The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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German title The day the earth stood still
Original title The Day the Earth Stood Still
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1951
length 88 minutes
USA: 92 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Robert Wise
script Edmund H. North
production Julian Blaustein
music Bernard Herrmann
camera Leo Tover
cut William H. Reynolds

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original title: The Day the Earth Stood Still ) is in black and white twisted science fiction - film from the year 1951. It was directed by Robert Wise . The feature film on the story Farewell to the Lord (Original title: Farewell to the Master ) by Harry Bates is based, is now one of the classics of its genre.


An alien flying object lands in Washington, DC and is encircled by the army. A man in a space suit climbs out of the spaceship and pledges to come in peace; however, he is shot by a nervous soldier as he takes out of his spacesuit an item that was intended as a gift for the President of the United States . Then a giant robot named Gort gets out of the spaceship and atomizes all guns, tanks and artillery pieces of the armed forces aimed at him with a laser-like beam, but without injuring the soldiers with these weapons until he remains still at the call of the injured person. Gort has shown that no weapon on earth can stop him. The alien, who looks like a human, is taken to a hospital, where he introduces himself as Klaatu to a secretary of the US President . He asked that the leaders of all nations be called because he has an important message to bring. According to the secretary, this is impossible for political reasons.

Shortly afterwards, Klaatu flees the hospital unnoticed and hires himself as “Mr. Carpenter ”at a boarding house in Washington. He made closer acquaintance with the roommate Helen Benson and her son Bobby. When Helen goes on a trip with her boyfriend Tom, Klaatu and Bobby are walking through town. Among other things, they will visit the Lincoln Memorial . Impressed by the Gettysburg Address , Klaatu sees that there are people out there who would understand his message. Bobby leads him to the physicist Professor Barnhardt.

Klaatu reveals his identity to Barnhardt and reports that the aliens have been watching people for some time. The use of nuclear power for nuclear weapons in connection with the beginning of space travel could not be allowed. Barnhardt is ready to organize a meeting of high-level scientists. He recommends Klaatu to give the humans a harmless but impressive demonstration of extraterrestrial power.

The next day, all non-essential electrical devices stop for half an hour . Klaatu now reveals herself to Helen. Tom, now suspicious, has gathered evidence and informs the army that “Mr. Carpenter “is the wanted alien. Helen escapes with Klaatu. If something should happen to him, he instructs them to stop Gort - the robot that remained motionless next to the spaceship the whole time - with the words " Klaatu Barada Nikto "; otherwise it would wipe out humanity.

In fact, Klaatu is shot dead by the military. Helen runs to the spaceship and calls out the decisive words to Gort. Gort then fetches Klaatu's corpse and resuscitates him in the spaceship. All three get out of the spaceship, in front of which scientists from all over the world have now gathered. Klaatu declares that he is the emissary of a large federation of planets. In order to make wars impossible for all time, they have created a race of powerful robots that constantly monitor them and have the irrevocable orders to destroy every aggressor. This would prevent wars. One would not interfere in the affairs of mankind insofar as they only concern these - but every possibility of attacking other planets would result in the complete annihilation of mankind. Either the earth will coexist peacefully with the other planets, or it will stick to its previous way - but then with the risk of doom.


The film is a definite commentary on the Cold War and western paranoia against communism and Soviet agents. For example, during a table conversation in the film, a woman says that she doesn't believe that Klaatu comes from Mars, but from Earth. So she thinks he's just a Russian spy. While the armed military clearly appears as a threat in the film, science, on the other hand, appears as a sanctuary, as representatives of all nations gather around the spaceship during the conference shown in the film. In addition, the highly developed technology of the aliens cannot harm the force of arms; she is superior to her. This reflects the great confidence in science, which was much stronger in the 1950s. This correlates with the belief in progress that prevailed at the time the film was made: Although nuclear weapons in connection with interstellar space travel are viewed by Klaatu as the decisive threat, he emphasizes in the scene where he stands with Bobby in front of the spaceship that nuclear power is also for peaceful purposes and not only can be used for bombs. As an example, he cites his own ship, which is powered by nuclear power (see Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels , where nuclear drives are considered a sign of a higher level of progress). The dangers and problems of civilian use of nuclear power were not yet known at the time. The first civilian nuclear power plant was put into operation in the Soviet Union in 1954 - three years after the film.


