May 27, 2016
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe

What it's about. Remarkably, a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. Out steps tall and slender Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who looks and sounds like an upper class British actor, and his silent sidekick, robot Gort (Lock Martin).

Unsurprisingly, Klaatu is shot by the Army after he whips out what appears to be a weapon. Klaatu is taken to a hospital, makes a miraculous recovery, and escapes. He reappears as a mysterious new tenant in a boarding house, where he promptly befriends excitable prepubescent Bobby (Billy Gray), whose surprisingly young mother is too busy dating dislikable Hugh Marlowe to dote on the lad.

Klaatu is anxious to meet world leaders to spread his message of peace and brotherhood or something. Instead, Klaatu must settle for Sam Jaffe, an Einstein stand-in who instantly agrees to hold a scientist convention for Klaatu to address. But that meddling Marlowe, along with the Feds, seek to take out Klaatu before he can send Gort off on a rampage. They know not what they do.

How others will see it. The Day the Earth Stood Still was not a box office smash. Contemporary reviews were unkind: the New York Times wrote "we've seen better monsters in theatre audiences on Forty-second Street ... this makes for tepid entertainment in what is anamolously labeled the science-fiction field."

The movie was ignored by the Oscars, but Bernard Herrmann, the legendary composer whose first film was Citizen Kane, received the only Golden Globes nomination of his career for the theremin score.

At some point, a consensus developed that The Day the Earth Stood Still was one of the best science fiction movies from the 1950s, presumably due to its purportedly pacifist aliens, who only threaten to destroy the world. Today at, the movie has 64K user votes, huge for a black and white "B" movie from the early 1950s. By comparison, Quo Vadis, which had the biggest box office that year, has less than 10K votes.

The imdb user ratings for The Day the Earth Stood Still are also extremely high, 7.8 out of 10. Men over 45 grade it highest of all, 8.1, apparently buying into the notion that the aliens should be paternalistic instead of opportunistic.

How I felt about it. I have to admit, if I had seen this movie when I was 11 years old, I would have thought it was great stuff. Adults who hold the same belief have much more to be embarrassed about.

For an all-knowing alien, Klaatu doesn't seem to know whether or not he is in a hurry. He can squander three days in Walter Reed hospital, where nobody, apparently, has photographed him, even though he is from outer space. Then he spends another day with Bobby, a gee-willikers kid, going to the movies and visiting a cemetery. But he only has time to give just one speech to the world leaders? And they all must attend, even the dictator of Albania?

But I must admit, this Klaatu is cagey. I know that if I had to be trapped in an elevator for a half hour, I would want to spend it alone with Patricia Neal. Not even Paul Newman could resist her in Hud.

Although I have to argue with her taste in men. Hugh Marlowe is not only pushy and humorless, he's 15 years her senior. Did Aunt Bee set her up with him?

Sometimes it seems that Sam Jaffe played a scientist in every classic Hollywood movie. But this isn't so; he was blacklisted for much of the 1950s. The rest of the time, he was stereotyped. Maybe he just needed a better haircut.

I am dubious of the advanced technology of the aliens. They rely upon robots to defend their civilization. That's an important function, yet the robots have a top speed of two miles per hour? If Gort is going to destroy the world, he'd better get started if he wants to finish before Christmas.