When Worlds Collide


1h 21m 1951
When Worlds Collide

Brief Synopsis

Scientists race against time to build a super rocket ship that can save a select group before the earth collides with another planet. Naturally, no one wants to be left behind for the final Armageddon.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
G
Release Date
Nov 1951
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 22 Nov 1951
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Calabasas, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the serial story "When Worlds Collide" by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie in Blue Book Magazine (Sep 1932--Feb 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

At an observatory in South Africa, astronomer Dr. Henry Bronson hands pilot Dave Randall a black box containing top secret scientific data, with instructions to deliver it to Dr. Hendron in New York. Bronson does not reveal anything specific about the data and warns Dave not to discuss his mission, then handcuffs him to the box. At the airport in New York, Dave, a carefree playboy, is met by Hendron's daughter Joyce and a newspaper reporter. The reporter offers Dave a substantial sum for information about the box, but to Joyce's relief, Dave refuses the money. While taking Dave to see her father, Joyce alludes to Bronson's "end of the world" discovery, piqueing Dave's curiosity. At the observatory where Hendron works, Dave is introduced to physician Dr. Tony Drake, Joyce's fiancé, then turns the box over to Hendron. While Joyce double-checks Bronson's data with a differential analyzer, Hendron explains to Dave, Tony and members of the observatory board that Bronson has discovered a new planet, Zyra, circling the star Bellus, and that both spheres are racing at an incredible speed toward Earth. Bronson has predicted that in less than a year, Bellus will pass close to Earth, causing devastating earthquakes and tidal waves, and shortly after, Zyra will collide with Earth, destroying it. When Joyce announces that Bronson's calculations are indeed accurate, a pall falls over the group, and Dave gets drunk that night and flirts openly with Joyce. Later, Hendron presents Bronson's findings to the United Nations and proposes that a spaceship be built to take a few dozen people to Zyra just after it hits Earth. Although Hendron is dismissed as a crackpot by some leaders, two observatory board members, Glen Spiro and Marston, pledge money to start construction on the ship. Joyce then confides in her father that Tony wants to marry immediately, but she is having doubts, as she is attracted to Dave. Hendron advises Joyce to hold off on the marriage and promises to keep Dave in town. Soon after, wheelchair-bound millionaire Stanton agrees to finance completion of the spaceship in exchange for a spot on the passenger list. With only eight months to go, 600 men and women begin work on the ship, aware that only forty of them will be randomly selected to make the flight. During construction, Stanton tries to get Hendron to initiate security measures, anticipating that the doomed workers will storm the ship, but Hendron refuses. Meanwhile, Dave, who has been spending time with Joyce, upsets her when he declares that, unlike her and Tony, he is not vital to the operation. Months later, as Bellus and Zyra near Earth, mass evacuations begin. A series of disasters then rocks the planet, decimating coastal cities with floods and interior areas with earthquakes, volcanoes and fire. Although the construction area is badly shaken, the spaceship suffers little damage. While searching for flood survivors in a helicopter, Dave and Tony rescue a little boy, Mike, from a rooftop. During the effort, Tony, who is jealous of Dave, considers abandoning Dave on the roof, but quickly changes his mind. Construction on the ship resumes at a desperate pace, and workers are asked to pick numbers for the lottery, the results of which will be posted the day before the collision. Although Hendron announces that Dave has a guaranteed place along with his assistant, Dean Frye, Stanton, Tony, Joyce and him, Dave refuses to be given special treatment. Tony, however, informs Dave that because Frye, who is to pilot the ship, has a heart condition that most likely will incapacitate him during the flight, he must go along, as he is the only other person who can fly the machine. Joyce is overjoyed at the news and thanks Tony privately for his selfless act. With the ship all but completed, the winning lottery numbers are posted, and as Stanton had predicted, some workers protest their exclusion and form a mob. When lucky Eddie Garson finds out that his girl friend, Julie Cummings, did not win a seat, he declines to go. Stanton insists that, to avoid a dangerous overload, Eddie's vacated spot not be filled, but Harold Ferris, Stanton's aide, demands the seat at gunpoint. Stanton draws his own gun and shoots Ferris dead, but Hendron orders that Julie be included along with Eddie, even though the extra weight could jeopardize the flight. Fights and fires then break out, and Hendron instructs the ship passengers to board as quickly as possible. Moments before the ship is to take off, Hendron, who is outside pushing Stanton in his wheelchair, refuses to board, sacrificing himself as well as the millionaire. The ship blasts off, and as the space travelers lose consciousness, Zyra collides with Earth. Later, all of the passengers, including Frye, revive, and Dave realizes that Tony lied to him about Frye so that he and Joyce could be together. After the ship makes a rocky but safe landing on the Earth-like Zyra, Dave and Joyce disembark, ready to begin life in the new world.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
G
Release Date
Nov 1951
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 22 Nov 1951
Production Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Calabasas, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the serial story "When Worlds Collide" by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie in Blue Book Magazine (Sep 1932--Feb 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 21m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Wins

Best Special Effects

1952

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1951

Articles

When Worlds Collide -


While producer George Pal was in production on Destination Moon (1950), he bought the rights from Paramount to another science fiction property, the 1932 novel When Worlds Collide, written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Paramount agreed to the sale because the studio didn't see much potential in science fiction at this time; in fact, studio president Barney Balaban had turned down Destination Moon, forcing Pal to go with the lower-rung distributor Eagle Lion. Furthermore, When Worlds Collide had been languishing at Paramount practically since its publication. The studio had originally bought it for Cecil B. DeMille, who intended to direct a version of it entitled The End of the World; that production was canceled after the release of RKO's Deluge (1933), which was seen as too similar.

Destination Moon opened in New York at a cinema across the street from Balaban's office. When Balaban saw long lines of moviegoers, Pal recalled, "he remembered passing on it, realized his mistake, and sent one of his aides...to make a deal with me." In other words, Paramount now bought back When Worlds Collide, this time with Pal attached. (Pal said he made a profit on the basis of that sale alone.)

Destination Moon was hailed as a notable science fiction movie because it treated the subject of space travel intelligently and believably. (It was one of the few sci-fi films that Stanley Kubrick studied at length when he was researching 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968].) When Worlds Collide also has a fairly credible treatment of an extraordinary idea. Scientists discover a rogue star, Bellus, heading toward Earth. A collision is inevitable, but the star has a planet, Zyra, likely with an Earth-like atmosphere. Mankind's only hope is to send people by rocket to colonize Zyra. The world doesn't believe the scientists, so a private team gets funding to build a spacecraft; it will function as a sort of Noah's Ark, with humans, animals, plants, tools and so forth. But there's only room for forty-odd people, and now the world is starting to believe the disaster will happen... The story also works in a love triangle between a pilot (Richard Derr), a doctor (Peter Hansen) and an astronomer's daughter (Barbara Rush), though at a certain point, the special effects become the star of the show.

George Pal later explained that he had first commissioned a screenplay by Jack Moffitt: "I hired him to write it before I signed my contract with Paramount. It was an excellent script, much closer to the book. When I signed with the studio, the story department assigned Sydney Boehm to rewrite the script. Sydney changed the story quite a bit. But since I was a greenhorn in pictures and a newcomer to Paramount, I went along with the story department's suggestions. I wish we had used the original script."

Moffitt's script would have been much more expensive to produce, with more world settings than appear in the finished picture. But the film as it exists is still considered one of the better sci-fi offerings of the era, especially impressive for being made on a relatively low budget of under $1 million. Director Rudolph Mate, a former cinematographer, had transitioned to directing in 1947 and his pictures (mostly film noir dramas and westerns to this point) generally featured a strong pictorial sense and good pacing.

This film's science fiction visuals were conceived by artist Chesley Bonestell, who painted elaborate images of scenes brought to life with impressive production design and colors. One of his most striking ideas was for the rocket to take off not vertically but horizontally, on a mile-long ramp (700 feet in real life). Special effects artists Gordon Jennings and Harry Barndollar worked from Bonestell's ideas to create Oscar-winning effects of Earth's destruction, though to keep costs down they also incorporated significant stock footage. Among the disaster images are earthquakes, volcanoes and a tidal wave devastating Times Square.

Pal later recalled how the Times Square deluge was achieved: "We took a scene from an old Samuel Goldwyn picture and froze the frame. Then we built a replica in black of the buildings, and we dumped water in from two tanks. Then frame by frame we rotoscoped it and did hand-painted mattes. The whole sequence cost only $1,800." For the earthquake effects, a stage was designed on wheels and springs, then shaken by a giant pile driver.

A final sequence on Zyra is literally a Bonestell sketch. Pal said the end of the shoot was rushed because Destination Moon received an Oscar for special effects during production and Paramount suddenly wanted to hurry When Worlds Collide to release to ride the other film's coattails. Pal was so rushed that he was forced to accept a rewritten, abbreviated ending to the story. Further, there was no time for the construction of a planned miniature of the spaceship on the planet. For the preview screening, all Pal could do was to insert a Chesley Bonestell concept painting in place of that shot. After the preview tested through the roof, with no complaints about the painting shot, Paramount left it in for the release version, refusing Pal's request of $5,000 to shoot the miniature.

