The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Dir: Val Guest
Star: Edward Judd, Leo McKern, Janet Munro
Cert / Year: 15 - unrated / 1961
Format: DVD R2

Two nuclear bombs are detonated simultaneously by America and Russia. This has the unfortunate side effect of altering the earth's orbit. Climatic devastation follows. The people are unaware of what is happening as the scientist and governments try to deal with the situation. Only an alcoholic ex ace reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd), and the papers cynical science correspondent Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) can, with help from ministry secretary Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro), uncover terrible the truth that mankind may have signed its own death warrant.

A while ago I reviewed the film Quatermass 2 and commented on how we don't make them like we used to, and here is another fine example of that. The connection with Quatermass 2 doesn't just end there, as this film was also written and directed by the same director, Val Guest. However due to its more realistic story telling this is a better film.

This use of realism is the key to the film. The whole narrative is told from the perspective of main characters and with them we slowly begin to see the true terror of what has happened. Unlike the Quatermass movies this film doesn't rely on spaceships or aliens, the threat here is real and more importantly man made. Ok so the premise of nuclear explosions moving the earth nowadays is a little far fetched, but this can be overlooked firstly by considering when this was made, and secondly because it is not that important to the film.

How can this be not important to the film you may ask, well this is the story of the effects of the disaster on the people and not the act. Films like Armageddon and Deep Impact are descendants of this sort of film, this is one of the original disaster movies. This film works better than the more recent sci-fi disaster movies for a number of factors. It never resorts to melodrama, as it ensures that the characters lives are always secondary to the events that are unfolding. It does not concentrate on heroic rescue attempts, this is the story of the effects of the disaster on the common man. It does not allow flag waving, every one here is effected the same no one nation is going to save humanity. Following these rules we have a far darker and more realistic film, something which modern movies, especially Hollywood, movies have forgotten.

A strong story demands a good script and actors, and fortunately we have both. The script is clever, and believable. The characters are interesting as they are written to have own flaws. Edward Judd is strong as the failed reporter who gains a second chance. Leo McKern is a stalwart British actor who again produces a strong performance as the outwardly tough, yet caring reporter. Janet Munro is beautiful (and for its time quite outwardly sexual) but even so has a stronger female role (with only a couple of lapses near the end). There are not many other cast members, but of notable interest is Arthur Christiansen who as the Daily Express editor is playing himself. Oh, and for those keen movie fans keep an eye out a young Michael Caine who makes an un-credited cameo appearance as a police man.

Apart from providing the script Val Guest also directs, and makes a good job of it. Clever use is made of special effects and stock footage to show the climatic changes, and while many of the effects no longer look that special some (mainly the matte work) are still great. This is nicely combined with the character scenes to slowly build a sense of impending doom. This sense adds to a desperate tension that climaxes at the end of the movie, which brilliantly avoids a cop out ending. The final shot of St Paul's cathedral really says it all.

This is a classic movie. It just shows how poor modern films are in comparison, and more importantly how creatively dead the British film industry has become. The only let down is the dated effects. This is a movie that is crying out for a remake (or rather an update) , but if they do lets hope they don't mess it up. If you like excellent sci-fi, then it doesn't get much better than this.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Perfect fully restored picture. This includes yellow tinting of the end of the film, an effect originally recreated in the theatres with a coloured gel
Audio Mono Nice clear soundtrack.
Features Production Notes.
Photo Galleries. Which strangely include glamour shots of Janet Munro.
Val Guest Commentary track
Trailers and TV spots
Short interview with Ian McKern
Verdict Lovingly restored presentation of the film, and lots of quality extras. For such an old film this is outstanding.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home