Entry updated 7 December 2016. Tagged: Film.
Film (1957). Romson Productions/Columbia. Directed by William Asher. Written by John Mantley, based on his The Twenty-Seventh Day (1956). Cast includes Gene Barry, Valerie French, Azenath Janti, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel and George Voskovec. 75 minutes. Black and white.
Some moments of good sense and sensible conversation can be extracted from the contorted implausibility and terrifying moral implications of this film, which was made just before Cold War paranoia in America began to abate. Five men and women from around the world are abducted and awaken in a flying saucer (see UFOs), where they are lectured by an Alien (Moss) who represents a civilization inhabiting a star about to go nova. He and his kind would like to settle on Earth, but are incapable of committing acts of direct violence in order to eliminate its current inhabitants. Instead, he gives each of his captives a box containing three capsules (which will lose their power after 27 days), each of which is capable of destroying all human – but no other – life within a wide radius upon being properly programmed. These boxes will open only for the recipients, who all respond nobly (one immediately commits suicide), though as soon as their secret is out the governments of the world attempt to gain control of the deadly Weapon they control. Two protagonists, including reporter Jonathan Clark (Barry), hide out in Los Angeles (see California); the German, Professor Bechner (Voskovec), begins soberly to analyse the tool of destruction he has been given; but the Russian, Ivan Godofsky (Janti) is tortured by his government until he opens his box. The USSR now attempts to blackmail the rest of the world. Fortunately, Bechner, acting on a message he has received, discovers the solution: the capsules will only kill those who deserve to die, ie "every enemy of peace and freedom", which is to say all Communists. Bechner immediately activates the capsules, which work as predicted. Earth is cleansed of all evil. The alien civilization is offered Antarctica as Lebensraum. "People of earth", says the alien spokesman, "we accept your invitation. We ... bring you greetings from 30,000 intelligent worlds to tell you they are waiting to greet you among the stars."
This was the second sf movie, the first being The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), to advocate mass murder as a way of eliminating "warmongers", but is radically more vicious in its implications, which are left even more surreally unargued. We are first meant to imagine an alien civilization able to separate good and evil in the bosoms of human beings but, although incapable of violence itself, perfectly able to instruct its proxies in the use of weapons of mass destruction. The instructions for operating these weapons (not given above) are moreover of a lunatic complexity, and in fact impossible to conceive actually working; the inability of a galaxy-spanning confederation to make available some empty planet also taxes the sf imagination to breaking point. But perhaps some sense can be unpacked from this chaos. It seems likely that two narratives were jammed into one: the tale of the alien race whose planet is about to die, as in This Island Earth (1953); and a possibly superimposed tale of the fitness test that Homo sapiens must pass – the best-known example being perhaps Robert A Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel (1958) – before being accepted by higher civilizations "among the stars." (see also Fermi Paradox). [JC/PN]
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