Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


"Klaatu, Barada, Nikto" are the instructions to be given Gort, and a mantra among certain sci-fi addicts.

The film is Robert Wise's cult classic of the 1950s, often credited with starting the boom of that decade's science-fiction movies.

In a space ship, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) comes to Washington with Gort (a Robot), from a technically and socially superior planet, to warn earthlings that they should cease wars and research on nuclear arms, or else they will be destroyed.

Although sci-fi is, as a rule, intrinsically a funny genre, this movie is quite serious --like "2001: A Space Odyssey." Gort moves somewhat like Frankenstein's monster, probably because the man inside it has to cope with an oversize covering and elevator shoes. And near the end, Klaatu is resuscitated by Gort with machines that are like cat-scanners with ultrasound. Interesting plot follows, easy on special effects (good for the period), heavy on humanism and messages.

Unusually fine film is a multi-layered document of 1950s malaise, especially cold war and freedom of thought. The shadow of McCarthyism is evidenced by the criticism of prejudice, and more subtly when Klaatu says in an interview: "I'm afraid, but in a different way. When I see people substituting fear for..." then a reporter cuts him off with a "Thank you, sir."

Wise may have been a liberal, but he was also wise to Big Brother watching this movie, so he buys insurance in the shape of kids, flags, references to heroic dead soldiers, admiration for the Lincoln Memorial, etc.

Wise, who started out as Orson Welles' cutter for "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons," shows great skill again. This and other early films ("The Curse of the Cat People," "The Body Snatcher," et al) are rated by connoisseurs much higher than the big budget movies of the 1960s, like "West Side Story" or "The Sound of Music."

Music here is by the great Bernard Herrmann. It is scored for regular as well as electronic instruments ( a theremin I believe) for eerie effects.. That happened several years before electronic music became common. (Edwin Jahiel)