The Definitive Day the Earth Stood Still Wrap-up!
Updated: Sep 11
Some films are relevant and transcend the passage of time. The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those films. It is imperfect. It contains unrealistic and unbelievable scenes, but it is impossible not to love this picture for its profundity.
Here are some key points. If you adore this movie as I do, then keep reading.
Profound moments. Certain scenes stand out, yet do not diminish the general impact of the film. Throughout the picture, extreme human faults are emphasized. With few exceptions, the media and individuals jump to the conclusion that the alien visitor must be evil. Examples: After the ship lands in Washington, D.C. the first reporter, Drew Pearson, speaking on radio station WMAL, calms the public by saying that there is "no reasonable cause for alarm." He tries to reassure the public that all is okay. This is immediately followed up with a demonstration of human cruelty when a soldier shoots Klaatu with a Colt .45 pistol. So far the wickedness scorecard is 1 - 0 humans. Gort walks out and scares all the civilians away, then vaporizes the army's weapons.
What I, and others, noticed throughout, is the repeated blatant criticism of human behavior. The number of individuals who aren't compromised by stupidity is few. Mr. Harley, the president's secretary. Of course, Helen Benson (played by Patricia Neal). Professor Jacob Barnhardt (played by Sam Jaffe). Juxtapose the handful of open-minded characters with the general who vows to "get" the spaceman dead or alive or Tom Stevens (played by Hugh Marlowe), Helen's suitor. There are others, but you get the point--earthlings are dumb.
Later, when Klaatu escapes the hospital detention, you see him walking down the street, with a tv program playing in the background and the reporter, Gabriel Heatter, calling Klaatu a "monster." Also, when "Mr. Carpenter" takes Bobby Benson, Helen's son, out to see the spaceship, a scoffing man overhears Mr. Carpenter explaining simple physics to the boy. Immediately, the man makes an obnoxious comment, "Keep going mister. He was falling for it!" The crowd laughs at Klaatu in another example of human nastiness.
And then there's Helen Benson. She's so open-minded and enlightened that it is impossible not to love her. First, as the tenants in the house where Klaatu rents a room blab on about the potential horrible nature of the spaceman and the robot, Helen talks about the possibility that he is actually not dangerous, and could be on Earth to do good. Then, when electricity is neutralized on Earth, and Helen is trapped in a service elevator with "Carpenter," she accepts his mission as vital and becomes his ally. Unfortunately, her boyfriend, Tom Stevens, discovers that Carpenter is actually the alien.
In one of the most poignant scenes Tom Stevens, a man eager to marry Helen, is determined to rat-out Carpenter as the spaceman. Helen confronts Tom in his office and begs him not to tell the army anything, but Stevens is so selfish and self-centered that he ignores her pleas. She tells him "we mustn't do anything." The shallow boyfriend is only focused on telling her what an important man she will be marrying because he will be able to "write his own ticket" by divulging the location of Klaatu. Even when Helen says that she won't be marrying him because of it, he chooses to remain on the phone talking to the army instead of going after his girlfriend as she flees from him in disgust.
Two very stark contrasts are made throughout. One is the rare human behavior that is aimed at doing good. The other is the thoughtless actions taken by people to the detriment of themselves and the planet. There's no subtlety involved. The filmmakers hit the audience with a sledgehammer regarding their innate foolish tendencies, and that is one of the messages of this movie that gush through: All of us out in movieland are the same as the jerks on the screen, so you better choose to be Helen Benson and Professor Barnhardt, or you are guilty of ruining the Earth.
What about Gort? In the beginning, Gort shoots and melts the army's weapons only. Later, when Klaatu is shot, Gort evaporates two soldiers standing guard. So, what happened? I've always asked myself, what is the robot's justification for killing two humans? What changed? I'll leave it for you to answer. I would love to hear your thoughts on that one.
There are many facts and stories about the movie. Here are a few:
1)The original title for the film was "The Day the World Stops"
2) In an interview on the flip side of the DVD, the producer, Julian Blaustein, made a point that the movie was aimed at pushing the United Nations to be a stronger force for peace in the world. The film makes it clear that Gort has the power to destroy whole planets if they are aggressive. Blaustein did admit that such authority could not be given to the UN and it was unrealistic to think that a single world power could act unilaterally to stop aggressors.
3) How did Gort go from the ship to the exterior wall of the holding cell, retrieve Klaatu's body, and then return to the ship without being seen?
4) How is it that the diamonds used by Klatu as pocket change were cut just like diamonds on Earth?
5) What is the translation of Klaatu Barada Nikto?
6) Lock Williams, who played Gort was actually 7' 7" tall. He needed help getting around because he was actually a bit frail.
7) The NY Times gave the movie a bad review
8) Sam Jaffe actually taught math before becoming an actor.
9) The source for the screenplay was a short sci-fi story called Farewell to the Master.
10) The author of the short story, Harry Bates, got $500 for the rights.
11) The original name of the robot was Gnut
12) Bruce Campbell was supposed to use the phrase Klaatu Barada Nikto in the horror comedy Army of Darkness, but he screwed it up as per the script.
13) Gabriel Heatter was an actual newsman in real life.
14) The not-so-subtle goal of the film was to rail against nuclear weapons.
15) Michael Rennie was English and unknown in the USA. They cast him with the intention that he would be unknown and therefore more believable as an alien. Believe it or not, they had considered Spencer Tracy for the role.
16) Michael Rennie trained as a pilot in WWII.
17) Michael Rennie's son is a retired circuit court judge in the UK.