#7) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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#7) The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

OR “Aliens-They’re Just Like Us!”

Directed by Robert Wise

Written by Edmund H. North. Based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates.

Class of 1995

SEE the original trailer! AMAZE at the blurb from Look Magazine! WITNESS the incredible spoiler!

The Plot: A UFO lands in Washington D.C. Its inhabitants are a human-like alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and a robot named Gort (Lock Martin). After being attacked and escaping an army medical center, Klaatu takes refuge in a boarding house under the assumed name of Carpenter. He befriends a fellow tenant named Helen (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). While in hiding he connects with Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), who is studying atomic power, a power that Klaatu’s race has already mastered. With his ship stranded in plain sight, and Gort waiting for his return, Klaatu tries to get an important message to the people of Earth.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls this a “classic science fiction film with a strong pacifist message”. Bernard Herrmann’s score also gets a shout-out.

But Does It Really?: This goes in my “absolutely yes” category. This film is the best kind of science fiction. It takes an interesting idea and runs with it in a realistic way. This is one of those films that makes me angry at how relevant it still is. Ultimately it is a film about communication and what we are and aren’t doing to achieve that. It is a call for peace, and no matter what type of world we are living in, we can always use the reminder.

Everybody Gets One: Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier, who is especially saucy in this one for some reason. Billy Gray would go on to achieve fame as Bud on “Father Knows Best”.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film takes place in that brief time when both radio and television were news sources, with radio still dominating. This film also shows us a time when doctors could openly smoke in a hospital, and when two dollars could get you more than one movie ticket. Simpler times indeed.

Take a Shot: Sadly, no one says the phrase “the day the earth stood still” in this film. You’ll have to think of something else.

Seriously, Oscars?: Not a single nomination. Not Adapted Screenplay. Not Original Score. Nothing. The film did, however, win a Golden Globe in the now defunct category “Best Film Promoting International Understanding”. Always embarrassing when the Golden Globes beat the Oscars at recognizing a classic.

Other notes

  • “Farewell to the Master”, the short story this film was based on, contains the film’s bare bones, but doesn’t give us the pacifist viewpoint. It actually reads more like a “Twilight Zone” episode.
  • In films like these, no matter what the aliens have learned about our planet, they always land in America.
  • Klaatu reveals that his race studied Earth by listening to our radio broadcasts. I guess they missed “War of the Worlds“.
  • Once the name Carpenter came up I thought, “Oh no is this a Jesus metaphor?” Minimum research shows I’m not the only one who thought this. Allegedly director Robert Wise has said it’s purely coincidental.
  • My favorite scene in this film is when Klaatu and Bobby visit the ship site and the radio announcer talks to them, but immediately cuts Klaatu off when he starts talking about not “substituting fear for reason”. Stop being so relevant to my time, movie!
  • Among the trappings that this film could have fallen into, I appreciate that at no point does Klaatu lie to Bobby (the name Carpenter aside) and at no point do he and Helen get romantically involved.
  • Another great line in this film “It isn’t faith that makes good science, it’s curiosity.”
  • Did anyone else notice that throughout the film the “Room for Rent” sign is permanently lit? What is going on in that house?
  • If nothing else, this film predicted motion-sensor technology.
  • This film went out of its way to include very diverse extras, especially in the last scene. Now if only any of them had any lines…

Legacy

  • Don’t worry, they remade this with Keanu Reeves.
  • This is the film that every bad alien movie shown on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was trying to be, particularly “This Island Earth”.
  • Bernard Herrmann used theremins in his score to give it an other-worldly quality. Everyone else in the ‘50s followed suit.
  • Speaking of, this is the score that inspired Danny Elfman to go into film composing.
  • The phrase “Klaatu barada nikto” has seeped so fully into science fiction culture that there’s a Wikipedia page keeping track of every time it’s referenced.
  • Fellow NFR entry “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, another alien movie that may or may not be a Christ allegory.
  • Recent Oscar nominee “Arrival”, also based on a short story and also a science fiction film about peace and communication.

Further Viewing: This is as good a time as any to express my love for the film “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra”, which owes a huge debt of gratitude to this film.

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