“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Science Fiction / Theatrical Release: 1951 / Director: Robert Wise / Actors: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal ... / DVD released 18 April, 2005 at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
* Prices may differ from that shown
RELEASED: 1951, Cert. U
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 92 mins
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
PRODUCER: Julian Blaustein
SCREENPLAY: Edmund H North
MUSIC: Bernard Hermann
Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
FILM ONLY REVIEW
A strange elliptical shaped object soars through the sky and lands just by the White House in Washington. People are amazed, curious and scared. Armed police and soldiers dash to the scene and stand on guard, watchful.
The doors open on the spacecraft and Klaatu steps out, addressing the crowd (in English of course!), saying that he has come in peace and that his world has been studying life on earth for some time. Klaatu then points an instrument at the onlookers. A policeman, believing the instrument to be a deadly weapon, shoots and wounds Klaatu. As an immediate consequence, a robot emerges from the spacecraft and neatly destroys the weapons which the police and military are armed with....as Klaatu explains he was carrying a harmless sensory device which he was going to give to the President.
Klaatu is taken to a hospital where his wound heals almost instantly, and is visited by the secretary to the President. Klaatu explains to the secretary that he has a crucially important message for all leaders on earth, and that he needs to hold a mass meeting whereby he can address everybody....he is told this isn't possible.
After managing to escape from the hospital, Klaatu (who looks like an ordinary man) keeps a low profile and settles in lodgings with widowed Helen Benson and her young son Billy, who Klaatu strikes up a firm friendship with.
The Day The Earth Stood Still is one of these classic old black & white 1950s sci-fi films that I saw when I was a child, but had forgotten most of its content. However, my recent viewing brought it all back to me.
The concept behind the film is quite an interesting one, and perhaps at the time it could have been considered unique, especially bearing in mind that Klaatu's message to earthlings is one which perhaps may not have been too well-received in certain quarters....bearing in mind America's attitude at that time towards communism and its advocates. (That's not to suggest Klaatu's message has anything to do with communism, or any political system - merely that during the 1950s, a 'coming together' of the world's nations would have been somewhat of a no-go area if it were to include countries who the USA were in a cold-war situation with).
Klaatu's message is very idealistic, and as to whether it could be considered possible really is down to the individual to perceive using their own personal life philosophy. I think it's a good one, but in order for it to work, there would have to be 100% global compliance.
In the usual way, I tend to give sci-fi films a wide berth, but there are one or two gems hanging around out there (mostly from the 1950s) which are very watchable and highly entertaining....The Day The Earth Stood Still is one of them.
It is important to me that this film was shot in black and white, as I feel the quality of colour used in the very early 1950s would have been too bright and probably would have made the whole thing look cheap and unnatural. However, some special effects are used which although by nowadays' standards could be considered as almost laughable, for 1951 they are quite remarkable.
The acting quality throughout is reasonably good, although the diction of the cast members is in that clipped, almost barking the words out style so typical of its era. My personal favourite is Billy Gray as young Bobby Benson (who incidentally, if he is still alive, must now be well into his 70s). He comes across as bright, enthusiastic, and the child managed to pull some very interesting expressions on his face as his fascination for the laid-back, gentle character of Klaatu blossomed.
The music to The Day The Earth Stood Still is, like the acting style, straight from its time in that it is orchestral in nature, perhaps going a bit overboard on the drama, but nonetheless is suitable. There are sizeable stretches within the film where no music is present, which is something fairly unusual for a film from this era and of its genre.
The Day The Earth Stood Still is a fascinating film which doesn't have a boring moment, although of course it is very dated....but, one must expect that simply because of when it was made. The dialogue is fairly complex - although not difficult to concentrate on - and this time around of viewing, I couldn't help aligning it up to the philosophy of the hippies, prevalent some 15 years later and continuing well into the 1970s. Were any of the peace-proclaiming, sandal wearing long-hairs of the flower power era in any way inspired by this film? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not.
I must have been aged about 8 or 9 when I first saw this film (and it is, up until yesterday the only time), and I can clearly recall it scaring me. Attempting to use the benefit of hindsight, I honestly can't imagine why I was terrified by it though, as the character of Klaatu is completely benevolent.
For me, the crux of the message contained within The Day The Earth Stood Still makes itself very apparent at the end of the film....and it is an ending which I personally find quite sad, although many other people perhaps wouldn't understand why I feel that way about it.
