Cinema Sunday: The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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Title: The Day the Earth Stood Still

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Edmund H. North (screenplay), Harry Bates (novel)

Director: Robert Wise

Producer: Julian Blaustein

Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe

Released: September, 1951

MPAA: Approved

 

After reviewing some crazy films leading into Halloween, I felt it necessary to check out one of the all-time classics! The sci-fi genre never saw greater heights than in the 1950s. Such films as this one, Forbidden Planet, and others, set an amazingly high bar, that few films have ever even come close to. Why is that? I have no idea, other than to say that I believe as the years went by, filmmakers relied more and more on style than substance, but also because these early films had a charm to them. Even though they might be considered cheesy and have some dialogue that was shall we say interesting compared to more modern times, they always left you feeling exhilarated.

This movie is a must see for anyone that is a fan of classic cinema, regardless of it being sci-fi. It’s on Netflix right now, so if you have that, there’s no excuses. If not, I’m sure the big box stores have copies relatively cheap (check the $5 bins). Alright, let us commence with the film!

 

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The film begins with a military base getting a reading from their radar that something is circling the Earth at an incredible speed. Radio stations around the world are broadcasting the news, and people look frightened. They make a weak attempt to calm the people down, but then suddenly, over Washington D.C., we see a flying saucer circling the area. People run in fear, and the UFO lands in an open field. Of course, the police show up, along with some bystanders, then finally the military. After two solid hours of nothing, the ship stirs, and a hatch opens. A figure (sort of humanoid) walks out, and informs them that they come in peace. As it comes down towards the crowd, everyone is on edge. The alien has a device of some kind, and it clicks, agitating one of the soldiers. He shoots the alien and blows the object out of its hand! Just then, a giant robot appears from inside the UFO, and you know the crap is gonna hit the fan.

 

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Michael Rennie, 1951, TM & Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. CREDIT: Everett Collection

It marches towards the crowd, and the people run away screaming. A visor on the robot’s face opens, and a beam of energy shoots out at the weapons, disintegrating them totally. The soldiers can’t believe their eyes, and look like even they are about to panic. Just as it appears the robot is going to go off on them, the humanoid tells “Gort” to stop. He obeys, and then the humanoid tells the military that it was a gift for the President, and not a weapon. They take the humanoid to the VA for a check-up and then some questioning. The humanoid (Michael Rennie), who identifies himself as “Klaatu,” tells the officials that he has an urgent warning for the leaders of this world, and he demands that they assemble to listen to his words. They tell him it’s near impossible to get everyone together, but he tells them it would be in their best interest to make it happen.

 

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Over at the UFO, the robot is being examined, but nothing they try is giving any answers. We then again see Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy), the Secretary to the President, as he informs Klaatu that the worlds leaders wont be meeting together any time soon. This angers him at first, but then he suggests that he gets out and spends some time among the people of Earth, to try to help him understand them better. Mr. Harley tells him that it’s not going to happen, and walks out. Klaatu just smirks. Later that evening, a nurse and a soldier bring some food to Klaatu, but he’s vanished.

The military begins to comb the area, searching for the alien. The radio has everyone in a panic. We then see Klaatu walking around a neighborhood, and that he’s stolen a bag, and some clothes from one of the officers at the hospital. He spots a sign that says “room for rent,” and investigates. He walks in and scares the beejeesus out of the people in the boarding house. He explains that he wants to rent the room, and the elderly woman is a little worried, but then comes around.

 

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One of the boarders is Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), and she has a son, Bobby (Billy Gray). The youth thinks “Mr. Carpenter (Klaatu)” is a FBI agent, searching for the alien. After a couple of days, we see the hysteria growing, thanks in part to the media (imagine that). At the breakfast able, Helen tells the others (who are skeptical about the alien and his motives), that maybe it just wants peace. They kind of scoff at her, and then her boyfriend arrives. Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) has a day planned for the two of them, but Helen doesn’t have anyone to watch Bobby. Mr. Carpenter volunteers, and at first, Helen seems unsure. Tom assures her it will be OK, and then they all part ways.

 

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During the day, Bobby shows Mr. Carpenter around the city. They visit Arlington national Cemetery, and specifically the grave of Bobby’s father. The Lincoln Memorial is the next stop, and we see Mr. Carpenter’s reaction to the words inscribed on the memorial. He wishes he could talk to him instead of the people of today. Mr. Carpenter asks Bobby who the world’s greatest philosopher is, and he tells him that the smartest man is Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe). Mr. Carpenter wants to meet him, but Bobby wants to go see the UFO first. It’s still a zoo around the spaceship, and Bobby has a ton of questions, most of which Mr. Carpenter answers.