Pal was disappointed, but the film opened to good box office reviews and critical praise. "George Pal repeats in even greater measure the imagination and box office possibilities of his Destination Moon," said Variety. "An expertly wrought example of top showmanship. Film definitely establishes [George Pal] as a top quality producer, entirely at home in the science-fiction film field." The Los Angeles Daily News deemed When Worlds Collide "unquestionably the best science-fiction film yet produced."

Later on, Pal hoped to film a sequel drawn from the novel's sequel, After Worlds Collide, but when Conquest of Space (1955) failed at the box office, Paramount canceled the plan.

By Jeremy Arnold

SOURCES:
Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood
Ezra Goodman, "Behind the Camera." Daily News, Dec. 25, 1950
Phil Hardy, The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction
Gail Morgan Hickman, The Films of George Pal
Theresa M. Moore, Science Fiction Films of the 20th Century: 1950-1954
Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties
When Worlds Collide -

When Worlds Collide -

While producer George Pal was in production on Destination Moon (1950), he bought the rights from Paramount to another science fiction property, the 1932 novel When Worlds Collide, written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. Paramount agreed to the sale because the studio didn't see much potential in science fiction at this time; in fact, studio president Barney Balaban had turned down Destination Moon, forcing Pal to go with the lower-rung distributor Eagle Lion. Furthermore, When Worlds Collide had been languishing at Paramount practically since its publication. The studio had originally bought it for Cecil B. DeMille, who intended to direct a version of it entitled The End of the World; that production was canceled after the release of RKO's Deluge (1933), which was seen as too similar. Destination Moon opened in New York at a cinema across the street from Balaban's office. When Balaban saw long lines of moviegoers, Pal recalled, "he remembered passing on it, realized his mistake, and sent one of his aides...to make a deal with me." In other words, Paramount now bought back When Worlds Collide, this time with Pal attached. (Pal said he made a profit on the basis of that sale alone.) Destination Moon was hailed as a notable science fiction movie because it treated the subject of space travel intelligently and believably. (It was one of the few sci-fi films that Stanley Kubrick studied at length when he was researching 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968].) When Worlds Collide also has a fairly credible treatment of an extraordinary idea. Scientists discover a rogue star, Bellus, heading toward Earth. A collision is inevitable, but the star has a planet, Zyra, likely with an Earth-like atmosphere. Mankind's only hope is to send people by rocket to colonize Zyra. The world doesn't believe the scientists, so a private team gets funding to build a spacecraft; it will function as a sort of Noah's Ark, with humans, animals, plants, tools and so forth. But there's only room for forty-odd people, and now the world is starting to believe the disaster will happen... The story also works in a love triangle between a pilot (Richard Derr), a doctor (Peter Hansen) and an astronomer's daughter (Barbara Rush), though at a certain point, the special effects become the star of the show. George Pal later explained that he had first commissioned a screenplay by Jack Moffitt: "I hired him to write it before I signed my contract with Paramount. It was an excellent script, much closer to the book. When I signed with the studio, the story department assigned Sydney Boehm to rewrite the script. Sydney changed the story quite a bit. But since I was a greenhorn in pictures and a newcomer to Paramount, I went along with the story department's suggestions. I wish we had used the original script." Moffitt's script would have been much more expensive to produce, with more world settings than appear in the finished picture. But the film as it exists is still considered one of the better sci-fi offerings of the era, especially impressive for being made on a relatively low budget of under $1 million. Director Rudolph Mate, a former cinematographer, had transitioned to directing in 1947 and his pictures (mostly film noir dramas and westerns to this point) generally featured a strong pictorial sense and good pacing. This film's science fiction visuals were conceived by artist Chesley Bonestell, who painted elaborate images of scenes brought to life with impressive production design and colors. One of his most striking ideas was for the rocket to take off not vertically but horizontally, on a mile-long ramp (700 feet in real life). Special effects artists Gordon Jennings and Harry Barndollar worked from Bonestell's ideas to create Oscar-winning effects of Earth's destruction, though to keep costs down they also incorporated significant stock footage. Among the disaster images are earthquakes, volcanoes and a tidal wave devastating Times Square. Pal later recalled how the Times Square deluge was achieved: "We took a scene from an old Samuel Goldwyn picture and froze the frame. Then we built a replica in black of the buildings, and we dumped water in from two tanks. Then frame by frame we rotoscoped it and did hand-painted mattes. The whole sequence cost only $1,800." For the earthquake effects, a stage was designed on wheels and springs, then shaken by a giant pile driver. A final sequence on Zyra is literally a Bonestell sketch. Pal said the end of the shoot was rushed because Destination Moon received an Oscar for special effects during production and Paramount suddenly wanted to hurry When Worlds Collide to release to ride the other film's coattails. Pal was so rushed that he was forced to accept a rewritten, abbreviated ending to the story. Further, there was no time for the construction of a planned miniature of the spaceship on the planet. For the preview screening, all Pal could do was to insert a Chesley Bonestell concept painting in place of that shot. After the preview tested through the roof, with no complaints about the painting shot, Paramount left it in for the release version, refusing Pal's request of $5,000 to shoot the miniature. Pal was disappointed, but the film opened to good box office reviews and critical praise. "George Pal repeats in even greater measure the imagination and box office possibilities of his Destination Moon," said Variety. "An expertly wrought example of top showmanship. Film definitely establishes [George Pal] as a top quality producer, entirely at home in the science-fiction film field." The Los Angeles Daily News deemed When Worlds Collide "unquestionably the best science-fiction film yet produced." Later on, Pal hoped to film a sequel drawn from the novel's sequel, After Worlds Collide, but when Conquest of Space (1955) failed at the box office, Paramount canceled the plan. By Jeremy Arnold SOURCES: Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood Ezra Goodman, "Behind the Camera." Daily News, Dec. 25, 1950 Phil Hardy, The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction Gail Morgan Hickman, The Films of George Pal Theresa M. Moore, Science Fiction Films of the 20th Century: 1950-1954 Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties

Quotes

Trivia

In the final shot we see the Ark passengers disembarking with an obvious painted background depicting Zyra. This bad painting was tacked on for the film's sneak previews. Originally, producer George Pal wanted to depict Zyra as a miniature set, but Paramount shipped the film out before this could be done.

Their is a shot toward the end of a group of people sitting around a country store listening to the radio. Among them the little boy and dog later rescued by helicopter. The same shot shows up in War of the Worlds, The (1953)

Notes

In the onscreen credits, the film's title is flashed word by word over shots of a raging fire. The following quotation from the Bible, Genesis, Chapter 6, Verse 12 and 13 appears before the film's first scene: "And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth..." The final scene concludes with the written statement, "The first day on the new world had begun..." Voice-over narration is heard during the film's opening scenes.
       Contemporary sources provide the following information about the production: Paramount purchased Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's novel in 1933, intending it as a vehicle for Cecil B. De Mille. That project, titled End of the World, was never made, and the story was shelved until October 1949, when producer-director George Pal, who was known for his puppet-cartoon series "the Puppetoons," bought it from Paramount. Irving Pichel, who was preparing to direct Pal's 1950 science fiction release Destination Moon (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), was announced as the film's probable director at that time. After Pal signed a producing contract with Paramount, he resold the novel to the studio, and according to modern sources, Paramount agreed to finance the film. In May 1950, Hollywood Reporter reported that John Archer had been signed to play a "top role" in the revived project.
       Modern sources add the following information about the film: Pal hired Jack Moffitt to write the first draft of the screenplay, which Pal then rewrote. Moffitt's draft was submitted along with a complete cast list, which included such actors as Ronald Colman, Susan Hayward and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Paramount replaced Moffitt with Sydney Boehm, who had worked with director Rudolph Maté on the 1950 Paramount release Union Station (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Boehm's script cost the studio less than one million dollars to make.
       Stuart Whitman, who is listed in the CBCS as Kip Whitman, made his screen debut in When Worlds Collide. The following actors were announced as cast members in Hollywood Reporter news items: Eddie Morse, Ned Glass, James Rosenberger, Hal Rand, Billy Bailey and George Curtiz. Ned Glass was not in the viewed print, but the appearance of the other actors has not been confirmed. Technical advisor Chesley Bonestell was a well-known astronomer and scientific artist, who had worked with Pal on Destination Moon. Modern sources note that Paramount, hoping to capitalize on the success of Destination Moon, rushed When Worlds Collide into production, forcing Pal to use Bonestell's painting of "Zyra's" landscape as a matte, instead of as a guide for miniatures, as he had originally intended. Publicity materials, contained in copyright files, state that the U.N.'s representative in Hollywood, M. Skot-Hansen, assisted the filmmakers on the U.N. sequence. Publicity materials also note that the exterior launching scenes were filmed in Calabasas, CA. According to a ParNews item, the spaceship set was approximately one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. ParNews also claimed that the film's sound crew received permission from the U.S. Army and the FBI to record jet testing sounds at the Lockheed aircraft factory in Los Angeles, but for security reasons, were not allowed to observe what they were recording.
       The film, which won an Oscar for Best Special Effects, includes stock footage of natural disasters. In March 1952, Hollywood Reporter announced that Paramount had purchased the rights to Wylie and Balmer's sequel to When Worlds Collide, a serial story titled After Worlds Collide, which also was published in Blue Book Magazine, for a possible screen sequel. The film sequel was never made, however. The serial stories were published together in book form in 1950, under the title When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1951

Released in United States March 1975

Released in United States Fall November 1951

Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon - Excerpts shown) March 13-26, 1975.)