In his review of the film for the New York Times on September 19, 1951, Bosley Crowther said, “ It may be comforting that our planetary neighbors are so much wiser and more peaceful than we are, but in the science fiction field it is only mild conversation. “Overall, Crowther tears the movie up and makes fun of Michael Rennie's British accent. He also considers the robot Gort to be harmless, despite its immense size and death rays. Crowther considers Sam Jaffe, Patricia Neal and Billy Gray to be interchangeable. Another critic, however , praised Patricia Neal's “ wonderful, restrained performance ”.

The lexicon of international films sees The Day on Which the Earth Stood Still a “ science fiction classic without technical sensations, but with a targeted message that was of remarkable weight during the 'Cold War' and the Korean crisis. "

Karen Krizanovich wrote in 1001 Films, among other things, that the film begins with a documentary and transports its “ anti-war message with the help of spectacular special effects and memorable characters. “The film,“ far more than a B-movie ”, is“ the first popular science fiction film for adults to send a message on the subject of humanity ”. And further, " The day the earth stood still " is still unsurpassed, " a classic ... thanks to its clever visual effects ".

Matt Slovick wrote in a review of The Day the Earth Stood Still in the online Washington Post : “ The pacifist message is still relevant more than 45 years later, ” and went on: “ Although much of the film is out of date , some things never change. In the films of the 1990s, too, people panic, mistaking the aliens for killers. The good extraterrestrial is less than 30 seconds on earth when - for the first time - he is shot at. "

Science fiction connoisseur John Clute wrote in 1995: “ The reputation of The Day the Earth Stood Still grows with the years. “And:“ Nobody who saw it in 1951 has forgotten it, and it is still the film that one watches again with nostalgia and fear. “The disappointment with humanity conveyed by the film is“ contagious ”.


In the 1950s, science fiction - not only in feature films - experienced a productive climax in the United States, which was due to the backdrop of the Cold War, the rapid scientific progress after the end of the Second World War and a changed audience orientation, which was increasingly turned towards the youth attributed to the media. In addition to a number of films that played with a threat posed by science - for example in mutation films like Tarantula (1955) - a large number of successful invasion films stood out in this period of American cinema. In these films, the US and the entire world are threatened with extinction by a technically superior, alien aggressor. The day on which the earth stood still is particularly emphasized by Faulstich in his film history in this film group, since only this film offers the variant “ that the visitors from space do not bring harm, but peace and the invitation to self-knowledge. "

Patricia Neal with Roald Dahl , April 20, 1954
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten , from the Van Vechten Collection of the Library of Congress

Director and actor

The Earth Stood Day was the first science fiction film made by 20th Century Fox and, as the Los Angeles Times noted, the first science fiction film with a famous cast. Director Robert Wise achieved great notoriety with the film - his first for a large studio. The “ balance that Wise kept between his dark allegory and the representation of the subplot ” was praised .

For the role of Klaatu, Claude Rains was initially in discussion, but had to cancel due to scheduling issues. Producer Darryl Zanuck saw Michael Rennie in the theater in England and hired him for the role because he believed an actor unknown to American audiences would increase the realism of the portrayal of an alien.

The juxtaposition of the characters played by Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe, who show different reactions to the aliens, was thought to be " striking, but effective ". Helen Benson embodies “ values ​​that are considered typically female, she is peace-loving, understanding and far-sighted. “Tom Stevens, on the other hand, stands out for his“ negative male characteristics such as ambition and selfishness. "

The gigantic robot Gort was played by Lock Martin , a tall amateur actor , who then appeared again in a small role in a film ( Invasion of Mars , 1953).

