The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)


The Day the Earth Stood Still

Story’s Location:

Washington D.C. (The spaceship lands in a park near the capitol’s Mall. Klaatu is brought to Walter Reed General Hospital. After he escapes, he goes to a boarding house at 1412 Harvard Street, N.W. )

Story’s Time Period:

Early 1950s, during the “Cold War” between the Western Democracies and the Soviet Union.

Synopsis:

A spaceship carrying Klaatu and an indestructible robot, Gort, lands in a park in Washington D.C. After Klaatu is shot by an overeager soldier, the army brings him to Walter Reed Hospital where he is told he must stay despite the fact that he insists on delivering an important message to an assembly of the world’s leaders. Easily escaping, Klaatu assumes the name of Mr. Carpenter and rents a room in a local boarding house where he meets Helen Benson and her son Bobby. Bobby, in response to Klaatu’s question, replies that the “smartest man in the world” is Professor Barnhardt. Klaatu goes to Barnhardt’s and tells him that he, Klaatu, must deliver a message to a meeting of the world’s great scientists since the world leaders can’t agree to come together. To prove his power he makes everything that relies on electricity in the world “stand still” for 30 minutes. Finally, after being shot again, Klaatu delivers his ultimatum to the world.

Original Story:

Based on a novelette titled “Farewell to the Master”, by Harry Bates, which was originally published in the October 1940 issue of “Astounding Science Fiction”.

Studio:

Twentieth Century – Fox Film Corporation

Cast:

Klaatu (Mr. Carpenter)Michael Rennie
Gort (the robot)Lock Martin
Helen Benson (widow who helps Klaatu)Patricia Neal
Bobby (Mrs. Benson’s son)Billy Gray
Tom Stevens (Helen’s boyfriend)Hugh Marlowe
Prof. Jacob BarnhardtSam Jaffe
Mrs. Crockett (owns boarding house)Edith Evanson
Mrs. Barley (resident of boarding house)Frances Bavier
George Barley (resident)John Brown
Mr. Krull (resident)Olan Soule
Mr. Harley (Secretary to President)Frank Conroy

Crew:

Art DirectionLyle Wheeler, Addison Hehr
Set DecorationsThomas Little, Claude Carpenter
EditorWilliam Reynolds, A.C.E.
CostumesTravilla
Klaatu’s CostumePerkins Bailey
MakeupBen Nye
SoundArthur Kirbach, Harry Leonard
Special EffectsFred Sersen
ScreenplayEdmund H. Northn
MusicBernard Herrmann
Director of PhotographyLeo Tover, A.S.C.
ProducerJulian Blaustein
DirectorRobert Wise

BEHIND-THE-SCENES:

Gort stands guard.

The publishers of “Astounding Science Fiction” were paid $1,000 for the film rights to the story by Harry Bates, “Farewell to the Master”. Bates received half of the money as his payment.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” was a major motion picture for 20th Century – Fox that presented an adult theme in a serious manner. The movie is often credited with prompting a surge in science fiction movie production during the 1950s.

Spencer Tracy had read the script and wanted to play the part of Klaatu, but the producer felt he was too well known for the audience to accept him as an alien from another planet. Claude Rains was then considered for the part, but he was tied up performing in a play on Broadway. Finally, Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century – Fox, recommended Michael Rennie, an actor he had recently seen performing in London. This was Rennie’s first American film.

Patricia Neal, who plays Helen Benson in “The Day the Earth Stood Still“, went on to win an Oscar in 1963 for her performance in the movie “Hud”.

Klaatu inside spaceship.

Frances Bavier, who plays one of the boarders at Mrs. Crockett’s boarding house, went on to play Aunt Bee on television’s “The Andy Griffith Show” during the 1960s.

Klaatu’s spaceship was so well conceived that it influenced the look of spaceships in many science fiction movies that followed, and could even fit the description of the craft that some later UFO abductees would claim they had actually seen.

There were two aluminum-painted, foam rubber costumes made for the robot, Gort. One suit opened from the back and was used when he was filmed from the front, and the other suit opened from the front and was used when he was filmed from the back. Because of this, the costume looks like it doesn’t have a seam.

The radio newscasters shown during the movie were actual newscasters of the day, well known for their speaking styles.

Klaatu tells Helen Benson that if he gets into trouble she is to stop Gort from unleashing his tremendous power by saying, “Klaatu barada nikto.” This became, and continues to be, one of the most famous lines in the history of science fiction movies.

When the studio sought to obtain military equipment for the movie from the War Department, the producers were told that the script had been rejected and no equipment would be supplied. The studio eventually obtained the needed jeeps, tanks, etc., from the National Guard of Virginia.

Joseph Lockard “Lock” Martin, who played Gort, was the doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He was chosen to play the part because he was seven feet seven inches tall. Unfortunately, his condition also made him quite weak, and when he had to pick up and carry Patricia Neal a wire from a crane had to be attached to her to make it possible. He could only wear the Gort costume for about 30 minutes at a time, and when an extended shot of him standing at the spaceship was required a fiberglass replica was used.

In 1950, Sam Jaffe, who plays Professor Jacob Barnhardt, was in the film “The Asphalt Jungle” for which he won the Academy Award for “Actor in a Supporting Role”. Early in his life he had studied engineering at Columbia University and been dean of mathematics at the Bronx Cultural Institute. He was well known for his liberal views and, after “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was released, finally blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the U.S. government’s House on Un-American Activities Committee. Not being able to find work in Hollywood after he was placed on the blacklist, he went back to teaching mathematics until the late 1950s.

Although “The Day the Earth Stood Still” takes place in Washington D.C. none of the principal actors ever left Hollywood during the shooting of the movie. When Klaatu and Bobby are shown touring Washington, doubles for the actors were used.

Robert Wise, the director of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, had worked as editor for the movie “Citizen Kane” before becoming a director. He would eventually direct 39 movies including “West Side Story”, “The Haunting”, “The Sound of Music”, “The Sand Pebbles”, and “The Andromeda Strain”. Bernard Herrmann, the composer, had already written the musical scores for “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”, among others, and would go on to write the scores for many more movies including, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, “Psycho”, “Cape Fear”, and “Taxi Driver”.

The studio’s Marketing Department suggested that the movie be called “The Day the World Stopped”. This was changed to “The Day the Earth Stood Still” by Julian Blaustein, the movie’s producer, because he felt it scanned better.

AFTERWARD:

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” won the 1951 Golden Globe Award for “Best Picture Promoting International Understanding”. It was also nominated that year for a Golden Globe Award for “Best Original Score”.

In 1995 “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was added to the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed “culturally, historically, or esthetically important”.

© 2004 The Picture Show Man. All Rights Reserved.

The following products will help you explore this subject further:

BOOKS:

  • Robert Wise: A Bio-Bibliography, (1995) by Frank Thompson
  • Robert Wise on His Films, (1995) by Sergio Leemann
  • Keep Watching the Skies: Amer. Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, (1997) by Bill Warren
  • Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film, (1997) by Vivian Sobchack, et al.
  • The New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, (1999) by Vincent Canby, et al.
  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, (2001) by C.J. Henderson
  • Science Fiction Film, (2001) by J.P. Telotte
  • The Directors: Take One, (2002) by Robert Emery
  • Science Fiction Film Reader, (2004) by Gregg Rickman

DVDs:

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still, single disc includes extras
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still [Blu–ray HD], Special Edition in High Definition
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still, (2–disc Special Edition)

CDs:

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (Score), (2003) by Bernard Herrmann

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