Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

In Robert Wise's and 20th Century Fox's seminal, big budget science-fiction film - based on Edmund H. North's adaptation of the 42-page 1940 short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates; the cautionary tale not only examined wider issues of politics and society, but also human emotions and frailties. Its anti-nuclear war message of peace was presented almost evangelically by a Christ-like figure that came to announce an ultimatum - the destruction of Earth rather than redemption, and then ascended back into the heavens. This classic science-fiction film featured state-of-the-art visual effects and seamless model miniatures.

The B/W cinematography of Leo Tover emphasized expressionistic dark noirish shadows - not typical for sci-fi films. Much like the "drive in movies" of the 1950's, such as The War of the Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), this influential, fantasy sci-fi film featured state-of-the-art visual effects and salient social commentary on the Cold War and warfare, and a memorable score by Bernard Herrmann. More parallels could be drawn between the alien in this film and Thomas Newton (David Bowie) in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976, UK):

  • in the film's intriguing title sequence, an extra-terrestrial vessel approached into the Earth's atmosphere, emphasized by the electronic sounds of theremin theme music; a flying saucer-spaceship landed on the Ellipse (the President's Park South) in Washington, DC in mid-July of 1951 - causing a panic and US Army troop deployment
  • a humanoid, benevolent, pacifist, interplanetary alien emissary-visitor named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerged from the space-craft; he walked down a ramp, held out his hand, and announced - in English - that he brought a message of good-will and peace: "We have come to visit you in peace and with good will" - but when he pulled out a device or object from inside his spacesuit (later described as an intergalactic viewing device - a gift to the US President), an edgy soldier fired his weapon; in his first few moments of human contact, Klaatu was shot in the left arm by the nervous soldier, and the device was shattered in pieces and seen lying on the ground next to the wounded Klaatu

Klaatu with a Gift-Device, Offering Good-Will and Peace

Shot in Left Arm and Wounded on the Ground

Shattered Telescope Object Brought by Klaatu on the Ground
  • suddenly, through the hatch of the vessel-ship emerged Klaatu's silent, killer bodyguard - a giant robot named (Gort). He descended the ramp from the ship and confronted the military force. With his ability, when threatened, to zap (vaporize or melt) the soldiers' weapons, tanks and giant guns, he deployed a lethal, disintegration, Cyclops-like death-ray laser beam heat-ray behind his sliding visor, and quickly melted the weapons without hurting any humans, but then was ordered to desist by Klaatu: ("Gort! Deglet ovrosco!"). The robot, an interstellar guardian - a member of a police force, also had the power to destroy worlds such as Earth, whose inhabitants were intent on destruction, aggression, and hostility
  • afterwards, Klaatu was hospitalized at Walter Reed for surgery to remove the bullet from his arm; he described how he brought a message from a neighboring planet 250 million miles away (a five month journey) that needed to be delivered simultaneously to all of the world leaders at one time - convened together. "I want to meet with representatives from all the nations of the Earth"; Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy), the President's business-like secretary, gave a long-winded excuse about the impossibility of such a meeting, and how therre were lots of political differences between nations and looming crises to solve
  • meanwhile, back at the spaceship at 2 am, engineers and metallurgical experts found both Gort (standing immobile at a silent vigil) and the vessel "impregnable"
  • two military doctors at the hospital, Medical Corps Major (Jim Doyle) and Army Physician (Lawrence Dobkin) were astounded that Klaatu was so human-like and was 78 years old (with life expectancy of 130); a third doctor Major White (Robert Osterloh) was bewildered that Klaatu healed himself quickly with a salve
  • the next day, Mr. Harley returned to report that cables telegrammed to world leaders the previous evening to invite them to a meeting in Washington DC were met with criticism and rejection
  • although expressly told not to leave the hospital, the alien Klaatu daringly walked out (escaped) and went into hiding during a massive manhunt, posing as a typical 1950s businessman; Klaatu took the name "Carpenter" after 'borrowing' the name and clothing of a Maj. Carpenter (Lieutenant Major Carpenter) at the hospital, whose cleaned and pressed 'gray flannel suit' had just been returned from the dry cleaner's (Post Exchange Cleaners) with a tag attached to the right forearm sleeve

Mrs. Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), Single Mother and War Widow

Bobby (Billy Gray), 10 year-old son

Helen with Boyfriend-Fiancee Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe)
  • he noticed a "ROOM FOR RENT" sign, and decided to enter the boarding house where he rented a room on the second floor from elderly landlady Mrs. Crockett ((Edith Evanson); he found himself residing with a human family (single mother/WWII war widow Mrs. Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her inquisitive 10 year-old son Bobby (Billy Gray)) and others; his intent remained - to observe and understand their strange Earthly lives: ("I think I should get out among your people, and become familiar with the basis for these strange, unreasoning attitudes"); his other goal was to attempt to establish contact with Earth's leading scientists
  • the next day, a Sunday morning, two days after the Friday afternoon spaceship landing, radio broadcasts reported the alien to be a "monster," "wild animal," "creature," or "menace from another world"; everyone expressed their suspicions or worries about the mission of the extra-terrestrial - would it be harmless or harmful?
  • Klaatu was led on a tour of Washington DC by young Bobby, including various tourist attractions and sites, plus a visit to Arlington Cemetery (and the grave of Bobby's father, who was killed at Anzio in January of 1944) - Klaatu was amazed: ("Did all those people die in wars?") because where he came from, there were no wars; Klaatu was impressed with the Lincoln Memorial (and its inscribed Gettysburg Address); they also visited the heavily-guarded spaceship (with atomic power) still sitting on the Ellipse, with Gort standing immobile and keeping a silent vigil
  • Klaatu met with Bobby's recommendation for "the smartest man in the world" -- the Einstein-like scientist character Dr. Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) who resided in the suburbs of the city; the two visited his home, but he wasn't there; after glancing into the Professor's library-study through the side French doors and noticing a complex mathematical equation-problem on a blackboard, Klaatu entered without authorization and left some scribbled suggestions to solve the problem, along with his "calling card"; the frantic housekeeper Hilda (Marjorie Crossland) returned home, caught them inside, and reported them to the authorities
  • later that Sunday evening, a government agent named Brady (Tyler McVey) arrived to escort 'Carpenter' to see Dr. Barnhardt; shortly later, an Army Captain (Mike Ragan) delivered 'Carpenter' to confer with the frizzy-haired Dr. Barnhardt in his study; after Barnhardt thanked 'Carpenter' for his solution to the problem, the Professor expressed his curiosity about Klaatu and his mission to Earth; Klaatu explained that other alien peoples threatened to completely eliminate Earth (after its development of atomic power) if they didn't seek peace and heed his message; he warned Earthlings to not be irresponsible with the new nuclear technology that could endanger other alien worlds, or otherwise Earth would itself face "very grave danger"; he again stressed his need to convene and speak to world leaders; the spaceman warned that there was "no alternative" if the meeting failed - if Earth didn't seek peace and heed the message; Barnhardt said he would attempt to convene to be effective, Klaatu was urged to present a powerful "demonstration of force" before the meeting
  • on Monday, Bobby was cautioned by his mother to see and think less of 'Carpenter,' who was being viewed suspiciously and dismissively by her serious boyfriend-fiancee Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), an ambitious Treasury Department employee; that evening, Bobby watched as 'Carpenter' surreptitiously left the boarding house and approached the Ellipse, where he signaled to Gort with a flashlight; as a result, Gort lumbered toward two military sentries and knocked them unconscious; Bobby suddenly realized that 'Carpenter' was the notorious fugitive alien; he watched as Klaatu entered the spaceship, and communicated with other aliens from the ship's circular control center
Bobby Watching as 'Carpenter' Signaled Gort at Spaceship with Flashlight
  • when Bobby returned home, the skeptical Helen and Tom didn't believe his fantastic story, until Tom found a diamond (alien currency) on the floor of 'Carpenter's' room (and the next day was astounded by a jeweler's (Wheaton Chambers)) appraisal that it was an extremely rare gem)

