(1951)5Mark DemingAt a time when science fiction on film had yet to work itself out of its bug-eyed monsters period, The Day the Earth Stood Still was a dramatic step forward for the genre. Intelligently written and directed, well-crafted, and boasting a top-notch cast in good form, it was a class act all the way, as well as one of the first Hollywood films to take the idea of extraterrestrial visitors seriously (if not as a practical reality, at least as an interesting metaphor). Klaatu, as played by Michael Rennie, was that rare alien invader who wanted to save us from ourselves, and Rennie gives the character an intelligence, compassion, and strength that make him seem a lot more human than many of the earthlings he encounters, while Sam Jaffe, Patricia Neal, and Billy Gray manage to prove that not all the Earth people are violent, brain-dead slobs. Director Robert Wise and his crew create an admirable sense of tension and awestruck wonder in the wake of Klaatu's arrival (many later films with higher budgets failed to capture the magic of the spaceship landing in Washington, D.C., or the towering mystery of Klaatu's robot assistant Gort), and, at a time when Cold War paranoia was at its height, The Day the Earth Stood Still carried a strong pro-disarmament message that was quite brave for its day. The film's message remains pertinent today, and, as entertainment, its intelligence, warmth, and solid filmcraft make it an enduring classic of its kind.