 

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The two head over to the residence of Professor Barnhardt, but he’s not home. Mr.Carpenter sees a mathematical equation on a blackboard, and solves it for the professor. Just as he does, the professor’s secretary comes in. She admonishes them , and tells them to leave. Mr. Carpenter leaves his address for him, and later that evening a Federal Agent shows up and takes him to see the Professor. He reveals who he really is, and that if Earth doesn’t stop with their atomic program and their space program, the other planets will destroy Earth!

Can the professor get the people of Earth to listen? Or will Klaatu and Gort incinerate the planet!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

I usually don’t care for morality plays in movies when they are this over-the-top, but honestly, this one doesn’t bother me at all. The lead character, played by Michael Rennie, is fantastic. His He really makes you believe that he’s an alien, and that we as people are heading down a destructive path. The relationship he has with the boy is absolutely incredible. The way he shows the boy what the really important things are in life regarding humanity, is spot on. Patricia Neal also does a fine job with her portrayal of the fearful mother.

The sets aren’t anything to crow about, but they really aren’t the point and couldn’t add anything regardless. The soundtrack is decent, and adds some tension to the film for sure. The special effects are quite crude, but for the time, they were just fine. I did like the way they showed the eye beams from Gort, destroying the tank. He turned it to ash in a matter of seconds, and for 1951 special effects, it looked pretty cool!

This film is required viewing for fans of the genre, plain and simple!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: World Without End (1956)

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Title: World Without End

Distributor: Allied Artists

Writer: Edward Bernds

Director: Edward Bernds

Producer: Richard Heermance

Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Rod Taylor, Nelson Leigh, Shawn Smith

Release: March 25, 1956

MPAA: PG

 

I’ve been dying to return to some Science Fiction, so why not return to the best decade for that genre, the 1950’s! The theme of space exploration was used heavily in this decade (and for the next couple), but for me, as long as the story is good, and the acting at least above average, it never gets old. This film has a solid cast, good sets, and a very good music score! Oh, and the first thing you see (even before the credits), is an atomic bomb detonating! C’mon, you know you’ve got a good movie on your hands when the beginning brings something that cool!

Well, rather than going on about this one for too long, I’ll just say that you should really see this film for no other reason than Rod Taylor, and a pack of gorgeous women! They have this film on Warner Archive now, so get over there and give it a watch!

 

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The film begins with a group of military men telling the Pentagon that a ship out in space has gone silent for a couple of days. A spokesperson then tells some reporters that they can’t give any information about it until they investigate further. This same spokesman, comforts a woman and her children, because apparently her husband is one of the men on the mission. Switching to a TV station, a man tells the world that the space mission near Mars may have ended in disaster, with the ship losing communications with Earth. Speaking of the ship, we see it hurtling through space, as the communications officer, Ellis (Rod Taylor The Time Machine, The Birds), informs the commander, Galbraithe (Nelson Leigh Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), that they still cannot connect with Earth. Along with the rest of the crew, science officer,  Borden (Hugh MarloweThe Day the Earth Stood Still), and engineer, Jaffee (Christopher Dark), they are all optimistic about their return to Earth. Just as they finish some a last pass by the red planet, they ready themselves for the long trip home. Suddenly, the ship is tossed all over the place, and the crew hangs on for dear life!

 

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After a crash landing, the crew believes they’ve landed on Mars or another nearby planet. As they look out the window, they see snow-covered mountaintops. They initially theorize, that they might be on Mars, but quickly discern that they are most certainly not. A Geiger counter tells them that there is some radiation, but nothing toxic. Ellis attempts to use the radio to contact someone, but gets static. The crew then packs up their gear, and heads out to explore this strange new world.

After walking for a while, they stop for a rest, and talk over a game plan. Jaffee is having a difficult time adjusting, and the rest of the crew wishes someone with a family hadn’t been allowed on the mission. They discover a cave, and upon exploring it, find a huge spiderweb. Ellis gets a bit too close though, and gets tangled up in it, then attacked by a huge spider! They wrestle with it, then shoot it at point-blank range. Another one tries to ambush them, but they put the kibosh to that one quickly with their pistols. Back outside, they find a clearing, but decide it will take too long to get anywhere else today, so they settle in for the night, and make camp.

 

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During the night, we see a group of savages surround the camp, and they viciously attack the crew. Eventually, Ellis gets to his sidearm, and puts a couple of them down, and the rest flee. They notice that the attackers seem to be part human, part animal. The next day, they grab their gear and head off for the clearing they saw the day before. They come upon a gravestone, and it is then that they realize that they have time traveled into Earth’s future. Borden tells the rest of the crew that they were caught up in a time dilation, and pierced the sound barrier, and traveled into the far-flung future. Jaffee is having a tough time dealing with the fact that his family is long dead. They believe that there must have been a giant catastrophe that decimated the world, years before their arrival. They also think that the beasts that attacked them earlier are mutated human beings.