Some of the news anchors known in the USA at the time, such as Elmer Davis, had cameo appearances in the film: they comment on the landing of the spaceship in order to give the film a realistic look in conjunction with the well-known locations of Washington DC.

Special effects

Special effects were used sparingly, with Fred Sersen, L. B. Abbott and Ray Kellogg in charge. The landing of the flying saucer in Washington is one of the first ever cinematic depictions of such a UFO; it is implemented in an astonishingly realistic manner for the time the film was made. The UFO was a miniature model about 60 cm in size that was filmed in front of a moving matte painting .

There were two costumes for Gort, one with the zipper at the back and one with the zipper at the front, each for shots from the front and the back. Since Martin Patricia Neal could not lift, it was first hoisted on the set of the corresponding scene with wires and the next setting replaced by a slight doll. The robot's "ray look" was a simple light source that was attached behind the eye slits.

Film music

The film music by Bernard Herrmann attracted particular attention, using unusual instrumentation (exclusively brass , two harps , two pianos , three vibraphones and three electric organs as well as three electrically amplified solo strings and two  theremins ) to achieve a futuristic effect. It was not, as is sometimes claimed, the first use of the theremin for a film - one can already be heard in Hitchcock's I Fight for You - but the use of the theremin in science fiction films was after The Day the Earth stood still so popular that it was also featured in the score of the SF homage / parody Mars Attacks! Was used. For Wise, the music strengthened "the feeling of the presence of an alien life form" and, in his opinion, had "a greater share in the overall effect of the film than usual" .


The script took over from the original departure from the Lord ( Farewell to the Master only the basic theme). The message of the film, the subplot of Klaatu among the people and the possible Christian symbolism are missing in the short story. For reasons of cost, no scenes were designed that took place in space. Template author Harry Bates also received only $ 500 for the film rights.

The story itself has been interpreted as an analogy to the biblical story of Jesus Christ because of some parallels : Klaatu comes with a message of peace, but is persecuted and killed. He rises again, proclaims his message to the people and then disappears into "heaven". As an indication of this interpretation, the name that Klaatu takes is also valid: “Carpenter” is the English word for “ carpenter ”, the assumed profession of Jesus of Nazareth . It is also possible that changing the robot name from “Gnut” to “Gort”, which sounds more like “God”, was intended by the screenwriter in this sense. Gort would then be an analogy to God, who will punish people if they fail to live in peace.
Director Robert Wise has asserted that he only noticed the parallels to Christian symbolism after the film was released and critics pointed out. He affirmed: "We are not trying to say that this is a version of the return of Christ" . Screenwriter Edmund North, on the other hand, has at least admitted that he consciously chose the name “Carpenter” for analogy purposes.
When Helen in the film asks Klaatu if Gort resuscitated him, he says, "No, this power is reserved for the Almighty." And explains that the resuscitation will only last for a certain time. This was built in at the request of the studio in order to avoid protests from the Christian side: According to their idea, power over life and death lies only with God himself.

Staging and visual style

In addition to the aesthetic borrowings in the light dramaturgy in film noir , the semi-documentary staging of the film stands out in particular. The inclusion of well-known television reporters in the game plot was intended to increase the credibility of the film, an aspect that Wise placed great importance on, especially in his science fiction films. According to Wise, these should “appear as believable and realistic as possible” . Wise always tries "everything to get the viewer to believe what he sees on the screen" , because only then will the viewer get involved in the story and participate in it.

In order to visualize the meaning of the global event, Wise uses television monitors as a carrier of action information. In doing so, he translates the television images into a “partly virtuoso inner montage , according to Beier ; an anticipation of the omnipotence of television in global communication, which was by no means fully developed at the beginning of the 1950s.

