IMDb metadata: 1 Hour and 32 minutes. 7.8/10 from 68,694 discerning viewers.
‘Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.’ Repeat after me...... (and we pimpled youth did in case we ever ran into a Gort. We were ready!)
This was THE 1950s Sy Fy movie made with an A movie budget. Yet there was no creature in sight. But a very composed and dignified individual, Klaatu who made the mistake of trying to be rational in D.C. and got drilled for his trouble, twice over.
For the benighted, unenlightened ones, and included in this group all those who have seen the remake, the set up is this. One fine spring day a flying saucer finds a parking place on the Mall.
It is a sleek craft and there it is. Rush Limbaugh denies it exists. The Army tries to blow it up. Republicans vote to cut its appropriation. The media goes into a frenzy. Democrats try to mate with it, and the gawkers turn out in force to see blood. The circus is always in town in D.C. Scientists write papers on it to fatten the cvs. (Not the CVS drug stores.) Two days of tension follow until the alien emerges to proclaim peaceful intentions.
Obviously a Commie plot, so he is shot. Bang, problem solved, proclaims Rush.
Gort turns on his evil eye and atomises quite a few Red Shirts but then lapses inactive during an IOS update while Klaatu is carted off to a hospital.
When the alien comes around he is polite, correct, and rational. As such, no D.C. insider can understand him. ‘No, world leaders cannot be assembled to hear his message!’ Is the reply. ‘You are in our hands now,’ is the implication.
Klaatu commits an interstellar misdemeanour by stealing some perfectly fitting clothes and leaves the hospital. As usual the guards in this movie are always half-wits, relatives of the fraternity brothers.
Klaatu rents a room at Patrica Neal’s boarding house where he befriends her son Bob who becomes, unconsciously, his guide to the ways of humans. Cf. Carradine learning chess in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959). Seeing this refined, kindly stranger in the house, irritates Hugh Marlowe, Pat’s squeeze, she being a war widow. Hugh goes all passive-aggressive.
After a moving visit to the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu is impressed by the words of Abraham, Klaatu with Bob go to see Sam Einstein whom Klaatu helps with his arithmetic, and then reveals himself. He then arranges via Gort a selective but worldwide power blackout for thirty minutes starting at twelve noon Eastern Standard Time, just when he and Pat are alone in an elevator. He spills the beans to her, too. Now that he has started blurting it seems he cannot stop. The blackout was general but not complete in that aircraft in flight, hospitals, machinery supporting life continued to operate. We can hope it cut Rush off in mid diatribe.
Klaatu calls himself Carpenter. Get it? Smooth sailing to date, but Klaatu came out without his Amex card and he has to borrow bus fare from Bob in return for a pocketful of diamonds! Next thing you know, Hugh has sicced the army, police, navy, Rush Limbaugh, Girl Scouts, infielders, and the carrion of the media onto him. By the way, how did he pay the first weeks rent on the room in advance if he is busted?
Lock Martin wrapped in tin foil stands around, that is, Gort to the gormless.
The staging is simple and elegant almost documentary. Klaatu uses the flashlight on his iPhone one night to communicate with Gort. The interior of the ship is spare and yet intricate to the eye. Movement sensors turn light on and off, it seems. Mostly Klaatu listens and talks very politely, and correctly. With such good grammar and syntax, he must be an alien!
After Hugh has blown Klaatu’s cover, Klaatu and Pat scat, and in the ensuing chase the Rush posse kills Klaatu. Dead. So much for an alien taking a parking place on the Mall! That is a capital offence in the Capitol!
With his dying breath Klaatu sends Pat to Gort with that message. With the grit born of Kentucky coal country she does so, whereupon, as required by the film’s publicity department, Gort sweeps her up into his arms and carries her off to the spaceship, a helpless doll being carried by a creature was necessary for the advertising to communicate with the moronic members of the audience. That always works for the fraternity brothers. Gort then departs and recovers Klaatu’s body from the morgue by dissolving a wall and returns with it to the spaceship. There were only two guards, the third stooge, being absent, and Gort dissolved them, too.
We all know that left to her own devices Pat would not have gone all helpless and hurled herself onto a pile of folding chairs.
Neal's face upon meeting the Twit in Chief.