As they search on, Borden sees some unnatural smoke, and volunteers to investigate. The rest of the crew talks about his family, that died in a plane crash years ago. Just as they finish talking, another group of mutates attacks Borden, but between his fighting prowess, and the others hooting, they manage to fight off the mutates for a while. The mutates outnumber them by a long-shot though, so they hide in a tunnel nearby. As they look around, they find a steel door, that is obviously man-made, and harboring something. Another steel door closes to seal off the cave, and then another opens, inviting them inside. They enter, and are almost immediately met by a man who asks them to follow him down a corridor. They are brought before a council that informs them that Armageddon ravaged the planet, and that they are all that’s left of the human race, along with the mutates. And also, that it is now the year 2508!

 

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As they get more familiar with each other, a door opens, and a beautiful woman enters, Garnet (Nancy Gates), and introduces herself as the leader’s daughter. She escorts the men to a room where they can relax, and then two other women, Deena (Lisa Montell), and Elaine (Shirley Patterson) . The weary explorers are at a loss for words. Galbraithe then asks the girls why they haven’t gone back above ground since the radiation levels are livable. She explains that they have come accustomed to living there, and that the mutates might kill them, so they’d rather live below in peace.

A few hours later, Galbraithe meets with the council to discuss some things, but they only want to talk about ancient history, and he wishes to discuss fixing the ship to explore the rest of the planet. One of the council members, Mories (Booth Coleman Planet of the Apes), is very skeptical about their intentions, and wants them to either conform or leave. The men take a tour of the complex, and Garnet gives Borden a “private tour” because they seem to be sweet on each other. There’s a bit of jealousy on the part of Mories, as he gives Borden the evil eye when he sees Garnet giving him so much attention.

 

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The crew repeatedly attempts to sway the council to rise to the surface, and defeat the mutates, and live as humans should, on top of the surface. The council seems to think the crew might have a point, but Mories keeps frightening them with stories of how they’ll be murdered by the mutates. The crew even asks to just be able to use some men to make it to their ship, and also use their factory to make weapons, but they are told that isn’t possible. Mories is then seen spying on them, and then tells the other council members that the crew is planning a coup. Garnet talks to her father, Timmek (Everett Glass), (the leader of the underground people), and tries to convince him that they are sincere, and just want harmony for all mankind.

 

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One of the other council members reports this to Mories, who then devises a plan to frame the crew for crimes against the council. He steals the weapons of the crew (that were confiscated earlier), and then hides them in their room, and accuses them of subterfuge. The council has a kangaroo court that finds them guilty, and they’re locked up and told that they’ll be thrown out with nothing more than what they had when they came to the community. As Mories was stealing the weapons though, he was discovered by one of the other council members, so he killed him to hide his actions. He blames the crew for that as well. The women don’t believe it though ( as they’ve fallen in love with the crew members), so they agree to help them escape. Unbeknownst to Mories, Deena saw him enter the room of the crew, and tries to report him, but he attacks her as well. She eventually recovers, and outs Mories.  He runs to the only place where he can get away, the outside world. Within seconds he’s savagely attacked and killed by the mutates.

 

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The council changes their mind, and agrees to help the crew with furnishing weapons and some men to help them make their way to the ship. Will they be able to fight off the mutates, and make it to the ship? Will they ever see the 20th century again? Only watching the movie will get you those answers!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

There’s no two ways to say this other than if you like Sci-Fi, you need to see this movie. It’s not as flashy as Forbidden Planet, but I’d guess that the budget was significantly less, so you’d have to factor that in the equation. The crew of the ship really do grow on you, and have you on their side from the beginning. Rod Taylor does a fantastic job at playing the young, cocky space-jocky type, and Hugh Marlowe and Nelson Leigh really excel at being the “father figure” types for the younger two crew members.  Of course you get some of the same tropes in this film that you get in most others of this period, but if you think about it, they’re still being used to this day in one way or another, so they can’t be labeled as tiresome in a movie from 1956.

The sets/locations for this film were pretty good, and really looked best in the outdoor scenes. The underground community set was solid as well, and looked like something straight out of a Star Trek episode (even though this movie predates that series by ten years!). There’s a bit of social commentary in the film but it doesn’t get too heavy or ridiculous. The music score (Leith Stevens), was very good, and I haven’t personally ever heard of this gentleman, but I’m definitely going to keep my eyes open and look for more of his work.

As I said above, either grab this film on DVD (you can get it in a double pack with Satellite in the Sky (1956) for around $12-15. Or if you have any kind of tablet, download the Warner Archive app, because you can get a month of free movies, where this flick is available as of now. Do yourself a favor, and give some of these classics a shot. They really did lay the foundation for the rest of the movies and TV shows for years to come in this genre!

 

 Click here for a clip!