Visions of Paradise

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 version)

Another 1950s sf movie…

Having enjoyed Forbidden Planet so much, I dug into my slim collection of dvd’s for The Day The Earth Stood Still, another classic sf movie from the 1950s (definitely not the recent remake starring Keanu Reeves; the trailers I saw for it gave all indications of its being another chase thriller based so loosely on the source material as to be another I, Robot debacle).

In case you have never seen the original, a flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. with two occupants: Klaatu, an alien played in a low-key but effective manner by Michael Rennie; and Gort, his giant, indestructible robot companion. The reaction caused on Earth by their appearance is as expected, and one of the soldiers surrounding the landing site almost immediately shoots Klaatu in the hand.

Klaatu is taken to a hospital for treatment, but he heals almost miraculously overnight. It is obvious to the viewer and to Klaatu that he is being kept in the hospital as a prisoner moreso than for his health’s sake, but he decides he wishes to observe humans more closely. So he escapes from the hospital—and wisely, this scene is not shown, it is merely assumed that Klaatu’s advanced technology somehow helped him escape without being sighted by the guards outside his locked door—and takes a room at a local boarding house under the guise of “Mr. Carpenter.” This is the part of the movie requiring some suspension of belief, since apparently none of the newspapers or media have shown any pictures of Klaatu’s face, so nobody at the boarding house recognizes him at all.

The majority of the movie involves three aspects: first, the interactions between Klaatu and two other members of the boarding house community, a young single mom and her son who becomes attached to Klaatu almost immediately; second, the military’s intensified pursuit of Klaatu, deciding of their volition (and apparently without any government approval) that killing him is as good as capturing him alive; and third, Klaatu’s meeting with the world’s leading scientist (played by Sam Jaffe bearing an uncanny resemblance to Albert Einstein) to arrange a meeting between Klaatu and the world’s leading scientists to discuss his purpose in coming to Earth.

As I have indicated, there are several weaknesses in the movie, but they are minor compared to the effectiveness of the bulk of it. Do not watch it expecting any special effects though; it was made on a visual level below that of Forbidden Planet and the early 60s sf show The Outer Limits. But the story is effective nevertheless, never resorting to the type of chase scenes that ruin so many other science fiction movies. And the ending is truly chilling and thought-provoking, and nowadays might be the basis for a series of truly inferior sequels.

Good viewing. Occasionally curiosity makes me consider watching the remake, but my better sense and those “thrilling” preview scenes prevent me from doing so, probably thankfully on my part.


  • Another good review. I always enjoyed watching this classic. Like you, I have not watched the remake.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 6:12 AM  

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