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Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The title of this film suggests that its producers would have liked potential audiences to think their film an alien-invasion romp. It's not. But note the more subtle similarities with the definitional The Day the Earth Stood Still: a warning against nuclear power and the military-political classes; an unexpected intelligence; a hint of the social and scientific changes to come. If The Day the Earth Stood Still prefigured the detonation of the first H-bomb a year later, so The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a year-early preview of Silent Spring and Sex and the Single Girl.

After her release from detention at Her Majesty's expense (her pillowtalk with journalist Edward Judd reveals an imminent apocalypse - hitherto a State secret), Janet Munro is given a sinecure in the library of the Daily Express by the appreciative and paternalistic gentlemen of Fleet Street. Munro was one of Disney's most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed daisy-pickers turned short-haired seductress, a scrappy ingénue with a troubled private life who wore tight sweaters and glasses she didn't need. In a documentary-like film full of newspapermen playing themselves, it's essential that Munro fits each of her roles, and for most of the film she represents an interesting mix of Jennifer Snoek-Brown's female librarian archetypes.

I'm the damsel in distress. You must be the strong and silent type
Unfortunately, the final twenty minutes hollow out her character and undermine the anti-establishment plot threads. Munro is transformed from an independent woman into a librarian who falls into a man's arms at the first hint of trouble. The man stops drinking and wise-cracking. The end of days appears to herald a return to patriarchy and cosy 1950s fireplaces.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! Sounds like a bit of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (being given a sinecure in a library) mixed with The War of the Worlds - both in plot/outlook and librarian roles. Another title to add to my Master List... :)

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