The message of the film

The message of the film is quite clear: the call to end the wars and, in particular, to destroy nuclear weapons . As Wise explains, “The whole purpose of the film was to allow Klaatu to issue his warning at the end. The message of the film is very important to me. In its warning against nuclear warfare, the film was trend-setting in its time [...]. I liked the fact that it was a science fiction film, but one that was set on earth and not just about a trip to the moon again. So we had the opportunity to address a couple of very important issues. "

The scientist Professor Barnhardt is easy to recognize as a cinematic counterpart to Albert Einstein , who also campaigned against nuclear weapons in his final years. But this message has been criticized by many reviewers: The proposed solution of voluntarily enslaving yourself to a race of overpowering robots is not very edifying. The “ absolute control by robots ” appears “ at least as an astonishing and ponderous vision of the future and reminds of the balance of horror that was valid for the Cold War . “In the film, Klaatu claims that people don't have to give up any freedom other than that of“ acting unreasonably ”. However, one could then ask: Who determines what is “unreasonable”? The film simplifies the complex problems of war and peace in the atomic age a lot. Director Wise has admitted that these issues are hidden in the film; The basic message to end wars is still correct and the most important element of the film, whereby Lars-Olav Beier sees its simplistic representation as a shortcoming of the film. The film, "which has to bear the burden of its message of peace", suffers "from its appellative character [...]" .

The template by Harry Bates

The film is based on the short story Farewell to the Master (German: Farewell to the Lord , later also The day on which the earth stood still ) by Harry Bates , which first appeared in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine  - in the same issue also Slan by AE van Vogt  - was published. The studio had acquired the film rights for $ 1,000 from the publisher, who had not asked Bates. Bates ended up only receiving $ 500.

The story is told from the perspective of reporter Cliff Sutherland: About three months before the start of the plot, a space-time ship appeared; the human-like Klaatu and the robot Gnut emerged from him. As soon as Klaatu had introduced himself and Gnut, a madman shot Klaatu. Gnut then stopped all activity and has apparently not moved since then. In order to convince possible other occupants of the ship or later travelers from the civilization Klaatus of the regret of mankind about the attack, the mankind buried Klaatu in a specially built mausoleum . Gnut and the ship were left where they were and they were remodeled with an additional wing from the Smithsonian Institution . There, by comparing his photos, Cliff finds that the robot does move from one day to the next, even though terrestrial scientists had also done everything to paralyze the robot. He finds out that the robot roams around at night and appears to be doing strange experiments. Gnut finally breaks out of the museum, uses the reporter as a shield against the army's shelling, and takes the video and audio recordings of the arrival and murder of Klaatu from the mausoleum. With that he goes into the ship. The reporter follows him on his own initiative and experiences how the robot can awaken a doppelganger Klaatus to a short life. However, the few sentences that Cliff can change with the doppelganger during the life span of the doppelganger are very instructive, and Cliff also provides valuable food for thought. When saying goodbye, before the ship returns to its origin, Gnut explains to the reporter a misunderstanding that leaves Cliff - and the reader - speechless. Sutherland asks the robot when he returns to make it clear to his rulers that Klaatu's death was an accident. Gnut says he understands. When Sutherland asks whether he will also tell his ruler, Gnut replies: "You don't understand, I am the ruler."

There are so many differences between the short story and the film that it is not actually a film adaptation. There are connections; The characters, the plot and, above all, the basic message have changed significantly in the film. For example, the story takes place in the future, the robot is called Gnut and is not of a machine-like shape, but rather resembles a metal statue of a person dressed only in a loincloth; there is no reference whatsoever to the nuclear threat or inclination to war, Klaatu does not mix with people and the like. The surprising ending of the short story is only hinted at in the film.

Premieres and sales

The film premiered on November 18, 1951 in New York City. In the Federal Republic of Germany the film was released on May 2, 1952, in Austria in May 1953. It was broadcast for the first time on German television on April 24, 1971 on ARD.

With a budget of $ 1.2 million, he grossed $ 1.85 million in the United States. The film is considered one of the first truly commercially successful science fiction films.

Movie poster

Various film posters show the robot Gort, who wears Patricia Neal's character and fires a kind of laser beam . Compared to the film, Gort is portrayed much too tall, and Neal is never dressed as revealingly in the film. Even her hair color was changed to blonde for some posters . All of this is obviously intended to serve advertising .

