Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

“They’ve shifted the tilt of the earth. The stupid, crazy, irresponsible bastards — they’ve finally done it!”

A pair of British newsmen (Edward Judd and Leo McKern) — with help from an inside source (Janet Munro) — try to discover the truth behind the mysterious climate changes and natural disasters occurring on Earth.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Journalists
  • Nuclear Holocaust
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “provocative, first-rate” sci-fi film — directed by Val Guest — is a title that “adults will like at least as much as children”. We are truly caught up in the curiosity, panic, and delirium that ensue as society gradually realizes it’s on a doomed, sweaty orbit towards the sun, with the “only possible way to reverse course… to explode more bombs”. He points out that the “picture deals with how people react to impending doom. In the oppressive heat, there is panic; violence; somber resignation to death; [and] deliriously happy Doomsday partying.” Other than its slightly misleading title, my only complaint with the film is the rapid-fire delivery of the newsroom dialogue — I’ve always had this problem with movies about journalists, who are among the smartest characters ever written, but who rarely slow down enough to let us savor their words.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Leo McKern, who solidly anchors the film
  • Janet Munro as the sexy young “deep throat” and romantic interest
  • Excellent use of both original and stock-footage special effects
  • Smart dialogue:

    “[There’ll be] a delightful smell in the universe of charcoaled mankind.”

Must See?
Yes, as one of a handful of early first-rate “nuclear holocaust” films.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

  1. Yes, a once-must at least as an underrated and somewhat unsung sci-fi classic. Really not sure why this one hasn’t developed more of a cult status.

    I found myself wrapped up on this re-visit – and it’s definitely one of those flicks that picks up momentum increasingly as it goes. It starts out effectively in a sepia tone as the inevitable is imminent – then flashes to backstory in b&w. Director Val Guest is particularly adept here at visual details, esp. in the street scenes that capture disruption and panic. (Along those lines, the extended ‘hot fog’ sequence stands out as impressive. The special effects, in general, have held up well, considering the time the film was made.)

    I don’t think I had that much of a problem understanding the newsroom patter (it doesn’t seem as rapid-fire as, say, scenes in ‘His Girl Friday’) but British accents and some slang may cause you to pay close attention. Much of the dialogue revealing how a newsroom operates comes across as very authentic.

    The situation is chilling enough – but added on is the tendency of those in political power to assuage (“What they’ll do to get votes.”)

    One unintentionally yet provocatively ‘gay’ line: [hunky lead Edward Judd to Munro, upon seeing her with her hair just washed – see still] “You look cute. Sort of boyish.”

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