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DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, THE (director/writer: Val Guest; screenwriter: Wolf Mankowitz; cinematographer: Harry Waxman; editor: Bill Lenny; music: Stanley Black; cast: Edward Judd (Peter Stenning), Janet Munro (Jeannie Craig), Leo McKern (Bill Maguire), Arthur Christiansen (Jeff Jefferson, Editor), Bernard Braden (Davis the News Editor), Michael Goodliffe (Jacko Jackson the Night Editor), Austin Trevor (Sir John Kelly), Ian Ellis (Michael Stenning), Reginald Beckwith(Harry, Bar Owner), Gene Anderson (May, Barmaid), Geoffrey Chater (Pat Holroyd); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Val Guest; Congress Video Group; 1961-UK)
An intelligent low-budget sci-fi doomsday pic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An intelligent low-budget sci-fi doomsday pic that gives us an authentic Fleet Street look at an old-fashioned newspaper office back in the day and a suspenseful scenario of the world tinkering on destruction as seen through the eyes of the newspaper. Val Guest (“When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth”/”The Boys in Blue”/”Jigsaw”) efficiently directs by making good use of the atmospheric effects such as the extreme heat and mist on Londoners, which gives this fascinating story an eerie feel.Guest and Wolf Mankowitzwrite a taut screenplay, with an observant look at the London scene.

In London, during the summer, the newsmen at the Daily Express are puzzled by reports of strange phenomena occurring all over the world: flooding in the Sahara desert, blizzards in New York, tornadoes in the Soviet Union and extremely hot climates and cases of heavy mist in London.The newspaper’s gruff science editor Bill Maguire (Leo McKern) and its hard-drinking veteran reporter Peter Stenning (Ed Judd)try to track down the cause.

The newspapermen discover that the disasters began after two simultaneous Hydrogen-bomb tests were made, one at the North Pole by the Soviet Union, the other at the South Pole by the United States.The divorced Stenning is told by his new love interest, Jeannie Craig (Janet Munro), a telephone switchboard operator at the government meteorological office, that she overheard on the phone that the two explosions were so powerful they shifted the earth’s orbit and set it hurling toward the sun. With only four months left before contact with the sun and England in a panic, we’re left wondering if the scientists can find a way of stopping the inevitable catastrophe, if Stenning can get Jeannie to return the love he has for her and if the youth of London can be contained as they riot.

Too bad it’s so talky and has a cop-out ending, leaving it unanswered if the world can be saved or not. Otherwise its chilling story makes for some delightful entertainment for a disaster pic.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”