The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe
The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the classic science fiction movies, and with good reason. The acting is excellent, as are the special effects and cinematography – and with a message that still resonates, decades later.
Synopsis of The Day the Earth Stood Still
In the middle of the Cold War, an alien spacecraft lands on the lawn of the White House. Two occupants emerge – one robot, and one humanoid — only for the person to be shot by a nervous soldier. He’s taken to a military hospital where he is treated and leaves on his own accord. He wants to address the leaders of the world to deliver a message, but the world leaders are unwilling to listen as a group. So the alien, named Klaatu (Michael Rennie), goes undercover and stays at a boarding house, where he learns some of the opinions of the “ordinary man,” and begins to bond with a lovely young widow (Patricia Neal) and her son — to the annoyance of the widow’s boyfriend (Hugh Marlowe).
Klaatu decides to address the scientists of the world instead, and after making the acquaintance of an Einstein-like professor (Sam Jaffe), he prepares to do so — and demonstrates a small portion of the power at his disposal by stopping all electricity planet-wide, avoiding any damage or loss of life in the process. Again, he’s injured — this time fatally. And if his robot companion, Gort, isn’t prevented, it may well destroy the world.
Review of The Day the Earth Stood Still
As I already said, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the most famous science fiction movies of all time, and rightly so. The acting makes the drama seem real, the audience cares about the people involved, and when all is said and done, this movie is about the people, not the special effects. Had the effects been done poorly, the would have shattered the illusion, and made the movie silly. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and the effects support the story, as they should.
One point that I would like to make is that the message from space isn’t that mankind has to end all of their warring among themselves. Frankly, humanity could wipe itself out, and the other planets wouldn’t care. They do care, however, about humanity taking their aggression off our world, and affecting other planets. As Klaatu says at the end of the film:
Klaatu (Michael Rennie): I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it.
For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more… profitable enterprises.
Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.
- Michael Rennie (5 Fingers) as Klaatu. The ambassador from another world. He comes on a mission of peace … and is promptly shot. He survives, and leaves the military hospital. He wants a first-hand view of humanity. Which he finds at a boardinghouse, where he meets:
- Patricia Neal (The Hasty Heart) as Helen Benson. The widowed mother of Bobby. She’s virtually engaged to Tom … But she has reservations, before Klaatu comes to the boardinghouse.
- Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) as Tom Stevens.
- Sam Jaffe (The Invisible Man) as Professor Jacob Barnhardt. The Einstein-like professor that Klaatu visits. He’s trying to side-step the military and the bureaucracy, and speak directly to Earth’s scientists.
- Billy Gray as Bobby Benson. Helen’s son. He acts as a young tour guide for Klaatu, and the two begin bonding.
- Frances Bavier (The Andy Griffith Show) as Mrs. Barley
- Lock Martin as Gort.
Updated December 8, 2021