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DVD: The Day the Earth Caught Fire | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: The Day the Earth Caught Fire

DVD: The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Exciting and still-prescient British nuclear threat drama from 1961

Reporter Peter Stenning (Edward Judd) tries to figure out the cause of rising temperatures in 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire'

The world is getting hotter. Unbearably so. Along Fleet Street, the centre of British newspaper production, on-the-skids, drink-sodden Daily Express reporter Peter Stenning (a square-jawed Edward Judd) begins looking into the reasons for the change. With the help of his charismatic science editor Bill Maguire (a wonderful Leo McKern), he begins piecing things together – nuclear weapons testing has shifted the Earth’s axis.

Even worse, the orbit has changed and a spiral towards the sun has begun. On his hunt for information, Stenning finds love in the arms of the beautiful Jeannie Craig (a sometimes racily unclad Janet Munro). Eventually, the world’s powers cease their cover-ups and detonate further bombs in an attempt to right the damage. The film ends ambiguously with no hint of whether the Earth’s future is assured.

Released in 1961, The Day the Earth Caught Fire is tense with sharply defined characterisations. Much of the dialogue is delivered at a rat-tat-tat pace similar to American hardboiled movies. It hit screens as worries about the arms race were growing. Demonstrations against nuclear weapons were taking place and CND membership was growing. As well as priceless real-life, close-to verité footage of a flourishing Fleet Street (former Daily Express editor Arthur Christiansen features), the film includes shots of real anti-nuclear demonstrations.

The reflective tone is in keeping with the seriousness of much British science fiction cinema of the early Sixties (such as 1960’s Village of the Damned). Director Val Guest had also been behind 1955’s similarly solemn The Quatermass Xperiment but was a journeyman and could turn his hand to almost any type of film. However, as the fine booklet with this new release makes clear, this was a hobby horse. He had first tried to get the nuclear threat parable off the ground in 1954. Times changed, Hollywood produced On the Beach and Guest eventually secured funding after putting up some of his own cash. His finely tuned writer was the left-leaning Wolf Mankowitz, who he had worked with on the then-recent Cliff Richard vehicle Expresso Bongo.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire remains as exciting, prescient and as relevant as it did in 1961. The restoration is fantastic and the film is presented with masses of great extras, including an archive interview with McKern, a commentary, a new documentary, trailers and nuclear-related information films – 1952’s real-life bomb-test feature Operation Hurricane is horrifying.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Watch the trailer for The Day the Earth Caught Fire

The reflective tone is in keeping with the seriousness of much British science fiction cinema of the early Sixties

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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