'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (1951)

Disclaimer: Films listed here may be terrible, but they must have at least one scientifically interesting idea, however badly they may exploit that concept.


~The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Frances Bavier, Lock Martin (as Gort)
BW-92 mins.

"Klaatu barada nikto."
"I’m worried about Gort. I’m afraid of what he might do if anything should happen to me."
"Gort? But he’s a robot. Without you, what could he do?"
"There’s no limit to what he could do. He could destroy the Earth."

"Your impatience is quite understandable."
"I’m impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it."
"I’m afraid my people haven’t. I’m very sorry … I wish it were otherwise."

"There’s nothing strange about Washington, Mr. Carpenter."
"A person from another planet might disagree with you."

"Why doesn’t the government do something; that’s what I’d like to know."
"What can they do; they’re only people just like us."
"People, my foot; they’re Democrats."

A film that sets out to make a case for the United Nations actually subverts itself by allowing a different interpretation (but isn’t that the way it is with all art?). The script overall is smart and the acting is top notch. (But I do have a quibble with Klaatu telling someone he has just traveled "250 million miles"—unless his race has a space station halfway between Earth and Jupiter—for more goofs, go here.) The almost subliminal Christological overtones might be lost on some: Klaatu assumes the name of "Carpenter," his message of peace is met with hostility, and he is killed and raised from the dead. You can read the original Harry Bates story on-line.

~The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker, Michael Gough, Ernest Thesiger, Howard Marion-Crawford
BW-85 mins.

"Now. Some fool has invented an indestructible cloth. Where is he? How much does he want?"
"Why can’t you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washing when there’s no washing to do?"
"Oh, it’s a better job."
"Well, then?"
"Oh, yes, much."
"More money?"
"I shan’t actually get paid for it."
"What? We’ll see about that! Scab labor, huh? The Work Committee better hear about this!"
"But I don’t want to get paid."
"Not want to? I don’t care whether you want to get paid or not! You’ve got to get paid!"

Among all the definitions of science fiction that have been offered over the years, Edmund Crispin’s has considerable merit: "[it] presupposes a technology, or an effect of technology, or a disturbance in the natural order, such as humanity, up to the time of writing, has not in actual fact experienced." By that definition, The Man in the White Suit is science fiction. Mild-mannered Alec Guinness’ experiments in long-chain molecules result in a clothing fabric that repels dirt and apparently will never wear out; but what at the time seems like a great idea ultimately causes a panic, as the long-term impact of such an invention could have devastating implications for the economy. This movie is a brilliant satire on consumerism, politics, capital and labor, and planned obsolescence.

~Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse, Rita Moreno
C-103 mins.

"It’ll be a sensation! ‘Lamont and Lockwood: They talk!’"
"Well, of COURSE they talk. Don’t everybody?"

Now wait at minute, you’re probably thinking—a Hollywood musical? But remember Edmund Crispin’s definition above: The technology that "humanity … has not in actual fact experienced" is the advent of sound in motion pictures, and the persons whose "natural order" is most disturbed are the big studio producers and their stars (the latter being personified by Jean Hagen’s character, a dinosaur who has yet to realize that she has already gone extinct). Like The Man in the White Suit, the impact of a new technology can be a lot of fun.

~Red Planet Mars (1952)
Peter Graves, Andrea King, Orley Lindgren, Walter Sande, Marvin Miller, Willis Bouchey, Morris Ankrum, Bayard Veiller
BW-87 mins.

"It’s the Sermon on the Mount … from Mars."

This is a very offbeat little movie; it explores spirituality in an unusual way. The "threat" from Mars isn’t physical (War of the Worlds) but cultural; the news from there proves devastating to societies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. There is an occasional groaner: A kid eating some pie overhears his dad wondering out loud how to establish a common "language" with the "Martians"; how about "pi", he suggests, the well-known geometrical ratio—as if mathematics hadn’t long ago been proposed as a means of communication with ETs.

To be continued.

Mike Gray