Cast & Crew
One morning, in July 1951, people around the world are astonished by the appearance of an unidentified, fast-moving object circling the globe. The object, a large, metallic saucer, lands on the Mall in Washington, D.C., where a crowd quickly gathers. Soldiers surround the saucer, and tension grows until a helmeted man emerges, telling the crowd that he has come in peace. A nervous soldier shoots the man when he brandishes a small object, and people run in terror as an enormous robot lumbers out of the saucer. The robot, Gort, emits a mysterious ray that melts the soldiers' weapons until the wounded alien, Klaatu, orders him to desist and informs the soldiers that the object was a gift for their president. Klaatu is then rushed to Walter Reed Hospital, where presidential secretary Harley learns that he has traveled over 250,000,000 miles in five months. Klaatu reveals that he must talk to all of Earth's leaders, but Harley explains that due to the unstable political climate, not all of the leaders will consent to meet with one another. Klaatu insists that his mission is too important to be derailed by petty squabbles, and warns Harley that the future of the planet is at stake.
The next day, doctors find that Klaatu has recovered from his wound, after which Harley returns with news that although the president has invited the world's leaders to meet, many have refused unless they can host the gathering. Bemused by their childish jealousies, Klaatu decides to learn more about the species he is visiting, and escapes from the hospital. Radio and television broadcasts announce Klaatu's escape, but no pictures of him are available. Using the name Carpenter, Klaatu obtains a room in the boardinghouse of Mrs. Crockett, which is also inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. George Barley, Mr. Krull and an attractive widow, Helen Benson, and her young son Bobby. The next day, Helen and her beau, Tom Stevens, go on a picnic, and Klaatu babysits Bobby, who takes him on a tour of the city. Klaatu is impressed with the Lincoln Memorial, and when he asks Bobby who the greatest man alive is, the boy replies that famed scientist Jacob Barnhardt is the one Klaatu seeks.
After taking Bobby to visit the saucer, Klaatu goes with him to Barnhardt's house, where he easily solves a math problem begun by the absent Barnhardt. That night, Helen watches as a government agent picks up Klaatu at the boardinghouse. Klaatu is taken to see Barnhardt, who is thrilled to learn that he is the alien. Klaatu explains that because Earth's people are reaching a technological level at which they could be a danger to other planets, he has been sent to warn them of the consequences of their violence. Barnhardt speculates that no one will take his message seriously unless he can prove his superior capabilities, so Klaatu promises to arrange a demonstration in two days. The next evening, Tom belittles Klaatu's involvement with Helen and Bobby, although Bobby states that Klaatu is his best friend. After Helen and Tom leave, Bobby follows Klaatu as he goes to the saucer, where he signals to Gort and obtains entrance to the vessel. Inside, Klaatu arranges his demonstration, while Bobby runs home. When Helen and Tom return, Bobby tells them of his adventure, but they dismiss it as a bad dream.
Tom grows worried though, when he snoops in Klaatu's room and finds one of the diamonds that Klaatu trades for currency. The following day, Klaatu gets Helen from her office, and when they enter the building's elevator, the power suddenly dies, and Klaatu reveals his identity to Helen. As he discusses his mission with her, people around the world are confused by the loss of all electricity, except to critical locations such as hospitals. Barnhardt is gleeful about the nonviolent demonstration, which he believes will ensure full attendance for his meeting that night of scientists and social leaders. Half an hour later, when the power is restored, Helen is convinced of Klaatu's sincerity, and is determined to help him. She is concerned about Tom, however, as he has taken the diamond to a jeweler for appraisal.
Helen rushes to Tom's office, where she is dismayed to learn that he is more interested in the fame and fortune that will result from betraying Klaatu than in the reason for his visit. While Tom alerts the Pentagon, Helen storms out and whisks Klaatu away from the boardinghouse just before the military arrives. During their ride to Barnhardt's meeting, Klaatu tells Helen that if anything happens to him, she is to find Gort immediately and tell him "Klaatu Barada Nikto" to prevent him from destroying the Earth. Before they can reach the ship, however, Helen and Klaatu are stopped by soldiers, and Klaatu is fatally shot. Helen escapes and goes to Gort, who responds to her repetition of Klaatu's orders by carrying her inside the saucer, then stealing Klaatu's body and returning it to the ship.
