Was President Ronald Reagan thinking of this film when he addressed the United Nations in 1987: “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”
The film’s producer ,Julian Blaustein :
“One day one of the assistants in the story dept. came to me and said,’There’s a core here of an idea I’d like you to read’ – Harry Bates’ FAREWELL TO THE MASTER, a 42 page short story.
The main idea in the story is that peace in the Universe had been achieved by sacrificing some sovereignty to a central agency, but irrevocably.”
I’ve read this 1940 story by Harry Bates (1900 – 1981) which was published in ‘Astounding Science Fiction’. The story does indeed provide a framework for the film, but so much was added. The story revolves around a photojournalist who covers the appearance of a flying saucer which lands in Washington. As in the film, there is Klaatu but the robot is called Gnut.
Klaatu is killed . The robot and the saucer remain stationary and a museum and research laboratory are built round them. The reporter discovers that the robot enters the ship each night. He is trying to create a copy of Klaatu.
Eventually Gnut is ready to leave and the reporter tells him that he must tell his masters that Klaatu’s death was an accident.
The kicker to the story is when Gnut finally speaks and says,
“You misunderstand – I am the master.”
I loved the story. It was sold for $1,000 and Harry Bates got $500.
It was adapted by Edmund H. North ( whose other screenplays include Colorado Territory, Cowboy,The Proud Ones). He also co-wrote the 2008 remake ( of which the less said the better).
North is credited with the famous line,
“KLAATU BARADA NICKTO”
There is no official translation for the three words, but Klaatu (Michael Rennie) had told Helen (Patrica Neal) :
“There is no limit to what Gort can do. He could destroy the Earth……..if anything happens to me, you must go to Gort, you must say these words…..”
The words have been described as a fail safe feature, perhaps meaning “Do not retaliate.”
The script can be seen at scifiscripts.com.
The alien ship about to land in Washington.
Gort appears for the first time.
Klaatu descends from the ship. With his helmet on, he does look alien.
Klaatu is injured by one of the soldiers.
Klaatu tries to find out what life on Earth is like. He stays at a boarding house where Bobby ( Billy Gray )and his mother Helen (Patricia Neal )live.
The casting of Klaatu took some time.
Julian Blaustein,(producer of the film) :
“Zanuck and I were talking cast – I always felt Klaatu should be somebody the audience had never seen…..Zanuck said, ‘I gave the script to Spencer Tracy – he’s crazy about it.’
I said, ‘Darryl, it’s all wrong. If that spaceship opens up and this character steps off and walks down the ramp and it’s Spencer Tracy, there’s no credibility.”
Robert Wise (director) fancied Claude Rains and said,
“Fortunately for us he was tied up in a play in New York……we got a memo from Darryl Zanuck – ‘I just back from London and saw a play with an interesting looking young man in it – I’ve signed him to a contract with Fox – I think you should look at him as a possibility.’
And so Michael Rennie became Klaatu. And how perfect he was.
Gort’s laser like weapon is projected from beneath the head visor and vaporises anything in its path. Accompanied by the eerie sound of the theremin music of Bernard Hermann, when the visor opens, danger is palpable.
Gort was played by LOCK MARTIN, an usher at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He was seven feet tall but producer Julian Blaustein didn’t think he looked massive enough, so lifts were put inside the feet of the suit.
Gort’s foam rubber suit was built by ADDISON HEHR. Actually two suits were made, one opening at the front, and one opening at the back, so that the robot would appear seamless.
Also, a fibreglass statue was used when Gort was not required to move.
Great use of lighting when Klaatu is first seen by the residents of the boarding house.
The first title of the film was THE DAY THE EARTH STOPS.
Sam Jaffe plays Professor Barnhardt whom Klaatu goes to see with a view to arranging a meeting of world leaders.
After Sam Jaffe was cast the producer was asked by the casting director to replace him – Sam was considered a risk because he had been listed in the infamous Red Channels. This was his last film for several years.
To get the world’s attention quickly, Klaatu arranges for everything electronic to come to a halt ( except for emergency services and planes) for half an hour.
Klaatu communicates with Gort using a flashlight.
And young Bobby sees what Klaatu is doing.
Robert Wise said, “Billy Gray was one of the best child actors I have ever worked with.”
Another marvellous black and white shot inside the space ship.
Lock Martin’s height didn’t translate into strength.
Director ROBERT WISE:
“He was not a very strong man and that suit was heavy. He couldn’t pick up Pat Neal. For the shot where she falls against the chairs and he’s coming towards her, I planned to let him go behind a door, stopped filming and held on the door.
With the help of a crane, we picked Pat up, turned him around and put her in his arms.
So when we started the camera again, he walked out of the frame with Pat being carried all the way by a wire. Then on the reverse shot, we put a lightweight dummy in his arms.”
Gort treats Klaatu who has been shot and killed. . Joseph Breen of the Production Code office objected to Klaatu’s ‘resurrection ‘ and Gort’s limitless power. So a line was added that the power of life and death was reserved to the almighty spirit.
Klaatu, before he leaves, gives his final message to the world’s leaders who have assembled :
“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.”
And a final farewell salute from Klaatu to Helen.
Variety liked the film with a few reservations –
“…….only seldom does its moralistic wordiness get in the way.”
The New York Times thought “Gort is oddly unmenacing.”
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave the film a special Golden Globe for promoting international understanding.
ON THE SET
Michael Rennie and Robert Wise in the centre.
The scene of crowds fleeing after Gort appears from the ship does not look good . Robert Wise said that the extras wouldn’t move away quickly enough and didn’t looked panicked enough, so he allowed the scene to be speeded up in post production.
It didnt work.
Gort at the EMP Museum,Seattle.
I was amazed to come across a film on You Tube , STRANGER FROM VENUS(1954) Called “Immediate Disaster” in the States, it starred Patricia Neal, with Helmut Dantine as an alien from Venus who has come to meet representatives of Earth.
Made in the UK, it’s a real rip-off with no space ship, no special effects and no Gort!
(Patricia Neal was then living in the UK, having married Roald Dahl.)
I’m not showing the poster which has Gort holding a female with long blonde hair who looks nothing like Patricia Neal, and a hand gripping the globe.
The following are much better.
I love this film. Can you tell!