The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Movie Info

Movie Notes

Today is the 70th anniversary of the release of this classic science fiction film. It stood out at the time as the most intelligent film of the genre, carrying a message of peace and tolerance during the onslaught of the Cold War. Unlike other sci-fi films, the menace to Earth came not from alien monsters but from humans themselves. I still recall seeing it in theaters and the fact that  it was the only sci-fi film my father liked. Thus we bring it up from our archives in the hope that you will take another look at it–its message of tolerance is needed as much today as when it was released 7 decades ago.

Movie Info

Robert Wise
Run Time
1 hour and 32 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 min.

Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16–17

Klaatu, with Gort close behind, delivers a final warning for Earth to learn to live in peace,
(1951) 20th Century Fox

Klaatu (Michael Rennie), the gentle but firm humanoid alien in director Robert Wise’s classic 1950’s sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still, like Jesus, came to earth to save, and not to condemn. His race has become concerned that warlike earthlings are on the threshold of space travel and might spread their madness. While they remained bound to earth, they were of little threat to the civilized planets, but now they have both atomic power, which they have used in warfare, and the beginnings of space travel, so the alien has been sent as an emissary to warn the governments of earth to shape up—or else.

That the civilized planets have good reason for their fear is evidenced by the way in which the alien and his robot companion Gort are received upon landing on the Mall in Washington, DC. Perceiving the strange vehicle as a threat, soldiers and tanks immediately surround it, guns leveled at the flying saucer- like space vessel. The soldiers are taken aback when the door of the craft opens and the alien, accompanied by the tall robot, emerges. One of the nervous soldiers fires a shot that wounds Klaatu. After Gort destroys some of the weapons, Klaatu goes to the hospital where he talks with the US President’s top adviser, asking that all the world leaders be assembled so he can deliver an urgent message to them. The adviser says that would be impossible, but the alien refuses to speak only with the President.

Wanting to get to know humans better, Klaatu slips into Washington in order to learn more about the war-like race he has come to warn. Finding a room at a boarding house, where he signs in as “Mr. Carpenter.”(Scriptwriter Edmund N. North later in an interview said that he chose that pseudonym, based on the occupation of the world’s most famous Carpenter, to see if anyone would catch on the Klaatu’s role—a Christ Figure.) Klaatu befriends a mother and her boy, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and Bobby (Billy Gray) thus learning that not all humans are hostile. He is especially impressed the next day when Bobby conducts him on a tour of Washington, and Klaatu reads the Gettysburg Address inscription at the Lincoln Memorial. Bobby takes Klaatu to visit a famous scientist Dr. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who agrees to cooperate with the alien, but plans do not go well.

There are further incidents, including Klaatu’s stoppage of all electrical things on Earth to demonstrate his powers—with the exception of situations where human safety would be in danger, such as in hospitals and on airplanes. There is also a betrayer in this story, one of the male boarders attracted to Helen. This leads to a tragedy that is temporarily overcome when Gort picks up his companion, shot by a soldier, and takes him back into the ship, where he is able to revive him, although for but a short period of time. Helen has been watching all of this, and the revived Klaatu tells her even their advanced civilization cannot overcome death.

The ship is surrounded by troops and heavy weapons, including tanks. Klaatu emerges with Gort and delivers a short but stern speech in which he warns that others will be back to find out whether earthlings have learned their lesson and abandoned their ancient hostilities to come together in peace. As in the episode of Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus, the purpose of Klaatu’s coming to Earth is declared—not to condemn the world but to save it from its own warring madness. But if its peoples do not learn–

The remake of the film failed to match the impact of the original, part of the reason being that the world situation had changed from 1951 when everyone feared world destruction via the atomic bombs of the US and Russia, and 2008. But most of all, it was the original cast, director, and a superb script that added up to a classic work that could not be duplicated.

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