Director: Val Guest
I recently got 4 Blu Rays for £20 in Fopp so thought I’d review them as they are almost all new views to me.
A fresh 4K transfer from the BFI of Quatermass director, Val Guest’s apocalyptic drama, ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’ set in a London after two recent nuclear tests by opposing sides of the Cold War have led to climatic changes and possibly signal the end of the world as we know it. The staff of the Daily Express attempt to discover what is going on with top class investigative journalism (did I mention it was a fantasy?) as the world starts to burn.
It bears all the hallmarks of 50s60s science fiction – nuclear paranoia, a mistrust of the ruling classes and government, a slightly polemic and grandstanding screenplay (a BAFTA winning collaboration by Guest and Wolf Mankowitz) and a feeling that these mad scientists will be the death of us. What raises it above the schlock of films of this type is a more intelligent and nuanced approach which instead of showing the aftermath of a cataclysmic event gives us a sense of the world slowly falling apart. The sense that bumbling buffoons are in power, high handedly ignoring experts until it is too late and keeping the public in the dark – its could be 2016 if it wasn’t for the trust placed in the newspaper business.
Real life journalists Bernard Braden and Arthur Christiansen are cast to give some authenticity to the audience of 1961 but the latter is bloody terrible part from the final 20 seconds of his last scene. The cast has a mix of great British character actors aside relative unknowns – the great Leo McKern as the senior hack piecing it all together and delivering the line “They finally went an did it, the stupid arrogant bastards’ when THE TRUTH is revealed.
Edward Judd is a rather stereotypical alcoholic misogynistic cynical burnt out divorcee who “follows the money” and a juicy lead in the form of Janet Munro in a role that is anything but normal. She is an attractive single woman, living alone, sexually liberated, intelligent and doesn’t suffer fools – as a switchboard operator she isn’t the sort of dumb eye candy that actresses of the time were doomed to play. Other faces to spot are future Carry On stalwart Peter Butterworth, John Barron (CJ from Reggie Perrin) and Michael Caine as a traffic directing copper – all uncredited.
The film also benefits form documentary style scenes and use of archive footage that would have gives audiences flashbacks to the recent past of WW2, the devastation of the Blitz, the rationing and the nuclear bombs. All creating a more realistic and effecting film although the faith the filmmakers have in the value of the press doesn’t ring true today but the quality of the script makes the newsroom scenes believable whatever their true accuracy. The only misstep is the scenes of anarchy in the streets trigged by impending doom – youths running amok to a trad jazz soundtrack with rape, looting and drunken orgies replaced with waterfights, broken windows and student rag week naughtiness.
The print quality is stunning, the disc stuffed with documentaries, talks, interviews and relevant material – it’s the usual top quality release from the BFI
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Quatermass, Dr Strangelove, On The Beach, Fail – Safe