Overall, The Day The Earth Stood Still is a film which is very well worth watching, but anybody who hasn't seen it and decides to give it a go, must obviously make allowances for filming techniques and acting styles which by today's standards may seem unpolished. The storyline is very interesting, and this time around, I wasn't bored at all (or scared).....simply fascinated. I promise it is in absolutely no way one of these crass (but often entertaining) American sci-fi productions from the 1950s which were riddled with propaganda, or contained things such as huge hairy monsters (where you could see the strings) or giant tartan crabs infesting Miami beach, gobbling up all the sunbathers. This is an intelligent film with a definite message that is very enjoyable to watch.
Would I recommend it? Yes, yes, yes!
At the time of writing, The Day The Earth Stood Still can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £4.21 to £8.10
Used: only one copy currently available @ £7.01
Some DVDs on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
Lock Martin as Gort
Last year there was a box-office-topping remake of this classic 1951 film which although it looked promising in theory, what with starring Keanu Reeves and possessing lots of impressive glitzy special effects, received mostly poor reviews by both those who had not seen or heard of the original as well as those who know and love the original.
Having seen both, I was disappointed to see that the remake was really not the same story except for the characters of Klaatu and Helen Benson having the same names, and being about an extra-terrestrial man who comes to Earth to warn humankind that their aggressive and warlike ways are on a path to threaten the safety of inhabitants of other planets should they extend their aggression into space, and that should that happen, it may be necessary to destroy life on Earth.
For those who don't like black & white films and only feel able to relate to recent films, it's necessary to remember this movie was made shortly after the end of World War Two at the beginning of the 'Communist witch-hunts' and 'Cold War' era of the 1950s, and the themes of this movie very much reflect what was going on then. Having just been through two world wars, a very aggressive and warmongering era, 'the man/woman in the street' was understandably worried about threats to their peace and security.
So, there were many films made back then around the theme of these fears, and this was one of them. It may be helpful to cast your mind back to that point in history when watching this, or else think of it in terms of today's problems with terrorism and the Iraq war, as things unfortunately really haven't changed in the world since then, only with different players.
'The Day The Earth Stood Still' begins with a documentary-like montage of news footage and various government and military organisations charting the arrival of some strange unidentifiable flying object towards northeastern America, finally coming to settle in a baseball field in Washington DC. A huge host of military troops are sent to wait in readiness with guns trained on the spaceship, and masses of the local populace converge on the area to gawp at the huge 'flying saucer' sitting there.
A humanoid in space suit and helmet emerges from the ship and announces 'We have come to visit you in peace, and with goodwill.' (As was so often the case in Hollywood films, and still often is, the alien is played by an Englishman with a plummy accent.) As he approaches the troops, he extends a small metal cylindrical device to them, which they misinterpret as a weapon and shoot him. At this, a giant robot emerges from the ship (played by a man in a costume built up to be 8 feet tall, unlike the building-sized robot in the remake), which naturally freaks everyone out and the troops begin firing at the robot. The robot responds by beaming rays at the various weapons and melting them. The spaceman shouts a command to the robot, which ceases firing. To a small group of soldiers approaching him, he indicates the broken cylindrical device and explains 'It was a gift for your President. With this, he could have studied life on the other planets.'
The spaceman is taken to hospital to attend to his flesh wound (a bit different from the OTT revival-from-death scenario in the remake!). He receives a visit from Mr Harley, Secretary to the President, and tells Harley that his people are extremely concerned that Earthmen had now developed atomic weapons and rockets and that with this new weaponry Earth had become a threat to life on other planets. Harley reluctantly agrees to Klaatu's insistence that he put the proposal to the President.
But after Harley has returned later that day to say that Klaatu's proposal has been rejected due to too much red tape being involved, Klaatu, exasperated, steals some Earth clothes and escapes the hospital. He decides to live among ordinary Earthfolks posing as an Earthman, to see what they're like and to try to decide how to get his message across, and comes to stay at a local rooming house. Here he befriends fellow boarder Helen Benson, a widow (an ordinary office worker as opposed to a top scientist in the remake) and her son Bobby. Will Klaatu find a way to get his message through, will he elude or even survive the manhunt that has now been launched to find him, and will the people of the world actually take heed of the gravity of what could happen to them if they don't curtail their aggressive ways?
Throughout the film, we hear hysteria-filled TV and radio broadcasts issuing warnings about the 'spaceman' that are very much in the vein of the anti-Communist paranoia of the time. A discussion at the dinner table at the boarding house consists of such gems as, referring to the escaped spaceman, 'Why don't the government do something about it?' 'They're only people.' 'People, my foot! They're DEMOCRATS!' Not too far off the kind of talk we'd hear today!
