The Day the Earth Caught Fire (UK)

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The Day the Earth Caught Fire (UK)

Post  BoG on Tue Jul 20, 2010 12:44 am

Mankind - or the ones in charge - have done it this time! Nuclear explosions have caused the Earth to steadily move closer to the sun. Things heat up. See also Crack in the World (1965) and the much later The Core (2003) for similar scenarios. The same year as this, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea also depicted an Earth rapidly heating up; and there was a Twilight Zone episode around this same time - Midnight Sun - what was it with the year 1961 and global warming on film?
Much of the film centers on a big city newspaper office (in London); this actually also recalled the Superman film (1978) for me. The main character is an alcoholic reporter (Edward Judd) who used to be hot (so to speak); this big big story kind of rejuvenates him and his career - even though it may be his last story, heh-heh. He breaks the story thanks to his new relationship with the extra hot Janet Munro character. Leo McKern plays the science guy at the paper; he's the one who usually forwards more specific doomsday info to the audience, such as that they have about 4 months left before mankind is roasted.
There were ominous signs before everyone gets the full story. There's a strange eclipse (strange in that there was no eclipse scheduled); temperatures rise to unprecedented heights; people begin to really sweat; a mist rolls into London, etc. - then a storm hits - a hurricane - with winds strong enough to turn over a double-decker bus (a model obviously but not bad for its time).  At first, it's believed that the Earth has been tilted on its axis - no biggie. Then the really bad news hits. Aieee.. time for the youth of London to indulge in violent water orgies. The Thames River dries up.

We switch to the orange-reddish tint at the end (which we started the film with). The film is in b&w but the first few minutes and the climax have the illusion of color to suggest intense heat.

ABOVE: London suffers under the heatwave... and don't rely on the headlines...

This has some startling images for its time, mostly courtesy of Les Bowie and his matte paintings. Some of the wide London shots offer a near-epic apocalyptic scope (the story sticks to the London area even though this is a worldwide calamity). Arthur Christiansen was not an actor; he'd recently retired as a real newspaper editor; all the scenes in the newspaper office have an authenticity to them and much of this is thanks to Christiansen. Overall, the film is adult in tone; it's not a kid flick. This is thanks to writer-director Val Guest, who strived for realism even with such a fantastic premise; this was his most personal project.
Btw, Michael Caine shows up in one scene at the 90-minute mark as a copper giving instructions to Judd's character.

This was Judd's first starring role (he'd been on TV and in small parts in films before this); he does very well as the realistic central character. He's not typically heroic, with some character faults, but shows that with the right woman, he can improve himself. The right woman is Munro, of course; she has some of the most sultry and seductive shots of sixties cinema here - and in a sci-fi film. This was rare. She's also very good in the role. McKern was his old reliable self. BoG's Score: 8 out of 10


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