Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Welcome to the Brotherhood of Planets! THE 27TH DAY (1957)
TCM recently aired this obscure sci fi film and it actually had me crying at the end, with the (SPOILER ALERT) entire United Nations joined in peace and brotherhood, inviting an alien race to live on earth, and said race in turn welcoming them to the inter-stellar brotherhood of alien life (after first magically killing all our evil people). It's easy to cautiously imagine us all one day reaching this pinnacle level, but the way things are going, frankly, I just don't see it. I don't even see other people seeing it.
But it's comforting to remember a time when at least some of us dared to hope.
The plot involves the dissemination of five little pillboxes each containing three capsules with enough power to kill all human life on any 3,000 square mile area of the earth (but leave the trees and wildlife). The aliens entrust these boxes to five apparently randomly selected Earthlings, but then they also broadcast who they gave them to, on every channel in the world. They do this because their planet is dying but they're non-violent so they can't take over Earth; they can only give us the means to speed up our own demise. If we hold out from using any of the capsules for 27 days, we win; they die.
Naturally it all boils down to one set being in the hands of the Russians, one in the hands of the states. But what happens next you'll never guess and you shouldn't. You should just keep an eye out for when this next comes on TCM and set your timer.
Gene (War of the Worlds) Barry stars as one of the pill box inheritors. He hides out with the British representative, a middle-class bird played with striking understatement by Valerie French. They're both good in their clinches, but it's not the kind of movie that stresses characterization or romance or acting or writing. It's Stanley Kramer-esque in that it's about moral "ideas" but it works because it eliminates Kramer's humorless sermonizing. The script is by William Asher, a TV writer, based on his novel-- it has both sci fi novel and Twilight Zone-ish tropes about it, without being either campy or overly concerned with trick endings and Big Ideas. The special effects are interesting, cheap but interesting, with the alien a clear inspiration for Dudley Manlove in Plan Nine from Outer Space. There's not a lot of action, per se, but it stays riveting through to the end. I like it much better than the similar and technically superior Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Fans of The Dark Knight will recognize in the five capsule alien gambit some of the Joker's old tricks, but in this case the murky cesspool of humanity is actually something more than a mere polemic pawn to let poli-sci majors feel they're not wasting their time being all nerdy obsessed with Chris Nolan. Maybe if we saw more movies where everyone stops fighting and starts being nice and peaceful, then we could be that way too, and then the aliens who walk among us in "real life" would make themselves known? It's something to contemplate.
That of all of the 1950s sci fi movies I've seen ad nauseum since the UHF TV days, the 27th Day-so hopeful and open-hearted--wasn't on the radar til just now, should be the one to move me, is surely no accident. The world might have been a completely different place if this little sci fi butterfly hadn't been trampled on by the steel-tipped boot of time and indifference all these decades. It's the happiest ending to any politically-savvy film I've ever seen since Viva Maria! It may not have Brigitte Bardot, but then again who does? (read that last line in the voice of James Edward Olmos in Bladerunner). Let us pray that one day our kindness will be rewarded by having our garden finally and at last weeded so wisely and well that even that douche in class who has to argue every last point in some misguided hope of getting an A and or a girl, will finally get what he really deserves -- an incineration feedback overload of his own leftist self-regard until his head explodes... and then at last, and only then, can we all move on... as one... and the Baradot shall then appear unto us all, as it is written in the tolling of the Louis Malle belles!