Powered By Blogger

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Day the Earth Caught Fire - 1961

It's a shame to call this one a B-movie, it's so well done. But as typical with most early SF, this film had little or no budget and little or no hope of being taken seriously by the critics.

Directed, produced and co-written by Val Guest ("The Quatermass Experiment", aka "The Creeping Unknown"), this is a truly marvelous film with a heightened sense of realism that should be envied by modern film makers.

This is a fine examples of a cold war film, using a semi-documentary style to highlight the folly of the nuclear arms race, the uncontrolled race to oblivion that was a constant background to life in the 1950s and 60s.

When the Russians and the Americans simultaneously detonate two nuclear bombs - one at the north pole, one at the south - the Earth is tilted off its axis, causing storms, floods and earthquakes. But wait! It gets better. Soon after it becomes obvious to everyone that something has gone horribly wrong when a solar eclipse occurs two weeks early. There's a priceless scene where a British government lackey tries unsuccessfully to explain to the public that astronomy is not an exact science and really, isn't it just amazing we're able to predict anything at all about the movement of the planets?

Our hero (Edward Judd), a hard hitting, hard drinking, washed out wreck of a newspaper reporter isn't buying what the government is selling. With the help of Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro), an attractive young lady from the secretarial pool at the Ministry, he busts the story wide open, falls in love (of course), dries up and becomes the ace reporter he used to be.

In the end it is decided that the only way to put things right is to explode four more nuclear bombs simultaneously in the hopes that this will shove the Earth back in to position! Ironic, don't you think?

Most of the central drama takes place in the newsroom of the Daily Express newspaper and it is from a news reporter's vantage point that we watch all of London descend into madness. Special effects man Les Bowie did a bang up job considering the minuscule budget he had to work with. The scene where the Thames dries up is very effective in particular.

The newspaper's editor is played by the real life former editor of the real Daily Express, Arthur Christiansen. Christiansen also served as a technical adviser on the film, giving the scenes shot at the paper added realism.

At the end of the movie we are shown two possible front pages for the next day's edition hanging from the presses. One with the banner headline "World Saved," the other "World Doomed." We are never told which one is used as our hero walks out into the deserted streets of London to report on what will be either his greatest or his last story.

Things to look for:

A very young Michael Caine plays a policeman directing traffic.

The protest scene against the atom bomb was not filmed for the movie - it was an actual, live demonstration. Guest placed his actors and his cameras down in the thick of things and shot it as it was happening, again adding to the overall sense of realism that makes this movie so great.

Janet Munro starred as Ann Pilgrim in "The Crawling Eye" (aka "The Trollenberg Terror") and was in "The Swiss Family Robinson" (a fond childhood memory) and "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". But to my mind her greatest accomplishment was giving birth to the stunning Caroline Munro who was in dozens of films including "Star Crash", "James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me", "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad", "Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter" as well as an appearance in Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" video. Yep, quite the versatile thespian, Miss Caroline.

For those of you too young and too lucky to have lived through it, the cold war was a very frightening time. I remember "Duck and Cover" drills at school, where we were told if we only dropped to the ground and covered ourselves with newspapers when we saw the "Flash" we would be fine. Of course, no one ever explained that if you actually saw the flash of a nuclear bomb you'd be instantly blinded. Well, at least that way you couldn't see what was coming next, like total vaporization. I suppose these drills were meant to placate a concerned population. Nowadays, of course, we're all too sophisticated to believe everything the government tells us. Kind of sad when you think about it.