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The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)

01/10/2009. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy The Day The Earth Caught Fire in the USA - or Buy The Day The Earth Caught Fire in the UK

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Region 2 DVD: pub: Network B002GDM322. 96 minute DVD with no extras. Price: 5.99 (UK). stars: Edward Judd, Janet Munro and Leo McKern.

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'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' was originally released in 1961 at the height of the cold war when we all expected to be obliterated at any moment by an exchange of hydrogen bonds. Directed by Val Guest, it relates the cataclysmic consequences of nuclear testing by the Russians and Americans tilted the Earth. The movie just gets hotter and hotter!

Action is centred around The Daily Express newspaper. Stalwart of early sixties Science Fiction, Edward Judd plays a newspaper reporter, a little burnt-out on failed relationships and alcohol but still able to follow a good story. His girlfriend, played by the attractive Janet Munro who died in tragic circumstances at the age of 38, works at the government metrological office and is able to pass on information about the serious climatic changes taking place.

We also have amongst many notable actors of the day Leo McKern, probably familiar to many as 'Rumpole Of The Bailey', playing the part of a news editor but by far the most commanding performance was given by someone who wasn't really an actor. Arthur Christiansen played the part of The Daily Express editor and if anything the movie is worth watching for this alone. In fact, Christiansen, a former editor of the same newspaper, was responsible for doubling its circulation to 4,000,000. These were the glory days of newspapers! Having retired shortly before the movie was made, this was his one and only role. Sadly, he died not long after from a heart attack but if ever you need to know what a newspaper editor looked like, then he is your man.

The story unfolds as temperatures increase. Over the summer, pleasant weather of sandy beaches and amusement parks turn into the trauma of suffocating fogs, hurricanes, drought and public panic. The tempo increases steadily! Throughout the movie the acting, if slightly stereotypical on occasions, is dramatic and riveting. The frenetic action is centred around the newspaper where you will be treated to an accurate representation of what used to happen in their offices.

Edward Judd as the reporter finds out that the government has been keeping back information about the impending doom of the entire planet. This information is released to the public. Not so much rioting but rather a riotous party engulfs most of the population when they realise all hope seems to be lost. However, a last ditch attempt takes place when the Russians and Americans detonate more nuclear bombs in an attempt to tilt our planet back into its proper position.

As mentioned, this movie takes place during the cold war. Ban the bomb demonstrations were common. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in the midst of many hydrogen bomb tests by America, the Soviet Union, France and Britain, we didn't really know the effects on the planet and the environment. During the 1950s when the first hydrogen bombs were exploded (basically an atomic bomb within a large tank of dry cleaning fluid), nobody knew what the true results would be. The scientists were largely young whiz kids in their twenties, the equivalent of boy racers today, but despite being brilliant academically they had no real idea of what life was about. Nobody knew whether or not a chain reaction would take place that would engulf the entire planet. Of course, the fact that we are here means it didn't happen.

Despite this, the message delivered by movie is still relevant and instead of hydrogen bombs we've got mismanagement of the climate. 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' could still happen. This is an excellent movie which has stood against the passage of time and for a modest cost it could be yours. Definitely recommended.

Rod MacDonald

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