The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
This Science fiction classic by Robert Wise the man who directed masterpiece noir films like The Set-Up, musicals like West Side Story (co-directed with Jerome Robbins) and The Sound of Music, horror films like The Haunting and who edited Citizen Kane, did a strong impressive film with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Shot in 1951, during the McCarthyist era, this film tells the coming of a stranger from outer space in a little town of America. The actual alien, in the form of a man is helped by a little boy to hide.
The alien has a message to deliver to planet Earth, stop the wars and unite all nations together to save planet Earth from its own annihilation. It may be bold that the film wants to tell the world to stop the Cold War and make peace. The visitor from outer space represents the terror of the communism. It recalls in Steven Spielberg’s War of the World the kid yelling are they terrorists? Both the rogue menace of their times: in the 1950’s the menace was coming from the communism inside America and in the 2000’s it was(is) terrorism, sometimes from inside the country. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a critic of the current witch hunt of the time. Robert Wise an inside filmmaker of Hollywood surely knew some of the show business people targeted and blacklisted in Hollywood. His film might have been some kind of gesture towards his contemporaries in support to them. Set in the Sci-fi genre, a film had a easier ground to tell a virulent message.
In the form, The Day the Earth Stood Still has a beautiful black and white picture as every other Robert Wise picture. However, the frames are classic but well shot and the subtle but strong “mise en scène” by Wise places this film amongst the greatest films of its time. The directing of a film doesn’t needs to be off the wall, a strong film like Lumet’s style or Polanski’s are almost absent like the best example: a Fordian picture. When you don’t think about where the filmmaker put his camera during the film it means that you are in the presence of a mastered subtle “mise en scène”. Unlike Hitchcock or Scorsese, a subtle directing gives a more realistic approach to a story and we don’t feel like we are at the movies. The Day the Earth Stood Still, is a Sci-fi film and the realistic approach could be absent but instead the way it was filmed makes it even more believable, it is also more efficient that way to believe that an alien actually landed on Earth. The same strategy as M. Night Shyamalan used in his slightly above average Signs.
The Day the Earth Stood Still influenced many Science fictions films to come and still stands as one of the best films in the genre. Even if it’s “propos” isn’t as actual as it was in 1951 it still deserves it’s recognition.