The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

dayearth201Making this up as I go, I am invoking the haven’t-seen-in-20-years clause in order to qualify this film.  And by invoking, I mean inventing.

From the opening seconds, with the blocky title and the weirdo theremin music, this is chewy 50’s sci-fi goodness.  It is already more interesting than the remake, if only as a piece of history.

A UFO is approaching the earth at 4,000 MPH.  This is really poking along compared to the 18,6000 miles per second velocity in remake.  All over the world, dames and men in hats are listening to the radio for updates on the bogey.

On a lovely day in Washington DC, a saucer flies past several monuments, and lands in a park near the White House.  As a behatted newsman is describing the scene, a ramp extends from the saucer and a doorway opens up.

dayearth203A humanoid in a spacesuit walks out and says, “We have come to visit you in peace and with goodwill.”  He pulls something out of his pocket, and is shot by one of the soldiers.  Suddenly the robot GORT emerges from the ship.  The spaceship and the alien just seemed to reel in the crowd, but GORT gets the civilians running and the soldiers backing up.  GORT’s visor opens, and shoots beams at the weapons, destroying them.  The wounded spaceman orders him to stop.

He stands and hands the damaged gift to a soldier.  He says it was a gift to enable the president to study life on other planets, then is taken to Walter Reed Hospital.  Ignorant of our ways, he believes checking into the V.A. will actually improve his chances of survival.

The spaceman, Klaatu, says he has traveled for 5 months and 250 million miles to reach earth.   He says we are neighbors, and it is assumed by the hat-wearing press that he is from Mars or Venus.  250M miles is too far for either of those planets.  I know there was no internet, but did the writer not have an almanac, or did noone involved remember basic science from elementary school?  Twilight Zone had this problem too.

Apparently wanting to address all world leaders in the most corrupt and ineffectual setting possible, he asks for an audience with the United Nations.

Meanwhile, since Klaatu foolishly left his saucer in downtown DC overnight, it is getting blowtorched, and GORT is being roughed up with a diamond drill.  Unlike AL GORT in the remake, the drill has no effect on this GORT.

Klaatu heals his wound by applying a miracle salve, just as in the remake.  He escapes from the hospital and takes a room at a boarding house.  One of the other residents shares the name Helen Benson with Jennifer Carpenter in the remake.  Both Helens have a son, although the name was changed from Bobby to Jacob in the remake, and he was made completely obnoxious.

In both movies, the kid drags Klaatu to his father’s grave.  Bobby trades $2 for 2 diamonds.  So he is not only less obnoxious than Jacob, but smarter.  They go to Lincoln Memorial.

Klaatu and Bobby go to see professional smart guy Professor Barnhardt (whose first name Jacob was mysteriously used for the Bobby character in the remake).  In both movies, Klaatu goes all Good Will Hunting on a blackboard.

He says that we have started using atomic power and will soon apply it to space travel, endangering other planets.  If earth does not listen, it may be necessary to for his race to take action.  The professor asks if a demonstration is possible.

dayearth202Klaatu sneaks back to his ship, and signals GORT to knock out the guards.  Bobby’s sees this and tells him mom.

The next day all motors and electricity on earth stop, trapping Klaatu in an elevator with Helen. Unlike the remake, exceptions were made for hospitals and planes in flight.

On his way back to the ship, Klaatu is shot.  Again.  Helen delivers the message to GORT, Klaatu Barada Nikto.  GORT carries her into the ship.  He also retrieves Klaatu’s body, which he is able to resurrect.

As Professor Barnhardt is addressing the crowd, Klaatu emerges from the ship. He says the threat of human aggression can no longer be tolerated.  If earth is not less aggressive, they will burn our planet to a cinder.

Maybe they can make some krazee ships and robots, but we’re miles ahead of them in irony.


  • Writer Edmund H. North won an Oscar for the screenplay for Patton.
  • Not to blame the victim, but Klaatu clearly did not need the helmet and spacesuit when he emerged from the ship.  Maybe he wouldn’t have been shot if he had looked a little more human.

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