Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on September 28, 1951
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Edmund H. North, based on a story by Harry Bates
Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray, Lock Martin, Frances Bavier, Frank Conroy, Patrick Aherne, Roy Engel, Harry Lauter, Millard Mitchell (voice)
One of the more cerebral science fiction films from the 1950s—or from any decade, for that matter—that not only told its story intelligently and with conviction, but delivered its share of excitement, scares, and tension as well, and in the end offered a simple message of quite ominous proportions. And though the film’s dire title did come into play, and had an impact on the overall story, it was only a partial example of what The Day the Earth Stood Still had to offer.
A flying saucer lands in a Washington D.C. park, where a humanoid alien named Klaatu emerges from the ship (with a towering metal robot named Gort at his side) with hopes of conveying a chilling message to all nations: immediately stop all internal aggression and destruction—that he fears will affect other planets in the universe, especially when it comes to atomic energy and global war—or the Earth will face obliteration. A simple request, right? The problem for Klaatu, and one that is made obvious to him throughout the film, is whether or not anyone will listen.
Trust me when I say, this was one well-done and captivating movie, with direction, acting, story, and Bernard Herrmann’s eerie score hitting on all cylinders, and a multitude of subtle touches—humorous, scientific, and dramatic—adding a nice backdrop to the proceedings. The always-dependable Robert Wise directed, and it was evident he brought his past knowledge of film noir atmosphere with him, as many nighttime scenes were sharply enhanced with high-contrast shadows and light (most tellingly when Klaatu first entered a boarding house and was seen only in silhouette…my favorite shot of the whole film).
And speaking of Klaatu, Michael Rennie was the perfect choice to play the part; his alien was profound and understanding, and was more matter-of-fact than malevolent or maniacal…although you got the sense that he was still one not to be trifled with. The supporting players handled their chores with equal skill and sincerity: Patricia Neal made a believable jump from cautious neighbor to trusted ally, Sam Jaffe was fun as the Einstein-like professor, and Hugh Marlowe was a perfect example of fear and mistrust, a characterization that paralleled the feelings of a nation that, at the time, was plagued by the Red Scare.
It was interesting to note, too, that it wasn’t the government or the military entrusted to save the world, but men and women of science. And why not, when your first steps on Earth soil are met with gunfire from an overzealous soldier, and your first encounter with a scientist is one of shared interest and respect. One bit of dialogue in particular made a telling statement on how Klaatu (and many others, I’m sure) viewed the mindset of our planet’s inhabitants: when told that his impatience with hardheaded world leaders was quite understandable, Klaatu replied sternly, “I’m impatient with stupidity.”
As you may have guessed by now, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not some cheap space thriller meant to fill the second half of a drive-in’s double bill, but a top-notch example of the sci-fi genre that was both entertaining and thought-provoking, which warned of the dangerous path our planet was taking, and the consequences we would face if we continued to do so. In my opinion, the best (along with The War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) of the ‘aliens arrive on Earth’ movies of the classic era. (9/10)