Today’s movie is The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Directed by Robert Wise, this is one of the best and most well-known sci-fi movies in the benevolent alien’s group. Many people quote from this movie, not really knowing the origins. This film is rated 7.8 on iMDB.com and scores 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was generally well received by critics and holds up well in the 1951 class of films. However, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote, at the time, a bad review calling the movie “tepid entertainment” and said Gort was “oddly unmenacing.” The LA Times said it had “certain subversive elements.”  I wonder what they saw.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) has been recognized for its importance and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress National Film Registry. It is listed on a few American Film Institute (AFI) lists; 82 on 100 Years…100 Thrills, 67 on a similar list 100 Years … 100 Cheers, 5th best science fiction film, 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains, Klaatu is a hero, and of course, 100 Years … 100 Movie Quotes for “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.”
On a very sad note, this movie was remade as The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Even with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, this movie is a horrible waste of film. They shouldn’t have done it.
President Ronald Regan was a little obsessed with this movie. He felt all the world’s problems would go away if we were invaded by aliens. He spoke about this when he met with USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland and said in a United Nations speech “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” So, on that interesting note, let’s jump into the actors
Patricia Neal played Helen Benson, a young war widow, working and living in a boarding house with her young son. Neal was covered in Episode 4 – In Harm’s Way (1965).
Hugh Marlowe played the role of Tom Stevens, the boyfriend of Helen and alien sleuther. Marlow was covered in Episode 28 – World Without End (1956).
Carleton Young was uncredited as a Colonel in Jeep, in what was a very small part. Young was first covered in Episode 66 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962).
Michael Rennie played space traveler Klaatu. Rennie was born in 1909 in England. Rennie worked around Britain doing odd jobs. He got his first job by accident in as a stand-in in the Alfred Hitchcock directed Secret Agent (1936). He then became interested in acting and worked in repertory companies to learn his craft. The film I’ll Be Your Sweetheart (1945) got Rennie brought to Hollywood. Before long he was cast in what most consider his greatest role, as the alien visitor Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). This was followed by a nine-year string of supporting roles before he returned to England and work in television on both sides of the Atlantic. His other films include Tower of Terror (1941), High Fury (1947), The Black Rose (1950) with Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, Les Miserables (1952) as the star Jean Valjean, King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), The Robe (1953) as Peter, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) as Peter again, Omar Khayyam (1957), The Lost World Lord (1960), and The Devil’s Brigade (1968). Rennie died in 1971 at the early age of 61.
Sam Jaffe played the role of Professor Jacob Barnhardt, the smartest man on Earth. He was loosely playing the role of Albert Einstein with the wild hair and all. Jaffe’s birth name was Shalom Jaffe. Great name! He was born in New York City in 1891. His first acting took place in Yiddish theater with his mother who fairly well known, at least regionally.
Jaffe graduated from City College of New York and studied engineering as a graduate student at Columbia University. Following graduation, he became a math teacher in Brooklyn. Somewhere around 1915, Jaffe became a member of the Washington Square Players. Following this, he began appearing on Broadway and was in 21 plays from 1918 to 1979.
Jaffe never had leading man looks and his hair was wiry and tended to go in its own direction. But he was an amazing character actor and Hollywood took note. In The Scarlet Empress (1934), with Marlene Dietrich, Jaffe was cast as the Grand Duke Peter and came off as very frightening.
He followed with two great movies. In Lost Horizon (1937), Jaffe played the High Lama to perfection. This Frank Capra directed film is one of the most uplifting films ever produced. Shortly after, Jaffe played the title role in Gunga Din (1939), as a regimental water carrier. Jaffe had no problems acting alongside Victor McLaglen, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Jaffe’s next major film was the Elia Kazan directed, anti-Semitic rendering Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). In this movie, Jaffe also played an Albert Einstein inspired character. In The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Jaffe played Dr. Reidenscheider, a criminal genius that lusted for teen girls. Jaffe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this role.
However, my favorite role of his was Professor Jacob Barnhardt in the atomic scare inspired UFO film, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). He was just eclectic enough to give the role an added dimension.
