The Day the Earth Stood Still
Directed by Robert Wise
Written by Edmund H. North
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#252 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The sleek design of this early sci-fi thriller with a message has held up remarkably well over the years.
America is the the midst of a Red Scare. So when a flying saucer lands on the Washington DC mall, naturally the aliens are met with tanks and artillery and as soon as one emerges he is shot. This is Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who has come to deliver a warning to gun-happy earthlings. Fortunately he heals quickly and is backed up by a gigantic robot named Gort who is capable of vaporizing anything made of metal, including tanks. Klaatu is taken to the hospital. Gort remains exactly where he is. Both the spaceship and the robot are made of a substance which is impervious to all earthly attempts to breach it and cannot be moved.
Klaatu escapes from the hospital and begins to roam the streets clad in clothes belonging to a Major Carpenter. He has decided to find out what makes these earthlings tick. He spots a room for rent in a boarding house and rents it on the spot. There he befriends the open-minded Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her little boy Bobby (Billy Gray). Klaatu has an especially strong bond with young Bobby and babysits for him while Helen goes out with her boring insurance salesman boyfriend Tom (Hugh Marlowe).
Klaatu has been rebuffed in his desire to address the leaders of all the world’s countries so he seeks out noted genius and Einstein stand-in Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe). Barnhardt immediately grasps the urgency of the situation and assembles the world’s scientists to listen to Klaatu’s plea. In the meantime, however, Tom proves to be a snitch and it is up to Helen to keep our alien in one piece long enough to carry out his mission.
This still looks simply stunning with its clean lines and gorgeous cinematography. The anti-nuclear message moves what could be a simple fantasy up a notch in significance. The evocative theramin score by Bernard Hermann is practically an additional character. This film is a real treat. Highly recommended.
The Blu-Ray DVD looks really beautiful and contains a fantastic commentary by directors Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (The Day After). There’s an additional commentary by some film score experts that I haven’t listened to yet.