Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The 27th Day

What would you do if you literally held the fate of the entire world in your hand? That’s the intriguing question behind THE 27TH DAY, a Columbia release based on a novel by John Mantley, who later produced GUNSMOKE. Mantley’s literate screenplay (after TARANTULA’s Robert Fresco took a stab at it) begins with five disparate individuals — Eve Wingate (Valerie French) of England, Jonathan Clark (a mustachioed Gene Barry) of the United States, Su Tan (Marie Tsien) of Red China, Klaus Bechner (George Voskovec) of West Germany, and Ivan Godofsky (Azemat Janti) of Russia — abducted by an alien and taken aboard his flying saucer (stock footage from EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS).

The alien (Arnold Moss) tells them his people need a new planet to colonize before their sun goes supernova in 27 days. Because his people cannot destroy intelligent life, the alien hands each of them a container containing a capsule that, if activated, will destroy all life within a 3000-mile radius. Each capsule can be opened only by its owner, and the alien is betting his entire civilization on man’s propensity for murder — that the Earthlings will destroy each other, and his people can live on Earth on their place.

If the five had any intention of waiting out the 27-day period, Moss (who is excellent and believable) screws them by going on television and announcing to the world what he has done and who has the capsules. Thus, THE 27TH DAY is not only a morality play, but also a chase movie with Eve and Jonathan teaming up to hide at a Los Angeles racetrack, Bechner stalked by Commie assassins, and soldier Godofsky tortured by his superiors. Despite the international conflicts, the film is slowly paced and not particularly exciting.

Unusual as an American science fiction movie of the 1950s without monsters or robots, THE 27TH DAY is earnest in its presentation of Big Ideas, and it mostly succeeds, except for its absurdly optimistic ending. It may be the happiest ending to an all-life-on-Earth-may-be-destroyed movie ever.

Director William Asher was primarily a television director at the time — notably 102 episodes of I LOVE LUCY — and he takes his big-screen responsibilities seriously. A perfunctory love story develops between Eve and Jonathan, which is of little interest, but otherwise the film aims higher. It’s unclear whether Columbia noticed, as it released THE 27TH DAY on a double bill with 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, which does feature a monster. Barry was the cast’s only household name, primarily from OUR MISS BROOKS and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and went on to become a major television star in BAT MASTERSON, BURKE’S LAW, and THE NAME OF THE GAME.

1 comment:

Brian Busby said...

I know the novel - if interested, I wrote about it here - but have never seen the movie. And by "the novel", I mean the American edition, which base a markedly different ending than the British. WIt appears that neither shares the "absurdly optimistic ending" featured in the film, yet all three were penned by Mantley. Studio influence, perhaps? Or is it simply that Mantley couldn't come up with a conclusion that he liked.

You've revived my efforts to see it on the screen. Thank you.