Rare Valuable Diamond Found by Tom in 'Carpenter's' Room

Helen and 'Carpenter' Trapped In Elevator During Power Outage

Power Outage Worldwide - "The Day The Earth Stood Still"
  • midday on Tuesday, the next day, Klaatu confronted Helen at her Department of Commerce workplace, and as he asked her to tell what Bobby had told her the previous night, they were mysteriously trapped at noon in an elevator, due to a power outage; Klaatu explained that he was responsible - it was a deliberate demonstration of the aliens' power over the industrial complex, by shutting down the world's power supply for 30 minutes (hence, the film's title "The Day the Earth Stood Still"); the breakdown affected all mechanical and electrical devices, all forms of transportation, and many other services or operations (except for hospitals, planes in flight, etc.)
  • Professor Barnhardt was pleased that all of the scientists he had invited to the city had arrived and would be assembling for the evening's meeting at 8:30 pm at the spaceship with the spaceman; however, the manhunt for Klaatu intensified, and efforts were made by Colonel Ryder (George Lynn) at the Pentagon to immobilize the giant robot, encased in a solid block of clear, transparent plastic
  • that same evening at 6:00 pm, Helen calmly confirmed to Tom that she already knew about 'Carpenter's' real identity: "I know it's true" - and begged for him to not expose his discovery to anyone; contrary to her urgent feelings, the distrustful and self-serving Tom betrayed her and reported the menacing 'Carpenter' to the authorities to gain notoriety and popularity - Helen promptly broke off their relationship ("I'm not going to marry anybody")
  • Helen returned to the boarding house to alert 'Carpenter' to the intense hunt for him; they shared a taxi-ride to Dr. Barnhardt's place for him to hide before the 8:30 pm meeting at the saucer, when he gave Helen specific instructions - urgently fearing that something was about to happen to him: "If anything should happen to me, you must go to Gort. You must say these words: Klaatu barada nikto. Please repeat that....You must remember those words...Get that message to Gort, right away"
  • at a roadblock, the two fled from the taxi, and Klaatu was shot and mortally-wounded when he fled down the street, by a .30 caliber mounted machine gun on a military jeep; Helen escaped and continued on to the spaceship
  • at the Ellipse, sensing Klaatu's death, Gort awakened, melted the block around him, and then vaporized two guard approaching with their weapons; at the entrance to the enclosure surrounding the spaceship, Helen was menaced by the shadowy approach of Gort; to save herself, she delivered the failsafe command of three words - "Klaatu barada nikto" given to her by Klaatu - to prevent the menacing Gort looming above her from killing her and destroying the planet after Klaatu had been shot (and killed) by troops; afterwards, the robot carried Helen in his arms into the spaceship
Gort Menacing Helen Benson Outside the Spaceship Before She Commanded Him: "Klaatu barada nikto" - He Carried Her Back Into the Spaceship
  • after locking Helen inside the spaceship, Gort strode across town to the precinct police station and retrieved Klaatu's corpse, and brought it back to the interior of the saucer and placed it in a rectangular chamber - where Klaatu was soon revived and temporarily resurrected and brought back to life
  • although the assembly of scientists at the Ellipse was about to be called off by the military, they were shocked by the opening of the spaceship ramp, and the appearance of Gort and space-suited Klaatu (with Helen by his side before she walked down the ramp and joined the audience)
Klaatu's Farewell Address Before Departing
  • the film ended with a soft-spoken final scene, when the resurrected extra-terrestrial Klaatu delivered a pro-disarmament address to the scientists and other top leaders of Earth's governments - he lectured and warned world leaders with a final challenge and proclamation, as robot Gort stood behind him near the entrance to their spaceship - he explained that his alien planet had created "a race of robots" - deadly police enforcers such as Gort - to mutually protect themselves, and to impartially curtail aggressive nations and preserve peace; the enforcers were designed to swiftly destroy any violent acts of aggression: ("...but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. 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")
  • Gort re-entered the spacecraft, and then, after gesturing goodbye with an extended arm to Helen, Klaatu also entered the spaceship before the craft glowed in preparation for departure; it caused panic among the attendees who retreated to the inside of the enclosed perimeter for safety; the humming saucer rose up vertically and quickly sped off into the night sky

Soldiers and Tanks Surrounding the Space Saucer

Spaceship Landing in DC

Alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) in a Shiny, Metal Space-Suit

Giant Robot Gort - Klaatu's Silent Bodyguard

Gort's Laser Beam Disintegrated Soldiers' Weapons

Klaatu Hospitalized, But Bringing a Message of Peace

Adopting the Name "Carpenter"

Klaatu Disguised as a 1950s Businessman in Suit

Fears About Spacemen and Aliens Magnified

'Carpenter' Touring the Lincoln Memorial with Bobby

Klaatu/'Carpenter' at Dr. Barnhardt's (Sam Jaffe) Blackboard

Later, Dr. Barnhardt in His Home with 'Carpenter'

Gort Approaching Two Sentries at Spaceship to Knock Them Out

Klaatu Inside Spaceship at Circular Control Center

Headlines: Hunt for "Space Man" Intensified

Helen's Argument and Breakup With Tom Over Exposing the Space Man's Identity

Klaatu Sharing Code Words to Helen in Taxi: "Klaatu barada nikto"

Klaatu Shot and Mortally Wounded by Military Police While Fleeing

Gort Zapping Two More Military Police Guards

Klaatu Brought Back to Interior of Ship and Revived

Emerging From the Space Ship

Dr. Barnhardt Marveling With Scientists and Listening to Klaatu's Concluding Speech


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