Monday, October 08, 2007

THE 27TH DAY (1957)

[Spoilers included!] This is a science fiction movie I read a lot about when I was a kid, but I kept missing on Chiller Theater. I probably would have been much more impressed with it when I was 13; now, it just feels like a long, talky Twilight Zone episode, a Rod Serling morality tale with an improbably happy ending rather than the "gotcha!" twist that made the Serling show so much fun--though the laughable ending is worth seeing for something approaching camp value. We see a woman enjoying a relaxing afternoon on a beach in England until a gigantic shadow falls over her followed by a bright flare, and she vanishes. The same thing happens to four other average citizens around the globe (from America, China, the USSR, and Britain); they all wind up spirited away to a spaceship where a tall alien (Arnold Moss) explains the convoluted premise of the movie. His race's planet is dying and they are looking for a new home. Convinced that the nations of the Earth will eventually blow themselves up with their atomic weapons, Moss tries to make it sooner rather than later by giving each of the five humans a transparent box with three capsules capable of destroying all human life on Earth, while leaving the natural world intact so the aliens can move in. The capsules can only be triggered by the five people, each capable of destroying life within a specific radius, and will only work for 27 days. They are sent back to Earth and the alien makes a worldwide broadcast announcing the names of the people with the capsules. The Chinese woman kills herself, the British woman (Valerie French) throws her capsule into the ocean, the American (reporter Gene Barry) goes into hiding (joined eventually by French), the Russian (Azmat Janti) is hounded by his government, and the German (scientist George Voskovec) cooperates with the Allies in trying to figure out what the capsules are capable of doing.

Of course, being a cold-war movie, the primary tension is between the Russians and the Americans; Stefan Schnabel plays a Khrushchev-like villain who tortures Janti into giving up the capsules and threatens the Allies with annihilation. In the bizarre ending, Voskovec discovers that the capsules can be altered to kill only "confirmed enemies of human freedom," so that's just what he does, and of course this wipes out the Commies (who else it affects is left to us to imagine). If that isn't a "happy" enough ending for an American audience, the United Nations then invites the alien to bring his race to Earth to live in peaceful co-existence. An admirable final message, perhaps, but a dramatically unsatisfying ending, especially in an SF movie with almost no special effects (except a couple of shots cobbled from earlier films). Barry, ostensibly the leading man, does virtually nothing, heroic or otherwise (though it's interesting to see him with a mustache), and the love story between him and French is a non-starter. Ubiquitous voice-over actor Paul Frees (see MONOLITH MONSTERS below) appears on screen as a news anchor. A handsome actor named Mark Warren has two lines as a newspaper copy boy, but he has no other film or TV credits. [TCM]

No comments: