Friday, April 5, 2013

Silver Screen Stories: The 27th Day

You just don't see awesome hand drawn movie art like this anymore....

Much like the countless classic video games that most people have likely never heard of, so too exist countless classic movies, many of which are truly great, that people aren't but should be made aware of. So naturally I'll be taking it upon myself to turn you all onto those over time as well. One such movie is a fairly obscure number called "The 27th Day". One of many classic films that I unfortunately never saw growing up and knew nothing about until well into my adulthood, I had the distinct pleasure of learning about this little gem through the wonders of Turner Classic Movies (THE best channel on television). While I tend to get enjoyment out of most classic horror, fantasy or science fiction movies, there are some that rise above the cliches and tropes of their genres, and genuinely surprise you with depth and substance.

Ominous title. Misleading (but awesome) movie poster. What's going on here?

Released in 1957 (a VERY popular year for sci fi films), "The 27th Day" was the creation of one John Mantley, most famous for his work with the classic television show "Gunsmoke", who wrote both the original story it was based on, as well as the screenplay adaptation. It was produced, in a rare instance back in those days, by a woman, Helen Ainsworth, an actress who also acted as an agent and produced several films, and it was directed by William Asher. The movie stars Gene Barry (from the 1953 War of the Worlds), Valerie French and Arnold Moss. 

In a nutshell, the story starts with 5 citizens of the world, an American reporter (Barry), an English woman (French), a Chinese peasant, a German physicist, and a Russian solider, being suddenly taken from their daily lives and placed aboard an alien spacecraft. There they are met by a mysterious stranger (Moss), who refers to himself only as "The Alien", who proceeds to present them with a fantastic story, and an even more fantastic and unbelievable opportunity. "The Alien" represents a race whose planet's sun is soon to go nova, and thus they must find a new world to inhabit very soon. They have chosen Earth, but their strict moral code does not allow them to simply move in and kill the humans, so instead they have devised a plan. They will give each of the 5 citizens a box, that only their brainwaves can open, and in each box is contained 3 small capsules, which individually have enough power to wipe out every human life within a 3000 mile radius. The catch is, that while they fully expect, given what they've seen of human history, that the humans will use the capsules to destroy each other, thus leaving the Earth open for new tenants, the humans also have the choice to NOT use such power, in which case after 27 days the capsules will become inert and useless, forcing the Aliens to find someplace else to move to.

"All the power in the world. What would you do with it?"

Sufficed to say, not exactly the setup that the movie poster implies, is it? Alien Invasion movies were big hits in the 1950s, so the studio (in this case Columbia Pictures) obviously thought they'd make more money promoting it as such. Kind of like "The Day the Earth Stood Still", I assume. While this film had a very small budget (the flying saucer clip is taken right out of "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers"), it makes up for it in good plot, good acting, and a nice sense of human drama. The 5 humans are of course set back in their home countries, with 27 days to play out whether or not humanity will use these weapons of destruction. Not to spoil too much, but the women in this story turn out to make the right decision before anyone, as Evelyn (the Englishwoman) throws her box in the English Channel immediately upon arrival back to Earth, and Su Tan (the Chinese peasant girl) chooses to kill herself instead of allowing anyone to get their hands on her capsules. That of course leaves the three men still in possession of theirs, and thus the movie goes. The film is surprising, again for it's time (considering McCarthyist bullshit of the day, the Cold War, etc.), in that it depicts the Russian and Chinese characters as having just as much moral fiber and humanity as thier "Western" counterparts, with Su Tan dramatically taking her own life to avert destruction, and Communist Russian soldier Ivan Godofsky bravely refusing to tell his superiors about the weapon.

To make matters worse, "The Alien" soon announces to the entire world not only that the capsules exist and what they can do, but even points out exactly who has them. Godofsky's superiors torture him and eventually get him to open his box, while the American Johnathan Clark and the German scientist Klaus Bechner are persuaded to work with the American government to try and prevent the Russians' inevitable attack. So the story goes, and while I don't want to spoil the ending, I will just say that all in all it's a very compelling and brilliantly executed film.

I would highly suggest anyone to watch it, whether they're a fan of classic science fiction or not. It's a great movie, and one of the rare ones that is not only entertaining but makes you think. So if you can, find a way to watch it, and enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Welcome Retro Revolutionaries! Feel free to leave your own thoughts or feedback on these fantastic retro memories!