Like so many great actors, directors, and writers, Jaffe suffered from the red scare induced House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) blacklisting. The filmmakers had to appeal to the head of Fox Studios for Jaffe to keep his role in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The next film of note for Jaffe The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958). This was followed by a role in the epic Ben Hur (1959).
Following this Jaffe spent a lot more time working in television including successful series such as “Ben Casey” 1961-1965. Jaffe continued to work in television and film up until his death and the age of 93 in 1984.
Billy Gray played the role of young boy Bobby Benson. He was actually only 12-years younger than Patricia Neal who was cast as his mother. He was cast in the role of Bud on televisons “Father Knows Best” 1954 – 1960. His best-known films are The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Seven Little Foys (1955). He was also in Werewolves on Wheels (1971).
Frances Bavier played one of the tenant house boarders, Mrs. Barley. Bavier was born in 1902 in New York City. She started on Broadway in 1925 and was basically a stage actress until 1951. Her first film was The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). She was active in many 1950s television shows, but one show stands out above the others. She played the caring and sensitive Aunt Bea on the “Andy Griffith Show” 1960 – 1968. She seemed so nice and kind, but apparently, she was mean and hard to work with. After the show ended, she stayed in North Carolina. She quickly became a reclusive cat-lady. She died in 1989.
Lock Martin played the robot/centurion Gort. Martin was a cowboy and was working as a doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Theater when he was selected for his role in this film. His qualification was that he was 7 feet 4 inches tall.
The credits roll over a view from out in the cosmos, that slowly approaches a galaxy, past plants and finally Earth. A radar crew picks a UFO traveling about 4,000 mph. The news spreads around the world quickly. The UFO, as a light in the sky, takes a tour of all of the sights in D.C. The craft lands on the Ellipse, a 52-acre park, just south of the White House in Washington, D.C. This really put a damper on the baseball games that are being played in the park. The police and then the military head out to the park including tanks. A news report tries to quell the panic that is occurring on the eastern seaboard. The UFO is the kind with the handicap accessible ramp. The military completely rings the UFO and there is an even larger crowd of onlookers. After two hours, the ship begins to open.
The ramp slides out and the door opens. The army has water-cooled machineguns and everyone is aiming at the ship. A very talk human form alien comes out and says in English, we have come to visit you in peace. The alien walks to the bottom of the ramp and the soldiers cock their weapons. He reaches in his shirt and pulls out a small tube about the size of a flashlight. Spikey things click out of the side. One of the tank soldier’s panics and wounds the alien. Flying while black. The aliens little spikey thing is broken.
The giant robot Gort (Lock Martin) comes down the ramp and with a cyclops style ray visor, he dissolves all of the weapons. All the people back up until the alien calls for Gort to stop. The alien picks up his spikey thing and says it was a gift for the President that would have allowed him to study life on the other planets. They take the wounded alien to Walter Reed Hospital. Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy) comes to interview the alien.
The alien introduces himself as Klaatu (Michael Rennie). Klaatu says his message is not personal and is for all the people of the Earth. Mr. Harley says it can’t be done and Klaatu gets snotty and says he is not here to settle planetary problems. Klaatu says the fate of the Earth is involved.
The military tries to cut and drill into Gort and the ship to no avail. Gort stands guard unmoving.
The doctors determine that Klaatu is very similar to humans. Klaatu uses some suave and is completely healed in one day. The doctors lament about the state of Earth medicine as they light up cigarettes.
Mr. Harley comes back with news that although all of the world leaders have been invited, many refuse to come. Klaatu wants to get to know the people but Mr. Harley refuses his request. They place a guard on his door.
That night, Klaatu escapes and the military begins an all-out manhunt. Unfortunately, the only pictures that have are of him with a helmet on. He has stolen the clothes of Major Carpenter. The bag he carries has the initials L.M.C. He goes to a boarding house and scares the be-Jesus out of the other guests that are watch news reports on the alien. The newsman on the television is wearing a fedora.
Bobby (Billy Gray) is the first one to see Klaatu. He registers under the name John Carpenter. The landlady introduces Bobby’s mother, Helen (Patricia Neal). During Sunday morning breakfast the talking heads on the radio are doing a FOX news style show and demanding that the alien monster is tracked down. Klaatu reads about Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who is more or less based on Albert Einstein. Mrs. Barley (Frances Bavier) worries aloud about the alien while Helen takes the more liberal view by mentioning that he was shot as soon as he landed.
Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) shows up to see Helen. Apparently, her husband was killed in the war and her and Tom gets all kissy face. Helen says that she doesn’t have anyone to stay with Bobby while the go on their date. Klaatu steps up and volunteers. The mother is a little suspicious but the future step-dad is all for it. Bobby gives a first-rate tour of D.C. beginning with the grave of his father at the Arlington Cemetery. They decide to go to the movies but Klaatu doesn’t have any money. He gives Bobby two large diamonds for $2.00.
Klaatu and Bobby go to the Lincoln Memorial and read the Gettysburg Address. Klaatu is very impressed by Lincoln’s word. Klaatu asks who the greatest man in the world is and Bobby says it would be Professor Barnhardt.
They then go to see the spaceship. The military is building a barricade around the ship. They hear the Army is now in charge of the search for the spaceman. Klaatu decides to go to Professor Barnhardt house. No one answers the bell and so they break into his study. On the blackboard is a complex equation. Klaatu corrects the formula on the blackboard and is caught when the housekeeper comes home. Klaatu leaves the contact information for himself as Mr. Carpenter. The housekeeper begins to erase the blackboard but Klaatu stops her.
Government agents go to the boarding house and to pick-up Klaatu. Tom and Helen return from their date and he has been proposing to her. She is holding him off for some reason. Bobby tells his mother that they went to see Professor Barnhardt and she is very concerned.
Klaatu talks to Professor Barnhardt and tells him right off that he is the spaceman. Barnhardt says he has several thousand questions to ask. Klaatu explains that atomic energy combined with space travel makes Earth a threat to the other worlds. He also says there is a way to protect Earth. Klaatu asks if he has to violence to get Earth’s attention. Barnhardt says he will gather scientist and leaders but when he asks what will happen if they reject Klaatu’s offer, he is told that Earth will be destroyed. Barnhardt and Klaatu decide to make a non-destructive demonstration in two days at noon.
The next night, Helen is waiting to go out with Tom. Helen asks why government men came and picked him up. He says it was because he tried to see Professor Barnhardt. Tom is getting jealous of Mr. Carpenter. Helen says Bobby should see less of Mr. Carpenter. Bobby tells that Mr. Carpenter helped Professor Barnhardt with his math.
Klaatu borrows a flashlight from Bobby and goes to the spaceship. He doesn’t know that Bobby is secretly following him. Alright, the military geniuses at the Pentagon have left only two guards to watch over the spaceship. They have only one job to do, one, and they let Klaatu walk up to a viewing hole and signal Gort with a flashlight. The two guards are not watching the ship and Gort walks up behind them and clinks their heads together.
Klaatu goes into the ship and sets up the demonstration for the next day. Klaatu speaks a long set of instruction into his display. Bobby watches of all the external action from a short distance away. Finally, Bobby runs home.
When Helen and Tom get back from their date, Bobby tells the entire tale. They don’t believe a word. Tom goes to find Mr. Carpenter. He goes in his room and finds a large diamond on the floor. Bobby shows the two diamonds that Klaatu sold him. Tom thinks Mr. Carpenter is criminal.
The next day, Klaatu comes to see Helen at her work. Tom calls and says he is getting the diamond appraised. Klaatu asks Helen what Bobby told her. Before she can answer, the pair gets on an empty elevator. Right at noon, the power goes out and the two are trapped in the elevator. Helen realizes that Bobby has been telling the truth.
All electricity and motors are out except for hospital and airplanes that haven’t landed. Damn, even the automatic cow milkers are out.
Barnhardt has the meeting prepared and is happy with the nature of the demonstration and how is scaring the populous is. The President is about the declare a national emergency. A UFO landing on the Ellipse didn’t do that?
The jeweler tells Tom that the diamond is unlike any he has seen on Earth. Back in the elevator, Klaatu has given a data dump to Helen. Not a sexual joke. Helen is on board with helping Klaatu get to the meeting safely. Helen says Tom knows something is going on as well.
