“Klaatu Barada Nicto”. Arguably one of the most famous three word lines in all of science fiction. Now let me let you all in on a little secret; I have never seen today’s movie all the way through in one sitting. Don’t get me wrong. I have seen the film in it’s entirety, but it was done by managing to catch it at certain parts when it was on. I have long considered this to be a massive oversight that I needed to rectify sooner, rather than later, but would always get sidetracked by other things before I could rectify it. Well that all ends today as part of my classic sci-fi month so let’s get right into a true classic of the sci-fi genre with today’s movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).
The plot: All around the world, news stations are reporting about an alien spacecraft that is circling the Earth, eventually landing in Washington D.C. As the military and police rush to cordon off the area around the saucer, a doorway opens and a humanoid figure emerges from the craft, saying he comes in peace and good will. As he approaches the soldiers, he pulls a device from his suit, causing a nervous soldier to fire on him, damaging the device and wounding the alien. Suddenly, an large robot appears and begin disintegrating the soldiers’ rifles, as well as a tank and some cannons, until the alien orders it to stand down. The alien, Klaatu, tells the soldiers that the device was for the President so that he could study life on other planets, then is taken to a hospital for treatment, While there, Mr. Harley, the President’s Secretary speaks with Klaatu, who tells Harley that he must speak with the leaders of all nations at once, and Harley says he will relay the message to the President but doubts it will get anywhere. Meanwhile, the military tries to get into the saucer but is unable to pierce the saucer’s hull. The next day, Harley returns and tells Klaatu that the world’s leaders can’t agree on a common location for the meeting and when Klaatu suggests he go out among the people and see how things are for himself, Harley tells him that he is not permitted to leave the hospital. Klaatu manages to escape the hospital and gains lodging at a boarding house, telling the people there his name is Carpenter, the name on the suit he stole. The next day, Klaatu is at breakfast listening to the other lodgers giving their opinions about the alien and while most of them are suspicious about the alien coming to Earth, one of them, Helen Benson, says that the alien probably was sincere in his coming in peace and is simply scared now. When Helen’s boyfriend Tom shows up to take her on a picnic, she asks if her son Bobby can come, as she has nobody to watch him, and Klaatu offers to watch him for her. Bobby has Klaatu take him to Arlington Cemetery, where his dad is buried, then they walk around D.C., visiting the Lincoln Memorial and then the park where the saucer is. As they are walking, Klaatu asks who the greatest person in the world is, Bobby mentions Professor Barnhardt and so they go to pay him a visit. When they get there, they find Barnhardt isn’t home and Klaatu decides to work on the formula Barnhardt had been working on as way of a calling card before they are sent away by Barnhardt’s housekeeper. That night, a government agent appears at the lodging house and takes Klaatu to Barnhardt’s house, where they find Barnhardt working on his formula. After Barnhardt dismisses the agent, Klaatu reveals his identity to Barnhardt and reveals his mission on Earth. He tells Barnhardt that his planet has been observing Earth and knows that they have discovered a rudimentary atomic power and beginnings of study into rockets. As long as they contain their wars to their own planet, their won’t be a problem but if they decide to place their atomic power onto their rockets, then they will be considered a danger and the Earth will be eliminated. Barnhardt asks that Klaatu speak to some scientists that he will try to gather and Klaatu agrees to do so, as well as provide a harmless demonstration of power to prove his threat is real. The next night, as Helen and Tom are about to leave, Tom voices his suspicions about Klaatu, which Helen brushes off but causes her to ask Bobby not to spend too much time with him. That night, Klaatu sneaks off to the saucer, unaware that Bobby sees him and follows him and sees Klaatu signal the robot, Gort, to render the two guards unconscious, and then Klaatu enters the saucer. Bobby returns back to the house and when Helen and Tom return, Bobby tells them what he saw. Helen is skeptical but when Tom goes to see if Klaatu is in his room, he finds one of Klaatu’s diamonds and takes it, as his suspicions about Klaatu are growing. The next day, Klaatu goes to see Helen at her work, wanting to talk to her about what Bobby said. The two get into an elevator, just as the power goes out, and Klaatu says it will be out for the next 30 minutes. As Klaatu explains who he is to Helen, the whole world panics over the fact that the power is out everywhere, except for hospitals and planes in flight. Meanwhile, Tom had gone to a jeweler to get the diamond appraised and when he is told that it is like no diamond on Earth, he realizes that Carpenter is Klaatu and rushes back to his officer, telling his secretary to get the Pentagon on the phone for him. Helen goes to see Tom and when she realizes he is trying to contact the Pentagon to have them get Klaatu, she breaks up with him, then heads home to try and warn Klaatu, managing to leave with him before the army arrives. The army begins to close in on Klaatu and Helen and Klaatu, worrying about what Gort might do if something happens to him, teaches Helen the phrase “Klaatu Barada Nicto” and tells her to go to Gort and say that if anything happens. The military manages to box in the cab and Klaatu attempts to leave only to be shot and he tells Helen to get his message to Gort before he dies. At the park, Gort had been encased in a block of super strong plastic but he disintegrates it, then proceeds to do the same to the 2 guards. Helen approaches Gort, who turns his gaze on her and she manages to shout out the phrase before it attacks her, causing him to lower his visor and carry Helen into the saucer, then leave and head to the police station to retrieve Klaatu’s body. Gort is able to revive Klaatu but he admits to Helen that it is temporary and he has no idea how long it will last. Outside the saucer, Barnhardt is told that his meeting must be cancelled and he is in the process of telling his fellow scientists when the saucer opens and Klaatu and Gort emerge. Klaatu tells the assembled crowd that he belongs to an interplanetary organization that developed a race of super power robots to protect the peace, giving them absolute authority to deal with aggression. He tells them that the choice is simple, join them and live in peace, or continue on their present course and face obliteration. After giving a sad look goodbye to Helen, Klaatu and Gort enter the saucer and it takes off back into space.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) has been well received by the critics, currently holding a certified fresh rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Socially minded yet entertaining, The Day the Earth Stood Still imparts its moral of peace and understanding without didacticism.” Some reference works state that George Reeves, who played Superman in Adventures Of Superman (1952), had a cameo as a glasses wearing reporter during one sequence but this was debunked by director Robert Wise and it is assumed that someone simply jumped to conclusions because the reporter was wearing glasses and roughly looked like Clark Kent. The movie was a modest hit at the box office, earning $1.85 million domestically off of a $995,000 budget and would be considered one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. In 1995, the movie would be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry and a remake starring Keanu Reeves was released in 2008.
This is a fantastic movie on several different levels. The acting was really good, with Michael Rennie doing a fantastic job as Klaatu, while Patricia Neal (Helen), Billy Gray (Bobby), and Sam Jaffe’s (Barnhardt) performances helped accentuate his character. The story was great on a couple of levels. For one, you got a different story involving a flying saucer coming to Earth, as the occupant did not want to take over the planet, but simply came with a message to promote peace. You also had the Cold War paranoia creeping into the film with everyone’s suspicions about the alien’s “true intentions”. The drama in Klaatu trying to get a better understanding of humanity and also his search to find someone that would be willing to believe him really helped drive this movie, as the drama and tension kept building in the last half hour once Klaatu had caused the power to go out all over the world. The only real special effects were mainly centered around Gort and his disintegrating items but the limited special effects helped as this movie needed to focus more on the story and not effects. Definitely one of those must-see classic sci-fi movies that should be on everyone’s bucket list of movies to watch.
Rating: 5 out of 5