The Day The Earth Caught Fire

While watching The Time Meddler with the production subtitles on, I saw a reference to this classic movie. It’s one I saw on TV once many years ago, and while I’d never exactly forgotten it, I hadn’t thought about it for a while. But having been reminded, I had a look on Amazon, saw it was moderately cheap, and ordered it. Going back to things you haven’t seen in ages is always a hit-or-miss thing. Some things seem just as good as they ever did, while others make you wonder what the heck you can have been thinking of all those years ago. Fortunately, this turned out to be in the former category.

The movie opens with a countdown running. It’s obviously blazing hot, civilisation is on the brink of collapse, and the (black and white) film is seen through a red haze (a cheap but quite effective trick). A journalist makes his way to the newspaper office (a lovely bit of history, this – all typewriters and hand set type…) and begins to type the story of what has happened. And so we flash back….

Made in 1961, the movie is an obvious product of the Cold War era – the trouble is started when the US and the USSR both test their biggest nuclear weapons ever in widely spaced locations at exactly the same time. The force is such that the Earth’s orbit is disturbed, and the planet is heading towards the sun. After much confusion, panic and secrecy, a plan is hatched to set off yet another big bomb in an effort to put the planet back where it belongs. Does it work? We never find out, which is an oddly satisfying end.

The movie stars Leo McKern (best known for Rumpole of the Bailey) as Bill Maguire, science correspondent who works it all out, Edward Judd as Peter Stenning, the only slightly stereotypical reporter with a drink problem who reports it, and Janet Munro as Jeannie Craig, who manages to get into a lot of trouble when she finds out what’s going on. The newsroom scenes were filmed in the actual offices of the Daily Express, and the editor was played by Arthur Christiansen, who was in fact the actual editor of the Express. It shows – he comes across as a real person doing a job, so appears less like an editor than an actor playing an editor would have done, but it works….

For a budget release, this DVD has a reasonable selection of extras – a commentary by director Val Guest, production notes and biographies, trailers and an archive interview with Leo McKern. Good fun, and recommended.