There, Gort revives Klaatu, although Klaatu tells Helen that his re-animation will last for an uncertain duration. Klaatu then appears before Barnhardt's colleagues and warns them that because the universe grows smaller every day, threats of aggression cannot be tolerated. Klaatu assures them that they will not lose any freedoms, but that they will be under the watchful eye of a robot such as Gort, who was invented by an organization of planets determined to stamp out violence. Each planet is guarded by a robot that impartially acts against aggression, and the inhabitants live in peace, Klaatu states, with their energies turned toward higher goals. Klaatu informs the crowd, "Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration." With a final smile for Helen, Klaatu then leaves with Gort.
H. V. Kaltenborn
House Peters Jr.
Harry Harvey Sr.
John M. Reed
Dr. Samuel Herrick
Arthur L. Kirbach
Harry M. Leonard
Edmund H. North
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still was preceded at theaters by George Pal's Destination Moon (1950), Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World (1951), and a few other science fiction movies, but the genesis of the project dates to 1949, when 20th Century Fox staff producer Julian Blaustein noted the high sales figures in the U.S. for adult science fiction magazines. Seeing the potential for a strong box office response to such material, he asked assistant story editor Maurice Hanline to search for a filmable science fiction tale. Knowing that it would probably be prohibitively expensive to depict an outer space adventure, he told Hanline that they should confine their search to Earthbound stories. In an anthology, Hanline found a reprinting of "Farewell to the Master," by Harry Bates, which had first appeared in Astounding magazine in October, 1940. Blaustein thought the story was perfect to expand into a feature film; it told of an outer space visitor, Klaatu, landing in Washington, D.C. on a mission to bring peace to the planet. The spaceman is shot by nervous soldiers, but rescued by an enormous humanoid robot called Gnut. In a retrospect article on the film in Cinefantastique magazine, Steve Rubin quoted Blaustein on his reaction to reading the story: "The thing that grabbed my attention was the response of people to the unknown. Klaatu holds his hand up with something that looks unfamiliar to them and he is immediately shot. It was a terribly significant moment for me in terms of story. It really started the whole thing going."
Blaustein's next step in producing a science fiction film was to persuade Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck. The executive didn't think much of the Bates story, but gave the go-ahead to purchase the film rights. The Pulp publisher sold the rights to the story for only $1000, half of which was given to Bates. Fox staff writer Edmund H. North was assigned to write the film's script, and completed a 35-page outline by June 25, 1950. Blaustein was nervous because the Korean conflict had just broken out, and he feared that Zanuck would nix the story's message of peace in a time of war. According to North, in a final story conference Zanuck said, "To hell with it! Let's go ahead anyway. It's a good piece of entertainment. I believe in it." Also, Destination Moon had been released in May, and was doing extremely good business at the box office.
Director Robert Wise was under non-exclusive contract to Fox, and was Blaustein's first choice to helm the picture, now announced to the press as being called Journey to the World. By the time North had completed his script, the New York office of Fox had requested another title change, to The Day the Earth Stood Still, a reference to the dramatic show of non-violent power that Klaatu demonstrates to the world. When North's screenplay was submitted to the Production Code Administration, the Breen Office stipulated that Klaatu could not be brought back to life in the film, because "only God can do that." North was flabbergasted. As he told Rubin, "[Klaatu] had to be brought back to life to make the final speech and provide the film's logical conclusion. Julian, Bob [Wise], and I debated this for a long time and we finally came up with a foolish compromise where Klaatu is brought back to life, but only for a limited period and where he mentions that the power of life and death lies not with Gort but with 'the all-mighty spirit.' It was really a nasty confrontation which had us all boiling over."
For the all-important role of Klaatu, name stars such as Spencer Tracy and Claude Rains were initially considered. Blaustein, however, felt that an actor unknown to American audiences would be more easily accepted as "a stranger in a strange land." Zanuck suggested a British actor who had recently made his American film debut in The Black Rose (1950), Michael Rennie. Rennie had just signed a long-term contract with Fox, but was not yet well-known. Fox contract player Patricia Neal was signed to play Helen Benson, the Earthling that Klaatu/ Mr. Carpenter relates to the closest. Her son Bobby was played by long-time child actor Billy Gray. Perfectly cast as Professor Barnhardt (obviously patterned after Albert Einstein), was character actor Sam Jaffe. After being given the part, Jaffe's name appeared in the infamous Red Channels pamphlet listing performers with supposed Communist connections. Jaffe was almost dismissed as the Hollywood Blacklist began, but Blaustein insisted that the actor be allowed to finish shooting. (Following The Day the Earth Stood Still, Jaffe did not appear again in films for several years).
