The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is an important movie to me, despite the fact that I only saw it for the first time a few days ago. My mother’s cousin, a wonderful man who always had time for annoying children, told us the story of this one when I was seven or eight or something. It’s one of the few stories from my childhood that stuck with me.
That cousin died earlier this year after a long illness, at much too young an age, but it was fun to remember him by watching the film, one of the 1001 movies we’ve been going through here.
I still vividly remember his description of the robot, and the main misgiving I had when we started watching was that the film might be slower and more boring than modern flicks and ruin the memory.
I’m happy to report that it is none of those things. The SF elements are woven with suspense and romance elements, which is the key to making the film fun. It needed to be diluted because the moralistic elements of the main plot – an alien comes to show humanity the error of its ways and develop an ultimatum – are spectacularly heavy-handed in a way that only the 1950s can deliver with a straight face.
But it works. The film is a fun movie despite the messaging–which, as we’ve discussed here, and as anyone who’s read modern science fiction of the critically-acclaimed type, is very hard to do).
And that’s pretty much all you need to know about the movie. As the first major Hollywood science fiction motion picture, it showed that a movie with aliens in it could be a “real” film as opposed to a B-Movie special. It plays the part well, and still holds up today, unless the cold-war style messaging and Christ-figure of the main character puts you off.
A warm hello to Billy Gray, who played the son of the female lead in this one, and was an important part of the plot. He’s still with us and, as a child actor when this was produced, is still relatively young compared to other survivors from the era (and we must take the opportunity to mourn the recent passing of Olivia de Havilland).
Anyway, if you like SF or classic cinema, this one is a must-watch. Even if you don’t, you should be entertained.
Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer whose novel Outside explores issues facing the 21st century, as seen from far in the future. An exploration book and a thriller, outside will appeal to everyone who enjoys thinking about where we are going. You can check it out here.