That was the doing of the writer and director. On her own she would gulped and got on with it without the histrionics.
Earlier Gort had incapacitated guards while two of them lounged with their backs to him, never alert, but now that Klaatu is dead, Gort is more extreme without Klaatu’s restraining hand, one infers.
While a stunned Pat watches, Gort lays Klaatu into an MRI which klatters and whistles him back to life. Resurrected. Get it.
Now robed in his shiny spaceman’s suit, Klaatu emerges from the ship with Pat, who scurries away, and Gort the Impacable. Note, the fraternity brothers cannot take a spaceman seriously unless in shiny pants. Klaatu’s turns to the assembled scientists Sam had gathered and some itchy fingered army types. Klaatu’s Address is this.
Blow yourselves up, if you wish. But the combination of rockets and atomic bombs makes Earth a threat to other planets. The League of Other Planets, LoOP, employs many Gorts to prevent such intrusions. Gort is merciless and all powerful. Cross him and he destroys the planet. Get it? No excuses. No extension. No sorry. No mercy.
Even pithier than Lincoln.
Off he goes: whooshka!
That message ignited ranks of successor films to explain why advanced aliens would bother with Terra.
Michael Rennie was cast precisely because he was unknown to Yankee audiences, so he would not trigger any residual expectations in viewers. He is austere and yet warm with the boy and so much more mysterious than the excitable and predictable Hugh. Though Hugh earned his Space Cadet stars in ‘The Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ (1956). Pat is a one-woman congregation who learns the lessons of peace and forebearance, or else, from the carpenter’s messenger, Get it?
Billy Gray is crucial to the presentation of character, but his part is not kid stuff. The is no ‘Tobor the Great’ with childish antics.
While the Army is portrayed as alert, organised, determined, and prepared, except for the sentries at the saucer who were careless, unbelievably stupid, and itchy fingered. The guards around the saucer are inattenive, how else could a giant in tin foil sneak up on them. The first response of the Army is to shoot. When the guards are alert it is to shoot. Slack in that only two grunts are left on guard, no more, and no officer to make decisions or with some phone numbers to duck responsibility.
Press hysteria in newspaper, radio, news reels, and television is there but in a minor key.
While Klaatu, as with every other alien visitor, wants to talk to the whole world, the Yankees will not hear of it. The conclave of scientists Sam gathers is international by the stereotypes of dress and appearance.
The director, Robert Wise made splendid films in many genres. His next Sy Fy was two decades later, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1971) and the first ‘Star Trek’ movie in 1979.
Pat reprised some of her role in a less dramatic account in ‘Stranger from Venus,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. To be enlightened find it.
The producer and director wanted to make a film about peace and cooperation during the Korean War and the evils of HUAC, a pre-Twit curse. To that end they rejected Spencer Tracy for the lead, thinking he would conjure up fatherly figures from his many other roles. They hired a brilliant musician for the score who cemented the theremin into Sy Fy. They risked offending Alabama with the temporary resurrection of Klaatu but put in a meaningless and distracting reference to ‘the almighty spirit’ to comfort the Alabamans who fear, rightly, that no one loves them. The producer insisted on employing the blacklisted Sam Einstein and not just for his electric hair. It would seven years before another producer would dare to employ him, such was the baleful influence of the junior Senator from Wisconsin whose name never crosses my keyboard. It took the decision and influence of the studio head, Daryl Zanuck to make all of the happen, and the risks for him were great but he ploughed ahead.
A second unit went to D.C. and filmed the Washington scenes, the actors worked in Hollywood and the editor brought them altogether in a seamless whole.
While it was stimulated by a Sy Fy story, the screenplay departs from and improves it immeasurably. It offers a more complex story with a larger cast of characters and a more fleshed out Klaatu. In this case the screenplay is superior to the story from which it is derived.
While channel surfing on a trip this popped up,and so I watched. Vaguely I had been putting it off until later, partly because it is not on You Tube and partly because I remember it very well,from previous viewings.
Disclosure statement. The reviewer has not seen ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (2006) and has no wish to do so, because it will give priority to CGI over the simple story and will replace the detached calm of the original with a fevered attempt at action. So I assume. No doubt the time will come when curiosity will take me to it, but especially not immediately after seeing the original for fear of spoiling it with an unpleasant after taste.