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Film Review - Day the Earth Stood Still, The
Hollywood tends to make movies in phases. In the 1930's the dominant genre was the musical. It helped cheer up America during the great depression. In the 1950's what came to be known as the Bug-Eyed Monster (BEM) movie took hold. There were many reasons BEM films were made. First, television was cutting into the Box office receipts. The BEM movie was pointed squarely at teenagers who wanted to go on dates. Second, the BEM film mimicked the general cold war paranoia of the time.
Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy held committee meetings looking for Communists who were undermining American society. Their messages were that the menace wasn't coming from the outside, but was hidden under our beds. BEM movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers told of how people could be corrupted by an unseen menace and would propagate the horrible unseen monster until we all became that monster. There was one movie that bucked this trend.
The Day the Earth Stood Still was nothing like the BEM films. In it an alien lands in Washington, D.C. on a peace mission. Our paranoia forces him to go underground to observe our strange behavior. This is after we decide to shoot him. The film held us up to the mirror, and we didn't look that pretty. We were running around in hysteria, afraid of our own shadows.
Finally, we have the law laid down by the alien. His society doesn't care what we do on earth. But we'd better keep our aggressive behavior out of outer space, or they're going to blow us away.
In 1980 I was studying film. This movie was one of the milestones of my studies. This film really hooked me when I saw the message it had deliver in 1951. This was a great use of film, and it was thought of by many in 1951 as subversive. Here was a film made by people with the guts to stand up and tell the rest of society that they were all nuts. In the 1950's this was professionally risky. This film was going to be so controversial that the head of 20th Century Fox had to approve the use of a black-listed actor (Sam Jaffe). Again, this was professionally dangerous.
If you look at The Day the Earth Stood Still from the early 21st century without an eye looking back to 1951, this won't look like much. The film is in black and white, the production values by today's standards are not impressive. Even the story is simplistic. There are no real sub-plots. But watch this and then try to think of a film from the past few years that stood up and told society the horrible truth about itself without being an anger-fest. You won't think of many.
Directed by Robert Wise
Released in 1951
MPAA Rating: G
Reviewed by Mongo