I really love this film, thinking it possibly the best of the golden age of Sci-Fi films (1950s). Michael Rennie plays the definitive Klaatu, as if born to play him, and the Klaatu we see in this film is miles away from the character in the remake. In this film, Klaatu is the main character and has most of the screen time, including many engaging and sometimes amusing conversations despite his grave mission, and is a likeable personality, very 'human', unlike the leaden automaton-like character depicted in the remake.
The story is very well-written, with depth of intelligence and thought, both of which are so glaringly absent in the remake. This really is a thinking person's story, unlike the remake which was all glitzy special effects and not a lot else. The special effects here are in fact pretty decent, even a bit ahead of their time, by 1951 standards.
After all, this film was directed by Robert Wise, who was also director of West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Sound of Music, so we're not talking B-movie directorial standards here!
The soundtrack is brilliant as well, written by the legendary Bernard Herrmann who wrote the atmospheric and dramatic scores for many classic films including Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Cape Fear, Jason and the Argonauts, Fahrenheit 451, Taxi Driver, and many others, beginning with Citizen Kane! Here he creates a surreal soundtrack combining horns with a theremin, to produce a spooky and eerie other-worldly backdrop.
A bit of trivia - for those of you who hadn't heard of Patricia Neal, who plays Helen Benson, as well as being a very noted and respected serious actress in the 1950s she was also married to the great quirky writer Roald Dahl (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, etc).
Available on DVD and also sometimes as a download or 'watch on line' from some public domain websites, though whether this film is really in public domain is open to question. My copy is not the DVD pictured on this page but is a very high quality one, so good clear prints of this film are definitely available.
Also on Ciao as thereddragon.
Few films are fondly remembered over 50 years after their release, but 1951's The Day The Earth Stood Still is one. Compare that with the pointless 2008 remake. If that's very lucky, it might just be remembered 50 months after its release, but 50 years? Forget it.
Like most 50s films, the plot behind The Day The Earth Stood Still is devilishly simple. A spacecraft lands in New York and an alien (Klaatu) emerges, along with a giant robot (Gort). Klaatu tells Earth humanity must change and lose its violent tendencies for its own sake. Humanity gives its traditional response to something new and unknown: it shoots and hunts it.
What makes the film stand out is that it is very different from what you might expect of a 50s "alien invasion" film. There are no vast fleets of alien ships invading earth, no spectacular gun battles between man and alien, no thrilling action sequences which see actors placed in perilous situations. Instead, Earth asks its viewers to consider the violent, destructive nature of humanity. The alien angle is just there to provide some perspective.
If you think that sounds a bit boring, you'd be wrong. Although The Day The Earth Stood Still is a "message movie", tapping into Cold War fears, that message is not shoved down your throat all the time. It is introduced slowly and developed throughout, but (slightly cheesy ending aside), it never becomes mawkish or over sentimental. Again, this is in stark, welcome contrast to the remake, which shouts its updated, environmental message out at every opportunity.
It's this very simplicity which is Earth's strong point. Whereas the remake got bogged down in unnecessary back-story and character development, the original just gets on with telling the core story. We learn about the characters as we go along, and we only ever really know enough about them to make the story work. As a result, the film fizzes along at a rare old pace, typical of older, black and white films, but something which modern films appear unwilling to imitate.
Despite its relatively action free plot, the film is surprisingly atmospheric and tense. There is an almost permanent sense of lurking danger, caused by the fact that we don't know who to trust. The alien appears friendly, but do his actions hide something more sinister? This sense of unease is magnified by some first-rate direction, which makes excellent use of shadows and lighting to cast a sinister, unsettling pall over events. Even though we think that Klaatu is there to help mankind, some of the camera shots deliberately suggest otherwise, casting doubt in our own minds. It's an excellent, subtle piece of directing which reinforces the vague sense of paranoia.
Amongst the cast, British actor Michael Rennie is perfect as the alien Klaatu. Featuring stilted delivery, apparent discomfort before the camera and with virtually no moment, his performance could be misinterpreted as a simple case of bad acting. In fact, it creates a very believable alien persona, one struggling to come to terms with human society, customs and behaviour. Aloof and slightly removed, Rennie is excellent as the dispassionate outsider observing man's destructive nature first hand.
Surprisingly, Rennie is given a run for his money by a child actor - Billy Gray as young Bobby Benson. Children can be the kiss of death for films (Jaden Smith in the remake is a good example), their poor acting and over the top emotions destroying credibility and atmosphere. Gray, on the other hand, acts like you would expect a small boy to act, latching onto Klaatu as a father figure. He proves up to handling everything the film needs him to do. He can do the "gee whizz!" stuff, showing appropriate childlike amazement at the things he sees. Yet when the role demands it, he can also show a little more maturity and emotion.