Casting an actor to play the giant robot Gort (changed from "Gnut" in the story) was not an easy task. As quoted by Sergio Leeman in the book, Robert Wise On His Films, the director said, "Somebody remembered that the Grauman's Chinese Theater had in those days a terribly tall doorman. He was 7'7" and we hired him to be in that suit. He was not a strong man, and that suit was heavy. He could only stay in it for about half an hour at a time. He couldn't pick up Pat Neal." The man's name was Lock Martin - he was tall, but indeed quite frail, and many tricks had to be employed to make it appear as if Gort was all-powerful. Cutaways disguised the fact that viewers never see him pick up a person, and that lightweight dummies were substituted for the actors. Gort was designed to have a "fluid metal" appearance; the body of the suit was made of pliable, smooth latex. Seams were hidden by building two suits - one that laced up the back for shots showing the front, and another suit that laced in the front when Gort is seen walking away from the camera. The spare design, not to mention an ominous slit-for-an-eye that emits a deadly ray beam, ensured that Gort would be long remembered as one of the most effective film robots of all time.
Shooting on The Day the Earth Stood Still began on April 9. 1951 - it was budgeted at a generous $960,000, but 20th Century Fox head Zanuck was still insistent on holding down costs. He was particularly concerned with overshooting, and would fire off memos to directors if he felt that he was seeing too many set-ups during a day's rushes. Robert Wise later said, "I shot a sequence around the breakfast table in the boarding house, and I had planned carefully just the angles I needed to make the whole thing go together. Zanuck chose that one to write me a very harsh memo saying. 'I've been warning you about overshooting. ...I think this must stop now. Otherwise, I'm going to take some kind of measure.' I sat down and wrote him a very detailed memo of just what coverage I had and why I felt it was necessary. I never heard another thing from him."
The film wrapped principal photography on May 22, 1951. Wise supervised the post-production, which included several excellent optical effects shots. Department head Fred Sersen and effects artists Ray Kellogg, Emil Kosa, and L. B. Abbott executed shots of Gort's heat rays, and a particularly effective opening scene of Klaatu's ship landing on a baseball diamond in Washington. Also completed during post-production was the music score, composed by Bernard Herrmann. Director Wise and Herrmann had worked together on Orson Welles' first two films, Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), when Wise was an editor at RKO. For The Day the Earth Stood Still, Herrmann devised one of his greatest scores. He rearranged the standard film studio orchestra, first by dropping the string section entirely and replacing it with electronic violins and an electric bass. To this he added the exotic electronic instrument, the Theremin. Dr. Samuel Hoffman was brought in to play the instrument, which was double-tracked in most instances and also occasionally run in reverse.
Darryl F. Zanuck was delighted with the completed film, and wanted to send it out without even an audience preview. Blaustein and Wise were not as certain, however, and nervously previewed the film - they needn't have worried; "It worked beautifully," Wise later recalled. The Day the Earth Stood Still opened in Los Angeles on September 18th, and in New York ten days later. By the end of its first release, The Day the Earth Stood Still had racked up a worldwide gross of $1.8 million. The film retains its power to this day, and the movie's message of peace also resonates. Robert Wise later said, "I always want my films to have a comment to make. However, the comment should be made by the story itself, the development of the plot and the interplay of the characters, without having the actors say it in so many words. The Day the Earth Stood Still is an exception to that. The whole purpose of it was for Klaatu to deliver that warning at the end."
Producer: Julian Blaustein
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Edmund H. North, based on the story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Art Direction: Addison Hehr, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Makeup: Ben Nye
Special Effects: Fred Sersen
Cast: Michael Rennie (Klaatu), Patricia Neal (Helen Benson), Hugh Marlowe (Tom Stevens), Sam Jaffe (Prof. Jacob Barnhardt), Billy Gray (Bobby Benson), Frances Bavier (Mrs. Barley), Lock Martin (Gort).
by John M. Miller
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.
Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).
Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.
At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.