The robot carrying a helpless woman has also become a popular subject in science fiction films. The film poster for Alarm in Space also shows such a picture. In contrast to that film, there is at least one corresponding scene here, even if Gort carries the woman into the ship rather peacefully.

Other poster motifs that do not appear in the film at all are the earth in the grip of an oversized hand and the destruction of the Capitol .

The film's tagline was: From out of space… a warning and an ultimatum! ("From space ... a warning and an ultimatum!").


A VHS cassette with the film has been available in Germany since 1994.

The DVD (EAN 4010232010490), which was originally distributed in Germany, offers an audio commentary by Robert Wise together with Nicholas Meyer , the cinema trailer and a comparison of the footage before and after the restoration . There is also an American newsreel report (Movietone News) premiered in 1951, which contains reports on the actual tensions in the Cold War . With this in mind, it seems astonishing that a film with this message was even produced by the great 20th Century Fox studio. In fact, there were only problems with the US Army , which refused to provide material after reviewing the script. The reason for this is probably the clearly negative portrayal of the military in the film, who sees Klaatu and Gort as only a reactionary threat and treats them accordingly. Thanks to good contacts in the studio, the makers finally received equipment and extras from the National Guard .

The film is actually called The Day the Earth Stood Still not: standstill as it looks through the font on the DVD cover.

20th Century Fox has been offering a new edition of the film since October 31, 2005 (EAN 4010232032195). This now consists of two DVDs. Apart from the newsreel report, it includes all the extras from the old edition and, above all, an 80-minute making-of . The German sound is still in mono . Instead of being in stereo as before , the English sound is now available in the original mono format and a new upmix in Dolby Digital 5.1 format. The picture is still in the restored full-screen version.

The DVD cover of the new edition now shows the words still stood apart and written under each other. The side view, however, reveals the correct form still standing - this time not falsified by an unfavorable font either. Furthermore, the German version A Warning and an Ultimatum from Space of the original tagline can be found on the DVD cover .


Some works of popular culture, even outside of science fiction, refer to The Day the Earth Stood Still .

The record cover of Ringo Starr's album Goodnight Vienna shows a re-enactment of a scene from the film with Starr instead of Klaatus. The Canadian progressive rock band Klaatu chose their name after the main character of the film and also referred  directly to the film with the song title Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft  - an international hit for the Carpenters as a cover version . An allusion to the film and its leading actor can also be found in the opening song Science Fiction / Double Feature of the Rocky Horror Picture Show : Michael Rennie was ill the Day the Earth Stood Still / But he told us where we stand . Quotes from the film also found their way into various pieces of music as samples .

The phrase "Klaatu Barada Nikto", with which the earth is saved from immediate destruction, has become an often quoted phrase. The sentence can be seen in Tron and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and is said in Small Soldiers and Shadows in the Sun. In the horror comedy Army of Darkness and the 1-Live comedy series Sataan , the sentence is used particularly prominently as a magic formula.

In Return of the Jedi , the third part of the original Star Wars saga, George Lucas named three palace guards Jabba the Hutts , who are also on the trip to Sarlacc, named Klaatu, Barada, and Nikto, respectively.

The English original title of the film (The Day the Earth Stood Still) was used in a modified form as the title of film and television productions. One episode from the third season of the Futurama series is entitled The Day the Earth Stood Stupid . The allusion is also retained in the German title The day on which the earth dumbfounded . Other series that lean episode titles on the original title of the film include Neon Genesis Evangelion (The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still) and Johnny Bravo (The Day The Earth Didn't Move Around Very Much) . In addition, the adaptation of the film Mars Attacks! by director Tim Burton on this film. In the psychological thriller One Hour Photo with actor Robin Williams from 2002, the science fiction classic runs on the home television of the psychotic protagonist Sy Parrish .