Sadly, Patricia Neal doesn't fare quite so well as Bobby's mother, Helen. Although she has a key part to play in the film, she never really convinces, either as single mother or as a potential confidante of the alien. Of all the people Rennie could have trusted with his secret, it's slightly puzzling as to why he would choose a woman who (in the immortal words of Edmund Blackadder) is wetter than a haddock's bathing suit.
Unsurprisingly, Earth has suffered badly when it comes to the special effects. The flying saucer sequences look highly suspect, whilst the "advanced alien technology" (motion sensitive lights) are common place now, so are nothing like as mind-blowing as they would have been in the 50s. The giant robot, Gort, is also unimpressive. He looks as though someone has sprayed The Stig from Top Gear from head to toe in silver spray paint! Given that Gort is supposed to be an enigmatic, slightly menacing figure, this is a slight problem. Indeed, this is probably the only area where the remake scores over the original. As you would expect, the special effects (Gort in particular) are far more impressive in the 2008 version. It's testament to the strength of the script, though, that the poor special effects don't take too much away from the film, even going as far as to give them their own kind of cheesy charm.
As already hinted, some people may find The Day The Earth Stood Still a bit of a non-event. It's not really about an alien invasion at all; it's an introspective look at what it means to be human. To twenty first century audiences, there's the risk that this might appear a bit dull and a bit time. The Day The Earth Stood still has virtually no chase sequences, explosions or explicit danger. It's more a film of insinuation and atmosphere. If it's action you're looking for, maybe you should watch the remake after all (although I'd advise against it.). The Day The Earth Stood Still is unlike most other alien films churned out by Hollywood either before or since. And THAT'S why, over 55 years on, it's rightfully regarded as a landmark film.
The 50s and 60s saw a real mixed bag of science fiction films. Most were awful. And these days we just remember a few gems that have stood the test of time. The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably the pick of the crop. Get out of here, Keanu. There's only one Klaatu worthy of the name.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Director: Robert Wise
Running time: approx. 88 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2009
#'Michael Rennie was ill the day the Earth stood still...'
Sound familiar? It's actually a line from a Richard O'Brien song called 'Science Fiction Double Feature' from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And it was as a result of hearing this song that I went out and bought The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original 1951 version mind you!) on DVD.
I tend to prefer originals, and have been less than impressed by the Keanu Reeves remake of this which I saw recently.
However, the 1951 movie stars:
Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
Sam Jaffe as Professor Jacob Barnhardt
Billy Gray as Bobby Benson
Lock Martin as Gort (the robot)
For ages I thought Klaatu was the name of the robot, until finally I got to see the film, and discovered that the robot is called Gort, the classy other-worldly alien/man is Klaatu.
Anyway, so the film is based on the Harry Bates short story 'Farewell To The Master', and is a black and white sci-fi B-movie classic. It starts with a white light zooming around the Earth at an alarming speed, countries all over the world are reporting sightings, and people are worried (as you might expect).
Finally it lands in a park/sports field in the United States (also as you might expect, being a US film!), and we see that it is a large silver saucer-shaped vessel, seemingly with no doors.
The military circle it, armed and ready (as you might...) and when an opening begins to appear on the saucer, and Klaatu comes out in a highly sophisticated space suit, the likes of which to make any Blue Peter presenter proud, offering a pointy hand-held device (perhaps an advanced palm pilot?) the Army open fire at him because they're twits, and destroy the prezzie in the process. He collapses and says something like 'it was a gift for your leader, with this information you could have cured everything' or something, making the military appear pretty stupid, which no doubt was the intention of director, Robert Wise.
Then comes Gort, the giant robot made of impenetrable alien material (yet surpringly bendy) with his visor eyes and his laser beam with which he can zap any weapon into such tiny bits you can't even see them....
I won't spoil the plot or story because in actual fact it is considerably more gripping than the remake, which likes it bells and whistles too much for my liking. It has romance, tension, thrills, spills, this is lower budget but nicely character-driven, it is a story of human life, of morals, of trust, and as you might have guessed, it is quite anti-military.
You can actually pick it up on DVD for not much money now too, last seen in Amazon for about a fiver!