The military has encased Gort in KL93, a new plastic that is stronger than steel. The military decides that they must find the spaceman dead or alive. They close the city and no one is allowed to leave.
Tom comes back to his office and plans to call the Pentagon and rat Klaatu out. Helen tells Tom that Klaatu has revealed the truth to her. Tom makes the call and Helen breaks-up with him. Tom tells the military that Klaatu is living at the boarding house. The military heads out to capture him as Helen races ahead in a taxi to warn the spaceman.
Klaatu and Helen jump in a taxi and head to the meeting that is being held at the ships landing site. Their taxi is spotted and reported to the commanding Colonel (Carleton Young). Klaatu says he is worried about what Gort will do if something happens to him. He tells Helen that Gort could destroy the Earth. He says to Helen that if something happens to him, she must tell Gort, “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.”
Patricia Neal had trouble delivering this line during filming and would often have to hold back laughter. Rennie would calmly ask if that is how she intended to play the scene. In the movie, Army of Darkness (1992), Ash (Bruce Campbell), had to deliver the lines but failed to remember and he said “Klaatu verata n Necktie Nectar Nickel Noodle.”
When the Army cuts off the taxi, Klaatu and Helen run but they shoot Klaatu. Oddly, they don’t stop Helen and she heads to the spaceship which still has only two guards. Gort melts the plastic he is contained in and the soldiers walk towards him. He uses his cyclops vision to melt the soldiers and their guns. Helen is scared but she delivers the message to Gort who is now completely free from his prison. Gort carries Helen into the ship.
Helen is on the verge of falling apart. Gort uses the display to find Klaatu and leaves Helen locked in the ship. They are holding Klaatu’s dead body at the jail and Gort cuts through the outer wall wild west style. Gort takes Klaatu back to the ship and places him in a healing chamber. Helen is still not sure what she has gotten into.
The delegates assemble outside of the ship and the military shows up and tries to get Barnhardt to abandon the meeting.
Klaatu is brought back to life by the chamber. Klaatu explains that the almighty spirit is the only giver of life and his revival is temporary. Barnhardt is addressing the delegates when the ships door open and Gort comes out followed by Klaatu and Helen. Klaatu says that they will not put up with Earth’s aggression. He tells them that they have created a race of robots that enforce the peace. He says the robots have un-revocable power to destroy any aggressor. He also says that if Earth threatens to extend its’ violence, the Earth will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. He says the choice is to join and live in peace or die. As he and Gort get into the ship, he gives a wave to Helen. The ship glows and zooms skyward as the delegates flee.
The original story ends with a reporter helping Gort revive Klaatu and saying to be sure to tell its masters that Klaatu’s death was an accident. The robot says, “You are mistaken. I am the master.”
The censors made Klaatu’s resurrection temporary, but there are plenty of references to Jesus Christ in the movie. First, he is delivering a message of salvation to entire Earth. He steals the clothes of Major Carpenter and carpentry was the profession of Christ. He presents himself at the boarding house as John Carpenter, having the initials JC and the name of one of the 12 disciples. After being killed by the government, he rises from the dead and ascends into the sky. Well, that’s pretty obvious. Also, Rennie played Disciple Peter is two other movies. At the beginning of the film, the radar operator states “Holy Christmas!” This is the time that the birth of Jesus is celebrated, but this could also be a Santa and sled reference.
The screenplay writer, Edmund H. North, created the alien language and phrase “Klaatu barada nikto.” The meaning of this phrase is not explained during the movie. Professor Aeon J. Skoble said it was a fail-safe word created to keep the robot from accidentally destroying the Earth. Skoble further stated that this is a troupe in sci-fi when dealing with destructive forces.
“Fantastic Films” magazine translated the phrase in 1978 as “Stop Barbarism (I have) death, bind” or “I die, repair me, do not retaliate.” The Director, Robert Wise said North told him it had no meaning, and that it just sounded good. Film historian Steven Jay Rubin stated that North said it means “There’s hope for Earth if the scientists can be reached.” The universe may never know.
World-Famous Short Summary – Don’t let strangers babysit your kid.
Beware the moors