The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.- Klaatu
I'm worried about Gort. There's no limit to what he could do. He could destroy the earth!- Klaatu
I'm impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.- Klaatu
We have come to visit you in peace and with goodwill.- Klaatu
I won't resort to threats, Mr. Harley. I merely tell you the future of your planet is at stake.- Klaatu
The role of Klaatu was originally intended for Claude Rains.
The role of Gort was played by Lock Martin, the doorman from Grauman's Chinese, because he was extremely tall, but was unable to pick up Helen because he was so weak and had to be aided by wires. (In shots from the back where he's carrying her, it's actually a lightweight dummy in his arms.) He also had difficulty with the heavy Gort suit and could only stay in it for about half an hour at a time.
There were two Gort suits: one that laced up down the back for when he had his front to the camera, another that laced up in the front for the shots of his back.
The phrase "Klaatu barada nikto" has become a popular phrase among sci-fi fans over the years and has been featured in other movies; see also Army of Darkness (1993)."
To give the appearance of seamlessness to the space ship, the crack around the door was filled with putty, then painted over. When the door opened the putty was torn apart, making the door seem to simply appear.
The working titles of this film were Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World. Harry Bates's short story also appeared in a 1946 anthology of science fiction stories entitled Adventures in Time and Space. According to a May 1950 New York Times news item, Anne Baxter was originally cast in the role of "Helen Benson." Modern sources note that first Spencer Tracy and then Claude Rains were considered for the role of "Klaatu" before director Robert Wise saw British actor Michael Rennie perform in a Broadway play and cast him as the alien. Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Richard Allan and Duke Watson in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. A late April 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item speculated that Lowell Thomas would be appearing as himself in the film, along with noted journalists Drew Pearson, Gabriel Heater, H. V. Kaltenborn and Elmer Davis, but Thomas does not appear in the released film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items note that second unit "action" and backgrounds were filmed on location in Washington, D.C.
Although Perkins Bailey, the fashion and design editor of Look magazine, receives an onscreen credit for designing "Klaatu's" costume, information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicates that Bailey's credit was "a kind of publicity stunt." The costume was most likely designed by one of the studio's regular wardrobe personnel. A August 31, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the picture would be screened in New Orleans in early September 1951 at the annual convention of the Science-Fiction Writers of America.
In a modern interview, Wise claimed that the Department of Defense would not cooperate with the filming of the picture and provide needed equipment because it disagreed with the picture's theme. Wise instead obtained equipment and military extras from the Washington branch of the National Guard. According to a modern source, the film's musical score included parts for two theremins, which were played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman. Modern sources also include Major Sam Harris (Delegate) and Snub Pollard in the cast, and report that Lock Martin, who played "Gort," was over seven feet tall and worked as a doorman at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Modern sources also state that a free-standing model of Gort was used for long sequences in which the robot was to stand still, as the costume was too heavy for Martin to wear for protracted periods of time. A model of Gort's head was also used for close-ups.
The Day the Earth Stood Still received a Golden Globe Award as the "Best Film Promoting International Understanding." The picture, which is regarded by many film historians as one of the most influential and noteworthy of the 1950s cycle of science fiction films, received very positive reviews. The Time reviewer judged the picture to be "by far the best of Hollywood's recent flights into science-fiction." Gort is regarded by science fiction aficionados as one of the most best-loved and well-known of motion picture robots, and the command "Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto" has become a part of the American film lexicon.
The film marked the feature film debut of Stuart Whitman, here credited as "Kip Whitman." Rennie co-starred with Jean Peters in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story on January 4, 1954. In 1954, Patricia Neal starred in Stranger from Venus, an English remake of the film that was released in the U.S. as Immediate Disaster. The remake was directed by Burt Balaban and co-starred Helmut Dantine as the alien. Although Rennie had appeared in three previous Twentieth Century-Fox films, two shot in England and one filmed on location in Canada, The Day The Earth Stood Still was his first feature film made in the U.S. Rennie, who was under contract to the studio, appeared in many more films for Fox.
Released in United States 1978
Released in United States Fall September 18, 1951
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States on Video 1991
Released in United States September 1951
Selected in 1995 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States 1978 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - Bring the Kids) April 13 - May 7, 1978.)
Released in United States on Video 1991
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States September 1951
Released in United States Fall September 18, 1951