The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
On Wednesday, October 4th, following a two year hiatus, we resume our science fiction cinema series at Mother’s Velvet Lounge when we present Robert Wise’s seminal 1951 tale of extra-terrestrial visitation, The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring Patricia Neal, Michael Rennie, and Sam Jaffe.
A few years following World War II and at the acceleration of cold war tensions an alien spacecraft touches down in the center of Washington DC. It is immediately met with military mobilization, but from the saucer emerges an 8 foot tall robot and a humanoid named Klaatu (Michael Rennie). Though he claims to have a gift for mankind, nervous tensions prevail and he is wounded by a serviceman’s bullet. The robot, Gort responds by de-materialising all of the surrounding weapons. Able to heal his bullet wound, Klaatu escapes from a hospital, assumes a false identity and ventures forth to learn something of these Earth people. He takes lodging in the home of war widow, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), whose son, Bobby takes an immediate liking to the stranger. Her current boyfriend, Tom (Hugh Marlow) on the other hand is less taken with the handsome, erudite lodger.
Bobby introduces Klaatu to Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who doesn’t take long to ascertain the stranger’s origin. Klaatu impresses upon the Professor that his is a mission of peace, but also carries a warning that Earth is being watched from the stars, and if Mankind does not set aside their aggressive ways they face certain annihilation. His demonstration of the extraterrestrial power possessed by his kind forms the basis of the film’s title.
Generally regarded by both film critics and science fiction aficionados as one of the greatest films of the genre, The Day The Earth Stood Sill has aged remarkably well in the 67 years since its release. Much of this is due to the way it avoided sensationalism or hokeyness generally attributed to similar films from that decade, and instead is treated as straight drama. This is thanks to a solid and sober script by Edmund North (In A Lonely Place, Patton) and even more so Robert Wise’s sure-handed direction.
Wise is easily one of the most versatile and successful of Hollywood’s directors of the 50s and 60s. Having cut his teeth as one of the two editors on Citizen Kane (Mark Robson being the other), and even taking over for Orson Welles when the studio demanded additional shooting on The Magnificent Ambersons, he would go on to direct low-budget horror films for producer Val Lewton at RKO. His remarkable range can be seen in some of the finest examples of films within their respective genres, including Noir, (Odds Against Tomorrow), prize-fight dramas (The Set-Up), war films (Run Silent, Run Deep and The Sand Pebbles) science fiction (this film and The Andromeda Strain), Horror (The Body Snatcher and The Haunting) and even musicals (West Side Story and The Sound Of Music). It’s difficult to think of a Hollywood director of the “pre-auteur” generation possessed of so impressive a batting average.
Also of particular note (pun intended) is Bernard Herrmann’s (Citizen Kane, Vertigo) revolutionary score, which pioneered the use of electronic instrumentation, employing two Thermins as well as electric violin, cello and organ. The score set a high watermark for unearthly soundtracks and established Herrmann as perhaps the most influential composer of fantasy film music ever.
The excitement begins at 7:00 when you will enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:30. Hope to see you there!
Mother’s is located at 212 SW Stark.