Directed by Val Guest
Starring Janet Munro, Leo McKern, Edward Judd
The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) is an almost impossibly good science fiction movie from Val Guest. It’s coming to Blu-Ray, with a new 2K restoration, in 2017 from Cohen Media Group.
The premise is very simple. Nuclear blasts at the North and South Poles knock the Earth off its axis and send it headed straight for the sun. Sweating and panic ensue as London prepares for what may be The End.
Seeing it as a kid, in a crappy pan and scan late-night TV airing, I was glued to the screen — wanting to throw a brick through the tube when the station went to a commercial break. Back then, I knew Leo McKern from Help! (1965) — “Psst! Hey, Be-a-tle! You shall have fun, yes?” — and Janet Munro from The Crawling Eye (1958) and Darby O’Gill And The Little People (1959). I was surprised to see them in something so dark and intense — and her so near-naked.
Val Guest’s direction here is top-notch. He got a tremendous amount of movie out of his paltry budget, masterfully using stock footage and matte paintings (by Les Bowie) to create London’s brink-of-desctruction weather. Today, we’d just throw CGI at this story and render it soulless — in 1961, writing, acting and craftsmanship came together to create something really special.
Also of note is Guest and DP Harry Waxman’s use of Dyaliscope, a French anamorphic process. The thought of their work in high definition has me giddy. As you can tell, I am a big fan of this movie. Can’t wait to slide this thing into my Blu-Ray player. As I see it, this one is essential.