Film Highlight: The Day the Earth Stood Still

courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

History will place this 1951 sci-fi flick among the greats: The older it gets, the more poignant it becomes. That's a neat trick for a low-budget, potentially campy movie about an alien who lands on the mall in D.C. with his pet robot in tow. Like all the great space-age dramas, The Day the Earth Stood Still is, at heart, a story about characters, in this case, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), the Jewish-looking alien who brings a message of peace (and is duly persecuted—see Jesus and E.T.); and Helen (Patricia Neal), the strong WWII widow who falls for him. The script is terrific, too: Between Klaatu's subtle intellect and his robot's terrifying power, the movie taps into the paranoia of the era—and turns it on its ear. Director Robert Wise has an obvious disdain for mobs (and affection for individuals), and Klaatu, far from an invader, is painted as a prophet. (He even chooses the name "Carpenter" when he goes on the lam.) Wise also subverts the traditions of the genre: Instead of the usual gunfights, the film has noir, and it's composed mostly of dialogue and suspense. Besides the Jesus myth, it also borrows heavily from the Golem, giving it a faint but distinctly Jewish, Old World vibe that seems fitting given the post-WWII perspective. In fact, its anticipation of the McCarthy era is downright prescient—and its message of tolerance proves that John Lennon didn't invent the idea of world peace.

 
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