Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The 27th Day

(1957, 75 min.)

Starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec, Stefan Schnabel, Azemat Janti, Friedrich von Ledebur, Ralph Clanton, Paul Birch, Arnold Moss, Marie Tsien,

Written by John Mantley and Robert M. Fresco (uncredited) from the novel by Mantley.

Directed by William Asher.

Five people suddenly find themselves aboard a spaceship, having been abducted from their various corners of the world by a looming shadow. These are Jonathan Clark (Barry), an LA newspaperman; Eve Wingate (French), a young Englishwoman; Su Han (Tsien), a young Chinese woman, who, when we first see her, is bending over the body of either her father or husband who has just been shot by soldiers; Professor Bechner (Voskovec), a German professor who is about to travel to the US to oversee an experiment in satellite technology that represents humankind’s best opportunity to communicate with extraterrestrial life forms (ironic, no?); and Ivan Godofsky (Janti), a private in the Red Army.

On the ship they meet The Alien (Moss). He tells them that his universe is dying and that his race needs a new planet. However, their moral code forbids them from the invasion or destruction of intelligent life. Instead, they have decided to gamble on the human race’s penchant for self-destruction. Each of the five individuals is to be given a devastating weapon, devices that look kind of like a compact, but instead of vibrantly colored powders essential for making your look extra kicky, these contain three capsules with the power to destroy all human life – and nothing else – within a three thousand mile radius. Between the five of them, they have enough combined power to wipe all human life from the face of the Earth. Each compact can only be opened by the mental powers of the individual to which it has been given, although once opened, anyone can use the capsules, which are activated merely by speaking the coordinates of the desired ground zero. Additionally, if one of the five were to die, those particular capsules would be rendered useless. The alien race has only thirty-five days before their world expires. They are giving humanity twenty-seven days to live with the weapon, at the end of which, if it has not been used, it will automatically be deactivated. Humanity will survive, and the aliens will accept their own demise.

The five are then transported right back to the exact place and time from which they were abducted. Eve immediately chucks her device into the sea. Su Han decides on something more dramatic- she places hers in front of a Buddha and then runs herself through with a sword. The Alien broadcasts a worldwide message indicating what has occurred and Jonathan, not knowing what else to do, goes into hiding, along with Eve who has joined him from across the pond for no better reason than romantic convenience. Ivan is reluctant to tell his superiors what has happened, although after the broadcast they’re quite eager to tortu- I mean, talk to him, and Professor Bechner can only think of studying the device to learn more about it…along with an abiding feeling that there was a hidden message in what the Alien told them that they haven’t yet grasped, and that may be the key to the whole dilemma.

As far as entertainment value goes, this is a decent little story, good even; interesting in its moral trappings, provided you don’t examine things too closely. I have no problem recommending it, but, having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to talk about an aspect of the film that cannot be discussed without serious spoilers, so anyone who wants to go in cold better hit that Back button now.

I don’t believe it was necessarily intentional, but one could, if one wanted to, detect a certain streak of conservatism at work here. There’s the fact that the two women given the device immediately relinquish the responsibility of being a holder (menfolk being more suited to such non-domestic matters and all). There’s a scene with Jonathan and Eve in a taxi where he turns on a portable radio so the driver can’t hear what they’re saying. When she screws up her nose and asks him what the music is he tells her with equal distaste that it’s rock‘n’roll…despite the fact that what’s actually playing is about as inoffensive a swing tune as you’re ever likely to hear. (I don’t know if this was a screw-up on the part of the sound department, or if they were actually dissing big band or what.) And then, of course, there’s the stereotypically evil portrayal of most of the Russians, although given the time period and Hollywood’s history this isn’t necessarily a right wing thing.

But then there’s the climax. Hoo-boy, the climax. It turns out that the Professor was, of course, correct. There was something to the aliens’ message and the devices themselves that wasn’t immediately apparent. There’s a message engraved on the cylinders that lets him know what it is, and he subsequently launches an entire compact of cylinders effectively blanketing the entire populated world (which seems to contradict the earlier assertion that all five compacts would be needed to do this, but never mind). Except that the only people eliminated are, and I quote, “every person throughout the world known to have been a confirmed enemy of human freedom.” Yes, that’s right. The device somehow had the ability to detect who was good and who was evil, and took out the latter. Thank god, um, I mean God there are no such things as gray areas, huh? It is the utterly simplistic, intellectually-challenged neo-con world philosophical dream come true. Minus the international corporate plunder, of course.

But hold on there buckaroos- we still have a coda to get through, and those conservatives whose little heads were exploding over the climax may find their big heads exploding over what comes next. Having realized that the aliens intended to bring peace to the world all along, the humans decide there’s only one decent thing to do- save them from their own imminent doom by inviting them to come and live on our planet! That’s right. MASSIVE INTERPLANETARY IMMIGRATION!

Given that the neo-cons didn’t even exist when this film was made, there is, of course, zero chance that this was a deliberately-designed bait and switch, which makes it all the more deliciously coincidental when the killing blow is delivered in the form of the final shot: the UN building standing tall and proud over the East River.

Go back to Plate O' Shrimp

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