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Day the Earth Stood Still, The (1951)
USA 1951
Directed by Robert Wise
Running time 92 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


This B-grade science fiction film is a deserved classic of the genre. It has at once both the hallmarks of the low-budget film, from tin-pot back projection to the po-faced acting and slabs of expository dialogue, and, despite this, a story that although didactically simple in the extreme actually manages to bring off its moral about the necessity for tolerance with dignity.
 
Michael Rennie, a leading man of British film who worked in Hollywood during the 1950s (ironically this is probably his only role that will go down in history) plays Klaatu, an alien from a distant planet who comes to Earth with a giant indestructible robot named Gort to tell humans to stop their aggressive ways or else reap the punishment of the galactic order. Naturally, we humans turn on him (as we did on Bowie's Thomas Newton in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth, 1976) but thanks to his superior intelligence and the help of WW2-widowed Helen (Patricia Neal) and her freckled-faced boy Bobby (Billy Gray, who had a successful television career up to the late 70s), he manages to get his message of peace across.  

Director Robert Wise, who would become one of the most successful directors of the 1960s with West Side Story and The Sound Of Music on his CV probably knew better than to take his brief too seriously and there is, particularly in the opening stages more than a suggestion that he is having fun with the genre (I particularly liked the TV reporter who keeps his hat on in the studio). That Bernard Herrmann, best-known for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, composed the score, further indicates that there was a level of talent on this project that well-exceed the usual team of hacks roped in for this kind of fare, including the, for their day, decent SFX.

The film's most famous line is "Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!" spoken by Neal who must have been wondering if it was ever going to get better for her (it did, with a long career peaking probably with 1963’s Hud). B-grade sci-fi is an acquired taste but this one almost makes it seem worthwhile.  

 

 

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