Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

As I write this, the 1951 landmark alien invasion flick The Day the Earth Stood Still is playing on the American Movie Channel.

Thank God for AMC! We keep getting more and more cable channels for less and less money from our local provider, but we only watch a few, and often AMC is the only one with anything good showing.

It's weird how cinema has access to so much more money and so many more special effects today, and yet movies aren't better.

Anyway, I remember watching this movie again and again as a kid, and just loving it. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and King Kong versus Godzilla were our all-time favorites, and we were always allowed to stay up late and watch them when they were shown on TV.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is still is rated four stars by reviewers and online movie sources, but watching it now feels oddly disappointing. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it's striking how innocent a time the 1950s was. That time seems so far away now. Not that I'm nostalgic for it (and panty girdles! ack!), but a certain cultural innocence has been lost since then, and I doubt we'll be getting it back anytime soon, if ever.

In 1951 we had just recently exploded the bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and human beings still had the carnage of world war fresh in their memories, but it's clear that people still thought human beings were basically decent and that somehow, some way, things would work out for the best. Aliens were still in their savior phase for the most part. Today's aliens have outgrown that role and moved into darker agendas.

I think we are a lot more cynical these days, and some of us are downright apocalyptic.

Some tidbits floating through my aging brain as I watch:

  • Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show is one of the supporting characters. I'd forgotten that. She lives in the boarding house run by Patricia Neal, the one Klaatu stays in while he's getting to know the human race a little better.
  • Michael Rennie was so hot in those days. I've always had a special attraction to lean dark men who are little cool and a little weird. Hey, I'm only human. 
  • 1950s kids are annoyingly saccharine. God, the kid in this movie make my teeth hurt. 
  • It seems darkly funny that the message of the film is something like, "We come in peace to ask y'all to put down your weapons... otherwise we're blowing your whole planet to smithereens." Although, seriously, that was the message American had just delivered to the Japanese.
  • Aliens today are such bastards compared to Klaatu. Even with the annihilation threat. I mean, they really are jerks. And not half as cute.
I was reading online that the movie was criticized from some quarters when it was first released because of its pacifist message (pacfist, really?) and because actor Sam Jaffe, who plays Professor Rutherford, had openly leftist politics. Even so, the movie now holds an esteemed place in the Smithsonian collection of 100 Hollywood classics and is still highly regarded. 

If only repeating, "Nicto Klaatu barrata!" could save us now.  What a nice Earth Day event that would be. Maybe a saucer will land tomorrow and put a word in for the porpoises.

Gort, where are you when we really need you?

1 comment:

  1. Michael Rennie was hot for sure :) Did you see the remake with Keanu Reeves? I missed that, not sure I really want to see it.