Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Robert Wise
Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
I absolutely adore this movie. I mean, seriously, seriously love this movie! These days, people often assume a science fiction or horror film from the 1950s or ‘60s is a cheap, crudely assembled B-movie. But it just isn’t a reliable assumption. There are countless goofy movies out there, but there are also a handful of extremely enthralling, refined genre pics to be discovered as well. The Day the Earth Stood Still is, without a doubt, one of the truly top notch features of its day. This is a beautifully filmed movie with a fantastic story, an excellent cast and simplistic yet stunning set pieces. It also helped change the game for the sci-fi genre.
The story follows a mysterious stranger from another planet. Although the man (and he does appear to be a man) informs authorities that he has arrived with peaceful intentions, he’s met with concern and fear. When he motions for a meeting with worldwide leaders, to no avail, relations go sideways. Suddenly on the run, it becomes a challenge to either meet with the proper minds, or get back to the ship and escape in one piece. But knowing the savagery of man (even in 1951), chances aren’t promising that this scenario ends without bloodshed.
This is a picture that is all about humanity and the terror that sides with the unknown. It’s also about lowering barriers and extending a stranger an open mind. It’s about decency, sympathy and empathy. But it’s masked by a massive robot, a looming spaceship and an uncharacteristically collected man in a finely pressed suit. We see him as a man with our eyes, but our minds see him for what he is, an alien. Regardless of what he is, we want to know him. The personalized nature of this pic is just stunning, it’s an example of everything that’s right with filmmaking and humanity (well, Klaatu’s point of is, more so than the earth dwellers’).
I’ll forever respect Robert Wise for this film over all others that he helmed (and he helmed a lot of good movies, including West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek). This movie spoke to me in ways few films manage. Michael Rennie also deserves a world of credit for his perfect realization of the character Klaatu. Klaatu really makes us look at ourselves as well as society, and while society is extremely different today, some of the ideas expressed in 1951 are still applicable today. You want to watch a vintage film that actually matters? Watch The Day the Earth Stood Still.