Friday, 31 May 2013

The Unbelievable Becomes True

‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ is an apocalyptic sci fi classic from 1961. In it, US and Soviet nuclear testing has knocked the Earth out of orbit, and the planet is now moving closer and closer to the sun. The temperature has become unbearable, and food and water shortages have led to rationing, martial law and nihilistic trad jazz parties. The only way of stopping our inexorable journey towards immolation is to detonate yet more bombs and hope that the shock waves might move us somewhere else. At the end of the film, as the bombs go off, two headlines are prepared ‘Earth Saved’ and ‘Earth Doomed’, but we are not informed as to which is going to print*.
An excellent, methodical, believable film, ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ is hugely dramatic and brilliantly executed, with some fantastic miniature work and a clever tinting effect which bookends the narrative, turning everything orange to emphasise the unbearable heat. It has a good cast, too, angry Edward Judd as a loose cannon newspaperman, Leo McKern as his crusty but avuncular Boss, and comely Janet Munro as Judd’s love interest. This is a sultry film in more ways than one, incidentally, with a frank ‘let’s do it, it’s the end of the world’ approach to sex and some semi-nudity from both Munro and Judd. Happily, McKern keeps his vest on.

The film is also notable for an early appearance from Sir Michael Caine, here seen directing traffic. We can't really see his face, but his voice is absolutely unmistakeable. I like Mike, I like Mike a lot.  

Intelligent, logical, frightening, this slice of Val Guest directed genius receives my highest recommendation. In fact, if I had three thumbs I’d stick them all up.
*The American distributors asked for the sound of bells to be superimposed over the end scenes, presumably to indicate that the world was saved, but this doesn’t spoil the ambiguity at all – had they never heard of a death knell?

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