|Screenplay||Edmond H. North|
|Klaatu (Mr. Carpenter)||Michael Rennie|
|Helen Benson||Patricia Neal|
|Bobby Benson||Billy Gray|
|Dr. Barnhardt||Sam Jaffe|
|Tom Stevens||Hugh Marlowe|
One of the best Science Fiction films of the fifties "The
Day The Earth Stood Still" is intelligently directed by Robert
Wise (The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, West
Side Story) from a screenplay by Edmund H. North (based on the
story by Harry Bates). The film is one of the first to treat
aliens as saviors from the stars who disapprove of Earth's use
of the atomic bomb. The alien planetary federation sends Klaatu,
(Michael Rennie) and his robot, Gort, to warn the earth to stop
their destructive aggression or face total obliteration.
Klaatu and Gort land in Washington DC in an imposing flying saucer
(it cost over $100,000 to make) where they are greeted with gunfire
by the military industrial complex.
Wise successfully balances Christian allegory and the subplot
of Klaatu's attempt to discover what humans are really like.
It is during his quest to discover what humans are really like,
by taking a room at a boarding house, that he encounters the widowed
Mrs. Benson (Patricia Neal), and her young son Bobby (Billy
Gray). Neal is excellent in this film turning in a restrained
performance that is highly unusual for movies of this time. Gray
also turns in an outstanding performance as the street savvy son
(he is so much better than Brandon de Wilde in "Shane").
When Mrs. Benson's erstwhile boyfriend Tom (Hugh Marlowe) wants
to spend some quality time with her he encourages her to send
Bobby off with Klaatu (who is using the name Carpenter in order
to evade capture) takes him on a walking tour Washington. They
eventually encounter Professor Barnhardt, (Sam Jaffe in a marvelous
performance as the Einstein of his day) who will ultimately assist
Klaatu in assembling a representative group of earthlings. Of
course, none of this happens before Neal has an opportunity to
save the earth by uttering the immortal phrase, "Klaatu barada
The film also features fine performances from Frances Bavier (better
known to contemporary audiences as Aunt Bea on Mayberry RFD) and
Lock Martin. Also notable is Bernard Herrmann's otherworldly
musical score that beautifully creates the appropriate level of
tension and fear. By using a relatively new electronic instrument,
the Thermion (created by Eugene Thermion) Herrmann sets the standard
for the musical scores of Science Fiction films of the future.
The Cold War period and the UFO hysteria that surround this films
release also added to the films effectiveness. Americans were
more than a little anxious about the atomic bomb and the possibilities
of a potential third world war. Anyone not familiar with this
period should check out the documentary "The Atomic Café'"
which provides a delightful look at the cold war hysteria that
surrounded the period (my particular favorite is the "duck
and cover" sequence. When coupled with the films overriding
premise, a fundamental faith in the goodness of humanity, "The
Day The Earth Stood Still" presents a refreshingly optimistic
view of first contact.