“I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.”
An alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his bodyguard-robot Gort (Lock Martin) land in Washington D.C. hoping to peacefully warn the Earth’s leaders that internecine violence will lead to the planet’s annihilation. When Rennie is immediately attacked, he goes undercover to learn more about the human race, befriending a widow (Patricia Neal) and her son (Billy Gray) as well as a brilliant scientist (Sam Jaffe) — but when Neal’s jealous fiance (Hugh Marlowe) learns Rennie’s true identity, he will stop at nothing to alert the authorities.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cold War
- Mistaken Identities
- Patricia Neal Films
- Ray Harryhausen Films
- Robert Wise Films
- Sam Jaffe Films
- Science Fiction
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “extremely well-directed and -acted adult film” — Hollywood’s second alien invasion flick of the 1950s after Howard Hawks’ The Thing (From Another Planet) (1951) — features a “literate script” by Edmund H. North (“adapting a story by Harry Bates”), and an “excellent”, theremin-heavy “dramatic score by Bernard Herrman”. However, he says he would like to “exchange some of the moralizing for a couple more exciting scenes”, and notes that he doesn’t “know what to make of Klaatu’s peace plan”, given that it forces humans to “let robots like Gort patrol earth and keep the peace” as if we were grounded teenagers. He posits that the “most suspenseful scene” is the one in which “frightened Neal bravely [goes] to Gort with a message from Klaatu: ‘Klaatu barada nikto!'” — a line which remains one of the most famous in the annals of sci-fi cinema.
I’m ultimately a bigger fan of this cult flick than Peary: I like its intelligence, its deliberate pacing, and the crispness of Leo Tover’s atmospheric black-and-white cinematography (which is especially gorgeous in Blu-Ray). Unlike Anne Francis’s Altaira in Forbidden Planet (1956), Neal is a refreshingly savvy and nuanced female protagonist:
and Rennie is perfectly cast as an ultra-rational yet compassionate alien attempting to understand humans’ “illogical” bent towards violence.
The storyline may be a bit heavy in moralizing — with Rennie’s “Mr. Carpenter” clearly meant to symbolize a Jesus-like savior — but truthfully, we deserve it, given that our current world situation is nearly as dire now as during the Cold War. Thankfully, the film’s numerous “inconsistencies” — i.e., the fact that “Gort, a ten-foot metal Golem, scorches his way out of a solid block of plastic, marches across a major city, burns down the wall of a jail and carries kaput Klaatu back to the Mall – and nobody sees him!” — “only become obvious after repeated viewings”; see DVD Savant’s review for this example and others.
Note: This film was remade in 2008 with Keanu Reeves but I haven’t seen that version and probably won’t.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Michael Rennie as Klaatu
- Patricia Neal as Helen
- Fine, precise direction by Wise
- Leo Tover’s excellent b&w cinematography
- Ray Harryhausen’s impressive special effects
- Good use of Washington D.C. locales
- Bernard Herrmann’s theremin-heavy score
Yes, both for its historical value and as a classic of the genre.
- Genuine Classic
- Historically Relevant
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)