The film was awarded the Golden Globes Award in 1952 as the best film promoting international understanding and nominated for the best film music ( Bernard Herrmann ). The day the earth stood still was also included in the US National Film Registry in 1995, with copies of films worth preserving in the Library of Congress .


At the end of 2008, the day on which the earth stood still with Keanu Reeves in the lead role was released, a remake that is only partially comparable to the version from 1951, both in terms of the basic plot and the use of visual effects . The director took Scott Derrickson .

In 2011, dtp entertainment released the film The Day the Earth Stood Still 2 - Attack of the Robots as a continuation of the remake.


Literary template
  • Harry Bates : Farewell to the Lord (Original title: Farewell to the Master ). Translation by Eva Malsch. In: Hans Joachim Alpers , Werner Fuchs (Ed.): Science Fiction Anthology. Volume 3: The Forties I. Hohenheim Verlag, Cologne 1982, pp. 46–94. (Preliminary note p. 44, 45). ISBN 3-8147-0027-9
  • Harry Bates: Farewell to the Lord (Original title: Farewell to the Master ). Translation by Ute Seeßlen. In: Forrest J. Ackerman (Ed.): The past of the future. Edited by ZDF . Burgschmiet, Nürnberg 1998, pp. 188–237 (preliminary remark, p. 182). ISBN 3-932234-37-5
Secondary literature
  • Lars-Olav Beier: The incorruptible look - Robert Wise and his films. Book on the occasion of the retrospective Robert Wise at the Munich Film Festival 1996. Dieter Bertz Verlag, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-929470-10-1 .
  • Sergio Leemann: Robert Wise on his Films - From Editing Room to Directors Chair. Silman-James Press, Los Angeles 1995 ISBN 1-879505-24-X .
  • Bill Warren : Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties , Jefferson, NC / London (Mc Farland & Company, Inc., Publishers) 2010. ISBN 978-0-7864-4230-0
  • Robbie Graham: Silver screen saucers. Sorting fact from fantasy in Hollywood's UFO movies , Hove, UK (White Crow Books) 2015. ISBN 9781910121115 . ISBN 1910121118 . ISBN 9781910121122

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Leemann: p. 29
  2. Bosley Crowther : Emissary From Planet Visits Mayfair Theater in 'Day the Earth Stood Still' . In: The New York Times , September 19, 1951 ( online  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. )@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  3. a b P. Hardy: The Science Fiction Film Encyclopedia. Königswinter 1998, ISBN 3-89365-601-4 , p. 138f.
  4. Steven J. Schneider: 1001 Films. The best films of all time. Edition Olms, 2004, ISBN 978-3-283-00497-2 .
  5. Matt Slovick: The Day the Earth Stood Still. On: ( online )
  6. J. Clute: SF - The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Munich 1996, ISBN 3-453-11512-0 , pp. 262 and 264.
  7. ^ Werner Faulstich: Film history . Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2005. ISBN 3-7705-4097-2 , page 132f.
  8. a b c d e f g h i j k l Peter Lev: Transforming the Screen 1950–1959 History of the American Cinema Vol. 7 , University of California Press 2003, ISBN 0-520-24966-6 , pp. 179ff.
  10. a b Thomas Klein: The day on which the earth stood still In: Thomas Koebner (Hrsg.): Film genres: Science Fiction . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-018401-0 , pp. 72-76.
  11. Leemann p. 105
  12. Beier p. 196
  13. Hal Erickson : The Day the Earth Stood Still. Plot synopsis. On: ( online )
  14. Beier: p. 59
  15. Beier: p. 197
  16. Beier: p. 53f
  17. Leemann p. 107
  18. Beier: p. 53
  19. ^ Ullstein 2000 - Science Fiction Stories 13, 1972, ISBN 3-548-02883-7 .
  20. The day the earth stood still. In: Lexicon of International Films . Film service , accessed March 2, 2017 .Template: LdiF / Maintenance / Access used 
  21. Overview of the film posters ( Memento from February 13, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on June 8, 2007 .