The 1950s especially was a era for great science fiction films. “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”, “The Blob”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (which would normally have been my recommendation for everyone to see), “It Came From Outer Space”, “This Island Earth”, even “Godzilla/Gojira”.
But our choice just has to be “The Day The Earth Stood Still”.
If this picture does not answer everything, then let’s summarise this 1951 Robert Wise production.
A flying saucer lands in Washington DC. From it emerges an alien, who is instantly shot (it’s America, after all). He goes to hospital, escapes and has to evaluate human life for a very special reason.
The alien, Klaatu, is played by Michael Rennie.
He moves into a small boarding house where he makes friends with a family with mother and son. Son Bobby shows Klaatu around Washington, including the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery.
The title refers to a demonstration Klaatu performs to demonstrate his power. It’s not a spoiler to say that, at the end, Klaatu reveals the reason for his visit to Earth and the purpose of the robot, Gort, and it’s not great news.
Just what makes this film story so special? Well, it’s a good story well told (avoid the re-make) with a serious ending. The art direction is beyond wonderful and there are so many memorable images. There’s a lightness to the whole tale too.
But what really makes it special is Rennie, who is mild, gentle, polite, very English, unassuming and everything you would not expect an alien to be (certainly compared with some of the other films we mentioned). It’s a totally wonderful performance from the very start.