review for The Day the Earth Caught Fire on AllMovie

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
by Buzz McClain review

With no distracting special effects, no gigantic mutant creatures, no troublesome flying saucers, and not even a hideously charred body, The Day the Earth Caught Fire was certainly out of sync with the rest of late '50s and early '60s science fiction cinema. The straightforward story and hard-charging script were awarded with a British Academy Award for Best Screenplay, an indication that audiences didn't need visceral thrills to scare them -- thought-provoking dialogue could be just as chilling. Indeed, director/co-writer Val Guest lets speculation do the scaring in this one, and it works well thanks to the no-nonsense acting -- particularly by leads Leo McKern, Janet Munro, and Edward Judd -- and the realistic pace. The production does a superb job of conveying a sense of heat in every scene -- everyone sweats, everyone complains about the sweltering temperatures -- as the Earth heads for man-made disaster. There are a few scenes that are a bit arch (the whole rebellious beatnik sequence is rather camp), but the ideas imparted in the film stay with you long after you've hit "eject."