The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961 United Kingdom)

Remember when Britain produced really great motion pictures? OK, no one is that old who would visit this blog. Lucky for us there is dvd-blu ray to enjoy these hoary relics. Anyway, this was made decades before millions hated and distrusted the lame stream’s media lies that pass for “news.”  It is very rare that a film manages to capture the sweat, stress and panic of the newsroom (ho ho! – alright, I’ll reign in my cynicism for the duration of this post) where the workers gather round for quick meetings and discussions before frantically typing up a new story and making those all – important phone calls. And the decision to tell the whole story from the viewpoint of the Daily Express workers is a refreshing and exciting one.

A proper throwback to when men were men and women were grateful. Or at least subservient. I must admit that upon getting a copy of this, I was expecting a stiff- upper-lipped and cheesy British sci-fi full of dodgy effects and predictable plot devices. The hero is not a bland, square-jawed cheeseball that was common in the sci-fi films of the 50’s and 60’s, but a borderline alcoholic who is struggling with the separation from his wife and the fact that his boss gives him all the bottom-shelf stories. And he is played with utter conviction by Edward Judd. In fact, the acting is impressive all-round – Leo McKern is solid as the reliable workaholic who seems to be one step ahead of everybody else, and Janet Munro is sweet, interesting and attractive as the innocent girl who seems to be somehow caught up in everything. The film has a quite shocking level of flesh on display too, and if you’re perverted or simply lonely enough, I’m sure you could even catch a nipple if you freeze-frame the DVD.

Director Val Guest had already dabbled in sci-fi and even then, despite the fanciful plots concerned, he gave it a ring of truth by approaching the genre more or less as semi-documentary; this time, however, with paranoia about nuclear obliteration at its highest during the early 60s, it seemed more feasible than ever before and that anything was possible. The opening and closing moments are orange-tinted (the rest of the story is told in monochromatic flashback) in order to convey the tremendous heatwave which has enveloped Planet Earth – caused to spin off its axis by a number of simultaneous nuclear blasts! – on its way towards the Sun. The film also incorporates the human element in the form of a blossoming romance. But this is portrayed as a love/hate relationship between maverick reporter Edward Judd (undergoing divorce proceedings) and spirited meteorological employee Janet Munro. While both actors proved charismatic leads here, their careers faltered pretty quickly – Judd seemed to be typecast in sci-fi roles and was also something of a hellraiser, while Munro unfortunately fell prey to alcoholism and died quite young.

Leo McKern is tremendous as the burly yet dynamic Science Correspondent of the “Daily Express” who sees his pragmatic theories about Armageddon (which he still admits to being largely guesswork on his part) realized to their most horrific extent and Arthur Christiansen (Editior-in-Chief for many years of the real newspaper featured here), actually brought in as technical adviser, was persuaded to appear in it more or less as himself – which further adds to the film’s striving for complete authenticity. Plus we have a meticulous recreation of Fleet Street – London’s famous newspaper sector – on a studio set, though some of it was shot on actual locations. All of this is superbly captured by Harry Waxman’s stark cinematography. Although no official score for the film was composed, sparse use is made of appropriately ominous library cues chosen by Stanley Black (with the beatnik rhythms of one particular scene provided by Monty Norman, who immediately afterwards became world-famous for composing the James Bond theme). It also manages some very effective crowd scenes (one featuring a pre-stardom Michael Caine as a copper!) – as are the various manifestations of catastrophe the world over, despite heavily relying on stock footage. This is excellent stuff!

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