This is one of a number of 1950s science fiction movies forever immortalised in song in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW – in fact that opening line of that musical is “Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still” in tribute to this, one of the best science fiction movies of all time. The storyline is as follows: Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie) is a representative from a group of planets who lands his flying saucer in Washington DC, wishing to spread his message of peace and goodwill throughout the world. However, a soldier wounds him and he is taken to hospital, from which he escapes, taking lodgings at a boarding house. Here he meets several ordinary people by whom he is convinced that there is goodness in the world – he had been doubting this fact. As a gesture of power he briefly shuts down all electrical power but is then killed. His nine-foot tall robot Gort brings him back to life, he delivers his message, and then he leaves. Put like this it is easy to see Klaatu as a Christ-like figure: he is a good man with a message, is killed, is resurrected, delivers his message, and then leaves. It is this serious, mythical tone which contributes to the quality of the film. For this is an excellent movie. Rennie plays Klaatu as a ‘human’ alien, and he is an alien we can respect. The only let-down in the movie is the child character (these kind of films always seem to have a ‘likeable’ child character for some reason – to appeal to the kids presumably). This boy, Bobby Benson (played by Billy Gray) is just irritating and although he is integral to the plot, I would much rather have had the film without him. Robert Wise, who directed this excellent movie, also went on to direct other science fiction movies, including THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE. None of his other films are of the quality of this movie, though, and yes I am including his famous musica
l THE SOUND OF MUSIC among those lesser movies. Little known fact No. 1: Michael Rennie was not first choice to play Klaatu – Spencer Tracy and Claude Rains were both above him in the ‘wanted’ list. Little known fact No. 2: the film was based on a story titled FAREWELL TO THE MASTER by Harry Bates – the robot was not called Gort in this story. Instead he was known as Gnut.
Hollywood has always explored the "alien landing with a view to taking over the earth" theme more than the "we are here to help" situation. The Day The Earth Stood Still is of the latter variety. Michael Rennie starred as Klaatu, an alien who had come to Earth to see if the violent humans would be able to put aside their petty world differences and thus not eventually endanger their Galaxy. To demonstrate his power Klaatu neutralises all electrical power for an hour except where it would endanger life, like in aeroplanes etc. This episode gives the film it's title. His space craft, the traditional flying saucer, touches down outside the White House and is immediately surrounded by the American army pointing their pop guns at the craft. After a long period where nothing happens the saucer splits open and pushes out a walkway where a huge robot stiffly walks out. Gort is the be all and end all of destructive machines should he be ordered and just stands still. His mere presence presents a threat and the troops open fire only to be sent packing by Gort's all powerful ray. Klaatu decides to go and live amongst the humans to assess what the ordinary person is really like and is befriended by Patricia Neal, the leading lady of the film, and her young son. Eventually he is discovered and the army, in true American army style, try to capture him and he gets shot and wounded. Meanwhile Gort has been standing stock still guarding the saucer and Klaatu's injury is enough to set him off on a rampage. Realising what would happen Klaatu instructs his new found friend to go to Gort and repeat the following words. "Klaatu nikto barada" which would stop the robot from wreaking havoc and destroying the world. It is a great story and the American way comes through loud and clear which seems to be shoot first and ask questions later. At least the film didn't have the standard cliche of,
"Take me to your leader".
For some reason, this film is held as an example of great liberalism in its full-throttle condemnation of the Cold War. An alien (Michael Rennie) descends to earth to discuss Mankind's suicidal conflict, but after being wounded goes among the people to discover what humans are really all about. Like most films of the period, it's actually rather right-wing, in that Klaatu, the alien, basically uses the threat of an even bigger bomb to wipe out humankind if they don't behave. Hardly a great work of pacifism. This isn't to say that it's a bad film though - it's marvellous. Rennie's performance is beautiful, and the script is witty, even using parallels with Jesus in Jerusalem to underline Klaatu's righteousness. The score by Bernard Herrman is classic sci-fi music, and it's carefully and intelligently handled by director Robert Wise. Best of all, it has that great sci-fi character Gort, the silent robot with the deadly laser beam. One to enjoy again and again.
This is THE classic of the Sci-fi gemre. Made in black and white and starring Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an alien being who lands his flying saucer on the White House lawn. Patricia Neal (the wife of Roald Dahl) plays the leading lady. The plot revolves around the now hoary chestnut of first contact with an alien race. As always the humans react by trying to destroy the classic giant robot, Gort. Klaatu is forced to go underground in order to find out if we humans are worthy of joining a galactic civilisation. This intelligently written story has 'class' written allo over it. I urge anyone who has not seen this fim to do so immediately - they won't be disappointed. The plot is well devised with a quite a devious twist at the end.
A spacecraft lands in Washington, D.C., carrying a humanoid messenger from another world (Michael Rennie) imparting a warning to the people of Earth to cease their violent behavior. Panic ensues as the messenger lands and is shot by a nervous soldier.