versions was one of the most grisly, with Lambert having her head twisted completely off by the Xenomorph. That was later changed to her being taken by the creature, then eaten offscreen, which certainly wouldn’t be the species’ usual modus operandi. Still another alternate death for Lambert had her being unintentionally killed by Yaphet Kotto’s Parker, as the latter unwisely tried to attack the rampaging Xenomorph using a flamethrower.
Lambert’s next alternate scripted death would’ve seen her sucked out into space via a small hole in the Nostromo’s hull, which certainly would’ve been cool to see, but was deemed too expensive and difficult to accomplish on their budget and schedule. Oddly enough though, even Lambert’s death scene in the final Alien script wasn’t really final. It was eventually decided that she would simply hide from the Xenomorph and die of fright, which makes complete sense given her fear level in the film. The problem was, the footage intended to be used to convey that didn’t end up actually getting filmed. This left her death to be figured out in the editing stage, and that’s why it happens offscreen. However, the sounds used effectively convey the horror of her end, proving that blood and gore isn’t always needed.