The Day the Earth Stood Still

Release Date: September 28, 1951
Cast: Michael Rennie as Klaatu
Patricia Neal as Helen Benson
Hugh Marlowe as Tom Stephens
Billy Gray as Bobby
Sam Jaffe as Prof. Jacob Barnhardt
Lock Martin as Gort
Length: BW 92 minutes
Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Julian Blaustein
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Writer: Edmund H. North
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Budget: about $1.2 million
Gross: about $1.85 million
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Interesting Tidbits

The Day the Earth Stood Still is based on a short story Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates (1940.) It was 1951's 52nd biggest earner.

Lock Martin was working as a doorman at Grauman's Chinese Theater when he was hired to play he giant robot gort. Although tall, Lock lacked the physical strength commensurate with his height.

In the scenes where Gort carried Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, physical devices were used. They were either held up by wires, a dolly, or dummies were used. He had problems with his costume too.

Lock Martin wore two different costumes for the filming. One opened in the back for front shots, and the other opened in the front for rear shots. The idea was to make the suit appear seamless. But that led to confusion for the camera and in some shots, you can see Gort's seams.

Lock Martin was listed as being 7'7" tall. Even at that height, the director wanted Gort to be taller. In addition to other fixes, Lock Martin wore platform shoes.

Billy Gray was a child actor who gained fame in the popular televsion series Father Knows Best. He states that his reaction to Gort bumping the heads of the soldiers at the spaceship site is his most memorable piece of work.

Frances Bavier had a bit part in The Day the Earth Stood Still. She is most remembered for playing Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1970.

Drew Pearson, the journalist who is seen broadcasting the alien spaceship in the film's opening sequence, was an actual journalist. As a matter of fact, he was one of the most well-known journalists of the day. Pearson also appeared in the 1945 film Betrayal From The East.

Primary outside photography was conducted on 20th Century Fox sound stages; the actors did not do any on-location work. Second unit production crews travelled to Washington, DC to shoot background scenes.

The Plot

An extraterrestrial flying saucer is tracked streaking about the Earth until it gently lands on the President's Park Ellipse in Washington, D.C.. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges, announcing that he has come from outer space on a goodwill mission. Upon opening a small, suspicious-looking device, he is wounded by a nervous soldier and the device is destroyed. In response, Gort, a large humanoid robot emerges from the ship and disintegrates all weapons present without harming the soldiers with a ray emanating from his head. Klaatu orders him to stop and explains that the ruined object was a viewing device, a gift for the President.

Klaatu is taken to an army hospital, where he found to be physically human-like, but stuns the doctors with the quickness of his healing. Meanwhile the military attempts to enter Klaatu's ship, but finds it impregnable. Gort stands by, mute and unmoving.

Klaatu reveals to the President's secretary, Harley (Frank Conroy), that he bears a message so momentous and urgent that it can and must be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. However Harley tells him that it would be impossible to get the squabbling world leaders to agree to meet. Klaatu wants to get to know the ordinary people. Harley forbids it and leaves Klaatu locked up under guard.

Klaatu escapes and lodges at a boarding house, assuming the alias "Mr. Carpenter". Among the residents are Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), a World War II widow, and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). At breakfast the next morning, during alarming radio reports, Klaatu takes in the unknowing fellow boarders' suspicions and speculations about the purpose of the alien's visit.

While Helen and her boyfriend Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe) go on a day trip, Klaatu babysits Bobby. The boy takes Klaatu on a tour of the city, including a visit to his father's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, where Klaatu is dismayed to learn that most of those buried there were killed in wars.

The two visit the Lincoln Memorial and the heavily guarded spaceship. Klaatu, impressed by the Gettysburg Address inscription, queries Bobby for the greatest person living in the world. Bobby suggests a leading American scientist, Professor Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe). Bobby takes Klaatu to Barnhardt's home, but the professor is absent. Klaatu enters and adds a key mathematical equation providing the solution to an advanced problem on the professor's blackboard before leaving his contact information with the suspicious housekeeper.

Later, government agents escort Klaatu to see Barnhardt. Klaatu introduces himself and warns the professor that the people of the other planets have become concerned for their own safety after human beings developed atomic power. Klaatu declares that if his message goes unheeded, "Planet Earth will be eliminated." Barnhardt agrees to arrange a meeting of scientists at Klaatu's ship and suggests that Klaatu give a demonstration of his power. Klaatu returns to his spaceship the next evening to implement the idea, unaware that Bobby has followed him.

Bobby tells the unbelieving Helen and Tom what has transpired, but not until Tom finds a diamond on the floor of Klaatu's room do they begin to accept his story. When Tom takes the diamond for appraisal, the jeweler informing him it is unlike any other on Earth.

Klaatu finds Helen at her workplace. She leads him to an unoccupied elevator which mysteriously stops at noon, trapping them together. Klaatu admits he is responsible, tells Helen his true identity, and asks for her help. A montage sequence shows that Klaatu has neutralized all electric power everywhere around the planet excepting situations compromising human safety, such as hospitals and air flight.

After the blackout ends, the manhunt for Klaatu intensifies and Tom informs authorities of his suspicions. Helen is very upset by Tom's betrayal of Klaatu and breaks off their relationship. Helen and Klaatu take a taxi to Barnhardt's home; en route, Klaatu instructs Helen that, should anything happen to him, she must tell Gort "Klaatu barada nikto". When they are spotted, Klaatu is shot by military personnel.

Helen heads to the spaceship. Gort awakens and kills two guards before Helen can relay Klaatu's message. Gort gently deposits her in the spaceship, then goes to fetch Klaatu's corpse. Gort then revives Klaatu while the amazed Helen watches on. Klaatu explains that his revival is only temporary; even with their advanced technology, they cannot truly overcome death.

Klaatu steps out of the spaceship and addresses the assembled scientists, explaining that humanity's penchant for violence and first steps into space have caused concern among other inhabitants of the universe who have created and empowered a race of robot enforcers including Gort to deter such aggression. He warns that if the people of Earth threaten to extend their violence into space, the robots will destroy Earth, adding, "The decision rests with you." He enters the spaceship and departs.

The Wrap-up

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a very enjoyable film.